It’s no secret: technology as an industry is predominantly male. As the CEO of a fast-growing technology business with ambitious aims to become the biggest mobile workforce management platform in the world, this is a serious problem.(more…)
25 March 2021 – All across the country, lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease. Families are finally reuniting in parks and gardens. Schools have welcomed back students.(more…)
25 March 2021 – Quick question for you. How many flavours of KitKat are there?
If you think you can count them all on your fingers, starting with the Chunky and adding the odd seasonal “special”, prepare for a shock… It is likely that the number tops 2,000 or more.
18 March 2021 – When I was 11 years old, my father would take me to work at his auctions. We travelled all over the UK and the hours were punishing but I never grumbled at the time.(more…)
12th March 2021 – It’s a strange quirk of history that John Doerr isn’t a household name. Technophiles, entrepreneurs and management experts have heard of him, but otherwise he remains relatively obscure.
Doerr is a venture capitalist – he backed Google in the early days. But what really makes him interesting is his other contribution to the success of the internet giant – and countless other companies and organisations besides.
Doerr introduced Larry Page and Sergey Brin to a system for driving and managing growth that has ultimately led Google to become one of the most valuable companies in the world.
He is the promoter of a management methodology called Objectives and Key Results – OKRs for short. Don’t let the bland title fool you: this is the stuff of legend. The full explanation is in Doerr’s book Measure What Matters – which I’ve just finished reading – but here’s the short version.
OKRs are a way of focusing the efforts of everyone in your organisation on the same important things that generate growth. The “Objectives” are the goals – achievable yet inspirational. The “Key Results” are how you know you’re making progress towards those goals. These are always number-based, measured regularly, and a combination of short-term and long-term ambitions.
Doerr describes OKRs as “a vaccine against fuzzy thinking”.
Regular readers of this blog will know that BigChange recently took on a strategic investor, and that we are now on a growth journey that I believe will take us from a valuation of £100m to £1bn.
OKRs will be vital in the pursuit of this ambitious goal.
- BigChange want to become a global leader in field service management – both in terms of growth and by reputation
- BigChange want to deliver all our services to customers in a frictionless way
- Build the BigChange network and empower other businesses to grow
There are key results associated with each of these goals. Everyone in the management team has their own list of OKRs, and we have processes in place to keep all of us accountable.
The idea is to distil everything we want to achieve into a structured approach. Don’t make the shopping list too long: the team needs to feel excited and empowered to reach these goals, not overwhelmed.
Alongside Google, Intel, the Gates Foundation – even U2 – have used OKRs to achieve their goals. It is so humbling to be taking our first steps along this journey.
I’ve shared these OKRs with you, so that any other business owners interested in this process can get some insight into our approach. I’d love to hear about your experiences with OKRs too. In a few years, I hope I look back at this post and think, “That was the turning point. The time our growth trajectory reached a new level.”
4th March 2021 – Diversity in the workplace is a big topic right now and when it comes to gender, racial and cultural diversity, many British companies are committed to making positive change. But there is still one workplace taboo that has yet to be tackled: age bias.
26 February 2021 – With just a week to go until you announce your Budget, like many business owners, I am worried that a move into austerity might derail the recovery.
19th February 2021 – They say it’s darkest before the dawn. I think that right now, in the UK, we are at that point, waiting for the sun to rise. Our vaccination programme has surpassed targets.
Leeds, 11 February 2021 – If there’s one thing that the last 12 months have taught us, it’s that no company can be successful in isolation. You need your suppliers to be successful, in order to provide the products or services you need, and you need your customers to be successful, in order to keep buying from you.
February 2021 – This week is a big week for me and for the company I founded eight years ago.
28 January 2020 – They say it takes all sorts to make a world. That phrase is often used with negative connotations, to highlight the differences between us. (more…)
21 January 2021 – Like many entrepreneurs, I don’t sleep much. For much of my life, I have lived on about five hours a night. (more…)
14 January 2021 – Change is coming. As we look forward into 2021, full of hope for the successful deployment of vaccinations and the lifting of local lockdowns, we begin to notice the first signs of recovery. (more…)
08 January 2021 – I don’t know about you, but after I came back from the festive break, things felt a bit same-old, same-old. Nothing about 2021 felt like a new year. (more…)
23 December 2020 – I have a problem with New Year’s Resolutions. They sound great, in theory. Make a list of things in your life you’d like to change? Pledge to make improvements? All very positive, surely? (more…)
17 December 2020 – When we look at some of the successful entrepreneurs and CEOs of our time, it’s easy to assume that it takes arrogance, stubbornness and a hard-nosed attitude in order to build a booming venture.
10 December 2020 – For years, I have been an advocate of kaizen or continual improvement. Sometimes, the best way to grow your business, win new customers, and create a product that everyone loves isn’t to make massive sweeping changes or introduce brand new ideas. It is to make small improvements, consistently, over time.
Leeds, 02 December 2020 – The death of the British high street will have severe ramifications, not only for our economy but for life as we know it.
Leeds, 26 November 2020 – If there’s one thing we all need right now, it’s faith. Faith that we will make it through 2020. Faith in our abilities as leaders, as managers, as entrepreneurs. Faith in our instincts and experience.
18th November 2020 – We need to have a circuit breaker lockdown over the Christmas period. We need two weeks where stringent measures and penalties are in place to keep everyone at home: we need to stop COVID-19 in its tracks and we need to do it as soon as possible.
13th November 2020 – This has been a big week for the world. First, Joe Biden triumphed in the US presidential election, ushering in a new era for the Democrats.
30th October 2020 – As we approach the end of 2020, one of the most challenging years in living memory, I am sitting down to review the performance of BigChange in the third quarter of this financial year.
23rd October 2020 – Video calls have taken over our lives.
15th October 2020 – We need to face facts: COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon.
8th October 2020 – We are all under pressure right now. The ongoing COVID crisis, the deepening recession, our inability to plan for the future, these challenges have all created a cocktail of unease.
What do the greatest business leaders of the modern age have in common?
Is it single-minded determination, like Apple founder Steve Jobs? Or perhaps it’s the ability to roll out across the world at pace, like Starbucks’ Howard Shultz.
It turns out that there are far more important skills to have. I recently caught up with BigChange ambassador and mentor Kevin Keegan OBE, one of the greatest footballers of all time and a legendary successful manager and leadership coach. He told me the two most important qualities that truly great leaders much have.
We spent some time talking about these qualities and why they make for better leaders. The conversation just blew me away. Not all of his advice was new to me but the way he explained it all really resonated.
Kevin told me that out of all the managers he has encountered throughout the course of his career, only a few really stick out as great leaders. “I knew I could trust them,” he says. “I knew they meant what they said.”
Kevin explained that the ability to be trustworthy and open is the mark of a really first-class leader. You always know where you stand with those people; you know when you have done a good job and when you need to improve.
You can only get the best out of people as a leader, he explained, when the team knows you have their best interests at heart and that you are willing to be open and transparent.
Kevin has hit the nail on the head and there has never been a more important time to fortify trust in leadership. Many people across the UK have had a challenging few months. Some may have been furloughed. Some may have experienced wage decreases. All of us need to spend more time checking in, talking to our people, and communicating exactly what’s going on in the business, and what we need to do to succeed in future.
At BigChange, we are currently in the process of developing a new five-year strategy. This will reflect all the changes that we have experienced as a result of lockdown and COVID-19. The cornerstone of this new strategy is people: how we find great colleagues, how we retain them and how we get the best out of them. Honesty is a crucial part of the process.
Kevin told me a great story about one of the best leaders he encountered in his career. It really demonstrated why he places ‘fairness’ as one of the top two leadership qualities. While he was at Liverpool FC, he and his team mates would wear weighted clothing during training. “It was like having someone on your back,” he said. “They were so wet and heavy when we finished training that the lads used to throw them off.” One day, manager Bill Shankly pulled them up on their behaviour. “He said to Emlyn Hughes, who was the captain, ‘Don’t leave that on the floor because Jessie will have to clean it up. Pick it up.’” The Liverpool manager was telling the squad to think of the guy who looked after their kit – he, ultimately, would be the one to suffer if they left their clothes all over the changing room floor.
Kevin says that was a wake-up call for everyone. “[Bill] was so on the ball with what it meant to play for a football club,” he told me. “It’s very important for leaders to make the whole team feel part of it, and great leaders do it naturally.”
Kevin believes that that no single person is responsible for the success of an organisation or team. He has won the Ballon d’Or twice (and is the only English player to have won it more than once) as well as the Golden Boot, the award for the top goalscorer of the year. He says that while his name might be on these awards, he has never forgotten the people that helped him get the coveted title. “You don’t win on your own,” he says. “Someone has to pass you the ball.” He told me that everyone who works at a club needs to feel part of its success, from the nutritionist to the fitness trainer to the psychologist. “That’s key,” Kevin said. “To make everyone who is contributing feel recognised.”
