Friday, September 28, 2018

The maker space making its mark on Liverpool's creative scene

The Make Liverpool team approached The Women’s Organisation for business development support under our growth programme; New Markets 2. We caught up with co-director Kirsten Little to find out how business is going.

Kirsten Little, co-director of Make Liverpool

Describing itself as ‘a place to play, make and fix; bring an idea and take away your invention,’ Make Liverpool is a maker space which crosses the boundaries. It’s a place where digital and creative businesses work alongside artists and crafters, offering up a creative hub for honest conversations and unique skill shares.

The brainchild of co-directors Kirsten Little and Liam Kelly, the team are on a mission to support makers, artists and small businesses across Liverpool.

Communal space at Make Liverpool

It all started back in 2012 with a post from Liam on Facebook venturing the idea of a unique co-working space for creative makers. Having experienced first-hand the isolation of working remotely and the impact this can have on your mental health, Liam set his sights on opening a co-working space. The post immediately caught Kirsten’s eye. Having recently completed her masters degree in fine art it was the ideal next challenge.

The pair set off on a research mission, taking inspiration from maker spaces across Europe. 4 months later and their Baltic Triangle space was born and already filled with nearly 30 residents from a whole host of creative backgrounds. From those working in graphic design and photography to fine art, Kirsten says that it is this diverse skill set which has been the catalyst for their success.

Make resident, Max Rawhide hard at work

Fast forward four years and the team soon saw the need for a second space. Kirsten explains: “The problem with the Baltic space was that we couldn’t offer maker spaces and our residents wanted to grow their businesses without having to invest in equipment. One of our tenants needed access to a laser cutter to create her product meaning that she had to outsource this element, a cost which would ultimately impact on the final cost of her product. We wanted to create a one-stop shop of equipment where our residents could freely create and experiment.”

Make North Docks was born.

Another maker, Chris Wylie of Puppetuity

With their sights firmly set on business growth and having received support from The Women’s Organisation at the inception of the company, the team decided it was time to return to the organisation to find out what support was available as they entered this new era of high business growth.

Working closely with our business advisor, Francine Taylor, the Make team were able to identify new opportunities in the current business and gain the support to enter this new phase.

Of their time with Francine, co-director Liam says: "Francine was very supportive and easy to talk with. It’s great having knowledgeable and trustworthy people around you when you’re focused on growing a businesses."

With a third venue now in the pipeline, there’s no sign of Make Liverpool slowing down now. 

Kirsten and the team received growth advice through our New Markets 2 Programme. part funded by European Regional Development Fund. The programme is aimed at women who are running a business focussing on business to business (B2B) activity in the Liverpool City Region (Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens, Knowsley and Halton) and are ready to take their business to the next level, either by expanding their team or significantly increasing turnover. 

For more information, contact us on or ring us on 0151 706 8111.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A New Digital Age for Lynne with Stripe Virtual Services

With an extensive professional portfolio, Lynne wanted to go it alone and become her own boss stating the work-life balance as her key motivator: “I wanted to set up my own business for a long time, especially after we had our children. I wanted to try and achieve the work-life balance for my family.”

Having worked within the digital sector for practically her whole career, taking the leap into self-employment was a big decision for Lynne with ‘self-doubts and insecurities’ as her biggest barrier. She began carrying out research on existing businesses to explore gaps in the market, as well as speaking with friends who already had their own businesses to really decide whether self-employment was for her.

Lynne said: “I then discovered The Women’s Organisation and I can honestly say that I haven’t looked back since! There’s a huge amount of value to be had in the training and business support that they provide, as well as the camaraderie you experience at each of their events.”

Working alongside a business adviser and attending The Women’s Organisation events, Lynne valued meeting like-minded women who shared the same issues and concerns as her, and this sense of solidarity ‘empowered’ Lynne to push on with her business. Once Lynne secured her first few clients, she began to believe in her ability to make a success of the business.

 Stripe Virtual Services now provides services that mirror the expertise Lynne has developed over the years in her various roles. Offering everything from digital consultancy, design, project management and business admin services, Lynne is able to support her main target audience of small businesses and entrepreneurs in streamlining their services.

