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As another year draws to a close, I’d like to reflect on all we have achieved here at BigChange. This year has surpassed all our forecasts – like many business leaders; we expected a difficult 12 months because of political upheaval and the sudden biting recession and cost of living crisis.

Despite these challenges, our team has outperformed our wildest expectations, our customers have thrived, and our ground-breaking technology has attracted many new businesses – large and small – into the fold. Our customer numbers are up, revenues are soaring, and we are moving ever closer to our ultimate ambition – to be a “unicorn” business and the global brand leader in our industry.

Here’s an overview of our year to date.

The best in class

Our platform continues to outperform all our rivals, and the proof is in our numbers: over the past year, new contract wins are up 40% on 2021, generating £33m in new business for BigChange.

We welcomed nearly 400 new customers this year, taking our total to 2,000. Across the globe, some 80,000 individuals use our technology day in and day out, which is an incredible achievement.

Our technology now supports every function within our customers’ organisations, and we logged 30m transactions in total over the past year, as companies created jobs and invoices, tracked vehicles and tools, logged time sheets and processed expenses. BigChange is truly the architecture underpinning business success: some £2bn-worth of invoices were delivered through our platform.

A diverse and thriving customer base

We built BigChange to be the partner of choice for companies of all sizes across every industry. We are proud to say that we now boast customers across 60 sectors, from one-man bands to multinational enterprises.

This year alone, we have welcomed an impressive range of new clients, including EFT Systems, which does everything from sprinklers and fire alarms to cyber security and CCTV; fleet installations specialist RS Connect; ventilation expert EnviroVent; RGE Services, which protects people and property through fire and electrical compliance; Edinmore Contracts, the building insurance and maintenance contractor; property repair specialist Merlin; Shenton Global, which has over 30 years experience in the supply, installation and maintenance of critical diesel power systems; Motivair Compressors; and Kaboodle, the independent installer of white goods.

Helping our customers become more resilient

The beauty of BigChange is that we grow only when we help our customers become more successful: it’s a virtuous circle. This year, we have continued to drive efficiencies and cost savings across the board. DBS, a specialist in the repair and maintenance of petroleum forecourt structures and retail sites, has boosted operational productivity by 20%. J W Hinchliffe (Tanks), a specialist in fuel tank services, has boosted its annual turnover by 35% following the introduction of a BigChange job management system. While new build after-care specialist A&S has used our mobile workforce technology to double its business to a £5m turnover in two years.

We call our dedication to customer service “Customer Obsession”. This year, RoadCrew has supported over 100,000 calls, emails and self-service requests. Onboarding is a crucial part of the BigChange journey, but it doesn’t end there, and our Customer Success team works tirelessly to nurture existing customers and help them get even more out of our technology.

As we continue to improve the lives of our customers, it’s been great to see our Customer learning team launch our Digital BigChange University. There are now 67 online modules; over 21,000 modules have now been completed by our customers (that’s 11,000 hours of online training!). The BigChange help centre has had over 130,000 page views allowing our customers to get the support they need instantly!

People power 

We have strengthened and grown our BigChange sales and marketing team by adding an extra 60% headcount to the most knowledgeable team of experts in the industry.

The team here at BigChange is our most valuable asset. We are blessed to have the most innovative, hard-working and dedicated colleagues in the industry. As we have grown the business, we have recruited new BigChangers and given our existing team new responsibilities and opportunities.

To ensure that our unstoppable, entrepreneurial, and customer-centric culture remains at the heart of our business, we have worked hard in 2022 to define what it means to be a successful BigChanger. This led to us launching the BigChange Leadership Principles, which apply to all of us and are embedded in our customer interactions, our recruitment and the way we judge success.

Spreading the word

Like most companies, BigChange became a remote-first company during the pandemic, but I’m delighted that, this year, we have been getting out and about again.

We set ourselves the mission to create an established events calendar consisting of 14 tradeshows across a variety of industries. We attended those exhibitions, showing attendees how we can help their business become unstoppable. Next year, we are setting our sights even higher and have 30 shows on the calendar.

We have also entertained many customers and prospects at our Leeds United box and are looking forward to the last game of 2022: Leeds v Manchester City.

International ambition

Our team in France has continued to drive the business forward. BigChange France is now fast approaching 100 customers, which is an incredible result.

Meanwhile, our Partnerships team has continued to build upon the successes of our international resellers, establishing new relationships in both Canada and Greece. Our resellers in New Zealand, Australia, and Cyprus, have all seen continued growth in 2022. We now have 130 customers in these countries.

Technological advances

Over the past year, BigChange Technology has lived up to its name, and we have increased investment into innovation. This has enabled us to start delivering even more value into the BigChange platform.

We now have a data warehouse with new dashboards (currently in beta) that will be going to general release early in the new year. We have transformed the foundations of our Job Finance function, helping our customers to better understand profitability, work in progress, and forecasting. We have enhanced our group job functionality to allow for greater control over multi-job projects. We have launched a completely new look and feel to our booking site that resizes for any device.

Alongside all this, we have developed a very exciting roadmap for 2023 that will see lots of great new functions for Job Finance, Business Intelligence and Job Management.

Making a positive impact

In 2022 BigChange took a major step on the road to Net Zero by carrying out its first carbon audit and putting in place a carbon reduction plan and commitment to be carbon neutral this year through offsetting.

Our BigChangers have carried out litter picking, lobbied for better recycling and worked with our local business park to encourage car sharing and other joint sustainability initiatives. We know that BigChange helps our customers be more sustainable through its reporting of driver behaviour, scheduling and job visibility, and we will be focusing on understanding how we can improve this support in 2023.

We have also continued our proud history of charitable donations in 2022 through a series of employee-led initiatives to help our community. With our wonderful Customer Success Director, the unstoppable Tansy Sheehy, leading the charge, we have organized food bank collections, a day in the community at Living Potential care farm, clothing donations, volunteering at St George’s Crypt to support the homeless, and our Christmas Party with a Purpose where BigChangers overwhelmed us with their generosity buying presents for the homeless and teenagers in care.

Awards for BigChange

Our dedication to the team helped BigChange to achieve a Best Companies 2* Award in 2022, which means we continue to be an outstanding employer. We also completed our re-certification in ISO27001 in October. Other awards include: Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Award, Virgin Atlantic & Delta Air Lines Business Enabler of the Year, a ranking in the GP Bullhound Northern Tech Top 100 Companies, and Mid-Market Corporate of the Year at the Yorkshires Business Awards.

Thank you all for your ongoing support. I – and all of us here at BigChange – wish you a joyful festive season. 

Want to know how to be a more effective entrepreneur and leader? Take some time off.

It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true: ensuring that you have enough downtime each week will make you a better manager of people and allow you to make better decisions.

I know how all-consuming it can be when you are building or starting a business. You feel as though you need to work every single hour of the day if you are to achieve your goals. Even sleeping at night feels wasteful.

There have been times in my life when I have worked non-stop for weeks on end. I remember how it impacted me, how my mind started spinning, and how I struggled with basic tasks. I wish I had known then that I could have been 10x more productive if I had just taken breaks to recharge.

