When Graeme Hawes first applied for business improvement funding from NEN member NBSL for his Durham-based company, he had no idea just how beneficial it would turn out to be.
Founded in 2019, Glass & Mirror Solutions is a Durham-based company that designs, supplies and installs custom glass products, including the likes of glass partitions, glass balustrades, floors and mirrors, for both the commercial and domestic market.
Speaking to digital marketing agency Stick Marketing back in February about plans to grow his venture, Glass & Mirror Solutions, Graeme knew exactly what he wanted. A new SEO-friendly website, a comprehensive social media marketing strategy to get his company’s name out there and a print brochure to share with clients to use when engaging with new and existing customers.
With Stick Marketing’s support, Graeme applied for a grant from the North East Business Support Fund and was able to secure a grant of £3,080 for his £8,000 business improvement project.
“It was stress-free to apply for the grant,” says Graeme. “Sarah from Stick Marketing put me in touch with NBSL’s John Atkinson, who led me through the application process. It was very straight forward and NBSL came back with a decision to approve the grant within days.”
The project began in early March, and Stick started work on the new website, social media strategy and content straight away. But just three weeks later, the country was declared “in lockdown”, with businesses of all shapes and sizes forced to shut their doors and pause trading.
This could have spelled disaster for a relatively young company like Glass & Mirror Solutions. But with more than 25 years’ experience in the glass supply industry, Graeme knew he had a good business in the making and decided to use the downtime productively by continuing with the project to get the new website and brochure finished.
As time went on, and it became clear that this global pandemic was going nowhere fast, Graeme realised his glass products could have other useful applications.
Graeme explains: “The new social distancing rules meant that in order for people to get back to work, employers were going to have to put various measures in place to keep their team and their customers safe. Installing sneeze guard screens was just one of the recommendations that came from the government.
“I mentioned to the team at Stick that I was planning to include the glass and Perspex screens in our offering, thinking that we’d need to put an extra product page on the website and start sharing the news on social media.”
Stick carried out some SEO research and it became clear there had been a marked upsurge in searches relating to sneeze guards and protective screens.
“We started thinking bigger,” says Graeme. “Thanks to the flexibility of the NBSL funding, we knew we had the freedom to redirect the project funds where we needed them.
“Talking it through with Sarah, we decided to put part of the pot towards building a separate eCommerce website, where customers could easily order standard-sized self-assembly sneeze guards direct from the source.”
In an amazingly quick turnaround, Stick had both new websites – glassmirrorsolutions.co.uk and www.sneezeguardsdirect.co.uk – ready to launch just a week later.
“Because we have complete control over how we invest the funding with Stick, we were able to split it to cover the cost of both sites, and the associated content and social media marketing,” Graeme adds.
“We’ve had lots of interest in the sneeze guards – they’re undoubtedly our best-selling product at the moment – and it’s great to feel we’re contributing to getting the North East back to being open and ready for business after such a turbulent few months.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend NBSL’s funding to other County Durham businesses looking to grow. It’s such a simple process and the flexibility of it means you can use the grant to target improvement projects that will benefit your individual business.
“In these times of unprecedented challenges for business, that really is invaluable.”
John Atkinson, Funding Advisor for the project added “Our flexibility around our funding offer means that businesses have been able to alter their project scope with ease – providing much needed support during COVID-19. We are now in the last 4 months of current funding with less than £100,000 available to County Durham-based businesses. I urge anyone thinking about accessing support to get in touch and allow us to help as many businesses as possible reach their potential.”
NBSL relaunched The North East Business Support Fund (NEBSF) in 2018, focusing on funding County Durham businesses. The funding is open to SMEs for applications until September 2020, even those which have already accessed NBSL support in previous funding rounds. The inaugural round of funding was launched in 2012, since then NBSL has provided funding and support to businesses from an array of sectors spanning all corners of the region with a recent impact report finding that the fund has yielded an impressive £4.40 economic boost for every £1 invested.