Blog | Co-operative

Business support partnership reflects a welcome uptick for digital skills in the third sector

Paul Stepczak, our Bids and Commercial Consultant, looks back at our fruitful collaboration with Business in Focus that has highlighted a pleasing keenness for digital skills-building within the third sector.

By Ben Bostock · 20 September 2021

See this page in: Cymraeg

Over the past three years, I have been involved in supporting Focus Carmarthen and Newtown Enterprise Hubs. Run by Business in Focus, each Hub brought in a number of event delivery partners, including the Wales Co-operative Centre, primarily to facilitate early engagement with start-up businesses – in tandem with the Business in Focus business advice service and other ongoing support.

The experience has been an enlightening and positive one, from a personal and overall project perspective.

It has been interesting to experience the different needs of budding entrepreneurs over the duration of the project and Covid-19 pandemic. There was a clear demand for subjects such as website development, social media, digitally-integrated business planning and marketing – delivered remotely for businesses which, like us, pivoted to working purely online during the pandemic.

"Someone from the third sector may associate traditional business support with a commerce culture more often found within private businesses. This is a common misconception and with the purpose-driven business sector evidently growing, there is increasing need to universally embrace the digitally-led support available."

Paul Stepczak

The ‘new normal’ meant entrepreneurs needed to quickly develop some level of technical competency and a more strategic approach to their web-based shop window in order to survive.

This ultimately accelerated the adoption of new and existing technologies – a cultural shift which is now seemingly here to stay. Accordingly, there has been a significant surge of interest in subjects previously seen as more specialist. Recent workshops on the themes such as content creation, search engine optimisation and using Instagram for business have generated attendance figures of up to 100 individuals.

Furthermore, it has been refreshing to hear some of the entrepreneurial success stories demonstrating how new technologies have been embraced while navigating the pandemic. Rugby Warfare, Hilltop Honey, The Goodwash Company and Ffwrnes Pizza are just a few of the amazing Welsh businesses which have featured on our virtual conferences in the last year – sharing experiences of diversification and resilience to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in Wales.

On a personal level, what I’ve found most exciting is the number of third sector organisations attending Hub events. As someone who has spent the majority of their career working in or with community organisations, I have actively encouraged the involvement of these groups at our events which may well have been perceived as exclusive to the private business sector.

Such events and subsequent business support are as valuable for the third sector as they are for start-up businesses. Both share commonalities – being forms of enterprise which need to promote themselves effectively as well as manage income and outgoings.

Someone from the third sector may associate traditional business support with a commerce culture more often found within private businesses. This is a common misconception and with the purpose-driven business sector evidently growing, there is increasing need to universally embrace the digitally-led support available.

Reportedly, 27% of third sector organisations – which often fill the gaps of public services – had to cancel their services because they or their users did not have the necessary digital skills.*

Refreshingly, more and more third sector organisations are beginning to digitally upskill and thus bridge the divide between private business and the third sector. At one recent digital marketing masterclass event, the third sector represented more than a third of those who registered to attend.

In a world that has seen essential services overwhelmed, community groups struggle, businesses close and unprecedented digital engagement, it is imperative all enterprises, regardless of purpose or structure, are given access to the very best digital business skills support if they are to be sustainable. The great news is, we already have this provision in Wales with some outstanding role models to boot. We just need to co-ordinate, co-operate, and shout about it!

*Charity Digital Skills Report 2020

Paul is a specialist in community engagement, tendering and cross-sector business consultancy. If you are interested in our work and hearing about how we could support you in these areas, contact Paul at paul.stepczak@wales.coop.