These days, I have a rule. I take one day off every week, where I switch off my phone, silence my emails, and put work out of my mind. I deactivate to reactivate.

When I wake the following day and fire up my laptop, I do it with renewed vigour. It feels so easy – and enjoyable – to complete tasks and work on my business interests. It’s as though, throughout the week, I have been slowly depleting my supply of oxygen, but after a day’s rest, I get a whole new tank.

Did taking a day off every week when I was first building BigChange slow its growth? It did the opposite. BigChange smashed every goal that we set over the years. I believe that embracing downtime – not just my own, but the whole team’s – helped bring about that success. We were pioneers when we gave 34 days holiday, giving people more time with their families. 

I don’t know if I would have chosen to do this if it weren’t for my faith. I observe the Sabbath because it’s one of Judaism’s most important rituals, but I feel the benefits in all aspects of my life. Whatever your beliefs, it’s important to make that space in your life to rest and recharge.

It’s important to understand what downtime really means. It’s a time where your brain isn’t focusing on anything. Scrolling on your phone or watching TV isn’t downtime. Naps, walks, meditation, and mundane tasks where your mind can wander – that’s real downtime.

Many studies have shown that the human brain desperately needs enough sleep at night and plenty of breaks during the day https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime. In his book, ‘Rest: Why you get more done when you work less’, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says that allowing the brain to enter a “resting state” is vital. “When we are not directly focused on a task, it’s still active, engaging its default network to plug away at problems, examine and toss out possible answers, and look for new information.”

So, leaders, whatever you do this week, make sure you make time to do nothing. Set a good example for your team by having at least one day off and setting your ‘out of office’. I promise you; you won’t regret it – I never have. 

The coming recession is likely to be deeper and more severe than we originally thought.

Forecasts suggest that the economy will continue to shrink until the summer of 2023 and that the UK will experience a 1.4% contraction across the whole of next year – that’s a major U-turn from the Office for Budget Responsibility’s initial forecast for 1.8% growth, which was only published in March.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and business leaders?

It means you need to get back into start-up mode.

Remember those heady early days of your business when you rose before dawn and worked well into the night, waking at 2am to send a quick email to suppliers in another time zone? Those days are back.

These are going to be tough times, and you need to be absolutely focused on your business. You need to know what’s working and what’s not. That means getting back into the detail. Even those running larger organisations need to get back into the trenches – don’t just rely on your direct reports. Go and speak to people in every department. Ask them what’s really going on – their challenges and pressure points. Ask them what customers love and what developments would really make your product or service stand out in the marketplace.

This complex trading environment also means you need to sweat your assets like never before. Rip up your budget forecasts for 2023; it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Any “nice to have” investments must wait. If you were going to hire more people in advance of growth, it might be better to get through the coming year first. Explain to your teams that you will be expecting them to give 100% as we move into this critical period – reward them, motivate them, and make sure they know how important their efforts are to the continued success of the company.

Costs must be controlled but don’t cut back on the spending that generates more business. You still need to be out there prospecting, meeting customers, and getting your brand name out into the world. These are not “nice to haves”- these are business-critical expenses, and you will cut them at your peril.

Data is going to become your best friend (if it isn’t already). It’s only by analysing every single metric of success that you’ll understand what kind of work brings in the most profit, which jobs lose you money, and which assets are underutilised.

When you have absolute clarity on your data, you can even see which loss-leaders are worth keeping because they open the doors to other, more lucrative projects. This is the kind of insight that we at BigChange are bringing our customers. I believe it will ensure they remain unstoppable, despite the challenging times ahead.

In fact, BigChange has launched a new campaign with this mission, mantra, and customer promise: be unstoppable. We want ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners to feel empowered to act and unleash their energy – even when the going gets tough. 

Whatever technology you use to help drive efficiency, lean on it now. Many businesses only use a small percentage of the tech at their disposal. That’s the kind of waste that can easily be utilised – especially by leaders with a start-up mindset who don’t mind burning the midnight oil to plumb the depths of their business software.

2023 won’t be easy, but the businesses that survive will be fitter, leaner, and better prepared for the future than ever before. Recessions test our mettle as leaders. They hone our business models and cement our place in the hearts of our customers. Think of this time as an opportunity to go from good to great. 

Think like a start-up, and you’ll be fine.

#unstoppable

Human beings are social creatures. We need to spend time with one another to feel well – human. BigChange may be a technology company, but we pride ourselves on our humanity – there is always a person at the end of the phone if you need us; our people are unfailingly kind and considerate – and all are excellent problem solvers.

To reward this outstanding team, we host a special seasonal get-together every year. After a long hiatus for Covid, we brought it back last year. I’ll never forget the incredible atmosphere in the room as colleagues who had interacted solely online for two years met and danced the night away. 

Last night, we held this year’s BigChange Awards and Thanksgiving party (we are part-owned by an American company, after all), and it was just as wonderful as last year’s bash. A glass of bubbly, and a proper sit down dinner, followed by dancing. A token of our appreciation for our people’s hard work in recent months. 

Most of us are back in the office for at least a day a week now, but the event brought together more than 200 people from across the whole of BigChange’s international operations. Nothing beats meeting IRL [in real life] to raise the spirits.  

The event was held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It was a privilege to be surrounded by such incredible exhibits – slices of British history. BigChange is about to celebrate its tenth birthday, so the moment was even more meaningful. 

But on to the highlight of the evening: the awards. The ceremony was a little different this year. The categories this year were all aligned with BigChange values.

Here’s a little roundup of who won what.  

The “Big on Ethics” award went to business development manager Eli Sufrin. This is the second time Eli has picked up an award at our winter event. A true team player, he is always fair and authentic and puts customers’ needs first. 

He was not the only person to win over two consecutive years. Fellow business development manager George Dibb, who picked up the CEO award in 2021, won the “Big on Change” category this year for his ability to help those in the plumbing, heating and electrical contracting sectors to adapt and thrive. 

Sarah Cox, our Customer Success Director, won the “Mission Award” this year, reflecting her ability to generate brilliant outcomes for customers while upholding our values. Tansy Sheehy, a fellow Customer Success Director and productivity queen, claimed the Purpose Award.

Our scrum master Catriona Faulds is our “Big on Energy” champion this year as a result of her dynamic and vibrant approach to recruitment and promoting women in technology. HR advisor Maisy Hampton won the “Big on Inclusion” award for her refreshing approach to talent acquisition. 

BigChange’s green champion, Installations Co-Ordinator Fatimah Fellah won our “Big on Sustainability” award for her work helping customers to slash emissions and dramatically reduce waste. Lee Wilkinson picked up the “Green Flag Award” for consistently providing an exceptional customer experience through his role as Network Customer Experience Director.

Richard Warley was hard-pressed to choose a winner for the CEO Award this year, so he chose two! Lead Software Engineer Joe Woodhead and Senior Product Manager Andy Knight (who also won an award last year) both impressed Richard with their technical skills, vision, and ability to execute complex projects.  

And finally, it was a great privilege to give out my own Chairman’s Award again this year. Huge congratulations to Andy Davenport, our tireless Technical Support Manager, who picked up Employee of the Year in 2021 and remains passionate, committed, and totally irreplaceable. 