And what makes Stripe Virtual Services different? Lynne prides her business on providing fast-paced services within a relaxed and calm environment. She said: “There’s none of the corporate stuffiness you can experience with larger firms. Several of my clients are local and my meetings can generally take place in coffee shops or at kitchen tables – I even had a meeting whilst walking around the Marine Lake recently.”

For Lynne, the best thing about being a businessowner is working from home over in West Kirby and the invaluable additional time she can spend with her children. As a mum of two, eliminating the work commute means that Lynne can do the school run and carry out various household tasks throughout the day without causing disruption to her business.

As business picks up pace, Lynne is feeling proud of what she’s achieved and is beginning to look towards plans for the future, which include building up a small team to develop the services offered by Virtual Stripe Services.

More recently, Lynne co-founded the West Kirkby Business Network in April of this year in order to connect with more local businesses and begin building an integrated community of entrepreneurs who can support one another. This network is now home to over 200 members and reflects the growing appetite for entrepreneurship across Wirral. Lynne said: “it’s helped me to see just how many others are making a success of their professional lives outside of the usual 9-5 roles.”

Reflecting on her lessons learnt, Lynne says: “if you’re having a bad day try not to lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve – tomorrow will almost certainly be a better day. Be sure to surround yourself with likeminded people – it’s truly amazing how some else’s drive and enthusiasm can rub off on you”.

If you’re looking to start a business, Lynne’s word of advice is: “do your research and do it well. Speak to trusted contacts and ask for their feedback. Once you’ve got it reasonably straight in your head, contact The Women’s Organisation who can help you improve your confidence to take that first big step.”

Anyone who’d like to find out more about how Stripe Virtual Services can help you build your web presence, brand recognition or manage projects or business admin, contact her on 0151 808 1145 or You can also connect with Lynne on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or head to the website!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

In the Media: UK Enterprise Expert Meets Liverpool City Region's Economic Influencers

Liverpool Business Group in conjunction with the Enterprise Hub drew together key local economic influencers for a roundtable event with one of the UK’s leading experts on enterprise research policy and practice, Professor Mark Hart, to consider how an innovative and focused enterprise policy and practice approach can inspire and propel business start-up and growth in the Liverpool City Region.

Vibrant entrepreneurship is a vital component for any ambitious city, generating wealth, creating jobs and finding innovative solutions. A start-up city is led by the entrepreneurial leaders who dare to think of something new, and their subsequent contribution to the economy is invaluable.

As the UK’s start-up revolution shows no signs of slowing down, Professor Hart provided evidenced based insights as to why creative and forward-thinking policy and support infrastructure is the catalyst to enabling a flourishing business community able to compete on a global scale, and just how we can achieve that.

Professor Mark Hart is Deputy Director of the ERC and Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School. Over the last 35 years, Professor Hart has worked and published extensively in the areas of entrepreneurship, enterprise and small business development and policy.  He jointly manages the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) project  in the UK and advises a number of UK Government Departments and the Devolved Administrations on enterprise issues.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Networking with other women in business – what you need to know

Being a business woman can be tough and challenging. There is no instruction manual that comes with role, so it sometimes feels like you are negotiating the edge of the precipice; this is what makes life in business so interesting and exciting.

One of the best ways of successfully avoiding going over the precipice is to network with other women in business. You can learn from each other and be supportive, in what tends to be a male dominated environment. But how can you make networking a successful enterprise for you?

Make interaction part of your day

Networking is not just about arranging regular meetings, or scheduling Skype calls. In order to be able to network effectively, you need to practice every day. After all, every time you talk to another business woman you are networking.

You may want to consider working in a shared office space with other women, to make daily communication easier. There are other benefits to be had from sharing office space. As the experts at Cornerstone say it's, “Ideal for sole traders, start-ups and those who just thrive on collaboration”. Your business expertise and confidence can truly grow as a result of sharing in this way.

Whether you decide to share office space or not, you have the opportunity to interact with other females in business on many different occasions each day, whether it's in the lift, during the school run or even at the local supermarket. You need to make the most of every opportunity.

