Meet the Business Adviser – Rana Sultan26 August 2022
Continuing our series of ‘Meet the Adviser’ blogs here’s our latest conversation with Business Gateway Adviser, Rana Sultan.
What’s your background?
I spent many years working abroad for Deloittes and EY (Ernst and Young) in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. I had projects in Jeddah, Riyadh and Bahrain consulting on anything to do with Islamic finance and growth, taking a helicopter view. Eventually, I decided to come back to my roots and where my family are as I was born in Leicester.
In Riyadh my role was to instigate a strategy that changed the mindset of the entire country over a ten-year period. It needed a holistic approach. The Government was no longer going to give out funds to Riyadhians, they wanted them to learn how to save instead of taking the attitude of spend now, worry later.
I learned some interesting things there. Particularly about the high regard in which women are held in that society and the etiquette around that. It was also a very family-orientated place. It was fascinating.
What’s your range of clients now?
My territory is Market Harborough and Melton Mowbray. My clients are an interesting mix of dog grooming, home cleaning or selling services like the wellbeing market to some in construction and tech. Most of them are microbusinesses and some of them are established and looking to go to the next level.
The issues are usually around them wanting a grant and that’s not always what they need and they are often not eligible. So, I explore the issues behind them asking for a grant to see what their challenge actually is. I look at my role as enabling businesses to gather knowledge and make their own decisions with a bit of coaching – being a pilot fish to a shark and giving them a little nudge.
I ask them where they’d like to be in five years’ time. Do they have a business plan, a marketing plan, a long-term vision?
The majority of my clients will not have a business plan. If they do, it’ll be a single sheet of paper with a simple financial forecast rather than a document that shows how they’re planning to develop the business over a period of years. A proper business plan will help you check if you’re on the right track each month.
I’ve heard that before. Other Business Advisers have told me that very often a business owner will have a great idea for a product or service and a passion around that. That will enable them to get so far but, because they often don’t have all the skills needed to run a business, they get stuck at a certain stage after launching. Has that been your experience?
By and large it’s initially down to luck. Some of these businesses are trail-blazers. They don’t necessarily understand the risk or the conditions of the market they’re entering. They plunge in and it’s sink or swim so they work extremely hard to make their business work. And unless there’s something big like COVID, they will keep going and growing at a good speed. But because they’re executers not planners, they are not prepared when they get to the next stage. I always say that as a businessperson, you need to commit to ongoing learning if you’re going to become a ‘C-suite person’ ie a CEO or CFO.
And what is their attitude to personal development?
They’re juggling too many things at once, so they have no time. The business has got to the stage where it has plateaued so it will either decline or stagnate unless they make the time and acquire the skills to take it to the next level of growth.
There’s often no future planning either. I see the same situation I used to see with clients from my past roles where there is no accession planning, no exit strategy or anything like that. In many family businesses, the younger generation is just not interested in taking on the company with its long hours.
The problem then is that your company is not ready to be sold because none of the ‘documentation’ is there for potential buyers to consult: no business plan or strategy, no proper financial accounts or brand value. It looks good from the outside but once you scratch the surface the foundations are quite weak.
Who are your most interesting clients at the moment?
One is a client called Hedkayse (https://www.hedkayse.com/) who have created a bike helmet that is much more durable than a traditional bike helmet. The founders Tony Walker and Andy Creak wanted to solve a problem most cyclists didn’t know they had. Specifically, that polystyrene bike helmets aren’t tough enough for the London commuter: every time we knock them off our desk or drop them on the ground, this causes damage, reducing their ability to withstand a crash.
So their product is the result of four years of research and development by a team of British designers and uses a pioneering new wonder material called Enkayse. This dissipates energy on impact, rather than crumpling. This means it’s still totally safe to use after a crash or knock — that’s crucial if you need to get back on the bike after coming off.
Their helmet is collapsible and has been dubbed “the world’s toughest”. It’s capable of withstanding multiple impacts, like being hit by a bus or run over by a car.
For them commercially, COVID has been a blessing because more people have taken up cycling and the Bike to Work scheme has taken off. So, they’re doing really well. I have some knowledge of the world of people with severe disabilities and helmets are often worn there so I recommended that they should look at this huge market too. They’re doing that now and of course that brings a social responsibility element to their business which is great.
Hedkayse are now at the stage where, because they’re expanding, they need to grow their team including bringing in a second in command to avoid missing out on opportunities and losing momentum. We’ve looked at apprentices, MediLink and iNet to find the right kind of help. We need to get past that feeling that a business is ‘my baby’ and bring in other people who share our values and who can help develop the business in a way that’s consistent with those values.
I used to have a friend in Hong Kong, who’s passed away unfortunately, called Tank Chan. He paid his employees a million dollars and in return he wanted them to be online 24/7 so that they could answer any question he might ask about the lay of the land: how the market was developing or what the latest ideas were. These guys were so empowered that they provided information and ideas worth much more than he paid them.
Any other clients who are doing something different?
There’s a company called A Little Less Waste (https://www.alittlelesswaste.co.uk/) in Melton Mowbray that is a zero-waste shop run by a woman called Lucy. Their challenge is to find a marketing platform that will drive sales for them AND to produce the right content to maximise the impact of that platform. We’ve all been followed around by ads that reflect our search habits on Google and that’s part of what they need to consider.
Social media marketing needs a call to action so your customers can respond and also so that you can monitor your return on investment. Potential customers love to see video testimonials from other people like them so social media like Tik Tok is great for that.
There’s a company called Market Harborough Fixers CIC (Community Interest Company) and they’re people who can repair products – just like the Repair Shop on TV – and teach people how to repair their appliances. That’s a nice sustainable service to take a look at, if you’re on Facebook.
Force Scaffolding (www.ForceScaffolding.co.uk) are experiencing huge growth at the moment. They provide scaffolding to blue chip companies to Wimpey and people like that. They also provide the people to set it all up. The challenge now because of the cost of living is that they’re in a price war and staff are being poached by competitors. Clients are also taking longer terms for their invoices.
The original vision of the company was around employing forces veterans who are very loyal and enjoy working outside. I’ve recommended that they revisit that idea as well as taking on apprentices and developing them to build loyalty. Interestingly, that company is run by a woman called Claire Bradshaw and she is doing a great job.
Another company I’m supporting manufactures car air fresheners and soap products. During COVID the soap products sales grew of course but the car air fresheners declined because no one was driving to work anymore. That’s just a simple illustration of how your product range can come and go in terms of sales and it pays to be flexible, think differently and be able to respond to changes in the market.
What do you bring to your role?
I really get interested in my client companies and feel passionate about helping them. I enjoy helping them and I moved away from high pressure consulting because I wanted to do more valuable work for my quality of life. I want to see my clients do well and if I can use my experience to do that, I’m very happy to do that. We have a saying ‘earn your salt well’ so that’s what I try to do.
Rana was talking to Peter Allen.