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I often talk about how technology can help supercharge growth for businesses of all sizes. Once you find the right software or platform for you, the results can be dramatic.

Two years ago, plumber Luke Taylor was working for an insurance firm. He had been at the company six years and had itchy feet. “I had always wanted to run my own company,” he tells me. “I decided it was time to have a go.”

He and a colleague took the plunge and fitted their first bathroom as independent tradespeople in February 2020. “Perfect timing,” he jokes. The pandemic soon struck, leaving Luke and his partner high and dry. Later that year, his partner moved away, so Luke decided to start his own company, Leeds-based Cloud Plumbing & Heating.

Anyone in the trades knows that it can be hard to get going as a new company. You have no track record, no word-of-mouth recommendations, and no money to invest in marketing. Luke’s solution was to use Rated People, the trades platform, to drum up new business and make a name for himself.

“You sign up and pay a small monthly subscription, and then you pay per lead,” he explains. “We were winning 70% of all the bathrooms we pitched for, and in that first year, we landed around £100,000-worth of work.”

Of course, a platform like RatedPeople.com can only help accelerate growth if you do a great job. “We have 38 reviews on RatedPeople.com – and all are five stars,” Luke says. “That’s been a major factor in our success.” Customers soon started recommending Cloud Plumbing to their friends, and the business began receiving lots of inbound enquiries.

“I was really fortunate that there was a massive trades boom last year,” he says. “People couldn’t go on holiday, so they had some money to spare. And they were spending a lot more time at home, which made them want to invest in new kitchen and bathrooms.”

I met Luke after he did some work for my father-in-law. The quality of the craftsmanship was second to none, so I asked to meet him, and we got chatting. To help expedite growth further, Luke decided to use BigChange to automate his processes.

“I was spending at least two hours per job on creating invoices, attaching them to emails, and chasing payments manually. It was so inefficient,” Luke says. “I was creating each document in Microsoft Word!”

Luke’s business is going from strength to strength. “In October 2020, when I started the company, there were just two of us, working out of a van I borrowed from my dad. And now we are a team of six with three vans between us,” he explains.

“We started using BigChange in January, which has been a game changer for us, helping to streamline our operations. I used to spend hours on paperwork and now it’s all automated, which leaves me free to focus on growing the business.”

Luke Taylor, Founder of Cloud Plumbing & Heating

Luke has recommended BigChange to other companies in his network and has brought his subcontractors onto the platform.

“We use one plumber for our maintenance work. We used to send details of jobs over via Whatsapp and we’d go back and forth. We got him a BigChange licence and he’s loving it!”

Luke Taylor, Founder of Cloud Plumbing & Heating

These two technology platforms have helped to revolutionise this start-up and allow Luke to grow faster than he ever anticipated. “I’m aiming to get to 10 people and 10 vans,” he says. “We’ll get there pretty soon, and BigChange will be integral to that growth.” 

Entrepreneurs are good at a lot of things. They have incredible ideas that can revolutionise industries and change the world. They know how to sell their dream and win customers. They understand how to grow their ventures and inspire other people to come along for the ride. Very few entrepreneurs are good at one thing, however. And that thing is process.

Over the years I have seen many talented entrepreneurs struggle to establish reliable, scalable processes within their organisations. For these individuals and their businesses, it’s often the one thing that holds them back, slows their growth, and generates operational risk.

The truth is that most people who run great businesses need operational help. Even companies that are pretty hot on process can always find ways to improve. It’s the number one thing that entrepreneurs tend to approach me about these days. There are sticking points within their businesses that they cannot seem to resolve. I like to do shop floor days with these business owners, some of whom are customers, to help identify operational wins. It’s amazing how powerful an outside perspective can be.

When it comes to operational excellence, you need two things: great advice and great tech. The advice is crucial: you need to know what to change and which processes to prioritise. That’s when technology comes into play. I built BigChange because I passionately believe in the power of technology to streamline processes and save countless man hours (and a lot of money too).

The software we created eliminates inefficient paper processes and allows these founders and their teams to focus on what they’re good at: serving their customers. Whether it’s automated invoicing, recurring contracts, or seamless synchronisation with accounting software, we’ve made life easier for almost 2,000 organisations worldwide.

I’m obsessive about process but I too have help with the fine-tuning. I’m so lucky to have both Diane Fenney, our head of commercial, and Tansy Sheehy, our customer service director, who both bring unique insights and experience to bear. Every single action within our business is rigorously analysed and stress-tested, from how our colleagues in sales approach new customers to how departments share learnings.

As a business owner, you should never be afraid to ask for help. Never shy away from seeking new perspectives. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s only by asking open-ended questions and constantly seeking feedback that we can learn new ways of working and find those improvements, however small, that will contribute to our future success. A recent study by entrepreneur support organisation Endeavour found that companies whose founders were mentored by a top-performing entrepreneur were three times more likely to go on to become top performers themselves. So, don’t delay, ask for help today. 

Our government may be falling apart but at least the UK tech scene is thriving. I read that the UK recently overtook China in terms of technology investment, raising £12.4bn in the first five months of 2022, which is amazing news. It is a privilege to be part of the nation’s technology sector and I’m delighted to report that BigChange continues to beat its growth targets while also meeting its ambitious goals around people and corporate responsibility. Here’s a little look at what we’ve achieved so far this year.

Maintaining momentum

We continue to excel in customer acquisition, winning almost 200 new customers over the past six months. That represents around £14m in new contract wins, across a diverse range of sectors.

In building services and property maintenance, we were delighted to welcome both RGE Services and First in Service into the fold. Motivair Compressors bolsters our pumps and compressors division. In plumbing and heating, we have welcomed Boiler Plan UK and Sun Realm Heating. Reflecting the changing world around us, we have seen continued success in the EV charging sector, and are delighted that Muller EV is now a valued customer. Internet provider, FibreNest Utilities, a subsidiary of Persimmon Homes, also joined the client roster this year, and we are still performing strongly in cleaning services, winning JM2 Services. 

Our international business is also thriving. BigChange Canada recently won its first customer with more to follow in the second half of 2022. We now have 200 customers in France, Cyprus and Australia. Our continued success against a backdrop of economic uncertainty proves that our software does exactly what we promise, giving customers the edge they need to navigate difficult trading environments.

We believe that customer wins will only accelerate over the coming months. We have attended eight events across the UK and overseas so far in 2022, where we have demonstrated the power of our technology. We have a further seven planned and it is such a delight to be able to meet prospective customers in the real world again. We have seen really fantastic results from these interactions.

All about customer success

Once a customer joins BigChange, we make it our mission to help them achieve their goals. This is why we have established a 15-person strong customer success team. All customers are automatically assigned a go-to person to help them grow during their BigChange journey.

Customers can leverage the insights from the BigChange University to help them get the most out of our software. BigChange University is now digital, which means our busy customers can access bitesize content at times that are convenient for them. We are also incentivising customers to keep building on their knowledge of BigChange through a new certification system which recognises Core, Advanced & Expert users.

Our BigChange Network exists to help customers to collaborate and support one another on their growth journeys. Over 200 customers have joined the Network over the past six months. 

Our commitment to supporting existing customers is reflected in our renewal rate, which beats industry figures by a significant margin. One of our biggest customer success stories, Sheffield City Council, just renewed its long-term 1,500 licences for tracking and JobWatch, and this is typical of customers’ commitment to BigChange.

People first and foremost

I’m delighted that BigChange has retained its two-star rating from Best Companies, reflecting our strong culture and outstanding levels of engagement. We are not resting on our laurels, however. We always review the Best Companies feedback to look for ways to improve our people strategy.

Growing the team

We are still hiring! The company continues to grow and attract international talent. In the last quarter, we hit 250 people. Our new tech internship, which has just launched and complements our existing internship scheme, will help maintain our talent pipeline and allow us to actively grow the UK’s tech talent pool.

An equal opportunity employer

BigChange is home to a diverse and passionate workforce, and we want to keep on breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for people with different skills. This is why we are actively encouraging people with disabilities and special needs to apply for our opportunities.

A new starter with autism recently joined our customer service team. We have the tools and neurodiversity training in place to help them to thrive here. We have partnered with Lighthouse, a school for autistic young people, and have committed to supporting three young people on supported internships from October 2022 for eight months.

Investing for the future

2022 has been a huge year for development. We have invested heavily in new features and functionality. From improvements in job finance, and updated search functions, to new SMS and alerts features for stock replenishment and expenses, we are listening to our customers and giving them the tools they need to be even more efficient.

We believe that the future of BigChange lies in empowering customers to make our software their own. This is why we are investing heavily in “self-serve” technologies. Our software is becoming more and more intuitive by the day. I’m really proud of everything our technology team has achieved and look forward to bringing you more updates soon!

It’s not just the founder or founders of a business who determine its fortunes. The people who join along the way, believe in the vision, and add their own sparkle to the strategy, are just as vital to its growth and prosperity. This is why I believe it is so important to hire for attitude, promote from within, and give people the opportunity to bring their best selves to work.

When I met Peter Holmwood nearly five years ago and heard the story of how he had risen through SES Home Services, starting on the tools, to become customer service director 15 years later, I was reminded of this phenomenon: the people who join our ventures can be transformative. I’d like to tell you a bit about Peter, his extraordinary impact at SES, and the power of the intrapreneur.

SES Home Services is a home emergency insurance provider, part of the water utility SES Water, which serves parts of Surrey, Sussex, Kent and southeast London. Peter joined the business straight out of school, having completed his A-levels. “The plan was to go to university and study construction management,” he says. “But I decided to take a gap year and to join SES, which would give me a strong foundation in a trade, and a deeper understanding of buildings, plumbing and heating systems.” Just three months into his new role, Peter decided that university wasn’t for him after all. “I signed up for a plumbing apprenticeship instead and, in 2003, started my three-year course to become a qualified heating engineer.”

Once Peter attained his qualification, he spent five years on the tools, installing and replacing boilers. But when he tore his cruciate ligament, he had to think carefully about his future. “It was a bad knee injury,” he says. “When I came back to work, I was put on light duties and started surveying properties instead, giving customers estimates for new boilers or upgrades. That was how I began to migrate away from the tools.”

It wasn’t an easy transition. “I was in my twenties and worried that customers would struggle to look past my age and see me as a capable engineer,” he recalls. This only hardened his resolve to provide an excellent service. He quickly found that if you showed customers that you had heard their concerns, and recommended the right solutions for their property, you won their respect.

“I never worried about trying to hit targets or make more money on a sale, I stayed completely focused on how we could help them. If another company had a better solution, I would be honest about it. That’s how you build trust.”

Peter Holmwood, SES Customer Services Director

This approach saw Peter rise swiftly through the ranks of the business, and soon he found himself managing a team. Today, he oversees 75 people.  

As all leaders know, it’s easy to be a manager but it’s really difficult to be a great manager. “As an engineer, you could see the impact of your work every day – when you left a family warm in a home that had no heating before you arrived, for example,” he says. “In a management role, it’s very different. Successes build gradually over time. You have to talk to your team, find out people’s struggles, and work out how to support them. It’s a much longer game but I now find it extremely rewarding.”

Peter has been an absolute champion of innovation within SES. He introduced the company to the BigChange platform four years ago, migrating away from paper-based processes and an archaic PDA system. “BigChange has revolutionised the business,” he says. “We love that we can benefit from the learnings drawn from multiple industries through the platform and that BigChange never stops developing and improving the system. We have improved our first-time fix rates so that we now beat the industry average. We have also improved our planning processes using the insights the platform collects around travel times and job durations. We are always looking for ways to drive efficiency and JobWatch data is vital in achieving that.”

Peter isn’t done yet. He’s already helped SES diversify into different customer types and sectors, and he is now helping the company enter the renewables space. “We hope to save customers a lot of money with new energy-efficient solutions,” he explains. “Prices are rising steeply right now, and we want to help our customers afford the future.” 

Peter’s meteoric rise through the business means that he is extremely keen to support and promote his colleagues throughout the business. “I feel that I have paved the way for others to progress,” he says. “My time on the tools was vital as it helped me relate to different types of people and understand every single part of the business.” 

As for the degree in construction, Peter has no regrets. “There is so much I want to achieve here. The way I see it, I’ve been on the longest gap year of all time.”

The recent train strikes are causing absolute chaos across the UK. I believe it’s time to radically rethink the role of unions – and to accept that striking has had its day.

The three-day strike, which will have caused six days of disruption across the UK, saw tens of thousands of Network Rail staff down tools. Only half of Britain’s rail network is operational, running a skeleton service. The dispute centred over pay and redundancy packages – Network Rail wants to cut between 1,500 and 2,000 frontline jobs.

I hate to state the obvious, but Network Rail is still reeling from the pandemic when almost nobody used its services and passenger numbers plummeted. It only survived because of enormous government handouts, which were required to keep the freight trains running, carrying food and medication across the UK.

The Covid-19 crisis took the whole world by surprise – no one could have planned for it. Look at the international travel sector, which lost $6 trillion over two years. The businesses that were affected by the pandemic can’t just continue with “business as usual”. There have to be cuts and consequences. Passenger numbers remain muted and are likely to remain so in this new world of “hybrid working”. No amount of striking can change the facts: for the organisation to survive, it has to evolve.

It is time for the role of unions, therefore, to change. So often, strikes achieve nothing – they simply disrupt services for the blameless public. More effort should be made by the unions to foster a meaningful dialogue between staff and company bosses. Strikes have begun to feel like a kneejerk reaction when demands aren’t met, even when the organisation is unable to meet those demands. Yes, inflation is rising, and times are hard, but they are hard for many people across the country; the average salary at Network Rail stands at £45,000, compared to an average UK salary of just £26,000. Network Rail’s CEO, Andrew Haines, makes £585,000 a year, which is a sticking point for many of the workers. I understand why this is a hard number to see when you’re fighting for a better redundancy package. But this is the nature of business: the top executives earn more because they are responsible for the strategy and direction of the business.

At BigChange, the strike made a significant impact. Most notably on our summer soiree, which we spent months planning and was to bring together everyone from across the business for the celebrations. People struggled to get to the party. It might sound trivial to some, but it was heart-breaking.

I believe that unions are a relic from the past. They should be replaced with an employee engagement committee, which is in regular dialogue with the senior leadership team. If this kind of system were in place at Network Rail, there would be no call for strikes because communication would be ongoing – there would be no surprises – and every single person in the organisation would have a voice.

This is not some utopian ideal. It’s a system we already have in place at BigChange. We call it the Big Voice. I set up the department a few years ago, and Joshua Levin took the helm a little over a year ago, and now chairs the committee.

The aim of the Big Voice is simple: to drive positive change across the business. At least one representative from each team meets the Big Voice committee twice a month via Teams. Everyone in the team knows to pass on ideas or concerns to their rep, and then these are all communicated at the first meeting of the month. At the second monthly meeting, the proposed changes or ideas are put to the CEO Richard Warley and COO Jo Godsmark, and we have found this model works brilliantly. Last year, we did a massive rethink of our benefits package as a result of a Big Voice proposal, improving sick pay, parental leave, and more. The final package is one that both benefits all our colleagues and allows the business to continue growing: win/win. I fear that if a union had been involved, we would never have reached such a sensible consensus.

In this day and age, most employers respect their workers. Most organisations have an HR People team and there are opportunities to sit down with managers to discuss grievances or new ways of working. We’ve come a long way from the days when people were sent down the mine by autocratic leaders who ignored health and safety concerns.

The world of work has also changed dramatically over the last 50 years. The “job for life” is dead, and people now move companies every five years, on average. Companies that do not listen to their staff will ultimately lose their top talent.

It’s time to bring unions into the modern era, and update the way that they engage with organisations because the system clearly isn’t working in its current form.

Throughout history, the best bosses have always led from the front. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon to wage war with Pompey, the ensuing civil war culminated in the bitter Battle of Pharsalus in 48BC. Caesar was outnumbered and outmanoeuvred – his forces were being defeated. It was only by grabbing a shield and marching to the front of the line that he galvanised his legions to resist Pompey’s forces. They turned the tide and ended the four-year struggle with a decisive triumph.

In 2022, most modern bosses are no longer found on the battlefield but in the boardroom – but the lessons from ancient times are as valuable today as they have ever been.

You need to have a rapport with your team, and you need to spend time in the mix with your colleagues to stay close to the inner workings of your business. This is why I am such a fan of an open-plan workspace, where leaders sit beside colleagues not in their own offices.

Mike Bloomberg, the serial entrepreneur and United Nations special envoy, recently posted on LinkedIn about his commitment to sitting “out in the open”. He said: “In sports, the coach is on the field with the players, giving directions, drawing on whiteboards, huddling during timeouts, motivating and inspiring — and encouraging someone who made a mistake. The same should be true in business.”

The first CEO I saw working in an open-plan office was Archie Norman, back when he was CEO of Asda. I was there to pitch my speciality bread business and it was just extraordinary to me that his desk was in the centre of this massive office floor, and all his papers and books were there on his desk. That was in the early nineties – he was a true pioneer.

When I started BigChange, I knew I wanted to be on the “shop floor” too. At Masternaut, my previous business, I had my own office. It was a glass office to make me more approachable, but it didn’t go far enough – it still walled me off from the team. The legendary football manager Kevin Keegan OBE once told me that great managers put their arms around people, metaphorically speaking. You have to be human; you have to be in the detail. You can’t do that from behind glass.

When I started BigChange, I sat with my colleagues in sales and marketing. I wanted to be next to the marketing and salespeople because that is one of my core strengths – a place where I can add value. Sometimes, I would overhear someone talking about a prospect, and realise I knew that person from the past and could help make an introduction. I may have bad hearing, but I always seemed to pick up on snatches of conversation where I could be helpful! Or a colleague would ask advice about how to target a particular sector, and I would make suggestions.

One of the real benefits of sitting with sales – with the “cash register” as I used to call it – was that I could hear where sticking points were in our processes. If something was taking longer than it should, I would be able to step in. These insights were invaluable when building the business, and I believe that every leader would benefit from similar exposure to the day-to-day triumphs and challenges faced by team members on the front line.

The fact that my team would hear me on the phone, and be privy to my daily pressures, also helped foster a culture of transparency. If I needed to make a confidential call, I could use a meeting room, but in general, I preferred to be open about my role and the inner workings of the business.

The world of business has changed dramatically over the last decade. Old-fashioned ideas about organisational hierarchy and leaders who rule with an iron fist have gone out the window. It’s been a great pleasure to see these changes sweep through the workplace. Teams must come together to be truly effective and great leaders foster collaboration and conversation. It is heartening to see leadership ideals come full circle. We are heeding the great lessons from the past – those prized by the most admirable of Roman emperors – even after two millennia. 

In my experience, when entrepreneurs become successful, they begin to think about how they can give back. They start thinking about the impact they can make on society, on the next generation of entrepreneurs, and their local communities.

For many years, my purpose in life has been twofold: to build meaningful businesses and to do all I can to have a positive impact on the world around me. Luckily, there are many channels out there for entrepreneurs seeking to do good: you can channel a percentage of profits to worthy causes, make personal donations, and even become a start-up investor to encourage the next wave of entrepreneurs.

But, today, I’d like to talk to you about another route to impact. 

Sometimes, as a business builder, your time is worth more than money. Your experience, insight, your contacts, your knack for seeing solutions to complex issues – that is a currency that has the potential to accelerate the growth of an organisation far quicker than cold, hard cash.

