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Michelle Duggan and Natalie Emmerson: True carers

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Name:

Michelle Duggan and Natalie Emmerson

Role and company:

We started Primary Care UK in 2000 to provide care and support for vulnerable people in their own homes. Initially we supported people with learning disabilities, but our scope has broadened to encompass older people, those with mild mental health issues and people with physical and sensory impairment. (We call the people we support ‘service users’ as this is the term chosen by them.)

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

 £1.8m

Employee numbers: 

140 full and part-time.

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We aim to grow by at least 50 per cent in the next two to three years. Our expansion plans include a move to a larger office in the centre of town, coupled with a marketing campaign to showcase our services, both current and new, for the private market.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace?

Without exception our amazing, caring team. Our assets are our people; our investment in them, from recruitment and training to supervision, is critical. This keeps them focused, efficient and in touch with the needs of our service users. We never reduce the quality of our care to meet a tender requirement.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Often, once people have moved into a residential home, they lose their independence, their connection with friends, family, social life, familiar things and their daily routine, so they eventually lose their spark. We want to build in as many relevant services as possible which will enable our service users to stay at home, safely and securely, with complete peace of mind, for as long as possible. 

We want to elevate ‘care and support services’ to a new level, where we can reduce the stress of keeping on top of every day jobs, no matter how small, by providing our CRB-checked teams to take care of them. We will provide services such as gardening, sewing, fixing leaking taps, putting up shelves, shopping etc.

We are also believers in giving something back: we will be offering free training places to charitable organisations, we will continue to support apprenticeships within Primary Care and will be working with our local Studio School when it opens.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Our company does not operate internationally; our growth has been organic and our intention is to continue to build our business in this way. To date, we have concentrated on developing our customer base in specific areas of Essex. By 2025 it is estimated that the number of people in Essex with dementia is projected to increase by over 35,000; we believe we can continue our growth in this county for the foreseeable future.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

Believe it or not, we have been fortunate enough not to have experienced any kind of major setback over the past 11 years. Of course there have been the normal hiccups along the way, and when we have met with small failures that at least means we gave it a go. 

We’d rather take a shot at something than regret a missed opportunity. We have learned valuable lessons, and they inform the way we work now:

  • Never make any decision based on fear;
  • Be aware of competitors but don’t be afraid of them and keep your focus; 
  • Always let your heart be at the centre of the business; and 
  • Care and respect everyone who works alongside you.

What makes you mad in business today?

People who don’t care about value and quality. More people need to really care more about how their actions and decisions, or lack of them, impact on others.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

This could be wishful thinking, but as local authorities are squeezed to make their funds go further, good care companies will have to become more selective about the contracts they consider tendering for. To avert a care crisis and more horror stories from the recent past, the Government will have to stop paying lip service to ‘care’, whether this is in your own home, or in a residential home, and inject funds into an underfunded but growing market.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

In 2000 we invested £500 in our business, which we borrowed from our families. We just needed an office to operate from, so capital expenditure was very low. We grew fast and reinvested our money and had no need for bank loans, so we haven’t experienced the financing problems many businesses do. 

The care industry is becoming increasingly competitive, but like any other industry, if you need funds to grow, and can demonstrate you have a robust expansion/business plan, you shouldn’t have a problem. This may be going against perceived wisdom, but we have an excellent working relationship with our bank; our relationship manager has actively offered us support with financing when we need it. We took her up on this a few years ago and it was very straightforward. A healthy bank balance helps of course.

How would others describe your leadership style?

Open, engaging, inclusive and non-threatening. Economical, efficient and effective. Compassionate, collaborative, positive, responsive and situational.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Natalie: The ski property in the French Alps.

Michelle: Spending a month touring America with my partner last year and booking a month in India next year (done the rock and roll in Memphis, now continuing my journey of self-discovery in India).

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Being labelled a ‘posh boy’ doesn’t help, but he really needs to understand ‘common businessman’ better than he does. Let’s put him behind two-way glass during three or four focus groups, consisting solely of entrepreneurs who are now getting established, and those just starting out and meeting obstacles. 

He can then hear directly how banks, local authorities, HMRC and other agencies actually behave. Entrepreneurs are used to fighting for their dreams, but some positivity would be invigorating, encouraging and, right now, rather good for the economy. The way forward is cooperation, collaboration, co creation and co-partnership; four things the prime minister and his deputy need to work on themselves.

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