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For many of us a new year means focusing on a new health regime to trim down our waistline after over indulging at Christmas; maybe going on a new overseas adventure, perhaps finding that new job opportunity where our skills and experience will be appreciated and developed; or even taking up a new hobby to improve our work life balance whilst all the time thinking about ways of boosting our considerably depleted bank balance after festive overspending.

For businesses, especially SMEs and microbusinesses, it’s no different. A new year can be an ideal time to take stock of productivity, costs, revenue and overall business health and performance. I am not advocating a complete re-write of your business plan 2017/18 but the fact remains that on January 2nd when most workplaces re-open there is still a quarter of the financial year remaining – 64 working days or approximately 512 hours per employee. Any decisions taken in early January can still have a significant impact on closing revenues, as well as laying the foundations for  2018/19 business performance.

Knowing where to focus your investments and where to consolidate spending, however, can be tricky.

As a small business owner myself, I recognise the financial challenges at this time of year when professional memberships are due for renewal, training providers launch enticing, new programmes, exhibition, sponsorship and event invitations begin to arrive. It’s a bit like Black Friday all over again.

How do I know if the digital marketing training courses I attended in the Summer and Autumn of 2017 have indeed helped me reach more businesses who may need my export advice? Can I be sure that attending further Chamber of Commerce or Institute of Export networking conferences will lead to a higher demand for my business French and German training courses?

The answer is I can’t be 100% sure. Despite the plethora of data crunching, marketing analytics programmes available online it can still be difficult to measure the effectiveness and return on investment from some training and business development activities I invested in during 2017 and therefore whether I should re-invest in 2018. Ultimately, I need my business to be lean whilst continuing to grow and develop profitably.

However, whilst I continuously strive to find alternative, low cost digital platforms for marketing and development purposes, I firmly believe that cutting investment in training and development, cancelling professional memberships and reducing international stakeholder engagement will have a massively negative affect on my business profile and future business growth and capability.

One of my businesses core strengths is the ability to be agile, responsive and develop bespoke business export strategies and language programmes. By severing ties with the business community as a cost saving exercise my business USP has been severely compromised. This is the equivalent of not renewing your gym membership after investing all year just at the time when you really need to build on your core strength and fitness.

Up and down the UK, especially for those companies importing raw materials from Europe paying in Euros, this has been a major challenge to profitability and impetus for cost cutting measures where difficult decisions are being taken daily.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that the UK has one of the lowest rates of productivity in Europe; a situation which has worsened over the last decade. I believe that this is partly because many UK businesses still regard training, collaboration, marketing and stakeholder engagement as inconvenient costs rather than strategic investments which help enterprises upskill, build reputation and connect with new business partners.

Regions like Scandinavia outperform UK productivity levels convincingly by employing innovation through collaboration, implementing blended, continuous training and development, having longer and more vocational education systems and establishing partnerships across education and industry. There are undoubtedly cost challenges for Scandinavian businesses too, especially Norway as a non- EU member, however the solutions employed do not appear to be at the cost of education, training, collaboration or development.

Source OECD

On a positive note, it is encouraging to see that English regions are now focusing on this particular topic of low productivity, especially following the recent launch of the industrial strategy. It is my understanding that all 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and other business support groups are collectively engaging with business to help address some of these training, innovation and skills gaps as well as providing additional support to encourage export. It is up to individual businesses themselves whether they trim down or bulk up their operations in the face of today’s economic challenges, but the conversation is now happening nationally and that in my view can only be a good thing.

We likely won’t see any major improvements compared to other countries for a few years but industry, government and academia working together seems to have worked elsewhere so let’s hope we can get in shape for the future generations.

So, as we welcome in 2018, perhaps searching the internet for our local “Couch to 5K” programme, sensing our waistline, liver and bank balance slowly recovering, let’s not forget that any intentional reduction in a structure can affects its core stability and vice versa – whether that’s our waistline or our business! Happy New Year to all.

For more information on HW Language Services export support or bespoke, language training for business, trade/membership associations or private individuals  go to or find me on LinkedIn