This is why I have started giving my time away to businesses that I really believe in – for free.

I recently joined MoreLife, a company that supports people to live healthier lives, as a strategic adviser and board observer. MoreLife takes a holistic approach to help its customers, through weight management, giving up smoking, healthy cooking and more. It’s a cause that is close to my heart, both as someone who has constantly battled with my own weight over the years, and through concern for my son Joseph, whose learning difficulties mean that he struggles to make healthy decisions.

I met the founder, Professor Paul Gately, many years ago and wanted to get involved – but could never find the time. After moving into my chairman role at BigChange, we started talking about how I could help him with growth, sales and marketing, and I’m delighted that I’m now actively creating strategies and plans with Paul to help achieve all his goals.

When you invest your time, as an entrepreneur, it is so important to be passionate about the business that you are supporting. I couldn’t be more impressed by all that MoreLife has achieved to date. They helped 5,500 people in Manchester alone last year, and many of the individuals they serve come from deprived areas. It may sound strange but when you tackle physical health, the impact on mental health can be significant, but MoreLife also believe if you tackle mental health, physical health returns too, with results such as helping long-term unemployed people get back into work and giving them the confidence to pursue their dreams in life. I’m particularly moved by MoreLife’s successes in childhood obesity, giving kids the tools to stay healthy their whole life long. You can read some of the stories on their case study page

Right now, my focus at MoreLife is on a few key areas: helping to set up an incubator within MoreLife to champion the company’s technology projects and grow the whole proposition; helping them do more with their data, and creating a sales function (they still don’t have a single salesman in the business). Eventually, I would like to help MoreLife roll out a series of kitchens where people can come and learn how to make healthier meals.

For any business leaders out there who are considering supporting a business in this way, I thought I’d share my learnings so far. Be prepared for your time investment to be front-loaded. It may take quite a few meetings to get under the skin of the business in the early days and to start creating momentum, but once things are up and running, you can usually drop your time commitment to a couple of days a month – most of us can afford to spare that. If you give your time for free and don’t invest in the business, it’s easier to give your advice without being seen to have an agenda, which helps maximise your impact. Finally, know your strengths and limit your advice to the areas where the business needs support – MoreLife has an outstanding team and I would never interfere with the services they provide or presume to understand their customers better than they do.

There are so many benefits to giving your time to exciting businesses. Thinking about different problems and issues is invigorating, and you learn so much – you can sometimes apply these insights to your own venture. But the main thing, for me, is that when you start making a difference, it just feels amazing. So, don’t delay, lend your entrepreneurial nous to a great business that wants your support – you won’t regret it. 

No, honestly. Bear with me.

As we prepare for this weekend’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, I’d like to tell you a bit about why I believe the Queen is a true inspiration to all entrepreneurs.

I am a royalist through and through. I know that not everyone feels the same way, so this is a fair warning in case you want to click away now.

It all started when I was six years old. I was in Aberdeen with my parents, who were working up there, and the Queen’s yacht, the Britannia, sailed into the harbour. She stepped off the gangway and I caught my first glimpse of her. That was back in 1968.

Over the years, I have followed her exploits – both as a supporter of entrepreneurs and as an entrepreneur in her own right.

Whether it’s through the Royal Warrant – a mark of Royal approval given to small artisan brands and major corporations like Kellogg’s – or through her Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, which recognise the companies that are changing industries and driving value for the UK economy, the Queen’s support for entrepreneurial endeavour is clear.

The value that she brings to the nation in terms of tourism – estimated at more than £500m a year – and as an ambassador for British brands is extraordinary.

Many people underestimate her business acumen, but the Queen runs a multi-billion pound business, which is made up of property, trusts, leisure attractions and farms. It is estimated that her property assets alone are worth around £13bn – these include Regent Street and Ascot. You could argue that it’s easy to make money from inherited wealth but her estates at Sandringham and Balmoral are profitable enterprises in their own right. The Queen has chosen to grow organic produce, such as wheat and oats, rent out cottages to visitors, run tea rooms, open farm shops, and even licenses the rights to the artwork and photography in the royal collection.

I would like to add that while the Queen isn’t required to pay tax on her earnings, she voluntarily pays both income tax and capital gains – as does Prince Charles.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet the Queen on a couple of occasions. Back when I ran a bread business, I won the contract to deliver to the newly-opened Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. At the launch event, I pushed my son Ben to the back of a line of dignitaries who were meeting the Queen. She wished him a happy birthday – he turned 10 that day. I was so impressed by her quiet gravitas as a leader. I got the impression that if she wasn’t a reigning monarch, she’d be running a multinational operation.

When BigChange won a Queen’s Award in the Innovation category a few years ago, it was the highlight of my entire career. That award is the greatest accolade given to a British business – it’s like being knighted as a company. I cannot quantify the impact that award has had on BigChange, from the impact on morale to our ability to win bigger contracts and clients.

This weekend, as we celebrate 70 years of the Queen’s rule, hanging bunting and baking cakes, I will reflect on the impact she has had on my life as an entrepreneur. I truly believe she is a national treasure, and an asset to the UK’s business community. God save the Queen.

Nobody starts a business expecting half of the curve balls that come their way. I should know. I’ve done it three times. 

However hard you try, there will be times when you feel that the whole world is against you. When you can’t see a way forward. When, frankly, you want to throw in the towel. 

But the mark of a true entrepreneur is that, despite these feelings, you find the grit and resolve to push forwards and find a solution to even the most impossible problems. 

I was reminded of this when watching the football this weekend. Like many of you, I was glued to my screen on Sunday when both Leeds United and Manchester City pulled off staggering turnarounds. Those of you who have watched my Secrets of Leadership series with Kevin Keegan OBE know that I see many parallels between business and the beautiful game and this was one of those times.

Leeds United was third from the bottom when it went into the match against Brentford, the last match of the season. The team had to win or risk relegation. In the 93rd minute, Jack Harrison scored the goal that ensured Leeds’s place in next season’s Premier League. What an incredible moment to witness – especially for a die-hard Leeds fan.

As for Manchester City, the team lost ground against Aston Villa, and seemed set to lose. But manager Pep Guardiola refused to give up, and embarked on a bold strategy, bringing on new players who ultimately helped City beat Villa, 3-2.

Both Guardiola and Leeds’s manager Jesse Marsch found the strength to fight back just when victory seemed impossible. I found that incredibly inspiring – and a timely reminder of what it takes to be a great leader.

They brought me back to the power of teamwork when it comes to solving problems. If you surround yourself with great people, and let them come up with solutions too, motivating them to be the best they can be, you can get through anything.

This absolute focus on a team mentality was evidenced after the Manchester City match, when everyone from the squad and support crews flooded onto the pitch. Even the guy who washes the team’s kit came out. That business appreciates everyone who helps the team win, from the most junior to the top brass.

These matches helped me to remember that even though it’s a tough trading environment out there, with lots of economic strife coming down the road, it’s not about getting weighed down by the problems; you must focus all your energies on solutions. This was the very reason I started BigChange in the first place. To use technology to help businesses of all sizes survive downturns and difficulties because our technology brought them unrivalled efficiency.

In business, you never back down from a challenge. You just keep on fighting until you find a way through. At BigChange, there’s no problem we can’t solve if we work together, and value one-another’s insight and experience. There are 260 brilliant people at BigChange, and everyone has played a crucial part in our success. 

One thing’s for certain, like Marsch and Guardiola, I’m never going to leave the pitch without a win, and neither should you. 

Five years ago I had a brainwave. BigChange, which was just a start-up back then, was starting to make an impact and we had amazing customers coming on board every single day. That’s when it hit me: wouldn’t it be incredible if I could help these companies work together to grow, and become more successful than they could on their own?

That was the seed of an idea that would grow into the BigChange Network, a directory where our customers could find contractors, share jobs, and expand, both geographically and in terms of the services they could provide. Today, we have over 550 customers on the Network and we’re beginning to see how collaboration is accelerating their growth and success. 

Imagine you’re a plumbing business based in Brighton, and a customer in North London needs a job done. It doesn’t make sense to send someone all the way from Brighton to do the work – not from a business or carbon efficiency standpoint. So, you look on the Network, find a great London plumber, give them a call, and then send the job over via the BigChange platform. Once they accept, you can track the work in real-time. Once the job is complete, you have all the paperwork required for the end customer, with your company branding, and you get the signed off job card including all the completed health and safety processes and photos. This collaborative system also means that you make a nice profit on a customer that you may have had to turn down otherwise. What could be simpler?

In fact, our innovative customers are using the Network to solve increasingly complex business challenges. Lori Kidd, who manages the Network, has found all kinds of fascinating user cases. “We have some customers who offer maintenance but might be approached by customers looking for an installation,” she explains. “If they say they can’t instal the equipment and the customer goes elsewhere, that other company may end up servicing the equipment later, so the customer has lost out twice. We are seeing those companies finding an installer through BigChange and then handling all the future maintenance afterwards.”

I love hearing stories about how smart business leaders are using the Network to test out new services, expand their geographical reach, and take on urgent jobs when they are booked solid. I’d like to share some of these with you today. Even if you’re not a BigChange customer, I hope these insights fuel your ambitions, and if you are, and you’re not on the Network, I hope this inspires you to take the plunge!

Offering a seamless service

Steve Baker is the founder of Jardak Services, which started out as a contract cleaning company but now offers a full facilities management service. The business has been going for 22 years, and now employs 60 staff. Steve believes that the Network has transformed the way he contracts out work. “We have a sister business, called Trustwater, which offers fire risk assessments and health and safely consultancy,” he says. “Trustwater is on BigChange too, so we use the Network to refer jobs between the two businesses while ensuring that all our paperwork and processes are completely consistent. It’s an example of how you can use the Network internally to make the sub-contracting process even more seamless.”

Contract out with confidence

Dan Rochester founded Target with his brother Dean in 2014. From a standing start, the property management and fire protection company has grown to employ 90 staff and turn over £8.5m. “We have found the Network really helpful for finding like-minded companies and sharing jobs,” he says. “Because you are dealing with a BigChange customer, you know what kind of company it’s likely to be. We have found the standard of work has been very high, and we know that they can provide all the information we need in the right format for our records and our health and safety processes.”

Boost your revenues

Aaron Eastwood is the co-founder of Site Secure, a CCTV manufacturer and fire alarm installation firm. The business has been running since 2018 and joined the network a little over a year ago. “We always use the Network as the first port of call to find sub-contractors,” he says. “Without the Network, we could use some of the people we already have on our books as approved contractors but there would definitely be some work we would have to turn down without it, especially the stuff that is out of our area or is really urgent.” Aaron says that the Network has increased revenues by 10%-15%. “That has the ability to grow as we use the Network more and more,” he adds. “We are doubling in size every year.”

Free publicity!

“I can’t understand why every BigChange customer isn’t on the Network,” says Jardak’s Steve Baker. “It’s free publicity for your business. Once you’re set up to take on jobs, you don’t have to do anything, and the referrals come in whenever someone needs your help on a job.”

A virtuous cycle

When you refer a job to a contractor through the Network, you forge a new professional relationship that could result in more work coming your way in future. “We’ve had a few instances where we have referred work to a BigChange customer and then they have given us work back,” says Site Secure’s Aaron Eastwood. “We always give new contractors a ring when we find them on the Network, so you get to know each other.”

Sharing best practice with existing customers

It’s always useful when you find out an existing customer is already on the BigChange platform, according to Dan Rochester. “You can work together to improve the reporting and processes that you get from each job. I have one client that I work closely with, and we are always sharing our learnings and helping one another to get even more out of the software. I’ve made a lot of changes to our back end – it looks very different to the off-the-shelf product now – and I’ve shown him all our workarounds.”

Save time and resource

“When you search for contractors on BigChange, it shows you the exact catchment area they work in, and all their specialist services, which is a real time-saver,” says Jardak’s Steve. “We would otherwise use Google to try and find someone but then you often call up and they don’t work in the area that you searched for, or they don’t offer the specialist service that you need. Given that we only tend to subcontract out the more specialist stuff, we can’t afford to waste time ringing around.”

“Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that’s just how my brain works. To anyone who’s been offended, I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars, and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”

Elon Musk stunned viewers with his opening speech on Saturday Night Live last year. The Tesla boss talked about having Asperger’s and his attempts to run “human in emulation mode”. It was an interesting insight into the mind of the man who has become the richest man in the world.

 I knew very little about the tech billionaire until recently, when I watched a Netflix documentary about him, and started to consume as much media as I could about his journey, like this interview on the FT

Before this research, I thought of him as a Twitter-obsessed genius, who challenged Vladimir Putin to “single combat”. Now, I think I have a more rounded view of him as a man and an entrepreneur, and it got me thinking about how quick human beings can be to dismiss those whose behaviour seems strange or erratic.

The underlying truth about Elon Musk is that he is a renegade and an independent thinker, who does things in his own idiosyncratic way. He is trying to make many positive changes in the world, whether that’s reducing road accidents through driverless cars, minimising our reliance on fossil fuels, protecting human livelihoods from the artificial intelligence revolution, or helping civilians trapped in war-torn Ukraine. Those are the things that should matter now – and will matter when he is remembered in history books, not whether he’s tweeted a dumb meme.

I’m no Elon Musk but I am also what you might call “a character”. I have my own ways of doing things, I like to take action today – never tomorrow, and I like to question why things are done the way they are. Why can’t we do it better? Over the years, this has certainly rubbed people up the wrong way and I understand why. But if people knew me better, they would see that I’m not so eccentric after all, I’m just absolutely committed to customer service, continuous improvement, and trying to be a good person.

I think that society needs to learn to be more accepting of renegades. No, I want to go further than that, we need to celebrate them and stop trying to limit or ridicule the scale of their aspiration. We need to judge people on their actions, not their words. We need to try and form opinions more slowly, with greater care.

Now, when I think about Elon Musk, I don’t think about the time he smoked a spliff on the Joe Rogan show, or those strange tweets when those boys were trapped underground in Thailand, I see someone whose vision and aspiration eclipses everything else. Someone who will make an indelible mark on human history for all the right reasons. So let’s all try and be a bit more Elon. 

We have a problem at BigChange. How do we show our customers the breadth of our software capability when there are an extraordinary number of features and possibilities to consider?

This problem only gets bigger as our platform becomes more comprehensive and we create more layers of detail and personalisation. If you try and explain too much at once, you create a kind of technological snow blindness.

This is why, a couple of years ago, we embarked on a plan to create the BigChange University. We created a live webinar series, which unpacked each feature in detail and helped customers to really get under the bonnet of the software. We were running a webinar almost every day at one point.

This was a runaway success, but the approach had its limitations. We could only host webinars during “office” hours, and each session lasted between 30 minutes and one hour. Our customers are busy people: they can’t always spare an hour in the middle of the day to complete a training module.

That’s when we asked Will Nixon to come in and help us create a more sustainable, powerful solution. He is the man who helped take training digital for the NHS, creating a platform where staff could complete modules in their own time from anywhere. He agreed to join us as Customer Learning Manager and has taken us on an epic journey to build BigChange University 2.0.

Today, the university is a massive resource, packed with online videos and tutorials that customers can access whenever and wherever they want. We have shaken up the format, creating bitesize learning modules that are up to 10 minutes long. We have organised the training into levels: core, advanced and expert. All new customers complete the core training as part of their onboarding and existing customers can enhance their knowledge with the more sophisticated modules.

Right now, we are looking to get this training externally accredited, so that our customers can use this learning towards their individual Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Will has worked tirelessly over the past six months to broaden out the original training platform into a more holistic and robust resource.

“The response from customers has been amazing,” he tells me. “The training element of the onboarding process used to take routinely six to eight weeks. Now, it takes just 14 days. This has a massive impact on customers because the time we would previously spend on core training is now used for bespoke consultancy. Because customers already understand the platform, they can ask thoughtful questions and help us drive value much more quickly. We have seen a lot of early successes in that area.

“Our training modules aren’t passive; there are learnings at the end to put into action in the live environment, which means we are driving more self-service when it comes to the basics and allowing the BigChange team to focus their attention on the real value drivers for customers. As we grow, we don’t have infinite resources so it’s important to use our one-to-one support in the most effective and powerful way.

“Over time, we can use the data we glean about how and when customers consume which modules to help shape future developments. We’ll know which modules are most popular in what industries. These kinds of learnings are gold dust. By being responsive to customer needs, we have moved away from rigid processes and discovered a world of opportunity.”

Will Nixon, Customer Learning Manager

I couldn’t have put it better myself. 

I’m sharing our journey with the BigChange University today to help any entrepreneurs grappling with similar problems. Sometimes, a bit of creative thinking gives you a solution that not only makes the initial challenge disappear, it also helps steer you into an even more sustainable and successful future. 

I’m not an angry man. I rarely lose my temper. But when I think about the chronic shortage of opportunities for people with physical disabilities and learning difficulties, I’ll admit, I feel frustrated and enraged.

Every human being on this earth deserves the chance to make something of themselves. To have independence and make their own living. To work hard in a rewarding career and find the purpose and community that fulfilling employment creates.

And yet, too often, doors that should be held open are slammed shut. In all the years I have been talking about equal opportunities for disabled people, I’ve seen very little change. Almost half of the disabled people in Britain are currently unemployed. Of the 8.4m disabled people in the UK, just 4.4m have jobs.

But I’m not here to post doom and gloom. Today, I want to share an incredible story with you. It’s a story of triumph over adversity, of compassion, and humanity. It’s the story of Todd Scanlon, a young man with Down’s Syndrome, who dreamt of becoming a scaffolder, and Martyn Coles, the man who made it happen.

I connected with Martyn a few months ago. We share a lot of the same values and beliefs, and when I heard about his journey with Todd, I just had to share it. I’ll let Martyn tell you in his own words.

“I’ve known Todd for years. I used to go to school with his cousins. I run my own scaffolding business and for as long as I can remember, Todd has been asking to come and work with me. A few years ago, I said to his mum, ‘Why don’t you let him have a go?’

“It took a couple of years for her to agree. She wanted to be reassured there would be no issues with him working on site, or with my staff. But in the end, she trusted me, and he began working in the business four years ago.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about people with Down’s syndrome. I’m always asked: ‘Do you need lots of extra health and safety processes? What about the risks?’ But Todd is just the same as any other member of my team. If anything, he’s more careful than some of his colleagues. If there’s a big hole on site, and I tell everyone not to go near it, he doesn’t. Other people on the team might be tempted to go and have a look, but he carries out instructions to the letter.

“The only change we have made to our working process is to introduce some sign language because Todd doesn’t have great hearing. Construction is a noisy industry anyway, so we have some different signs we use to indicate different fittings, so he always uses the right equipment.

“When I gave Todd a job, I didn’t anticipate the reactions we would get. I got a lot of abuse, especially from other scaffolding companies. I was even accused of using Todd for a gimmick, for my own personal gain. It was vile.

“Then, a few years ago, we tried to get Todd into college. No one wanted to know. We have lots of lads here on apprenticeships and they all go to college but the main training provider we spoke to did everything they could to avoid having Todd. Even when their assessor came and spoke to Todd and tried to fight our corner, they didn’t want to know. That was a really difficult time for all of us. I sent email after email, called over and over, and the provider kept putting me off. Todd would ask me when he could go to college like the other lads, and I had to tell him truthfully that I didn’t know if that would ever be possible.