Offer your expertise to power players

There is no doubt that there are certain women within every industry who are the right people to know. Your task is to discover who these women are for your niche and present yourself as someone who has expertise and knowledge they can benefit from; establish yourself as someone that it's useful to know. Self-promotion can be a difficult skill to acquire but it's useful if you want to develop top-notch networking relationships.

Another way to develop this type of relationship is to seek out mentorship from the power players. Many people relish the opportunity of being able to put their experience to use in this way; it feels like an honour to be asked.

Consider every opportunity carefully

It's very easy to put the blinkers on in business. You focus on your original idea and plan and are not willing to consider opportunities outside of that scope. It's important to be open-minded in business. Never dismiss an opportunity straight away; the most off the wall ideas can sometimes be the best. Taking on board the ideas of other business women, and getting involved, is an excellent way of increasing your network.

Always be willing to learn

It's important to remember that you do not know everything and that sharing knowledge with other women in business can be useful. Some women think that it's important to keep their business ideas and knowledge to themselves but it's usually far better to share and develop a support network. It's this ethos that leads companies in Silicon Valley to work on projects together.

Meet up with other women, and share experiences, as often as you can. It's fine to talk online or over the phone, but face to face networking is often more rewarding.

Be creative in your thinking

Creative thinkers stand out from the crowd. You are more likely to be seen as someone valuable to network with if you are able to provide out of the box solutions to problems, or present unusual business ideas. It can be risky being creative but it can also be highly beneficial, especially if you network with other creative thinking women.

Keep your network fresh

It's important that you seek new people to network with, as well as sustaining the relationship you have with your current network. Keep an eye out for up and coming females in your industry and make contact. Never miss the opportunity of networking at events either; there will usually be new faces on the scene who you can start a conversation with.

Effective networking is not easy, it takes time to develop the confidence and skills that you need. Building a network is also not something that happens overnight; make the most of every opportunity and your network will grow. Remember that networking is an ongoing process; you should always be willing to learn, explore new opportunities and seek out new relationships with other business women.

Find out more about networking opportunities with us over on our website. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Returning to Work After a Career Break: Why the Stigma?

The UK economy has made significant strides in improving the labour market for the needs of women in more recent years. However, one area that remains underutilised is women returning from career breaks.

Women take career breaks for a number of reasons, most commonly to care for family members. For many, taking a career break may be an economically smart decision due to soaring childcare costs, stagnant salaries and government cuts to tax credits and benefits. Returning to work straight after having a child has, for some, been branded as ‘pay-neutral work’, whereby the costs of childcare and travel consume an entire salary and leave many women essentially working for free.

However, the very nature of a career break is temporary and PwC claim that 76% of women on career breaks want to return to work, but face significant barriers in doing so. A primary reason for this is the growing discourse around ‘gaps in CV’, which tends to be extremely negative encouraging job-seekers to come up with an explanation to justify their time off work and assuming a deterioration in skills.

Research has shown that businesses are more likely to hire an under-qualified worker than somebody who has taken a career break. This is not only an injustice to women who have taken career breaks, but an underutilisation by businesses who are refusing experienced and talented female workers.

Having been in employment her entire life, Angela Clark took a four-year career break following a life-changing illness in her immediate family. For Angela, a big part of our identity is our professional status: “I didn’t realise I relied so much on my career to define myself until I suddenly didn’t have one.”

Angela said: “when the worst happened, I started making moves towards returning to work. I upped my volunteering and re-working my skills, but predominantly I tried to rebuild my confidence.”

Angela Clark, Finance Officer at The Women's Organisation

Angela applied for a Finance Officer position at The Women’s Organisation after encouragement from a friend and began working here two weeks later. Angela stated: “It wasn’t easy, workplace practices don’t come back overnight. However, there were so many positives; regaining financial independence, having such supportive colleagues and feeling like ‘me’ again.”

We think it is time for businesses to step up and take action. PwC claim that addressing the career break penalty experienced by professional women could deliver an annual earnings boost of £1.1 billion and additional economic output of £1.7 billion. Recruiters and employers need to work on addressing the negative bias towards career breaks and rethink how they can measure the skills and ability of job applicants.

