Lessons from scaling businesses

Rachel Eden profile April 2017Today Lyndsay, Mark and I attended a Grow-talks event on lessons from scaling food businesses.  Along with delicious samples from the speakers (and coffee from Reading’s own Tamp Culture) it was a fascinating insight into how businesses in the food industry can grow from literally using an airing cupboard as their stock room to being suppliers to major supermarkets.

The speakers, Nick Coleman, Founder & CEO, Snaffling Pig. Suzie Walker, Founder & Chief Fire Starter, The Primal Pantry,  Joe Munns, MD, BakedIn and Kyle Turner, CEO & Co-founder, Fungry were refreshingly open and willing to share.

Interestingly some themes emerged about scaling.   I made some notes that I know some of my clients and also students might find of interest:

  • Cash flow unsurprisingly  a common challenge and at different stages the companies had taken funding for working capital and expansion from sources ranging from credit cards, personal savings and business angels to loans.
  • Invoice financing while ‘expensive’ was also recommended to enable expansion something that can happen extremely quickly in the food industry – winning a client like Tesco was quoted as going from 3 pallet to 60 pallet orders.
  • There was agreement around the panel that however much finance you raise when going out to the market you probably need more.
  • There was also an interesting focus that at least two of the businesses had on trying to increase their direct to consumer sales, partially for improved margins but also to shorten their working capital cycle.
  • Similarly inventory management was something that had an impact on cash – the short life of food products (or in the case of Fungry the  nature of restaurant preparation) being a push towards what an accountant would call Just in Time inventory management but the ability to get discounts in packaging leading to buying in bulk for other areas.  Obviously something that requires a bit of modeling and thinking through.
  • Recruitment of the right people and staff was also a huge issue, and in a tweet to me afterwards Suzie suggested that this could be an ideal topic for a future event.

Aside from really hoping Fungry expand into Reading soon and looking to place an order with Bakedin my biggest take away from it was a lesson that probably applies to truly any business:

Nick was clearly passionate about his product (as were all the speakers) and his advice was that if you have created a business and products that you love your best sales person is you.   You know the business, have the passion and no-one else will be able to convey that vision to clients and potential clients in the same way.

His advice?  “Whatever is stopping you, the founder, getting out and selling – find someone else to do it and delegate.”

Wise words, I am sure this is of the reasons our virtual finance team is winning clients who are planning to grow.

Wise wo indeed.

The only 3 point HR plan you need?

IMGP8686Sarah Browning shares her thoughts following a twitter conversation she had with Rachel Eden, our Coordinating Director

It started with my eye being caught by a LinkedIn article  from a connection of a connection of a connection of mine (you see how social media gives you a wide reach to people beyond your own network?) about the silly company ‘rules’ that make good people leave an organisation.

This struck such a chord with me that I re-tweeted it and our  Coordinating Director, Rachel Eden, spotted it and liked it too. Her response about a 3-point HR plan inspired me to write this blog piece.

The rules that Travis Bradberry cited as reasons that people get fed up and leave included:

  • shutting down self-expression (does it really matter how many photo frames an employee or volunteer has on their desk, as long as they have enough space to get their actual job done?)
  • limiting bathroom breaks (if you’re going to limit how many times people can do that, you might as well tell them outright you would prefer to employ actual robots) and
  • requiring ridiculous amounts of proof for leaves of absence such as doctor’s appointments and bereavement (if a member of staff feels the need to invent a funeral just to get a day off, what does that say about your organisation?)

Everything Bradberry talks about comes down to a lack of trust in your people.   If you are employing people you don’t trust, then your problem is not how many times they need the loo or whether they have a throat infection that the GP needs to see.

Somewhere along the line you have lost sight of why your organisation exists in the first place, what you are trying to achieve and how to engage your people to perform to their very best in pursuit of that purpose. People who don’t feel trusted will often start to act up – a culture like this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In order to engage people with a purpose, everyone needs to have a clear view of what your organisation is there to do and of the part they play in delivering it. There are a whole range of ways in which you can involve people, perhaps by helping to define that purpose from the start or by looking at the direction the leaders have set and using their own knowledge of how things work ‘on the front line’ to put detail into the bigger picture. As Rachel said in her tweet, people with meaningful work that they are trusted to get on with will always be an asset to any organisation.

At Holy Brook, we work with our clients to support them in identifying what their organisation is there for and what that means in practice. Developing a culture of engagement that delivers higher productivity can be a tricky thing to start, but with support, tools and a willingness to trust people, there is a big difference to be made.

Incidentally we also offer social media training, so if you want to tap into that far-reaching network I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, we can help you with that too.

