Ella's Kitchen founder: Stay focused to survive Brexit uncertainty

Entrepreneurs can't change the macro environment so knuckle down and stay alert, says Paul Lindley.

by Paul Lindley
Last Updated: 19 Oct 2017

Uncertainty is a constant companion as an entrepreneur, from deciding which product to launch and when, to searching for the perfect person to hire as you scale.

The current economic climate in the UK has only heightened that insecurity. Are interest rates about to hike? What will next month’s budget bring for business or consumer confidence? And biggest of all, what kind of Brexit will the Government deliver? However, I’d give business leaders the same advice now as I would to any problem: focus on what you can control and don’t waste your energy on anything else.

Britain has a long history of entrepreneurial excellence. We are the producers of world-beating innovations, inventions and brands – displaying skill, expertise and competitive advantage especially in challenging times. These characteristics have led to immense export success for ‘Brand Britain’. Recent ONS figures demonstrate that the appetite for export deals continues to grow despite economic uncertainty, with exports to the EU rising by 4.1 percent in the three months leading up to August.

More and more British businesses are reaping the rewards of exporting, with the latest FedEx SME Export Report revealing that 63 percent of British SMEs are exporting, and for those that do so, exports account for 65 percent of total revenue.

Any business that has exported successfully has coped with a degree of uncertainty that can feel daunting at first. New markets bring new challenges as well as new opportunities and, even for those entrepreneurs who have done their market research, there’s an element of risk that brings butterflies to the stomach.

It’s a feeling I have come to know well with Ella’s Kitchen. When we first expanded beyond the UK it was a big leap of faith, even though we were targeting countries with similarly sympathetic markets toward organic products: Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Within 5 years, we had grown to 14 percent of the market share of wet baby food in Sweden, and as much as 30 percent in Norway. And it didn’t stop there – we are now the number one baby food brand in Norway and Ireland, as well as in the UK. We have just added Germany to our roster of 45 markets worldwide – an expansion we’re determined will succeed, with or without the luxury of favourable political and economic stability.

If uncertainty was a reason not to act, no business would ever grow – let alone thrive. The key to managing uncertainty has always been to concentrate efforts of what can be made certain and to focus energy on these areas. The current climate warrants the same response.

Every entrepreneur is hopeful for a pro-business environment that is strengthened by political and economic certainty and continuity. First and foremost, it is the Government’s responsibility to nurture and create that environment. However, as entrepreneurs and business leaders we have a wider role and responsibility at such a crucial time for the economy and society in which we function.

We can contribute to the debate through organisations like the IoD, CBI, BCC as they take our voice to the government, but day to day we need to focus on adapting our businesses to best compete with whatever macro-economic headwinds come our way. Darwin’s theory of evolution shows us it’s those that best adapt, best thrive. We need to concentrate on this and do what we have to do.

The fact is, as individual SMEs, we can’t control the macro environment and it would be a waste of resources to try. We need to keep focussed on where we have direct impact: our products, our services, our people and our purpose. We need to be more agile than ever, more resilient, more innovative, we need to motivate our stakeholders like never before. And we can do this!

As entrepreneurs, we are used to making our own decisions, creating our own solutions, adapting to new challenges and building a team that helps us to do so successfully. We are used to knuckling down and carrying on.

These are the very things that have made British entrepreneurialism world-leading, and we mustn’t let them wane in the face of uncertain times. With a focus on the controllable and an ability to adapt to what is not, the UK’s SMEs will forge their own path to success – in the UK and overseas.

Paul Lindley is founder of Ella’s Kitchen and author of Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler

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