“In the end, I started making a lot of noise about Todd. I contacted the CEO directly and pointed out that I wasn’t asking for a free ride. I just wanted to get him assessed. He has the right to an education, just the same as everyone else. She never got back to me.

“However, another training provider heard about our situation and got in touch. They asked me how confident I was that he could complete the training. I said that I didn’t know if he could pass first time, but he deserved a chance. He went to Weston College to take the assessment and got 88 out 100, which blew everyone away. The college came back and offered him a special education needs (SEN) assessment, which was completed in January this year, and the assessor came back and said that yes, Todd has the ability to do the course, and, most importantly, he really wanted to do it.

“I’m under no illusions. This isn’t going to be easy. Todd is going to have to work very hard and we’ll all support him the best we can. The college has been amazing. It’s offering one-to-one sessions to support Todd, and it has created a bespoke programme just for him.

“This isn’t just an incredible opportunity for Todd. This paves the way for anyone else like him to follow the same path. We have been getting messages from people all over the world, saying ‘I have a child with a disability, and I never thought they could do what they want to in life, but this proves it’s possible. You have shown it can be done and fought our corner.’ Even the UK education board has been in touch, asking if they can put something like this in place at mainstream colleges across the country.

“For Todd, this whole experience has been life-changing. He gets paid a wage every week and he loves the work. He only works two days because it’s a tough job and he gets very tired but even on his days off, he’s texting the lads on WhatsApp asking how they’re getting on. He loves being part of a team. Now and again, on a Friday, we’ll go to the pub and Todd will buy a round. He’s experienced what it’s like to earn a wage, pay your way and save up to treat yourself.

“We are a small business, yet we have managed to help Todd achieve his dream. Imagine what could be done if all the big businesses across the UK adapted like we have. A few companies, like Sainsbury’s, do welcome those with disabilities but the reality is there is still a lot of prejudice out there.

“I’ve been running my own business for eight years and have created opportunities for all kinds of people. Individuals coming out of prison. Guys recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. What I’ve learned is that if you manage everyone like a person, focusing on bringing out the best of their abilities, they learn just as well as anyone else. They may need a bit more help sometimes but don’t we all?

“I’m so proud of all Todd has achieved. He has worked so hard and become a global ambassador. Everyone in our local area knows him and says hello. He’s single-handedly changing attitudes just by being himself. Even if Todd decided to quit scaffolding tomorrow, it’s been an amazing journey and opened so many doors. I just hope that Todd’s achievements – and us telling his story – will help convince many other businesses to give someone like him a chance. That’s all anyone with disabilities wants: a chance.”

Martyn Coles

If you need to hire equipment to lift, power, generate, move, dig, compact, drill, support, scrub, pump, direct, heat or ventilate, Sunbelt Rentals has it all. It’s the UK’s biggest plant rental business – and collectively with the States and Canada is one of the two largest in the world.

Part of the Ashtead Group, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, Sunbelt (formerly A-Plant) has been around since 1947. Any business that can thrive and grow for 70 years is doing something right, and this month, I’m turning the full beam of my chairman’s spotlight on UK CEO Andy Wright.

Andy is a veteran of the plant rental industry, and has worked at the likes of Aggreko, Lavendon (now Loxam), and Speedy Services. “Veteran… that makes me feel very old,” he tells me. “But it’s true, I have been in this industry for more than 30 years.”

Andy has had a fascinating career, leaving school at 16 and becoming an apprentice high voltage cable jointer for the Yorkshire Electricity Board. “I wasn’t very good at it,” he jokes. “I wanted to use those technical qualifications in a new role, so I joined Aggreko in 1989 as a sales engineer in Doncaster.” The rest, as they say, is history. He worked his way up through the ranks, moving to other businesses, constantly learning, until he joined A-Plant as Chief Operating Officer in 2019. “The Ashtead Group is the world’s most valuable rental company,” he says. “It was a job I couldn’t turn down.”

Within six months, Andy’s sector experience and down-to-earth leadership saw him promoted to interim CEO. “I don’t go into a darkened room and come up with a strategy a few weeks later,” he says. “I speak to the team, and find out what they need and what trends they are seeing. Most business strategy is just good common sense.”

Andy and I have this approach in common. My shop floor days with customers and the time I spend with the BigChange team have informed all my strategic decisions over the years. “That might not be how Elon Musk does it but it works for me,” Andy says.

Sunbelt UK currently employs 3,800 people. “We are responsible for a lot of livelihoods,” says Andy. “For every employee, two or three more people depend on us. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”

His first big change as CEO of Sunbelt? “When I joined, there were 23 separate operating brands here. Some of the people who work here didn’t know everything we did – let alone our customers. So I saw the opportunity to create one joined-up complementary group of services, so that if you needed a generator and a dumper and an aerial work platform, you only have to call one number, not three. We now own and manage a billion pounds worth of assets in the UK under one single operational entity.” This is great advice for any entrepreneur. How can you remove friction for your customers and make it as easy as possible for them to buy from you?

Andy also helped Sunbelt navigate choppy waters throughout the pandemic, spotting opportunities for growth where other leaders saw only risk. Sunbelt was a critical services provider, and able to operate despite the lockdowns, but many construction projects were delayed or cancelled. He pivoted the business to provide vital services to local councils and the NHS, and Sunbelt built over 80% of the Covid testing sites that sprung up across the UK. “We’d built temporary infrastructure before but never at that scale,” says Andy. “That experience has helped us move into other end markets, like government projects and events.” 

Sunbelt has been a BigChange customer for more than two years now. Andy credits the technology with driving record efficiencies in the business. “The impact was significant,” he says.

“BigChange has quickly become the way we do things around here, and we’re seeing great benefits in terms of the efficiency of our logistics and how we allocate work.”

Andy Wright, CEO of Sunbelt Rentals

Andy’s guiding principle throughout his career has been to look after his people. “I focus on just three things. “I look after our people and help them be the best they can be. I look after our customers and deliver a world-class experience. And we do all that as one team. If we manage that successfully, profit will follow. Too many businesses think about making a profit first but we care about being a long-term, sustainable business that we can all be proud of.

Andy’s approach to leadership is simple but very powerful. “I treat people the way I want to be treated, and I do my best to clear obstacles out of their way so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. This approach has always worked for me. When I was young, someone told me that as a leader, you get the people you deserve. If you trust people and work hard for them, they will do the same thing for you.”

Three years ago, I had a wake-up call. I was sitting in my kitchen at 1am, replying to all the emails that I hadn’t been able to deal with during the day. I still had about 100 more to read and I needed to be up to get a train at 6am. In that moment, I knew that something had to change, fast.

Over the next few weeks, I began looking for a trusted PA. Someone who could manage my email, my diary, and whose administrative skills far outweighed my own. As luck would have it, I bumped into Madeleine Taylor-Hopps at an event, and offered her a job then and there. When you know, you know.

This post is aimed at any leader who is still trying to juggle everything alone. Stop! Your time is too valuable to fritter it away arranging meetings or booking travel. Every minute you spend on admin is a minute you’re not dedicating to growing your business.

I believe that a talented and trusted executive assistant is absolutely key to achieving your entrepreneurial dreams. And here’s why:

1.)   Maddy solves problems in real-time

If I’m tied up in meetings, I know that Maddy is monitoring my emails and will ring me if something urgent comes up. She is highly capable, and if she can resolve an issue, she has the autonomy to forward on a request to the right people. This means that – often – by the time I come out of the meeting, the problem has already been solved. That is an enormous weight off my mind.

2.)   I have reclaimed hours of my day

I estimate that I was spending three hours every evening catching up on emails before I hired Maddy. That time is now my own again. She clears everything that I don’t need to see out of my inbox and prioritises the important messages. I have a hearing impairment, so Maddy also listens to my voicemails and sends me a summary – just one of many ways that she makes life easier for me.

3.)   Absolute confidentiality

I trust Maddy implicitly. She sees confidential documents and discussions but I never worry that she’ll share what she sees. During the recent buy-out, for example, she saw all the financial information and was privy to all the negotiations. She was a huge asset during that time.

4.)   A human face

BigChange is a software company but I’m passionate about retaining a human feel. When people get in touch with me, I like that it’s Maddy arranging meetings and not some faceless app. If I’m busy and forget to chase something, I know that Maddy will remind me, or that she will be the first port of call for anyone struggling to get hold of me.

5.)   Support 24/6

Every leader will have a different relationship with their executive assistant. It’s down to the individuals to set boundaries. From day one, Maddy and I had an understanding that she would be available six days a week. If someone calls me on a Sunday afternoon and asks for a meeting Monday morning, I know Maddy has it covered. This consistent level of support has made Maddy completely indispensable to me and the business.

There are some great agencies out there dedicated to placing executive assistants. For anyone starting the process, I advise prioritising trust above everything else. Maddy used to work in finance in her last job, and was there 16 years, so I knew she was a trustworthy and loyal individual. Ideally, you want someone who has worked for senior leaders previously. It’s a very specific skillset: we can be demanding but, hopefully, always grateful for the support. Mutual respect is very important. Maddy takes on all the tasks that I would struggle to manage on my own but I still book most of my own travel, for example, as I can do that easily through a few clicks on an app. I try not to overload her on busy days.

But that’s enough from me. Let’s hear from the woman of the hour. Here’s Maddy:

“When I joined, Martin told me that I was going to change his life. It’s amazing how many emails and calls come to Martin that he really doesn’t have to deal with, so I know I save him hours every day. He believes that his productivity has increased threefold. I also now support Richard, our CEO, as well as the leadership team, which is helping them to save time and fit more into their days.

“I would say that being a mum taught me everything I needed to know to be a great PA. When you have three children, you learn to be very organised, flexible, and reactive. Mums are great problem-solvers. And now my kids are grown up I can use those skills in BigChange.”

Madeleine Taylor-Hopps, Executive PA at BigChange

“Martin thinks that I’m a miracle worker but most of the time, my job just involves a healthy dose of common sense.”

If you want to see incredible gains in productivity overnight, get yourself a PA – but please don’t steal mine!

I’m trying to remember a time when I started one of these quarterly update blogs without referencing the challenging economic climate. Between Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, it feels like the UK has spent the last five years battling one headwind after another. Throughout all this uncertainty, BigChange has tried to be a dependable partner, consistently and diligently saving customers money and helping them to grow. At first, the impact of our technology remained under the radar but now, in 2022, it feels like the word is out. We have had a bumper quarter in terms of new contracts, partnerships with established companies, and impact. Here are some of the highlights…

A trusted partner

Over the last three months, BigChange has experienced extraordinary growth. New contract wins in the first quarter of 2022 are up by a third on the previous year, worth £7.2m. We have welcomed 100 new customers, bringing thousands of new users onto the platform. Our customer base is more diverse than ever, as we welcome many big, established companies into the fold. Special mentions go to facilities management firm First In Service, which has been going since 1966, and supports major organisations across the NHS, government and the private sector, to RGE Services, which has been providing best-in-class property services for the last 30 years, and to Cork Crane Hire, which has been going 40 years.

Expanding the team

As our order book grows, as does the BigChange team. I’m delighted that we have been able to welcome 25 new starters into the fold over the past quarter – and we’re still looking for 14 more (take a look at our vacancies here: BigChange – Current Openings. Our software development team is now 100-people strong, and we are well on the way to establishing a new Customer Success team.  

Culture is everything

As we grow – and we are now a team of 250 colleagues – it’s important that we work hard to maintain our inclusive and entrepreneurial company culture. This is why I’m proud to announce that BigChange has retained its 2* Best Companies to Work For status, which proves that our growth has been achieved without sacrificing the wonderful work environment we have tried so hard to build here. Our management and our brilliant HR People team remain focused on supporting the careers of all our people, and it’s been a privilege to watch so many colleagues rise through the ranks in recent months. I’m talking about people like Georgia Murphy, who has moved from a front of house role to Customer Marketing and Events Manager, and Francis Chuma, who started as a tester at BigChange and now has a pivotal role within the Professional Services team. Regular readers of the blog will also remember Lisa’s story: Lisa Boonin started in RoadCrew Customer Service and was supported through a CIPD qualification to take on a new career in HR at BigChange.

World domination

We may now be an established player in the UK but we are also gaining traction internationally. BigChange now operates in France, Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand the US, and Canada. The French arm of the business has grown significantly over the past three months, expanding its base to reach over 60 customers. Across the globe, 60,000 people from around 2,000 companies now use BigChange.

Ready for a bumper Q2

Despite the many challenges that the world faces right now, I’m confident that BigChange will continue this impressive growth trajectory in the second quarter of 2022. After what feels like a lifetime of lockdowns, we’re back out there, attending events and exhibitions, and meeting potential customers all over the world. To put this into context, we attended just two exhibitions in the first quarter, and six are already tabled for Q2.

We continue to receive awards nominations and accolades, which also helps to raise awareness. In the last three months, BigChange has been shortlisted for Most Sustainable Installer (alongside Celsius Plumbing & Heating) at the Heating Installer Awards, and for the Best Use of Technology Award (alongside Nserv) at the Construction News Awards.

Proud to support entrepreneurs

It’s a tough trading environment out there but that just makes our technology even more attractive. Businesses must create more value than ever in order to survive and we are here to help them do just that, to increase profit margins while banishing waste and inefficiency. It’s no coincidence that 30% of our new business comes from existing customers buying new licenses. BigChange customers are not laggers: I would wager their growth far outpaces the rest of the UK economy. During two recent Shop Floor days with BigChange customers, I saw this ambition, drive and tenacity first-hand. At Sherwoods, revenues have doubled during the company’s time as a BigChange customer. At Crucial Engineering, which has been with BigChange almost since its formation, revenues recently hit over £3m. Watching businesses like these thrive is an absolute highlight of life as BigChange chairman, and I look forward to sharing many more success stories with you soon.

These days, every meeting starts with doom and gloom. The war in Ukraine. Rising Covid cases. Sky-high inflation. The escalating cost of living. There’s a lot to be worried about right now, so it’s natural that these issues are front of mind for many of us.

But I worry that all this negativity is sapping our ability to make positive changes in the world around us.

We are so focused on challenges and threats that we have stopped thinking about the future. We are so exhausted by current affairs that we don’t have the energy to respond effectively.

This week, I want to encourage all business owners – including myself – to try and move beyond the doomscrolling and focus instead on the things in our lives that we can control.

As entrepreneurs, we don’t think about problems, only solutions, and this situation is no different. If we are worried about the rising cost of living, and the impact on our customers and teammates, the best thing we can do is ensure that our products and services are the best they can be, offering value for money. We need to think about how we can grow our businesses, creating more jobs during what is likely to be a tricky time for many.

If we are worried about Ukraine, then we need to ensure our businesses are profitable, allowing us to contribute to charities and causes that are close to our hearts. Eight of my BigChange colleagues are based in Ukraine and we check in with them all frequently to make sure they are safe and have all they need. The time spent in contact with them is so much more valuable than time spent absorbing more coverage of the horrors unfolding there.

At BigChange, our entire business proposition is based on driving efficiencies and helping customers to be more successful. We help businesses to save money, reduce waste, and ensure every hour of the working day is spent as effectively as possible. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, fuel bills are rising, and our technology dramatically reduces miles spent on the road, ensuring the right engineer is sent to the right job via the most efficient route. Cash is key to business survival right now, and our systems make invoicing easy and ensure customers are paid as quickly as possible. Covid cases are rising which is why our in-built health and safety procedures have become one of our most popular features. No wonder we have had a record quarter for new customers, bringing 100 new organisations on board.

We never stop trying to find new ways to support our customers, which is why we keep investing heavily in customer service – it is only by working hard to understand issues that customers face that we can keep iterating our software to break down barriers to success. I am also about to launch a new video series, Growth Stories, sharing some of the smart strategies that have helped our customers to grow and succeed, so that we can all learn and be inspired.

It is also important to be pragmatic, especially when it comes to Covid. Yes, the doom-laden headlines are never nice to read but we have known for a long time that we must learn to live with Covid, as we live with the flu. It’s about protecting ourselves and one another – working from home when needed – and not getting derailed by fear. I have just recovered from Covid myself – several members of my family caught it for the first time just a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, with remote working, I was still online and able to be productive throughout my illness.

Psychologists have warned of a marked decline in mental health across the UK as many Brits, still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, now react to all the frightening news we are consuming on a daily basis. We need to be there for our teams right now and be prepared to listen. We must also find ways to bring our people together – we are social animals and need the support of face-to-face interactions. This is why BigChange is working hard on bringing our summer soiree plans safely to fruition.

I hope that this post can be a rallying cry for entrepreneurs everywhere. Don’t be disheartened. There is so much you can do. Is your business as lean as it could be? Are there any changes you could make right now to help ensure its continued success long into the future? The time to act is now. 

So many of the nation’s small businesses hold fascinating stories just waiting to be told. One of these is the history of Sherwoods, which has become one of the most admired firms in its sector, serving big-name customers all across the Southwest.

This month’s Chairman’s Spotlight is on Jo Sherwood, finance director of the fast-growth firm. She has helped grow Sherwoods from just 15 people to 111, and from a local electrical services provider to a fully-fledged building services facilities management company.

I first met Jo in the early days of BigChange. Sherwoods is run by four outstanding individuals: Jo, her husband Kev, whose father founded the company, Kevin Wiltshire and Jamie Bonner. Kevin W and Jamie started as apprentices in the business and have worked their way up to board level. It was Jamie who first saw the value in BigChange, and the whole team has worked with us over the years to help hone our offering. I’m so grateful to the team for their insight, recommendations, and feedback over the years.

I caught up with Jo to find out how her team has grown the business and the secrets to their success. It all started in 1970 when Kev’s father Mike Sherwood created Sherwoods as an electrical business in Torquay, South Devon. Kev had no intention of joining the business. He did an electrical apprenticeship at another firm! But when Mike decided to join Sir Chay Blyth on a year-long yacht trip around the world, he asked Kev to come and manage Sherwoods in his absence.

“Kev had no experience, he was in his early twenties, and it was during a recession, but he said he would give it a go,” says Jo. “He did such a good job that when his dad came back, he asked him to go into partnership.” In 2003, Jo and Kev were married, and she joined the business. “I started off doing a part-time admin job but, two years later, I was full-time finance director.” Jo has learned everything on the job, achieving her Association of Accounting Technicians’ level 3 qualification around the time she spent growing the business (and raising a family).

“When you are running a business, you have to live and breathe it,” she says. “When I went into hospital in 2005 to have my firstborn, I gave birth on the Sunday night, and Kev came back the next morning and I was there in my hospital bed doing the sub-contractors wages to make sure they got paid!”

Here are Jo’s five top tips for growing a successful family firm.

1.) Invest in your team – culture is everything!

“Our mission is to become the facilities management building services partner and employer of choice across the Southwest region, and we can only achieve this by continuously investing in our people.”

2.) Support your suppliers and clients

“When the first lockdown was announced, I pulled off our debtors’ report and saw we were owed £1.2m. I thought it was all over. But we worked closely with our customers and suppliers to make sure we all survived. We had a policy whereby when we were paid, we would pay as many people as we could, so everyone had some cash flow coming in. It was amazing to see everyone pull together and we built some really strong relationships during that difficult time.”

3.) Bring in new perspectives

“One of the best decisions we ever made was to bring other people into the business. When it was just Kev and I, it could sometimes be difficult. Being husband and wife and business partners, there was not always a clear way to resolve disagreements. But Jamie and Kevin W have grown with the business, they know our culture and how we do things. They now sit on the board and between us, we always find the best solution for the business. We even have heated debates! But we never fall out because we are all committed to Sherwoods.”

