Small business, big picture - Chris Thomas talks strategy
Locate East Sussex supports businesses to attain their goals, expand, and find new markets, giving tailored advice and realistic guidance uniquely shaped to every business we speak to.
One of our business managers, Chris Thomas took Milan, Marketing Assistant and resident blogger, to meet with Cab Workshop, a creative joinery business that designs and creates bespoke architectural joinery and furniture, as they plan to relocate and expand their business.
Setting the scene
‘Every client has different goals for their business’ he told me before we were going to meet them, ‘my role is to help them understand what they are, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. It’s about giving them the opportunity to actually think and explore what they want from the business and then forming a plan that gets them there’
When Chris first meets a company, he strives to understand what the company’s goals and aims are and how they may change in the future. Developing your business to grow is not easy, especially when there are external factors such as legislation or market conditions to consider, and internal ones such as time and money that may limit options.
The Client – Cab Workshop
Based on Bridge Farm, Cab Workshop were referred to Chris by word of mouth from another business based on the farm. As Bridge Farm grows by an additional eight units with ultrafast broadband internet, Cab is going to be moving into one of Bridge Farm’s larger units in September.
As a successful joinery, the partnership between Alexander Moran, James Rai and Graham Reid wanted to consider all their growth options, establishing good processes in the move and ensure that they had the right finance in place.
Set up your goals
‘Goals and plans in business are important as they give a base for every decision and action to be judged against. I ask companies about the opportunities and risks they would be encountering in growth and expanding,’ Chris explained.
’It is all well and good to have the finances, the staff or clients but without a plan or goal companies just carry on aimlessly. For many small businesses, having an external person come in with different knowledge and potentially a different view of things really helps with developing a long-term plan.’
As we met in their socially distanced workshop, and after a few pleasantries, Chris asked them how business was going and got the low down on their plans. Using his own experience in project management and in business leadership, Chris was able to start helping them understand their business.
For Cab Workshop, they already have a reasonable idea of what they want to do but deciding how much risk they want to take in their new venture and what those risks are.
Taking a risk
For many businesses, working on strategy and brainstorming can be a luxury, and especially when you are dealing with the day to day. For them, Chris allowed them to open up to the opportunity to step away for a moment. ‘I do not tell the business how to do their jobs, but I lead them to ask themselves questions that can help them unlock that vision. Is it too much too quickly? Can just staying the same cause stagnation? What perspective as an organisation are we not considering? Not dealing with underlying issues makes these questions harder to answer when you never been asked these questions before and knowing when something is worth the risk.’
‘Risk is normal in business, but everyone has their own risk level, and you can only learn the potential of your business if you understand the risks to get there.’
For Cab Workshop, they had their own understanding of risk with minor difference in interpretations from owners Alexander, James and Graham, they had a unified vision of what and where they would like Cab to go in the next few years. ‘Meeting Chris was incredibly helpful, he gave us the space, even just for a few hours for us to step away from the day-to-day job and look at the wider picture’.
Chris helps guides businesses with a series of different questions, exploring the answers, and encouraging his clients to consider all their options that would have never previously considered.
‘Always look for the hows and the whys. What do they lead to? Why am I running a business and how will I run it?’
Chris wants all the businesses that he speaks to succeed, grow and employ new staff, but in order for that to happen businesses need to act. ‘Find out and understand the facts about your business through its numbers. Asking questions about the direction and the why and above all investing your time in your companies’ big picture’.
As Cab Workshop talked through their concerns, Chris presented to them among other business solutions, the product capacity mix. As they move into a new building, they need to interrogate their numbers, such as how to keeping a record of their previous jobs/projects accurately, the costs put into each job, and review the data to understand what their potential capacity is, allowing for a better workflow and efficiency.
‘For many businesses, the way the business can operate can really vary: do you have time to train a new employee or are you looking for an immediate skill? How much is your time and/or your money worth in your business? And when moving into a new modern space, how can you effectively use the space to your advantage?’
For Cab Workshop, Chris gave them many questions to consider, in their growth strategy and how they want to develop as they expand and apply for further funding. ‘It was great to meet a company that has a forward vision, and they appreciated my outsider’s perspective,’ reflected Chris after his visit.
So, what would you say is the best lesson that businesses can learn I asked him:
‘Show off what you can do. It is why you went into business in the first place, but make sure it is backed up by the numbers and you understand what it is you want to achieve. When you make a plan, you always have something to come back to when business doesn’t follow it.’
Cab Workshop had a lot of questions for Chris, but now it has its own questions to answer for themselves and the direction of their business. Watch this space as we follow their story in the next few months, and you can visit their website here.
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