In conversation with business leaders: here’s what SMEs like mine need from the Chancellor

Tell us about your business, and how you began developing it.

After 20 years working in executive search and interim management in London and Asia, I’d reached a stage where I needed a new challenge. Setting up my own firm was the logical next step. Chater Smart is an executive recruitment firm partnering with clients across the private sector, supplying them with interim executives, transformation directors and female leaders.

We’re doing our bit in contributing to the levelling up agenda: we’ve pledged a % of our profits to Magic Breakfast (which feeds children across the UK experiencing food poverty) and whilst our head office will always be in the City near to our insurance and financial services clients, we also have an office in Derbyshire allowing us to create jobs outside of London whilst working closely with clients based in Manchester and the Midlands.

Chater Smart has also added a new practice focusing on identifying and placing women leaders. We want to help more women reach C-Suite roles.

What role does innovation play in the early stages of building a business?

Innovation doesn’t have to be radical or about disrupting whole sectors – but clear differentiation from competitors is essential. Focusing on a single USP (unique selling point) is outdated. Innovation needs to be on-going.

Chater Smart uses a proprietary recruitment methodology which has been fine-tuned over 20 years; think constant iteration. This methodology now produces consistently high success rates and peace of mind for our clients. As the Japanese saying goes “Fall down seven times, get up eight”.  Dust yourself off and try something different next time.

What has been your experience of acquiring investment, and how has this impacted your ability to innovate?

An article in Harvard Business Review last year cited Crunchbase research that only 2.3% of women-led start-ups received venture capital funding in 2020. It’s a similar story in the UK. You just have to be pragmatic.

I launched Chater Smart expecting to grow the firm organically rather than looking for outside investment. Growth may happen more slowly, but we can still innovate!

How important are SMEs/early-stage businesses to regional economic growth?

Incredibly important! 99.9% of UK firms are small or medium sized, so SMEs are absolutely critical to regional economic growth and to the UK economy as a whole.

SMEs account for 61% of employment and 51% of turnover in the UK according the 2022 government figures. SMEs create new jobs, train and upskill staff and often use local suppliers, meaning that supporting regional SMEs and early-stage businesses is an essential as part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

What would you change about the way the government supports small businesses?

Hopefully Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will respond positively to University Alliance’s plea on behalf of UK SMEs and support their call to use 6% (£170m) of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to plug the gap when European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) runs out at the end of March. The ERDF currently provides essential university-led support for small and early-stage businesses across the UK.

I’d particularly like to see on-going government support for small and micro businesses in navigating digital transformation and the 4th industrial revolution. Pretty soon all businesses will be technology firms who just happen to be suppliers of a particular product or service.

SMEs will definitely need support on that journey and the UK’s professional and technical universities, particularly those within the University Alliance, are well positioned to deliver training, mentoring and support in achieving that.

How important was ERDF funding in helping your business to develop? What role have universities played in this journey?

A number of our clients are in the automotive, engineering and defence sectors so we were able to join the ENSCITE programme (an ERDF funded collaboration between the University of Derby and Aston University).

ENSCITE and University of Derby supported us by delivering workshops in strategy, innovation and digital transformation, enabling us to get clear on our mission, vision and business model. This was incredibly helpful in the first few months of launching Chater Smart and helped us get to market more quickly.

Further reading