4.) Use BigChange

“BigChange has transformed the way we work. We couldn’t be without it now. Every job starts and finishes with BigChange. We cover a lot of the Southwest – it’s one of the hardest regions to cover as a contractor – but BigChange gives us the tools to do it efficiently.”

5.) Keep diversifying

“We are always looking for ways to spread our risk and a great way to do that is through diversification. That’s how we have become a one-stop shop, starting with electrical and then adding mechanical, and then onto a full FM service. We have also diversified into providing compliance services and planned maintenance for a range of clients. During the pandemic, shops, restaurants, medical facilities, and hotels needed to stay compliant and had we not diversified into that area, our challenges would have been significantly greater.”

I have such respect for Sherwoods’ commitment to its customers, colleagues and suppliers. I hope that you are as inspired by their story as I am. Check back soon for my next Chairman’s spotlight!

What can you do today to help your customer be more successful tomorrow?

I have spent my whole life building businesses and my obsession with my customers has been the constant that unites all my ventures, whether it’s a bakery or a software company.

But when it comes to going the extra mile for customers, it’s easy to talk the talk and far harder to walk the walk. A customer-centric approach takes investment, focus and a relentless determination to keep improving.

This is why, at BigChange, we made sure that as the business grew, we kept revisiting the concept of customer success. Regular readers of this blog will have seen some of my posts on the topic. We were delighted when Ian Burgess, who has spent his whole career helping companies better support their customers, joined the team as our BigChange Chief Customer Officer in September.

So, for any business owners out there who want to build businesses with customer success at their heart, I’ve asked Ian to share some of the insights we have learned on our journey. I hope that you find them useful, and that you and your customers will thrive! Over to Ian!

What does customer success mean?

In a traditional account management structure, a customer will call in with an issue, the team jumps to sort it out, and it can be chaotic. Customer success is about being proactive, not reactive. You understand your customer so well that you can anticipate their needs.

How does a customer success focus change the structure of the business?

In many businesses, the hierarchy (if laid flat) looks like a conveyor belt. One team passes the order to another and so on. Service teams usually sit right at the end of that conveyor belt. When you put customer success at the heart of the organisation, it becomes a pivot around which all departments turn. In BigChange, this means that customer success engages with all teams across the customer journey to ensure they know all about the latest developments that can help customers thrive.

How do you establish customer success processes?

Customer success is an ethos as well as a function. You don’t just introduce a customer success team; you need to get buy-in from the whole business. We created a customer success platform; an aggregation layer on top of the BigChange technology. We look at things like: when was the last time we engaged with the customer? How are they using the product? What might they like some help with?

Are there any pitfalls to be aware of?

Your customers are busy people so you must only contact them when you can genuinely add value. There’s no point calling up and saying, ‘It’s raining’ – they’ll know that already. But if you can tell them it’s going to rain tomorrow, you give them insight they can act upon. This is also why we recommend you have a dedicated customer success team – one point of contact for these proactive approaches. You don’t want people from lots of different teams calling up with different propositions.

What impact did this approach have on BigChange and its customers?

The more we help our customers to get the maximum value out of our product, the quicker they will grow. And the more value they get from the platform, the more efficiencies and benefits they will experience, which also breeds loyalty to BigChange. That’s really powerful for us, as you can see in our Net Promoter Score. As we grow, it’s very important to everyone in the business that we stay human. We will never be a faceless corporation. We are always at the end of the phone, always looking to help. It’s a real differentiator for us, especially at a time when other companies in the space charge extra for this kind of service. For us, it is fundamental to our core offering.

Where are all the female apprentices? Why are so few attracted to jobs in the trades?

These are the questions I posted two weeks ago. Thank you to everyone who shared and commented, I really value all your contributions. This is a topic that is very important at BigChange – and to all our customers.

I want to return to this theme now, during an important week for women, when the whole world is talking about International Women’s Day. Every business, every product, every service benefits from input by a diverse group of individuals. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen it: teams perform better when they have a balance of men and women. That’s just how it is. 

This is why I was so alarmed to see the research from RatedPeople.com, claiming that women make up less than 1% of carpenters and joiners in the UK, and less than 2% of electricians, plumbers and metal workers. Without more women taking on these roles, championing women-led design, and providing role models for future generations, we are missing out on their vital contribution to the industry.

To find out why there are so few women taking this route, I caught up with Lili Baines, an apprentice at Gas Smart Heating in Brighton & Hove, to find out how she found her way into the trades – and asked how we can encourage more women to follow in her footsteps. At BigChange, we love people like Lili, and love to see them progress and thrive. Here’s her story.

Lili’s experience

“I started thinking seriously about changing career in the summer of 2020. It was during lockdown, and I was working for a call centre. I had been to university, but it hadn’t really gone anywhere. I came out the other side saddled with loads of debt. I thought, ‘What am I doing? Is this the life I want?’

“During my school days, I was never given the opportunity to think about manual trades or vocational careers. It just wasn’t part of the careers advice when I was young. But while working from home for that call centre, and dreaming about a better life, I started Googling other options. That’s when I found Stopcocks on Facebook.

“It’s a group for women plumbers, and the page was packed with useful information about the training required. I met loads of supportive women through that network and realised that it could be easier than I had thought to start retraining.

“Unfortunately, most of the women on that group were based quite far away so they advised me to start calling up local firms to see if they needed an apprentice. I was lucky; Gas Smart Heating was the first company I found. When I looked at the website, I saw they already had a female heating engineer and the message on their ‘join the team’ page was simple: ‘Get in touch if you share our enthusiasm’.

“I called up and explained who I was and what I wanted to achieve. I went out with the team over four Saturdays so they could assess my drive and aptitude. In life, if you show a bit of willing, people will usually give you a chance. They invited me to join as an apprentice.

“From the moment I started going out on jobs, I loved it. Doing something hands-on is completely new for me but I have always enjoyed thinking and solving problems and that’s a big part of heating and plumbing. You assess the clues to work out what’s going on. Then, you’re a hero when you get someone’s heating back on or give them hot water.

“None of my female friends work in this industry. Why aren’t there more of us? Part of the problem is that working-class jobs are often considered unskilled – even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re told that if you don’t do well in your GCSEs, you can go and do something with your hands, but the truth is, people can make a lot more money – and develop incredible skills – by working in the trades. We need to get rid of that stigma.

“And we still live in a male-dominated world. As a girl in school, you’re taught that boys are strong – it’s always a big strong boy who is asked to carry a chair by the teacher. It’s hard to shake these labels, even when you grow into a strong-willed woman. But then I also noticed that many of the stereotypes applied to women are useful in this industry. Being organised, being able to communicate well, these are real assets. And the muscles will come too, in time!

“I do think that having women on the team is a huge benefit. We get a lot of jobs from women who live alone, who feel more comfortable with a woman engineer. They trust that I won’t overcharge them or take the mickey. As a woman sitting in the van, I get a lot of approaches from customers asking me to take on jobs. Women control most of the purchasing power in UK households after all.

“It’s not always easy to be an apprentice. You must make financial sacrifices in the short-term knowing that you are investing in your future. My partner and I live very frugally and that’s part of the drive to make it work. You learn as quickly as you can so that you can progress. This apprenticeship is only two and a half years, so it won’t be long till I’m on a trained gas engineer’s wage.

“To employers who are looking to attract female apprentices, I would say that it’s helpful if you already have women on your team. You don’t want to be the first and stick out like a sore thumb. I have also seen reports about a pay gap. Luckily for me, my boss believes in equal opportunities and equal pay. But there is still some sexism out there, and perhaps a lack of progression for women.

“When I first got started, my boss Steve Cahalane took into account that I might not be as strong as the other guys. So from day one, he made sure I had the best tools to make jobs easier. That means the investment in me might be a little higher, but I’m hoping that I’ll be a great return on that investment. If you think about it, firms everywhere take a chance on a 16-year-old boy to become an apprentice. They may not know what they want to do. They might not really care about the trade. I hope I’m a better bet.”

Like many of you, I have spent the past week glued to the news, desperately trying to make sense of what is happening to the people of Ukraine. For all of us at BigChange, the conflict feels even more personal because eight of our colleagues are Ukrainian nationals, based in Kyiv. These people are part of the BigChange family. We have laughed together, met one another’s families, and celebrated milestones together at BigChange events.

We have all been scrambling to try and support our people out there. “Do you need money?” was the first question. “What can we do to help your community?” was the second. Our colleagues asked for very little, although they were giving all they had to help those in need. We have sent a truckload of humanitarian aid to Ukraine now through Goods for Good project, and we hope these items will get to the people who need it most. Our CSR team has called an urgent meeting to discuss further options for support. Even my son, Joseph, is trying to do his bit, selling t-shirts to raise money for Ukraine.

But one way I hope to support our friends in Ukraine is by giving them a voice, a platform from which to express their fears, their defiance, their unity, and their resilience in the face of absolute tyranny.

I managed to speak to Liubov, who works in our software testing team, yesterday. These are her words.

“I’ve lived in Kyiv for 15 years. When I started reading reports that Russia could potentially invade, I didn’t believe them. It just didn’t make sense in the 21st Century. So when the war began, and I read that Putin had launched an attack, I was in total shock.

“We gave ourselves two hours to pack all the essentials and take our parents to the west of the Ukraine, where it is safer. We didn’t take much, only our documents – our passports – some money and some food, because we didn’t know whether we might struggle to get supplies later. We packed a few clothes but that was a low priority.

“It took us 17 hours to complete the six-hour drive to the west. Fighter jets were flying overhead. I have never been more frightened. We saw Ukrainian military heading for the border. That made everything real.

“I left Kyiv, but most Ukrainians are more courageous than me. They will stay and protect their homes, and fight back, if they must. Men and women are determined to fight to protect our country. We will not let our cities and villages fall into Russian hands. In Ukraine, people are often divided on issues but right now, we are as one, organised and moving in a single direction, joining forces to save our homes.

“I have been spending most of my time trying to find safe places for friends and family, so I’m always on my phone. People are so kind, giving up their homes for free, bringing in strangers and saying, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll support you’. There are some shelters around, so I’m also trying to share all that information with the people who need it.

“For the first four days, I couldn’t stop shaking but now I am calm. I must keep busy to distract myself from the news.

“I ask that the people and governments of Europe help us any way they can. Our Ukrainian army was not prepared for invasion, so we don’t have ammunition, equipment and weapons, so the first thing we need desperately is to supply our army and protect our soldiers. Our second issue is that is is very dangerous to try and get goods and food to the east of Ukraine, so we need help ensuring that people have emergency supplies. We also need everyone to ban Russia from every possible communication with Europe. This invasion must not be allowed to take place without consequences. We are an independent country. Russian citizens should be made to understand that their President is making terror for other nations, and that he does not deserve their support. They must take to the streets in protest or impeach him. They must make him understand: this is the end of your regime.

“I still cannot believe that we are at war. I was talking to my husband about this yesterday. I said, ‘One day we will tell people we lived through a war.” I’m for peace and resolving conflict through diplomatic means. I believe in democracy.

“I miss my home and I hope I will have the opportunity to return soon. Over the years, I have been offered many chances to emigrate to the US or to Europe, but I decided to stay because I really love this country. I hope that Putin will pull back his army but if he does not, he will still not be successful. We will protect our country.”

To Liubov and her team, I say this: the whole company is behind you, and our prayers are with you. 

Not many schools nowadays invite carpenters and plumbers to their careers days to talk about the value of vocational apprenticeships and jobs in the construction trades – and even fewer focus this advice towards girls.

If you know of one that does, I’d love to hear about it, because the number of women who choose a career in construction or the trades remains shockingly low. This, despite the fact that the talent shortage means companies are crying out for skilled workers. And despite the fact wages in these fields have shot up in recent times.

This week, Rated People put out its annual trends report. It’s packed with interesting data about the home improvement boom, the most in-demand trades and the rise of eco-homes. But there’s an eye-opening section on tradeswomen – or lack thereof.

Women make up less than 1% of carpenters and joiners in the UK, and less than 2% of electricians, plumbers and metal workers.

My jaw hit the floor when I saw those numbers.

This got me thinking about how to get more women into these roles. It’s a topic I would like to explore in more detail in a couple of weeks to coincide with International Women’s Day. But in the meantime, I thought I’d open the conversation by talking about women apprentices – and why I think this could be a key part of the solution.

To help educate me about the challenges and developments in this area, I caught up with Derek Whitehead, the Principal & CEO of Leeds College of Building.

The LCB is the only General Further Education college specialising in construction and the built environment nationally with more courses and levels of courses than any other organisation. Approx 6,000 students are accommodated annually, with some 2,800 apprentices currently learning with the LCB. Derek knows the world of apprenticeships inside out. Crucially, because the college works with 1,700 employers, he also has a bird’s eye view of the whole issue.

He tells me that there has been a real surge in employer interest in apprentices. That many are choosing to train new recruits from the ground up, instead of going the traditional route of hiring university graduates, particularly in level 4, 5 and Degree Apprenticeships. This is because 80% of an apprenticeship is delivered on employers’ sites and 20% with colleges or other training organisations; this compares to traditional university pathways, where most programmes deliver 100% of the training is off the job. The government has also done its bit to help employers choose apprenticeships through a scheme that covers all – or most of – the cost of this training, particularly for non-levy paying organisations, and other incentives.

For would-be apprentices, this route is also very attractive. Universities charge steep tuition fees, in addition to students paying accommodation costs, leaving them with huge loans to repay. Whilst apprentices earn while they learn and don’t need to rack up these costs. Derek says that 95% of the apprentices that come through the college are kept on in sustainable permanent employment, with the same employer usually, after completion of their apprenticeship. 

Simply put: it’s hard to think of a time when apprenticeships have looked more attractive.

And yet, of all those students studying at the college, just 7% are women. And while there are more female apprentices across areas such as transport, planning and civil engineering, there are few on the craft side, in bricklaying, plumbing or electrical.

“Yet when women do join, they excel,” says Derek. “Two of our female students recently won national awards, for example, in painting and decorating.”

The college, alongside many other organisations, is calling for more awareness of the breadth and variety of trades and construction apprenticeships within schools – especially among girls and young women. “We would love for more schools to equally promote vocational routes alongside academic routes, such as sixth form and university,” he says. “Often, when we go into schools to talk about the opportunities we have for learners, we are presented with a very small group of students, while a bank or big corporate may address the full year 10 or year 11 cohorts. The better schools, of course, invite us in regularly, and carry out visits to the college, promoting good neutral careers advice, and guidance.”

He wants young people to know how much the world of construction has changed and continues to evolve. “There used to be an idea that it could be dangerous, or that there was lots of lifting and a poor image but that’s simply not true,” he says. “Health and safety legislation means sites are superbly managed, and mechanical devices now do the heavy lifting.”

For women, in particular, Derek wants to get the message out that employers are committed to making construction a welcoming place for female workers, from single-sex facilities on sites to more flexibility around the needs of families and even pro-active policies to encourage more women into the industry. He says, “It’s such a fantastic and rewarding industry for all to work in with a wide variety of daily work activity, working as part of a team, together with being part of major infrastructure and commercial projects, new housing and/or repairs and building improvement.”

The talent shortage is only going to get more acute, he warns, so we need to take action now. “Some 225,000 vacancies are projected in our industry,” says Derek. “And that doesn’t include the 38,000 in zero-carbon areas. We need to engage everyone who is currently underrepresented in this industry, from women to people from different ethnicities.”

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic, especially my customers at BigChange, who I know are always on the hunt for new talent. Do you have any female apprentices? How have you changed your approach or processes to attract more women into the industry? I’d appreciate the opportunity to learn from you.

Paul Van Heeswyk is known as “Dutch” to most people, even though he’s actually more Irish than Dutch, and has an accent that’s pure Leeds. I met Dutch four years ago. He had just started his business, Crucial Engineering, and was building it from the ground up.

The moment I met Dutch, I was impressed. We got chatting at a BNI networking event and he had that entrepreneurial spark about him. When I told him that we had an issue with our office doors – and he explained that fixing industrial doors was his speciality – I asked him to take a look. He fixed our problem then and there and I invited him up to test-drive our software.

Even though he was still a one-man band at that time, he saw the potential for BigChange to help him grow his business faster than he could on his own. He’s been a customer ever since. I caught up with him recently to ask how business was going and I was delighted – although not surprised in the least – to find out he’s achieved everything he’d set out to do and more. I’d like to tell you a little more about Dutch, and hopefully you’ll be as inspired by his drive and determination as I am.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I created the “Chairman’s spotlight on…” series to celebrate the amazing business owners I’ve met on the BigChange journey. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to help these enterprising individuals to grow their companies and be more successful with our software, and I also want to shout about their endeavours from the rooftops! They deserve it!

Like many of our customers, Paul started his businesses after spending years working for other companies and realising that he could do it better. “I had worked at organisations where the ethics and morals just didn’t align with my own,” he explains. “So I got a van and bought some tools and off I went.” The quality of his work and Paul’s commitment to customer service ensured that his start-up grew quickly. Within six months, he was able to hire his first teammate, Chris. “Chris is our operations manager to this day,” he says.

Four months into his business journey, Paul decided to become a BigChange customer. “I’d seen the problems that can arise at my previous company,” he explains. “People thought that I was insane when I first started using it because it was just me, so I was sending jobs to myself and finishing them and sending them back to myself! It seemed as though I was adding more process when I was already busy. But I knew I wanted to grow Crucial, so I needed these systems in place early on. Now that we are 27 people, BigChange is the absolute brains of the business.

“The transparency that it has brought to our financial processes is vital. We use it to quote, raise purchase orders, invoice, you name it. If a customer rings up with a question about a job we completed a few weeks ago, we can instantly bring up the quote, engineer’s photos, reports, invoice, everything. There’s no trawling through folders trying to find historic information.”

Paul believes that BigChange has done more than increase efficiency; it’s reduced overheads and supercharged growth. “The cost of the software is far lower than what we would need to pay to hire an admin person to do all the laborious paperwork,” he explains. “And when I think about the growth we’ve achieved over the past four years, there’s no doubt that a proportion of that is down to BigChange.”

Paul is just at the beginning of his journey with Crucial Engineering. He recently completed the Goldman Sachs Business Growth Programme at Oxford University, an intensive three-month course that he says helped him to formulate his five-year plan. “We want to become a national player, offering a four-hour response time to clients all over the UK,” he says. Paul is eyeing acquisitions right now that will broaden his geographic footprint, and also recently bought a glazing business, which means he can produce his own glass and simplify his supply chain.

Crucial Engineering will be a market leader one day. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at all the awards Paul has won recently: he picked up this Growth award in Leeds recently and has been nominated in two categories at the Yorkshire Choice Awards: both ‘Independent business of the year 2022’ and ‘Businessman of the year 2022’.

Paul has always wanted to run his own business. He came up with the name Crucial Engineering while he was still in school. “I didn’t even know what the company would be doing,” he jokes. “I just knew that was going to be the name.” When Paul decided to make the leap into start-up life, he found the name was taken. “I was devastated,” he admits. “My uncle had told me to just buy it years before, but I’d ignored him.” Luckily, fate intervened and by the following Christmas, the previous owner had dissolved their company and Paul was able to snap up the name.

