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How We Can Help You

Durham Sparks offers fully funded, hands-on practical business support, information and advice to community enterprises looking to make an impact in County Durham.

Whatever stage you are at on your business journey we'd love to hear from you!

Driven by you and your organisations needs we can look at every aspect of your business with the aim of adding value to what you are already doing. We will challenge your thinking and help you to develop your organisation to deliver the services that matter to you and the communities you serve.

We have a wealth of business expertise and our Business Advisors can work with you to maximise your skills, talents and aspirations.

Our specialist team can work with you relating to:

We can also offer brokerage to other value added support and access to workshops and network events BUT, it doesnt stop there; our bespoke approach means we can become a member of your team working for you and with you to help you to get to where you want to be.

Motivated to make a lasting difference to the communities of County Durham we provide the support that bridges the gap between your ideas and making it happen.

Whether you are a new or existing business considering becoming a community enterprise, a newly formed community enterprise developing your business, or an existing community enterprise that has been trading for a while, the Durham Sparks programme is designed to help and support you and your organisation.

To make an appointment, or for more information call us on 0191 386 2634.


Thinking of starting a business? - Know your market before you go to market.

Here, Durham Sparks Business Advisor Katherine Briggs, outlines her key steps to get you started: -

One of the very first parts of the start-up process is to test the market to find out if there is a demand for your business idea.

This is known as testing the market, and from experience; I can safely say that this is a very important part of the process. Many start-ups have fallen foul of skipping this step, and the sum total is this, if you fail to accurately achieve product/market fit, where money gets made, you're sunk!

Remember, the goal is to arm yourself with as much information as possible about the size, needs, and condition of your market. Conduct enough research to ensure the results arent one-sided, and listen to the feedback you receive. Be prepared to change your idea according to what your customers want, not necessarily what you think is the best solution.

Here are Katherines top five tips for testing your business idea:

  1. Use the internet.Use the internet or local library/university/college to gather quantitative data about your market, such as is it new or mature? How big in cash terms is the current market for your product/service? Use this information to help you make an informed decision about where the market is and where it is headed, and whether or not there is room for you.
  2. Attend trade shows & expos. Attend trade shows and exhibitions so that you can scrutinise both your competition and your prospective customers. Whilst you're there ask: What are the customers buying? How are your competitors delivering it? Are they buying exactly what they want? Can you do it better? Cheaper? Quicker? Or, more conveniently? Answers to these questions will help you get to grips with your market and will help to prove or disprove your business idea's feasibility.
  3. Look closer at your ideal customer.Ask lots of questions about your customer; including why they would buy from you? (this will help with targeting later on too!) Ask things like; where do they live? How old are they? Where do they shop? How much do they spend? Is the product/service a need or a nice-to-have? Does it solve their problem? Or give them the feel-good factor? This allows you to further define your product/service to match the interests and demographics of your audience.
  4. Test EVERYTHING. The proof is in the pudding. And the only way to really find out if your audience likes your product/service is to ask them. Once it is defined, you can test it by simply starting small and continuously evaluating its performance. Take every opportunity to network and make contacts by attending events relating to your industry as often as possible.
  5. Use your market research to model your marketing strategy. Why reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes? If, from your market research you find that the market is ready for your idea, you should use your findings to shape your marketing strategy.

If you are considering self-employment for the first time, or you already have a business and you want to discover more about community enterprise, the team at Durham Sparks can provide an introduction to everything that you need to think about from legal structures, branding and marketing to business planning and finance.
For more information and to book an appointment call us on 0191 386 2634 or email enquiries@durhamsparks.co.uk

There's certainly a lot of information out there across the Internet, and it's often difficult to decipher what you should and shouldn't include. From our experience of writing and developing business plans, it definitely doesn't need to be complicated, but for it to serve its purpose it does need to be crystal clear to whoever is reading your plan that you have a clear understanding of how and why your business will be a success. To find out more, we caught up with Durham Sparks Business Advisor David Beavis, to find out what a business plan is, why you should have one and his key tips for writing one successfully.

