How three small businesses raised money and grew

Here, we look at three companies at different stages of development, how they acquired funds and built their businesses.

Here, we look at three companies at different stages of development, how they acquired funds and built their businesses.

Twenty-year-old Liam Burgess discusses how he started his handmade chocolate business, Nomnom, in 2013, and how he grew the company after starting with a £4,000 Princes Trust loan.

Growing up next to a chocolate factory, it was destiny to start my own chocolate business. There are a lot of people doing really good chocolate in the UK, but in my view noone’s really doing exciting things with textures and flavours, so I saw that as the gap in the market.

I got kicked out of school early on when I was 15 or 16 and I went straight into kitchens. I worked for a great local chef, and then I was head chef of my local gastropub at 16 and decided after that I couldn’t work for people.

I started Nomnom in an old caravan in the bottom of my mum’s garden with a £4,000 loan from the Princes Trust. For the first half of the year we wrapped and made about 50,000 chocolate bars on our own, using Peruvian and Ecuadorian cocoa mass which we conched and refined. It took off, and gradually we added staff. I don’t do much chocolate making myself any more!

We began with a few local shops selling our handmade chocolate bars and now we’re in 135 shops across the UK, all small independents.

We got the word out by filling a van full of our chocolate bars and just going out talking to people. If you make a great product and it tastes and looks good, you sometimes don’t need to market it that hard. We’re at a premium price point, but I’ve gone to shops, small independents and presented them with the chocolate and ask if they want to stock it, they often buy it there and then.

Now, we’re in a massive old cow shed, on an old dairy farm deep in the hills of Wales, miles from anything. I moved there with my five staff in May this year. In Wales it can be the case that you have to move elsewhere to attract talent; we don’t necessarily have the sort of forward-thinking companies here you find in London for example, but in terms of food there are a lot of great producers here.

For example, we have the best sea salt in the world; it’s harvested by hand from the Menai Strait in Anglesey. They take longer to make their sea salt, it’s smoked over ancient Welsh oak and we put it in our chocolate.

We’ve got another lady who makes all our jams and marmalades and they are picked by hand from the tree in her garden. We change seasonally according to what’s best around.

In our first year we turned over £104,000 and this year will be £220,000. We’re planning to get ourselves to £250,000 with a decent profit and good customer base and we will look at some sort of crowdfunding at that point to get us to the next level.

Connect Assist is a specialist contact centre which provides helplines and digital services to the charity sector. Founder Patrick Nash talks about the company’s development since it raised almost £900,000.

We started in 2005 with two staff; I had been chief executive of a charity in London, and I was working all over the UK. I developed a national counselling service for schoolteachers, and thought let’s create a business that can do that for a range of charities.

I had some experience of doing multi-channel and digital helplines for charities and saw an opportunity to do that for a number of charities and perhaps some other organisations.

We raised £890,000 in funds though equity, a bank loan, a leasing arrangement and a regional selective assistance grant. I spent most of it on technology. I used some on a deposit on the premises, fitting out the premises, and working capital.

The first couple of years were quite tight and then we started effectively the first four years of marketing and sales on the back of my network. There was a lot of networking, visiting organisations, tapping them up, and eventually we got a break at the end of our third year and won what was at the time quite a small contract but it grew into our largest customer for four or five years.

In 2006 we started work, 2007 we had two customers, 2008 we won another two and by 2010 we had about ten customers who were almost exclusively charities. We were 31 or so employees by then. Now, we’re a 3.8 million turnover company with 112 employees.

The whole thing was about job creation. Because of the work we do, a lot of the work is helping people in challenging circumstances. The interesting thing about the Welsh Valleys, where we’re situated, is it’s a part of the world that’s had to face an awful lot of challenges, such as closure of the mines in the 1980s and the socio-economic problems faced by large sections of the community.

The work we do is about helping people with these problems and a good chunk of our staff have experience of those issues in their families and communities, so our staff are very good at understanding the problems our clients have, over the phone. There’s a real fit between the staff and the area. Compared to most contact centres we have very low staff churn indeed. Our management team are home grown, started on the front line taking calls, trained and encouraged them and a lot are now shareholders and senior people in the business.

Facilities management company, Selwyn Building Services (SBS), is employing 35 new staff and has a target of 45 per cent growth over the next two years, after winning a lucrative new contract made possible with funding from Bibby Financial Services.

Based in Moreton, the Wirral, and with an office in Birmingham, SBS works across the UK with a number of blue chip clients in the pub and restaurant sector, as well as supermarkets and static site maintenance for the healthcare sector.

The new contract will see the business working with pub retailer and brewer Greene King, supplying facilities management services for around 262 pubs, restaurants and hotels.

The contract has enabled it to invest in employing qualified mechanical engineers and support staff to supply mechanical planned and pre-planned maintenance, taking the total number of staff employed by SBS up to 140.

Securing funding of £500,000 from Bibby Financial Services enabled SBS to have the cash flow available to tender for and meet the requirements of the contract.

Jim Doherty, SBS financial director says, ‘It would have been almost financially impossible to fulfil the new contract with our usual level of cash flow, and we chose to work with Bibby Financial Services as they were keen to help with the significant expansion plans we have. They have taken a very personal approach and are truly partnering the business.

‘It is great to be a local employer which is growing successfully. This contract is part of long term sustainable growth for SBS, and one which is bringing much needed jobs and opportunities to the people of Wirral, Merseyside and the North West.’

SBS has seen significant growth over the last four years, increasing turnover from £2.5 million to £11 million, and aims to continue this upward drive with a targeted 45 per cent increase over the next two years.

Further reading on raising money

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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Small Business Funding

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