Find out how the Help to Grow programme supports SMEs as we catch up with three businesses who have completed the course.
If you’re looking to take your company to the next level, Help to Grow at Leeds University Business School could be just what you need. The 12-week programme equips SME owners and senior leaders with the toolkit needed to build a growth plan, while enhancing management capabilities. What’s more, it’s 90% government funded. We spoke to three businesses who’ve completed the course to find out what it’s all about.
Giving an Ops Manager the confidence to grow
Katie Searle joined Robinsons Facilities Services as a temp after finishing university, working on reception and as a PA to the firm’s Managing Director, Luke Kitchen. She moved into operations after a role became available, then worked her way up to Ops Director. Katie reached out to the Help to Grow scheme on Luke’s recommendation – the business was looking to invest in growth and it felt like a good time to assess whether they were on the right path.
Help to Grow’s peer working element particularly appealed to Katie, who was keen to network with other likeminded SMEs. These smaller, coach-led groups offered plenty of scope for open discussions, making it easy for Katie to chat to others and hear about their own experiences, while gaining invaluable advice to help her overcome her own challenges. Through the sessions, she picked up handy tips and tricks, which she has implemented since finishing the course.
“It was the little snippets that helped most for me,” Katie explained. “Just the course itself – everything in there was brilliant. I took away some great suggestions and also some longer term things to do. But the bit I found the most helpful was the peer group. We still meet up every few months now and talk through things and we’ve got a WhatsApp group which we chat on. But I think it’s just the overall experience more than anything.”
It’s not just the business that profited from the 12-week course – Katie used the coaching aspect of Help to Grow to get advice about her personal growth. She attended regular one-on-one sessions with her business coach who helped her approach the subject of her own career progression. She still reaches out to her business coach to this day, as well as the wider peer group, who catch up with one another regularly to share their ongoing challenges and achievements.
Supporting an established architect practice
When Director Simon Rispin realised he wanted to spend more time working on SMR Architects than in it, he knew he needed external support. He linked up with Leeds University Business School, having previously worked with them to recruit students for work placements. His aim was to learn new methods of governance and accountability, helping him and his leadership team step away from day-to-day activity. The Help to Grow scheme was a perfect fit.
Simon enjoyed the blend of in-person and online learning, which allowed him to network with people from a wide range of industries, while fitting the half-day weekly sessions into his busy schedule. The in-person meet-ups were well structured, incorporating workshop activity, team exercises and group discussions across a range of topics. Being able to thrash around ideas and see how other people tackle their issues helped him to reflect on his own business.
The core output of the Help to Grow programme is a business plan, which is worked on over the 12 weeks. With each session focusing on a different element of the plan, it made it easy to pull together all of the information into a final presentation. Once the business plan has been put together, it’s then presented back to the wider cohort to get feedback on. Simon has already seen a huge impact on the back of putting the plan into place.
“There are certainly success stories out of the business plan,” Simon explained. “These included looking at our growth and where resource may come from, and as a direct result of the business plan, we now have an office in Manchester. Non-exec directors were another key item of the growth plan through the health screening process. And, again, we have a non-exec with us now as part of our structure. So yes, it’s been really valuable.”
Giving a new Managing Director a lifelong support network
Tom Henderson’s Help to Grow journey was different to that of his peers. Tom formed Earlswood Construction in 2019, but the pandemic stopped him in his tracks, disrupting the progress he had made in getting the company off the ground. This led him to turn to Leeds University Business School, where he was able to build a support network and learn about the commercial side of running a business.
After signing up for the programme, Tom met up with his cohort on a regular basis via a mixture of face-to-face and online sessions. He found the course material informative and inclusive, with the support of his experienced business coach helping him relate the teachings back to his individual situation. By networking with like-minded business owners from a vast variety of industries and chatting through real-life problems, it challenged him to think differently.
When asked about whether he’d recommend the course, Tom was adamant, “The knowledge and the friendship and the business contacts you gain. They’re friends for life – I’m part of the group I have forever now – you basically join a family. It’s a long-lasting friendship where you have people going through similar stuff to you. Sometimes when you have your bad days, you think no one else is going through this problem, but actually, loads of people are.”
Now that he’s completed the course, Tom feels far more knowledgeable than before and he finds the support of his peer group and the wider cohort invaluable. In fact, they regularly catch up on WhatsApp. Since putting his business plan in place he’s already seen an increase in the number of enquiries generated. He’d recommend Help to Grow to anyone looking to make a tangible impact on their business, and at £750 it’s hugely cost-effective.