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. What a treat to spend time with all of you – with no screens in sight! I hope you enjoyed the party.

I have lived with acute hearing loss for most of my life. Over the past year, my hearing has deteriorated – I am now profoundly deaf to high-frequency sounds. Amazing technology exists that helps me live a full and hassle-free life, and there are new developments all the time. But I do sometimes wonder whether I would have had the successes I’ve had if I were born in a different century.

Beethoven may have composed many masterpieces after losing his hearing, but he is one of very few stories where a disabled person triumphs against adversity. In Beethoven’s case, he lived in almost total isolation once he lost his hearing. 

It’s timely to chew over these ideas. The 16th of November marked the start of UK Disability History Month. It was created to celebrate the achievements of people living with a disability and raise awareness of the challenges they continue to face. Yes, the world has become a much friendlier place for those living with disabilities. From tactile paving to hearing aid induction loops, assistance for those with sensory impairments is widespread. But there is still a long way to go.

Earlier this week, my investment company Port Growth Partners, partnered with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) to help put on a little quiz night. John Bishop, the comedian, hosted the quiz – his son has an autoimmune disorder that causes deafness, and he is very passionate about the cause. We had some great supporters in the room – the likes of Sir Rocco Forte, our host – and we raised £50,000. The RNID is a crucial champion in the battle for equal rights and support for the deaf – there are 12m of us in the UK alone. 

At BigChange, we have worked really hard to be an inclusive organisation which welcomes people from all walks of life. We actively recruit those with disabilities and have programmes in place to support neurodiverse colleagues. We believe that by having a truly diversified team, we create better, more considerate technology. 

For most of my life, I have tried to hide my deafness. I have shied away from wearing visible hearing aids. You worry that people make certain assumptions about you when they see those clunky gadgets tucked behind your ear.

UK Disability History Month has been an opportunity to reflect on that approach. I no longer want to hide my disability. There is no shame in my hearing loss. People wear glasses without embarrassment – they are a fashion accessory!

Life was actually easier for me – in some ways – during lockdown. We all communicated via Teams, which meant I could wear a headset and hear every word. It’s only now we’re back in the office and meeting customers that I’m reminded of how little I can hear in ordinary life. 

If I can wear my disability with my head held high, I think that sends an important message. Disability won’t stop you from being successful in your life. You don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, I’m looking forward to the latest development in audio technology – a tabletop microphone that I will be able to take into meetings to capture the sound and relay it through my hearing aids. There will be no hiding my deafness then, but the mic will mean no more missed words or misunderstandings – it’s going to be a game changer. 

#UKDHM 

Elon Musk’s attitude to innovation is brilliantly controversial. Anything he’s already invented, he sees as ancient history. At Tesla, all his patents are available to analyse – he’s a fundamental believer in open source. Rumour has it he now wants to make all of Twitter’s algorithms publicly available too.

In June 2014, Musk issued a statement that announced: ‘All Our Patent Are Belong To You’. He said that “in the spirit of the open-source movement”, Tesla would not “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. He doesn’t care if people borrow or build on his past ideas. In fact, he invites it.  

I love this approach.

It basically shows that you don’t care about competition. You are so sure of your position in the market and confident in your ability to come up with the “next big thing” that you give rivals easy access to all your technology. It’s genius.

He also proves his commitment to industry-wide change and innovation. He wants to change the world by helping to promote sustainable transport and move away from our reliance on fossil fuels, and his open-source philosophy supports that mission.

The proof is in Tesla’s growth rate: revenues in 2022 are likely to rise 50% on 2021’s results, and 2021 turnover was up 70% on 2020.

Of course, not all businesses can operate in this way. Elon Musk is a billionaire genius, after all – he can afford to be confident, almost arrogant, in his approach to innovation. But I do think that most leaders could benefit from taking a leaf from his book.

It’s never a good idea to spend too much time watching your competition. Firstly, you won’t mean to, but you will be influenced by their business model and product suite when perhaps you would have been better off coming up with a brand-new approach or creating products that are completely novel.

You will be distracted from your own growth plans because you’ll be so concerned with theirs.  

If today’s leaders put 50% of the effort they expend watching their competition into inventing new products and services, they would probably become the market leader.

Instead of analysing your rivals, just ask your customers what they need. That is a far better route to success. Your competition might get something wrong, misinterpret a need, and then you’ll just reproduce that same mistake. By going to your customers – direct to the source – there will be fewer mistakes, fewer rewrites of your tech, and more growth. Plus, your customers will love the fact you’re listening to them rather than telling them what they need.

In business, you are your own competition. You are only as good as your last invention, your latest review, your most recent hire. That’s the best way to stay on top of your game. Don’t live in the past – or even the present – keep reimagining your business for the future. 

One of the advantages of doing the right thing in business is that, even if it takes a while for the market to catch up, you know that one day customers and partners will truly value your approach and offering. 

This has been my experience in all my ventures. Whether I was encouraging people to slow down on the roads to save lives, or to eliminate paper and slash emissions with BigChange, sooner or later, the world catches on, and your service becomes indispensable.

Nathan Wood is a fellow entrepreneur on a mission. His goal: to improve the air quality inside buildings. He is the managing director of Farmwood, a ventilation specialist serving customers nationwide. The business has been going for 20 years and is an industry pioneer.

“People tend to take it for granted that the air they breathe inside buildings is safe,” Nathan explains. “But the issue is that you can’t see, smell or taste some of the bad stuff. It’s not like turning on the tap and seeing brown, smelly water coming out – you wouldn’t drink that. But in some buildings, people are breathing in carbon dioxide that has been inside other people four times over.”

Nathan Wood, MD Farmwood

The global pandemic brought this issue into the mainstream as businesses began investigating the issue of ventilation. “Most buildings have a co2 monitor today because it’s a proxy for Covid risk,” Nathan says. “And most people know now that the office afternoon slump, which people used to think was caffeine wearing off or the effect of a late night, is actually due to the amount of co2 concentration in the building.”

Farmwood was set up by Nathan’s father, Dave Wood, in 2002 – Farmwood is an amalgam of Farmer, Nathan’s mother’s maiden name, and his own surname. Nathan, whose background is in heavy industry and machinery, joined the business nine months in, starting at the bottom. “I went on the road as a technician,” he says. “People didn’t know I was related to Dave – I didn’t want to be seen as the snotty-nosed governor’s son.” As the company grew, so did Dave’s responsibilities. “We were in the right place at the right time with the right mindset and culture, so customers found us,” he says. He became Managing Director in 2017.

Farmwood is one of the UK’s few ventilation specialists – most rivals offer it as a bolt-on service. This has given it real clout in the marketplace. “We had a look at our key searches and found that people aren’t searching for ‘ventilation services’ when they come to our website. They are looking specifically for Farmwood, which is a testament to our brand awareness,” says Nathan.

Farmwood recently implemented BigChange. “Every year, we have a new mission statement – last year it was ‘own it’, and this year it is ‘go beyond’,” says Nathan.

“BigChange is helping us deliver on that promise. Our engineers have said it makes their lives so much easier, and we see the platform as a real springboard for success. They were spending a lot of time on the admin for each job, but with BigChange, it’s so much more efficient, more professional and easier to use on the go.”

