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After finding the choice of planners and diaries on the market to be predictable and dull, an inspired Andrea McCormack set up her own stationery design business. The Sassy Planner creates personalised, handmade diaries and planners for the academic year or the 12-month year. Customers can choose their own designs and colours from a vibrant choice on a website. Andrea said: “All the planners and diaries available seemed to be boring, plain, used thin paper and were mass produced in China. My planners and diaries bring colour and happiness to everyday planning and they are all made in England. Being able to plan unrestricted by complicated prompts or a bland layout excites no one’s working week!”

Help to grow

Andrea realised that she needed help to expand diary production; this involved manufacturing advice and a move to office premises. In May 2019, she was referred to the BGP (Business Growth Programme) and the Innovation to Commercialisation (I2C) Programme, a University of Chester project part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund to help new and developing SMEs across Cheshire and Warrington.

Business advice and key workshops

Andrea benefited from one-to-one advice sessions with the BGP’s Heather Carroll and attended workshops focusing on social medial and increasing sales. Following the introduction of a BGP small grants scheme last year. Andrea submitted a successful application and said that the funding has helped with many areas of her business including project management, new product development ideas and brainstorming techniques. One-to-one support for BGP beneficiaries now includes help with grant applications for eligible beneficiaries. She has also added to her knowledge of trademarks as her brand came under threat from someone attempting to copy it: Andrea was able to access crucial professional advice via the University of Chester.

Strategic thinking and networking

Andrea commented: “I found all the courses and networking very valuable. The application process was really simple, all the paperwork was completed for me, I just had to confirm a few questions and I was entered onto the I2C and BGP. Everyone from the University involved in both programmes has been nothing short of amazing to me, it’s been a real privilege to be involved and I have made some very good friends.”

Andrea was nominated for the I2C award category `Outstanding Businesswoman’ and whilst she did not win, she found the experience valuable.

Small business support

The Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Entrepreneurs, SMEs and pre-start businesses registered or trading in Cheshire and Warrington, meeting the eligibility criteria, can apply for support. Help is available from our team of Business Engagement Managers and access is also available to facilities at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science ParkRiverside Innovation Centre and the NoWFOOD Centre.

If you are a business seeking access to facilities and expert growth support, contact the

University of Chester’s Business Growth Team by emailing