It’s not what you know, it’s who you know: Gloucestershire’s Business Navigators

Navigating unchartered waters in search of advice, funding, expertise, support, a route to overseas markets – whatever you are seeking – is made easier by someone trained to listen, learn and help you find your way.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
The Growth Hub’s Business Navigators are trained to listen, learn, and help you find your way.
The Growth Hub’s Business Navigators are trained to listen, learn, and help you find your way.

Remote working has worked its wonders, but we’re all missing the human touch of business – the sharing of coffees, shaking of hands, and chance conversations with strangers which so often lead to opportunities.

Without these, it’s been difficult to grow our circles, and make those important connections which so often grease the wheels of business.

And whilst there is hope on the horizon, we’re all going to be making up for lost time.

Enter stage left The Growth Hub’s Business Navigators. Based across the county in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Cirencester, Tewkesbury, and Stroud – this 11-strong team knows everything and everybody there is to know in Gloucestershire business.

Their job is to make introductions, identify opportunities, and do all the research that you’re too busy to do yourself.

They find grants and funds, free programmes and discounted offers, experts with time to spare, customers with money to spend, and everything in between. Think of them as your Google, but for business growth.

The tip of the iceberg

Underneath the surface of bounce-back loans and national helplines are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to get financial aid, mentorship, export training, marketing workshops, exit strategy consultations, and much, much more.

Many of them are free. There are even grants which only exist in certain postcodes for a short period of time. How are you expected to know that?

The Growth Hub’s Business Navigators are trained to listen, learn, and help you find your way.

Best of all, you don’t pay a penny for their time.

The Growth Hub

Pictured: Top left to right, Stephen Meyers, Cirencester, Agi Seabright, Gloucester, (second row, left to right) Tina Paton, Gloucester, Chris Hill, Stroud, (bottom row, left to right) Nathalie Dawson, Gloucester, Olivia Mayo, Tewkesbury, and Holly Sweet, Gloucester – just some of the navigators on hand at The Growth Hub stations county-wide.

Olivia Mayo, a Tewkesbury-based Navigator, helped deliver economic development and support for her borough’s businesses before joining The Growth Hub.

‘It’s my job to meet with local companies and entrepreneurs, talk through their barriers, perhaps challenge their thinking with an outside perspective, and ultimately point them in the right direction of solutions,’ said Olivia.

‘Sometimes I’ll point them in the right direction, sometimes I’ll directly introduce them to a person or programme that they never would have found otherwise.’

Agi Seabright, a multilingual experienced advisor, shares her view from Gloucester: ‘We deal with businesses of all shapes and sizes. From small businesses trying to survive, to corporations with global ambitions, it’s my job to listen, understand the real challenges on the table, and deliver a package of support to suit.

‘Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply to provide a sounding board and friendly face to talk to, sometimes it’s more in-depth and we get our research caps on. Ultimately it’s about being responsive to each client.’

Stephen Meyer, based in Cirencester, has experience of international business development, retail, and telecoms.

‘A lot of the time business owners need a listening ear, a sounding block, to talk about all the issues they’re going through. It’s a bit like business therapy,’ said Stephen.

‘We’ve seen and heard most of it before, so we’re able to offer anecdotal advice of how previous clients have overcome their challenges.

‘Running a company can be extremely lonely, and I always like to spell out how much support there is if you know where to look. It needn’t be an isolating experience.

‘At the end of these conversations, we should be able to dip into our factual, referral, and guidance toolkits to empower these owners to take the next step. We’re the ones giving them a leg up over the wall they’re climbing.

‘They still need to grab the top and pull themselves up, but we can help them get there faster, or without expending so much energy.’

Deborah Govier, also at the Cirencester Growth Hub, has years of corporate experience along with self-employment.

‘Listening is everything. It helps business owners, who are often living quite lonely professional lives, bounce their ideas off somebody who gets it,’ said Deborah.

‘And it helps us to really understand their unique and specific challenges, beyond the everyday cash flow and sales slumps. Only then can we offer the kind of tailored support that makes us a useful asset.’

Money, money, money…

It’s inevitable that the most asked question is always ‘what funding is available?’

The nature of business support means that, often, there is very little available. Or it’s very specific. So the team must find other ways to help.

Tina Paton, a Gloucester-based Navigator with a decade of business ownership under her belt, can sympathise: ‘As a franchise owner, I was always looking for ways to improve my operation and ultimately, it often came down to availability of investment.

‘Whenever I talk to business owners who are looking for a cash injection, I have to get creative.

‘This involves finding out what the funding is required for, or the challenge at the heart of the need. If it’s something like a new or improved website, I know a dozen ways to get them free support from experts, agencies, or students in order to help them understand the improvements they could make themselves.

‘Or, if cash really is the only solution, I can also introduce them to investment networks or crowdfunding specialists, where they can raise funds without forever searching for those needle-in-the-haystack grants.’

Chris Hill, a former leader in aerospace manufacturing management, echoes Tina’s views from his base in Stroud: ‘Connecting business owners with sector specialists is one of the things we do very well. Better still is the fact that we secure this connection in person by facilitating meetings at one of our Growth Hubs or through our extensive range of events.

‘We carefully manage our conversations to ensure the most efficient use of a business owner’s time, the commodity they tend to have the least of and value above all else. Attending our events is an additional means of using this precious time effectively.

‘The Growth Hub network hosts many such events each year. Joining a half-day workshop or engaging in an hour-long one-to-one session can provide a business owner with the tools, techniques and inspiration needed to boost the growth of their business. They may also wish to engage with the specialist speaker on a commercial basis, at a later date.’

Olivia said: ‘One of the bonuses of having multiple Hubs connected to different organisations is the very different services on-hand.

‘We all offer the same core business support, but for example Tewkesbury’s Growth Hub is based inside the borough’s Public Services Centre meaning businesses can access unrivalled support and advice from council services, including important regulatory, planning, and environmental health advice.

‘This provides practical support for business growth and prosperity and the one-stop customer service experience, by coordinating our services to businesses through one contact point.

‘This is the first Growth Hub in the UK hosted by a local council, illustrating our driving ambition to help businesses grow successfully, which creates prosperity for a thriving community.

‘Gloucester and Cirencester are attached to universities, and Stroud to the college, so can provide student resource and academic expertise. Cheltenham Growth Hub will also be a retail incubator, so is perfect for shops and stores.’

From bud to blossom

Job satisfaction is never in short supply across The Growth Hub Network.

Stephen, from Cirencester, tells us about what delights him about the job: ‘One lady was serving granola to her B&B guests on Tuesday, and on Wednesday was selling hundreds of bags to the public.

‘She even won a Golden Taste Award. Now she’s stocked in all major farm shops across the UK, and is looking for premises to ramp up production.’

‘Another business, selling Italian street food from a stall, also won an award from a supermarket for their products. Now they have a permanent unit selling direct to consumers.’

‘I was also able to see a gentleman who was cut out of the sale of a business and used the experience to go out and buy his own. He’s flying higher than before now.

‘We get to see a lot of success stories and being able to play a small role in them gives me great personal pride.’

Tina said: ‘I get a real buzz when I see one of my clients in the news. When we hear about their growth, it’s a wonderful sense of achievement and satisfaction.

‘Both for the business leaders we got to know, and for the county. After all, we’re here to see Gloucestershire flourish, and this is how we’re playing our part.’

So, how do I get involved?

The Growth Hub website is a 24/7 database of helpful tips and tricks. But if you want to meet with one of the Navigators, then head to the homepage and apply for support.

It’s quick and easy to sign up, and you’ll get an instant email telling you exactly what support is available for you.

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