Now, the sky’s the limit for Paul and his team. “I’m passionate about business and building teams,” he says. “I’ve always tried to keep a positive mental attitude, I always keep searching for growth opportunities and I love dealing with people, so I love everything about building this company. And I’m thankful to Martin and BigChange for giving us a technology that grows alongside us and keeps adapting to the scale of our ambitions.”

Here’s one thing I know for a fact. Meaningful work is fundamental to a happy life. Whether you’re 25 or 55, able-bodied, disabled, if you have special needs, or you have an IQ of 135, having a purpose, being productive, having some financial independence, and having structure to your days, all these things help to create balance and joy.

This is why I think it is a terrible and worrying truth that so few opportunities are available to those with disabilities in this country. Just 5.1% of people with a learning disability in England are employed; overall, disabled people have an employment rate that is 28.4 percentage points lower than the able-bodied.

And this isn’t because people with disabilities don’t want to work. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, when asked about the value of work, all 60 participants in its study unanimously agreed that their quality of life would be or had been much better in work than out of work. One participant said: “It gets you out of the house, you aren’t stuck in being miserable, everyone needs to get out, disabled or not, you need to get up in the morning, it’s a purpose, it’s the satisfaction when you do work.”

This won’t come as a surprise to many. Yet even though legislation has required employers to make reasonable adjustments to make work accessible for disabled people since 1996, the pathways into jobs for many with physical or mental impairments just don’t seem to exist. Significant barriers remain, from the job application process to ease of access to prejudice.

This was not always the case. The Remploy scheme was created in 1946 to help provide employment placements for those with disabilities, giving them training, support, and a career path. The original Remploy factories were set up for serviceman and civilians who were injured and disabled during World War Two. These factories stayed open for 70 years, but the government decided to privatise a decade ago and in 2013, all the factories were closed or sold. This was a tremendous loss to the disabled community. Remploy created 100,000 jobs for disabled people between 2009 and 2014 alone.

This is an issue that is close to my heart. I feel strongly that those with disabilities deserve the right to work and should be supported into suitable roles. At BigChange, the company I founded in 2013, we have prioritised inclusivity – it’s one of our core principles. Everyone in the business, from RoadCrew to management, understands the need to support one other and embrace diversity. We do this because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for business! World class teams are diverse teams.

With that in mind, I am met with Steve Ingham, CEO of the recruitment giant Page Group, this week, to discuss ways to build a more inclusive society. Steve has long been a champion of disabled workers’ rights – and has often been a lone voice on this topic. He said recently: “It just makes commercial sense. You could have a situation where nothing on your website mentions disability. There’s no mention in social media of anyone that’s disabled working for this company. Someone might be sitting there in a wheelchair and they’re the world’s leading cyber expert. They’re not going to come and join you if there’s little evidence that you’ve ever been an inclusive employer.”

I’m hoping that by being more proactive in talking about these issues, I can do my bit for this fight. We need to do all we can to encourage government, employers and charities to champion disabled people in the workplace. We all have different strengths and abilities in this life and that shouldn’t determine our ability to live a purposeful and happy life. 

On the 4th of February 2021, I embarked on one of the greatest adventures of my professional life so far.

I signed a deal with an American private equity backer, raising £75m to supercharge the growth of my business, valuing BigChange at £100m.

I won’t lie to you. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. I consider myself a good judge of character and I knew that I respected and liked the team from Great Hill Partners. But you never really know, do you?

Here I am, a year on, looking back over a 12-month partnership and, I have to say… It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I don’t want to get sentimental – I’m not one for love letters – but I wanted to talk about the experience. Often, as entrepreneurs, you hear the horror stories and see the battle scars, but you rarely find out about happy-ever-afters.

I’m here to say that our backer, Great Hill Partners, has done absolutely everything they said they would do. They have operated with integrity. They have supported me as a founder during one of the toughest and most uncertain times in living memory. They have helped this business to scale with a speed and efficiency that I couldn’t not have dreamed of on my own. They have opened doors that would have been bolted shut.

I would like to take some credit for the success of this partnership. As entrepreneurs, you are always told: do your homework. Get to know your potential investors. Speak to other founders in their portfolio. Ask about the awards they have won. I did all of that and more. So, credit to me, I picked the right partner. But no one expected a global pandemic to throw a spanner in the works. The best investor in the world would be forgiven for being rattled by that. But not Great Hill. Instead, they increased their level of support while also helping us access a further £25m to grow the business. We could never have done a deal like that on our own. Instead of putting on the brakes, they let me do what my instincts told me to do: accelerate.

I want to do a quick shout out to the individuals who have helped make this relationship such a success. I want to thank Drew LoucksChris BusbyGreg StewartRyan O’MalleyPablo Ramirez – the dream team that has supported me and BigChange this year. I want to say an enormous thank you to Richard Warley, our CEO, who was introduced to me by Great Hill, and has been a tremendous asset to the business. And last but not least, I want to thank the fantastic people at KPMG, who advised on the deal. We have spent over six years with KPMG, getting to know one another, and now I can genuinely say that I have made great friends in the process.

Many business owners are slightly afraid of private equity. Some with good reason: there are firms out there that give this kind of investment a bad name. But in my experience, any company that is serious about growth, and wants autonomy and firepower simultaneously, should consider it. If we had gone public, I wouldn’t be writing this update, I’d be bogged down in bureaucracy and gagged by shareholder agreements. It’s not for me. At least, not now. Maybe when we achieve our dream of becoming a unicorn, I’ll see things differently.

The bottom line for me is this: if we had never embarked on this journey with Great Hill, we’d be in a very different place. We’d still be successful and growing, but we wouldn’t have been able to invest in people and product like we have this year, creating the foundations for an even more brilliant future for the business. And our growth would be a crawl as opposed to a sprint. So, here’s to a most excellent year, and to the years of growth and success ahead. I’m very glad I signed on that dotted line last February.

I’m obsessed with career development. I have always said that people are your greatest asset in business. Helping those people to thrive and rise through your organisation is a particular focus. I truly believe that everyone who works for me has the right to a fulfilling work life, with lots of opportunities for training and advancement.

This isn’t just because failure to offer opportunities for career development is the number one reason why people leave their jobs – it has been the top reason for a decade too, in case you were wondering https://employeebenefits.co.uk/employee-retention-top-5-reasons-employees-leave-their-jobs/ .It’s because this is one of the most basic and powerful ways that you can help your colleagues. By offering career development opportunities, you help them to realise their potential, open doors for them, and show that you believe in them.  

This is why this week’s post is all about Lisa Boonin.

For those who don’t know Lisa, she is one of the stars of our RoadCrew team. I know some of our customers have spoken to Lisa over the past three years. Many of you have praised her effectiveness, positivity, and organisational genius. What you might not know is that over the last 18 months, Lisa has been spending her free time completing an HR qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). And that in April this year she moves into a bright and bold new career at BigChange as an HR administrator.  

I want to talk about Lisa because she is an example of what can be achieved when you take an individual with get-up-and-go, brains, and ambition, and you support them to focus that energy on their career.

Back in 2016, Lisa came to BigChange to do work experience while she completed a business studies degree from the University of Birmingham. She worked across several departments and impressed everyone with her ability to learn quickly and her people skills. She came back after finishing her degree to take a full-time job in RoadCrew.

“BigChange was a fast-growth technology start-up, so I knew I’d have a great experience,” she says. “As a first job, being in RoadCrew has been incredible. It teaches you all kinds of skills, from communication to confidence, and helps you learn the product inside out.”

During her time on RoadCrew, supported by her manager Tansy, Lisa took on many new challenges. She began hosting customer tutorials online and had hundreds of people hanging on her every word for those 45-minute sessions. “It’s amazing what life throws at you, but it was great to step out of my comfort zone, and a real learning opportunity,” she says.

RoadCrew also helped Lisa to hone her organisational skills. “That’s my real strength,” she tells me. “I’ve learned to stay on top of tickets and field incoming queries and manage my time well. That skillset will be so valuable in everything I do in the future.”

During 2020, Lisa began thinking about her future: what path did she envision for herself? What skills did she want to hone? She decided to take a look at HR and, with some help from Sonal, our people director, she chose a course from the CIPD. “I had considered a Masters from The Open University but that would have taken much longer,” she says. “I completed this course in 18 months.” The BigChange HR team helped with some assignments and offered advice and moral support while Lisa juggled her studies alongside house-hunting and planning her wedding. “It’s been a crazy time,” she says.

Lisa is now looking forward to starting her new role in April, when she can put all her knowledge into practice. Her advice to anyone who is at a crossroads in their career: “The timing of this course was perfect because I started it during the first lockdown when there was nothing else going on. I’m young, I don’t have kids to support, and I live with my parents. My advice to anyone is to try new things. Even if you’re not absolutely certain. I could have started this new course and got six months in and hated it. But the leap of faith paid off; I’ve enjoyed every module and now I know this is what I really want to do.”

I wanted to share Lisa’s story because she inspires me, and as a reminder to all of us leaders to take the time to speak to our colleagues about how we can help them take that next step in their careers. We employ stars. Let’s help them to shine.

Last year, I introduced the “Chairman’s spotlight on” series to celebrate some of the incredible people I have met on the BigChange journey. There are too many unsung heroes in British industry: people with fantastic stories to tell who are too busy building their businesses to shout about their experiences. That’s where I come in.

This week, I’d like to introduce you to Steve Cardwell. Steve founded Normanton-based Generator Power back in 1997 and has taken the business from nothing to a £50m turnover and is working towards being a truly national player – he currently serves customers from Inverness down to Reading.

Like so many BigChange customers, he founded his business because he had worked for other people in the sector, learned all he could (the good stuff and the stuff to avoid) and realised he could do it better on his own. “I had a real drive to build a business for myself rather than keep working for other people,” he tells me. “But the problem with generator rental is that it’s very capital-intensive. You don’t have a business if you have just a handful of generators. So I had to jump in with both feet. It took me two years to raise the funding to buy a fleet of generators.”

This is something I so admire about entrepreneurs like Steve: their ability to be “all in”. Steve left no margin for error. He put everything on the line to make his business work. Not many people have the courage and tenacity to make a call like that.

Once Generator Power was up and running, he didn’t sit back and hope the business would roll in. He knew he had to deliver a better service than the competition. This is one of the reasons Steve and I hit it off immediately: we are both obsessed with customer service. “If I have to rely on my wit, charm and boyish good looks, I won’t get far,” he jokes. “We have always focused on delivering something to the customer beyond what our rivals are capable of. That edge is what convinces the customers to write our name on the order, rather than someone else’s.”

He won’t say it about himself, but Steve is an absolute visionary; Generator Power was the first hire company to introduce a “power safe” product, where the fuel tank and generator are housed inside a secure and super-silent container. These were an absolute hit, as fuel couldn’t be siphoned out and the generators couldn’t be vandalised. The entire industry has since embraced Steve’s design and his rivals all now offer similar products.

Right now, Generator Power is at the forefront of innovation once again. “Dirty” diesel may be out of favour, but the company has been investing in renewables and hybrid alternatives for years. “We’re leading the field on this,” he says. “We have battery storage technology, solar arrays, you name it. If we see ourselves as a diesel generator provider today, we’ll soon be out of business. So we have evolved to become a provider of temporary power solutions.”

Markets move so fast these days: no business can stay still, or it will be left behind. After our recent investment round, BigChange earmarked a significant tranche of funding for innovation. “That’s the thing about having a “unique selling point”,” Steve tells me. “People copy you and pretty soon you need a new USP!”

One of the other ways that Steve stays ahead of the competition is through Generator Power’s partnership with BigChange. “We became aware of BigChange a few years ago,” he explains. “We had always used traditional paper-based systems. Our engineers would stand out in the cold filling in job sheets in duplicate – we had real issues with efficiency. The beauty of BigChange is that now we have ditched the paper, and our processes are instantaneous and reliable. If you do lots of work for your customer but don’t charge them enough because the paperwork isn’t there, your business grows but profits stagnate. Now, we make sure the right person is sent to the right job and we charge the right amount for that work in a timely manner.”

As Generator Power continues its journey with greener solutions, BigChange has also helped to bolster its environmental credentials. “Our engineers drive fewer miles and go to the right jobs with the right gear, which has delivered a significant reduction in our carbon footprint,” he says.

Steve has been in business 25 years and still has the same energy and ambition he did when he first started. “This is the best job in the world,” he says. “There’s a new challenge every day and I love it.” As an entrepreneur, you must embrace the high points and stay resilient through the tough times. “When we win industry awards for our innovation, and win contracts with blue chips companies, I’m on a high. But managing people is the biggest challenge. Ask me to deal with a generator, that’s easy, but when you have 284 people on your team, being a leader becomes a lot more complex.”

His philosophy in life is simple. “It doesn’t matter what you do in life but, whatever you do, you should do it with all your might. That’s the philosophy that’s worked for me all my life. Do what you do with enthusiasm. People who are driven, get on. And people who cruise, don’t. I’ve seen people sit in front of a fire and demand heat. If you get up and put wood on the fire, you’ll get heat. But you can’t sit back and expect the fire to light itself.”

If you missed my last “Chairman’s spotlight” you can find it here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chairmans-spotlight-michael-cairns-director-celsius-plumbing-port/

This week, IKEA and Wessex Water have made headlines for taking a controversial stance on unvaccinated employees. They have announced cuts to sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must isolate because of Covid exposure.  

I’m going to be brutally honest with you.  

When I first read about this, part of me thought: fair enough. We need to get our economy back on track. We must learn how to live with the threat of Covid over the long-term, which means a robust vaccination programme for all, not just a few. Business leaders cannot plan for growth – or even survival – when unknown numbers of people may be off work at a moment’s notice.

But then I took a pause.

Because there’s a very big difference between thinking that a move is logical and believing that it’s ethical.

Being a leader means that you are more than a steward of share price, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your team – your entire team, not just the people who are ideologically aligned with you or the needs of the business. That is non-negotiable.

I tried to imagine how I would have reacted to the challenge of unvaccinated employee absence when I was CEO of BigChange. The answer is that I would never have slashed their sick pay, especially at a time when many families are struggling financially after two tricky years. That is not something that would have sat right with me and the rest of the management team.

I’m not naïve about the complexity of this issue. Different businesses have very different needs and challenges. Do I think that the NHS should be allowed to mandate that all staff have a vaccination? I think I do. When your people meet vulnerable patients all day, every day, it makes sense to enforce such precautions. Would I have done that at BigChange, where many of our team work from home? I don’t think I would.

The Covid situation has never stopped evolving since the pandemic first started two long years ago. Right now, the Omicron strain seems to be less dangerous than previous variants, with most people (especially the vaccinated) reporting mild symptoms. To penalise the unvaccinated now that the actual risk is lower than before seems counterintuitive.

Businesses must be wary of taking actions that can be construed as corporate greed. There are always unscrupulous business leaders who see stories about supply chain issues, rising inflation, or increased labour costs, and raise their prices even though their company is entirely unaffected by all these challenges. Those leaders give business a bad name. 

Of course, there is evidence that individuals may be abusing the self-isolation rules to get out of coming to work, pretending to have had contact with someone who tested positive. Perhaps this might spur a business leader to take a tough stance. To my mind, this is no different to people who “pull sickies” and pretend to have the flu. If this is rife in your organisation, the issue is with the culture itself. You can either try and mete out punishments to prevent it happening or you can put your efforts into making your company somewhere people enjoy working. I know which route I would choose…

And then there’s the political situation. It’s unhelpful that every day there seem to be more revelations about parties at Downing Street that broke national Covid restrictions. Penalising regular people at a time when it’s clear our reigning elite are ignoring the rules with impunity is a risky move, in my opinion.

I am an entrepreneur and a business builder – I believe in making decisions that help your organisation to thrive. But before all that, I’m a human being who cares about the people around me, be that my team, community, or wider industry. Even when times are tough and our businesses struggle, let’s never lose sight of that humanity, or all is lost.

It feels like yesterday that I was writing our year in review for 2020. What a whirlwind the last 12 months have been. You think that when your business comes out of the start-up phase, things slow down. In fact, the pace increases alongside your own drive and ambition. Every success spurs you on to the next.

For us at BigChange, 2021 was a crucial year: we won significant investment and began building the foundations that will allow us to achieve incredible growth over the coming years. Here are some of our standout milestones and achievements.

Starting the year with a bang

In February, we announced that BigChange had raised £75m from Great Hill Partners, an growth specialist based in Boston, and that post-deal, BigChange was valued at £100m. This was an amazing time for me and the whole team here, as it crystalised that we were a market leader in our industry, and that we were really going for growth. We are aiming for unicorn status within the next few years, and we know we’ll get there.

We have gone from strength to strength since Great Hill came on board, bringing enormous expertise across international expansion and more. We have been able to invest across all areas of the business, and I have been able to move into a chairman role, which has been an exciting new challenge.

Consistently wowing customers

It’s easy to talk the talk but sales prove you can walk the walk. BigChange continues to win new customers and this year alone we secured £23m-worth of new contracts, taking our annual recurring revenues towards £20m. We have brought in 300 new customers over the past 12 months and now have a total of over 1,700 customers, with 50,000 users on our system.

Some of the brilliant new customers who came on board in 2021 include: double glazing specialist Anglian Windows; Sapphire Utility Solutions, which maintains water, wastewater and gas utilities; state-of-the art car repair centre Vertu Accident Repair; JBC Industrial Services, the leading industrial boiler and burner service and maintenance provider; Genting Casinos; and document-management company Shredall. It brings me great pride to see BigChange helping such a broad range of sectors.

Loyalty and customer satisfaction

It’s not all about new customer wins; at BigChange, we never stop trying to wow and delight our existing customers too. This is why we are so proud that we have retained our world-class Net Promoter Score of 80 plus. This compares to an average of 32 for most companies, so we are chuffed to bits with that. As we have grown, we have always tried to stay approachable and customer centric. We may be a technology company, but we still have a beating heart, and this NPS proves we are striking the right balance.

A lot of new faces

There can be no growth without a winning team, so we have made a significant investment in people this year, going from 170 to 250 colleagues. We have bolstered every part of the business, from our development department to the executive team. We now have the talent and expertise in place to give BigChange every chance of a storming 2022. It’s not always straightforward for a fast-growth technology company to find skills but we have managed to increase headcount by 80 because the culture here is second-to-none, as proved by our Best Companies to Work For two-star award this year.

Innovation at our core

We never rest on our laurels here at BigChange and in 2021 we completed 20 new development releases with lots of new features and innovations. Our customers have more control than ever before and are able to tweak the platform to the exact needs of their teams and business models. To ensure a steady pipeline of new, great features, we have also created The Big Ideas Portal so that customers can see what we’re working on and vote to prioritise the changes they want now. To make sure that everyone is kept up to date on the powerful new tools available, we have introduced lots of new modules in our BigChange University. We have now welcomed 5,000 students to these online webinars, which help users understand the breath of functionality we offer.

Charitable work

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have always been committed to giving back, both to my local community and to charitable organisations that are making a big difference to people’s lives across the world. Last year, BigChange linked our Motivational Monday series – our monthly events that welcome inspirational speakers – with charitable giving. This has been hugely successful and over the last 12 months, we have welcomed the likes of: Janet Street-Porter, the journalist and media personality; Kevin Sinfield OBE – or Sir Kev – the rugby player and campaigner; Tracey Neville MBE, the netball star who played for and coached the England team; and Benjamin Mee, who bought and reopened Dartmoor Zoo. Among the charities that the series has supported are: Living Potential Farm, which offers work experience to those with learning difficulties and disabilities; men’s mental health charity Andy’s Man Club; PhysCap, which works to improve the quality of life of children suffering from severe physical disabilities; Homeless Street Angels, which helps those sleeping on the street of Leeds; the community action charity CATCH, and veterans’ charity Help for Heroes.