What is a business plan?

A business plan outlines what your community enterprise is - its core purpose; what you are aiming to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.

Why do I need a business plan?

In a nutshell, a business plan is the vehicle for enabling you to communicate your vision to others and to persuade them to help you to reach your goals. Think of it like your businesses CV, explaining your objectives to a range of audiences including investors/funders, partners, employees and others.

Here are David's top tips for writing your business plan:

  1. First, decided how you will structure your plan.
    Eg: separate it in to modules, such as:
    1. Your purpose, your products or services
    2. Who your customers are or will be
    3. Pricing your products or services
    4. Financial plan
    5. Marketing plan
    6. Staff and Other Resources
  2. Do market research to establish that there is a demand for your product or services and who your competitors are. This should tell you whether there is gap in the market that you could fill and whether you can compete. What is your USP (unique selling point)? Also, keep in mind that competitors can often be potential partners!
  3. Define what capital you will need to start or develop your business - and be realistic. Most new businesses that fail in the early months have started with insufficient working capital (funds) to keep the business going whilst it is developing and growing.
  4. Understand and define how much income you need to generate each month to cover all your costs - and be realistic when forecasting your sales income. What is your break-even level: how many products do you need to sell or services to provide to reach this level? You need to consistently exceed your beak-even level to be sustainable!
  5. Ensure your equipment and resources are fit for purpose. In some cases, you may need to start with second-hand equipment but think about how long it last and what cost you will incur in maintaining the equipment. Compare this against purchasing or leasing new equipment and review it from a cost v benefit perspective. (When leasing, be ensure you read and understand all the terms and conditions).
  6. Before recruiting staff, be clear on what you want them to do and what skills they will need. Ensure that they are a good fit for your enterprise, are fully committed, and have the right values for your organisition.

Durham Sparks provide guidance on all aspects of community enterprise development in County Durham. If you're looking to start a community enterprise or grow your existing enterprise contact the team on 0191 386 2634 or email enquiries@finchale.org

What are the most important things to consider before looking for an office space? The first thing is to consider your budget and needs. Then look at the various options available. Finding the right environment to run your business is critical, but can be expensive. It can mean that you are working hard to pay rent and not investing back into your venture - subsidising your income to support a landlord’s income. What is your budget?

To consider what options are best, you’ll first need to consider and determine your budget. What are your current expenses? And don’t forget to consider all of the details, for example; internet and telephone, staff and supplies. On top of that include your own expenses. Once you have a full list of your expenses figure out your estimated income to determine your cash flow. How much do you estimate to be making each month? Be sure to factor in slower periods such as during holidays. After carefully considering your income and expenses you should have a clearer idea of the budget you’ll be working with. What are your needs?

Once you have a budget in mind, write down your needs for the business space. Why do you need it? Is it to provide your services and products? Is it somewhere that you can work away from distractions? Do you feel that you need a place away from home? Do you need to present a professional face to your business to meet with clients? Is it that you feel that you need a high street presence to trade or support online activity?

Top tips for finding the right business space
If you decide you need business space here’s David’s top tips for making the right choice first time:

  1. Do you your homework
  2. Visit enterprise centres I.E Regus or similar organisations
  3. Look at a mixture of services - working from home but perhaps using an accommodation address for your business that provides access to meeting rooms etc
  4. Have your meetings at a Costa or Starbucks etc – Did you know that more business meetings are done in these environments than anywhere else?
  5. Check out your local library and other public buildings - many have the facilities you need to operate from
  6. Use Cloud platforms – providing access to your business from anywhere
  7. Talk to other business owners/operators - can you collaborate on space/clients/resources?
  8. Cost out any space you decide on - what will you need to generate income or to break even?
  9. When pricing; build in the cost of office or retail space, even if you work from home - Remember you will outgrow your space!
  10. Choose an environment/position that you enjoy working in, and for retail has a good footfall (Remember with retail - Cheaper units mean less footfall)
  1. If you are considering business space for the first time, or you already have a business and you want to discover more about available business space in County Durham, the team at Durham Sparks can help.
    For more information and to book an appointment call us on 0191 386 2634 or email enquiries@durhamsparks.co.uk

