Posted: Tue 3rd May 2022
We partnered with Vodafone to launch business.connected, helping 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses take their digital skills to the next level.
Business owners can take part in e-learning modules, digital workshops delivered by business.connected advisers and Lunch and Learn webinars, and have a free consultation with a Vodafone V-Hub adviser.
The business.connected programme covers a range of core digital topics, from SEO and e-commerce to cyber-security and connectivity.
We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been taking part in the initiative to find out about how it's benefited them so far.
Here, we talk to Millie Jaspert, founder of Spark Bubble, an online store dedicated entirely to bath toys designed to interest and inspire children. Millie explains how business.connected's e-learning sessions provided some key tips for how to adapt and improve her e-commerce website and social media accounts.
I'm a primary school teacher, that's my training. Around Christmas last year, we got back from having lived abroad for a few years, just as Britain was going into lockdown. I had one child doing one day a week at school and the other at home the whole week, and then they went straight into the two or three months of home-schooling, but at new schools.
It was all quite tough and I wanted to be there to support them, so I didn't rush out and find a job. But my brain started ticking and I thought this would be a really good time to start a business, or at least a side hustle. I always planned to continue teaching, but I had the time to think about things.
I knew that a lot of starting a business was about identifying a gap in the market. So I was thinking back over the times when I'd wanted to buy something and hadn't been able to. And the phrase that popped into my head was 'bath toys for older children'.
When my son was younger, he loved baths and would lie in them happily for 20 minutes or more. And when you're there keeping an eye on them while they're bathing, it's a great opportunity to help them with learning. You can play games, but it's even better if you have something there to stimulate their thinking.
A lot of kids benefit from practising their phonics or their maths, but in a fun way. You don't want it to feel like homework. So considering all this made me want to make a bath toys business happen.
I started off thinking I was going to invent some bath toys, which, with hindsight, was jumping in at the deep end. I designed my first toy and contacted manufacturers. Paid a few hundred pounds for prototypes to be made. The minimum order quantity was 1,000 to recoup my money, and it started to feel quite daunting. I could imagine the toys being in the garage forever if my endeavour failed.
So phase two was about being more realistic. I focused on two products, which I got made and then sold in a pop-up shop in Horsham. At the beginning of 2022, I went to the Toy Fair in London, mainly for research to see what other manufacturers are doing.
I'd already done some competitor research so I knew what was out there. But what surprised me was that a lot of other toy makers were open to me selling their products in reasonably small quantities. I suddenly realised there's a lot of opportunity for me to sell other brands as well.
Mainly, I relied on my own research. There's a podcast called Side Hustle School that I loved. Ordinary people talking about their business ideas – some crazy, some quite boring – and how they'd made them happen. That was really inspiring.
I did some googling and learned about writing a business plan. I did quite thorough competitive research, filling out spreadsheets with what other companies were doing. I also bought a few business books that gave me ideas about minimum viable products and keeping costs down and ideas for testing the market.
Once I began focusing on my website and expanding my product ranges, I encountered the world of SEO. I'd heard the term but didn't know how to do it. That's when I came across Enterprise Nation and the business.connected courses.
So I've used business.connected to learn more about SEO. I have to fit all my upskilling and personal development around teaching three days a week and then my family, so it's great to have everything online for when I have time to do it. Often at 10 o'clock at night!
It's opened my eyes to all the things I need to think about. I like that the courses are brief – they cover the fundamentals that I can then go on and learn more about. But they cram a lot into the 60-minute sessions as well.
I'm excited. Short term, it's really more of what I'm trying to do at the moment. With the help of business.connected, maximising the website and the SEO, making the most of social media and running some social media advertising campaigns, and PR as well. I want to link up with local journalists.
I don't really have a big five-year plan, but eventually I'd love to develop some more of my own toys. The one I made right at the beginning was all about emotions and talking about how people are feeling, and I think there's a real need for that kind of thing. Coming out of the pandemic, a lot of children are suffering with new mental health issues. Anything you can do to get people talking about emotions is a really good thing. So I can still have that aim.
Enterprise Nation is partnering with Vodafone Business to equip 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses with the digital skills they need to take their operations to the next level.
The free training programme – delivered exclusively online, and consisting of workshops, webinars and e-learning modules – will empower businesses to kickstart digital change, adopt new technology, and stay safe online.
For more information, visit the business.connected support hub