“As a rural business, how can digital help me grow?” This is a question you’ve likely been asking yourself, whether your business is brand new or well established.
Well, let’s first answer what we mean when we say ‘digital’. In essence, digital is not any one thing but is instead an approach to changing the way that we do things. This means using technology, bleeding edge or tried-and-tested, to explore different ways of doing the things you already do as a business. Whether that’s talking to your customers, creating a more efficient workflow or executing a plan with as much information to hand.
As the largest local authority geographically in England, improving the digital infrastructure of Northumberland poses an extensive but exciting challenge and has already made strong headway in recent years. Most notable of all is the focus on digital infrastructure and the business support available to ensure Northumberland remains competitive within national and international markets.
In their 2019 - 2024 Economic Strategy, Northumberland County Council emphasised its focus on a “full fibre” network by 2023. This rollout will bring superfast broadband to residences and businesses all across the county, with a specific emphasis focusing on ‘Enterprise Zones’, areas where businesses are most likely to exist and thrive.
Wayleaves (contracts between utility companies and land-owners) have tended to cause challenges in the past for development of this kind. Unless the benefits can be foreseen, land-owners are often hesitant to take on long-term, disruptive construction. However, changing sentiments has brought this goal closer towards reality, as the digital age becomes a more apparent direction for regional investment.
This kind of thinking has brought with it funding from numerous sources, ‘Around 1,500 more homes and businesses in Northumberland are a step closer to a major broadband boost thanks to a £500,000 investment by Openreach’  and a £12 million injection into the future of digital in the North East has specifically identified jobs as a priority in the creation of its ‘digital ecosystem’ .
All this progress is in direct support of a strong space for businesses with a particular eye towards digital development, right here on your doorstep.
So, where to begin?
Well, that lovely phrase ‘shy bairns get nowt’ is particularly relevant here. Time and again, we at Digital Pathfinders come across businesses that are surprised by the fully-funded support available to help them digitally develop their business. All it takes is that first step of getting in touch and asking the question, “what can you do to help me?”
If you’re just starting out or bringing something new to market, contacting the Business and IP Centre would be a sensible first port of call. Their services can help you perform the initial market research for your business, understand the customers you’re selling to and recognise the best means of protecting your idea or invention with expert advice on intellectual property.
Afterwards, get in touch with a specialist organisation that can help you with the idea stages and innovation for your business’s development. Business Northumberland, Advance Northumberland and Digital Pathfinders offer fully funded programmes to assess your individual situation and recommend the best actions to further your digital success.
With Digital Pathfinders, this means meeting you face-to-face and exploring and researching the specific challenges or objectives you’re facing today. Once we understand these challenges, we will continue our research into digital solutions, whether that's finding something which already exists to resolve these issues or creating the solution ourselves, free of charge.
Whether you're just starting out, further established, or looking for recovery aid following service disruption, dedicated support and access to financial aid is available. As part of your assessment, the Digital Pathfinder’s team can recommend the funds, grants and programmes most appropriate for your size of organisation and the work that you’re doing.