Family communication lessons

IMGP8686Sarah Browning shares some lessons from communicating with family
Many of us take the opportunity to spend time with our loved ones over the summer, as did I. This got me thinking – the notion of family is something that is sometimes talked about within organisations. Leaders in particular can be fond of saying “We’re all one big happy family here!” 
Sometimes I hear that said and it doesn’t quite ring true, as if someone on high has decreed that this is what should be said and everyone else has to toe the party line. Sometimes it can sound a bit scary, a bit cult-like – in these circumstances, my reaction is that I have a family, thank you, and I like to spend time with them away from my workplace. I don’t need colleagues to replace the family I already have.
But the organisations that get this right take the good bits of being part of a family and apply that to the working world. For this to work, I believe that actions and words must match and feel genuine, authentic, real.
So how do you create an organisational culture that feels like a family, without being too cheesy or insincere? Here are a few things I think you need to consider:
  • Shared purpose – at successful organisations, everyone understands the business strategy and vision and what they are there to do. Take time to help everyone in your organisation understand the bigger purpose and their own contribution to it.
  • Connections and shared history – there will always be times when individuals bicker or have different opinions, but by and large, people are people and like to feel part of something and connected to others. These connections build up stories and shared experiences, which can be shared with new people who join the group. Use opportunities to tell stories of what happens in your organisation and cement those connections in people’s heads.
  • Language and meaning – the words that people choose to use can create a shared understanding of something. Find the right words to describe the work that your organisation does and the environment you work in and apply those words to everything from team names and meeting room signs, to project reports and marketing leaflets.
  • Recognising the whole person – we all have things we’re good at, things we’re not so good at. We all have interests outside the group, whether that be our home-life, our hobbies, other friends. In a family, we put up with all sorts of ‘funny little ways’ from family members; successful organisations recognise and celebrate the whole person. Colleagues chat to each other about all the things that they are interested in, not just work topics – this makes individuals feel valued and recognised.
I’m sure there are lots of things about families that organisations wouldn’t want to recreate, but there are plenty of positives too.

R&R or time to regroup

Rachel Eden profile April 2017I often find the summer is a time in which I take time out.  This year has been no different.  Over the summer so far I have taken time to:

  • Reflect – I have had a lot of consider and review the from past few months, and it’s good to take time out to reflect on the acheivements and what has changed.
  • Renew – I have taken time to refresh myself and ensure that I have the energy to continue to do what I want to do.
  • Relationships – the summer is a time in which we often spend more time with people we care about, in my case I have particularly been focused on spending some time with my children.
  • Remember – I have taken some time to remember things from the past, including some good memories of a much loved family member, that last year were too raw to think about much.
  • Review – I have taken time to consider the things that are most important to me, and consider what it is that I want to focus on.
  • Re-commit – I have taken time to the values and the things I stand for and re-commit myself to living in a way that reflects that.

How have you been spending August – has it been business as usual or are you taking stock?

4 steps to increase your impact and free up time

Holybrook Associates_4421b_resizeCoordinating Director Rachel Eden explores how you can turn an accounting concept into a practical 4 step approach to increasing your impact.

I have been pondering a blog post for about 3 months on the accounting concept of ‘limiting factor’ or what I prefer to think of as your key resource.

This is the thing that makes your organisation tick – it’s what makes your organisation successful and people want to work with it.

However, what is meant by it being limiting is that that special resource’s availability is, well, limited:  if you could have more of it your organisation would grow and do more: whether your focus is on making more money or having a greater impact on the world.

In the case of Holy Brook Associates – given that it has taken me since April to actually create a post on the topic – as you might guess it is my time as the Coordinating Director.

In fact whether I talk to entrepreneurs, small business owners, charity trustees and managers this is a pattern that I see over and over again, so let’s see how limiting factor analysis can help with this.

Translating the accounting concept of limiting factor analysis into thinking about this in human terms there are three steps to which I would add a fourth:

  1.  Prioritise tasks – doing the thing that contributes most to your organisation. This works up to a point, but there comes a time when the urgent and the important clash, or you just need to do everything – for example ensuring your annual return is done on time vs serving a new and exciting client.
  2. Delegate – ensure that your time is spent on the things that only you can do or you can do best – whether that is passing on admin and accounts, brand design or IT management. This can help to increase your capacity and expand what you do until you reach a point where you are only working on the things that really require what only you can add.  There is a cost-benefit equation here:  think about what will add more benefit than it will cost if you pass it on to someone else.
  3. Replicating your resource: find another person who can add to your capacity.  Traditionally this would be seen as finding a ‘resource’ identical to the existing resource – for example buying a machine that is the same as a macheine that is being run at capacity at the moment.  Translating that into a world where the issue is your time, finding someone with similar skills and outlook can really help your organisation to have greater impact.I’ve often heard this described as unicorn hunting, and that is the big downside – that person you are looking for might well be very hard to find.

