By Samantha Poole, Owner of Ask GoTo and CEO of Incubation Nation CIC
Samantha Poole is a business owner who provides marketing, advertising, strategic planning and training to businesses in Milton Keynes, and is also a community builder with over 25,000 followers and members. Here she tells us more about her businesses, the support they offer and how they became a reality.
What was your background before launching your businesses?
I have a real mix of work experience: sales at Forte Hotels, a holiday rep in Ibiza, police control room for 13 years, assisting in setting up a lighting company when my first child was just three months old, setting up a party/childcare venue, and relocation service in Spain for three years. I love social media marketing and, following the creation of a Facebook group in Milton Keynes, I went on to develop a business directory, a local magazine, networking events, loyalty cards, a co-hire shop to support local businesses, as well as business bootcamps and training sessions.
What is Ask GoTo Network?
Every day in our 21,000-member Facebook group, members are asking us to recommend great local businesses, from hairdressers to lawyers. It became obvious that this needed to be monitored because people had recommended businesses that were not legal and sadly giving terrible service. Our business directory now works with over 200 local Milton Keynes and Bedford businesses that have been recommended to us and have excellent reviews.
That's when we started networking events, a local magazine and a loyalty card (just before Covid closed all our venues). In addition to assisting local businesses in growing and succeeding, we provide marketing advice and social media training.
Everybody has 'go-to' experts they turn to for advice, so now we're assembling the best go-to experts in town and are ready to roll it out nationwide in 2023/24.
What is Incubation Nation?
The mission of Incubation Nation CIC is to support women in business and local start-ups in Milton Keynes. We launched our first project in the Love Local Hub – a co-hire retail space in the Centre:MK – where bootcamp members received 12 weeks' free shelf hire, plus a bespoke course and mentorship programme in partnership with Milton Keynes Council.
We support women in business to take their ideas from concept to reality and also scale successful product-based businesses. An in-depth bootcamp looks at their business, cashflow, profit and loss, social media PR, marketing, planning and development.
The loss of income from Covid, home-schooling and some parents being out of work since having children have led many parents to turn to creative ‘side hustles’ as a way to supplement their income. Although we have mentored almost 100 businesses, it is clear that starting one is not an easy task, and our eight- or 12-week course gives them the tools to succeed, sound grounding, a review of their business and a 12-month business plan to increase their profits.
Incubation Nation has now emerged as a separate entity from the Love Local Hub, supporting even more local businesses (including service-based businesses) and introducing young entrepreneurs aged 15-25 to another wonderful Cambridge initiative in the future through MK:U.
Why did you start your businesses?
Ask GoTo started as the Mum to Mum Milton Keynes Facebook group back in 2012 but did not become a business until 2017. I started this business after my divorce when I found myself back in the UK as a single parent of a six- and 10-year-old and limited for full-time work options. To support my family, I had to start a freelance career and use my social media skills.
Incubation Nation launched in June 2021 and has received £65,000 of funding so far to help train and mentor local female-owned businesses under the return to work scheme and Covid recovery grants. We created this CIC (community interest company) because we felt businesses needed extra support after asking simple questions such as ‘how much profit is in this item?’ and 90% of the businesses struggled with the answer.
Running a business can be lonely and overwhelming, so our CIC gives local businesses access to training, planning and mentoring.
How have you found the business community in Milton Keynes has responded to your businesses?
With over 21,000 members and 200 businesses working with us, we play a key role in the community. With advertising packages tailored to suit all budgets, I have received an overwhelming response from clients to my business bootcamps! Here in MK you will find several high streets, shopping zones, and residential estates and villages. Therefore, I see us as a central point for connecting local businesses and communities.
What type of support do businesses in Milton Keynes need?
A global pandemic, two general elections and Brexit have made the last five years particularly difficult for small businesses. Increasing costs of living and a decline in small businesses have been attributed to this triple disruption.
There is a need for a community and hub for entrepreneurs in Milton Keynes in order to support and develop their businesses. 80% of start-ups fail within the first three years without support, so we must be there for them! MK is an exciting city that is growing rapidly, but it needs projects like Incubation Nation to connect the people with opportunities.
How do you want to help businesses in Milton Keynes going forward?
- More business bootcamps;
- A hub of business experts;
- A business plan should be in place for every company;
- A marketing plan should be in place for every business;
- Our entrepreneurs will have access to collaborative venues to host events;
- Networking and advertising at an affordable price;
- A safe space to come to for help, supported by mental health teams and business experts.
What do you think the future of Milton Keynes looks like?
It has been reported that the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford axis could nurture UK innovation, similar to Silicon Valley. It would be fantastic if we coordinated rather than worked alone to make this city an inspirational leader for the recovery of high streets, for the growth of independent businesses, and for the creation of new jobs for all.
I moved to MK in 2000, and it just keeps getting better. It's important to ensure the infrastructure meets the needs of this vast growth, and to celebrate the local people who make Milton Keynes such a great family and business hub!
We look forward to working with MK:U to support our members and the entrepreneurs of the future.
Keep up to date with what Sam's up to by following her on LinkedIn.