On Tuesday night I held a virtual huddle with more than 100 members of the team. These are usually results-focused but this time I took a different tack. I thought about what Kevin had said and took the time to engage with everyone. I checked in on how they were doing and thanked all the teams for their work. The call became more of a conversation than one-way traffic.
I’m so grateful to Kevin for his brilliant advice. With all my colleagues working remotely, it’s never been more relevant to call out great work, and make sure every team knows they are seen and appreciated.
On Sunday, BigChange will be featured in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 league table for the third time. It’s an amazing achievement, especially during these difficult times, and it is absolutely 100% down to the great team of people I have here. That’s not my award, that’s recognition for everyone in the business.
When you make everyone feel like they are part of the team, and show that you see their contributions, you don’t just boost their confidence and morale, you empower them. I want everyone in BigChange to be a leader, driving forward their own projects and creating their own goals. That’s the dream.
These sessions with Kevin are really helping me to focus on how I can improve and develop as an entrepreneur and manager. Check out the second video in the Kevin Keegan series visit next week on the BigChange website www.bigchange.com.
“They say you’re a born leader but there’s more to it than that. You learn from everyone you meet in your life.”
These wise words were recently shared with me by football legend Kevin Keegan. I am delighted to announce that he has become my mentor, and will be coaching me as part of his leadership programme.
Kevin, who became a BigChange ambassador last year, has a wealth of leadership knowledge: everything from motivating a team to inspiring extraordinary endeavours. When we sat down for our first coaching session, he explained the principles that have helped him become one of football’s all-time greats.
This gave me an idea. Why not capture some of these sessions so that we could share his insights with other leaders? This is how the Kevin Keegan Secrets of Leadership series was born. From September, I’ll share clips from our discussions, as he talks about the lessons he’s learned throughout his illustrious career. What Kevin doesn’t know about leadership isn’t worth knowing.
Next week, Kevin is talking about what makes a great leader. Natural aptitude is one thing, he says, but every leader must keep learning and developing if they are to reach their full potential.
“I learned this from my father at a young age,” he says. “He would say, ‘Son, go and learn from him now’ and would send me to work at a market stall in Doncaster.” You learn so much from environments where you deal with the general public, he explained.
My father also sent me to work at a market stall when I was young. It gives you an incredible foundation in sales, and also teaches soft skills like empathy. So many great leaders have started their careers from a market stall, from Matalan founder John Hargreaves to Michael Marks, who started Marks & Spencer.
Kevin says that he has always observed other leaders – both good and bad – in order to adapt his leadership style over the years. The big influences in his life were Ron Ashman, his first manager at Scunthorpe United. “His strength was communication,” he says. “Everyone knew where they stood. But he wasn’t great when you lost, so I learned not to be like that. ” Sir Alf Ramsay, the England manager who won the World Cup in 1966, also helped shape Kevin’s leadership style. “He had this air about him,” Kevin says. “Confidence without being arrogant. You felt so comfortable following him.”
Kevin got me thinking about the great leaders who have inspired me throughout the course of my career. People like Michael Dell, the technology entrepreneur, who is a great champion of intrapreneurship within Dell. He is one of the reasons I work so hard to encourage my BigChange colleagues to bring new ideas into the business and give them autonomy on projects.
Bill Shankly is another one of Kevin’s heroes. “He would say, ‘You are here for those people out there’. It made you think about being part of the community. Everyone comes into your life for a reason.”
To hear more from Kevin, take a look next week at the BigChange visitor website www.bigchange.com and please don’t forget to share a comment.
A few days ago, my sister-in-law and great friend Karen Harris posted a message on LinkedIn.
She wrote: “Feeling sad for my daughter. Straight A*s at GCSEs and school submitted A*A*A for A level grades. Exam board downgraded her to AAB so she has missed her uni places for computer science. Aren’t we meant to be encouraging women in tech? #womenintech #alevelresults”
A lot of youngsters are experiencing the fallout of the A-Level exam grades chaos right now. Even now the algorithm has been withdrawn and many have been awarded their predicted grades, some students may have missed out on a place at their top choice university. I feel a lot of sympathy and frustration on behalf of all those who feel they have been denied the education they have rightfully earned.
But I do also want to tell those people: all is not lost.
University isn’t the only way to a successful career, especially when you are studying a technical subject like computer science. You can go straight into industry and learn on the job instead. Arguably the skills you learn this way will be even more marketable and relevant to the modern world. If you still need the qualifications, your employer may even pay for you to do the degree part-time, or sponsor full-time study.
The Government’s recent Plan for Jobs pledge means that even more employers will be looking to create positions for smart young people. It will pay organisations £2,000 per apprentice and is introducing a bonus for businesses who hire apprentices aged 25 and over with a payment of £1,500.
The scheme will also subsidise six-month placements for young people on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment, with the government covering 100pc of the national minimum wage for 25 hours a week.
At BigChange, we invest so much in our apprentices and young trainees that this support, while welcome, barely covers any of our costs. But we don’t create apprenticeships to access government funding. We do it because we need talented young people to help us innovate and grow. They bring energy, enthusiasm and a new perspective to the organisation.
We are hiring right now into our RoadCrew Customer Service, Onboarding and Technical teams. Young starters all begin their career in RoadCrew, so they can learn the business from the ground up, but for many that is just a launch pad to other areas of the business.
Over the years, we have seen both promising graduates and brilliant straight-out-of-schoolers rise through the ranks to management and even senior management. When I look at people like Ed Goodwill, who started in RoadCrew back in 2013 and became product manager two years ago, I see an incredibly driven individual who has become a seasoned member of the team. Or Jonathan Isaacs, who joined in a customer service onboarding role in 2016 and is now a product director, shaping our future product strategy. Also there is Kully, Simon & Serge in sales who have all benefited from working there way through the company from RoadCrew to Sales. RoadCrew have nurtured Danielle, Jake and Tom in accounts.
I have always been passionate about offering opportunities to young people, however inexperienced they might be. All I ask for is a good attitude and the willingness to learn and be a team player. Over the years, I have employed plenty of my children’s friends – even my youngest, Josh, now has a few friends working in BigChange. The great thing about raw talent is that you can develop them from the ground up, nurture their careers, and they live and breathe your values and culture.
Our BigChange University is here, and we always have places for talented students. Instead of paying to study computer science, marketing, software engineering, international business management, economics, data analytics, and many more, come to us. We’ll let you work virtually, pay you, and you’ll come out the other side with no student debt.
You can’t underestimate the power of education and a university degree but given the state of the world right now, it’s good to have options. I never went to university; I studied at the school of life. It worked out all right for me.
Last month, Boris Johnson told the nation that it was time to go back to work.
Public transport was now safe to use, he claimed, so go out and stimulate the economy.
If he expected a stampede of commuters on August 1, he was disappointed. Just a third of Britain’s workers have gone back to the office so far this month. This is the lowest figure in Europe. In France, that number is as high as 83%.
It can’t have helped that the same day the Prime Minister was trying to chivvy us all back to the office, his Chief Scientific Advisor, Patrick Vallance, was telling people to ignore the advice and stay home.
Schools will reopen and are perfectly safe, we are told. Pubs are breeding grounds for the virus and may be closed down again. Soft play areas are dangerous but nurseries are not. Clubs are bad but gyms are fine.
We have been receiving mixed messages from Government throughout this pandemic and we are tired of it.
BigChange, like many resilient British firms, has been operating throughout lockdown. It’s been ‘business as usual’ for us, with almost every member of the team working from home. We have pivoted to offer virtual meetings and support and we’ve been delighted by the response from customers. We’ve had many stellar reviews over the last few months, proving to me that the virtual model works for us.
But we do want to help support the economy. We recognise the plight of many local businesses, like coffee shops that rely on commuter trade. We also want to offer access to the office to colleagues who want to come in for some peace and quiet, or to see colleagues (albeit at a distance).
I recently asked my network for some help finding a health and safety expert to review our office facilities and check whether it would be possible to reopen. A customer put us in touch with a brilliant gentleman who came and did a recce last week.
We have 10,000 square feet of space at our Leeds office. More than 100 people usually work there. Yet, taking into consideration all the new social distancing rules, just 15 people can now be in our office at any one time.
This is because the social areas, such as loos and kitchen, are not set up for social distancing. If I’m honest, they were too small even before we had to keep staff 2m apart. That’s just how offices are designed these days.
If we have just 15 people in the office, they can easily stay more than 2m apart. But does that mean they will be completely safe? We don’t know. The Government doesn’t know.