Hiring experienced women following a career break can be a fast track for helping businesses to integrate female role models and leaders into their workforce and improve the level of diversity within senior positions. Women returning to work are hungry to get their career back on track and consequently, highly motivated women with talent and experience.

Furthermore, businesses need to increase opportunities for part-time and flexible roles within their workforce. Flexible working practices are not only ethical and employee-friendly but have positive impacts on businesses through increased productivity and motivation.

Talented women are perfectly capable of returning to the demanding corporate environments and readjusting to workplace practices. We need to redefine the discourse around career breaks and transform employer perceptions – only then will we reap the astronomical economic benefits of utilising women returning to work.

Reflecting on her experience as a woman returning to work, Angela said: “stepping away from the work force is sometimes necessary, but not always final. Your skills may go slightly rusty, but they can ALWAYS be reshined!”

Thanks to our Finance Officer, Angela Clark, for contributing to this blog piece.

Mark Russell & Ruth Hartnoll Help us Raise The Ranks on Google

Having a website and social media page is great, but is it really any use if nobody is seeing it? Building your presence online should be high on your marketing priorities, and getting to grips with SEO can certainly help to build that presence. To set the record straight on SEO and content we decided to invite some expert marketers along to our September Business Club ‘Raise the Ranks on Google: Your Easy Step Guide to Being Visible Online’ 

We were happy to welcome Mark Russell from bmirco and Ruth Hartnoll from J&R Agency to come and deliver some SEO and content magic at the event. Mark, specialising in micro businesses has 5 years’ experience in the digital marketing field and Ruth, who is the founder and director of J&R agency, works to empower small businesses to think bigger.

We had varied audience, ranging from marketing consultants to interior designers, established businesses to people thinking about going into self-employment, and they were all ready to delve into the sometimes-complex world of SEO. First up, we welcomed Ruth to the Business Club stage!

Ruth Hartnoll talking content and SEO at business club
Ruth Hartnoll
Talking about the important relationship between quality content and SEO, Ruth took us through some of the DO’S & DON’TS of producing good content to help boost Search Engine Optimisation and of course, we spoke about that top position on Google

 “I see people obsess with reaching the top search result on Google, but they have to remember that’s sometimes it’s better to be third or fourth as some people find these results more trustworthy, and you’re still on the first page”

Surprising, and definitely worth focusing on! She also spoke about the importance of blogging, and focusing on long form content that outranks short form much to the dismay of our budding writers! 

"Articles over 1800 tend to do better for SEO, always try and focus on the long form content for your blog and website"

Next up to speak, we had Mark Russell, who started his presentation by telling us to “forget the algorithm” and focus on the long-term SEO goals instead.

Mark Russell speaking content and SEO at business club
Mark Russell

“You have to understand what question people want solving, not just now, but what they wanted solving in the past and the future”

Helping us to break down all that SEO jargon, Mark took us through on-page, off-page and local SEO that will be key to building your SEO strategy. We then touched upon link building, a task that can be difficult to start. “Link building can be hard, this is why you have to build relationships offline so you can join together for content, help share each other’s website and offer out guest blogs”

We’ve certainly took away some amazing hints and tips from the event, and we had some great feedback from our audience:

“This was really good! I got loads of useful information on things I didn’t know already”

“My first time at a Business Club event! I’m very impressed with the amount of information and help I’ve been given. I will be coming again!”

“Very informative! I’ve got some new insights and tips that I had not heard of”

Mark and Ruth at guest speakers at business club
Mark & Ruth

Thank you to Ruth and Mark for giving us such SEO and content wisdom! And thank you to everyone who attended Septembers Business Club. If you'd like to contact them, you can use the links below: 

J&R Agency


If you enjoyed ‘Raise the Ranks on Google’, we have more exciting networking events throughout this year....

