23 Jan

Devon’s rural businesses strong enough to face an uncertain future

Derek Phillips, Chair of the DR Company Board of Directors, writes in the Western Morning News today

Whatever happens politically in the next few weeks, the UK is likely to enter into a period of change after March 2019. The outcomes of these changes to come are likely to affect most businesses in some way. However while the future is debated and while the country feels in many ways in pause mode, it is vital to remember that our communities are still getting on with life. Devon has hundreds of thriving businesses, many of which are small (including sole traders), independent and rural. These businesses may be feeling the strain of uncertainty but they are also contributing reliably to keeping the economy afloat whilst their future is decided. We at the DR Company have helped hundreds of small, independent businesses and community projects to set up or to grow over the last ten years. We know that robust, innovative, competitive and successful businesses will be able to face whatever change may come with confidence.

It is because of this that we are encouraging all of our clients, past and present, to focus less on what will happen outside of their business in the future and instead concentrate in the present on making sure their business is as strong and organised as it can be from within. For those businesses who are prospering, working to full capacity can mean it is difficult to find time to do some of the all important administrative tasks. However this is the moment to do those ‘never a good moment for ..’ jobs. Whether it is putting a regular stock check in place, finding a sensible place to store receipts and invoices, or planning a marketing strategy, these things put a business one step ahead when the time comes to undertake tasks such as compiling accounts, applying for funding, tendering for investment or attracting new customers.

We know that any business should have a clear, current and accurate understanding of their market, their competitors, their customers and their product. Refreshing or starting a comprehensive market research project can influence a business’s marketing strategy, financial planning, and growth objectives. It will also provide a sound starting point for applying for funding, seeking sponsors and increasing profit margins when the time comes. In business, knowing where you are starting from is the key to knowing where you can go.

Many a successful business can benefit from taking time to ensure employees and senior management/owners are looked after and enthused by their roles. Looking at staff training, development, and benefits will build a loyal and motivated team that can face new opportunities and challenges successfully. Senior management that feels in control of the nuts and bolts of the business will be people who are also in a position to enter into any new enterprises with perceptive, evidenced based confidence.

All businesses encounter change during their lifecycle. That change can come from within the business for example with employee turnover, expansion of the business or product review. Change can also come from outside the business such as from customer feedback, because of market alterations, or due to legislative modifications. The businesses who are built on strong foundations generally cope with change well. They have structure and procedure in place. They understand their product or service, they know their market, their customers and their competitors. They plan, they work well as a team, and they are passionate about what they do and why.

So many of the rural businesses we support at the DR Company exemplify these characteristics. Quite often it is because they have faced change already that they are in a better position to face change in the future. Many of them have sought funding, investment, finance or support. The very process of applying for funding, or seeking investment, requires the business to look carefully at the way they work, the true figures and facts connected with their business, and the strength of their product with an objective eye. The procedure of filling out forms and demonstrating the worth of the business to an investor or funder cannot be done successfully without thorough knowledge of the ins and outs of the business. These businesses are robust and can demonstrate their strengths (examples can be found at www.drcompany.co.uk).

So while we are waiting to see the outcomes of political change we should celebrate the people and communities who have built and continue to run thriving businesses in our local areas. The businesses themselves should take pride in their successes so far and confidence from knowing that they are robust and prepared for new challenges. The innovation and creativity that it takes to start a business, and the hard work and commitment it takes to build a successful one, are all the tools that will be needed to face whatever changes may come and enjoy a positive outcome from them.

By Derek Phillips,

Chair of the Board of Directors at the DR Company

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