In our experience flexibility is key. You may only need a few desks now, but in six months’ time you might need dozens more to accommodate a growing number of staff. Conversely, if your community enterprise isn’t doing so well you don’t want to be stuck paying a large amount of rent on a business space that you can no longer afford. Here’s a quick run-down of the main types of business space that you might wish to consider:- Options when looking for a business space – Advantages and Disadvantages Hot desking This is where you can rent space as and when you need it. The organisations who operate this type of space can often provide you with a range of services - an address, a point of contact, as well as access to meeting rooms and office space. This provides real flexibility; you will have access to high quality offices that reflect the quality of your business and that can help position your business. Often located within a business park these types of spaces usually offer plenty of parking for ease of access. An added bonus to hot-desking is that you will have access to other entrepreneurs and business owners where you can share ideas, and be less isolated.


  1. Access to a good quality office services
  2. Provide space to grow
  3. Professional face to your business
  4. Access to other business operators
  5. Provides a place that you can work and feel that you are at work
  6. Access to internet and IT service including telecoms
  7. No long term lease commitments


  1. Can be expensive
  2. You will still need secure place to store files etc

Shared Office Space
Identify like-minded individuals and organisations who offer complimentary services to your business and you can offer complimentary services back to them. It’s a great way to share costs, have people around you so reducing isolation at work and an opportunity to learn business skills from other business owners.


  1. Low cost
  2. Working with others can stimulate your activity
  3. Sharing skills and experience
  4. Access to complimentary services, and in some case shared clients
  5. No long term lease agreements
  6. Access to IT/Internet services, and telecoms


  1. Could restrict growth
  2. Relationship could change and issues arise
  3. Would need an agreement from the landlord
  4. Would need a Service Level Agreement to detail the costs you would be responsible for
  5. Limited choice of premises in both look and location

Gifted Space (CIC/Charities/Community or Social Enterprises)

Very often landlords and businesses have large office or retail space that they rent out - economic conditions will dictate how successful it is to rent out.
Where a landlord has part of a building rented out, they will still have to pay business rates on the remaining space regardless of whether or not it is occupied.
If the landlord can work with a CIC/Charity etc they can gift the space. As a CIC or Charity you can then apply for business rate exemption on the space you occupy providing a saving for the landlord.


  1. Good quality space
  2. IT/internet/telecoms
  3. Car parking
  4. Professional face to your business
  5. Low cost


  1. Limited tenure
  2. Would need to reinstate the space used if damaged etc
  3. Isolated from other businesses
  4. Limited opportunities

Working from home

This has to be the most cost effective office space you can access - certainly for a start-up or business in its early days.
It helps you maximise your income and uses the resources you own or are renting.
Working from home can be difficult; you’ll need a defined space to work away from distractions and temptations.
To be successful working from home you will need develop your work mind-set but you can enjoy the flexibility that comes with working from home. Remember – working from home means you have no commute time so you can use that to improve your work/life balance.
I know people who put on a suit and tie to go to work in even though they won’t be leaving the house - it helps them get their mind-set right!


  1. No Cost
  2. Flexibility
  3. More time to work (no travelling)
  4. Access to IT/Internet/telecoms
  5. Tax deductible
  6. Reduces Carbon footprint
  7. Gives you more time with family


  1. Distractions
  2. Not switching off/always at work
  3. Not client friendly
  4. Isolated
  5. Could limit growth and expansion
  1. Durham Sparks provide guidance on all aspects of community enterprise development in County Durham. If you’re looking to start a community enterprise or grow your existing enterprise contact the team on 0191 386 2634 or email enquiries@finchale.org