Case study, Growth, Leadership, Vision and values

Case study: Keeping control of your rapidly growing business


 

Every entrepreneur needs to be enthusiastic and passionate. Dedication and determination will get you a long way.

But at some point you need to stop and think about your business: decide whether your drive is driving you in the right direction, and look around to make sure your team are still with you.

When Tom Bowles, founder of the award-winning farm shop Hartley Farm near Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, first started working with ActionCOACH Nigel Scott just over a year ago, he was being swept along with the success of a rapidly-expanding business.

He made business decisions based on instinct, and hoped that his growing team of employees shared his vision… but he couldn’t be sure.

tom and nigel

“My mantra is that entrepreneurs should take time to work on their business, as well as in their business,” says Nigel. “This was a great business with huge potential and it needed a sense of direction, planning, controls, and focus.”

Nigel and Tom work together regularly, and have a monthly face-to-face meeting. The sessions give Tom time to stop and think about his business.

For Tom – who studied economics at university, but eschewed an intended life in The City to return to the countryside, and his family’s 150-acre farm – Nigel has been a valuable mentor. “I came into an industry I knew nothing about. I didn’t know good business practice, or how to be a good boss,” admits Tom.

“Nigel has made me realise what I can achieve, and I’m reassured that what I’m doing is basically the right thing, and I’m finding ways to make it manageable.

“His guidance and feedback is important – he’s a sounding board for new ideas, and he keeps me in check.”

To ensure that the whole team – which had rapidly expanded from five in 2008 to 35 by 2014 – shared a vision for the business, Nigel helped Tom draw up the Vision, Values and Purpose which guide the company and are used to recruit and develop new and existing staff.

Far from being a dry document that will sit in Tom’s desk drawer, it is aimed at inspiring staff and encouraging customers – it is proudly displayed in public areas of the business.

It starts: “Our Purpose – To inspire by creating a happy, fun and educational environment for our people with great food at the centre whilst committing to supporting and celebrating sustainable farming and food production.”

“When you have 35 people working for you, you can’t be with them all the time,” says Nigel. “I’ve helped Tom to become a better manager and leader.”

“It’s true,” says Tom. “I used to be a busy, stressed boss. With Nigel’s help I’ve developed into what a boss should be – and I’ve seen improvements in my staff as a result.”

Among the customers to read the Purposes and Values document was the journalist and broadcaster Bel Mooney, who was so impressed that she wrote about them in her Daily Mail column.

“I reckon that set of aims would benefit any business. Read and learn, Alan Sugar!” she said.

Nigel and Tom have also worked on a Plan for Profit. “Business growth eats away at your cash,” says Nigel. “We’ve been working hard to ensure that the business is profitable while encouraging growth of the core business and expansion into other areas.”

“I’ve recognised that we need a diverse income stream,” says Tom. “That’s why we’ve been working on projects, like education: running courses and foraging walks, and getting school parties to the farm.

“I’ve also been building the online side of the business. Click and collect is a new venture for us, and we’ve started to offer national mail order delivery of our products.”

Back at the farm shop, a new area – purpose-built for families – will open in the summer. Little Hartley Farm is an extension of the award-winning on-site cafe.

Nigel and Tom were determined that Hartley Farm should get some awards under its belt, to give the business local and national recognition. As a result, the business now has 15 awards to its name, including some coveted “Taste of the West” Awards.

And the whole thing is paying off: turnover is expected to increase by 15 percent in 2014, with further revenue from Little Hartley Farm when it opens. Cashflow is also stronger than ever and the business is showing that it can consistently generate cash to fund dividends and further investment projects.

 

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