Emma Mills is in the business of supporting other small businesses. Her ten-strong company, Mi PA, provides other small companies with a range of PA services. “We take the headaches away from our clients,” she says.
She has grown the business from scratch over the past six years. And this year, she had one headache taken away from her – in the form of the Connection Vouchers scheme , the government-funded scheme that provides small and medium-sized companies with the chance to upgrade from standard, slower connections to a superfast service with vouchers worth up to £3,000.
“It’s been probably one of the best things that has happened to us this year,” she enthuses.
Many of Mi PA’s clients are self-employed or run small companies, clustered mainly around Manchester and London but others are scattered from north of Edinburgh to Southampton, from Germany to Dubai.
To deliver its services, Mi PA’s team lives on the internet. Each one of the team will look after several clients, providing everything from diary and e-mail management to call answering and research.
“Having superfast reliable broadband is critical for our business,” says Mills. “We need to be online and available during working hours – that is what our clients are paying for.”
The quality of broadband provision at her previous location was one reason why she moved Mi PA to its current premises in Universal Square, Manchester. “There were occasions when you could see everything slowing down and getting clunky because each member of the team was online,” she recalls.
“It sounded too good to be true,” she says. “All it needed was a bit of paperwork for me to sign. It only took ten days from the moment I was informed we were eligible for the voucher for the upgrade to take place.”
The transformation has been remarkable.
“We did have 7mb down and upload into the office. Now we have now got 100mb and it’s stable all the time. It never fluctuates.
“Every member of staff can all be online doing the same thing and have the same quality of online service; we can be as productive as possible. I don’t need to worry about this any more. And it’s cheaper than our previous service. That’s amazing.”
Crucially, it provides Mi PA with a strong platform from which to grow. Not only does it mean that Mills doesn’t have to fret about bandwidth constraints preventing her from taking on more staff, it also enables her to continue to add to Mi PA’s range of services.
“There are so many opportunities for growth,” she says. “We are helping our clients to manage properties and implement CRM systems.”
The growth in use of digital tools is also making Mi PA’s service “stronger and better,” says Mills. “It is so much easier for our clients to travel and work in different places and yet still have our support.”
Another driver of growth is the rise in the number of start-ups – many new companies start out using Mi PA in their early days and then continue to use the services as they expand.
While Mi PA has depended on referrals and Mills’ entrepreneurial energy as the principal engines of growth to date, it is now also investing in online marketing. “I want to grow quicker and faster,” she says.
Scheme now closed
The Government’s Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme ran from December 2013 until October 2015. From April 2015, the scheme was funded by a £40m Government challenge fund. This fund is now fully committed and the Scheme has closed to new applicants.