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Case Study - Greg O'Connell

Greg O’Connell, Managing Director, GOC Construction Management

Tell me about your business.

Greg Oconnell Head Shot GOC Construction Management is a construction project management consultancy, as well as being an active developer based in County Durham. In a nutshell, we build houses for developers. I’m a chartered construction manager by trade, with over 20 years of experience, and I set up the business six years ago having come from a large company background. I’m currently in the process of establishing a second business, which will focus more on commercial cost consultancy as an area of specialist expertise. From our competitor research, we believe that there’s a real gap in the market that we can successfully fill.

What challenges were you facing as an SME before you embarked on Help to Grow?

The last five years have been a roller coaster ride and bit of a baptism of fire as a small business owner and manager. I first set up the business without knowing very much about what’s involved and I’ve definitely learned the hard way! Having said that, we’re still going strong and making profits. But I realised about nine months ago that we weren’t achieving what I’d originally envisaged – largely as a result of external factors beyond our control.

I started to think about what skills and expertise we already have, what the future might look like for the construction sector, and how we could potentially pivot our business to achieve greater levels of success and profitability. As a result, I’ve teamed up with my brother who is an experienced quantity surveyor, and we’re setting up the new business together to focus primarily on helping companies in the construction sector to solve commercial challenges. We want to become leaders in this field and Help to Grow is the perfect vehicle to support us in developing a successful business plan.

How has the programme helped to provide solutions to these challenges?

Before I started the Help to Grow programme, I recognised that I had no formal business training. With this in mind, I was keen to understand the principles of small business management, before launching my second venture. It’s been perfectly timed to help me put the right processes and foundations in place and whilst some of the content isn’t new to me, many of the concepts and suggested ways of working have been really enlightening.

Ironically, the best modules have been the ones I was least looking forward to! I had no real understanding of marketing previously but the marketing module was invaluable. It helped me to shape what we want from the new business. Learning more about branding, at the same time as developing our own new brand, enabled me to flesh out our proposition and to better articulate what we’ll be offering our customers.

The digitisation module proved very useful too. It gave me a good understanding of where we want to get to and how we can embrace technology to improve processes and systems that will ultimately make us more efficient and productive. For example, all of our health and safety inspections would previously be recorded on paper, but it’s now captured and stored electronically in the cloud, making it a much quicker and more secure process.

I can now see how and where we can use technology to automate other processes, to be more collaborative with our customers and clients, and more broadly, how we can innovate and disrupt in the construction sector which is still very much behind the curve from a digital perspective.

What have been the key benefits for your personal development?

For me personally, Help to Grow has really put flesh on the bone and I understand so much more about the fundamentals of running a business. The people who present and lead the different modules have been absolutely fantastic – a mix of topic experts, entrepreneurs and business people with commercial expertise. Being taught by people who understand how to run a business, because they’re at the coal face themselves, is so refreshing and invaluable. They provide real world examples and perspectives in a digestible format with key insights on the best tools and approaches they have personally tried and tested. All of the sessions are incredibly practical and accessible, which means I’ve learned so much more than just theoretical knowledge.

What would you say to another business considering whether to sign up for Help to Grow?

I’d really encourage them to find out more and get involved. I think 99% of business owners and leaders in SMEs would benefit from Help to Grow. Yes, it’s a time commitment but I’ve found it perfectly manageable alongside work and it’s definitely time well spent. If you want to develop as a business leader and be able to improve your company’s productivity and profitability, then it’s absolutely the right programme for you.

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