WITH financial backing a pivotal part of business growth, it is fitting that HSBC Bank plc should be standing behind The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Development Award 2007. Three companies are left in the race for the title, two of them former award winners from St Ives and the third a network services provider based in Papworth Everard. The judges have been looking for a positive approach to meeting customer needs, details of the companies' development plans and the way they have been carried through, awareness of their competitive environment and existing and potential new markets and evidence of success. The finalists are Teligence Limited, based at Papworth Business Park, Maxine Lester Residential Lettings, which was last year's New Business of the Year, and label and tape manufacturer Le Mark Group, which was an award winner in 2002. "When Teligence was formed to acquire the business of ADC in 2005, the business development plan was simple - stabilise the business, return to profitability, grow the client base, expand products and services and increase revenue," said the company's Russell Wyatt. "Within the first year we focused on our main clients, proving that we were listening to their requirements. We started to grow this existing business, adding new services in other areas. At the same time, we were approved by two other major clients. We then developed additional services and products and continue to grow the business. "Revenue has doubled year on year for the last two years." Competition in Teligence's fast-moving market, which is characterised by rapid change driven by the converging world of communications, IT and the need for Internet-based services, is complicated. "Competitors in the communications industry vary from small mom-and-pop companies to some of the major technology vendors own internal resources," said Russell Wyatt. "Sometimes our competitors are our customers, with internal resources being stretched so thin that they look to outsource to organisations like ours. There are some companies similar to ours but our competitive edge is our flexibility and responsiveness." Maxine Lester founded her residential lettings company in June 2005 and began trading in late-November of that year. "Our business plan and driving force have always been to differentiate the company from the competition, firstly by increasing the level of service provided to all customers, including those supplying services to us, and secondly, by increasing the number of services provided to landlords and tenants, raising the image of residential lettings in the local market," she said. Landlords among the company's clients are personally accompanied to new properties and given detailed valuations, based on analysis of market conditions, and advice on how to optimise rental success. They also get weekly marketing updates and a dedicated property manager to co-ordinate the landlord-tenant relationship. Tenants also get the personal service, with local information for newcomers to the area and a round-the-clock maintenance service with follow-up enquiries to ensure work has been done satisfactorily. Staff in the small team have regular assessments of performance, workload and training and development needs. The company is aiming to move from its present six per cent of the local market to 20 per cent, which would make it a market leader, and is targeting the large number of landlords who do not currently use an agent. Turnover has almost tripled in a year, with the number of properties managed increasing by more than 260 per cent. Le Mark Group, also in St Ives, imports, manufactures and exports self-adhesive products, including technical tapes, heavy-duty labels and continuous barrier tape. The company also manufactures Studiotak, a temporary decorative stage and TV flooring. Turnover is now more than \u00A31.5million. "We have recognised that out customer' needs have changed over the past two years," said managing director Stuart Gibbons, who is also chairman of Huntingdonshire Chamber of Commerce. "Clients now buy smaller quantities more often and need extremely short delivery times. This has meant more staff to process the orders and a completely different philosophy regarding our website. Information must be freely available to customers to down load and peruse. Le Mark's innovative website has been the driving force. "Our two websites will contribute to more than \u00A3350,000 of new business per year." The company's export department has become a separate unit, employing two full-time people. "We recruited the skills of a specialist consultant with proven industrial experience and a track record in building SMEs to a much higher level than Le Mark has yet achieved," Mr Gibbons added. "This enabled a new monitored hands-on approach where all managers and their departments are actively communicating and are fully involved in the company's monthly performance. "Development is key to Le Mark which in its 25th year continues to drive forward seeking new opportunities and market sectors. Teamwork is everything, and Le Mark encourages a total commitment to be the best in all areas of the business." Le Mark won the prestigious Eastern Regional UK Trade and Investment Export Marketing Award for 2007. To win this award in such a highly competitive sector against much larger high-tech-electronic Cambridge-based companies was seen as a strong endorsement of the company's professionalism, enthusiasm and market awareness, Mr Gibbons said. n THE overall Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business of the Year will be chosen from the winners of the other corporate categories. The top award in this 10th year of the awards' history is sponsored by St Neots-based chartered accountants Whitmarsh Sterland, as it has been since year one. All will be revealed at the gala awards dinner at the Burgess Hall, in St Ives, on Friday November 2.