The Business Owner: Harriet Hastings, Biscuiteers
The entrepreneur discusses the challenge of scaling an artisanal business and using an alternative way to reach international markets
Name: Harriet Hastings
Founders: Harriet Hastings and Stevie Congdon
Proposition: Why send flowers when you can send biscuits?
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
When we launched our business we were the first business of its kind. No one else was gifting hand-iced biscuits in this way. As the sector and the market has grown, I think what now defines us is the quality of our packaging and our designs.
How did you finance your business?
Initially, and luckily, my husband has a catering and events company which is called Lettice. As a result of that he had an industrial kitchen, so we sort of incubated biscuiteers out of his company.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Cashflow. I think most people would say cash, it tends to be the thing that kills small businesses. I would say, because I look after that aspect of the business, the most important thing to making a business successful is the marketing.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
We are an artisanal business. This means that one of the big and interesting things we’re doing right now is learning how to scale what is basically a completely handmade production line. Just to get the volume that we need has been really interesting, we’ve literally had to create our own processes and equipment, because really nothing existed like this.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
An increasingly wide range, when we started we relied quite heavily on traditional media and PR because that’s a very cost effective way to reach customers.
But as we’ve got bigger we are relying more heavily on digital marketing techniques to reach customers as well.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
I think exporting is a great opportunity for a lot of businesses, however I also think there are a lot of different ways to reach international markets and they’re not always around export. In our case we are approaching it in a slightly different way and looking at international licensing.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
I think Microsoft 365 is absolutely brilliant because it just means that everybody in the team can collaborate through email and documents, and everyone can work flexibly.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
It’s hugely creative, it’s genuinely entrepreneurial in the sense that one of the great things about running a small business is that you have the capacity to give people the ability to explore their ideas and run with them in a way that in some large businesses may not be possible. And finally, it’s pretty frenetic – the speed at which things happen is pretty fast.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
Sort out business rates – we have been opening shops recently in London and the business rates are absolutely punitive.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
Chrissie Rudders, The White Company. It’s a retail business like mine, with an incredibly good concept and has been really well executed.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
Well, bigger. We’re definitely running the business for growth. We’re building out the multi-channel concept through shops and I think in three years we would expect to have more outlets and possibly slightly different formats. We’re also considering international licensing.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
I think that it’s really about scrutinising spend to some degree. It’s amazing how creative you can be with quite a small budget, and I think one of the things that happens to large businesses is that they lose sight of the ability to do that. I’m always really looking constantly into how to get more value out of the things that we’re doing – particularly in marketing.
Marketing is one of our biggest areas of expenditure, also one of the most flexible, we’re really looking at what we can do without spending money – and it’s amazing what you can do if you come at it from that sort of angle.
Harriet Hastings is an O2 Business ambassador.
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