I was invited to speak at the event held today by Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). I was asked to introduce my small rural business, describe my measures of success and say what I want from the LEP. This is what I said:
At Beechenhill Farm we have an organic dairy farm, eco tourism business (B&B and cottages), an eco wedding venue and a small artwork, web design and consultancy company.
My measures of success:
- Our organic farm is holding its own. We are looking forward to making our own organic cheese later this year and building an experimental small bio-digester to make energy from cow manure.
- Our cottages are full for around 45 weeks per year with a 60% repeat rate. We are booked up with weddings well into 2012. We are constantly ground breaking and working with other local businesses– be it renewable energies or cheese making- we love what we do.
- We have many networks and are working with more than 11 local businesses (our supply chain) using our business to spread economic benefits into our very rural, very special place
- We have reduced our carbon footprint by almost 50%
- We have won national awards for website design, accessible accommodation, sustainable tourism and recently been finalist in the global Virgin Holidays Responsible Travel Awards, along with businesses in Ecuador and Laos
- My daughter and son-in-law have invested their future with us at Beechenhill, so we have graduates coming back into our small business and our rural community
- But basically our old customers and new customers keep coming and we keep developing new stuff for them to enjoy. They are my real measures of success!
Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
The LEP is our new world. It is the context in which we operate, the air that we breathe; we have no alternative so we must make this work for us. We have the fantastic example of successful, award winning public private sector partnership in the Staffordshire Destination Management Partnership Board; EnjoyStaffordshire. We must learn the new language and really find out what Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are made of- what is out there? We need to understand where we are before evidence based actions can be taken. What is our potential? How to we realise it?
My requests to the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP
- Women on the board! For goodness sake!- why not?
- Communication processes that work both ways- make sure your message gets out to men, women and young entrepreneurs at the furthest reaches of your universe and listen out for our messages coming in to you, please let us know you’ve heard, nobody likes talking to an empty space. Find different ways to communicate- find existing networks like Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE). Use social networks- we are all on Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks- please use them!
- Wise growth- true sustainability, where resilient businesses grow without damaging their future resources and Staffordshire becomes known for supporting and engendering innovative, resilient businesses that tackle tomorrow’s issues. Support growth in quality and value not necessarily only in quantity. Treasure Staffordshire’s environment- it will attract successful people who want to live and work in a nice place.
- Leaky borders– customers don’t see county boundaries, I know they are vital for politicians but they cause problems for small businesses trying to co-operate within marketable areas- please respect the iconic brands and don’t reinvent the wheel! –Please look at things through business eyes and through customers’ eyes.
- Broadband that works for all– in our area broadband doesn’t get to the businesses at the end of the phone line- they are single, small, rural businesses, usually on the borders- so no-body cares. Actually you may think that mobile phone coverage is sorted – it isn’t and without either or both, our rural potential is suppressed.
- Appropriate business advice– many small businesses don’t know how to employ people, we are too busy running our businesses. We don’t have HR departments. If the LEP is about creating jobs and growing businesses, please find ways to support potential employers and show them how to do it, how to take that first step (whilst also lobbying to have regulations simplified for small businesses, please.) Official statistics suggest that businesses with 5 or less employees may make up over 90% of the business population*. There are around 27,000 small and micro companies in Staffordshire, if only half of them took on an employee that’s over 13,000 jobs!
- Young People– And finally please involve young people early in their lives and make enterprise the norm.
*Official statistics show that there are around 40,000 businesses operating in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, with over 27,000 businesses employing less than five employees. This equates to around 70% of the areas business population.
However, these official statistics miss out some of the smallest businesses, and information from other sources suggests that businesses with 5 or less employees may actually make up over 90% of the business population.