 Join us on 6th December, 4-6pm for seasonal spirit at 'Festive Networking'

Tickets all available via eventbrite or alternatively, contact us on 0151 706 8111 or for more information.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Women's Organisation Adds its Voice to Liverpool Council's Call to 'Rethink Universal Credit'

City wide call for the Government to reconsider the roll-out of welfare reforms
THOUSANDS of people in Liverpool are being forced into poverty because of the Government’s welfare reform program.
And with the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) looming large over the city, many more will be forced into a downward spiral of debt and destitution.
That’s the stark warning from community leaders, politicians and civic figures in the city who have banded together to urge the government to rethink UC, before it is too late.
Liverpool has been hit hard by welfare reforms and austerity cuts since 2010. In 2017 Liverpool City Council commissioned a unique study to examine the impact on residents of more than 20 welfare reforms.  It identified a disproportionate effect on women, disabled people, people with children and social sector tenants aged 40-59 and young people. It also highlighted the effect on in-work poverty.

.Last year Liverpool City Council made more than 13,000 crisis payments to help people with the cost of food, fuel and clothing.
The council and its partner believe the continued rollout of Universal Credit in the city in its current form will lead to a welfare crisis, which will see many more people suffer extreme hardship and the spectre of homelessness.

The Women's Organisation's CEO Maggie O'Carroll has joined Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and other key city figures in calling for a period of reflection and an opportunity to fix Universal Credit.
Maggie O'Carroll, Mayor Joe Anderson, Cllr Jane Corbett & Paul Cherpeau 
Mayor Anderson says: “Already, we can see a spike in hardship and a rise in council tax arrears from those who have already transitioned to UC. Not to mention the queues at foodbanks and the families struggling with things like school uniform costs.
“Around 55,000 Liverpool households will eventually see their claim move to Universal Credit. Most of these households have already been affected by the ‘benefit freeze.’
“We have found that disabled people, the long-term sick, single parents and working families on low incomes are amongst those disproportionately affected.
“Simply put, if UC continues in its current form, people in Liverpool already facing enduring hardship will be left with even less. Levels of debt will rise, rent arrears will increase, families will be forced into food and fuel poverty and ultimately hardworking people will face the spectre of homelessness and destitution.”
The partnership has produced a new publication entitled ‘Universal Credit: Unintended Consequences’ which it hopes to put before ministers.
The publication contains essays from Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev Paul Bayes, the chief executive of The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll and the chief executive of the city’s Chamber of Commerce Paul Cherpeau.
Headline requests from the partnership include a call for the DWP to cut the wait between applying for UC and receiving payment. Currently applicants can wait up to 35 days without cash.
It also calls for councils to be given more ring-fenced funds to provide a ‘local welfare scheme’ based on local needs and an end to the 30-40 minute waiting times for connection to DWP advice and information lines.
Mayor Anderson describes the lack of co-ordination with local authorities as a ‘scandalous oversight’.
He says: “Many councils have been forced to abandon discretionary support amid the austerity cuts they have had to endure, which has removed a vital safety net for the poorest but we have vowed to continue our support.”
Liverpool City Council spends £23 million dealing with a range of crisis issues surrounding poverty and homelessness and offers a range of crisis payments and housing support above and beyond the statutory threshold. In stark contrast, the council will have experienced a £444 million reduction in its funding from central government by 2020.
The National Audit Office recently urged ministers to ‘pause’ the roll-out of UC, with figures showing 40 per cent of claimants experienced financial difficulties transitioning to the new benefit, with a fifth of claimants not paid on time.
The Bishop of Liverpool, The Rt Rev Paul Bayes, warns that a move away from addressing need in the welfare system risks instilling the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor, writing that he is ‘angry’ and ‘frustrated’ at the ill-effects of recent welfare changes.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently reported that Liverpool is the second hardest hit city in the country when it comes to destitution.
Maggie O’Carroll, chief executive of The Women’s Organisation in the city criticises Universal Credit for being a ‘very real barrier’ to those on benefit trying to become self-employed, while the one payment per household model poses ‘an even greater threat’ to vulnerable women who may be at risk of domestic abuse.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Paul Cherpeau says that any reduction in benefits will reduce spending power in the local economy and ‘stifle our capacity to start and grow businesses in the city’.
Mayor Anderson adds: “We are urging ministers to take heed of the ‘unintended consequences’ of their welfare reforms and take action.”
“We have to believe that these consequences are unintended because who would deliberately perpetuate a system that takes support away from the very poorest in society, that penalises people who are sick and disabled and takes financial support away from children?”
Add your support to the campaign on twitter using #RethinkUC

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Why Should Your Business Have a Strategic Plan?

