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Digital Evolution: Bringing the Northern Powerhouse online

David Beharall
After 11 years in professional football David retired in 2006 to set up CandidSky. He currently holds the position of Managing Director.

December 23, 2015

5 minute read

Every business is now a digital tech business.

That was the key message delivered by Lee Perkins, Managing Director of Sage, on a panel of senior business leaders at Insider’s Northern Powerhouse forum a few weeks ago. At CandidSky, we realise the importance of putting this idea into action.

The reality is that, whatever industry you’re in, all modern companies heavily rely on digital technology to underpin their business. Technology is now at the heart of productivity, and a strong digital presence has never been more essential for companies to compete on a local, national or international scale.

This is a fundamental aim of the Northern Powerhouse, a vision laid out by George Osborne in June 2014 to merge regional cities into a united economic force. Since then, the majority of discussion has focussed on building efficient transport links, new rail infrastructure and greater physical connectivity. That is absolutely crucial, of course, but it requires a huge level of government investment and years of development.

It’s still rare to hear business leaders like Lee delve into the true potential of digital growth in the North. We live in the age of big data and the Internet of Things, so it makes perfect sense that businesses can grow faster, build brand awareness and reach a wider consumer base by utilising the vast array of technology available to them. Northern businesses cannot afford to lag behind on this if they are to compete locally, let alone with the rest of the UK market.

There is no doubt that a thriving digital economy will drive the success of the Northern Powerhouse just as much as high-speed railway lines. For so many local businesses we speak to, the key is being able to spot their opportunities for digital growth, and knowing exactly where to start.

Tapping into digital potential

Internet, computing capability and mobile connectivity evolves at such a rate that businesses need ongoing support to realise what’s technologically possible, and then adapt to it. The problem is that there are plenty of businesses out there that still do not realise the impact that a well-developed website and advanced search marketing – including SEO and PPC – can have for their brand and revenue growth.

Bringing local business online: George Hill

This was certainly the case for George Hill – a timber and building merchant with branches across the North West – when they approached us in 2013 to help promote their business across the region. At the time, the company had no website and no digital presence of any kind, relying primarily on word-of-mouth and their history in the local area, having operated in Oldham since 1919.

Our home page design for the new George Hill website

Working closely with their team, we developed a mixed ecommerce and lead generation website, and set about improving the company’s exposure in the areas surrounding its branches to connect with local customers. A year after the deployment of the new website, the company reported 30% YoY revenue growth (just under £1M) as a result of their investment in digital.

Boosting local ecommerce: John Ryan by Design

But what improvements can be made for a business who has already ‘gone digital’? John Ryan by Design is a luxury mattress manufacturer who quickly positioned themselves as thought leaders in their field. Over the past six years they have built a successful business online through a desire to educate the market and answer the questions other manufacturers do not. They had firmly established themselves in the market when they approached CandidSky, but were predicting 0% growth for the coming year.

john ryan

Whilst we set about developing a new ecommerce website which combined their previous three separate versions, we immediately implemented an SEO campaign to improve performance in advance of the website relaunch. A year later, just before the launch of the website, company revenues had increased by 40% YoY (around £1.2M). For John Ryan, we simply lent our technical outreach expertise to ensure their existing informative content got the exposure it deserved.

Since then, both of these companies have committed to further investment in digital to build on their initial success and stay on top of their respective local markets for years to come.

Final thought

We recognise the importance of working together with Northern businesses to shed light on digital opportunities, to show what is possible through technology and how it can nurture growth in their business. Simply put, many of these businesses are not currently aware these opportunities exist.

Companies that are able to harness the right technology for their purpose will inevitably grow into key players in the north’s blooming digital economy. If we can encourage more SMEs to take these opportunities then, sooner rather than later, we’ll start seeing signs of the sprawling infrastructure we have been calling for to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality – albeit a digital one.

Our aim is to spark the dialogue and keep it going. Looking forwards, we’ll be exploring the role of the private sector in developing digital skills in schools for generations to come – stay tuned.

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