5 Minutes With… Paul Lancaster

The next in our series of ‘5 Minutes With…’ interviews is with Paul Lancaster, Founder of Plan Digital UK.

1. Tell us a little about you and what you are most passionate about in work?

I’ve been helping other people start and grow their business for the past 15 years whilst working for organisations like Sage, Tech North, Shell LiveWIRE, Project North East and Generator before finally starting my own business, Plan Digital, in April last year.

Over the years, I’ve built up a fantastic network of experts I can call upon whenever I need them and learned pretty much everything there is to know about where to go for the best advice on starting a business in the UK and especially here in the North East. I love sharing this knowledge with new and small business owners in ways that help save them time, effort and money and I get a lot of personal satisfaction from joining the dots, making connections and creating opportunities for them that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.

My 5-day ‘Newcastle Startup Week’ festival in May was the perfect example of what I love doing best as it allowed me to create a platform for over 600 people to start and grow their business in the city.

2. The scale up event you’re running in November – what’s scale up really about?

The official OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) definition of a ‘scaleup’ is a company with 10 employees or more which has grown by 20 percent or more for three years in a row. However, data suggests only 2-5% of UK businesses have 10 employees or more with the rest being classed as ‘micro businesses’ of 0-9 employees.

It’s therefore important that we respect the fact not every business will want to become a scaleup, but if they do, how can they increase their chances of doing this? And even if they don’t want to grow that big, how do they take things to the next level from wherever they are?

To do this, my ‘Newcastle Scaleup Summit’ on 23rd November will cover the following topics that can help people grow their business:

  • How to adopt a ‘Growth Mindset’ at work which will help you think even bigger
  • How to improve your sales, marketing & PR of existing products or services
  • How to innovate, develop & launch new products or services
  • How to improve internal processes to save time and money to invest back in your business
  • How to find people with the right skills and experience to grow your business
  • How to forge & maintain partnerships with bigger businesses
  • How & why membership organisations can help you grow your business

3. Growth is amazing, but comes with lots of challenges – what would be your best tip for a business that is scaling up / growing fast or considering a scale up? 

The more you learn about the ‘growing pains’ people experience when going from startup to scaleup or at any stage of growth, the more you realise the importance of knowing when to ‘bring in the experts’. This is where external advisers and professional services like accountancy and legal firms become particularly useful as you can tap into their networks to find additional expertise, personnel, funding and business opportunities that you wouldn’t come across on your own. The best ones become an extension of your business as they realise your success is mutually beneficial.

4. Keeping talent in the region and in your business is always a challenge for business owners – will this be discussed in the November event? What do you think the biggest challenge is for a growing business when it comes to skills?

Yes, this is a common problem so we’ll have a specific panel discussion on finding people with the skills and talent you need to grow your business at our ‘Newcastle Scaleup Summit’ in November.

In every sector and in every city across the UK, politicians and business leaders are saying there’s a ‘Skills Gap’ or skills shortage, especially in the IT/tech sector. There are great initiatives already underway in schools, colleges and universities not to mention all the voluntary work done by people in Code Clubs, CoderDojo’s and the ‘Tech For Life’ programme run by the team at Campus North.

However, anything in education will take several years to make an impact and so I personally think businesses need to take ownership and make a lot more effort themselves to train up and develop their new and existing staff regardless of whether it is funded by the Government or not. I think most businesses simply aren’t trying hard enough to find the talent they need by thinking outside the box or looking in non-obvious places where they may be. If your business is really struggling to find the talent you need, it could be because your profile isn’t high enough, your job roles aren’t as attractive as you think they are or you simply need to pay more! I’ve met many talented developers who live in Newcastle but work in London or have moved away because local wages are far too low for them but they’d love to work for a North East businesses if only they were made to feel more valued and paid ‘the going rate’. We’re in a global competition for talent and businesses need to ‘pay to play’!