Once your start-up business has found its feet, it’s probably time to start thinking about taking your business to the next level of business growth. Growing your business might seem like a scary thought and you might wonder what growing your business consists of, but by sitting down and identifying the opportunities for growth, it will ensure the continued long-term success of your business.

You might feel like you're thriving, you have loyal customers and you’re making profit but there are still many reasons to focus on your growth. Staying innovative in your field, increasing your turnover and keeping up with your competition are just some key factors to think about when developing growth strategies.

Increasing sales can be a key indicator of a successful business, but there are many key factors of the growth process such as having a strong strategic plan. Strategic planning can help to outline where exactly your business is going to be in a few years time and what you're going to do to get there. by producing and working from a strategic plan, you will pinpoint what your business does, how it does it and your future goals.  

Excelerate Labs have recently been supporting a Greater Manchester-based telecoms agency in the strategic planning of their business. Producing a healthy turnover in it’s first year of trading, the agency was keen to position themselves higher in the ever-changing industry.

Starting the business with no business plan or strategic objectives, they were deterred from growth due to resourcing needs. The first step was looking at creating new roles within the company to help with work capacity, therefore we looked at creating customer service and business development roles. We offered further support by putting together a plan for establishing relationships with key people in the business supply chain. After support from Excelerate labs, the agency now has a three-year strategic plan and detailed one-year action plan. 

Strategic planning is a crucial element to any business as it provides direction and achievable goals. It will look at a number of things widespread across the organisation, from your strengths and weaknesses to measuring your success. it helps you to take a step back from day to day operations to set overall goals for your business’s future. 

Developing growth strategies is just one of the ways Excelerate labs can help support your business through the growth process. If you’re a B2B business in Greater Manchester and would like to find out if Excelerate Labs can support you and your business, then get in touch with us today! Email us on or ring us on 0151 706 8111

Friday, September 14, 2018

Guest blog: Getting more women into construction

When it comes to construction ‘only 11% of the current workforce is female’ with 9% of these working in office-based roles. This statistic was released in Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham’s and Liverpool CityRegions recent Skills Growth Report . Local training provider Antrec have decided to look into this a little more closely and address how they can improve this situation.

The report announces that a further 18,000 more construction workers are going to be required over the coming years. As a society now is the time that we need to be looking to engage and educate women about the construction sector and how they can find employment within it.

As the industry evolves, and with the help of technology, the role of a worker within the construction industry is changing. The amount of different trades and skills needed within a building site are increasing meaning there is more scope (and need) for a different type of person when builders/tradesman are looking for employees. This means breaking down the barriers of what we perceive the stereotype of a construction worker. As pointed out in the report Liverpool City Region and the country need to begin encouraging our women to become part of an exciting, growing, skilled and diverse workforce.

47,000 people currently work in construction across the Liverpool City Region and such a small percentage of these are women. As demand increases and new projects begin the need for skilled workers no matter what gender will become even greater.

When people think of construction they think of manual labour and a male dominated industry, as technology progresses the need for more skilled personnel has become apparent. The stereotypes of the industry are slowly fading, which hopefully makes it more encouraging for women to apply for jobs within construction.

Local training provider Antrec are tackling the inequality by running a programme to help increase the number of females entering the construction industry and are looking to create a more diverse, accessible workforce across Merseyside within the construction sector. Antrec’s 5-day FEMALE ONLY CSCS Construction Skills training programme provides women with the chance to find employment working on a building site or within the trades industry. CSCS cards provide proof that individuals working on construction sites, or areas were labour is being carried out, have the required Health and Safety training and qualifications for the type of work at hand.

To be part of the solution Antrec are offering a course fully funded to those learners aged 19+, in receipt of benefits or those that have earned less than £15,736 over the past year. Training and testing take place within the 5-day programme so there is no need to book your test elsewhere. Cards are usually ready to be picked up within 10 working days of completion.

We need to begin building awareness around this topic and let women know the immense potential that looking at a career within construction holds.

