Back in November 2020 Blue Ninja had a last-minute nomination to complete and submit for the NBCC (Netherlands British Chamber of Commerce) Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The Dutch-British Chamber of Commerce was founded around 1889 and is a fully independent, bilateral organization with members in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and a small number of other countries. We had been nominated by our business coach and the NBCC needed some information to be sent the same day that they contacted us, as it was the last day of nomination submissions to the judges.

More time to prepare

This year we had more time to prepare and we had our application from last year to start from, we started our planning in March to apply for the NBCC SME award 2021. The aim of the SME Award is to give specific recognition to small and medium-sized companies (SME’s) in the private sector in the UK and the Netherlands for their contribution to the economy, job creation. The jury also looks at the media profile, the degree of inspiration, the social impact, the contribution with regard to the Anglo-Dutch relationship and the way Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have been dealt with.

We started by reaching out to one of the judges we’d spoken to post last years event to see if they could give us any feedback on last years nomination and to see if there was anything we omitted that the judges would like to see. We were advised that we are targeting a market that is thinly covered at the moment which was great to hear and that we should submit the same kind of application as last year.

Asking for feedback

We continued refining our application and asked our business coach for their review, who gave us some excellent feedback to focus on:

  • The opportunity of remote working pre-pandemic and the required changes for flexible working practices due to its impact
  • That we provide work for others due to the services we offer
  • We provide benefit to companies, being socially beneficial and boosting efficiency as working virtually helps cut overheads, travel costs, etc.
  • Our company encourages and enhances trade between the UK/Dutch economies by supplying knowledge and promoting opportunities

We refined our application further and submitted in April.

Here are the details we submitted:

Inspiration: inspiring contribution to bringing the economy to a higher level

Louisa Stewart and Julie Taylor are Co-Directors of Blue Ninja Business Support. We are an English-speaking partnership based at the World Trade Centre in The Hague. We provide online business management virtually, prior to the pandemic and even more so during this time we have supported companies in all sectors needing to change due to the impact, to assist them with flexible working practices including working away from their main office or hub. Through this business model and our strong links with the UK, from 2019 to 2020 we have increased our turnover with UK companies by 72%.

We are an award-winning business, as Louisa has been VA (Virtual Assistant) of the Year 2017 Scotland and Runner-up UK Outstanding VA of the Year in 2018. Blue Ninja provides bespoke services that help businesses reach their growth and profit potential. We understand business operations and help to improve time consuming and often critical tasks. We assist start-ups to scale up by providing the right skills as the right time.

We work 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. We do this through building strong networks via our Dutch and British connections, speaking at events where we promote cross-border engagement and by finding opportunities with businesses in the UK.

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. Our knowledge, tools and techniques enhance business management with an aim to optimise business workflow. Our values of adaptability, diligence, pro-activeness and objectivity underline our principles of running our business and are at the heart of how we support others. These values cut across the businesses we work with as well, making the partnerships we build valued and highly productive.

We have structured our business through 5 key areas, or Ninjas:

Process Ninja – assisting businesses to optimise productivity by documenting and organising information coherently and appropriately for their type of business.

Project Ninja – helping businesses define the plan and goal of their project, timescales, deliverables and tasks along with tracking the project, complying with project parameters and requirements.

Admin Ninja – a key support function when businesses need an extra pair of hands to help with a range of operating tasks and will assess tasks in terms of how they fit into the bigger picture of the team, processes and projects.

Report Ninja – providing review, evaluation and reporting using business products already in place, as well as providing recommendations that fit the business’s needs, helping them to critically analyse progress against goals and objectives.

Ninja Me – promoting a business or individual’s USP (Unique Selling Point). This ninja helps to define what makes you stand out from the crowd and professionally demonstrates your skills and knowledge. Ninja Me was launched in Q4 2020 to help individuals specifically in the UK that have been 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.

In 2020 we worked with business coaches to examine how we manage Blue Ninja Business Support and to leverage our strengths to build new opportunities, both in the Dutch market but also making sure we are capitalising on our UK contacts and knowledge. This has brought in a revised market structure that works internationally, speaking to a broad audience and making our propositions cross-cutting across countries and industries. Our website reflects these changes and can be found at https://blueninja.eu.