We use air conditioning in our offices, like many organisations across the UK. Most modern office buildings don’t even have windows that open; air is recirculated between floors. Could the virus be spread through the vents? We are in discussions with the landlord to try and find a solution but shouldn’t this be a job for Government?
And if we ask people to wear masks into the office, what masks should we tell them to wear? We don’t know. There is still no British standard for masks. People can wear any old piece of cloth, even though it’s possible that anything less than surgical grade does little to protect others.
Some business owners are opting to leave all internal doors open to minimise the risk of spreading the virus on door handles. That’s not an option for us. Our internal doors are fire doors. Fire beats COVID-19 on my list of risks. So are we expected to hire someone to disinfect all our doors and stainless steel surfaces every half an hour? Will that mean just 14 people from BigChange can now return to the office?
This is just a taste of the complexity business leaders are facing right now. Government is issuing statements and practical guidance – but often these are conflicting or out of date. The threat of local lockdowns and second waves will be with us for months to come. This is why BigChange remains committed to working from home for the foreseeable.
However, we are setting up the office to enable limited use. Our employees will be able to book a slot if they need a better working environment or to work with new team members. Attendance will be completely voluntary. People can choose not to come to the office at all. In the meantime, we will continue to look for new and effective virtual approaches to developing company culture and building relationships between teams.
So my question to you, Prime Minister, is this:
How can you expect business leaders to reopen offices and get people back to work when regulations dictate that we can only have a fraction of the team in the building at one time? How can we reassure our staff we are prioritizing their safety when there is no definitive decision on all the risks they may face?
You may be able to chop and change and send out mixed messages, but I take the welfare of my people extremely seriously and I want them to know everything I tell them is correct, verifiable, and in their best interests.
So, come on, Boris. Sort out this mess.
Employees who feel valued are more productive, happier and will go the extra mile for their managers.
This sounds obvious but when you are running a business, and have a lot on your plate, it’s not always easy to find the time and opportunity to congratulate your people on their accomplishments, and thank them for their hard work.
Yet studies have shown that feeling valued ranks alongside pay, benefits and time off as a major contributor to job satisfaction.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), receiving expressions of gratitude can have a massive effect on workplace behaviour. In a field experiment, the authors found that a message of gratitude from a manager led to a significant increase in the number of calls made by a team of university fundraisers.
A separate study by the Journal of Applied Behavioural Science also found that when treated with respect, and trusted to make decisions autonomously, workers’ performance significantly improved. The key takeaway was: “Positivity can foster team member engagement and performance.” It recommended demonstrating “appreciation, affirmation, and respect”.
I am in awe of my incredible team here at BigChange but it’s not enough for me to say that in this blog, I have to show it consistently, every day. This is why, a few years ago, we created our Green Flag Report.
Everyone knows that red flags are a bad thing. We use red flags when we need to resolve an issue outside of our service level. But we have also turned the concept on its head, using the BigChange platform to assign green flags. These are used to highlight exceptional performance, great customer service, or people simply being a great team player.
We are super-users of our own platform, so it has been straightforward to train colleagues to use green flags to tell me and managers about the team’s achievements. Every Sunday, I read each and every one, and send an email to the whole company sharing the highlights and thanking everyone who went the extra mile that week.
It’s been extremely effective at motivating my colleagues: they know that I see how hard they work, and their contribution to this company. It also helps to drive home the vital role that every team plays here: for example, people in sales hear about the incredible work done by engineers out on the road – these individuals may rarely meet in person, if at all.
There are no financial incentives connected to the green flag initiative; it’s separate from our benefits and bonuses. This is about showing people that they are seen, heard, and valued. But it certainly sticks in my mind when I see the same names coming up again and again – those people are likely to go far in the company.
We have made this functionality available to all BigChange customers, free of charge, to help them create the same kind of engagement and culture of gratitude in their teams. There really is nothing like the buzz when people see all their colleagues applauding their efforts. Especially now there is no office and we are all working remotely.
We want to do our bit to help other business owners make their teams feel valued and important, and help unlock productivity now, when it’s needed the most.
There comes a time in every businessperson’s life when they start to think about giving back to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
You can spend years, even decades, striving to build a successful company, and get traction in your chosen market. During that time, you learn so much – you pick up skills you can’t hone any other way.
Once you learn what it takes to achieve your goals, you want to give others a helping hand. You know the blood, sweat and tears that go into launching a start-up, or generating growth, or making acquisitions. Perhaps you wish you’d known a little more of what you do now in your early days. You know you can lighten a fellow business owner’s load by giving them the benefit of your experience. Sometimes, mentoring is about sharing your smartest strategies. Sometimes it’s about telling them your worst mistakes so they can avoid repeating them.
I have started mentoring a young entrepreneur. She has recently taken over her father’s business. It’s an exciting challenge, and she is keen to get some guidance from an outsider. I am giving her an hour of my time every two weeks to discuss any challenges, share my insights and help connect her to my network.
When we were drawing up a rough plan for how our mentoring relationship would look, I started thinking about how many other people or new business owners could benefit from advice. Never more so than now, in fact – in the wake of the worst pandemic for 100 years.
We are in a period when many brilliant entrepreneurs have a little extra time on their hands. Maybe they have reclaimed the time they usually spend commuting by working from home. Perhaps business is slower than usual. Or maybe they have hit pause on some more complex projects.
This is the time to reach out to other business owners in your community and see how you can help. It’s so easy. Organisations like Connect Yorkshire exist to help connect business owners with seasoned entrepreneurs. Full disclosure: I am a paid up member of the organisation. But, truly, what a brilliant service. If you can afford £300 a year then I thoroughly recommend you join. You will be able to tap into business brains such as textile tycoon Sir Anthony Ullman, Boost Drinks founder Simon Gray, turnaround expert Richard Field OBE or the legendary IT entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson, who built and sold Freeserve back in the 90s.
Mentoring makes you a better entrepreneur. Every time I give advice, I have ideas for my own business. I’ve started making two columns in my notebook during mentoring sessions: one is about what I can help the other person achieve, and the other is for smart strategies I need to tweak or implement at BigChange. If you really want to learn, try to teach someone else what you know. It’s a really illuminating process.
I am keen to do more mentoring this year, and I’m also passionate about encouraging other entrepreneurs to dedicate some of their free time to helping the next generation. If this is you, and you are looking for some tips on how it works (how much time to give, when to schedule meetings and what is expected of you), then drop me a line. I’ll be happy to share the structure that’s worked for me.
When I was creating the business plan for 2020, I had no idea that this would end up being one of the most challenging, worrying, strange and illuminating years of my entire career.
Here are the half-year results for BigChange. I know we’ve weathered the storm better than many, and for that I’m hugely grateful to my incredible team and our loyal, fantastic customer base.
Going for growth
The last few months have been tough but BigChange adjusted quickly to the new trading conditions. The business generated revenues of £8.2m in the first half of 2020, up from £7.6m during the first half of last year.
This is an incredible achievement and is down, in part, to the 166 new customers we brought onto the platform. I’d like to give a special mention to Sunbelt Rentals Inc (formerly A-Plant), part of Ashtead Group Plc, the largest equipment rental company in the UK, which came on board at the start of 2020.
We have secured a record £13m-worth of new contracts during the last six months, and order values are up 25% on last year. I’m proud to say that the majority of new business now comes in through customer referrals. The business has grown well across all our target markets, including France and Cyprus.
Investing in innovation
We have continued to invest in new products and features. We have spent £500,000 on a new business analytics and artificial intelligence solution, which will be launched later this year.
During lockdown, we released a number of features to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. These include: a new ‘no touch’ signature feature for mobile workers, and integration with some of the world’s most commonly used tools, such as Outlook and Word.
Our commitment to innovation was recognised during the first quarter of this year, when BigChange received the highest honours that can be given to a British company. We won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, in the Innovation category.
Proving our worth
Our customers have been our number one priority throughout this crisis, and I’m extremely proud that we have managed to help so many of them to trade on successfully using our platform.
Drainage company Eurotech has experienced a £1m boost to the business since going live with BigChange last summer. Moorhouse Heating Limited has doubled its turnover and tripled its field service engineering team without needing additional staff in the office. Europump has used BigChange to increase its first-time fix record tenfold, boosting the business by £100,000 a year.
Here are just a few of the customer testimonials we’ve received over the last few months:
“Being fully digital, cloud-based and completely free of paperwork proved critical during the COVID-19 lockdown. We literally flicked a switch and were all instantly up and running from home. We just carried on working as normal.”
Jack Aplin, Director, Europump
“During the Coronavirus lockdown we’d have been completely floored without BigChange. If we’d still been paper-based we simply couldn’t have done our job – as things were customers did not see any change at all.”
