A train to train with The Guardian

Last week saw me travel to London to attend a simply brilliant training event run by The Guardian Small Business network, which I joined a few months ago. The focus was on preparing to export, and the event was sponsored by UPS which encouraged us all to think about distribution to other countries. One part of the programme involved a panel discussion with views from business experts with experience in ventures from skincare to mouldable, self-hardening glue:DSC_0188 (2)

The way to get a cheap train ticket to attend a day-long event in London is to go the afternoon before and return on the ‘red eye’ the evening (night!) of the event, getting in to Durham at 2.45 a.m. The event was free – with wonderful food provided, I may add, so the cost of my training was the £34 train fare and £65 for a hostel near Liverpool Street station.

After many hours, days, weeks, months working alone from home, it was so good to have the opportunity to meet lots of people who are carrying out their businesses from home offices or from shared studio space. There are plenty of us: across the 28 countries of the European Union, there are 21.6 million SMEs (Small and Medium-sized enterprises), but it’s easy to forget that when you are in the smallest category of all (one employee) and you work at home!

The day was packed with highlights: a keynote speaking was the inimitable Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who long after his ‘Changing Rooms’ appearances is continuing to work successfully as a designer, notably in the Far East. He was informative, witty and oh, so stylish. Here he is, speaking, against a background of photos of his lingerie collection for China:DSC_0194 (2)His studied flamboyance came across immediately with his opening slide:DSC_0192 (2)On a more serious note, he gave much encouragement for us to export our essential British-ness and excellence in design (without too much British self-deprecation).

We were treated to a presentation by Bob Forkan, who with his brother founded the Gandys brand of flip-flops (now extending to other items for travel). This is a young company, which has grown in tandem with a charitable venture (Orphans for Orphans) to build a home for orphans in Sri Lanka – the place where Bob and his three siblings were themselves orphaned when their parents died in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Moving – and impressive.DSC_0195 (2) Other innovative new products were profiled by their CEOs, like Laurence Kemball-Cook, inventor of the amazing Pavegen Systems, where electrical energy is generated by footsteps on panels in the ground and Matt Johnson the co-founder of Bare Conductive – a substance which can extruded like glue from a tube but which becomes electrically conductive once it hardens.  Wow!

It will take some days to sift through all the notes and start to act on some of the suggestions that were made and to follow up all the links that were given, but I sense that the energy released from that day will last a long time.