Nathan Wood, MD Farmwood

Farmwood is at the forefront of a movement to modernise the UK’s ageing housing stock to help the nation meet its net zero commitments. Nathan is working with the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) to help spread awareness of the Building Safety Act 2022. “It’s the biggest reform to building safety standards in a generation,” he says. “It changes the way buildings are designed, built, and maintained in the wake of Grenfell.” With Cop27 currently underway, the issue of how we design the buildings of the future to meet our climate goals is front of mind for many.

Ventilation has a big part to play in the evolution of building safety: “More people in Grenfell died of smoke inhalation than the fire itself.” It is estimated that 80% of the UK’s existing housing stock will still be in use by 2050, the UK’s net zero deadline. It will cost between £30bn and £50bn to bring public buildings in line with modern standards and compliance.

Farmwood’s dedication to improving air quality puts it in a prime position to help the UK make this transition. After 20 years of solidly banging the drum to raise awareness about co2 and air quality, they are poised for extraordinary growth – and this team really deserves it. Remember: do the right thing, and the rewards will come. 

Nothing beats the buzz of a lively office. The chatter of colleagues. The dynamic presentations in meeting rooms. The tea rounds and sharing of treats. It all contributes to the culture – the very lifeblood – of a business.

The problem is that, for many businesses, the office is no longer a hive of activity. The “working from home” revolution has taken its toll. I’ve visited a few businesses in recent months where the majority of people now work remotely. The offices were so quiet. One that used to hold 70 people over two floors now only had four colleagues in the building; it was uncanny.

In January 2020, just 5.7% of people worked from home, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Today, almost one in five workers is home-based.

The problem is that you need your team to come together in real life in order to make a good business great. I truly believe that. Video conferencing technology and messaging apps have their place, but there is no substitute for a good, old-fashioned chin wag with a colleague. That’s how bonds are formed, how friendships blossom, and how the best ideas are born.

There’s no way that I could have built BigChange into the international success story you see today without an office. In those early days, we were constantly meeting to brainstorm new ideas, pulling late-nighters to implement ideas, and celebrating afterwards with pizzas and pasta. We were a small team, but we were all driven and enthusiastic – a big family. Many of those individuals are still with BigChange today.

I really feel for start-up founders launching businesses in 2022. There is pressure to be “remote first”, but you sacrifice so much in terms of culture and, dare I say it, it’s just less fun. I think of start-up life as being a Premier League team. You go out to face your rivals and play your hearts out every day. But when you all work from home, it’s like playing to an empty stadium. There’s no atmosphere.

I know that home working is the preferred choice for some. But let’s remember how isolating that can be for a lot of people. How are young starters supposed to learn from more experienced peers when those individuals are never in the office? It’s so much harder to ask questions when you can’t just go tap someone on the shoulder.

We form some of our most important relationships at work. I’m sure people reading this have at least a few friendships that were forged in an office environment. According to one global LinkedIn study on working relationships, 46% of professionals believe that work friends are integral to their overall happiness, boosting productivity and engagement levels.

It’s so much harder to set boundaries when working from home. When does the day start and end? There’s no delineation. Many people don’t have a dedicated workspace and end up emailing from kitchen tables or bedrooms, which is bad for mental health and stress levels. 

There are just so many reasons why, for many companies, office-based working makes sense. A recent ONS study found that 21% of employed people never want to work from home again, with young people, in particular, preferring office life. I believe that most employees should come into the office at least three to four days a week. That’s a balance that works. 

I know that progress will be gradual. You can’t just summon all your employees back into the office. But let’s all start encouraging our people back in. Offer them incentives: free fruit or takeaway Fridays, a bonus for attending the office. 

Bring back the buzz and dynamism that helps the UK economy thrive. 

BigChange was created with a single vision: to help our customers grow and become more successful than they could on their own. It’s been humbling to see that vision become reality over the past few years. We know that our customers are also now more efficient, more resilient, and greener because of our platform.

This is why I am so proud to announce that we have just launched another innovation that I hope will bring even more success to our customers. We have created a unique partnership with Rated People, the trades marketplace, which will dynamically offer leads to BigChange customers. 

This feature has been included into BigChange as standard and offers a user-friendly way to buy verified new business leads from within the platform without having to log in to Rated People separately.

SES Home Services, which has been a BigChange customer for five years, is the first company to utilise this new feature. 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. It now receives dynamic leads from appropriate postcodes for plumbing, heating and drainage work. 

Peter Holmwood, interim managing director at SES Home Services, says that this new service has the potential to supercharge growth. “We can really see the value in this relationship,” he says. “Every lead that we buy from Rated People is a genuine opportunity. In the current climate, we want to ensure that every pound of marketing spend is targeted and the return on investment of these leads is very attractive.

“With other marketing tools such as pay-per-click advertising, you don’t know whether the right people will see the ad or click through,” he continues. “This feature offers more certainty than most, and if your offering is fairly priced and you have excellent customer reviews, as we do, it can be an extraordinary business generator.”

I hope that SES Home Services will be the first of many customers to use this service to bring in new business – this is often work that they will have been totally unaware of without the Rated People platform. 

According to Peter, this innovation cements BigChange’s role as a business builder. “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.”

At BigChange, we are always looking for new and better ways to help our customers. It’s an ongoing process – and we never rest on our laurels. All credit to the team here and our partners at Rated People for making this happen. I can’t wait to see the impact it creates.

As an entrepreneur and investor, I’m always keen to find out about new technologies and new inventions that will shape the industries of the future. These days, innovation moves so fast – if you stand still, you’ll get left behind.

When I was invited to join a delegation attending this week’s “Building the Future” event in Israel, I jumped at the chance. As founder and chairman of BigChange, I like to stay on top of proptech and contech (property and construction technology) as many of our customers operate in residential and commercial property or infrastructure and maintenance sectors. As an investor in Rated People, developments in these sectors are also hugely relevant to many of the tradespeople on the platform.

I’m spending five days in Israel, attending pitches and fact-finding sessions with some of the nation’s most promising start-ups and growth businesses. I’m learning from many industry experts too, who can advise me on trends and ask insightful questions of all the presenting entrepreneurs. Among these specialists are: Nick Davies, sector lead for the Built Environment at The Trade Mission to the UKHila Lipman, sector lead for Cleantech & Smart Infrastructure at the Israel Export Institute; Ben Ziff, who is managing director of Citipark and on the board of Town Centre Securities plc, the UK property investment & car parking operator; and Josh Drukarz, managing partner at LiFE Ventures, a venture capital fund that specialises in backing entrepreneurs in real estate and the build world. Between them, they are the ultimate fount of knowledge about these industries. 

It’s been fascinating so far. Here are some of the highlights.

Advanced modular construction

One of Israel’s most successful contech start-ups attended a Q&A session on Monday. Veev has reinvented the way in which homes are built, using tech and smart materials to create energy-efficient, beautiful buildings in a fraction of the time. Veev’s homes can be built four times faster than the industry standard and with 47% less CO2 emissions. It has raised $600m in funding to date and is Israel’s first Contech unicorn.