Recognition for BigChange

Not so long ago I posted about the importance of entering awards. Winning trophies really does have an extraordinary effect on morale, and it’s an opportunity to stop and think about all you have achieved. This year, we finally collected our 2020 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category. We also won the Yorkshire Post’s Best Company 2021 in the £10m to £50m category. In the GP Bullhound Northern Tech Awards 2021, BigChange was recognised as one of the Top 15 Fastest Growing Larger Technology Companies in the North of England Scotland and Ireland. We were also nominated for several other awards and it’s always a pleasure to see your company listed among the great and the good of British enterprise.

So that’s it for 2021. I truly believe that we have now stepped onto a springboard and that the next five years will deliver exceptional growth and success, both for BigChange and our customers. Next year is set to be a big year for us: we will celebrate our 10th birthday, a real milestone for any growing company, as half of all start-ups never reach their fifth birthday. Thank you all for reading and for coming on this journey with me. Season’s Greetings! And my very best wishes for the New Year.

I first met Andrew Scully when he was six years old. His brother James was good friends with my eldest son, Ben, and our two families went for a walk at Ripley Castle. Even as a kid, he was super bright, attending Leeds Grammar School.

Years later, I remember popping in to Pasta Romagna, an Italian restaurant in Leeds, to get my coffee in the morning and seeing him behind the counter doing three things at once. He started working there aged 14 or so and, unlike many teenagers, already had a strong work ethic and a desire to earn. Pasta Romagna was run by a real character, an Italian lady who would suddenly break into song, “Andrew! More cappuccino! More pizza!”

While he was in sixth form, he applied for a summer job at my last company: Masternaut. Over time, he gradually worked across every single department, learning the business from the ground up. I saw a spark in him, and a brilliant mind, and employed him as my personal assistant. Soon, he was helping out on deals and due diligence. He dropped out of his business degree at university because he realised he was learning more working at Masternaut than he ever could in a classroom.

When I started BigChange, I knew I needed a right-hand man to help me grow the business. I asked Andrew to join me. Over the past nine years, he’s grown with the business as a director and shareholder.

Andrew and I have worked together for 17 wonderful years. We make a brilliant team. He’s calm, reasoned, commercially astute, and is excellent with detail. I’ve posted before about my hearing issues, which can make meetings more challenging for me. Andrew always captures every word. Having him as my lieutenant has also given me the ability to step away from some of the day-to-day operations that can swallow an entrepreneur’s time, allowing me to think creatively and focus on high-level strategy. This has ultimately been hugely beneficial to the business. There’s no way that BigChange would be where it is today without Andrew.

I am telling you all of this because it is with a heavy heart that I announce Andrew is leaving BigChange to forge his own path. He’s still very young – in his mid-thirties – and after working with me for almost two decades, he’s ready to strike out on his own. It has been an absolute privilege to be his teacher but now I can say hand on heart that the student has become the master. He has negotiated some of BigChange’s biggest contracts. He has been instrumental in creating the processes that have allowed this company to grow at an extraordinary rate. Since I moved to become chairman, he has been more and more involved in strategy and planning – and he’s gifted at that too. He unfailingly wins the respect of everyone he meets, even those twice his age. I know that whatever Andrew chooses to do next, he’ll be successful. He remains a shareholder and friend, both to BigChange and to me.

I believe that every entrepreneur needs a trusted lieutenant who can help them on their growth journey. Especially solo founders like me. You need someone with complementary skills by your side. Look for people that are great thinkers, commercially aware and numbers orientated, honest and forthright – you need someone who has the guts to say when they disagree with you.

Andrew isn’t my first lieutenant. I’ve been lucky, over the years, to spot individuals who can grow and develop with my businesses. When I started Masternaut, my second hire was a young man called Simon Bellamy. He joined in 2002 and became a shareholder, co-director, and trusted ally. He made sure that I had enough cash in that business to do all the deals I needed to do. He was honest, fair-minded and a brilliant businessman. When I left Masternaut, he stayed on and continued to grow that business. It was a huge coup for me, and BigChange, when Simon agreed to join this business a few years ago.

So, this post goes out to all the entrepreneurs and their first lieutenants out there: the dream teams. I wish you good fortune and success. Remember, together you can achieve more than you ever thought possible. We’ll miss you Andrew!

When you surround yourself with talented, driven people, wonderful things happen. That’s always been my experience, anyway.

Over the past eight years, BigChange has been on an extraordinary growth journey. I have been blessed to have many outstanding individuals by my side for this epic ride. People have hopped on the bus at various points, bringing their skills to bear, and helping us all get to the next big milestone.

I’m so grateful to all the leaders, managers, colleagues, customers and supporters who have helped us get to where we are today.

Right now, we’re at another inflexion point for the business: the moment that BigChange goes from a mid-size contender to a global superstar. To help us on this next leg of the journey, a few more brilliant people have come on board. I’d like to tell you a bit about them and hopefully provide some insight into how the talent you have at the top evolves with the needs of the business.

Firstly, as most of you know, I moved into the role of chairman earlier this year. This was an important move, which freed me up to focus on big strategic projects, and gave the other leaders on the team the space to make an impact, while still supported by me. This has been great for the business and the team.

Richard Warley, who became our CEO, has been a talent manager of the business since taking the reins in July. He is passionate about BigChange and has an extraordinary depth of experience running billion-pound companies. Together, we are working towards turning BigChange into a unicorn – and we hope to do this in just a few years. When you go from start-up to scale-up, you need an experienced grower of businesses on the team, and Richard is the steady hand on the tiller we need during this time of intensive growth.

Andy Fielder is our new Chief Technology Officer, joining just three months ago. He has 30 years’ experience building technical projects and growing hi-tech businesses. In his last business, he led a team of 120 people, based across the UK and Poland. He understands how to engage and motivate technical teams across the world, and how to put the customers’ needs first in a technology platform.

Jo Godsmark remains our COO but her role has evolved to focus even more on our people, our key objectives and results (OKRs) and our ISO accreditations. Jo is an engineer with 30 years experience in logistics and supply chain, which means she gets our marketplace better than anyone. She is also Chair of Transaid, the transport charity we have supported for many years.

One of the great things about having Richard on board is that he has been instrumental in bringing in great new talent. One of his recruits is Ian Burgess, now our Chief Customer Officer, with whom he worked at Lumen Technologies. Ian’s approach to customer excellence is much like mine: he’s not afraid to pick up the phone and talk to our clients about what they need. He’s comfortable at the coal face and is passionate about effecting positive change. It’s great to have him on board.

Paul Witter, who has been with BigChange three years, is our Chief Partnerships Officer. He started at BigChange in Network before joining the finance team in an interim CFO role, so has a wealth of experience from across the company – which is essential in his partnerships role. Before joining BigChange, he was a customer, so he understands the needs and pressures that our customers face each day. His background in facilities management has been invaluable to the company.

Our new CFO, Claudia Munn, who joined in August, has worked at some of the world’s most successful companies, from Johnson & Johnson to Tesla and Volvo. She is bringing rigour and process to the finance function to ensure we are ready for the next phase. She’s only been here five months, yet we are already seeing the fruits of her labours across the company. She has taken all that is valuable from her blue chip career but is also an agile and innovative thinker – exactly what you need at this stage of a business’ growth.

Heading up our marketing team is Nick Gregory, who joined us earlier this year. Nick is a former athlete – he was on the GB canoe team back in the day – and brings that focus and energy to his role at BigChange. He previously worked at IRIS and Oracle, so his understanding of business/finance software is unrivalled, which helps him really communicate our USPs to our customers and the broader business community.

We love self starters here at BigChange, and Paul Monaghan is someone who is capable and adept at turning opportunities into great things. He spent 12 years at West Unified Communications, rising through the ranks to become Vice President of Sales EMEA, before joining Lead Forensics as Global Sales Director. He joined us as Chief Sales Officer last month and we’re very lucky to have him on board.

Our most recent hire is Jason Nash, whom I first met during my Masternaut days. Back then, he was working for Microsoft and I was impressed by his people skills and technical competency. It was a great coup when he agreed to join us (after just six months of my badgering). He led a 100-strong team in his last full-time position at Travelport. He was the only person I could see taking on our Head of Product role and he is ideally placed to ensure that BigChange remains the best-in-class platform out there.

It’s taken nine months to refine the leadership and now I feel like we’re ready for the next chapter. We have the absolute best team for the challenges and opportunities that BigChange faces right now, and we are all pulling in the same direction, as one.

It means a lot to me that our customers and partners all get to know these leaders within the business, and that they feel supported as they transition into their new or evolving roles. I can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for us all. 

Last night, the whole company came together for the first time in two years. Almost 200 team members gathered in Aspire Leeds, the former site of the Yorkshire Penny Bank, for the BigChange Awards and the Thanksgiving End of Year party.

To be able to come together and enjoy a sit-down dinner and dance the night away, after such a long time, was truly amazing. There really is no substitute for a party for boosting morale and fostering lifelong friendships. The atmosphere was unbelievable, and I so enjoyed seeing my whole team under one roof, especially our colleagues from France.

But last night was more than just a party. It was a chance to recognise and reward outstanding individuals for their hard work, passion, and enthusiasm. It’s been a tough old year for most people, as we learn to live in the shadow of Covid, so it’s never been more important to thank those who continue to go the extra mile.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about the individuals who won awards last night. These men and women are all team players, all creative thinkers and problem solvers, and we are privileged to have them in our organisation.

Each team boasted a winner, who was voted for by their whole team. In Sales & Network, the winner was Eli Sufrin, a man described as “the backbone of the sales team” who is always on hand to support colleagues. Georgia Murphy picked up the award for the Marketing team. She started at BigChange as a receptionist and has never stopped learning and developing her skills, becoming a highly skilled and intuitive marketer.

Nic Carter-Barnes started as an onboarder and is now managing the Onboarding team in Customer Success. She won her team award for always going above and beyond with customers and our own people too. Chloe Kirk has also risen through the ranks at BigChange, starting in roadcrew to now become the number two in the team. She received the team award because of her technical brilliance and people skills; our customers love her.

The man with a fix for everything is Elliot Trim, who won the awards for the Technical Testing & Support team. He is a real team player with an extraordinary ability for explaining the most complex issues in simple language. In Professional Services, Andy Knight picked up the award for his approach to leadership. I’ve worked with Andy in the past and we’re blessed to have him at BigChange.

Tom Cullinane picked up the award for the Finance team. Tom is never too busy to help out a colleague and is truly committed to BigChange. Jonathan Isaacs, who is a serial winner, picked up the Innovation & Production award for his technical ability, creativity, and reliability.

Aurelie Rodriguez is leading BigChange France. She has proven to be an insightful manager who is well-respected by all her peers. BigChange has a strong foothold in France now, thanks to her approach and tenacity. Jo Godsmark wins the award for the Executive Leadership Team. She has truly transformed the company since joining in 2019. She combines a strategic mind with the ability to execute projects and maintain momentum.

The team of the year in 2021 is Roadcrew, our incredible front-line customer support team. This team is truly the face of our business and has delivered exceptional levels of customer service this year. It was no surprise to anyone that Andy Davenport won the Employee of the Year award again in 2021. His passion for supporting the business, his wide range of skills, and his ability to get the job done is an inspiration to us all. He is so committed to this company, even coming back to work (too) early after an appendectomy.

The CEO Award has gone to George Dibb. George joined us before lockdown but, once the pandemic took hold, we were forced to reduce the size of the sales development team. We asked him to go to Roadcrew and learn the product for 18 months before returning to sales, and he not only excelled in customer service, he has now been really successful back in his sales role: a real overachiever. And finally, my Chairman’s Award, which goes to Andrew Scully, my right hand man, and my hard-working and brilliant wife Amanda Port, who has always treated BigChange like our fifth child.

Many congratulations to all of you. These awards are very well deserved. Thank you for all you’ve done for this company and your teams. I hope you enjoyed the party!

This month, Portugal passed a law making it illegal for employers to contact their teams outside of official working hours. Any bosses found breaking the law could be subject to steep fines. Every company in the country employing 10 people or more is bound by this rule.  

Portugal isn’t the first country to adopt such a law. France introduced its own ‘right to disconnect’ rules in 2016, followed by Italy in 2017 and Spain in 2018.  

There is a similar movement gaining traction in the UK right now.  

I understand the principle behind laws like this. Governments want to protect workers from burn-out and being forced to work round the clock by tyrannical bosses.  

But the truth is that most bosses are not tyrants. They don’t want to push their teams to the limit. They just want their growing business or start-up to survive. This means that – occasionally – people may need to work late or answer emails over the weekend.  

Most of the people who use BigChange’s platform started as one-man bands. Through hard work, talent and perseverance, they grew their businesses from the ground up. They never turned their phones off at 5pm. Their teams wouldn’t refuse a call out because it was outside normal working hours. The world doesn’t simply shut down between the hours of 5pm and 9am.  

BigChange may be a technology company but we exist to serve the global mobile workforce. This gives me a unique perspective, and it seems to me that the right to disconnect widens the divide between so-called “white collar” and “blue collar” workers. 

Engineers on the road can’t clock off until they’ve fixed all the issues on their list. They may get up at 5am to drive to their first site across the country. Are you telling me that these people are less important than office workers? Laws like this seem to pit the 9-5-ers against tradesmen, presuming that one group needs protection while the other group just has to get the job done.  

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe a little hard work never hurt anyone. I may be a founder now, but I have also worked for other people. I know what it’s like to get up at the crack of dawn and put in long days to help someone else’s venture get off the ground. I did it because I believed in the vision of the founder and was proud to contribute to the growth and success of a new business.  

How many of the innovative companies changing the world today would exist if the right to disconnect had been in place when they were first formed? My guess is: very few.  

There’s no getting around it. If you want to bootstrap a start-up, or to grow an existing business, it takes hard work, and lots of it. There is no substitute for hard graft. And no founder can do it alone. You need a motivated and enthusiastic team beside you.  

I believe that legislation like this is a mistake. It presumes that people hate their jobs and can’t wait to clock off at the end of the day. Not that they are driven, capable people who take pride in their work. It also presumes that all bosses are slave drivers who don’t properly incentivise or reward the hard work of their teams.  

Why are these European countries infantilising workers in this way? Why can’t individuals talk to their managers if work is getting too much for them? What has happened to old-fashioned conversation?  

As a founder, I fear that movements like the right to disconnect are pushing people to give the bare minimum at work. It stifles the overachievers. BigChange is a big business today but, back when we were starting out, we survived only because of the extraordinary commitment of our first employees. They worked late, and we laughed together over pizza once the job was done. It was a privilege to work alongside these people and, of course, their loyalty was rewarded as the company grew. So this post is for them, and for all hard-working teams and founders. Let’s look after our mental health and each other without smothering our entrepreneurial ambition.

This week, BigChange has had the pleasure of attending four awards ceremonies. We didn’t win prizes at all of them, but it was enough to be nominated.

The buzz of being in the room, meeting other business owners, seeing your company’s achievements shouted from the stage, and – sometimes – picking up trophies and getting the opportunity to tell everyone in the room how proud you are of your team, it’s like nothing else. 

This is why I want to encourage all my fellow business owners to make the time to enter their business into as many awards programmes as they can. I know you’re busy. I know there’s always something more pressing to do. But if you really can’t spare an evening to fill out an application, pay someone else to do it. Or ask your marketing team to take on the task. 

At BigChange, we have won some wonderful awards over the years. Winning accolades creates a virtuous circle in business: awards help you wow prospective customers, and accelerated growth helps you win more awards. 

Every company will tell a prospective client that they are the best in their industry. But when you reach slide three in your presentation, listing 20 awards you have won, it proves that you truly are best in class: it’s more than just hot air. 

For leaders out there seeking investment, a whole cabinet of trophies can help attract better offers and partners. Some investors actively scour awards brochures for exciting companies. 

This week, I picked up our 2020 Queen’s Award for Enterprise – the pandemic meant that the ceremony was delayed a year. On Tuesday, at the GP Bullhound Northern Tech Awards 2021, BigChange was recognised as one of the Top 15 Fastest Growing Larger Technology Companies in the North of England Scotland and Ireland. These events have given me a platform to talk about BigChange on social media, and created positive engagement with our colleagues, customers and investors.  

I always tell my fellow entrepreneurs to get involved with awards. Even when I know they’ll be up against me – I enjoy healthy competition. But sometimes people will tell me they believe awards to be “vanity”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Is it vain to want recognition for a job well done? Or to seek an external perspective on your achievements? For me, the only vanity is paying to enter awards where the fee guarantees a prize. We never pay to enter competitions, and never would. We want to be judged on the strength of our credentials, not our ability to flash the cash. 

There has never been a better time to enter for business for an award. If you and your company are still standing after this strange and testing time in the world’s history, you deserve recognition for that. So, don’t delay, check out all the national, industry and local awards that fit your size and sector – you never know, even getting nominated could open doors for you and your business. 

World leaders have now gathered in Glasgow to debate and agree a united response to the climate emergency. There is a lot riding on COP26 – the fate of the world.

And yet, while our governments thrash out potential targets and goals, many business owners still have their heads in the sand.

The Institute of Directors today revealed that only a quarter of UK leaders have a fully formed plan for reaching net zero. The vast majority have made little or no progress. Less than three in 10 even measure their carbon emissions.

How can this be?

Back in the summer, I wrote about the role that business must play in tackling climate change https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lets-do-save-world-martin-port/ . Entrepreneurs are brilliant at finding solutions to impossible problems – and the climate emergency is certainly that. But I also believe that the greener you are, the more viable and profitable your business will be. 

So, today, I want to lay down the gauntlet for all business owners. It’s time to stand up and be counted as the world moves towards net zero. This means having targets and a plan for reaching those targets. And these need to be decided now. 

I am not just talking to leaders of mid-size or large companies here. Even one-man bands need to be thinking about this. This is why I have been working closely with Business in The Community, The Prince’s charity, to extend membership options to small and even micro businesses, so that they can leverage the wealth of support and resources that the BITC offers companies moving towards a greener future.  

The UK is home to 5.5m small businesses, representing 99.9% of the business population, and accounting for three-fifths of employment. Small business owners will be pivotal in the battle for net zero. 

The Institute has found that just 16% of leaders have set a date for reaching net zero. I feel extremely proud that BigChange is one of these ground-breaking companies, and that we are on target to reach net zero by 2022.  

I know that it’s far easier for a technology company, which produces relatively low emissions, to make progress on this front. But we have also engineered our entire business model to save trees, reduce wasted journeys (thus saving fuel), and to cut speeding, which helps to reduce emissions. This year we have saved 60m sheets of A4 paper. That is roughly equivalent to 7,200 trees, or 1.5 forests through the use of our technology. http://conservatree.org/learn/EnviroIssues/TreeStats.shtml . Our sole purpose is to improve lives by accelerating growth and sustainability in our community, partners and customers to become more sustainable and reach their own net-zero targets while helping them to grow and employ more people.  

