I am not a regular listener to The Archers; the BBC Radio Four tale of everyday country folk; but of late I have taken to working with the radio on to provide background noise. I have therefore become aware of the latest goings on in Ambridge. There has been significant media attention paid to the storyline of Helen Archer and the psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of her psychopathic husband Rob. This ended with Helen stabbing Rob but being found not guilty of attempted murder when his abusive nature came to light.
However, it was not the Helen Archer storyline which grabbed my attention but the arrival in the village of two new characters, Rex and Toby Fairbrother. The brothers arrived with the intention of starting an egg production business. Despite the concerns of some of the locals, they managed to rent some land and get the Grundy clan to build them a hen-house. Their business immediately caused arguments, particularly the existing organic egg supplier in the area.
Suffice to say, the egg business did not match up to the Fairbrother’s expectations. They therefore decided to buy some geese and fatten them up for the Christmas market. Again existing local businesses had their noses put out of joint, particularly the Grundy’s who had traditionally supplied turkey’s to local businesses and consumers.
Rex Fairbrother appears to be a grafter but his brother is less reliable. Toby Fairbrother’s bio on The Archer’s website includes the following passage; “”Never short of ideas but lacks the commitment to turn a business plan into a money-making reality”. The word plan is a bit misleading. What they mean is business idea as Toby never appears to properly plan anything.
Things came to a head just before Christmas. Toby was left in charge of the hen-house but forgot to properly secure the gate. A fox got in and there was a chicken massacre. the two brothers fell out and following some fisticuffs in The Bull, Toby left the business.
Toby didn’t appear too concerned about this turn of events and soon he was on to his next money-spinning venture, an artisan gin distillery. This scheme failed to get off the ground almost immediately. Firstly, Toby seemed unable to produce a consistently reliable product. Secondly, he hadn’t considered that he needed a distilling licence from HMRC and needed to follow the bond procedures.
You may be wondering why I have spent so long describing a storyline from a popular daily soap opera. Well, it is because it rings true and I have seen circumstances very similar to that experienced by the Fairbrothers. The Archers began in the late 1940’s as a way of providing information to farmers and rural businesses in an entertaining manner. It soon turned into a soap opera. However, to this day, the programme retains an agricultural business advisor and I suspect that individual has had significant input into the Fairbrother storyline.
During my long career in Trading Standards, I came across many businesses who were in similar circumstances to the Fairbrothers. At one stage, I had one ‘entrepreneur’ who turned up for advice on a different business idea virtually every week. Few of his business ideas had any real prospect of reaching fruition and many were in direct contravention of UK law. At least that individual was willing to seek advice but I see many more small businesses who seem unwilling to seek advice or to plan properly.
I attend business networking groups and I have gone through the business start-up process. I am therefore fully aware of the issues facing small businesses.
My experience with trying to get funding for my business has raised some issues. Most funders ask for a business plan. this is usually focused on financial growth forecasts. In short, they want to know that they are getting their loan capital back. Often the only other questions asked are for a SWOT analysis and a description of the business. Very few questions are asked about strategy or how strengths are going to be used to combat weaknesses.
At the networking groups I attend, there is a steady procession of new businesses. Many of these are individuals newly pushed into self-employment and some appear to have little more than a basic business idea. Take the example of one such business, a cosmetics manufacturer. I got chatting to this individual and she seemed unaware that the law required her to register with the EU and to send copies of her packaging to the appropriate EU agency. She had partly followed the cross-European labelling regime for cosmetics but certain required information and symbols were missing. She wasn’t keeping the required product technical file and she was completely failing to meet the requirements as to cosmetics under the UK weights and measures regime. This individual initially appeared offering marketing consultancy work (without apparent qualifications) but soon switched to the cosmetics idea.
I have seen ‘businesses’ which are little more that Ponzi schemes. I have seen some network marketing businesses which seemed to be good opportunities but others which are little more than illegal pyramid schemes. I have seen businesses which are little more than the provider of pin-money. I have also seen an awful lot of ‘me too’ businesses.
Toby Fairbrother’s gin distillery is a ‘me too’ business. One person jumping on a fad which others had already started. I first saw this with jam-making. Every farmer’s wife and WI member in my local patch appeared to want to start a business selling their jam. I next saw it with micro-breweries, then it was cup cake manufacture and most recently artisan gin distilleries. Mostly, these businesses were all trying to attract the same target customers in the same niche segment. These markets became saturated and many of these businesses either struggled or collapsed. Ask yourself, how many cup cake businesses started a couple of years ago are still operating?
Fifty six percent of SMEs fail within the first five years. In the restaurant sector things are much worse. Eighty percent of new restaurants fail within the year. The number of people being forced into self-employment has rocketed and research shows that the vast majority of them earn far less than they did as an employee. Many are struggling to make ends meet.
I have also seen presentations from ‘small business guru’s’ offering a range of solutions for small businesses. Some of these offer ‘magic bullet’ solutions to growth and income generation. Some are little more than motivational speakers. others provide a decent service but either tie businesses in to long-running contracts or charge excessive fees.
There is no magic bullet. Running and growing a business takes effort, resources and the ability to take expert advice.
I started Philmus Consulting because I foresaw that local authority trading standards services were no longer able to give in-depth guidance to small businesses. I started Philmus Consulting because I saw small businesses were often created without proper planning and marketing expertise. I started Philmus Consulting because I saw that there was a clear need to provide a level of marketing science and regulatory advice to small businesses which would more normally be found with their bigger counterparts. I started Philmus Consulting because I know that I have the professional knowledge and experience to give that advice and as such I can help small businesses survive and thrive.
So, don’t be Toby Fairbrother; don’t be one of the many small businesses destined for short-term failure. Contact Philmus Consulting today and put your business on a secure footing.