Energy-saving buildings

I was very impressed by the smart infrastructure start-up Setpoint, which is developing a self-learning plug-and-play climate intelligence platform for commercial buildings. The idea is that Setpoint’s climate intelligence tech automatically manages all the energy-consuming devices in every room so that businesses pay minimal energy costs while maintaining comfort for the people in the building. Technology like this will be vital as nations around the world strive to reach net zero.

The future of construction

Construction sites are getting a technology makeover. Ception is the developer of MineCept, an AI-based system for reducing accidents and improving the productivity and profitability of heavy equipment at construction sites, mines, quarries, and industrial plants. The system is designed to lower operation costs and help make projects more sustainable. MineCept uses advanced, real-time, high-definition 3D mapping and precise positioning technology to provide full situational awareness of a machine’s surrounding environment. Put simply; diggers can now spot the pipe lurking beneath the earth so that it doesn’t accidentally damage it when digging.

The robots are coming

More and more of the low-skilled jobs in the construction industry are going to be completed by robots. Okibo is a pioneer in this field, using autonomous robotics algorithms, advanced computer vision, laser detectors, geopositioning, and inertial motion sensors. It was founded in 2018 and has already made great strides in terms of technology; its robots can now perform various kinds of manual labour, such as plastering and painting. The idea is to reduce costs and free up human beings for more high-skilled jobs.

Construction is an interesting industry because margins can be tiny, so every saving, every bit of waste that can be eradicated from the pipeline matters. Being part of this delegation has made it so clear that the focus over both the short and long term within property and construction is all about reducing waste, getting projects right first time, and making buildings greener, more sustainable, and easier to maintain. These are all interesting trends that affect customers and stakeholders at both Rated People and BigChange. 

I encourage all the entrepreneurs and leaders reading this post to break out of their routines and the day-to-day grind and venture out to attend an event like this. It doesn’t even have to be sector specific. It feels so good to have a front seat here, hearing about the innovations that are changing our world and the way we do business. Get on a mission!

Sometimes, I think the character trait that has helped me most in my life is my single-mindedness. I refuse to give up, even when times are tough. I never listen to those who tell me that an idea can’t work. I stick by my principles no matter what.

When I met Michael Taylor, an extraordinary entrepreneur, I saw that same single-mindedness in him too. How else could he have started a business aged just 18 years old and grown it into a national disruptor? How could he have created a business empire spanning three companies by the time he reached his thirties? What other characteristic could be more valuable as he attempts to transform and modernise an entire industry?

Here’s Michael’s story in his own words.

“I started my business, Contego, back in 2004. I was just 18 years old at the time, but I knew I could make it work. There were plenty of people who doubted me, but I’m the kind of person who is galvanised by criticism – I just work twice as hard to prove them wrong.

I got into the pest control industry by accident. When I was a kid, a neighbour had falcons and hawks. I was mesmerised by these incredible birds and started working with them. From there, I ended up working as an animal trainer in London on the Harry Potter films! Someone I met on set also had a pest control business, doing falconry for bird prevention, so I decided to give it a go when I left the film industry and moved back up North.

The Prince’s Trust gave me my start-up capital – a £500 grant and a £1500 loan – and that was enough to establish my company. Now, 18 years later, we do all kinds of pest control all over the country for some of the nation’s biggest brands. Contego employs around 120 people in the group, and I am the CEO of a fast-growth, dynamic business.

Contego is very different to rival pest control companies. We are a large company in the industry now, yet remain very agile, capable of making changes quickly, and always listening. The industry is built on annual contracts, and site visits every six weeks. Instead, we evaluate the risk and adjust site visit frequency around that risk, visiting heavily impacted sites more often and booking fewer visits to low-risk sites. We introduced smart traps to our service four years ago too, so we get text message alerts when traps are triggered. It sounds logical, but you’d be surprised by how few pest control companies work this way.

We also send pest control technicians straight to a site and aim for first-time fixes whenever we can. Customers who go to some of the big companies have to speak to the sales exec, who then books a surveyor who will then finally send the technician. It’s a slow and inefficient process.

We are unusual in this market because we aim to prevent pests from returning – we want to fix the problem. Rivals base their entire business models around keeping pests down without eradicating them entirely. The way I see it, if we fix problems, a customer will always come back to us or recommend us to their networks. We get a lot of inbound enquiries from word-of-mouth recommendations.

We first started using BigChange seven years ago. We pride ourselves on being adaptable and giving customers the solutions they need, and BigChange has become integral to that approach. We see it as the engine behind our business, and we build lots of products and services on top of the platform. BigChange allows us to show customers the data they need to make informed decisions – we can give them any numbers in any format they want.

When I acquired another pest control business, the first thing I did was get it onto BigChange. It was the fastest way to get rid of paper processes and find efficiencies. Plus, with BigChange, you can run multiple service businesses from anywhere in the world, which is a must for a sole founder like me.

The pest control industry needs modernising. It’s historically such a closed and opaque sector. With Contego, I have aimed for absolute transparency and professionalism. From private healthcare for all my teammates to professional development, training, giving our team a real voice, driving our climate impact down and introducing the real living wage as a minimum, we go against the grain. I don’t want to stop there; I joined the British Pest Control Association as an executive board member to help other companies in this industry make similar changes and support the association’s mission to professionalise the industry. We need to embrace technology, analytics and risk reduction and promote the positive career paths the industry offers to make pest control more attractive to a modern workforce.

I’m very ambitious about Contego’s future. I believe we will reach a turnover of £10m by 2025. Most of our rivals are now owned by foreign investment companies, so we are determined to be the British challenger that revolutionises the industry.”

What an incredible business built by an inspiring individual. I wouldn’t bet against him. Would you? 

You know what I really admire about Richard Warley, our CEO?

From the moment he joined BigChange, he has stayed absolutely true to the company’s vision. He’s never been distracted by easy short-term wins or gimmicks. His determination to put the customer first has never wavered. 

This laser focus has ultimately put BigChange in a strong position today amidst the many political and economic challenges facing the UK. Businesses need every advantage they can get right now. It feels like the Wild West out there, with crazy currency fluctuations and dire proclamations from the IMF and Bank of England.

The benefit of a laser focus on your core offering is this: you and your team know your product inside out because that’s all you sell. You aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel every day, churning out products people may not want. You aren’t confusing your customers or plunging headlong into untested markets.

Every entrepreneur needs to hone their offering right now if they are to remain relevant in the current climate. I see too many business owners who seem unsure of their purpose. They chase business in all directions, diluting their brand. Trying to get cash into the business, no matter what the customer or contract, may seem like a smart move when the world is on fire, but it damages your company in the long run.

I try my best to focus, but those who know me well will admit that I can be occasionally distracted… I have a million ideas every day, and it can be hard for me to prioritise. That’s why I have been so impressed by Richard’s approach to business. Richard’s approach is the result of 30 years of experience in investment banking, private equity and operational leadership roles across Europe, Japan and North America. He knows that focus is key to operational excellence: when he became CEO, he said, “I am going to continue to develop BigChange JobWatch’s functionality and relevance to the market, all while maintaining our focus on customer success and excellent service” and that’s exactly what he’s done.

