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Case study

Six heads are better than one

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A list of logo's from the following companies: Lloyds.

The Be the Business Boards programme is helping dynamic small businesses to meet challenges, manage growth and become even more successful.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, but they often need help to grow sustainably and navigate bumps in the road. Many small business leaders are being empowered by the support offered by the Be the Business Boards programme.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often referred to as the engine of the economy: after all, they account for 99.9 per cent of the UK’s business population, and this is where most innovation happens. But many founders and directors of smaller businesses are frequently working so hard in their business, that they forget to work on that business.

Aspects of the business that might not seem core – planning, marketing and people management, for example – may be neglected in the rush and excitement of developing the product or service. But those gaps can prove costly when the business reaches critical growth milestones – or in the face of a "black swan" event like the Covid pandemic.

The Be the Business Boards programme helps dynamic small businesses to meet challenges, manage their growth and become even more successful. Qualifying companies get non-executive-director-style advisory support from five individuals, with a diverse range of business experience and expertise, for a 12-month period. The board members provide the kind of fresh perspectives and challenges, practical tools, and access to wider networks, that help build leadership capabilities and improve decision making within the companies they advise.

Developing the business side of the company

Brothers Jenner and Jilbruke Collins, co-founders and co directors of vehicle development agency Collins Limited, jumped at the opportunity to join the programme. They knew the engineering expertise that had got them to a £100,000 turnover company in under two years was not enough on its own to help them achieve their ambition of delivering high value vehicle projects.

“We needed to develop the business side of the business,” Jenner admitted.

He was impressed by how genuinely interested the board seemed: “They asked all sorts of questions that forced us to lift our heads up from the day-to-day and think about what we needed to do to get to the next level and the level after that.”

The board doesn’t tell the brothers what to do, explained Jenner: “They just suggest we might want to look at a problem in a different way, and then suggest a set of tools or approaches to help us do that.”

One of the most tangible tools the board gave the brothers was a decision-making matrix, which allowed them to prioritise projects by allocating them scores for risk and reward.

“Because we were using objective measurements it removed a large element of debate and allowed us to make quicker decisions,” Jenner said.

The support of the board has also boosted the brothers’ confidence.

“You realise there isn’t just one way to do something, and that, while there are things you can improve, you’re maybe not doing too badly,” Jenner explained.

“The board has been even more helpful than I expected,” he added, and he recommends the programme to other small business leaders – particularly those contemplating a strategic or growth step change.

“It’s a great opportunity to get people round the table who’ve been through what you’re going through, or something similar, whose experiences you can learn from,” he said. “They’ve given us so much of their time, and genuinely want to help us. It would be hard not to enjoy that.”

I think everyone takes something away from these meetings. I can’t praise the programme enough.

Marcus Trofimov, founder, Silverstone Composites – SME board participant

Six heads are better than one

Small business owner Marcus Trofimov had set up his company, Silverstone Composites, in 2015, with the help of an angel investor, who became his business partner and mentor. But when Marcus bought the angel investor out, just before the pandemic hit in early 2020, he also lost his mentor. He was just 30, the company was at a crucial time in its development, and he felt very alone.

While the introduction to the programme came at just the right time, he was initially nervous about opening up his company to external scrutiny. But by the end of the first meeting, he felt “empowered” by the fact that “these highly experienced, knowledgeable people had not just taken time out of their busy lives to give me advice and support, but they actually validated what I was doing. I think we all had mutual respect.”

Initially, he said, “I just got everything off my chest, which helped to clear my mind, and allowed the board to help me see where I needed to focus, to prioritise.”

Since then, conversations have been wide-ranging: while the focus is on the business, “we sometimes talk about life in general, family, kids, how we manage the balance,” Marcus said. “The meetings provide a safe space to discuss issues with people who have been through similar experiences.”

The discussions yield concrete pieces of advice that Marcus has been able to act on straight away, and sometimes have an immediate financial benefit. For example, he now factors in the value of the company’s intellectual property when quoting for jobs, he’s been persuaded of the value of grant funding and is being helped to secure it and he’s started looking at new market sectors to expand into.

While Marcus “learns constantly” from the quarterly meetings, “the biggest benefit is their role as a sounding board, and the validation and reassurance they provide,” he said. “It’s not only the wealth of experience and collective knowledge they bring, but also their honesty and objectivity. Six heads are better than one.”

Indeed, his experience has been so positive that he would like to act as a board member himself. “I think everyone takes something away from these meetings,” he said. “I can’t praise the programme enough.”

What’s in it for board members?

I signed up because I have a longer term objective to be a non-executive director and Be the Business Boards offer a great opportunity to get a sense of what that’s like. There is a real tangible leadership benefit.

Lori Vokes, Rest Less – board member
I thought it would be very interesting to see if my experiences might help smaller companies, but also, of course, I wanted to learn something as well. It’s always a two-way process.

Tobias Knichel, PUNCH Flybrid – board member
Before any company became a multi-billion- dollar company, somewhere down the line it’s the courage of a founder who had the first brainwave of doing something. That courage, that conviction – I want to be supportive of that, and provide a helping hand towards it so that they can be successful.

Bhavna Saraf, Lloyds Banking Group – board member

Headline takeaways


  • Our Impact

    There is nothing I wouldn’t want another person to see – even a competitor

  • Our Impact

    I became proactive, rather than reactive

  • Our Impact

    Spark Sessions helped me validate approach during period of rapid change