Added value: creating jobs

As a small business we build partnerships and connect businesses together. Our growth strategy lies in our ability to problem-solve with businesses and assist them find the right talent, skills or tools for their needs. We are a hub that provides work/contracts for others through various projects. Our team step in and guide then step back out again once the business is in the right space to move forward.

We bring in experts to support us in our business requirements. We regularly reach out to our networks to find support and bring in project-specific consultation. We engage the services of other professionals from the UK to provide social media support, copywriting, blog writing (we host guest blogs as well), marketing support, IT support and branding. We also use UK suppliers for our company merchandise and corporate gifts we’ve sent to our clients and collaborators to thank them for their ongoing support.

We aim to pass on our knowledge to others and do this through online groups and internships. In 2020 we brought on an intern for 3 months to learn and grow as part of her University degree. It was done voluntarily by us and the intern met a range of goals and learning opportunities. This year we have partnered with Kingston Business School in the UK to work through their internship programme and have confirmed an intern who will complete her hours with us as part of her University degree studying Marketing and Advertising with Business Experience BSc (Hons).

Media profile and source of inspiration

We believe in supporting people and other businesses, so we have taken steps to reach out to our local business networks and connect. We have participated in an Internationalisation Policy developed by the local council with the aim of bridging the gaps we have in our local city of Leiden to help expats and the international community integrate more effectively.

We have been invited to speak at National events on the status of Internationalisation in The Netherlands, representing the British perspective, and are running webinars to help other British and international people to find their feet as expats. We connect with businesspeople through our local expat centre, programmes such as Venture Café Rotterdam and attending webinars run by The Hague Business Agency.

With a group of business owners, we set up a local business group to support other English-speaking businesses called Small Business Connections Leiden. This group has been running for over a year now and we share our knowledge and expertise, encouraging a safe environment for over 180 business owners to share, support each other and grow. We have kept the group as neutral as possible with a focus on small business and this has been very positive in providing a place for business owners to connect with others. We have started to run business webinars featuring members of the group with an aim to keep growing the group with an outward reach from local to regional.

Social engagement, social impact

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.

We support a UK based social enterprise (and recently award-winning) Inspire Alpine as ‘Automation Wizards’ on a voluntary basis. We love helping people and this feels good to give back. We share information between our businesses with new tools and ideas. We are learning new things as well assisting Inspire Alpine grow and flourish in the coming years in partnership with us.

Our social impact comes not only from the small business group we founded and manage, but also from joining and engaging on other groups and platforms. We have joined a range of social groups both in The Netherlands and the UK with a goal of demonstrating a seamless relationship across both countries. We promote business development in The Netherlands but having also run companies in the UK we have a perspective we share with both networks.

We support a local food bank charity in Leiden with donations, and they were promoted as our Christmas charity. Although it can be difficult to engage with Dutch businesses as non-Dutch speakers, we still do outreach and support where we can. We have been able to work with and promote co-working spaces around Leiden for business meetings and recommendations to others.

Contribution to Anglo-Dutch Relationship

Blue Ninja works hard to encourage and enhance trade between the UK and Dutch economies by supplying knowledge and promoting opportunities.

We maintain strong links with our clients in the UK, continuing to support them virtually and we are also building our network and reach by attending virtual online events all across the UK. Virtual work environments have had understandably a lot of visibility since last year with companies having to adapt and we are at the forefront of best practice in online business management.

Blue Ninja Business Support is a complimentary business of Blue Ninja Consulting Limited based in the UK. Set up in 2013 and managed by Co-Director Louisa, Blue Ninja UK allows us to continue partnering with businesses where a UK presence is essential to deliver innovative and strategic alliances. We provide our team to deliver on key projects where a UK partner is essential for grants and funding. We will continue to run both businesses in tandem to pursue other opportunities for business support that requires a legal UK presence.

Adaptiveness to both Brexit and Covid-19 pandemic

We have extensive experience in adapting to the new normal due to the pandemic which included taking our clients flagship annual 2-day conference in London online in 2020. We very quickly had to pivot and change how we worked with them by turning around a 2-day physical event for the client into a virtual event within a short time scale to make the event still viable. It was a lot of work to get all the systems we were given in place to work together seamlessly to make the virtual event happen. It was an intense couple of days but successful for the client.