We are totally invested in our platform – a single platform – and the sole purpose of that platform is to help our customers reach all their business goals faster. Simple, right?

A good test of your business proposition is whether you can sum up your purpose in a single sentence. If you can do that, you know that you have clarity of vision. 

If you need help, technology can do some of the heavy lifting. BigChange’s customers use our platform to drive efficiencies and provide the kind of in-depth analytics they need to make better business decisions. You need to know which work generates the most profit, which jobs you should prioritise – and which contracts are losing you money or slowing you down. It’s time to take a page out of Richard’s book, find your focus, and give your business the best chance of survival.

Take a break from the Tory party tax tussles, and let me tell you what’s really happening out there in the economy. I’m talking about the story on the ground, a world away from the headlines. Despite all the doom and gloom out there, hard-working business owners and their teams are continuing to thrive and grow their ventures. Business confidence is rising after a three-month decline. According to the Lloyds business barometer, UK businesses are finally optimistic about their trading prospects.

BigChange is an example of one of these success stories. Let me share some of the highlights from the last nine months of the year.

Extraordinary growth

We have had an amazing year so far, with new business wins up 40% compared to the same period last year. That equates to a new order book worth £24.5m. The new business is a healthy mixture of new clients and repeat business from existing clients. We have seen many of our customers buying more licences from us this year as they take on more people. They are growing and doing well, and we are benefiting from that.

A diverse client base

In the last quarter, we have signed up 100 new organisations – some very large organisations as well as smaller firms. It’s no surprise that our existing customers are recommending us to their peers: our Customer Service satisfaction score for RoadCrew customer support was 4.6 out of 5 in Q3. Among the new customers that have joined the fold are: EFT Systems, an integrated security manufacturer, designer, installer and maintainer across the Northwest; RS Fleet Installations, Europe’s largest auto-electrical installation expert; and Kaboodle, the largest independent installer of white goods in the UK. Our technology continues to be the best-in-class solution across all industries and business sizes.

A bright future

Our growth trajectory this year brings us one step closer to our goal: to become a unicorn (a business worth $1bn) within three years. By 2025, we should comfortably get to £60m in annual recurring revenues. This has all been made possible because of the outstanding team we have here at BigChange, and I’d like to congratulate the new business development team and the individuals in our customer success department who work tirelessly to support customers.

Investing in people

We have recruited 30 new people over the past six months across multiple teams. As we grow, it’s really important that our colleagues are supported, and we have now launched and embedded our new career development programmes, BigChange Academy and Developing Careers. In order to better support our customers, everyone in the business has enrolled in our BigChange University, ensuring comprehensive product knowledge across the company. We are also committed to developing lean practitioners across the business, and many colleagues have now completed their Lean Practitioner accreditation, which has eliminated 2,000 wasted hours and delivered many improvements to the business.

Targeted innovation

We are committed to an ambitious investment programme, and we have grown the development team and created many ambitious new innovations over the year to date. Our new releases typically fall in the “self-serve” category – helping our customers to do even more with our technology and make changes independently. As well as expanding the range of functionality even further, we have improved our analytics, giving customers even more actionable insight. Customers are keen to utilise all the features we create: this year, we have helped 45 customers achieve BigChange Expert qualifications in BigChange University, supercharging their potential in the process.

Awards

I am very proud that BigChange has been shortlisted for a number of awards that recognise our continued excellence. Among these are: SaaS Company of the Year at the UK Business Tech Awards; Best Technology Partner at the Building Innovation Awards; the Business Enabler of the Year at the Lloyds Bank British Awards; and finally, Solution Innovation of the year at the Security & Fire Excellence Awards 2022. I’m a great believer in the power of awards to boost morale and raise a company’s profile.

Inclusivity

I believe that every business leader should do their bit to create jobs and opportunities for people from all walks of life with different skills and abilities. We’re continuing to support diversity within BigChange, in line with our commitment to being a Disability Confident Employer. We have partnered with Lighthouse Trust, which works to raise awareness of neurodiversity, to support internal BigChangers and are planning to start project work with their young people later this year.

BigChange in the community

Looking outwards, we are always trying to support local charities and our community here in Yorkshire. We have been working with local food banks to help provide meals to those in need, we recently completed a clothing drive, and we have supported BigChangers who want to volunteer or raise money for charity. From skydiving for Cancer Research to working on a farm with Living Potential, which helps those with disabilities to get out in nature, I’m very proud of our team here.

Getting out and about

I recently posted about the importance of getting out there and meeting people in the real world. My BigChange colleagues are doing just that. We are attending four events over the next few weeks. If you are planning to be at PHEX in Manchester, the Field Service Expo in Birmingham, Elex 2022 in Surrey or the Floodex & National Drainage Show in London, come to say hello. We are also making sure that we spend time with our valued customers – it’s the best way to learn about the challenges they face. Our customer success team has visited 200 customer sites so far this year. 

Thank you to all our customers for your ongoing support of BigChange. It’s been an outstanding nine months, and I have high hopes for the coming quarter and 2023.

A lot can change in just three short years. Here we are in the autumn of 2022, and our country is a very different place to 2019. A new Prime Minister. A new monarch. A financial crisis. A sinking economy. A nation bearing the scars of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the face of all this change and uncertainty, it’s all too easy to feel lost, retrench, and isolate ourselves. Instead, we should be doing the opposite.

We need human connection more than ever.

We need to get out there, speak to people, form opinions first-hand and share them with others.

I feel it’s important to say this now because remote working has become the norm in a post-Covid world. People can absolutely do their jobs from home, but I believe it’s better for individuals and organisations for colleagues to meet and share ideas. Not every day should be a home day. You cannot build a workplace culture from behind a screen – you just can’t.

Businesses, too, will suffer if their people aren’t getting out there and meeting customers in real life. There is no substitute for a shop floor day, where you go and experience the hustle and bustle in a client’s office or factory, speaking to people across all departments. A 20-minute Zoom call just can’t cut it. As entrepreneurs, we all need to be creating those in-person connections because that is what helps us build better businesses.

I have been to see many BigChange customers in the last couple of weeks, and all visits have been invaluable. I have known one of these customers – Hewer Facilities Management – for 20 years, but there is always more to learn. This time, we talked about ways they could eradicate paper from their processes, so I spoke to people at all levels in the business and found out their unique challenges. It was fascinating and helped me to gain a deeper understanding of this fast-growth successful business.

I also recently visited an amazing charity called FoodCycle, which provides meals for communities all over the UK. When I first heard about FoodCycle, I thought it was a food bank helping those who can’t afford to feed themselves. It was only by spending time at one of the groups in Leeds that I saw that FoodCycle not only provides nutritious meals but it also alleviates loneliness, creates community, and battles food waste. I felt the community spirit of the place. I met the people who were sitting around the table, who come from all walks of life. It was a humbling experience. 

In my role as Board Observer and Strategic Advisor of MoreLife, I spent time with the whole team in Suffolk recently and listened to them talk about the work they do in the community. One of the people they support allowed me to sit in on her session, and I was incredibly moved. On the surface, MoreLife helps people quit smoking and tackles obesity, but in reality, they go much further, supporting people with challenging mental health issues, and people in crisis. More than that, they do it with such compassion – I only know that because I took the time to see it happen first-hand.

