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Look Beyond London: Running a business in Birmingham

From a barbershop to virtual assistant service, we’ve spoken with the enterprising leaders running a business in Birmingham.
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We previously explored Bristol and Leeds, but now it’s time to see what it’s like running a business in Birmingham as we continue the Look Beyond London series to give companies across the UK the recognition they deserve.

Demonstrating its significance as a destination, Birmingham has been officially backed by the government as the UK candidate to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham would be brilliant. It would showcase the best of Britain to the world and make the entire country proud,” said Karen Bradley, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

“Not only would it help grow the economy in the West Midlands and beyond, it would also leave a strong sports legacy, by upgrading facilities to benefit both elite athletes and the local community.”

The backing of Birmingham is in line with the Midlands Engine strategy from the government, which seeks to support the region’s economic growth. Describing the area as “dynamic”, the government has revealed there are 428,000 more people in employment now than in 2010, while the economy has grown £32.9bn.

According to chancellor Philip Hammond, there’s a target to invest £392m across the Midlands. And business in Birmingham will be key to the initiative, as the Midlands Engine report noted the city is the second-largest in the UK, which achieved a 5.1 per cent economic growth in 2014/2015.

Offering her insights to Real Business about doing business in Birmingham, Catherine Warrilow, head of brand at things to do website Day Out With The Kids, said the city had an endless pool of local tech talent coming out of universities.

“Birmingham is thriving and also a great base for us to access our UK-wide client base of family attractions,” Warrilow detailed.

Business in Birmingham Canals

We’re in a great position to manage relationships up and down the country

“We have grown a fantastic team of 16 over the past nine months and had incredible interest in brand, SEO, UX, social media and new business roles. We’ve been able to hire exceptional people in the area, all of which commute from within a short radius. We also benefit from a great number of industry events hosted at the NEC.”

She explained there’s a real sense of community among those doing business in Birmingham, which the team taps into by embracing local events and groups. Warrilow noted that’s key when it comes to recruitment, as well as motivation and networking with top speakers.

Adding how running a business in Birmingham differs to London, she said: “Aside from the obvious cost benefits, we’re in a great position to manage relationships up and down the country. It may be smaller in size than London, but it means that everyone has the chance to be really connected to all parts of the city.

“There’s a real sense of pride in Birmingham business, something which appears to be more diluted in London.”

As for change to the city, Warrilow is pretty satisfied with how things are going.

“It would be great to see more digital and social meetups in the area but other than that we’re here to stay!” she said, pledging the company’s loyalty.

Elsewhere, Barberology founder Adam Gore said launching his business in Birmingham was an easy decision to make.

“Launching Barberology in Birmingham was a no-brainer for me – I’m from the city and already know the market. By researching and spending time getting to know people here we have been able to build a strong local customer base,” he said.

“Birmingham has fantastic transport links and by expanding our marketing we have been able to attract customers from outside of the city.”

Gore noted that the city has grown hugely over the past couple of years, supported by new investment, digital innovation and local business campaigns.

“The official figure is that 8,300 Londoners upped sticks and moved to the Midlands last year. This isn’t just because it’s cheaper but the growing opportunities that are on offer here for businesses. This is only getting stronger.

“For example, Google recently opened a Digital Garage on the high street, offering free digital training for individuals and businesses looking to become more visible and effective online.

“This helped me immensely – accessing the free training helped and I started seeing results instantly. I learnt how to optimise our website, how to word things in a better way, what images to use and how to get the business to pop up in search results when people in the area searched.”

Continuing the observation of running a business in Birmingham, we hear from leaders in two very different sectors and are told, in no uncertain terms, why “you won’t find a better city than Birmingham.”

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the former deputy editor of Real Business. His areas of interest included media, innovation, technology and the digital sector.

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