Top Tips: Making your business grow

In the six years since I started my baby food business, Ella’s Kitchen, I’ve seen a lot change. Not least watching our staff of one expand to over 50. You have to keep pace with that level of change if you want to continue growing. Here are the five most important things I’ve learnt so far:

1. Stick to your vision and values

The first – and most important – thing I’d recommend is stick to your vision and values. Most companies have a clear vision when they start, but, as they get bigger, they often drift away from their original purpose and consequently lose their unique selling point. You need this to fight against the competition. I always visualise this as a lighthouse at the end of the sea – representing our fixed values, whilst we are rowing in open sea towards it, constantly tossed by the waves, wind and tides off course but always adjusting to keep the same destination in sight and in mind.

At Ella’s Kitchen, we’ve only been successful in taking market share away from the big players in our field because we constantly go back to the user – mums, dads and kids – to ask them what they want. They are an endless source of inspiration. For instance, we wouldn’t have launched our product with distinctive brightly coloured, squidgy packages if we hadn’t realised that kids and babies love playing with them.

2. Take advice

People often say: “Two heads are better than one”, but equally dozens of heads are even better. I strongly recommend taking advice from lots of people. For example, we consult a dietician and nutritionist as core team members. You need expert advice on your product or service if you want them to be the best they can be.

Financial advice is also invaluable. Our non-executive directors, for example, have helped us plan for growth at every stage, opening our eyes to all of the options available to us. We couldn’t have doubled our profit every year since launching without them.

3. Innovate, and then innovate some more

You have to keep innovating too. You mustn’t stop after your first growth spurt. Google, for example, is an innovation machine. It pumps 14 per cent of its revenue into research and development every year and asks its web developers to spend 20 per cent of their time doing whatever they like in the hope they’ll hit upon the next great idea.

This won’t work in every industry, of course, but you must give it the same sort of commitment. We have a partnership with teams of academics, psychologists and scientists at the University of Reading, for instance, helping us to uncover new ways to develop a healthy relationship with food.

4. Use revenue sharing models where you can

Cash is tight in the early days of any start-up, so finding ways to share the cost or defer payment with a supplier can be a great help.

We partnered with a major television company to get advertising without any upfront costs. They allowed us to use their unsold advertising space in return for a cut of the revenues. Doing things this way meant we didn’t expose ourselves to any risk.

5. Build staff loyalty

You are only as good as the people who work for you – and those people are far better when they have years of experience in your company. It’s important therefore to engender loyalty. Bonus schemes, share options, development plans and smaller benefits are fairly obvious – but often overlooked – ways to do this. Giving your team a sense of purpose, autonomy and a chance of mastery are even better ways to engage the right people who will make that difference, because with these you introduce a new dynamic – passion.