We have leveraged our knowledge and experience of working online to support businesses during this challenging time. The pandemic has provided more opportunities to support businesses to move online, and the set of the Ninja Me service to provide support in key areas to British employees who had major impacts as a result of the pandemic.

We have shared and participated in opportunities for Brexit including webinars run on the topic, provided updates through our group and social media on advice coming through and also shared opportunities for funding support through government schemes. We have encouraged other small businesses to be prepared for changes, and as a business we have ourselves covered the legal and financial elements, making sure we knew what changes would have an impact and adapting to those changes.

Here’s a link to our testimonials, an example is here:

I first worked with the Ninjas with another client of mine. I was immediately impressed by their efficiency and attention to detail. As my company began to grow, I knew that I needed to ensure that certain aspects of the services I were offering were done well and competently, but I was lacking the time to train internal staff or do it myself. So I reached out to Julie and Louisa.

Like the Ninjas they are, they swept in and picked up everything I needed them to.

I cannot recommend them enough if you are a start-up and need to get certain processes in place. They will always be my go-to business support team if I have a new client or need help with extra work that my team don’t have the capacity for. I’m so grateful for their “can-do” attitudes and will hopefully be working with them for a long time to come!

Araminta Jonsson

We are a unique proposition and have changed and grown with the environment and challenges, we are expanding as a business with the support from specialists in both the UK and The Netherlands.

Nomination info submitted

We were then invited to be a member of the NBCC. As a small 2 person company we have to manage our money carefully but we decided that this would be an worthwhile investment for us and an opportunity for us to meet and network with other members.

Then on the 18th May 2021 we received the exciting news:

‘Congratulations! Your company is one of the longlisted nominees of the NBCC SME Award 2021’

The NBCC SME Award 2021 recognises and celebrates the outstanding achievements and contributions of British and Dutch small and medium-sized enterprises to the private sector, both in the UK and the Netherlands.

Experts evaluated and judged all entries on the following criteria: inspiration; inspiring contribution to bringing the economy to a higher level, added Value; creating jobs, media profile, source of inspiration, and social engagement. You as a nominee set the highest standards for others to follow across a wide range of sectors.

We were advised that we would be notified the week before the NBCC North Sea Neighbours Dinner on the 3rd June whether or not we had made it to the final five nominees.

As this was a virtual event, Louisa and Julie and our intern Maryan in the UK, each received a hamper of a bottle of Nyetimber English sparkling wine and some Dutch gouda cheese, ready to toast the event on the evening.

The final five nominees in each category were announced one a day in the week leading up to the event which was nail biting as our category was the last to be announced. On Wednesday 2nd of June we found out via social media that we were in the final five!

Anker Stuy Verven B.V. – sustainable & innovative paint company

Verhuisbedrijf Henneken BV – storage and removal companies

Van den Berk Nurseries – tree and shrub specialists

Meester Max – provide online Dutch lessons for expats

Blue Ninja – Blue Ninja Business Support provides bespoke online services that help businesses reach their growth and profit potential.

Presentation of the SME award

NBCC North Sea Neighbours Event – 3rd June 2021

Once it had been announced that we were in the final five there wasn’t long to wait till the event the following evening. Julie attended the rehearsal zoom session to do a sound check and then it was just a matter of enjoying the event and waiting for the awards ceremony.

This was a lot more professional than last year which had been pulled together at the last minute, the online event was run from a studio in Amsterdam which included a live link up to various speakers through the evening.

This year we didn’t recognise the nominees in our category, but all of us having strong trade links with the UK. What was similar to last year, all of the companies in our SME category were significantly larger than ourselves, the smallest being a 4 person company.

Here’s the link to the NBCC event review.

Our time came and Julie sat in the virtual green room with the other companies in the final five, we loved the presentation of our company:

Once they’d run through the other nominees the winner was announced….. ‘Anker Stuy Verven’ a sustainable & innovative paint company that has been in business since 1898 that opened its UK operation in 2019.

So that’s our second nomination in three years, its still exhilarating being involved and getting this far in the process, a great achievement that we’re very proud of.