I am proud to say that Little Trove has bagged another business award!
Last year, I entered a business competition in Staffordshire called the Business Boost Awards offering prize money of £1000 and a part-funded apprentice. I entered in the entrepreneurial spirit category. I guess the judges were impressed by our combination of fair trade products and party planners conducting home parties because they awarded us the first prize! With the £1000, we installed a wooden cabin in our warehouse to create a heated space for my apprentice and I. I was very grateful for the win because our warehouse is otherwise freezing cold! I didn’t win the apprentice prize though. I guess applying for an apprentice in warehousing and logistics wasn’t sexy enough.
So this year in June when I saw the same advert about the competition, I thought I’d better not be too greedy. However, for the first time the organisers had a category entitled “recognising social enterprise”. I thought “what’s there to lose in trying?” We are a social enterprise and we need the money to subsidise those crazily expensive trade fair stands! Not to mention having a spare set of hands in the office will be useful if we get a new apprentice.
Stage 1: A simple application form asking the usual contact details, the intended use of the prize money, whether an apprentice was needed as well as a 100 word summary of the business.
It was important here to make sure the summary fit the objectives of the category. Since it was for “social enterprise”, I made sure to say straight away that Little Trove was a fair trade company, whose mission was to increase living standards through trade. I explained the whole process from production to sales and reinvestment into the producer groups to highlight the social aspect of the enterprise.
Stage 2: An invitation to submit a business plan. Having passed stage 1, we were asked to submit a business plan by mid-Sept. Luckily, I have software called “Business Plan Pro” that takes you through the relevant parts of a business plan and puts in fancy graphs! The plan encompassed general information about the business, market research, management structure, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), a marketing plan, web plan, financial forecasts (including cash flow forecast) for 3 years etc etc.
I’m no expert but I gave it my best! I am always prudent and conservative in my forecasts, meaning I always deflate income projections and inflate costs. That way my forecasts show a worse case scenario. The hope is always to bring in more income and to reduce costs but I’d rather not be too optimistic in a plan.
The plan was judged by a panel of businessmen. I had no idea if it was good or not.
Stage 3: Live presentation. I was invited to make a 10 minute presentation to the judging panel on the morning of 9th October, in the final round of the competition. That morning, my husband and I went armed in very smart business suits, a power point presentation, product samples and marketing materials.
At that stage, you want to create an instant good impression. You want to show them that you are a solid business. We are a small company but that doesn’t mean we have to operate unprofessionally.
Confidence is key. If a business owner isn’t confident when they walk into the room, why should anyone want to buy what they’ve got to sell?
Passion is also important. If you’re in this fair trade business, you’ve got to be passionate about it. There are easier ways to make money than this. In this fair trade business, I visit remote corners of the world, create products with people who have very basic education and infrastructure, pre-pay the producers prior to production out of my own pocket and then have to pay exorbitant trade stand fees to attract retailers and offer credit to small shops that can’t afford to pay upfront for their small orders.
Only people who see the bigger social picture and realise that they can contribute to change will be bothered to do this. The world needs such mad people to equalise the imbalance in world trade. Quite frankly, I earned more and worked less as a solicitor.
For the presentation, I used a power point presentation I had prepared with powerful pictures of our producer groups and clear information about how the business operates, the benefit to the producers & the use of the prize money. Learning from last year that warehousing and logistics isn’t interesting, I applied for an apprentice in marketing and creative design instead. I showed what support and infrastructure would be available at our office to train an apprentice.
Then a 20 minute Q & A from the judging panel, drilling down some financial information from the business plan etc etc. I sensed that one judge asked what legal structure we were (which is a limited company) because he had an issue with us not being a CIC (Community Interest Company). He didn’t say it but I knew what he was wondering. It’s important in life to see behind people’s questions. They asked something but what’s behind the question? Often you should answer the question behind the question because that sorts out the heart of the matter. People don’t always know to ask the right questions. I said we were a limited company but that we had incorporated a CIC to transfer into etc. My husband told me off later for giving too long an answer when a simple “limited” would have sufficed.
I can assure you with all my legal training and quoting the Guide on Social Enterprise on the Government BIS (Department of Business Innovation and Skills) website that a social enterprise can have many legal forms; a limited company, a CIC, a sole trader, association etc. You get my gist. A CIC is only one form of social enterprise. For more information: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/legal-forms-for-social-enterprise-a-guide
Finals: Awards ceremony
I’m not sure what the speeches were about. I was too nervous thinking about the result. They showed video after video of the finalists; 14 in total across 3 category. Then ours. I saw the competitor’s video and thought “Crap we’ve lost, for sure”. They did marvellous work locally with families. Our social impact was abroad. Doubts creep in as to whether our business is good enough. The envelope is opened and it’s US! We won the first prize of £1000!
Our £1000 is going straight to Spring Fair 2015. Come see us in Hall 4, Stand number to be confirmed!
At the very end, were the 2 apprentice prizes v 14 finalists. I thought “no chance” of getting one. The first one is awarded to a IT company and the very last prize of the night goes to US! I couldn’t believe it for one second. We won a part-funded apprentice too! I could not have been happier! As I write this, I still can’t believe it. I’m waiting for the real cheque to arrive and for the apprentice provider to be in touch. I’ve also won some training voucher from our chamber of commerce and 1 year’s membership of a social enterprise organisation.
Did I tell you that the judge who drilled me at the Q & A said to me right after my win as I shook his hand that for him I wasn’t going to win because I was a limited company and that my one answer about us becoming a CIC was what swung it for him? I smiled and thanked him for the win thinking with my legal brain that a social enterprise is about the purpose of a company not its legal form. You see how an answer answering his real question and not limited to his actual question made the difference between a win and a loss?
The point I would like to make is that people often think they aren’t good enough or that their competitors are doing better than they actually are. People sometimes don’t put themselves forward because they think they will lose. If you don’t try you’ve lost anyway!
Founder & MD
at a ceremony held in Staffordshire on 9th October 2014.