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In conversation with: Ben Jones, Marketing and Communications Executive at GC Business Growth Hub

Ben talks us through his experiences of working at the Hub when it was founded, including the challenges of getting businesses on board and how the Hub’s marketing has evolved over the years.


How did you get involved with the Hub? 

In 2010, I started working for a company called Construction Solutions. After six months in an admin role there, my manager nominated me for a coordinator role with a Goldman Sachs pilot to provide support to businesses in Greater Manchester. The Hub emerged from that when Richard Jeffery and Chris Greenhalgh joined to provide strategic direction, but there were only six of us when the Hub officially launched!

What were some of the initial challenges in promoting the Hub and getting businesses on board?

We had little funding and no programmes other than Access to Finance when we launched, so we had to learn on the job! I spent a lot of time on the phone to businesses, trying to work out what support they needed and where best to refer them to. Grants weren’t as available as they are today, so many of the early enquiries that we received were related to finance. As a result, convincing businesses that there was no catch to our funded support and signposting them to advisors that could help them in non-financial ways were some of the biggest challenges that we had to overcome!

 

How has the Hub's marketing changed over the last 10 years? 

We didn’t have a formal marketing team when the Hub launched, so we began running a series of business growth lunches in Manchester to promote the support that we could offer more widely. Around 80 people attended the first lunch to network and hear from our advisors, and events quickly became our main source of marketing!

When Janine Smith joined to lead the Start-up and Growth teams in 2013, our enquiries boomed. We began marketing for specific events, running tailored programmes, workshops and breakfasts, and expanded our events and marketing teams. In the last few years, our digital marketing has evolved massively. Whether it’s creating and updating websites or getting our message out through paid social, our digital growth has enabled us to connect with more people in different ways and taken us to another level.

Ultimately, we’ve grown from a marketing team of none to more than 50 across the Growth Company, with at least 10 full time team members in the Hub alone. It’s been a pleasure to watch the team grow and enhance our business marketing capabilities over the years.

 

How has your role changed over time?

In the first few years, I spent a lot of time in the enquiries and events teams to help the Hub achieve traction with businesses in Greater Manchester. Today, I have a varied role that includes supporting the marketing managers with content creation, graphic design, and financial admin for our suppliers. Everything we do now is so professional, and we’ve come a long way from sharing an office and ‘borrowing’ each other’s marketing materials from filing cabinets, but I can still act as a ‘fixer’ for colleagues when needed. Having worked at the Hub for so long, I can always signpost colleagues to the support that they need if I can’t provide it myself!

How would you compare the Hub at its inception with other business support services? What made the Hub stand out?

We had to focus on our USPs, which were the fully funded aspect of our support combined with our genuine passion to make a difference to businesses and the economy in Greater Manchester. Richard and the team worked really hard to secure funding in the early days, and we had to push ourselves to compete with the other support services in the region.

Our connections with the Local Authorities were pivotal back then, and remain so today. We began reaching out to areas beyond the city centre that had previously been underserved like Bury, Bolton and Tameside, and we really wanted to have a positive impact across Greater Manchester, rather than just focusing on the city centre. We’ve always believed in what we are doing and we’ve always been there for businesses, and I think that was a key part of our success from the start.

 

What kind of marketing and promotion do you get involved with now? The #HereForBusiness campaign was really successful, so what’s next for the Hub?

Communicating the benefits of zero carbon and green tech will be a big part of our marketing in the next few years. Business leaders have become more aware of its importance in recent years, but we can play a big role in signposting those leaders to the support that can help them achieve those benefits in their businesses.

Many businesses have pivoted their business models during COVID-19, so we’ll also be working with our teams to reach out to those businesses and help them to transition back to and maximise their day to day operations when the time is right. Finally, the reach of Hub and the Growth Company are expanding beyond Greater Manchester, so it’s likely that we’ll be reaching out to more businesses across the North and beyond, while continuing to unlock the potential in businesses locally.

Personally, I want to continue sharing the incredible success stories of the businesses that we’ve worked with internally and externally. One conversation with our advisors can ultimately help a business to move into a new premises, launch a new product or service or create jobs, so it’s important that our colleagues realise the benefits of what we do on a day to day basis.

I’m proud to work at the Hub and I’ve made so many friends in my ten years here. We’ve been through every stage of the growth journey, which might be one of the reasons that businesses like working with us!

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