In every part of my life, I try to find time for those human connections. I am an entrepreneur, a chairman, an adviser, an investor, and a philanthropist. My impact across all these areas increases immeasurably when I actually get out there and meet the people I want to help. You should too. 

Be honest. When you hear the phrase “business continuity”, do you zone out? Yes, it’s a dry, well-worn topic, but it’s imperative to business survival. 

Behind the jargon is a very real and vital concept. Business continuity simply means: can your business trade on despite disruption and economic strife? The pandemic was the ultimate test of business continuity, but plenty of other, smaller events can also affect the well-being of your company.

Over the years, I have created my own business continuity playbook. These are areas to build on and prioritise during the good times to ensure peak performance during challenging situations.

Here are my six secrets of business continuity.

1.)  Empower your team

This can be one of the hardest lessons for any entrepreneur to master. As your business grows, you must empower your team to make decisions on your behalf. The only way this is possible is through a strong and consistent company culture. If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, would everyone in your organisation know how to keep going? Can they anticipate your next move? Start fostering team autonomy now, before you need it.

2.)  Enhance your reporting

Your people can only make the right decisions if they can access the right information. You need to track all the metrics that matter to your business and ensure that your reporting tools are easy to access and understand. BigChange has spent years honing its reporting tools so that vital information is there at a glance, in real-time.

3.)  Automation

Automated reporting is one thing, but it’s important to build automation into every process you can. Find out what wastes the most time for your team – are they fiddling with spreadsheets? Are invoices taking ages? Lengthy paper-based processes can really hamper a business during tough times, sucking up resource and dampening agility. Take back control through smart software. BigChange promises to dramatically increase productivity, letting your people do their jobs instead of getting bogged down with admin.

4.)  Constant communication

Over-communication is infinitely preferable to silence. You need to be speaking to your teams honestly, constructively, and often. A steady flow of communication between teams and across different departments means that problems or blockers are discovered and dealt with more quickly. Make sure you, as a leader, are constantly speaking to people at all levels in your business. Ask them what’s going well and what’s going not so well. Create opportunities for people in different teams to chat and compare notes. Silos only breed rivalries and inefficiency.

5.)  Get the right partners on board

A business with the right funding and right support will weather any storm. When I chose Great Hill Partners as a key investor in the business, I knew that their involvement would ensure business continuity through financial stability and a unity of purpose and focus. The investment also helped us make a huge investment in people, hiring across all key areas of the business – in our development team alone, we now have 100 people working on our software. In customer success, we have 70 people working tirelessly to drive customer growth and help them get the most out of our technology.

6.)  The right tools

You have the right people and the right partners, and communication is consistent and strong – now, all you need to do is to give everyone the tools they need to excel. Usually, this means having the right technologies in place to drive growth and efficiency. At BigChange, we use our own software to manage jobs, partner up with other firms and help our own mobile workforce to be more efficient, driving less and working more productively. We created our suite of tools to be a one-stop shop for customers so they don’t have to go out and pay for multiple technologies. 

Last week, Queen Elizabeth II died, ending an illustrious 70-year reign. The whole nation is now in mourning – as am I. I posted just recently about how I viewed the Queen as an entrepreneurial icon, both because of her support of business owners through the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, and in the way she ran her own estate. Following her death, the British Chamber of Commerce, the business membership organisation of which the Queen was patron, said: “She was a great supporter of business throughout her reign.”

Indeed, when BigChange won a Queen’s Award, it was a game-changer for the company, bringing global recognition and acclaim. I will never forget the impact that award had on the team’s morale, how it delighted our customers, and supported our ambitions to win market share across the world.

King Charles III will now take up the Queen’s mantle. I believe he not only shares his mother’s desire to support the doers and triers of this nation, he has a passion for entrepreneurs that even surpasses hers. I have met him a few times over the years – I’m a board member for the charity Business in the Community, which he created – and I have found him a humble, understated man who prefers to talk up the achievements of others and uses his status and privilege to help those in need. 

His former private secretary Sir Michael Peat once called him the “greatest charitable entrepreneur in the world” because of his ability to identify a need and then set up a charity to meet that need. This may be why our new king is currently the president of 17 charities through The Prince’s Charities, focusing on: the built environment, responsible business and enterprise, young people and education, and international sustainability. The Prince’s Trust alone has helped over one million young people since he founded it in 1976. 

All of these causes are close to my heart and BigChange has supported organisations across most of these core areas in recent years. It is heartening to see our interests so aligned with the King’s, especially with challenging times ahead because of climate change, the cost of living crisis and rising inflation.

The UK may no longer be ruled by its kings and queens but they still have ample opportunity to make a difference, highlight important causes, and direct funding where it best serves the nation. For these reasons, I am heartened by King Charles’ ascension to the throne and I believe all business owners can be confident that he will champion trade and enterprise. I look forward to his coronation early next year. 

“BigChange removes all the noise and hassle so we can focus on the growth.” 

I’m always impressed by how quickly and effectively entrepreneurs find solutions to all sorts of problems and challenges. They don’t think: “I’ll wait for someone else to sort that out.” They roll up their sleeves and crack on.

Steve Morris, the founder and managing director of Legionella and Fire Safe Services, is one of these skilful problem solvers. He used to be a sales director and worked for Rentokil for nearly 20 years, but when his division was acquired by Interserve in 2014, problems began to arise. “That was the first time in my career that I looked around and thought, ‘I can do better than this’,” he tells me. “At Interserve, all the staff were seen as numbers on a spreadsheet, and shareholder profits were the one and only priority.’”

In 2017, Steve took the plunge and started his own business. He wanted to create an organisation that truly valued its staff. “I wanted to reward the hard-working people in the business,” he explains. “Financially, yes, but also to show that the organisation cared about them in other ways, such as days off on birthdays and care packages for people who were going through a hard time.”

Steve sees himself as an accidental entrepreneur. “I never chose to go into business,” he says. “The opportunity found me.” He started Legionella Safe Services in partnership with Steve Broughton, founder of SafeGroup Services. The business helped organisations of all sorts – from local authorities to hotels and restaurants – to prevent and remove this harmful bacterium from their water supply. “Steve took a bet on me, and I launched the business in January,” he says. “By December, we’d repaid the entire start-up investment, and we haven’t made a loss in any month since.”

Another problem plaguing his industry was a lack of transparency. Steve faced that barrier head-on. “We are the Ronseal of our sector,” he says. “Even our name says exactly what we do. And we tend to retain our customers because our prices are competitive, and our standard of service cannot be beaten. We’re known as the client pleasers!”

Steve’s business evolved after the Grenfell tragedy in 2018. He saw a new problem that needed to be solved and added a fire safety services division to his business. Today, Legionella and Fire Safe Services is a one-stop shop for these two vital areas of compliance for the likes of Birmingham City Council, the biggest local authority in Europe.

Steve has been using BigChange since his first year in business. “Steve Broughton was already a customer and introduced me to BigChange,” he explains. “It’s been a godsend, driving efficiencies across the company. Running a business that’s growing 75% a year is like trying to hold onto a kite on a windy day. BigChange removes all the noise and hassle so we can focus on the growth.”

