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A strong end to the year for North East England

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It has been a hectic period for the company, just as I imagine it is for most of you, as we near the end of the 2016 business cycle. In the heating and plumbing industry, it truly is the business time of the year.

However, the weather could be a little cooler! I, like many others in the industry, will be hoping for a white Christmas and adverse weather throughout the festive period!

Although I may be wishing for snow and ice, business has been heating up at Flame – and in the North East England region as a whole.

According to a survey published by NatWest, the number of people in full-time employment in the region rose by 4.4 per cent, in the year to September 30, with the North East England unemployment rate dropping from 8.6 per cent to 6.1 per cent.

Another survey I read also stated that the number of startups in the region grew by 3.1 per cent – so there is plenty of positivity within North East England enterprise.

In my own business, Flame Heating Spares, my team have continued to deliver and have worked extremely hard, especially in the build-up to and during the festive period. This has paid off, immensely, and has contributed to a £4m rise in sales to £6.4m in our last financial year. I am anticipating further growth next year, and hopefully double our current turnover.

Regardless of the weather, and even in uncertain circumstance with Brexit, we have continued to grow and the figures speak for themselves. I am in the process progressing with plans to expand further in North East England, as mentioned in my previous entry, with the aim of launching 20 branches by 2020 and growing our workforce to 50 employees.

To say it has not all been easy going would be a massive understatement, though.

Nevertheless, the growing pains of operating and expanding a business are worth it in the end when the results start to show – much like someone who is training for a sporting event or marathon.

I have found that it is also important to enjoy your success and to get out of the office and let your hair down, somewhat.

As a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, I enjoyed my time at its recent annual conference. Networking is crucial to any SME owner and I’d encourage others to attend as many events, providing that they will be of actual use – whether it is a trade show or exhibition or a general, regional event.

There was little time to sit back and relax after the conference, though. The following week marked one of the most important announcements of the year, the Autumn Statement, which anyone with a vested interest in business has a keen eye on.

I even spoke on BBC 5Live the morning after the announcement to offer my reaction.

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No real “rabbits out of the hat” this year, though, only stark warnings of growth, or lack of, in the years to come. However, I was pleased to see the chancellor re-affirm a cut in corporation tax to 17 per cent by 2020, even though I feel that SMEs are being continually punished, and need as much support as possible.

It really gets to me every time I read about large multinational corporations that have paid little or no taxes, when tax bills for SME owners, like myself, can sometimes make it more difficult to take on a new recruit or invest in expansion for growth.

SMEs are the backbone of the economy and yet we are being punished, financially, whereas those that are well documented in the media to have paid a fraction of tax – whether corporation or not –, aren’t so much. It is, simply put, an unfair system.

After meeting with a representative of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), I decided to join, as its views on, not only this matter, align with my own. It is one of many organisations of which I am member, including the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

Such organisations are as important as networking events, if not more so, as they provide businesses with ongoing support and can also help generate new leads. With the Forum, in particular, this afforded me the opportunity to receive business support in the form of mentoring, which has had a massive impact on my business plan, and subsequent success.

At this end, I would strongly recommend the input of a business mentor, especially in the early days, but even as you grow and expand; I still call upon the services of my mentor to this day.

With that being said, I hope you all have a nice break at Christmas and spend quality time with family and friends, recharge your batteries and gear up for a prosperous 2017 in business.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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