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Case Study: Adrian Ashton


After relocating in 2005, Adrian found himself sub-contracting and began forging a career as a self-employed enterprise consultant. He has become the go-to guy for firms of all sizes and industries, across both public and private sectors, for business consultancy and advice navigating uncertainty. As a sole trader, he is currently ineligible for the Help to Grow: Digital scheme.

What inspired you to start your business?

“Necessity — after relocating my new family to the other end of the country to take a job offer, the company withdrew the offer. I knocked on doors until I could find my first job, which was offered on sub-contracted terms only, and I’ve been ‘jumping’ ever since to keep the rent paid! Developing and growing my business to create employment for others has always been difficult, due to the time I need to spend supporting my family.”

What has been your biggest challenge in the past year and what would help solve this challenge?

“Several trends have combined in the last few years to present a challenging environment. Firstly, Brexit has caused greater than expected disruption and costs to clients’ supply chains, leading to greater hesitancy in procuring support. Meanwhile, due to Covid, most workplaces are now operating in a hybrid model, which has extended to how they access training and consultancy support. Finally, the scaling back of public community health and family support services has put pressure on at home. I’m a parent to three children, two of whom have diagnosed disabilities, and the other with diagnosed mental ill health.

Combined, these trends mean I need to be increasingly flexible in how I can engage with clients and deliver services through remote technologies, in order to work whilst acting as an unpaid carer. Yet the costs of these technologies continue to rise in line with inflation and other pressures being put on the economy. Having options to be able to access SaaS subscription services at subsidised rates and invest in dedicated video/audio recording resources would help mitigate some of this challenge.”

Did you know about Help to Grow: Digital before hearing about the Sign for Small Coalition and campaign?

“No, and after being made aware of the scheme through the Sign for Small campaign, I now know that I'm ineligible. Firstly, I’m not a registered company, and secondly, I don’t employ five employees.

If I were eligible, I could potentially use the scheme to:

  1. Enable earlier investment in accounting software to help me better prepare for when Make Tax Digital is extended to sole traders to best remain compliant.
  2. Get access to CRM software to help manage client pipelines, streamline communications for greater efficiency/productivity, and more easily identify potential repeat business opportunities to generate additional sales/mitigate against falling revenue."

As part of Sign for Small’s campaign, we want to ensure that more of the UK’s small businesses can access support under Help to Grow: Digital. We’re calling for the minimum threshold of five employees to be reduced to two, but Adrian’s experience demonstrates how this could go even further. There are 3.5 million sole proprietorships in the UK, all with inspirational stories of innovating and adapting during the changing business landscape accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Help to Grow: Digital is an excellent start in supporting their journey, but must be expanded to realise its potential.

Would you like to support our campaigning to expand Help to Grow: Digital and help small businesses in the UK realise the potential of digital tools? Get involved today:



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