Mick Brindle, Director, H2O FlowTech
“We were able to shut down the office and be up and running at home within one hour. The BigChange No Touch Signature Capture App has been especially useful, allowing us to gain job sign-off without directly interacting with the customer; with many premises closed our usual contacts are simply not onsite anyway.”
Paul Roberts, Director Metroline Fire & Security
World-class customer service
We are so thankful to our customers for giving us a Net Promoter Score that rivals the likes of Samsung and Starbucks. We are now at 70 plus, up from 68 in the final quarter of 2019. A Net Promoter Score reflects a customer’s willingness to recommend you and anything above 70 is categorised as ‘world-class’.
The BigChange Network
At the start of the year we held Network conferences in Newcastle and Manchester, bringing together customers and partners to share insights and address business challenges. These events were supported by BigChange ambassadors Kevin Keegan and Michelle Dewberry. After lockdown, we held an online roundtable on supporting mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. More than 200 partners and customers attended the virtual event.
Before lockdown was announced, we soon realised that we would need to cut costs if we were going to keep growing in a sustainable way. We have managed to do that, reducing the outgoings of the business enough to allow BigChange to break even.
Some of these efficiencies were achieved through salary cuts across the business. I opted to take a 30pc pay cut while junior members of the team have seen wages fall by just 5pc. We put less than 30 people on the Government’s furlough scheme and most have already returned to the business. This has helped to safeguard all our jobs and ensure that BigChange is in a much stronger financial position going into the second half. I’d like to thank my colleagues for their understanding and flexibility.
BigChange managed to move all 170 staff to remote working with zero downtime for our customers. We have made significant savings on travel during the last six months – and have reduced our carbon footprint, which is great for the planet as well as the bottom line.
As we have pivoted our business towards virtual working, we have also changed our offering. Many customers were forced to furlough workers, so we launched a series of online tutorials to help their staff learn how to use our core system. These training sessions covered everything from CRM to scheduling, and we welcomed hundreds of users to these sessions. We completed four tutorials a week over a 12-week period.
To help our customers to win new business despite lockdown, we launched our flagship Stronger Together campaign, advertising their services across our social media channels and on a dedicated webpage.
Our Motivational Mondays series has also gone online, and we have offered access to our incredible line-up of speakers to customers, prospects and partners. We are also supporting several charities through the initiative.
None of this could have been achieved without outstanding effort from the whole team, and the enduring trust and support of our customers and partners.
Thank you all.
The fortunes of local businesses have always been inextricably linked with football.
There’s a certain magic that happens when a city’s economy thrives and the local football team is at the top of its game. It’s as though the success of one magnifies the other.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. After 16 long years, Leeds was finally promoted back into the Premier League on July 17th. This was a momentous occasion for me, both as a lifelong Leeds fan, but also as an entrepreneur.
Throughout my whole career, Leeds United has been a partner in my success. When I was staying in a small hotel in Serenje District in Zambia, the gentleman at reception had not heard of Leeds – “But I know Leeds United,” he said. At meetings in Israel, saying that we were based in Leeds became a major advantage when everyone realised that our local team had featured sporting legends like Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner, Gary Speed and Norman Hunter.
It’s a strange but powerful phenomenon: BigChange is all the richer from its association with Leeds United. Even during the darkest days at the club, when fans were chanting, ‘We’re not famous any more’, we were still trading on the longstanding value and currency generated by United. The name Leeds United is a form of free advertising, and a helping hand when doing deals with anyone who has a passing interest in football.
This is why I’m so proud that BigChange is now a Gold Digital Partner at Elland Road. Our logo is projected onto the field, and we will be back in the box supporting our team as soon as lockdown rules permit. Customers are already getting in touch, asking to come and watch games with us later in the year or in 2021. It’s an unrivalled opportunity to network; everyone in the room is united by their love of the beautiful game.
The Premier League creates an enormous amount of value for the UK economy. Each year, the League brings in an estimated £7.6bn through ticket sales, jobs, brand value and taxes. No one has analysed the economic impact of Leeds United in recent years but it is estimated that Manchester United generated £330m a year for Manchester.
Andrea Radrizzani’s full takeover of Leeds United in May 2017 brought a real buzz back to the game, and the city. Leeds United has pulled off an extraordinary turnaround to be back in the top flight. Right now, I can feel the renewed hope and enthusiasm in my bones.
It gives all of us Yorkshire leaders a boost, and a feeling that we too can achieve anything. Amidst all the gloom, it’s a shot in the arm.
Let’s keep marching on together.
I’ve done it. I’ve booked two weeks off in August.
This might not seem much of an achievement but I really struggle to take holidays. I love my job, and I am completely focused on building BigChange and improving the service we offer customers.
Sometimes, though, this makes it hard to switch off. Being ‘on’ all the time can be mentally draining. Recently, I’ve started looking at my packed calendar and I’ve felt overwhelmed, rather than energized.
You need to take breaks in order to recharge. I am always encouraging my colleagues to take holidays and have a rest but it’s hard to take my own medicine.
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many of us to work from home. Leaders feared that this would adversely affect productivity: would staff be able to manage their time well? How do workers perform when there’s no one watching?
According to the Office for National Statistics, there was only a slight dip in productivity at the start of lockdown – down just 0.4% compared with the same period in 2019. Considering the level of disruption and upheaval, that’s a pretty incredible result.
Now that we truly understand that virtual working can be just as productive as an office-based environment, we must deal with another issue: people who are engaged, driven and ambitious will struggle to stop working.
A recent survey of more than 2,000 people by LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation found that Brits who have been working from home since the coronavirus outbreak have been putting in an extra 28 hours of overtime a month. This has taken its toll: more than half (56%) said that they felt “more anxious and stressed” about work than they did before the pandemic. Right now, 12% of workers are logging on before 7am and 18% are still working 12 hours later.
I’ve also noticed that my working day is creeping later and later. The time and energy I’m saving on travelling means I get an extra half hour in bed in the morning, but then I never take a lunch break and find myself still working at 11pm. I’m so much more productive at home and I have a PA yet I’m putting in extra hours. It shouldn’t be this way.
Strong managers will need to ensure that they enforce boundaries, and don’t allow team members to burn out by working long hours. But I am my own manager, and I need to take responsibility for my own mental health.
My wife and I both need to be mindful of ‘burn out’. When I told Mandy I’d booked two weeks off for us to take a holiday she said, ‘I refuse. You go. I’ll work!’ We are a pair of workaholics.
I’m hoping to win Mandy over by finding somewhere really brilliant to go. I don’t want to fly anywhere – I want to help support the British economy by having a ‘staycation’ instead.
I hope some of you reading this can help me out. Where shall we go? We like walking, golf, and we would love to take our dog with us – otherwise we’re open to ideas. We want to keep maintaining social distance, so we will need our own space – and I doubt I could convince Mandy and the kids to go camping.
Make sure you get a holiday in the diary too. I’m sure you need a break as badly as we do.
It’s a strange feeling, celebrating milestones under lockdown. 25 years ago today, I married my wonderful wife Mandy.
What’s also strange is that I’m not at all sad that things have worked out this way. If the last few months under lockdown have taught me anything, it is to appreciate the little things – and that family is extraordinarily precious.
If you would have told me, at the start of the year, that I would be spending four months inside my home with my wife 24/7, and living with my four children for the first time since they were all at school, I would have laughed at you. “I need to travel to see customers,” the old me would have said. “There will be so many arguments. We’ll tear the house apart.”
The reality has been totally different.
I have loved every minute.
This pandemic has had a devastating impact on so many people, families and organisations. It’s a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Yet that has only made me feel more grateful, more blessed for the people I love.
I love our new life. I work in the lounge and Mandy is next door in the dining room. We pop in and out, and always sit down to have tea together – usually with the kids too. Before lockdown, I can’t remember the last time I made it home in time for the evening meal. I was always working till 7 or 8 o’clock.
I used to travel constantly, hopping on trains and planes to visit customers. Now, when I think of all that unproductive time spent travelling, and the carbon footprint, I shudder.
Being at home has been a revelation. I start work earlier but I have the flexibility to take a coffee break with Mandy and finish work in time to relax in the evening. Meetings over Teams are structured and to the point. Everything you lose in banter and small talk you gain in productivity.
Sometimes, my son Joseph brings his Playstation into my “office”. He’s got headphones in, so the noise doesn’t disturb me, and I love having him around all day.
Mandy and I have always made a great team, both at home and at the office – she worked with me at my last business, Masternaut, too. But this experience has only increased my admiration for her, and all she does.
Back when I was spending long hours at the office, and she was at home juggling lead generation for the business alongside looking after the kids, it was easy to miss how hard she works, and take her talent and energy for granted. Now, I see all that she does, and the amount she packs into her day. We’re both workaholics but when we work side-by-side, it never feels like work.
