Launching and growing a business in the Highlands and Islands brings a particular set of challenges. Remote locations can mean extra costs that make it hard to push forward.
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Perhaps most of all though, it can be difficult to access the sort of local business support available around urban areas.
Being able to plug into a network of specialist expertise could be the difference between success and failure for some smaller and medium-sized companies.
Royal Bank of Scotland supports one in three SMEs in Scotland and puts helping local business at the heart of its vision.
Mairi Macdonald is the bank’s local enterprise manager for the Highlands and Islands. She is passionate about enabling the success of ventures in any community, regardless of location.
She heads a team which reaches out over a wide area and she says offers an unrivalled network of local business support.
Mairi said: “We’ve got business managers in areas such as Shetland, Lewis, Skye, Lochaber, Inverness and Elgin. We have around 100 Relationship Managers across Scotland, the face-to-face contact is really important to us.”
Support available includes the Accelerator programme which empowers entrepreneurs to scale their businesses to the next level.
How does it work?
The Accelerator provides a six-month programme with one-to-one coaching, leadership events, networking opportunities and an ecosystem of expert support. It’s free and participants don’t even have to be a Royal Bank customer to access it.
Participants will be allocated a business coach from day one. They will get help with goal setting and will be introduced to a full network of support.
Crucially for the Highlands and Islands, the programme can be accessed both in-person and remotely. Mairi believes providing that blended delivery is something they do particularly well.
She said: “Offering a mix, works. So, in the likes of Inverness or Fort William we will get face-to-face events, but obviously the beauty of this new world that we’re in is that I can speak to someone in Shetland then someone in Stornoway straight after that.
“In 2020, when the world was getting to grips with home working and the technology that it requires, we felt 100 steps ahead of the rest as we’d been using tools like Zoom ahead of everyone else. Even as a team we’re geographically spread and I think customers are comfortable with getting support that way now. It saves them time and reflects how they often do business.”
An MOT for your business
The bank also offers enterprise health checks where it can identify issues and pair businesses with people who can help. Mairi sees it as a great way of tackling the challenges which she sees increasing as the cost-of-living crisis bites.
She continued: “I think the cost of living is probably the biggest challenge that we’re seeing. Businesses have come out of Covid and are facing rising energy costs. Retaining staff has been a long-term challenge in Highlands and Islands as well.
“There has very much been a rise in demand for support. Part of my role is to offer a free enterprise health check, so any business that wants to have a conversation, whether they’re at a really early stage or have been established for a while, can speak to me. All of the support is free and they don’t have to be a customer.”
What other local business support is available?
Among other packages of local business support is the Royal Bank’s climate programme. The bank has partnered with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute and the University of Edinburgh to deliver this unique package free of charge. It includes practical workshops to support small businesses in moving towards net zero. It is available to Royal Bank business customers with a turnover of up to £25m.
The bank has also recently launched its MentorMatch programme for female entrepreneurs. This vital new service provides unlimited one-to-one conversations for women in business with people who have faced the same challenges they have. Again, it is completely free and you don’t have to be a Royal Bank customer to access it.
Mairi added: “The bank has had a longstanding commitment to female entrepreneurship and, based on feedback we were getting from entrepreneurs, we found that time and time again female-founded businesses weren’t necessarily looking for investment or practical input. A lot of the time it was mentorship that was asked for. You could be quite established and sometimes you just need a fresh perspective.”
Mairi finds being able to provide this sort of local business support constantly rewarding.
She added: “Even on the really tough days I think to myself, ‘well, I helped this customer this morning or I helped that business this morning’. Actually feeling like you made a difference is fantastic.”
Find out more about the Royal Bank of Scotland Accelerator and get your business on the road to success.