But we still have further improvements to make. We believe that by adding even more features and functionality to our scheduling software, we can save even more wasted journeys and incorporate the Internet of Things into our system, so that connected machinery and systems can say exactly which part needs replacing, we’ll be able to reduce visits by engineers.

The Queen summed up the need for action in her COP26 address yesterday. “None of us will live forever. But we are doing this for our children and for our children’s children and those who will follow in their footsteps.” 

Tell me how you are planning to reach net zero. Let’s do this together.

After all his promises, this week’s Budget was something of a damp squib. Rishi Sunak tinkered with a few minor reforms and introduced a temporary boon to the hospitality, retail and leisure industries through a 50% business rates cut.

But you know what would help hospitality, boost worker morale, benefit the UK economy, and increase productivity? An end to the £150 cap on rewarding loyal team members with a company social.

I’m serious.

At BigChange, we usually throw two big parties each year for the whole team. These events are incredible for morale and help people across the business to meet and engage. We fly our people in from France and Ukraine, which makes everyone feel like they are part of a global organisation. It’s a wonderful way to give back to the loyal and talented individuals who make this company successful.

Last year, we weren’t able to celebrate with the team so this year, we would like to throw the Christmas party to end all Christmas parties.

Everyone is double-vaxxed. It’s as safe as it’s going to be in the near future. And people need to come together and look back over the past 18 months, to celebrate their resilience and endurance, and to look forward to a brighter future together.

There’s only one problem.

The government makes it punitively expensive to spend more than £150 per head on a party. That’s just £150 for the whole evening, which also includes VAT, taxis and overnight accommodation. We would be very lucky indeed to find a flight from Paris for that money.

If the cost per head goes over £150, by even a penny, then the whole benefit is taxable. Technically, this means the whole amount would then have to be reported on the employee’s P11D. Of course, the employer can choose to pay that back, through a PAYE Settlement Agreement.

This is absolutely ludicrous.

Why is the government making it so expensive for businesses like ours to reward our people? They have worked so hard, without any social events, for almost two years. They deserve more than a few bags of crisps and a bottle of plonk. Some businesses circumvent this rule by asking staff to contribute to the cost but we won’t do that. Instead we would shoulder the tax implications, which would double the cost of the party. Squaring that with any financial director would be challenging…

It’s time to ditch the cap on costs for staff social functions. Let UK employers give back to their people without penalising them. If you want to encourage people to keep giving their all, build camaraderie again after so long spent in isolation, and help support the mental health of our nation’s workers, this is the way to do it.

This is why I am creating a petition to ask Parliament and HMRC to scrap the cap.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/599979/sponsors/new?token=Ee8nhtU2UZ0E35zomx1p

Will you sign and help me, and countless other bosses like me, to show their teams how appreciated they are?

The world in 2021 looks very different to the landscape in 2019, doesn’t it? Things that used to denote success and financial freedom – fast cars, luxury clothing, holidays homes all over the world – now leave a sour taste in the mouth.

It has become impossible to ignore the many challenges facing the world right now, from the terrifying impact of climate change to the widening gap between rich and poor. 

I believe that this means modern leaders have a new and improved mandate: if you are successful, use it to help others and protect the planet.  

I have always been passionate about philanthropy. Charitable giving has been a cornerstone in all of my businesses, and I have always tried to drive positive change, whether that’s through convincing my colleagues to quit smoking, incentivising drivers to cut their speed, or supporting charities and social enterprises, both at home and abroad.  

Regular readers of this blog will remember that I wrote about the need to support charities last year:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/great-charities-need-our-help-bad-ones-dont-martin-port/ . The good news is that the Covid crisis has been a turning point for philanthropy. According to McKinsey, the global consultancy, some of the world’s wealthiest people doubled or quadrupled their pay-out rates last year, while others distributed 20% of their total assets, and others have committed as much as $1bn to COVID-19 relief https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/a-transformative-moment-for-philanthropy. But there is so much more that must be done.  

The NPC, the think tank for the social sector, counted over 7,440 charity redundancies in 2020  https://www.thinknpc.org/resource-hub/coronavirus-guide/  . As talent left the third sector, the people remaining were forced to concentrate on urgent crises, which meant that many vulnerable people could not access support. These charities need our time and money more than ever.   

I feel that it is my moral obligation, as a leader and entrepreneur, to do my bit. This year, I am proud to say that BigChange has supported several charities through donations and also my strategic support. Here are just a few of the causes we have backed this year: Business In The Community, the Yorkshire Children’s Centre, Recycling Lives, Transaid, Living Potential Care Farm, RNID and Speed Of Sight.  

When you’re busy building a business, it’s easy to put off charitable giving – you tell yourself you’ll sort it all out another day. But there’s no time to waste. I remember meeting Arnold Ziff OBE, the great philanthropist MHDSRIP, many years ago. He would see a problem and set about solving it straight away: it made him an unstoppable force in social and environmental change. He never stopped helping people, in any way he could, be it an introduction or a donation. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-you-remembered-martin-port/ . He became a legend here in Yorkshire.  

Arnold was the person who first convinced me of an important truth: What is the point of being successful if you don’t use that success to make a positive impact in the world?  

How could you help save the world today?

One thing that keeps every founder awake at night is: how are we going to maintain my company’s culture and momentum as the organisation grows? If you Google “How to maintain start-up culture”, you’ll see more than 16m results. Everyone is trying to solve this challenge but, suffice to say, there are no easy solutions. 

I remember, in early days of BigChange, how many late nights I spent in the office. Those were heady days: ordering pizza with my team as we burnt the midnight oil and sketched out audacious plans for the future. Now, eight years on, we’re a much bigger entity with almost 250 colleagues. We have managed to maintain our dynamism and commitment to growth, but I know the dangers of complacency. 

I recently posted that I was reading Michael Dell’s new book, Play Nice But Win. I just finished it and am so inspired by his drive and absolute determination to make Dell a global success. His work ethic has never wavered – and he started that business when he was just 21. Even during tough times, he just redoubled his efforts and managed to overcome every barrier. 

Over the years, I have seen many businesses flounder when they scaled from a small-to-medium-size to a larger entity. This means that I now know the mistakes to avoid. As you grow, you need to make sure you don’t lose your grip on the hiring process. It may be tempting to fill roles fast as gaps appear but every single individual that joins the team must be a) a team player, b) driven and enthusiastic and c) capable of giving 150% when the business needs it. 

When you start a business, the combined output of the team is astonishing. It is possible to keep finding those incredible and talented people as the business grows – but you have to take your time and really get to know individuals and, most importantly, promote from within. 

The leader must motivate, motivate and motivate some more. As soon as the people at the top lose their focus, the team will too. It’s so important to keep communicating the goals and being transparent about performance. People need to know where the business is going and how they, individually, will contribute to success. I love working with a galvanised team and that feeling of all being on the bus together. 

I’m writing this from America, where we are focused on building a business to rival BigChange in Europe. I feel like a start-up founder again, and it’s been so exciting to see our US operations blossom and flourish. Having ambitious plans for this part of the world has lit a fire in the whole team, and I want to keep stoking those flames. BigChange may be growing fast but I want this company to keep its entrepreneurial vigour, whether we are 200 people or 2,000.

“Turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity.” Most entrepreneurs will have heard these words at some point in their careers. It’s a cliché but, here’s the thing about clichés, they are usually right.

When you run a mobile workforce, as we do, and all our customers too, there are so many variables in play, which affect your profitability. From the cost of hiring new talent to the availability of parts, fuel prices to job scheduling efficiencies, it’s a delicate balancing act.

This is why BigChange has just conducted a major piece of research into the field service industry. We are obsessed with helping our customers to grow, and grow more efficiently and profitably than before, so it made sense to go out and ask people across the sector (not our customers; the pollsters Opinium found more than 500 business leaders outside of our network) about the things that are hampering their growth, reducing margins, or causing them sleepless nights.

The results are absolutely fascinating.

The report, “State of the Field Service Sector” found that these businesses are in the grip of a post-pandemic boom. Workloads are up 70% on last year, according to the leaders we polled. And prices are rising too, because of this demand, increasing 47% on average since July 2020. Yet, here’s the kicker. Fewer than half of the companies in this industry turn a profit. How can this be?

Many accrued significant debts during the repeated lockdowns of 2020. Some may have been hit by higher costs that they were unable or unwilling to pass on to customers. Others have been forced to increase wages to hold on to staff as the post-Brexit talent shortage continues to bite.

All of this means one thing: that while a significant proportion of field service businesses are growing, they are not growing sustainably. In fact, according to our research, one in eight is likely to go bankrupt within a year.

What can be done to support this vital sector, and prevent losses from spiralling out of control?

Call me biased, but I know that technology is the answer. Automation is absolutely key to modern enterprise. It not only helps to reduce the time is takes to complete jobs, it also helps engineers deliver a better service, and provides actionable insight into what is driving the value of your business.

Our report has found that customer experience is now the ultimate source of competitive advantage. Most leaders said good service now requires same-working-day fixes for reactive jobs (68%) and that customers be kept fully informed digitally (65%) – both must-haves can be achieved through smarter tech.

It is my heartfelt belief that an investment in the technologies that increases profitability is a no-brainer. There is no better way to spend your money. At a time when many business owners have cut spending – and some may even be sitting on significant cash piles – the opportunity to drive efficiency and optimisation like never before is now in reach. Cash in the bank earns zero interest. Investments in stocks and shares are highly volatile. Business leaders should back themselves and back their businesses through futureproofing technologies that really deliver.

I’m not trying to give you a sales pitch. Well, maybe I am. But it’s because I truly believe in the revolutionary power of technology to help Britain’s field service companies to thrive. So, tell me, would you like to be more profitable?

In 1986, I went to New York to work for a German bread bakery business. I was just 24. I fell in love with the Big Apple, with America, and loved helping to build Schripps from the ground up.

In the first year, I doubled the sales of the business. The following year, I worked for Fritz Pretzel, which had a pretzel store on 42nd Street in the Port Authority bus terminal. In 1989, I came back to the UK and set up a bakery business called Kroustie and had my first taste of entrepreneurial success.

I may have built a career in the bakery sector but, even as a twenty-something, I loved technology. I always dreamed I would go back to America, and build a technology business in the greatest, most competitive market in the world.

Well, here I am – I’m not going to tell you how many decades later – and I’m on the precipice of making that dream come true. I’m writing this from New York City, a place I used to call home. I’m here as a man on a mission. I’m meeting the business owners and forward-thinking managers who use BigChange – or would like to in the future.

Speaking to customers has always been – and will always be – the best part of my job, as founder of this company. I love hearing about their challenges and figuring out ways to help them. Nothing beats the look on someone’s face when you tell them you can save them time, money and frustration.

I know that we have created an exceptional platform in the UK and I want to make sure that our American customers feel the same way too, so it’s really important to me that I make each conversation count. We’re halfway there already, winning business here without even having a proper office or dedicated sales team. I’m also meeting potential partners who are keen to become BigChange resellers. This is a powerful way to grow in a new market, and it’s exciting to hear these people’s passion for our technology.

Later this week, I will fly to Boston to meet our investment partner, Great Hill. The pandemic has meant that, even though we did the deal six months ago, and were talking long before that, we have never actually met on US soil. Imagine that? Finally, we are going to sit down together, shake hands, and speak without the need for technology to bridge the gap. I’m also meeting Mike Profit, who joined our board as non-exec in June. He’s gained so much experience over the past 25 years, working with a staggering number of US technology blue chips and fast-growth start-ups. I have been looking forward to meeting him in person for the past three months, and finally we can really shoot the breeze, to borrow an American phrase.

It’s taken a lot of hard work from many different people to get me out here. It took three months to get the visa, and I would like to thank the Department for International Trade for all their help.

I hope that our US offering will formally launch in January 2022. I feel like a start-up founder again, creating this new business within BigChange. I can’t wait to see how big we could be here, and to begin spending more time here as we cement our position as a leader in our industry. I wish that my 24-year-old self could see me now.

September is here, and that means one thing: just four months to go till the end of the financial year for many businesses. 

This is a critical time for leaders. Summer is fading and, as we move into the final quarter of the year, the focus shifts to sales.  

The topic of ‘sales’ often gets lost in the business conversation. It is easy to get distracted by other compelling subjects: innovation, marketing, CSR, company culture. But let’s not kid ourselves, sales are the lifeblood of any business. Without customers, revenue and cashflow, a business could not exist.  

Did you know that Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban and Howard Schultz all started in sales? Learning about the power of selling, listening to customers, and reacting to their needs, helped these top CEOs to become the success stories they are today.  

This is why September can be an interesting time. The decisions you will make now, as leaders, will impact whether you finish 2021 on target, or whether you lose momentum and experience dips in productivity and sales.  

Performance in the fourth quarter does not only impact this year’s numbers, it sets the tone for 2022. Will you go into next year on the back foot? Or will you start the new year on a high, confident that you have increased market share and delivered on all your objectives? 

The good news is that, come September, most of your colleagues will have – hopefully – had a break. It is up to us, as leaders, to ensure that when colleagues come back to work from their holidays, they bring renewed enthusiasm and energy. We need our people to feel fired up by the fourth quarter challenge, not bogged down by the post-holiday blues.  

The good news is that the spectre of the Covid-crisis appears to be lifting. We are not out of the woods yet, but business confidence is rising, hitting a four-year high according to data released by Lloyds recently. This means that opportunity knocks. Many businesses have been in survival mode for the past 18 months but it’s time to change gear.  

At BigChange, we remain focused on the fundamental pillars of growth. We know that this strategy is working because a third of new business still comes in through referral, which means we have a lot of happy customers out there, singing our praises. As a business, referrals reduce the cost of customer acquisitions, which is great for cashflow too. We recently won a £250,000 contract when an existing customer recommended us to a sister company within the portfolio. I love the quote from Tony Hsieh, the visionary leader and former Zappos CEO, about this approach to sales success: “Chase the vision, not the money. The money will end up following you.” 

There are many ways to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to sales. Yes, incentives and ambitious sales targets can be useful, as can a greater spend on marketing (we find that shouting about our customers is the best approach) but we believe that nothing beats making improvements to your product or service for winning new business, retaining existing customers, and increasing upsell.

How are you going to make the most of the final few months of the financial year? Share your tips below.

There’s luxury and then there’s LUXURY. What really defines a luxury brand? Is it all about heritage? Is it about price? Store location?

For me, the thing that truly defines a luxury brand is exceptional customer service. When you have a Leeds accent and you walk into a department store in London and they treat you as though you’re the most important customer in the building, that’s a luxury experience.  

Luxury is not a stale, overpriced shopping environment where staff are disengaged, and customers are made to feel like they are unwelcome intruders. 

Last week, I headed into Central London to visit the iconic department stores Harrods and Selfridges. I can’t tell you how different the two experiences were. When I walked into Harrods, I felt like I was walking into a stately home. There were few customers, there was no buzz. Staff behaved as though we shoppers should be grateful to be allowed into the hallowed halls at all.  

When I went to Selfridges, it was a completely different story. The whole store was humming with activity. Staff couldn’t have been friendlier. I wanted to buy a new shirt but my favourite designer did not survive the pandemic, unfortunately. The staff took me to another concession, where they fixed me up in no time. I needed something altered and the guy there said, “No problem. I’ll have it for you in half an hour.” I’ve never experienced such incredible service in a retail environment.  

The store director, David Jarvis, was walking the floor to check that everyone was happy. I was so impressed by the quality of the service that I introduced myself to offer my congratulations. I like to give praise where it’s due.  

Harrods’ history goes back to 1849. The name is synonymous with luxury, and it remains the largest department store in Europe. Selfridges is also a venerable institution, opening its doors in 1908. Yet despite their illustrious heritage, they are completely different entities today.  

The lesson for me after that shopping trip was that a business can never rest on its laurels. Whether you’re in retail, finance or technology, customers expect a high-quality service; when we are disappointed, it is jarring. It doesn’t matter how old and established you are, even ancient reputations are not immune to modern headwinds.  

Harrods’ revenues hit £2bn before the pandemic. It is still a retail titan following the crisis with revenues of £1.04bn but growth will stall if it cannot tempt back shoppers, especially with international visitor numbers at record lows. Selfridges, in contrast, is clearly focused on growth, wowing visitors with a unique and fantastic experience. I know who I would put my money on to finish 2021 on a high. 

As BigChange grows and its reputation spreads across the globe, I know one thing for certain. I hope to become the Selfridges of mobile workforce management. Not the Harrods. 

People sometimes ask me what it takes to be successful in business. Of course, there is no simple answer to that question, no magic bullet. But I do believe that one of the most vital qualities you need in order to build a thriving business is patience.  

I know this goes against the grain. The stereotypical entrepreneur makes lightning-fast decisions based solely on gut feel, and lurches from deal to deal, pivoting his or her business to meet new customer demands. And there is an element of that. Especially in the very early days of start-up life. But the truth is: to achieve lasting success, you need a more measured and considered approach.  

The old saying goes: “Good things come to those who wait”. If you don’t give great ideas and new strategies time to blossom, you may never realise their true potential. If you act impetuously, you are also likely to lose the respect of colleagues, partners, funders and customers. It takes a long time to build a great reputation, and just seconds to destroy it.  

Patient leaders foster a more tolerant and productive company culture. This makes the business more attractive to new hires and reduces employee attrition. According to a 2020 by the Harvard Business Review, leaders who demonstrate patience can increase the creativity and collaboration of their team by 16% and their productivity by 13%  

As I get older, I have learned the value of patience. It doesn’t always come naturally to me. I must consciously slow myself down and force myself to take a breath.  

For any founders out there who are like me, and want to know how I have strengthened my ability to be patient over the years, here are my five go-to tactics: 

Make sure you have all the facts

Before making an important decision, I assemble all the available information. In my head, or on paper, I’ll review all the data that I have, and try to spot any gaps. That process slows me down because it takes time to thoroughly assess everything and find any missing information, and that naturally creates space for my subconscious mind to process everything and reach a better, more thoughtful decision.  

Have a game plan

I always try to have a plan in place when executing new strategies or pursuing goals. This helps me avoid distraction but also promotes patience because, by having a plan, you are less likely to rush. When I was growing BigChange, I knew I wanted to reach a valuation of £100m within 10 years. In the end, I achieved that far earlier but, perhaps, only because I had set my course so firmly in my mind that I never deviated. 

Let others shine

This is absolutely crucial in business: you have to let the talented people around you work their magic and fulfil their potential. That can take time. When you bring in brilliant people, they can’t always revolutionise a team or introduce a new revenue stream on day one. They must learn the values and culture of the business and figure out how they fit into the team. I have learned that by giving individuals time to get to know BigChange, they make a far bigger – and better – impact.  

Get comfortable with change

Sometimes, one of the reasons we become impatient is because of change, which is making us uncomfortable. This is a natural reaction: human beings seek out routine and can feel unbalanced when major changes are underway. But it’s important to fight the negative impulse to force ourselves back into our comfort zones. We have to give ourselves time to acclimatise to the new environment, accept that transformation is positive and necessary, and try to be patient as new changes take hold.  

Be kind

When you are impatient, you can spend a lot of time criticising yourself and others for not getting things done fast enough. Sometimes, a bit of this can encourage progress but often it does the opposite, reducing morale – yours and the team’s. Patience and kindness go hand in hand because you listen more, talk less, and focus on problem-solving rather than knee jerk reactions and accusations.  

