May 2, 2018, by liapa2

Using business education to grow your business

Aaron Dicks is Managing Director at Impression, a high-growth digital marketing agency with offices in Nottingham and London. He is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Nottingham Business School and is alumni of the University of Leeds Business School.  Read more: https://www.impression.co.uk


Since I started Impression with Tom, my co-founder, in 2012, I’ve grown a lot in my role as managing director. In my previous blog post I shared a little more about Impression’s story and some lessons I’ve had to take on board in the years since it began. In this blog post, I want to focus more specifically on something that I wish I’d taken advantage of more as a new entrepreneur: business education.

I’ve taken part in two executive education courses over the last few years, with one finishing quite recently. Now I’m affiliated with the University of Nottingham business school as an Entrepreneur in Residence, and I am firmly convinced that business education initiatives are invaluable for people in your position.

My experience with different courses

In my time as director at Impression, I’ve taken part in two major courses. The first was the University of Nottingham Growth 100 course, which I attended inside our founding year at Impression. The second course was called 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB), and was run by Goldman Sachs at the University of Oxford. It lasted for nine months in 2017. Coming at different stages in my career as an entrepreneur, the courses felt very different and left me with distinct takeaways.

Recently, I also became an Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Nottingham, which is part of a scheme affiliated with the Small Business Charter. The scheme gives me a chance to pass on some of what I’ve learned to up and coming SMEs in the East Midlands region.

Various institutions and business schools around the country offer a huge range of courses to entrepreneurs and those interested in starting their own business. Both courses I’ve attended so far have left me with actionable insights and valuable connections to with like-minded people, with whom you can share your experiences and the insights you’ve gained.

The advantages of business courses

Business courses give SME owners the chance to learn more about a wide variety of business skills, which is   especially useful if you know you have gaps in your knowledge. If you know that managing business finances is a weak point, then there’ll be courses for that. Or if you know that you’ll find recruiting and managing new employees hard, you can work on that instead. The more you know yourself and your skills, the easier it will be to find courses that are going to be genuinely useful.

An owner with a broad skill set is going to be more capable of driving their company forward than one with clear gaps in their knowledge. Business education helps entrepreneurs like you and me to plan strategically for the future and to make sure that our businesses can continue to grow long-term. While it may seem hard to take time away from your business to attend a course, the benefits should far outweigh that small sacrifice.

I’ve also found that the best courses set you up for both the long term and the short term. I’ve already mentioned how teaching for the long term helps to keep businesses growing sustainably, but short term insight is also important. By this I mean those smaller takeaways that you can go and put into practice as soon as the course finishes. With these, you’ll be able to see the impact of the course on your personal growth and your business developments very quickly.

Benefits I’ve seen at Impression

The benefits from such courses vary from person to person and course to course, but overall for me they have been very impactful. I can see why individuals may not initially value taking the time out to work on your business, rather than in your business making day-to-day sales, but trust me it’s worth it in the long run!

The long term benefit is how much easier it’s been to manage Impression through sustained high growth, and all the additional considerations that such growth brings with it. Personally, I’ve had to learn how to delegate – to decide what needs my attention and allow trusted employees to take up more responsibility. In recent years, we’ve had employees stepping up to create new graduate training programs, spearheading corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts and to have more of an active role in deciding which direction our core services need to go in. Tom and I would never have had the capacity to do all that to a good standard ourselves.

Through what I learned on the Growth 100 and 10KSB courses I’ve also been able to work with Tom to develop new processes that are essential to the continued growth of the business, including processes for recruiting and integrating new employees. No one makes perfect hires every time, but our processes allow us to be confident that we’re bringing in good people and getting them up to speed with how we operate as soon as we can. This means that new employees can settle down and start contributing to future successes from their first few weeks, which makes them feel more secure and gives the whole team around them a boost.

Now, taking part in the Entrepreneurs in Residence scheme means that I get to work with other SMEs, even as I continue to learn and running Impression continues to present me with new challenges. It’s always positive when entrepreneurs and owners can work together to share advice and push each other to be better!

Posted in MentorsThe Haydn Green Institute