Looking to manage business growth?

The BGS is putting SMEs in the driving seat…

‘The end of the recession has had a dramatic impact onwhat business owners want,’ says Johno Harris, commenting on the government-backed Business Growth Service (BGS), ‘there’s been a fundamental shift in their approach to coaching and training.’

‘Back in 2012,’ Johno explains, ‘the UK was broke, with high unemployment and diminishing tax revenues. Vince Cable and his Department for Business, Innovation & Skills recognised the influence that SMEs could have on the economy, so, after a period of consultation, developed a model for growth.

‘When the original Growth Accelerator (GA) Programme was subsequently launched, most SMEs were desperate for sales and marketing support, because they’d been in recession for years, and were scrambling around for new business opportunities. The competition was all about grabbing new customers. Since then, however, the landscape has changed. SMEs now have more available capital, and their customers do too. SMEs have an abundance of business opportunities, so the challenge has changed… now it’s all about keeping them, and maximising the return.’

‘The Business Growth Service – as it is now known – aims to deliver real growth to SMEs whilst increasing the profitability and the number of people employed by participating organisations,’ he says.

According to Johno, there are three key drivers for this new reality: firstly, the desire to maximise profitability; secondly, to maximise competitive advantage, and finally – especially for owners of smaller businesses – to improve their work-life balance.

‘With a general feeling of growth and positivity across all sectors, SMEs are now clamouring for help with understanding how to put in place systems and processes that will increase their capacity and operational efficiency. They are also focusing on recruiting the right people, and getting them up to speed as quickly as possible. And owners of smaller businesses are being run ragged – ironically, they simply can’t cope with all the new business! They see coaching and training as a way to alleviate the problem, and the subsidies make it easy for them to see a clear ROI.

Who could benefit from the service?

‘The programme enables owners of small and medium-sized businesses to benefit from affordable one-to-one business coaching, a range of training masterclasses and other events, with generous subsidies. So long as you are registered with Companies House, employ staff, and are looking to expand, you can access the service.

‘The companies who sign up are those who are ambitious to grow and succeed, and want to be more competitive,’ says Johno. ‘In the Thames Valley region, we’ve seen a particularly high level of interest from IT and cyber security firms, and food companies, but the programme is open to any organisation that wants to grow’, he adds.

So how does it work and what does it cost?

‘The level of subsidy depends on the size of your business, but all the packages include a thorough review of your business and its goals, coaching from experienced experts that you choose, training workshops on relevant topics such as brand development, marketing or finance, links to the Manufacturing Advisory Service or UK Trade & Investment, and lots of opportunities to network with other businesses in the region.

‘So for a business having between 5 and 49 employees, the cost is just £1,500, plus £700 in VAT. But the real value of the package has been estimated at six times that.

‘However, the fastest-growing aspect of the service at the moment is the chance for senior executives to apply for 50% match funding for management and leadership training, up to a value of £2,000 per person.’

What have been the results?

The government was always very clear about its expectation, setting a three-year target for a return of £1.85bn on its investment. In the event, over 24,000 businesses signed up and the target was achieved six months ahead of schedule, ensuring that the contract was renewed earlier this year.’

‘Overall, during that period, SMEs in England generally grew by 5%, but those supported by GrowthAccelerator achieved 32%. Similarly, the number of jobs created in SMEs was 7% across the board, but 36% in businesses that were signed up to the service.’

And what’s next?

‘We’re now in phase 2, so the businesses that originally signed up can now re-apply, and further boost their turnover, profit and staffing, provided they can show that their initial GrowthAccelerator support gave them the required gross value added (GVA) uplift.

‘The general uplift in the economy also means that different types of businesses are now rushing to take advantage of the programme, notably construction and engineering firms.

‘With the need to gain a competitive advantage now more urgent than ever, it does seem that this is a no-brainer for business owners who want to succeed.’

The Henley Business Growth and Entrepreneurship Programmes like High Growth Accelerator, Investment Readiness and Winning and Developing Customers at Henley Business School offers individuals and teams a chance to gain a better understanding of the barriers to growth that occur within organisations. The programmes give organisations the skills to overcome these barriers and develop and implement a strategy within their organisations.


Johno Harris is an expert in project management, focusing his energy on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Thames Valley area, andhelping them to generate measurable results.

He is a regional leader at Oxford Innovation Services, which deliver BGS in the South of England.

Oxford Innovation Services is a part of the consortium led by Grant Thornton, which was awarded the contract to deliver the Growth Accelerator Programme.


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If you have any questions, please contact our programme advisors, Hannah, Ruhi & Diana by email at exec@henley.ac.uk or by phone on +44 (0)1491 418767.