I was born in Jamaica and raised in a poor, inner-city part of Birmingham. I failed at school and was kicked out of the army. Strangely, I always dreamt of owning my own farm. I’ve worked hard for my business but I think it’s important to assume you’re second best so that you’re constantly striving to be first, rather than assuming that being at the top is your right and end up resting on your laurels.
One thing that you come to realise as an entrepreneur is that you need absolute focus. If you’re trying to run a business and you want a balanced life, you’re going to be disappointed because you just can’t have both. You need to treat your business as if it’s in intensive care and put all the effort into sustaining it that a nurse would give when tending to a patient.
Town and country
There’s a big gap between rural and urban Britain. Lots of rural entrepreneurs seem to have lost their relationship and connection with their consumers. They’re struggling to get their products into the supermarkets because they don’t know how to close that gap. When I first started out, I used to travel the country giving out samples and getting customers to sign a petition to potential stockists, which I sent directly to the supermarket buyers.
Branding is extremely important and even more so in the country, where people tend to think marketing is a silly thing to do. They expect their customers to come to them and if they do try to establish a brand, it’s likely to be accompanied by some sort of old-fashioned, twee name that implies a certain exclusivity, which alienates an inner-city audience. These potential customers end up thinking the product isn’t meant for them and you lose out.
You need to be very careful with branding. You can’t just depend on assumptions and target the niche area of society that’s closest to you. The most important thing I ever did was research, but my advice would be to really put yourself through the mill and don’t rely on friends and family for opinions.
A not-so-simple life
There are great challenges for people doing business in the rural community, whether you’re farming, producing food or selling clothes. The issue of distribution is a real difficulty, simply because there’s a distinct lack of transport links so inevitably the cost goes up. My business is based in the South West of England and there are always problems getting to London. For many businesses it’s much harder to find a distribution company willing to transport from such isolated locations.
However, if you’re a rural business, the truth is that you are dealing with much smaller markets and you’ve therefore got to try to tap into the urban consumer if you want to grow; to do that you need to understand your business and the marketplace. Having said this, people tend to ignore the rural consumer, which is wrong as well as this group is often willing to spend a little bit more money on quality products; they can form a valuable part of your customer base.
The climate is right for rural entrepreneurship at the moment but they’re too keen to try to do everything themselves. Collaboration, I think, is often the answer. If you can join forces with those around you, you’ll find that problems like distribution become easier to solve.
While technology has made things much easier for business people in the countryside, running a company successfully is still about getting out there and meeting people. If you feel you need to have offices in London to be closer to those people and to your buyers; invest in some offices in London.
Business is all about forging relationships that are strong and stand the test of time.