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Case Study - David Knowles

David Knowles, Managing Director, Alpine Online

Please could you describe what your business does?

David KnowlesWe provide specialist data insight to clients in the grocery sector. My background is account management, working for food and drink companies, and I initially set up Alpine Online as a training and development provider. But the scope of the services we offer has evolved and we now focus on helping our clients to interpret, understand and use key data in order to drive growth and positive change in their business.

What were the key business challenges you were facing before joining the Help to Grow programme?

I’m in the process of growing the company and looking to recruit new staff, which is both an exciting opportunity but also a daunting challenge when you’re leading your own small business for the first time – and its future success very much relies on making the right decisions! Having been employed in large corporate structures previously, it’s quite a transition to take responsibility for all aspects of running an organisation.

Why did you decide to sign up for Help to Grow?

I spotted the course on LinkedIn and two things appealed: 1. it’s a short and focussed programme – just 12 weeks – during which you can create a robust business plan from scratch and 2. it’s 90% funded by government, so it’s incredibly good value. I needed to better understand all aspects of running a small business and Help to Grow takes you through it step by step.

To date, I’d been too busy with client work to make sure that I’m following a plan or developing a strategy for future growth. I also knew that I hadn’t given enough thought to the type of customers that I want to work with and where I should focus my energies in securing new business going forward.

What have been your key learnings so far and how have you applied them to your business?

The programme has already helped me to better define the right products and services. I’m pretty much at the start of my journey as an SME, so it’s the perfect opportunity to challenge my thinking and then put solid foundations in place.

Some of the tools that have been shared with us have enabled me to analyse where future growth could come from. It’s really helped me to look at all aspects of the business from a completely fresh perspective.  

I’ve also started to think about a marketing strategy. I was already quite active on LinkedIn but the marketing knowledge I’ve gained from the programme has given me the confidence to start shaping a sales and marketing plan, with a much clearer idea of where I can make an impact.

What have been the best aspects of the Help to Grow experience for you personally?

For me, the session on vision, mission and values was excellent. I really wanted to get it right as it underpins everything you do. I had the basics in place but just hadn’t invested enough time in structuring or polishing what the business stands for and aims to achieve.

I also find the peer group calls brilliant. Being able to talk through ideas and experiences in a more informal situation gives you time to reflect and sense check with other people who are facing similar challenges and opportunities.

And the mentor sessions add lots of value too. My mentor provides a neutral, independent view and can act as a critical friend. He’s got hugely relevant business experience, but from an entirely different industry, which brings fresh insight.

What’s your one key takeaway from the programme?

The key takeaway for me is the structured approach to building the perfect business plan. Everyone naturally has different strengths and weaknesses as a leader and a business person – and I was very aware of my own gaps in knowledge and experience. Help to Grow provides that well-rounded overview and the right mix of skills and insight to help me create a plan that I can have faith in and follow going forward.

What would you say to another business considering Help to Grow?

Go for it! It will undoubtedly add value to your business and is incredible value for the knowledge you gain and the expertise you can tap into. I’m also building a great regional business network.

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