Anyone can be an entrepreneur regardless of their starting point, according to a panel of successful business figures brought together by the Future Farmers of Yorkshire.
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society-backed farming network took its annual Autumn Debate online for the first time and delivered valuable messages of inspiration and frank advice to an audience of nearly 200 younger farmers, vets and industry professionals.
It offered ‘Top tips for keeping an entrepreneurial mindset’ ahead of a period of great change for British agriculture. Brexit policies and trade decisions, as financial support for the industry is overhauled, puts emerging generations of rural professionals at the forefront of finding ways to forge vibrant business futures in the countryside.
‘Be brave and stay true to you’
Panellist, Victoria Robertshaw, founder of Keelham Farm Shop shared lessons from her experiences, having worked alongside her brother James to develop Keelham Farm Shop on the family’s farm in Thornton, Bradford and on a new site in Skipton.
Having established the Keelham brand, the business now generates £10m in annual sales, supports more than 450 Yorkshire farmers and producers and has created 160 jobs.
Now at the helm of Delicious Planet Consultancy, Victoria, whose early career in accountancy took her to London and roles with Dixons Retail and Freeserve, said entrepreneurs need to be brave and stick to their principles.
You have to be prepared to take risks and do things you believe in. That takes a bit of courage sometimes.
I was told you couldn’t build a shop that had windows in because food and light don’t go together, and you had to have aisles that are up and down because that’s the way people like to shop. We broke the rules and it worked.
‘Pull apart your ideas’
Art auctioneer Tom Best grew up on a cider farm in Dorset before going on to become an auctioneer at the prestigious Christie’s auction house in London before quitting his job to start his own auctioneering business.
During the debate, Tom told of how he launched The Auction Collective after picking up on how many of his friends wanted to, but struggled to, find contemporary artwork to buy. He got started by holding ‘pop up’ auctions in London galleries but the coronavirus lockdown saw him live stream auctions and this has taken his business international.
Tom advised budding entrepreneurs to rigorously plan.
If you are thinking about doing something, chat with your friends about it, pull it apart as much as you can but just get on with it. Get testing it and hear what people are saying. That will help you work out the direction you’re going.
‘Deliver a clear message’
Farm shop and events venue owner Charlotte Wells-Thompson, of Bert’s Barrow in Hillam, Leeds, told the debate that her drive has come from a passion to promote local produce and her husband Jason’s dream to open a farm shop. Their multi-award-winning business started life as a wheelbarrow selling fruit and veg and an honesty box on the family farm.
In the peak of lockdown, they were selling more than 200 veg boxes a day after the retail space was reinvented as a drive-thru farm shop.
Reflecting on Bert’s success, Charlotte explained that the business promotes a very clear message that customers can identify with.
When people come to Bert’s they are supporting us but they are supporting so many other businesses as well. We’ve got to look after each other. We’re all in it together. Think about where you buy your produce.
‘There’s more than one way to be successful’
Hannah Senior, managing director PBS International which specializes in mass pollination control, urged Future Farmers not to equate entrepreneurial success with the rare multi-billon pounds success stories of famous “outliers” such as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
Hannah’s business success initially came from working with North American plant breeders and developing efficient pollination bags to better control the production of pine tree seeds.
There’s a whole industry around entrepreneurship – books, courses, incubators, advisors – and they are all very keen to convince you that you too could be as successful as Bill Gates. For some people, these successes are motivating but for others they are alienating people who think they don’t match up.
Entrepreneurship comes in many flavours. You need to start with a clear idea of the customer need and you need to manage the risk level that suits you. Listen to what customers are telling you and learn from mistakes, but whatever you do, don’t get taken in by the hype, there is more than one way to be an entrepreneur.
Charlotte Middlebrook, a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire management board who chaired the debate, said:
We hope our speakers have inspired the next generation of entrepreneurs to look for their own opportunities. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, no matter what your starting point is.
To catch up on the Autumn Debate, click here to watch the live recording.
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