She is so perceptive, a great listener, and remembers all the details that I forget! I’m a better businessman with Mandy around.
So, yes, I’m celebrating our 25th anniversary under lockdown. But in many ways, this is a gift; the best anniversary present I could wish for.
This blog is dedicated to you Amanda Port, an incredible wife and mother, and a vital member of the team at BigChange. Happy anniversary. I love you.
These are tough times for many charities. The pandemic has created financial hardship for a lot of the people who usually give to good causes.
They have been forced to stop their donations, while others have moved support from their usual charities to those tackling COVID-19.
A recent study by Pro Bono Economics found that as many as one in 10 UK charities is facing bankruptcy by the end of the year. The report pointed to a £10bn shortfall, caused by soaring demand for the services offered by these organisations alongside the massive drop in income due to coronavirus.
This is something that weighs on me heavily. Like many other business leaders, I had to make the tough decision to reduce BigChange’s contributions to charity earlier this year. We usually give upwards of £200,000 to different causes each year but, right now, my priority has to be the needs of my colleagues and our customers – and the ongoing health of the business.
We are still making donations to humanitarian causes but have been forced to cut back on other charitable spending. I hope that this will only be for the short-term.
However, this got me thinking. I may not be able to give as much as before but could I, as an entrepreneur, figure out a way to help charities generate more donations? What resources or assets could I leverage to help them, in lieu of hard cash? This is when I had a brain wave.
The first Monday of each month, BigChange invites an inspiring speaker to come and tell the BigChange team about their lives. The Motivational Monday initiative has been running for a couple of years, and has been extremely popular. We’ve welcomed a diverse range of fascinating people, from Toyah Wilcox to Eddie the Eagle to Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh. This month, we are hearing from serial entrepreneur and Queen of taupe Kelly Hoppen.
I am now teaming up with local charities to give them access to these Motivational Monday events, so that they can use them as a part of a virtual coffee afternoon to help raise donations. I’m delighted to announce that we have already signed up the first two charities who will be coming on board: Yorkshire Cancer Research, and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, which funds research into motor neuron disease.
I hope that these partnerships will help worthy causes to raise awareness and hopefully get them some much-needed financial support at this difficult time. When faced with a problem, even one that seems impossible, there is always a solution if we think hard enough, and explore all the options available to us.
I want to do all I can to help worthy charities right now, as they do such brilliant work in this country. We must all pull together to make sure they can keep offering the services that vulnerable, sick, and disadvantaged people need now, more than ever. But we must also do our homework, supporting only those charities that are well managed and funnel the majority of donations towards the people they have promised to help.
There have been recent reports of charities – some big names too – that have failed to provide an acceptable level of service and even allowed vulnerable people to come to harm. The onus is on us all to do our due diligence before giving our money and support. It may feel uncomfortable to do so, it may be time consuming, but it is worth it to make sure that charities that truly make a positive difference in the world get the support they deserve – and the bad ones don’t.
If you were unable to join the live event, you can now catch-up with Martin’s webinar on the 25th of June.
Hear how Martin has used his experiences in business across the years to develop and build the BigChange business system, focus on customer service, drive efficiency and improve culture. All through his tried and tested strategies, which he shares with you as a recipe for success for any business.
Featuring Rebecca Burn-Callander, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph as the webinar facilitator.
Over the past week, there has been a lot of buzz around the benefits of the 4-day working week. Various politicians have called on the Chancellor to explore the option for the UK, as a way to generate more jobs.
At BigChange, we are way ahead of the curve. We are on course to move to a 4-day week in 2021. Right now, we’re on a 4.5-day week through our Flexi Friday initiative, which allows my colleagues to take a half-day every Friday – or when it’s convenient for them and their team. It’s been hugely popular and we have seen no dip in productivity – if anything, quite the reverse. The happier your people are, the more productive they tend to be.
When Microsoft in Japan introduced a 4-day week last year, while still paying employees the same salary as for five days, it found that labour productivity rose by nearly 40 per cent.
This is a difficult time for Britain’s workers. We know that the government’s furlough scheme is coming to an end in a few months. The forecast is for mass redundancies, especially in the hardest-hit sectors such as aviation and hospitality. This cloud hangs over everyone, and could mean that people are desperate to hang on to a job – any job.
This is why it’s so important for business leaders like me to stay committed to all the initiatives aimed at supporting and caring for our people, like the 4-day week. It would be easy to demand that employees work longer hours, citing the failing economy or industry pressures but that is just bad business.
I am still absolutely committed to introducing the 4-day week to BigChange. It’s important to note that this extra day off each week will be discretional, to be decided by the team member and their manager. We aren’t closing the office for a day a week, and if people feel that they need to work virtual on the fifth day to finish something urgent, then so be it. The aim is to encourage everyone at BigChange to work efficiently, and manage their time well, so that they can have a 4-day week without feeling overloaded or stressed, or like they don’t have time to finish projects.
I believe that our approach to the 4-day week will not only help my team to find a great work/life balance, it will also allow us to employ new people, creating more jobs for the British economy. Giving people an extra day off, while paying a competitive salary, not only allows them to spend more time with family, it also gives them the chance to learn new skills.
This is also a time of increased stress and anxiety. We all need the time and space to take extra care of our mental health and wellbeing, and look out for friends, family, and our communities.
The current pandemic has shown many leaders – including me – that we don’t need to be in an office to succeed, and that people perform really well when they are allowed to work flexibly. This will allow us to grow faster than ever. BigChange is an international player, working across multiple time zones. By allowing flexible working, we can start introducing night shifts, whereby UK colleagues can pick up calls from the US or further afield, all from home, knowing they have three days off ahead. We can also begin hiring people from deprived areas, instead of focusing on those within an easy commute to Leeds.
Where you live should not be a determinant of what kind of job you can secure.
It’s great that some politicians are waking up to the opportunities that a four-day week could bring but I would also like to see some tangible support for those of us leading the way. If the Chancellor wants to help, he could support the training and up-skilling of new employees, for example, or offer tax breaks to the forward-thinking organisations that are investing in a 4-day week.
I really hope that calling for the short week is more than a political move to try and win over voters. We need to work together to make the 4-day working week a reality. I know that it is what the economy, business, and workers need. The time is now.
I’ve appointed a new chief marketing officer at BigChange. He’s experienced, dynamic, highly motivated, and gets things done.
Spoiler alert: it’s me.
My current CMO has been with me for 10 years and is keen to make his own big change. He’s moving into consumer marketing and leaving me with some big shoes to fill. I had the option of recruiting someone from outside the business but, during these difficult times, I just think it would take an outsider too long to get up to speed and absorb the DNA of this business.
I could try and find a candidate from within the business but, if I’m honest, who better to take it on than me? I built BigChange from the ground up. I live and breathe this company. Who knows more about how to communicate about our DNA, our pillars, our customer service record and commitment to innovation?
Sales and marketing are my bread and butter. Every leader understands how to sell their idea and vision – to customers, colleagues, and investors. In the early days of BigChange, I was the CEO, COO, and CMO. This is a ‘back to basics’ move; even though I have had a CMO for the last decade, I never fully checked out of the role. I always wanted final say over marketing materials and sales collateral.
I’m excited and a little nervous to take on this new challenge.
Marketing has never been more important to businesses like BigChange.
My sales colleagues can’t meet people face-to-face. It’s very difficult to build rapport with a prospective customer when you can’t have a cuppa together and you’re just a window on their laptop screen.
This is why I’m working on creating a formalised approach to sales, helping my brilliant people to set the agenda during online meetings and really listen to customer need.
COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to many businesses. We leaders have to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in to make sure our companies weather this crisis. I’ve seen my fellow entrepreneurs doing some incredible things. From Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, who has delivered two years’ worth of digital development at the tech giant in just two months, to Steve Parkin, chairman at Clipper Logistics, who built a delivery network to get vital personal protective equipment to NHS staff and care workers in a matter of days.
This is the essence of the entrepreneur. We get stuck in. We do what needs to be done. We never rest on our laurels. And we thrive on the pressure and the thrill of a new challenge. CEOs all across the nation are stepping out of their (metaphorical) glass offices and hitting the shop floor, just like me. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty.
This is an open letter to Boris Johnson.
Dear Prime Minister,
You need to close airports now.
It’s not enough to say they may close in future. People from infected countries are still flying into the UK, increasing the risk of a second wave of COVID-19.
The decision to keep airports open throughout this pandemic has put the nation at risk. I’m sure that you had your reasons – even though we are one of the only countries in the world to have done so.
