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The leadership programme helping North East SMEs grow

Described as a ‘mini MBA’ by past participants, the Help to Grow: Management programme is providing SMEs in the region with the opportunity to gain critical leadership skills, access personalised mentoring and develop a bespoke actionable growth plan for their business. Hosted by Northumbria University, Help to Grow is delivered over a 12-week curriculum, with 90 per cent of the total cost subsidised by Government.  Here, recent Help to Grow participant Esther McHugh, business manager at Newcastle-based construction consultancy Helm, shares her experience and advice to other SMEs considering the programme.


Can you tell us about your business? 

We are a leading construction consultancy practice, operating across a range of industries for both public and private sector clients. 

Our success has primarily been built on our exceptional service delivery; we are run by a highly-skilled, experienced and diligent team of project managers and cost consultants, who genuinely care about their clients. 


What made you decide to sign up for the Help to Grow: Management programme? 

We’d recently undertaken a tricky corporate rebrand and were in the process of finding our feet, ensuring our new narrative and communications were consistent and on-brand while ensuring we didn’t inadvertently step into an identity crisis or experience resistance or confusion from current clients. 

Secondary to this, like many other industries, we were finding it particularly challenging to attract and retain talent. 

This is by no means a challenge unique to us, but it nonetheless still caused us problems. 

Finally, we had challenges in attracting new clients at the optimal rate. 

Striking a balance between not enough clients and too many for the team’s capacity is never easy, but when compounded by the issues in staffing, we had to take action.  


What has been the most significant benefit of the programme to Helm?

The Help to Grow: Management programme has helped us in so many ways. 

We now ensure we promote our vision and values, and place our narrative in a human context. 

This means we communicate to potential new clients or employees around not just what we do, but who we are. 

Having an experienced and impartial personal mentor, who acts as your own advocate and understands the nuances of your business, is crucial to ensuring your plans make sense and that you understand the specific challenges you are facing correctly. 

The programme teaches you the theory you need to grow, but it also works with you to develop it into a bespoke, actionable strategy specific to you.


How has the programme supported your personal and professional development? 

The programme has been incredible for me; it’s exposed me to aspects of the business I haven’t experienced or considered before and taught me how to optimise each piece of the puzzle and to work proactively to predict and neutralise challenges. 

I have become a better leader and have increased confidence levels when it comes to suggesting and implementing change. 

The result has been the evolution of my role to include aspects of business development. 

This is great for me and my career but also for Helm, as I am in a position to bring a fresh perspective and creative new ideas to the company.


What does the future look like for Helm?

Our new narrative has proven invaluable to us, particularly considering our recent rebrand, because we now have a solid and consistent voice. 

Developing a marketing strategy consistent with the new rebrand and identity is key for Helm’s continued growth. 

We now have a tailored and structured strategy in place, we have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve, and know the steps we will take to get there.


What’s your advice to other businesses considering the Help to Grow programme?

Give it a go!

Even though you know your business inside out, this course gives you the vision to readdress your strategy and ensure the business is moving with the times. 

The mentoring sessions alone are worth it, and it’s completely manageable alongside full-time work.

To find out more visit or to express your interest,