Remember that patience is a skill that must be honed. It doesn’t come naturally to all of us so some will have to work harder at it than others. But the benefits are manifold: better business decisions; a strong reputation in your marketplace; increased tolerance; a happy team and great company culture. Slow down and make patience your priority today.

I’m on holiday this week. Yes, I actually did it! I took some time off. I’m down in London because my wife Mandy bought me a spa day at a swanky hotel for my birthday.

I went to have my massage yesterday. I thought I was going to relax for an hour and forget all about work; instead, life served me an extremely valuable business lesson.

Before my session, I tried to go for a shower. The only one available was broken. So I went to leave my things in the locker room and wrestled with one of the keypads for a few minutes before a lady came in and said, ‘Oh, don’t use that one. It does not work.”

“Right,” I thought. “This isn’t a very good customer experience.”

But then I had a massage, and the lady was excellent. Afterwards, I went for a pedicure and the gentleman who took care of me was exceptional. Then, finally, when I left, I got chatting to the receptionist, who was friendly and accommodating and made me feel so welcome.

Even though all the hotel’s attempts at automation had failed, the human interactions I had in that spa made the whole experience positive and uplifting.

It got me thinking about the power of automation – and the fact that the secret lies in knowing what to automate.

At BigChange, we have automated many of our processes. Take our sales team. Even though we have increased revenues over the past year, we haven’t increased the number of people it takes to do the sales admin because our technology does it for us.

When an order is created by a salesperson, they don’t have to touch a process after that: the BigChange system creates the contract, sends it out, generates the customer communications, orders any stock that’s needed, sets up the billing, and starts the onboarding process. But, if that customer has a question, they can pick up the phone and reach a human being immediately. The automation doesn’t extend to customer service.

These days, that’s rare. I’ve noticed that so many tech companies have taken all the phone numbers off their websites. Customers have to interact with bots and, if their query isn’t answered, they get siphoned into a complex and long-winded ticketing system. Our Roadcrew customer service is available to all our customers, and human beings are there to solve problems 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This is the other thing about automation: it should free up your people to do the high value tasks. But it shouldn’t be an enabler of Parkinson’s Law.

I was reminded about Parkinson’s Law this weekend when I read an article in the Sunday Times by James Timpson, CEO of nationwide key cutter Timpson https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-law-that-explains-why-companies-get-fat-nzvz5z8km. I have been an admirer of James and his father John for many years. Their fantastic business model, and their ethical and pragmatic approach to leadership, are truly inspiring.

“Parkinson’s Law, written by C Northcote Parkinson in 1955, explains why ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’,” he wrote. “Using his experience in the civil service, he calculated that a department grows in size, on average, by 6 per cent a year. This isn’t due to more responsibility but simply people making more work for each other.

“Many business leaders, including me, have learnt about Parkinson’s Law too late in life. Covid forced us to dust off the book and start understanding how we can run a company with much lower overheads, without affecting the service we give our customers and colleagues.”

We must all guard against the effects of Parkinson’s Law in our organisations. Automation can be a catalyst for lethargy as well as action. This is why it’s so important to have a plan and to strive for efficiency in all the things we do. Many people talk about change and extol the benefits of automation – and then fail to take any action. Some people take action but fail to protect the human interactions their customers crave. Others automate, provide excellent customer service when it’s needed, and are thriving.

Let’s all make sure we stay firmly in the latter camp.

First of all, I’d just like to express my thanks to all the people who have sent well wishes over the past week. As any CEO will tell you, moving into a chairman role is exciting but also daunting – it’s a step into the unknown – so it means a lot to see so many of you reach out.

I’m now most of the way through my first week as a chairman of BigChange so I thought I’d share some observations. Hopefully, these will be useful whether you’re a CEO considering moving into a chairman role or you’re just interested in the dynamics of such a transition.

At the start of the week, I’ll be honest, I felt a little lost. I spent time with my incredible PA removing myself from recurring sales meetings and catch-ups. Suddenly, my diary was looking emptier than ever before. Change is always challenging. I am so used to being involved in the day-to-day operations that, at first, it felt uncomfortable to move into more of a supporting role.

But it’s only when you step back that you give the brilliant people around you room to step up and be their best. This week has confirmed what I already believed: that Richard, our new CEO, has everything it takes to lead the company day to day. I’ve really enjoyed watching him take the lead on everyday decisions, and I continue to be inspired and delighted by his passion for this business.

So, what am I doing with my time now I’m not booked into meetings from 8am till 8pm? I am preparing to go to the US to drive BigChange’s expansion across that vast and incredible territory. We are targeting an aggressive expansion through acquisition as well as organic growth, so I have been looking at various exciting companies out there. I hope to have something to announce imminently!

Making progress on my plans for the US hasn’t been entirely straightforward, however. I’m in the midst of applying for a US visa but my son tested positive for Covid last weekend so the whole family is self-isolating. Luckily, the world is used to conducting high-level meetings via Teams and Zoom these days, so I’m not letting quarantine slow me down.

One of the best things about moving into a chairman role is that I am able to be so much more strategic about my planning for BigChange. It’s taking some getting used to, but I’m shifting my focus beyond the next quarter’s sales targets to a longer time frame – the next two to five years. I am having conversations now that may only bear fruit in 18 months. It’s a thoughtful and interesting approach to growth that I’m learning to love.

Getting out of back-to-back meetings has other benefits too. I recently met an impressive entrepreneur who sold his media business and has become an angel investor. We had 30 minutes in the diary for a quick chat and we ended up talking for two hours. Two weeks ago, that would have been impossible. As a result, he was able to tell me quite a bit about his portfolio companies and their challenges. This far-reaching conversation may help steer our product development while also generating some new customers for our platform.

When I was looking at moving from CEO to chairman, I read a lot of research about what it takes to make this transition successful. Many people believe that it’s impossible to successfully move to a chairman role in a business that you founded. Never attempt the move until you’ve held at least three non-executive director positions to learn the ropes, said one. Well, you know me, I love an impossible challenge. Instead, I’ve been surprised at how easy it has been to adapt to a new way of working and a new set of responsibilities.

But I have taken some advice on board. Other entrepreneurs, such as Ben Jones, co-founder of Bitwala, have said that it’s really important to give yourself some downtime once you become chairman. It’s the only way to truly get perspective on the business and work out the best application of your skills and time day-to-day. So I have booked a fortnight’s holiday – my first break of that length for as long as I can remember. I’m really looking forward to enjoying that downtime and giving my mind time to wander and explore new ideas. Who knows, I may even be able to train myself out of sleeping just five hours a night on that trip… But I doubt it.   

What do you do when you want to solve an impossible problem? Give it to an entrepreneur.

The people who create businesses from nothing know how to overcome every barrier and think of a way through every challenge.

That’s why the global small business community needs to turn its attention to the climate crisis.

We have eight years – just eight years – to radically change humanity’s impact on the planet before the planet enters climate change catastrophe

It would be easy to read something like that and feel paralysed. Feel like there’s no point trying. Not the entrepreneur.

The business owner instead thinks of the small, incremental changes they can make to turn the tide.

At BigChange, we are committed to saving the planet and helping all of our customers do the same. We are saving more than 5,000 trees from the papermill each year through our technology. We are helping customers to radically cut their carbon emissions by having fewer vehicles on the road and operating more efficiently. 

Today, we have 40,000 users on our platform. This community can take the lead on sustainability, to go further and faster, well beyond simply going paperless, cutting carbon and minimising waste. They are delivering so much more impact than BigChange could accomplish on its own, amplifying the environmental benefits in all that we create, and creating a halo effect by educating their peers and industries on how to operate more sustainably. 

We work with some of the pioneers in the field of sustainability. Fleetsolve, which provides renewable energy solutions to help clients reduce carbon emissions, is now one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of biofuel Combined Heat and Power. Recycling Lives provides a total waste management service which supports the circular economy and increases the volumes being recycled. Smart metering company Providor empowers people and businesses to make better decisions about when and how they use energy. Companies like these prove that it’s possible to truly consider people, profit and planet in the creation of phenomenally successful models.  

It’s impossible to ignore the facts anymore. Canada is burning. Germany is flooded . Glaciers are melting. Rising sea levels threaten our seaside towns. Crops across the world are failing. I’m not trying to scare you. I know that these things can be hard to read. I’m just trying to explain why sustainability is now an absolute focus, both for me personally and for the company.  

When I started writing this blog, I wondered if it was a mistake. Who am I to tell anyone to do better? We aren’t perfect. But no company is perfect. We shouldn’t let that stop us. Let’s just make sure that every decision we make, every action we take, from this point onwards, creates less of a negative impact in the world and – ideally – generates environmental benefits instead. Every action – any action – is better than doing nothing. It will take 40 years for the impact of emissions today to be felt. Even if we miraculously fixed everything this year, we’ll still have to endure 40 years of climate change before things start to get better. It’s a sobering thought but one that should galvanize us all. 

I’m looking at you, my fellow founders and leaders. We are at the helm, and it is our responsibility to lead our organisations and set the example for others. We don’t have years to change course. We must be nimble now and make decisions today that we execute tomorrow. Let’s use that to the planet’s advantage. We all need to play our part in saving the world. Let’s start today.

What were you doing when you were 18 or 19 years of age? Chances are, you were going to parties, spending time with friends, maybe studying or taking a junior role in the workplace. When James and Lloyd Barnes were that age, they were working seven days a week, growing their new business Venerable Tree Care. 

I met the brothers recently when they were working on some trees over the road from my house. We had some trees that needed cutting back, so I asked them to quote, and they came and did the work. Now, as you will all know, I love talking to people so I started asking them about their business, and their ambitions for the future. 

They impressed me so much with their drive, work ethic, and the quality of the service they provided (if anyone reading is looking for someone to help manage trees on their property, don’t hesitate to give them a call!). They took just three days holiday last year, working in all weathers. And, at 22 (James) and 21 (Lloyd) years old, they are so inspiring in their love for the environment and their commitment to help preserve ancient and beautiful trees. 

Here’s what happened when I sat down with James to ask him a few questions about their journey so far. 

Me: How did you get into tree surgery?

James: Both our parents are tree surgeons so we’ve been doing this from the time we could walk. It’s in our blood. We set up our company three years ago and it’s been pretty full-on since then. 

What kind of work do you like to do?

We chose the name Venerable because it means old and wise, and that’s how we see trees. We specialise in things like root improvement and tree science, and we love working on big, old trees. There are lots of generalist tree surgeons out there, but we do less of the felling and more of the preservation. 

What challenges do you face in business?

We have really struggled to find software that helps us to quote and send invoices effectively. The systems we have in place are really time-consuming – time we are not being paid for. We have been looking for one professional platform that takes care of it all, syncs with our calendar, and helps us look really professional to our clients. I’m hoping that BigChange can help us with that! 

Where do you get your drive?

Our parents were also self-employed from their twenties, so I think their drive has always pushed us forward, especially my mum, who is the most driven woman I’ve ever met. While all out friends were going off to uni, I was working down in London for minimum wage just to get experience doing this job before setting up the company. Lloyd and I just really love what we do. What’s better than being outside and climbing trees all day? 

What are some of your proudest achievements?

We did a job for Whixley Church a while back where they couldn’t get any machinery – cherry pickers etc – near a really old chestnut that needed work, so we had to do it all using a rope and harness. We have also worked for the National Trust, removing dead trees that threatened to fall on the greenhouse at Nunnington Hall. We’re really proud that we’re attracting these kinds of clients when the business is so young. 

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Definitely to buy machinery brand new. When we started out, to save money we spent our life savings buying everything second-hand. But the vans and equipment kept breaking down and there were no warranties, so it cost us a lot of money. We’ve learned to buy everything new on finance with warranties in place. That’s been our biggest lesson. That, and getting a good bookkeeper so you’re not trying to do everything yourself.  

It is so important to support the younger generation of entrepreneurs – especially go-getters like James and Lloyd. I am planning a shop floor day with the pair over the next couple of weeks to find out how I can help them to grow and succeed. If they’ll have me, I’d like to mentor them and pass on any advice or experience that can be of use. And yes, we are getting them started with the BigChange software this week. I know that our technology can help them grow sustainably, and cost-effectively, and I’m so excited for the bright future ahead of them.

UK technology company secures contracts worth £12.5 million for revolutionary mobile workforce management platform in the first half of 2021

BigChange, the revolutionary mobile workforce management platform, today announced that it has attracted 170 new customers and signed more than £12.5 million worth of contracts in the first six months of 2021.

BigChange revealed that 1,600 organisations worldwide are now using its software to manage their field operations in real-time, streamline activities and boost business performance. New customers include T&M Plant Hire, JBC Industrial Services, Countyclean Environmental Services and Environ Property Services.

More than a quarter of the company’s existing customers purchased additional licences to support their own business growth in the past six months.

BigChange has accelerated its expansion plans this year following a £75 million investment from private equity firm Great Hill Partners in February. It has appointed a new Chairman with experience running leading technology companies in Europe, Japan and North America, and hired 40 new employees, including a new Chief Marketing Officer to drive its expansion plans.

The company also embarked on an ambitious innovation programme to enhance its core Software-as-a-Service platform with new data, automation and payments capabilities.

Martin Port, BigChange founder and CEO, comments:

“Businesses grow stronger when they run on BigChange. We succeed by helping our customers succeed, win more work, increase the capacity of their teams and turn their customer experience into a competitive advantage. We’ve enjoyed a stellar start to 2021 and could increase revenues by up to 50 percent this year.”

BigChange half-year results: Supporting the UK’s post-crisis recovery

Last month, the CBI revealed that Britain’s hard-working companies are powering an extraordinary recovery, taking the economy to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/18/cbi-predicts-uks-economic-recovery-will-accelerate-into-autumn BigChange is among the businesses that are supporting this recovery, creating new jobs at an incredible rate, winning business both at home and abroad, and creating sustainable revenues that will help the nation bounce back from the crisis. It is with absolute pride that I announce our half-year results.

People power

We have grown our team to more than 200 people over the last six months. These brilliant new colleagues are part of our sustained investment in BigChange’s growth as we continue to build out our capabilities and win new business from customers large and small. In the second half of this year, we will welcome even more new faces. We are also currently building out our C-suite, bringing in top talent from across the industry to help support our growth ambitions.

Going for growth

During the last six months, BigChange signed more than £12.5m-worth of new contracts. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all 170 of our new customers – thanks for choosing BigChange. We now have 1,600 customers in total, with 40,000 users now relying on our technology. What an incredible result from the team! And we’re not done yet. We believe we will surpass 400 new customers by the year-end. Based on our performance so far this year, this means we are on track to increase revenues by as much as 50pc across 2021.

Loyalty and customer success

It’s wonderful to welcome so many new customers into the fold but, at BigChange, we never let new business distract us from the important job of cherishing and supporting our existing customer base. This is why I am so pleased that our repeat orders are exceptionally high, with more than 400 customers increasing their licence base in the past six months. I am also delighted that we have improved our Net Promoter Score. At 84.8, this NPS shows that BigChange offers world-class service to customers. If you would like to find out more about how BigChange keeps customers happy and helps them to thrive, please read our new customer testimonials – https://www.bigchange.com/why-bigchange/case-studies/.

Our commitment to innovation

Regular readers of this blog will know that earlier this year I pledged to focus on innovation and the creation of a pipeline of new product features to empower and supercharge the global mobile workforce. We are making good on that promise, releasing several new features in the coming months. Customers will be able to unleash the power of their data through our data-as-a-service offering, we will also offer customers large and small access to best-in-class business insights and analytics through our eagerly awaited PowerBI reporting built in the BigChange platform. And we have upped the automation factor in BigChange Pay to take on even more of the grunt work when taking payments. As always, all our R&D is focused on helping our customers to grow and become more efficient. If there’s something you want us to add to the platform, tell us! We have created an ideas portal to allow anyone to suggest updates or new features. Check it out here: https://www.bigchange.com/good-idea-for-improving-bigchange-tech-make-it-a-reality-with-the-ideas-portal/

Have you graduated from the BigChange University?

I am over the moon that so many of our customers have attended the BigChange University over the past six months. In total, our sessions saw more than 2,500 attendees. We created the University as a place where students can learn how to get the most out of the platform and find out about new and exciting functionality. We continue to improve and update our modules to offer real, tangible value, so if you haven’t had a look yet, then book your session today: https://www.bigchange.com/bigchange-university/

Doing our bit for charity

As a business, BigChange is committed to giving back, both to our local community and to charitable organisations that are making a big difference to people’s lives across the world. Last year, we decided to link our Motivational Monday series – our monthly events that welcome inspirational speakers – with charitable giving. This has been hugely successful and over the last six months, we have welcomed the likes of: Janet Street-Porter, the journalist and media personality; Kevin Sinfield OBE – or Sir Kev – the rugby player and campaigner; Tracey Neville MBE, the netball star who played for and coached the England team; and Benjamin Mee, who bought and reopened Dartmoor Zoo. Among the charities that the series has supported are: Living Potential Farm, which offers work experience to those with learning difficulties and disabilities; men’s mental health charity Andy’s Man Club; PhysCap, which works to improve the quality of life of children suffering from severe physical disabilities; Homeless Street Angels, which helps those sleeping on the street of Leeds; the community action charity CATCH, and veterans’ charity Help for Heroes.

It’s a privilege to be at the helm of a business that is creating so much positive momentum for the economy – and for our customers and community. Huge congratulations to the team for a job well done. 

When I woke up this morning, the world looked different. Brighter. Full of promise. Why? Because the night before, England had pulled off a triumphant defeat of Germany in the Euros.

It’s amazing how a win like that can change the way you feel about life. When that first goal went in, I forgot all my worries. When England scored the second goal, it felt like even the stresses of the pandemic were melting away. 

This is why politicians love a football championship. They distract the nation from what’s going on in Westminster. Matt Hancock and Boris have been booted off the front pages by England’s victory. 

In the first century CE, the poet Juvenal wrote that Roman emperors would use “bread and circuses” to keep the people distracted. Our modern-day emperors use the footie. But I digress… 

England’s win got me thinking about the impact of success. When you’re winning, you feel on top of the world. All you need is one thing to go right, and suddenly your whole outlook is different. But successes can also be distracting – they can take one’s eye off the next win, the next big goal. 

I have run a few businesses in my life and I have seen it time and time again. In one of my past companies, I noticed this phenomenon at play in the sales team. A person would have a bad run, then get one sale in and feel like they were on easy street again. It was great to see them find success but also worrying that that success meant they stopped trying. 

I’m conscious that as a founder, CEO and chief visionary, I must always be on the hunt for the next big achievement. The next milestone. Life doesn’t stop because you get a win. Of course, it’s important to stop and reflect on what we have done but, after a brief pause, it’s on to the next thing. 

When Great Hill Partners invested in BigChange earlier this year, that was a big win for me. That was my own personal Euros moment. All my life I’ve wanted to grow a business to a valuation of £100m, and I’d done it. It felt pretty good. But the next day, I had to think about the next goal – the journey to a £1bn valuation. 

I hope that England’s players are similarly focused on the next big win. We play Ukraine next, and it’s still a long old road to the final. I gave myself the whole of Wednesday to appreciate the England win but now my mind is on the next match. 

Are you hungry for your next success? Tell me what you want to achieve in the comments below and I’ll help keep you accountable.

This is it. Employers across the UK are gearing up to welcome some – if not all – of their employees back to the office. Freedom Day, albeit delayed, is now fast approaching.

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