Perhaps, amidst the threat of recession and the uncertainty of Brexit, closing borders entirely seemed foolhardy? Whatever the motive, you need to change course now.
The situation in airports is extremely dangerous. I, like many people, am shocked by the absence of any health checks for incoming visitors. Airport staff have only recently been issued with any kind of protective masks or clothing. Many UK airports aren’t asking for those travelling to wear masks or gloves. How can this be?
The new two-week quarantine for new arrivals to the UK seems to be entirely optional. Other nations have taken a different stance. In Israel, incoming travellers are quarantined in an airport hotel for two weeks, confined to their room, and brought three meals a day, to protect the local people from infection.
Right now, the infection rate has dropped significantly in many cities across the UK. This has only been achieved through massive sacrifices on behalf of the British people, who have stayed home, gone without seeing loved ones, and lost income – or even their entire livelihoods – to reduce the spread of the virus. Lockdown will have been for nothing if there is a second wave.
At Heathrow alone, there are still 60 flights landing daily. This is just 10% of the usual number but still means that hundreds of people are arriving in Britain – many from countries that are still battling the virus. It is estimated that 42,000 people from overseas have flown into the UK since the pandemic started; this figure excludes the 53,000 British nationals flying home.
We are an island nation. This has been a huge advantage over the years, ensuring our survival during World War II. Why aren’t we closing borders now?
I understand that airlines have been badly hit by this crisis. Surely a handful of passengers won’t make much difference? These companies are generating more income from using the airplanes for freight at the moment, so why not stop all passenger travel?
The economy is so fragile. Seven out of 10 British firms have furloughed staff. Pay is falling fast for those in work. Many people are facing a jobless future as growth stalls in most businesses. A second round of infection will do extreme damage. Not just to our economic prospects but also to our national spirit. It will be so much harder to come back from a second wave.
Please do the right thing, Prime Minister. Shut the airports.
Joseph Port’s First Blog
A lot of things make me happy in life. I’m a big Leeds United fan. My family mean the world to me. I’m crazy about videogames and I love watching YouTube Bloggers. I have learning difficulties but I have never let them hold me back and I live life to the fullest.
But over the last couple of months, it has been a little harder to find reasons to smile. Unfortunately, because of my health, I have been shielded to protect me from COVID-19. This meant that I could no longer continue working at Living Potential Care Farm, an amazing place where people with disabilities can connect with nature.
My work there was always varied and I learned something new every day.
I loved feeding the animals, boxing up eggs to sell at the shop, and picking apples to make apple juice.
My job on the farm gave me structure, and made me feel that I was making a contribution to society. I made many wonderful friends there, and the job also helped me to keep fit!
I know that many people are struggling with being forced to stay home.
While I have found it wonderful (okay, occasionally annoying too!) to have so much time with the family, I don’t like feeling aimless.
So I have come up with an idea that will both help to give me direction, and benefit Living Potential, an organisation that has done so much for those of us with disabilities. I’m launching a new venture, creating and selling a range of high quality branded Living Potential t-shirts.
This will be a joint venture and I will receive £5 for every t-shirt sold. The rest of the money will go to Living Potential, helping to support existing projects and create more activities – demand for its services is growing rapidly at this time.
I believe that it is so important for those of us with learning disabilities to be able to make our own living. Selling is one of my strengths because I am a good communicator and I love meeting people.
I want to be independent and keep learning and honing my business skills. This is really important to my sense of self worth.
I’m so happy to be able to create a new business with a purpose, which raises awareness of the farm and proves that people with learning disabilities have drive and ambition.
I hope you’ll consider buying a t-shirt – they are available here.
Thanks for reading.
Strong growth for BigChange in the first quarter 2020
Earlier this week, the Chancellor announced that the UK economy shrank by 5.8pc in March, the fastest contraction since the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. I doubt anyone will be surprised by this development, given the significant impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on British industry. This is why I am delighted to have some good news to share. Despite the economic gloom, BigChange has posted strong Q1 results for this year.
Between January and March, the company generated sales of £5.5m, up 50% on the same quarter in 2019. During the period, BigChange won 80 new customers, adding a total of £8.3m in new contact wins. The first quarter of 2020 was also a profitable one for BigChange, with an EBITDA of £720,000.
As you all know, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the UK Prime Minister to impose a full lockdown at the end of March, and BigChange – like many businesses – was forced to change working practices for two weeks as we adjusted to the new measures and trading conditions. I’m so proud that the company has managed to deliver impressive growth in the face of many challenges.
BigChange is an international company, which now trades in multiple territories across the globe, including France, Ireland, Norway, Australia and the US. During the first three months of this year, the French arm of the business grew significantly, expanding its base to reach 20 customers.
Last year, I predicted that BigChange would hit £23m in turnover by the end of 2020. We are still on track to hit revenues of more than £20m at the end of this financial year, which is a huge achievement. Credit to all my BigChange colleagues for their hard work and resilience.
I would also like to thank all our loyal customers, who have helped us to grow at a time when many businesses are struggling. There are now over 45,000 people around the globe using our system, from a customer base of 1,300 companies.
At the start of 2020, BigChange made a number of high profile contract wins. Special mention here goes to our new partnership with Sunbelt Rentals, Inc.(formerly A-Plant), part of Ashtead Group Plc, the largest equipment rental company in the UK.
It is a testament to our innovative and brilliant JobWatch system that so many companies are using the platform to enhance customer service, drive efficiency and generate growth – against all odds – during this time.
During the first quarter of this year, BigChange received the highest honours that can be given to a British company. We won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, in the much-lauded Innovation category. We have also been selected as one of the best companies to work for in the UK, securing a place on the Best Companies’ 2-Star list. BigChange was also ranked 12th out of 50 companies as part of the MegaByte 2020 Top 50 in UK Technology.
These are difficult times for everyone – and BigChange will doubtless experience a slowdown in the second quarter of the year. However, I’m delighted to report that since April 1, the company has secured £300,000-worth of new business in France, and won £1m in new contracts across the business as a whole.
I founded this business seven years ago to help business of all sizes harness the benefits of a powerful, feature-rich mobile workforce management platform. Today, we offer combined back office CRM, job planning and scheduling, a rich mobile app, customer portal and vehicle tracking to help organisations go paperless, drive efficiency and protect the safety of lone workers. In response to COVID-19, BigChange launched a hands-free signature feature, allowing engineers on the road to minimise contact with others. I hope that our performance this year proves that we are not going to let this virus dent our progress, or hurt our customers.
Human beings are social animals. We need contact with one another. Too much time in isolation – even for the most introverted amongst us – creates feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
According to the rules of the ‘new normal’, video calls and social media can bridge the gulf and help us feel connected to one another.
This is why I have been busily launching virtual meet-ups and online initiatives – to help my BigChange colleagues feel like part of one big team and maintain our sense of camaraderie.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t work.
Zoom. Teams. Hangouts. House Party. RingCentral. Whatever platform you choose, it is still no substitute for face-to-face conversation and real-world connection.
In fact, too many of these virtual events can add to the general stress and feeling of isolation. People either feel obliged to take part or guilty for choosing not to attend.
I have come to this realisation after receiving some feedback from the BigChange team. Some people feel that I have created far too many online events, and that these meet-ups are eating into their valuable free time.
…In hindsight, maybe introducing yet another virtual quiz was a bad idea? Especially when the whole world is regularly “pub quizzing” with family and friends already.
I’m learning all the time and, like many other leaders, trying my best to work out how to keep motivating and engaging my colleagues, both those currently working and those who have been temporarily furloughed. This is all new to me too. In these uncertain times, there are no straightforward answers. I get it wrong sometimes.
I want to apologise to anyone in my team at BigChange who feels bombarded by these new online initiatives. I know that some of you feel overwhelmed or just exhausted by the expectation to attend. I had the best intentions but I have made mistakes. I promise to do better in future.
We have established a steering committee, which is made up of representatives from every team in the business. From now on, before I launch a new online scheme to boost engagement, I will run all ideas past this sounding board and make sure that it is genuinely useful and that there will be demand for it.
I am also rethinking my plan for a totally virtual future. This pandemic has proven to me that BigChange doesn’t need a real-world office; we are just as effective working remotely. We have reduced our carbon dioxide emissions as a result of lockdown, becoming a greener and more sustainable business as a result.
But I’ve come to understand that while people don’t need to work side-by-side, they really like to.
When this crisis has passed, we will not be going back to an entirely office-based operation. But I will rotate teams in and out of the office so that a percentage of my colleagues are in the building at any one time. Teams need to come together to collaborate, bond – and just have a bit of fun too. That spirit ultimately drives organisations forward.
Forget the ‘new norm’ of virtual businesses and remote working. I’m embracing a blend of the best elements from the modern world of work and the traditional approach. From now on, it’s all about the ‘new old’.
