Andy Salmon, serial entrepreneur and Senior Lecturer in International Business at Birmingham City University Business School discusses the everyday challenges small and medium-sized enterprises are facing in the current regional business environment and the business support opportunities they need to take advantage of to ensure sustainable business growth.


Andy, tell us a bit about your business experience? “I’ve spent most of my career in industry, starting my first business selling commercial alarm systems when I was 18. I then went on to build and sell a couple of businesses until I was 25, when I moved over to Australia to run a successful consultancy for 10 years, where I developed a passion for helping and advising other businesses. 

“Due to family reasons, I came back to the UK and continued my consultancy career running several training programmes for Worcestershire and Staffordshire business central. In 2014 I began my career as a lecturer, supporting regional businesses such as through the Help To Grow: Management Course as a delivery lead.”

Tell us a bit about the Help To Grow Management Course? “The Help To Grow: Management Course is a 12-week programme, designed to help senior leaders address key challenges in their business as well as capitalise on the opportunities coming their way.”  

In today’s regional business environment, why is external growth support so important? “Growth is important for any business, otherwise they’re treading water. Many small and medium-sized businesses were started by the owner who has a passion for a particular field or area.  

“While they may have expertise in that key field, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be an expert in finance, HR or marketing as well – key areas that determine the success of a business. That’s why external support is vital, as it puts the business in the best position to be competitive.”

What are the key business challenges the course addresses? “One key challenge we cover is digital adoption, as digital transformation is currently playing a leading role in how developing businesses are moving forward.  

“However, many senior managers don’t know where to start even when they’re aware their competitors are making advances in a particular area. We take a look at the key steps that are needed to make this shift. 

“Brand building is another key area. Many businesses see their brand as finite and aren’t involved in the process of customer segmentation, targeting and brand positioning. What your customer wants today isn’t what they want tomorrow. Senior managers need to be aware of this. Through ‘Help To Grow’ we revisit your business vision, mission and values and encourage you to do this regularly. 

“Finally, how an organisation goes about developing their strategy is pivotal to success. If they’ve reached a stage of what they’re doing is just ‘doing’, how do we know it’s meeting the demands of the business and the marketplace today? That’s why we encourage businesses to focus on their strategy and pathways to innovate.” 

How is the course designed to stimulate business growth? “Making this a 12-week programme was intentional as it gives those business leaders who attend the opportunity to reflect on what they learn, plan and start implementation. Our workshops are also in bite-size chunks as we know it’s difficult for leaders to take full-days out of their week.  

“Finally, my colleagues who are delivering on the programme have spent a long time in industry. Businesses can draw upon the expertise of different colleagues week-by-week.” 

The course was initially created as a government response to building back businesses after the pandemic, how does ‘Help To Grow’ support this? “Business can be tough at the top, so built-in peer support sessions and opportunities to form networks help build a community and provide a chance for greater collaboration. The sessions also give businesses chance to face significant challenges together and share ideas and concerns. Many of the businesses who take part end up joining in strategic partnerships, gaining referrals or going into business together.” 

In addition to ‘Help To Grow’ what type of activities do you feel businesses should be investing in right now? “Successful businesses are ones that are open to opportunities. I advise senior leaders to seek out support and go and access it whether it be mentoring, workshops or other opportunities.  

“When you do attend such activities, make sure that any learning you experience is implemented and shared within your organisation. Far too often information is kept in silos. Having a senior decision-maker meet with your various departments regularly, sharing knowledge helps your business move in the right direction.  

“I’m a big advocate of the Mckinsey 7S model which looks at the seven internal factors as a means of determining whether a company has the structured support to be successful. Try to look at how and when you make changes in an organisation (such as price to a product) and how it impacts other areas or parts of the business and how you need to adapt. These are my key tips for success.”