I therefore advocate a fourth step which it has led to a very exciting set of work for me both with clients and the Holy Brook team:

  1. Cooperate: Find people or even organisations with complementary skills and similar values to collaborate with – either by hiring them, formally joining a cooperative or through an associate or contract arrangement. The likelihood is that you’ll learn from each other, grow together and be able to support clients in a greater range of ways.  A win for everyone


Good luck and if you want to spend a few minutes a day thinking about this side of your business it is worth signing up to our FREE go4growth online challenge

Building stronger connections through improved use of language

IMGP8686While written communication is important, we also love the spoken word.  Here Sarah shares some tips about sharing your messages verbally.
Recently I watched a feature film in German for the first time in about 20 years. And I understood it! And I laughed at the jokes! As a German graduate from the University of York, I really shouldn’t be so surprised, but when I left university I moved away from using my foreign languages and never really went back. Instead I have made the most of the general communication aspects and linguistic science side of my studies.
So why watch that film and why blog about it? Well, my husband – who has continued to use his languages throughout his career – was lent the DVD by his German colleague. She had recommended the movie and it seemed rude not to at least give it a go. As it turned out, it was a funny, light-hearted movie about a road trip across America and we both really enjoyed it.
I decided to blog about the experience for several reasons. Firstly, I love the written word and it’s a powerful part of my career and life in general; this film experience reminded me that the spoken word is fun too. Written and spoken language, whilst having a lot in common, can be different in many ways. Obviously there are occasions when you can write informally and when you need to speak in a formal manner, but broadly speaking there are fewer ‘rules’ to follow when you are talking.
There are words and phrases that sound great when you say them aloud and can be aided by the facial expressions that accompany them, but which could be easily misinterpreted or give the wrong impression when written down. This is apparent in many walks of life – how often have you or a colleague found a business email you sent has been misinterpreted and you’ve been misunderstood or branded ‘difficult’ for questioning a new process?
Secondly, watching a movie in a language in which I’m rather rusty reminded me that you don’t actually need to understand every word to know what’s going on. In a film where I recognised the overarching narrative and could see the actions of the characters and their faces displaying their emotions, I could work out the gist and that was usually enough.
Thirdly, I believe that we all need to think more carefully about the words that we use, the impact that what we say can have on others and how this can affect whole communities. We have certainly all seen more than enough examples of the power and potential damage of language in recent months.
Often in workplace communications it can feel as if people are speaking different languages (even if you’re all speaking English, and that’s not always the case anyway). This causes frustration, misunderstanding and even, at times, fear. My experience with this DVD has shown me that it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are a few ideas for avoiding issues:
·         Shared language and narrative. You need some agreement on words and phrases in the context and story of your organisation. People need to know the basic concepts of your culture to be able to understand. Perhaps consider providing an organisational ‘dictionary’ to help people, particularly when they are new.
·         Mixture of written and spoken languages. A combination of visual and linguistic clues will help smooth over some of the trickier points. It will also provide more opportunities to ask for clarification and to check that they meant what you think they did.
·         A willingness for mutual understanding. This can be the hardest thing of all. I believe that as fellow human beings we can always find some way to understand each other. But everyone has to be willing to try. It helps if there is a shared, common goal to motivate that willingness.
We run training courses on social media, communication and public speaking.  Get in touch for more information rachel.eden@holybrook-associates.co.uk

Living life to the full

2017-06-12 16.49.53Our founder Rachel Eden reflects on an unusual week:

Last week on Thursday I was a parliamentary candidate in the General Election, and came second to the sitting MP.  On Friday I was also one of three finalists in the Venus Awards Thames Valley, for Entrepreneur of the Year, a title worthily taken by the extremely able and very nice Charlotte Cavanah founder of ‘Time for Tea’.

I don’t normally talk about my political life in work but I’ve been encouraged by a couple of Team Holy Brook to share my thoughts on how these two experiences felt.

In both cases I exceeded my own expectations (I increased my party’s vote by 82% and I made it to the final), but I didn’t win.

Would I have preferred to win?


Was it still worth it given the outcomes?


So, what did I learn?

Plenty, but both processes had some common lessons:

  • It felt really good to represent something I passionately believe in.
  • Going in for something without the pressure of expectations is a great way of beating impostor syndrome
  • Taking a calculated risk is a great way of learning and developing.
  • sometimes apparently playing it safe is actually a bigger risk: the benefits of the process both personally and for my organisations were huge.
  • It was good practice at keeping your eyes open, and realism.
  • Trying something is a great opportunity to meet some new amazing people
  • A competitive process is also an opportunity to cooperate and deepen my professional and personal relationships with people I already know.
  • Bringing your whole self to something can work – in my professional life I can be apologetic for my political conviction and vice versa: but they are both aspects of my determination to help make a better world.
  • It can feel like a one off but just as there are no happy endings in life there are also no full stops on your professional journey: we say it to our children but it is true “There’s always next time”…

The final lesson I would share don’t be embarrassed about who you are or down play your conviction.

It is exactly one year since the anniversary of Jo Cox’s assassination today (Friday 16th June).  In one hustings, we were asked who our hero was and I was rather embarrassed to say it was Jo Cox and some other MPs currently in parliament who had inspired me.

It felt almost as if I was being presumptuous, but actually once I’d said it I realised just how true it was.

Jo Cox was an inspiration and just went for things – she didn’t hold back.  There has been a lot said about what she meant to people but the thing that really sticks with me is something her husband Brendan shared:

Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.”

We may not all have her talent and strength, but what an inspiring approach and a great way of ensuring you do everything you can to make a better world.