What's it like to run a business in Hampshire?

The next stop for the Virgin Media Business Voom Tour is Winchester in Hampshire. Perhaps not the most obvious start-up hub but business is booming in the county.

Population: 1.8 million

Pros: Great location and sense of community.

Cons: Hard to attract talent, often have to travel to meet big clients.

What to expect: An entrepreneurial, supportive community that values personal connections.

We caught up with Lisa Clunie, founder and owner of Thrive Studios, Paul Hemmings, founder and director of Check 4 Houses, and Matt Oxley, director and co-founder of DotLabel, to find out more about their experiences of running a business in Hampshire.

What are the best things about doing business in Hampshire?

Matt Oxley: We have some great universities producing creative and technical talent, including Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth, which gives us a good talent pool to hire from.

Hampshire is also in a great location – close to London and the South Coast. There are direct and regular trains into Waterloo or the option of the M3. The wider area provides a great choice of rural, semi-rural and urban locations. You can set up your business in one of our many cities, towns and villages; Hampshire really caters for all tastes.

And the county has a real community feel. We are located in Basingstoke, where there is a hub of large corporates working alongside SME businesses. It’s wonderful to be part of a thriving and supportive Marketing and Tech community. I recently spoke at the Digital Hampshire event, designed to bring marketers and business owners together to learn more about growing their business through digital marketing.

Lisa Clunie: The people are brilliant. I have met so many creative and technical experts, as well as worked with many inspiring business owners. There is also still a real sense of community. Particularly in our local town of Fleet in North East Hampshire I have worked on the committee to launch the first ever Fleet Food Festival, the first Fleet Fashion Week and our hugely popular annual Christmas Festival. We are all proud of our local area and are keen to put on great events that bring people together.

Paul Hemmings: Hampshire is a great county to do business in with a real mix of major cities and towns as well as rolling English countryside. Since I started my online estate agency business in 2010 I have found the local community hugely supportive. They value honesty, transparency and are open to change. There are more and more people running their own businesses and keen to support each other.

What are the downsides?

MO: While there’s a lot of talent coming out of the universities, many people are drawn to London because of the easy commute. It’s also easier to recruit staff when you are based in London, especially when looking for User Experience (UX) professionals, a role that we are currently recruiting for. 

There are actually many good specialist agencies around Hampshire that have all the expertise and experience of a London-based digital and UX agency. We, for example, work on big brand names like Hendricks Gin, The Balvenie, Barclays and Anthony Nolan; and we do it at a lower cost compared to London agencies

LC: Though there are many businesses based in Hampshire, we do have to travel into London to meet with larger clients. I sometimes miss the buzz of the big city – London is such a vibrant community.

PH: As with many increasingly urban areas, traffic and parking are issues that can make the day job that much harder. 

How would you describe the business culture of Hampshire?

MO: Supportive business community - the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce brings businesses together from across the county to share knowledge and encourage growth.

Friendly and competitive culture - We regularly network with other agency owners in the area.

Collaborative spirit - we work with other local specialist agencies.

LC: I think it is quite entrepreneurial. We have worked with many start-ups over the years from childrenswear retailers to chocolatiers and interior designers to IT consultancies. All of our clients recognise the importance of branding – communicating a consistent message to the right audience at the right time.

PH: I think the culture is a real mix of modern day innovation with traditional values. Particularly in an industry such as estate agency, word of mouth recommendations are still our most effective marketing tool, despite the prevalence of social media. People still value personal relationships with real people that support them through what can be a stressful and emotional process of buying and selling property.

What advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting a business in Hampshire?

MO: Choose your location wisely – while a converted barn in a field seems like an ideal setting, it may affect your recruitment if employees need to use public transport. You might also want to consider being closer to other businesses which will help with networking and building relationships.

Choose other local businesses as your suppliers – by supporting each other we can help strengthen the business community in Hampshire even more.

Your staff is important – consider staff parking and access to major transport links like the motorway and tramline.

LC: Really think about what makes you or your business idea different and find out everything about the customers or clients you want. This will enable you to speak to them directly and tell them how you can solve their problems. Also don’t be afraid to ask others for help. There are lots of local networking events which I have found really useful – both for winning new clients as well as meeting new suppliers and contacts. People are keen to support each other and work together to create a dynamic business community.

PH: Make sure you research your local market carefully. There are some major differences in regional areas as well as external influences such as Army, RAF and Navy centres. It’s a really diverse mix which offers many opportunities. Don’t be afraid to get out there and meet people at local networking events. You may find some real supporters.

The Voom Tour will be visiting Winchester on October 19th. Head to the Virgin Media Business website to find out more and sign up.

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