NBCC were pleased to recently interview Louisa Stewart and Julie Taylor, the Co-Directors of Blue Ninja Business Support, an English-speaking bespoke business services partnership based at the World Trade Centre in The Hague. Blue Ninja help SMEs reach their growth and profit potential, and not only assist start-ups to scale up, but help existing businesses with the three evergreen ‘T’ challenges (Time, Team, or Troubles) by providing the right skills at the right time. In 2020 the Netherlands counted over 1.9 million SME businesses. And the percentage of SMEs has grown by 4% over the last year, according to the 2020 MKB Nederland (SME) survey, with 24% of new businesses start-ups steered by newcomers to the Netherlands from all countries.
Business in The Netherlands thrives on networks and connections: did you set up Blue Ninja in response to this?
We try to leverage our strengths to build new opportunities in the Dutch market but also capitalising on our UK contacts and knowledge, which is in itself a large community, 6,700 Brits headed here in 2019. But you are right that visibility and networking are ongoing challenges, so we have created our own networks to counteract that: but there’s more to it than that of course!… Louisa’s story:
“I set up Blue Ninja Consulting Limited in the UK in 2013, as a business aimed at NGOs administering international grants programmes, and I had to quickly find my feet. I had worked with consultants before, but administrators and office assistants, often carrying out much of the workload are perceived as lower-down in the office hierarchy. We are do-ers and enablers: Brief A becomes Brief C: I delivered what you didn’t know you needed yet, so you can see the added value in our experience. Often clients don’t really know what they want, but Blue Ninja can help them get where they want to be.
My business was really successful, demonstrated by my winning the Scottish 2017 Virtual Assistant (VA) of the Year Award (and runner-up UK VA of the Year in 2018), but with a change of personal circumstances (two moves, first to Germany, and thereafter the Netherlands), I realised my business could still offer value, and I continued to support small businesses online. Even so, I quite felt isolated, so when I met Julie in 2018 …”
… Julie’s story:
“… we immediately felt a good sense of each other, established mutual trust and realised we held the same values. Our experience in process development, project management and administrative management in its many forms give us the skills to support businesses no matter where they are in the world. We complement each other precisely, with my background in Financial Services, and Louisa’s experience with NGOs. If we had the same skillsets, it wouldn’t work as well, but I have come to see Louisa not just as a colleague, but as a ‘work wife’. Our first joint assignment was two years ago, and Blue Ninja still works with that client now. Our strengths lie in bringing people together to create value: that is exactly what we ourselves created in Blue Ninja”.
Why Blue Ninja?
The essence of a Ninja is a covert agent: a process warrior! We work behind the scenes to provide bespoke services that help businesses reach their growth and profit potential based on our knowledge about how businesses really work. It’s about providing the right skills at the right time, digging into what’s really not working and giving businesses the tools, and upskilling everyone in the team to do the job well.
And your USP?
We work bilaterally, but also internationally, to not only bring awareness and support to English-speaking businesses in The Netherlands, but to demonstrate cross-border business support is possible through smart online business management. Our USP is focused on five key areas: Process Ninja, Project Ninja, Admin Ninja, Report Ninja and Ninja Me.
We’ve built strong networks, such as by running a Facebook group that is a safe space for over 200 business owners to support each other to grow. We speak at events and find new opportunities with businesses from, or in, the UK and also connect with business people through our local expat centre, and through third-party programmes such as Venture Café Rotterdam and The Hague Business Agency.
The ethos of Blue Ninja is helping companies work in a more socially beneficial way by managing overheads, reducing / cutting travel and boosting their efficiency. But naturally it’s a two-way street. Let us give you an example, we support a UK-based social enterprise Inspire Alpine as ‘Automation Wizards’ on a voluntary basis. But we share information between our businesses, including new tools and ideas, and learn from this at the same time.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
It’s not been an easy time for anyone, yet we have also viewed the time as providing positive opportunities. Ninja Me was launched in Q4 2020 to help individuals – specifically in the UK – that were impacted by the pandemic and redundancy to get back to work. Of those that have received CV and LinkedIn support, they have all either secured new roles or started their own business: we are really proud of this! We have extensive experience in adapting to the ‘new normal’: last year Blue Ninja took one of our clients’ flagship annual conference online from scratch, in a really short time-frame. It was a lot of work to get all the systems to work together seamlessly to make the virtual event happen, and it was an intense couple of days but successful for the client. Companies are sometimes slow to go ‘online’ and people are often scared of tools that will really help them thrive – that’s a lost opportunity in our view.
And after Brexit?
Blue Ninja UK allows us to continue partnering with businesses where a UK presence is essential to deliver innovative and strategic alliances. Our team delivers on key projects where a UK partner is essential to capitalise on grants and funding opportunities, and will continue to run both businesses in tandem to pursue other avenues for business support that requires a legal UK presence.
Why did you join NBCC?
Through the Blue Ninja business model and our existing strong links with the UK, we have increased our turnover with UK companies by 72% in two years, but always wanted to make more connections with UK companies setting up in the Netherlands. As a small two-person business we felt joining NBCC would be a worthwhile investment and an opportunity for us to meet and network with other members. Then in May 2021 we received the exciting news that we’d been nominated again for the NBCC SME Award – we did not win, but are proud of being one of the 5 businesses shortlisted.
What are your plans for future growth that you are able to share with NBCC members?
This year we developed an online course to help non-Dutch speakers start their business in the Netherlands. It’s something we would ourselves have found useful starting our business here in the Netherlands, and hopefully it will help people get started more quickly. And through developing this course we have upskilled on presentations, video editing and running webinars, valuable skills we can assist other businesses to professionalise their online presence. Another ‘win-win’.
In the coming months we will be focussing on promoting our knowledge of CRM (client relationship management) tools and email marketing software, to automate and nurture client relationships. A CRM Improves Productivity and Business Growth, 74% of businesses have improved access to customer data relationships through using a CRM.
So it sounds like we all need a Blue Ninja! So if you are starting out, then their blog has some excellent tips: if you are thinking of reviewing your CRM tools why don’t you book a call with Blue Ninja: and if you are a UK-based business setting up in the Netherlands, and want help to develop your European market, sign up to Blue Ninja’s monthly newsletter to find out how Louisa and Julie can help you take your business to the next level.