Where there’s magic there’s margin

At the Food For Thought workshop in February one of the high points was the presentation by Charles Baughan, MD of Westaway Sausages. He gave an energising and inspirational talk which left everyone in the room wanting to hear more.

He began by sharing some of his own survival tips for small business:

As Westaway’s has grown the customer base has become more diverse; now they sell to retail, wholesale, and food service customers both in the UK and abroad. Charles talked us through a comparison of the different channels and markets and discussed the reasons for pursuing this strategy.

It was evident from this that the broad range of customers offered a chance to spread risk and also smooth any short term fluctuations in sales volumes.

However the advice was quite clear: “Sometimes it is better to spend time and effort choosing your customers instead of reacting to every opportunity”, something that supported the business planning discussion from earlier in the day.

Questions that would help work out whether an opportunity was the right one for your business included:

Can they pay their bills?
Do you like them?
Are they high maintenance?
Is their business strategically right for you? (Not just about profit!)
Is the market expanding?
Why are you the best choice for them? Are you cheaper? Better? Faster?

From my point of view this final question is fundamental; success is not just about why “they” are the right customer for you but also why you’re the right supplier for them. That’s where the magic comes in – if you can supply something that fits the customers needs better than the competitors you can make the margin.

The message to take away was clear: make a plan, aspire to great things and then get out there and succeed.

You can find more details of what was discussed at the workshop here

Fail to plan? Plan to fail.

The Food For Thought workshop in Barnstaple last month generated active and enthusiastic discussion of the topics covered in the presentations.

As a follow up I want to share some of the major points that were covered.

We kicked off the morning looking at business plans. Most of the businesses present didn’t have a business plan, and that wasn’t a huge surprise – business plans usually only come out when you want to borrow money or apply for a grant.

However when you do have a written down plan you are much more likely to achieve what you want from your business:

– You have a way to evaluate new opportunities; do they get you closer to your goal?
– You keep your own interests at heart rather than getting swept along by other people’s ideas.
– When times get tough you have a reminder of why you started on this journey, and encouragement to see it through.

A business plan doesn’t need to be formal, and it doesn’t have to be lengthy (the shorter the better!).

It’s also not supposed to be final – change it as you go, as you get more information and as your circumstances and views change. Both the businesses who said they did have a business plan updated their plans regularly.

So where do you start? In simple terms a business plan sets out:

Where you are now

Often a SWOT analysis is a good place to start. It’s a useful tool to separate out the good and bad things currently on your radar between:

Strengths and Weaknesses – internal factors; things you do well (better than your competitors?) or not, things that you have some control over.

Opportunities and Threats – external factors, like the economy and market trends. These are outside your control so any strategies you make need to be designed to take them into account.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of the distinction, but it is important as there is nothing more futile than trying to change something you have no control over.

Where you want to get to

It’s not your business who’s writing this, it’s you. Your goals need to come first, so what does success look like to you?

What makes a successful seasonal business?
Provide you with an income – well usually, but also:
Build a (inter-) national reputation?
Make you rich?
Follow a dream?
Make a tax loss?!
Close down in a controlled way?

How are you going to get there?

What does your business need to achieve in order to get you to the point where you can achieve your own goals?
More profit?
More sales?
More staff, to free up your time?

How long do you think it will realistically take to achieve this? Or, more importantly, how long have you got!

This is where your strategies come in. If you need more profit how will you get it? More sales? Better sales? New customers? New products!

How will you get these new sales? How will the customers find out?

Do you need different resources to deliver this? New tools? More cash? A better IT system?

Be realistic

I have worked with a lot of businesses whose plans have failed because the owner thought that they could grow sales without adding extra staff or production resources. Hope, or even will power won’t ever be enough to make the plan succeed!

You have to stay realistic when it comes to working out what you can do with your existing resources, and similarly when it comes to assessing the sales opportunity that you have. I mentioned the example of milk alternatives – while there is a market for these products there is a large proportion of the population who are happy drinking standard milk and so the market is naturally limited. A huge marketing budget will not necessarily change that, so growth plans have to reflect this.

Make a plan
At the end of the workshop the attendees took away a business plan template that they had completed during the morning. If you would like a copy of the template then drop me a line, or leave comment here.