For many of us, the coronavirus lockdown has been a profoundly lonely experience.
Those who live alone have been completely cut off from friends and relatives. Even those of us with families are missing the office camaraderie. Isolation is more than a physical reality; it’s a mental state.
This is why I am so passionate about creating virtual events to help drive connections and support mental health. It may not be as comforting as real-life human contact and conversation but video calls and virtual meet-ups are a crucial lifeline to the outside world.
I’m usually a very upbeat character but even I am struggling to stay positive through this lockdown. On Mondays, I used to love coming in to the office and saying hello to everyone. It was incredibly motivating to be surrounded by my brilliant team – I miss them all.
I’m embracing virtual events as a way to recreate the amazing atmosphere that we have in our office. On Tuesday morning, we had a social event that furloughed employees could attend too. It was a chance to sing happy birthday to a colleague, and meet some of my team’s extended family. I love it when a little face peeps in to see what mum or dad are doing.
Next week, we are taking our Motivational Monday series online for the first time. I’m delighted that Nigel Owens MBE, one of rugby’s top referees, is joining us to talk about his incredible life. Growing up in a small, traditional community in west Wales, Nigel struggled with the realisation that he was gay. Rather than admit it to his parents and community, he attempted suicide.
Nigel has battled depression and bulimia but ultimately triumphed over adversity and went on to become a sporting legend. No one is better placed to talk to the team about beating loneliness and finding the strength to go on, even when the challenges seem overwhelming.
On May 13, we are launching the first in our new series of webinars, talking about topical issues facing British industry. We’ll be kicking off with a virtual roundtable about “How to support mental health and wellbeing during the covid-19 outbreak”
I’m so proud that two BigChange ambassadors, Nicolas Hamilton and Michelle Dewberry, will be joining us for that session, hosted by the former Telegraph enterprise editor Rebecca Burn-Callander.
You may remember Michelle Dewberry the 2006 series winner of The Apprentice. She has spoken candidly about her mental health struggles in the past and will share some of her experiences with the audience.
Nic Hamilton is a talented racing driver and brother of six-times Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. He will share the secrets to developing mental resilience.
Sonal Sidpara, head of HR, Alex Abrahams Head of Training and Alex Epstein our CMO at BigChange, will also be giving advice on motivating the team through a crisis, and will outline all our BigChange learnings from the pandemic so far.
BigChange customers Steve Broughton and Kevin Sherwood will also join us as well as a representative from the charity Mind.
Put 11am in your calendars. Please do join us, and let me know any questions that you would like to put to the panel.
Till then, stay home, stay safe, and stay connected.
Difficult times can bring out the best in people.
During this pandemic, we have seen kind people helping their neighbours, brave workers risking their lives to serve the nation, selflessness, and discipline. But trouble can bring out the worst in people too.
During World War Two, there were many examples of resilience, fortitude and the famed “Blitz spirit”. However, crime also surged. Looting and racketeering were rife. Between 1939 and 1945, crime rose from 303,771 offences to 478,000, according to official figures. Where some see an opportunity to give, others see the chance to take.
It saddens me that many individuals and businesses are going to abuse the COVID-19 financial support during this pandemic. The government is making billions of pounds available to help the people and companies who are truly in need but some may see this as a free-for-all.
It was reported that Victoria Beckham, who has an estimated fortune of £335m, has decided to furlough 25 of her staff and take advantage of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. You have to wonder whether she really needs to use government money to pay those wages?
Other so-called “British” companies that off-shored years ago – and pay no tax here in the UK – are asking for government bailouts. It beggars belief.
The emergency funding has been set aside to safeguard the future of this economy. It’s not lottery money. We, the taxpayer, will ultimately foot the bill.
BigChange is a young, growing company yet we have decided to shoulder the majority of the financial burden of coronavirus. We are using our own cash – carefully saved in the business – to survive, rather than accessing emergency loans from the bank. Many businesses are choosing to take out loans, even if they do not need to, or have no plans to pay the money back.
This is why I am calling on the Chancellor to think carefully about his next steps. Right now, it seems that Rishi Sunak is pressurising the banks to approve every single loan application that comes in.
There needs to be accountability. Business owners should only take money if they need it to keep paying suppliers and staff through the next few months – and only if they truly believe they stand a chance of surviving and paying it back.
The government has also turned into a venture capitalist, pledging £500m in a co-investment fund to support start-ups. A further £750m pot has been created to aid research and development activities. We should absolutely help our start-up community but is this the right way to do it?
Why not bring back the Small Firms Loan Guarantee scheme (SFLG)? This was a hugely successful initiative that allowed small businesses to access bank debt without having to provide security because the loan was backed by government. The scheme both supported entrepreneurial businesses and still made companies accountable; the government only provided 75% of the security on the loan. The government also didn’t have to become some kind of quasi-VC.
There are other straightforward ways to support businesses through this crisis. There has already been a duty and VAT deferment, subject to a financial hardship test, which is helpful. Why hasn’t the government considered a PAYE holiday? This would help many employers get through the short-term crisis, without having to apply for loans.
The scheme could be totally transparent: a three-month holiday and then the shortfall tagged on to subsequent payments. It’s madness that business owners must saddle themselves with five-year loans when the support could be easily delivered through PAYE. A scheme like this would serve everyone, while creating minimum fuss for HMRC. As it stands, everyone will be doing their own deal with the Revenue, causing huge amounts of complexity.
It is great that the government is willing to support businesses. I applaud the Chancellor’s response to this crisis. But I think there are better ways of offering support. There are wolves out there, and we need to stop them from savaging our economic future.
The coronavirus outbreak and subsequent UK lockdown has changed our working lives completely.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this ‘new normal’. It’s easy to focus on the negative: last week, I admit that I felt a bit lost.
I’m used to roving the shop floor, looking for areas where we can make improvements. I’m a ‘face to face’ leader, and I like chatting through ideas with my team and visiting customers. It’s taken some time to adjust to web meetings and working in the virtual world.
But now that I’m in the swing of remote working, I’m starting to see some major benefits. I’m no longer working from the office, which means I’m saving an hour a day in travel time. That’s an extra five hours a week – a major bonus.
Being based at home seems to save time in so many ways, because everything you need is all in one place and there are no distractions. Even if lockdown lifts in two weeks’ time, my family will stay in isolation for 12 weeks. My son has asthma, putting him in the ‘at risk’ category, so we are taking every precaution.
I’ve found myself with more free time than I have in years and I’m determined to make the most of this opportunity. I believe that we need to constantly look for ways to improve – not just our businesses but ourselves. If you stop trying to be better, you lose your edge.
I’ve been focusing my attention on creating special projects that will ensure BigChange is even more efficient and lean when the recovery comes around. I’ve been looking at improving service levels, enhancing the way teams work together, and finding any gaps in the organisation that need filling. I’ve never had the time to look at these areas in fine detail before and it’s been a revelation.
I’ll be honest with you. At BigChange, we are expecting to see some slowdown in sales as prospective customers hunker down and wait for this uncertainty to pass. But this doesn’t mean we are sitting on our hands here. Instead, we’re investing heavily in new data warehouse architecture, moving resource into product development, and creating some new marketing initiatives to keep up a buzz about BigChange. This is a really good time to start new projects. There’s not the same amount of pressure on day-to-day operations. There is room to breathe, review, and plan.
I’ve spent many years building businesses and I’ve learned there is more than one kind of return on investment. Changes we make now could have a significant impact on the success of BigChange in the future, whether it’s brand trust, customer loyalty or employee morale.
This is also the perfect time to invest in your customers, your community and the UK business ecosystem. I have more time to spend helping others, be that through business mentoring, support for customers who want to understand BigChange’s technology better, or advice for organisations who want an entrepreneur’s take on the challenges they face.
If this sounds like you, drop me a line. I’ll do everything I can to help. I aim to support as many people and organisations as I can during this lockdown – and hopefully beyond.
This is the time to review your working day and make permanent changes. It’s a time to ditch the unhelpful habits that are holding you and your business back. This is a challenging time but it’s not all doom and gloom. Seize the opportunity.
Businesses across the globe are battling against the uncertainty created by COVID-19.
Whether your sales have slowed, supply chains disrupted, or you are overloaded with orders, we are all in uncharted territory.
The reality for most of us is that we have to find ways to keep trading while minimising contact with other people. We also have to monitor the health – both physical and mental – of our employees, customers and partners at this difficult time.
The good news is that BigChange’s platform can help your business to get through this outbreak – and even thrive. Our software was built to offer true resilience and future-proofing to businesses of all sizes.
How BigChange can help you today
BigChange’s software allows all your team members to work remotely, meeting the new self-isolation guidelines, and ensuring that tasks are easily and clearly allocated.
