With a passion for supporting mental health and knowing the lengthy waiting lists children faced, Kirsten Antoncich, owner of Positive Progress, had an ambition to scale up her business.
After several years working in various roles as a child and adolescent psychotherapist, in 2017 Kirsten decided to start Positive Progress, a business that offers counselling, psychotherapy and neurological therapies based in York. With experience on her side, Kirsten quickly grew from two small clients to 20 a week, offering 1-2-1 consultations.
She commented: “My work has always been in small groups or on a 1-2-1 basis, but I wanted to start helping and reaching more people, particularly children. As I didn’t come from a business background, I felt unsure where to turn to.”
Kirsten wanted to develop her services and learn to market herself, but had no guidance on how to do this so that her knowledge could be benefitted from on a larger scale.
She knew she needed to take the time away from her work to give herself the headspace to understand how she could expand her business offering.
After attending Women in Business, a networking group based in York, Kirsten found out about free training available from the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme.
From here, she was introduced to a representative from Enterprise Made Simple, one of the registered training providers for Calderdale College in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, which oversees the delivery of the SSW programme.
The SSW programme supports businesses looking to grow and is available to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) seeking non-compulsory, work-based training. It is free to businesses through funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Enterprise Made Simple offers a residential training weekend, which was ideal for Kirsten, who was unable to take part in training courses on weekdays due to her busy client schedule at the clinic.
Kirsten enrolled onto the weekend programme to work through two qualifications, achieving a Level 2 Certificate in Developing Enterprise Skills and a Level 2 Award in Digital Promotion. She then attended a second weekend to complete her Level 3 Award in Business Innovation, Sustainability and Growth.
The weekends consisted of a mixture of networking, workshops and practical activities, giving attendees the chance to use their own businesses as case studies.
Kirsten says: “I have kids who are on waiting lists for three years to see someone and I realised they just need someone to listen to them. With the help of the other attendees, I ended up leaving the training with a business and marketing plan for a whole suite of courses that I could deliver online to pastoral teams in schools, expanding my reach and influence significantly.
“Before the training, I knew I wanted to expand my services beyond 1-2-1 client meetings, but I can’t believe that I discovered a new business idea completely!”
Since the training, Kirsten has put her new business plan into practice, and alongside her 1-2-1 clinic, now has a successful online training school.
The courses are modular and can be tailored to the schools’ specific needs, with the online function allowing pastoral teams to work through the course in their own time. Launching in October 2019, Kirsten already has 23 schools signed up and a pilot with an academy group.
Following skills learnt in the Digital Promotion course, Kirsten is in the process of setting up her own YouTube channel, which will launch in early 2020. Videos will act as an educational tool, explaining mental health help techniques, support for parents and interviews with industry experts, allowing Kirsten to share her knowledge on a wider scale.
On starting the channel, Kirsten commented: “I didn’t think platforms such as YouTube were ever accessible to me. The course was fantastic at showing you a skill and then letting you practice it, which gave me so much self-belief.”
As her business continues to thrive, Kirsten is benefiting from a new-found confidence. Positive Progress has now set up a charitable arm delivering free suicide prevention training called Compassionate Communities. This led Kirsten to be awarded a Fellow of the Royal Society in September 2019.
Kirsten also regularly writes about mental health topics in Aspire Magazine and contributes to the Royal Society blog. She adds: “I would never have dreamed to have put myself forward for these types of opportunities in the past, but I now have a better understanding of how to market myself and feel as passionate as ever.
“It’s really true that if someone shows you the pathway, there is just no stopping you, and this is what the Skills Support for the Workforce has opened up for me.”
Success from skills training
The SSW programme has helped over 5,100 employed people in the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding area, with over 1,475 businesses, including Positive Progress, having taken advantage of the opportunity.
Ebrahim Dockrat MBE, Director of Commercial Services and Partnerships at Calderdale College, the main contractor for Skills Support for the Workforce, is full of praise for Kirsten, adding: “It can sometimes be very difficult to know what next steps to take when looking at business growth. The SSW programme continues to successfully open business owners’ eyes to new opportunities and revenue streams that take their services to the next level.
“It’s fantastic that we are able to offer training in various formats to suit the businesses individual needs. In this case a residential weekend was ideal for Kirsten, and gave her the headspace to focus on her business and we are so pleased she left the training with increased confidence in her business and passion for mental health.”
For more information on the Skills Support for the Workforce project, please visit http://ssw.fundingunit.org.uk/