To read more on the topic or to enquire about Antrec’s upcoming CSCS programme please visit or call them on 0333 023 7450.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Danielle Can See a Clear Future Thanks to Money Marvels

Worrying about debts piling up and having just had her benefits sanctioned, Danielle was told about the Money Marvels Programme in Halton Citizens Advice and decided it was time she took control of her finances and gave it a go.

Recently, we spoke about how debt can have detrimental effect on a person’s mental health and how it can make a person’s behaviour to change dramatically during the period of poor health. Feeling vulnerable due to mental health, Danielle felt she was unable to engage with the working programmes she had been sent on by the Job Centre leaving her to live on just £277 per month and was struggling to make ends meet.

Being able to sit down one to one and engage with a Better Off Finance key worker meant that Danielle was able to figure out ways to increase her income and take the appropriate actions that saw her sanctions removed which has left her with a much better outlook on life:

“My mental health and relationship with my 12-year-old son has improved since going through the programme due to having more money coming into the family”

Completing the programme full of confidence, she now engages with work programmes to help her into employment and recently completed an employability course with Riverside.

“I really liked the one to one support and being able to have direct contact with my key worker, Gill. It’s really helped my confidence and I was so glad to get help with my sanction”

Struggling with poor mental health for many years, Danielle found it hard to manage her finances and is now able to breathe easier with an increased income and has more knowledge about her universal credit claims online.

“I have so much more confidence than before! I would definitely recommend it as I can now see a future for me and my son. I really want to get into work, and now I can start to think about it as I’m starting to manage my debts.”

Thanks to Danielle for sharing her story, we're excited about what your future holds.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

From the kitchen table to Selfridges: How Hey Little Cupcake! Rose to the Top

Last time we caught up with Sarah Wilson-Gibbons, the founder of Hey Little Cupcake!, she had been working with our business advisor Ameena to create a three-year strategic business plan and gain support to help expand her team. Over a year on, and now with 21 staff members in tow and two premises, we caught up with Sarah to see how business is going.

Bursting onto Manchester’s confectionary scene back in 2010, Hey Little Cupcake! was one of the first bakeries specialising in cupcakes to open when the craze came to the UK. Selling everything from cupcakes and brownies, to trendy layer cakes and cakepops over the counter, the team also create a bespoke array of celebration cakes to order.

Eight years on and the business is going from strength to strength. 

From humble roots in Sarah’s kitchen as a one-woman operation, the business now spans across two locations, employs 21 people and is a key supplier to cafes in Greater Manchester. The business has a ‘cupcakery’ in Spinningfields as well as a contract in Selfridges’ food hall in the Trafford centre, which has been held for the last four years – a coop which owner Sarah counts as her biggest achievement yet.

So, what does Sarah think is at the root of the businesses’ success in such a competitive market place? She puts it down to “keeping up to date with trends and changing our themes regularly to keep customers interested. Our quirky brand is one of a kind in the North West.”
Advice not to be reckoned with from a woman nominated for a ‘Business in the Community’ award in the Be Proud Awards 2017 for her work in the community, not to mention scooping the ‘Excellence in Customer Service Awards’ in our Excelerate Labs awards earlier this year!

Perhaps her success also comes from her inherently creative nature, having worked as an Art Director previously. When asked about her personal interests, Sarah can’t help but pay homage to her creative roots: 

“My main passion in life is to be creative. This is in everything I do from baking, making gifts to playing with my 2-year-old son. Creativity is in everything I do as it what makes me tick.”

When asked what advice Sarah would give to anyone wanting to grow their business, she said: “To always stay positive. Owning and running a business is very challenging. It really tests you to your core but if you remain positive you really appreciate all you have achieved and it makes it worthwhile.

“Also, if growth opportunities present themselves take them, you never know when or if they will be available again.”

Having worked with Excelerate Labs to help grow her business in recent years, she says: “I had mentoring sessions which I have found so helpful and supportive over the past few years.”

If you would like to benefit from the support Sarah received under the Excelerate Labs programme then please contact:

Hey Little Cupcake! can be contacted on 0161 832 0260 or e-mailed via You can also visit or find the team on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using @HLCupake.