Legionella and Fire Safe Services now employs 51 people, and turnover has soared from £800,000 in its first year to £5m today. The business environment has been challenging in recent years and right now, the biggest barrier to growth is people. “Quality of labour and the cost of labour are my biggest worry,” Steve says. “But my commitment to being a great employer has really helped us to attract and retain the best people in a tricky trading environment. And everyone who works here loves using BigChange.”

The next big problem that Steve is setting out to solve relates to rising energy bills and the green agenda; he’s working with local authorities to install hot water cylinders that can reduce bills by a minimum of 37%. “There’s always another opportunity out there, another problem to solve, another way to help people,” he says. “We want to become a market leader in all the sectors we serve, and we’re well on the way there.”

In a fast-growing, international business, communication is vital. You need to talk to your teams, your teams need to check in with each other, and you need to keep communicating with customers. This gets harder and harder as the headcount rises.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ways of creating these conversations. There are lots of digital communication platforms out there, and some have their merits. Meetings have their place too but I have posted before about my meeting fatigue when I accidentally found myself trying to sit in on each and every catch-up.

I believe that the most powerful tool that any leader can use when they need to keep prioritising communication is the huddle.

Huddles are typically weekly team meetings, which involve the whole company. Some people call them “all hands”. These meetings have a very important purpose: they are opportunities to share company news, introduce new members of the team, share wins and figure out solutions for problems. 

At BigChange, we all get so much out of these huddles. At 11am every Friday, the whole team comes together to talk sales, marketing and product. It ensures that we are all on the same page and totally up to date with everything going on within the business. I don’t know how we would survive without them.

Here are five reasons you should introduce a huddle (if you don’t love them already)

1.)  Fewer meetings

It might sound like a weekly huddle is adding just one more meeting to your already overstuffed calendar, especially as they can involve quite a bit of work (preparing presentations etc) but the huddle can end up doing away with several meetings in one fell swoop. You are telling everyone vital information at the same time, and giving them the opportunity to ask questions, which potentially eliminates the need for meetings afterward. I know that too many meetings can be draining, so we aim to have fewer meetings with more people, so that we can maximise their effectiveness.

2.)  Motivating the team

Bringing the whole team together in this way to celebrate business wins is incredibly motivating for everyone. They get to see the contributions of teams besides their own and see how their efforts fit into the company as a whole. Huddles help leaders take their whole team on a journey. It’s incredibly powerful.

3.)  Transparency

By being up front and honest about company performance, you’re ensuring a culture of transparency. New starters get to hear sales figures on their first week – there are no secrets here. Open conversations are always useful, especially as a company grows – with huddles, there’s less chance of misunderstandings. We even invite customers along to our huddles so that they can understand the inner workings of BigChange. A study by Label Insight found that 94% of consumers would be more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers transparency, while 73% said they were willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency.

4.)  Introduce important topics

Huddles are a great opportunity to talk about our purpose and values that are outside company performance, such as diversity and inclusion. We like to take a few minutes to share our strategies and goals around building an inclusive company and ensuring that we have a truly neurodiverse team.

5.)  Maintain the personal touch

As a company grows, it can be hard for leaders to meet every new colleague – or even to know everyone’s name. This can lead to a massive gulf forming between the leader and the people on the “shop floor”. Huddles ensure that the leader is visible and also give people from all across the company the chance to ask questions and offer their input. I know of organisations where the CEO sends out a weekly email instead of offering face-to-face contact. That’s just not the BigChange way.

Customer service. That’s been my number one focus throughout my career. My ability to listen to customers and help them overcome challenges is the ultimate secret to my success.

If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I needed a chief customer officer, I would have said: “Absolutely not. That’s my job.” Actually, I probably would have asked: “What’s a chief customer officer?”

A chief customer officer’s job is to understand the customer. They are responsible for managing a company’s relationship with all its clients, working out what’s going well and what’s not working. The position is relatively new: in 2010, there were only 450 CCOs worldwide.

But the CCO has fast become a vital part of the modern C-Suite. We are living in the ‘age of the customer’, and understanding our interactions with customers is as important as, say, understanding our balance sheet.

Who better to take on the role of CCO than the founder? Well, I have learned a lot over the years and understand that there are people out there who are just as capable as I am – dare I say it, a few may even be better.

When I moved to become chairman of BigChange, I knew I could no longer be the point person for colleagues and customers looking to solve problems or request changes. I had to pass that responsibility – and privilege – to someone else.

That’s when I met Ian.

Ian Burgess has spent 20 years navigating the complex world of customer service and corporate communications within the technology space. He’s a people person; everyone he works with likes and respects him. When he joined BigChange as Chief Customer Officer, I noticed that 350 people left well wishes on his LinkedIn, with almost 450 hitting the ‘Like’ button. He shared some of his plans for BigChange on this blog a few months ago.

What I liked most about Ian was his approach to customer service. In a world where most software providers rely on bots and endless ticketing systems, leaving customers desperate to interact with a human being, he wanted to keep things personal. “I don’t believe in hiding behind technology,” he says. “I never want BigChange to become some faceless corporation. The human touch has never been more important.”

I may be a dab hand at customer service, but he’s a true specialist. I’d like to talk about two approaches he has introduced at BigChange and their impact on the business.

1.)  No more kneejerk solutions

When a customer comes to you with a request or a problem, the temptation is to come up with a solution as quickly as possible. The issue with that approach is that you often fail to address the root cause of the problem, and the fix you build is unlikely to be scalable. Ian explains it better than I can: “My role as CCO is to understand my customers’ customers and walk in their shoes. That’s the only way to ensure that we are building the right tech. If a customer wants a change, I first understand the problem statement, which means that I can not only solve the immediate challenge but perhaps prevent any need for future changes and ensure the development is useful for as many customers as possible.

2.)  Transparency and openness

“No company is perfect, and the only way to keep improving is to create a vehicle to channel feedback,” Ian explains. “We do that via two means: our Net Promoter Score (NPS) and our Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) ratings. The NPS relationship survey goes out twice a year. I introduced that so that we had a pulse check of what all our customers are thinking. It’s the single most important measure of customer experience. Then our CSAT surveys go out every time a transaction is completed across Sales, Onboarding and our RoadCrew support desk. Those are five-star ratings and show how happy our customers are at every stage of the customer journey and enable us to make sure we are reacting in real-time when changes need to be made.

“Most importantly, we take all that feedback, digest it, and create measurable action plans, which we can share with all our customers. We then actually deliver on that plan. There’s no point in receiving feedback if you don’t close the loop and take action.”

It can be hard for an entrepreneur to delegate responsibilities, especially when, like me – you love talking to your customers. But making way for Ian has been a revelation. He’s just as obsessed with customer service as I am – and takes it personally. I’m not the only one who is impressed with Ian. We have received so many messages from happy customers praising his empathy, his accessibility, and his ability to find great solutions.

So, if you have a question or an issue, Ian’s your man. He’s at the end of the phone – or on email:

Ian Burgess

Chief Customer Officer

Mobile. 0787 969 8697

Email. ian.burgess@bigchange.com

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 knee-jerk 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!

BigChange

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