Case study

Claire MacDonald: My experience of Help to Grow

Claire MacDonald is co-founder and Design Director at MacMartin, a full-service marketing agency based in Derbyshire. She has recently completed the Help to Grow management programme and has been reflecting on the experience.

Key motivations and benefits

Claire joined the Help to Grow programme in July 2021, looking for support with business processes following the rapid expansion of the MacMartin team. She explains: “We've grown quite considerably over the last 12 months, doubling both our turnover and staff, so we wanted a bit of guidance. As directors, we’ve gone from being involved in every part of every project, to other people being responsible, so we needed to put some processes in place to ensure certain standards were met and so that everyone knew who was accountable for what.”

As many Help to Grow participants have said, Claire felt the programme gave her the space and time to reflect on her business and to be more strategic and less operational: “It forced me to take time out of the business to work on it. As a business owner, there are always 101 things that need to be done, but this course enabled me to prioritise the development of the business and my own personal growth.” 

Claire found the content of this 12-week leadership and management programme practical, actionable and valuable:

“Each week I took away something, discussed it with the team and implemented it into the business. For example, the programme has helped me plan financially for growth. We now know exactly where we need to be before employing more staff and how much capacity we need to hit our financial targets."

Claire MacDonald's stood next to a blue wall.

Each week I took away something, discussed it with the team and implemented it into the business....We now know exactly where we need to be before employing more staff and how much capacity we need to hit our financial targets.

Claire MacDonald
Co-founder and Design Director at MacMartin

Face-to-face workshops and peer groups

The Help to Grow programme is delivered through blended learning, including online sessions, face-to-face workshops, one-to-one mentoring and peer group support. Claire says she found the face-to-face elements particularly useful:

"In the workshops, not only did you have the tutor’s knowledge, but you also had all the other people in the room talking about their business and relating it to their industry. And because the course covered such a wide range of topics, everyone had their strengths. I was weaker in finance but there was an accountant on the course, so I was able to use her knowledge. Likewise, I could help others with the marketing modules and draw upon my experience."

Claire also found her small peer group really supportive: “The peer group was one of the most valuable parts I would say. We would have a remote session on Monday and then meet as a peer group on Wednesday to discuss the content of that session. Because it was a smaller group of just four people, you could really learn a lot from each other and share experiences, tips and resources. Even though the programme has now finished, my peer group has decided to continue meeting once a month because we all felt we benefitted from this support network.”

Watch an interview with Claire and her peer group

Claire and the other members of her peer group talk here about the benefits of having this support network.

Four people sitting on chairs

View Help to Grow Peer Group Video video transcript

One-to-one mentoring

All participants on the Help to Grow programme also get assigned a mentor: a senior professional with extensive business experience. The mentors offer the participants one-to-one, personalised support to develop their business growth plan. Claire’s mentor was Jason Thorpe, a collaborative Director with key strengths in strategic thinking, transformational change, portfolio diversification, innovation and operational performance.

Claire explains how her mentor has supported her: “It was great to just have someone neutral to talk to, especially with his business experience. He listened and helped me to work through things. We’re hoping to continue working with Jason going forward and are currently in discussions about how he could have a long-term interest in our business.”

Widening my network

As well as the relationship she’s developed with her support group and mentor, Claire says she’s made other valuable connections too: “I’ve also made links with people at the University and the facilitators on the course. This has resulted in client referrals and opportunities for personal development. Overall, Help to Grow has really expanded my network and I’m grateful for that.”

Hear Claire's initial impressions of the programme

This video interview was taken just after Claire began the Help to Grow programme — hear what her initial impressions were then.

Close up of Claire MacDonald

View Interview with Claire MacDonald video transcript

One year later

Since completing the Help to Grow programme 12 months ago, Claire has had multiple opportunities presented to her and the business: "The Help to Grow programme has opened a lot of doors for us. We have been put in touch with a range of people within the University, which has introduced us to the additional support available for us and other small businesses in the area.

For example, we are now planning to host our very own events at the Derbyshire Festival of Business. We have also been very lucky in welcoming multiple University of Derby Masters students into the MacMartin team, providing them with in-depth industry experience as part of their placement year. MacMartin is also being used as a live brief for the Marketing Management MSc."

As a crucial aspect of the programme, Claire built a strong relationship with her peer group and is still keeping in contact with them today: "I still have a great relationship with my peer group. The four of us still meet up for brainstorming sessions, helping each other with our individual businesses. It's really nice to have that non-competitive safe environment where you can just talk to people in the same position as you."

Now, Claire is seeing the full impact from the programme as MacMartin's growth expands further:

"As well as receiving 3 new clients from the programme, we are seeing MacMartin reach new heights. Prior to joining Help to Grow, we had already experienced growth, which was one of the reasons for our enrollment. Not only did we sustain that growth, we have since seen an additional 100% growth in turnover during the 12 months since participating in the programme."

"We are very keen to continue expanding our relationship with the University. It has been a huge positive to us and it's something we want to nurture."

MacMartin is now aiming to launch a digital declutter campaign to help businesses improve their digital carbon footprint. The Small Business Charter recognises MacMartin's journey and their role in driving economic growth. Claire believes that one of the biggest takeaways from the Help to Grow: Management course was developing the company's strategic tools to stabilise business growth. As a result, one year on, the organisation has tripled its turnover and increased its workforce from seven to twelve staff members.