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How to rescue a small business

How do you take a small business from loss to profit in 18 months? It depends of course, but Julianne Ponan of Creative Nature managed to do just that. We headed to the Business Startup Show at London’s ExCel to hear about her incredible journey.

“Success doesn’t happen overnight. I was eating beans for a month because that’s all I could afford.” – Julianne Ponan

How it started

Having begun a career in investment banking, it didn’t take Julianne long to realise she wanted to be on the other side of the investment process. Her first act of entrepreneurship was to quit her job and invest all her savings into buying the then failing company, Creative Nature. Even at 22, she was confident of turning the company’s fortunes around. As she mentioned, “there’s never a perfect moment to start your business.”

Next Step

After assessing the business, Julianne’s first task was to build solid foundations. This meant firing the whole management team and bringing in a trusted friend. “Then we needed to focus and find the core products.” At the time Creative Nature sold a wide range of largely unrelated products but among these were superfood snack bars. Julianne’s research showed the ‘free-from’ food market was ready to grow by 20% over the next year. She had found her gap in the market.

Time To Grow

With solid foundations in place, Creative Nature’s next task was to grow. At this stage the going got tough. So tough that Julianne came close to giving up. She was having cashflow problems and badly needed investment. Every investor she approached turned her down as they thought the business was too risky or too young – “one investor even laughed at my financial forecasts.”

“It was becoming clear we needed a major multiple,” said Julianne. To save their skin, Creative Nature needed to be listed by one of the big supermarkets. In a last ditch effort to save her business she invested the remaining £6,000 of the marketing budget into a stall at a popular trade show. She brought on a small team and taught them how to pitch the products effectively, which they did, all day.

In the morning Julianne received a call from Tesco saying they wanted to launch Creative Nature in three weeks.

Race to Launch

The news from Tesco was music to Julianne’s ears until she processed the amount of stock she would have to package up in three weeks. Her advice in retrospect was to “get your infrastructure in place before you launch”.

The next three weeks saw Julianne’s entire extended family packing and labelling Creative Nature snack bars every day until 4am. Finally, with the product packaged and ready for transport, the Tesco van arrived. Unfortunately it brought with it some now infamous words: ‘where’s your forklift?’ Tesco couldn’t take the stock without a forklift. They weren’t going to make the launch.

Julianne knew: “every problem has a solution”. Her solution was to race down to a tile shop at the end of the road and borrow theirs. Creative Nature made the shelves.

Five Major Lessons Learnt

 

Julianne’s journey has been bit of a rollercoaster and you should expect to have ups and downs when launching a new business. To avoid some of the nail biting, here’s what Julianne has learnt:

  • Have a purpose and make sure you deliver. Don’t spend all your time ogling competitors.
  • Surround yourself with people who raise your standards. Go to seminars and networking events.
  • Time management. What is your value? Focus your time on what’s best for the business and outsource more menial tasks.
  • It’s all about the team. Trim the fat and be selective when recruiting.
  • Tiny changes. That’s what it takes. Small changes make all the difference. Try changing your pitch from price pushing to value proving.

 



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