When work is completed, jobs are updated with all the required paperwork, images, and sign off from senior personnel. Our remote activity audits also offer peace of mind.
BigChange allows its customers to ensure employees are working safely through home office risk assessments, which determine whether desk setups are likely to cause RSI or back problems. It can even ensure that WiFi is securely set up to minimise the threat of cyber crime.
It will also communicate up-to-date official COVID-19 guidance as the situation evolves.
For some companies, face-to-face interaction is still vital. BigChange offers a triage risk assessment facility to determine which tasks must still be carried out in-person, and how to allocate resources safely.
Each job that is loaded onto the BigChange platform will have a dedicated risk assessment, ensuring the welfare of your teams and customers is paramount.
These assessments will:
- Determine the health status of employees
- Check that people that your staff are meeting have no COVID-19 symptoms and have not been exposed to the virus
- Ensure a safe working environment
- Remind employees of safe travel guidance during this time
- Remind employees of the need to maintain a distance of at least two metres from others
- Ensure that employees take hand-washing breaks and have access to those facilities without putting themselves at additional risk
I founded BigChange so that I could help business owners like you become more efficient and competitive, while empowering remote working and paperless processes. This is exactly what all companies need right now.
Get in touch if you have any questions about how BigChange can help your business. Stay safe out there.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented disruption to the way we work and live.
When events like these take place, it is tempting to batten down the hatches, shut up shop, and hope that the storm passes quickly.
I believe that is the wrong approach. I think this is the time to be bold, smart, and think of innovative solutions to the problems our businesses face. If, like me, you employ a lot of people, there is no excuse for doing nothing and waiting for redundancies to become unavoidable.
We need to work out how to help our customers through this difficult time. We must also figure out how to win new business, despite the constraints. We need to find novel ways to motivate our teams. And we must be considerate of customers and suppliers who are struggling.
I know it’s not easy. At BigChange, everyone will be working from home for the foreseeable future. That means we essentially have 160 separate offices in operation in 4 countries.
That is why I have introduced a daily catch-up call for each department, starting with a sales call at 9am. On each call, the first priority is mental health. We check in on everyone in the team to make sure they are coping. We make sure we talk about the successes of yesterday and praise hard work and ingenuity.
This daily contact and support is going to become even more crucial once the schools close today. Every working parent will need flexibility and understanding from employers.
We have also introduced a buy now, pay later scheme for both new and existing customers that buy more licences. We are allowing them to run BigChange for six months before we start charging. We hope that will help to alleviate some financial pressure in the short-term.
For customers who are concerned about the safety of employees at this time, and wish to track their engineers and workers out on the road, BigChange can track vehicles through its app – we don’t even need to come and fit a tracker. This may be useful if the rumoured lockdowns do take place.
Our priority is to help customers to keep trading. This is why we have updated our software with up-to-date COVID-19 guidance and risk assessments. This is essential for mobile workers.
Cashflow is going to be extremely important over the next few months, so I advise every business owner to keep a close eye on it. If you haven’t already, it’s time to make reductions from the ‘nice to have’s and focus on the business-critical expenses, such as paying suppliers.
I am not immune to the climate of fear out there but I refuse to panic, or let it destroy my business. Let’s get through this together.
One of the benefits of being 57 is that I have lived through many crises.
I remember the Black Monday crash of ’87, which wiped trillions off the share prices of some of the world’s biggest companies. Back then, I was working in a bakery business in New York. We received a check from Bloomingdale’s – the iconic department store – and it bounced. It was for about $300. We framed it to remind ourselves that no one is too big to fail.
I remember the horrific outbreak of mad cow disease in the late eighties, when more than 4m cows were culled to try and contain the infection. Britain’s roads ground to a halt as they tried to stop it spreading from county to county. There have been other health scares since then, from swine flu to bird flu.
Then there was the dotcom crash of 2000. I was in a telematics business that was part owned by GE. The value of the company nosedived almost overnight. In 2008, the financial crisis sent many businesses to the wall. I was running Masternaut, my last venture, which I later sold to French airport group Airport De Paris. I owed the bank £6m at the time, and it called in part of the debt. I managed to reduce headcount and keep the business afloat, driving the business forward against the odds. It was a terrible time. People were losing their livelihoods, their homes, and their self-belief. There were many suicides.
Today, we are faced with another challenge: the outbreak of coronavirus. The spread of the disease is worrying, as is its impact on the elderly and those with respiratory problems. Like all the challenges that have come before, we must work together to get through this.
As business people, we must be in charge of our own destiny. We need to make contingency plans. We need to motivate our teams through this crisis. We need to sell remotely, work from home, and virtualise our operations.
At BigChange, we are fortunate to be in a strong position. We have no borrowings, and have a good cash reserves that can see us through the coming months, whatever happens to the economy. Even if the government closes schools and shops, there will still be a need for basic services, from plumbing to the maintenance of our roads. We will continue to be the platform of choice for these businesses. Engineers can avoid the office and deliver these crucial services through BigChange.
For those businesses in hard-hit sectors such as travel, entertainment and retail, the time has come to dig deep, innovate, and figure out a survival strategy. Some may introduce employee ownership if they cannot pay wages, others may trade shares for valuable supplies, or agree more flexible terms with customers that will now struggle to pay.
This is the time to work together, be kind, and give back to our partners, customers and colleagues. Coronavirus is likely to hit this country hard. We are getting involved in local initiatives to help the elderly and, through my work as a Northern board member of Business in the Community, I’m helping other companies to mobilise in partnership with welfare organisations. Instead of battening down the hatches, we need to open our hearts, and think of others.
Ten years ago I began seeing stories about the ‘death of the office’. Teams will all work remotely from their smartphones by 2020, headlines said, and entrepreneurs will be able to start and run businesses from a boat in the Bahamas.
Of course, here we are in, in 2020, and the majority of businesses still operate an office, even if they have some people who work flexibly or remotely.
At BigChange, most of our people still work out of our office. When I speak to managers here, many of them still like having a fixed location where colleagues can come together. “It’s easier to spot problems before they become an issue when you’re around your colleagues every day,” explains my customer services director. “And an office is very useful when training new people, as they can shadow their more experienced colleagues and be easily monitored and mentored.”
So the office isn’t dead after all. However, there is a pressing need for all companies to be able to operate virtually.
I posted last week about the potential impact of coronavirus on UK companies. If this becomes the epidemic that we all fear, employees will have to work from home in order to “self quarantine”. There are other threats facing companies that do not embrace virtual working. What if your landlord suddenly closes your office building? What if there is a flood or a major leak and the office is compromised? Could you carry on as normal? With no disruption to customers or your service quality?
I learned a lot about potential business threats when BigChange went through the ISO9001 process. We had to make business continuity a priority, no matter what random threat or ‘act of god’ strikes the company. It was this process that helped us take the leap into becoming a truly virtually enabled business.
We are luckier than most because we are a technology company. All of our processes and services are virtual by definition. We use our own BigChange software to log and monitor jobs. All the calls that come through to us are handled by a voice-over-IP (VOIP) provider, so they are filtered through to the right person, who gets a pop-up on BigChange with the name of the caller.
However, it’s easy to appear virtual on paper but it’s another thing for a virtual office to work in practice. That is why BigChange runs a remote working test every three months. This ensures that colleagues are always prepared to work virtually, and exposes any weaknesses in our virtual structure.
For other business owners who want to try the test, here’s how it works:
You tell your team about the test the night before, when they are already home. This ensures they always have the correct work equipment with them. For us that’s a laptop, charger, and headset. They also have to check they have access to good wifi.
Before starting work, they fill out a risk assessment on BigChange, to confirm their home environment is fit for work.
They do their day’s work, and everything is handled just as it would be at the office, except that meetings take place virtually on Teams, and people need to be a bit more diligent about tagging the right colleagues on BigChange tickets (as they can’t just shout over their shoulder)
At the end of the day, there is another workflow, which asks how the process went, whether people felt hindered in their work, whether anything was more difficult as a result of working remotely.
We measure productivity after each test and, so far, it is at the exact same level at home and at the office. My colleagues report that they really enjoy working remotely, and have no issues using the technology, which is also really important.
We ran our last test on Friday, when every single member of the BigChange team worked from home. There were no issues, and everything passed off smoothly.
I am also working on solutions to some of the concerns raised by my managers. We need a virtual training programme, for example. And it may be necessary to have more regular check-in meetings on these “virtual days” to ensure that leaders feel connected to their teams.
We have proved that it’s entirely possible to take a traditional office-based business and run it with an entirely remote workforce.
Whether it’s the right move long-term will vary from business to business, but when it comes to business continuity, building virtual capability into your model is a no brainer.