Produced in Kent enters strategic partnership with KITC Solutions

Over the summer months, Produced in Kent undertook a pilot project with the Digital Coaches of the Kent IT Consultancy (KITC) team at the School of Computing, University of Kent.

Produced in Kent enters strategic partnership with KITC Solutions

Jason Marshall | KITC Business Manager

KITC Solutions is a team of students led by business manager Jason Marshall, offering concrete digital guidance in e-commerce, CRM, websites and other digital work practices, to small and medium businesses. Everybody wins: students gain valuable work experience and businesses receive advice from ‘digital natives’ at a very competitive price.

Three Produced in Kent businesses - all looking to digitalise certain areas of their business to support growth but unsure where to start - mapped out their ‘digital path’ with the help of KITC’s Digital Coaches.

The pilot proved very valuable to all three businesses.

Kristina Boulden from Romney Marsh Wools said: ‘We had the privilege of working with KITC where we had 3 free coaching sessions where they analysed our website looking at our direct customers web experience, our retail wholesale order processing experience and finally the back end administrator section. Although our website is less than 18months old since we last revamped it we found this process invaluable as the students ran different scenarios. Today more than ever our website has become our main income as we have very few events left in the diary post the pandemic and essentially during lockdown it was all online with the exception of a few stockists left trading. We saw spikes of sales equivalent to our Christmas online sales and our future aspirations is to retain this momentum and build further as our web sales are our most profitable part of the business. The pandemic has got our shoppers much more used to purchasing online and their expectations are high as they will be used to platforms such as Amazon, the supermarkets, etc and so ease of shopping, along with the experience whilst online right to the speed of delivery and service of the products ordered are essential in engaging and growing our online platform.

KITC were an incredible professional organisation, the students were very measured and concise in how they delivered their recommendations using great tested tools to demonstrate how we could improve certain elements, they were always clear that whilst these were their suggestions they were for us to then develop and implement. In our final session we worked through a Digital Road Map placing all the discussions into a timeline of what we can implement immediately, in the near future as well as longer term aspirations. They gave great advice on API platforms that could interlink our current Xero accountancy system with our website so that in the future the systems would talk to each other and we would always have accurate stock take rather than a delayed or manual process currently used. Through the process we found that around 50% of the recommendations received we have been able to implement with immediate effect, whilst the other 50% we are getting a quote from our web designer and we will then evaluate what we can invest in for now.

We would highly recommend any member to take this opportunity to develop either a new or existing platform this is a limited free trial that could set you up for some additional profitable future business.’

Simon Knott from O’er the Moon said: I’ve had 2 meetings with the guys at KITC. I went to them asking for their suggestions on a new website. They did a quick appraisal & suggested that before going down that route it would be better to exhaust the possibilities of optimising the current site. So that’s one big advantage they offer – impartiality. If I’d gone to a commercial website company they would no doubt be offering a whole new site straight away.

And Sally Newall from Simply Ice Cream said: ‘I think the digital project will definitely be able to aid and advise members going forward. I wasn't able to maximise the help offered as time ran away with me and I only actually had 2 meetings with them. I think just having a sounding board of differing viewpoints is invaluable when access any aspect of websites, ecommerce etc and so would highly recommend the service’.

Produced in Kent and KITC Solutions have therefore decided to continue their partnership. From Mid October 2020 onwards, KITC is able to take on a new cohort of businesses needing support with digitalisation of their business, and offers members of Produced in Kent the following package:

3 free digital coaching sessions (delivered over 3 x 1hour Teams calls):

  1. Digital SWOT - when it comes to Digital, what are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
  2. Website Health Check - What do you want your website to do for your business? Is it performing? How might you improve the experience for your customers?
  3. Digital Roadmap - where will "Digital" take your business? What are the things you can do now? What should you be preparing for Soon? What do you need to monitor for the future?

KITC Solutions has offered to take on the first five businesses for free, on a first come first serve basis. Subsequent bookings will come to £75 for the package – KITC have up to 20 spaces available for Term 1 (October – December 2020). For more information and to register with KITC, please contact Jason Marshall direct on: jason@kitc-solutions.co.uk.

INTERVIEW JASON MARSHALL, KENT IT CONSULTANCY (KITC) BUSINESS MANAGER

Why is KITC keen to work with Produced in Kent in particular?

The KITC specialise in helping micro and small businesses who operate in non-technical sectors. Our ideal customer is unlikely to have in-house digital expertise and doesn't have the resources to access consultancy services to help them build a digital strategy. Instead they often make technology decisions based on advice from sales people or well-meaning advice from peers. The KITC's mission is to provide affordable and impartial advice to micro and small businesses. We want to help these businesses to understand how adopting "Digital" work practices can help their businesses grow, and we want to help them to build a strategy to achieve this growth. We believe that this description of our perfect customer is likely to match many of the members of PinK, and we'd love to help you!

Pink members are faced with many challenges post-Covid: no physical meetings with customers and buyers, lost B2B trade, threats of further lockdowns, a potential hard Brexit – how important is a digital road map in this volatile economic climate?

With the loss of trades and B2B trade PinK members will be looking to grow their B2C sales. Technology is becoming more and more important as consumer habits are changing, and society is changing and adapting to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. Consumers are accelerating the way that they are adopting digital ways of living, and businesses that serve the consumer must be able to keep up with their expectations.

E-commerce is the obvious example of this, as more and more people are shopping for everyday items online. However, it is not as simple as building an e-commerce store. In order to deliver the high-quality experience that consumers are expecting, businesses will need to develop the "digital infrastructure" behind the scenes. This ranges from stock management, social media focussed customer services, integrated fulfilment and digital accounting. This is a big ask of any business and can't be achieved all in one go. Our Digital Road mapping process focuses on helping you to understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and to make a plan to address these over time. We help you to make your first steps to achieving your digital goals and identify the support and resources that you will need as you continue on this journey.

What positives have come out of the Covid crisis that you feel our members, with your support, can build on going forward?

It is likely that consumer spending habits have changed. People are spending less money on experiences, and more on products. This aligned with an increased focus on healthy living puts PinK members in a great position to gain market share. In addition to this, environmentally conscious consumers are alarmed by the backsliding on our society's consumption of single use plastics. Buying local, with its associated benefits of having a low carbon footprint, and supporting our local communities is an increasingly attractive option. The availability of high-quality ecommerce platforms makes it really achievable for any business to start their journey into e-commerce, backed with a solid strategy for growth. Alongside our digital coaching and digital road-mapping, we can help those businesses who want to take their first steps into e-commerce. We can help them to identify a platform that will work for them, and we can then help you to set up and configure your store ready for your first online sale. Your roadmap will then sign-post you to the skills knowledge and resources that you will need moving forwards.

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