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Exclusive Interview: Emma Carroll, Choose to Grow

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Emma Carroll, Choose to Grow

Choose to Grow is a Small Business Enterprise that specialises in the growth of people and business via authentic Employee Engagement.

Emma Carroll (BSc (Hons), PgDip, CIHCM, CIPD) the Founder and Director of Choose to Grow, has over 12 years’ experience in the social housing sector and is a qualified CIPD Learning & Development Professional, Strengths Deployment Facilitator & Resilience Coach.  Emma tells us more about Choose to Grow, its ethos, its future plans and her view on a potential Brexit.

  1. Tell us about your business?

Choose to Grow is a Quality Management Development and Training Consultancy that develops people and business.  We achieve this by bringing a fresh, systematic and energising approach to learning and development that will engage your employees in your organisational goals and vision – ultimately boosting your performance.

Our team all share a passion for delivering high impact personal development solutions that are flexible and affordable.   We take the time to understand your business direction and then implement solutions that achieve major business or organisational outcomes. Our knowledge and experience spans across both public and private sectors, in both small and large organisations and from working with a range of individuals, groups and teams.

With a proven track record for building capacity and confidence in teams, along with increasing the skills and knowledge base of staff, we have delivered outstanding results. The consultancy prides itself on its creative and motivational approach, and on the desire to develop inspirational staff members and leaders.

Choose to Grow specialises in supporting ongoing organisational change and goes beyond its competitors due to its unique interpersonal style, relationship building capacity and the ability to engage employees.  Our ultimate goal is the ongoing growth and sustainability of your people and your business.

  1. What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

In the short term we will continue to work hard at implementing a stable marketing strategy that will bring our following key business areas to market:

  • Employee Engagement Programmes
  • Managers Masterclass Membership
  • Bitesize Open Courses

We also have plans to expand our core team of deliverers with a special interest in finding the right Human Resources Expert.

In the medium term, we want to continue to grow a loyal customer base by listening to the needs of local businesses in Wales and delivering quality, affordable and flexible solutions.  We are also concentrating on building our networks in the world of business and always looking for collaboration opportunities to offer joint outcomes for organisations.

Then in the long term, our ultimate aim is to be the training provider of choice for businesses in Wales, to do this we will have the specialists on board that can deliver a holistic HR and Learning & Development function that supports medium to large businesses as and when they need it.

It is a personal long term goal of mine to ensure that we support self-employed consultants to boost the economy through the growth of our Associate Model, and I would really like to employ a Welsh Apprentice who has a passion for Learning & Development when the time is right.

As for the challenges – the continuing austerity in terms of organisational budgets continues to be both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity in front of us. It is inevitable that many businesses will be wary of the amount that they spend on training and staff development, however at the same time I think there is also an acknowledgement that developing people internally and retaining them is more financially sustainable than a continual churn of external appointments. I think all organisations are looking for value for money in anything that they procure which is why we put such emphasis on the evaluation of our work and diversifying in to Membership Models.

  1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in business?

That competition is a good thing and not something to be feared. You can spend an age scouring competitors’ websites and worrying about whether there is a market big enough for everyone. As your confidence grows you understand what your offering is and that competitors challenge your thinking and keep you on your toes.

  1. Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

I don’t think regrets are helpful so I try not to dwell on things in hindsight. What is important is that you learn from mistakes. I have come from a long career in a corporate sector, so I realised quickly when I started Choose to Grow that the consequences of mistakes were so much greater than when I had the safety net of being part of a larger organisation.  The moment that you complete a project, to ensure you remain competitive, you have to analyse your performance and ask yourself what you could do better next time, even if it was perfect.  If you can’t identify something you would improve on next time, you have to ask yourself if you still have the same appetite as you did when you started, as it’s this continuous improvement is at the heart of being competitive and keeping your edge in your market space.

  1. What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Passion and drive is certainly important when you are running your own business. The commitment needed is huge and you have to have absolute belief in what you are doing to keep it moving in the right direction.

I would also say that innovation is crucial to success. If you are not challenging the traditional ways of working in your sector or looking to bring something new, then you will quickly fade into the background.

  1. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

Be very clear on what your unique offering is and do not allow yourself to be compromised on that. At Choose to Grow we retained an absolute focus and clarity from the outset on the fact that our management development programmes were tailored to the clients’ needs (as opposed to being off the shelf standard products) and that our metric evaluation tool would be unique in its ability to demonstrate value. Without this I think it is easy for us as a new business to become “lost” in the mix of what everyone else is doing.

It is also important to identify a mentor in the early stages, someone that can be a “critical friend” to your ideas and support you through any setbacks. Launching and running a business can be quite isolating at times, especially if you are used to an employee environment as I was, and having trusted contacts that have been there and understand is invaluable.

  1. What are your top three tips for success?
  • Get the right people around you: Whether it is suppliers or partners/associates it is vital to have people you trust and that understand your business and its ethos.
  • A comprehensive marketing strategy: Having all the pillars of your marketing in place and working for you is essential. The connectivity of the modern business world means that marketing is 24-hour machine and it needs to be well resourced.
  • Take risks: If you wait for the perfect opportunity at the perfect time you will be waiting forever! When you are running your own business you cannot stand still, you have to retain a positivity and be resilient to the occasional loss (whether that is financial or just to your ego).
  1. Should the UK opt in or out of Europe?

From a Welsh perspective I think there are far more benefits to remaining in the EU. The valleys of Wales have received a huge amount of European funding towards both regeneration and jobs/skills programmes and this has been vital in building sustainable local economies. I do a lot of work in the Social Housing sector so I have also seen how important European institutions have been as a source of borrowing to finance the building of new affordable homes in Wales.

I work also with a client that operates bases across Europe including a site in South Wales and observe first-hand the benefits of skilled migrant workers moving across these sites bringing new skills and challenges to the Welsh workforce. I think becoming more insular would only harm the standard of our people and the competitiveness of our businesses.

  1. What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

There is such an appetite in Wales to invest in people and to create positive workplaces, I see this from my clients on a daily basis. I have rarely seen such high levels of social responsibility from businesses as I do in Wales and this can really instil a community feel within its workforce and stakeholders.

  1. What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

The Welsh Government have done a lot to incentivise business growth, through the Enterprise Zones and availability of funding for SME’s in terms of preferential borrowing and grants for the upskilling of staff so there is clearly a real commitment towards assisting the economy. However, we need to make sure that whilst we are supporting the small start-up businesses we don’t become unattractive to large foreign concerns due to excessive levies and taxes, as this kind of investment is what will lead to the larger volume of jobs needed in some of the more deprived parts of the country.