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Case study


My board helped me find my ideal customer

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Bala Croman explains how her Be the Business advisory board helped her to refine her marketing and chase the business growth she’d been looking for.

The Chocolate Cellar founder Bala Croman had struggled to access support for businesses the size of hers. When she heard about Be the Business from a fellow entrepreneur, the Strive programme stood out.

“The business had been busy, but not growing, and Strive linked in quite nicely. It was interesting to see they were looking to support female founders and ethnic minorities,” Bala said.

The amazing part for me about having the board was that it was very relevant support, just for my business, and I had four experts who were guiding me through what I needed to do.

Being accountable made the difference

Bala explained that owning The Chocolate Cellar meant she could work at her own pace, but also that she wasn’t responsible to anyone but herself.

“For a long time, I knew what I needed to do ‘at some point’, but I never had to be accountable to anyone. Having the board meant I was reporting back to them, and I felt privileged to access that help so I needed to make the most of it. It gave me a kick up the backside, and I pushed myself a little more than I would have done.”

The board’s expertise helped Bala to establish core business principles to guide her strategy going forward, and The Chocolate Cellar has seen some significant changes as a result.

“There were certain things I didn’t know, like finding your ideal customer. As a chocolate business, it’s difficult because everyone likes chocolate! So the board helped me to do that step by step, and gave me simple little points to run with that made a huge difference,” she explained.

We’ve changed our branding completely, since we’ve identified what our message to customers needs to be.

“We also looked at our products more closely to see where they could be tweaked to suit that ideal customer, and refined our social media messaging too.”

Getting into the business mindset

Being accountable to the board introduced a new discipline to Bala’s way of working.

“For the board meetings every three months, I sat down and thought about opportunities and so on to prepare for them. Now even though I don’t have the board, I’m still looking at the accounts and evaluating where we’re at, and taking that outside perspective.”

Through this introspection and with the board’s expertise, Bala identified the need for better staff training.

“Trying to train new members of staff was becoming quite frustrating, because they weren’t always getting the instructions and I didn’t really have time to spend with each person. So after discussing it with the board, we created training videos of things that needed to be done. That was a huge thing that freed up time – I’m more of a leader now than someone in the business trying to get everything done.”

Communicating with confidence

Working with the board also helped Bala to believe in her own decisions as a business owner.

“My personal confidence has grown a lot, because when you’re on your own just struggling away, you’re very lost in yourself. So speaking to experts who are amazing at what they do, and to have them verify what I was doing, made me feel like I’m doing things right. I may not have all the knowledge and expertise, but I have a good business and a good strategy,” she said.

This boost in confidence and experience of communicating in a business context has meant Bala is more comfortable with approaching potential clients, and has seen success as a result.

“We have a local village trust nearby and I’ve wanted to put on an event for local businesses for a while, but before I didn’t have the confidence to say ‘just let me do it’. But I approached them, they agreed, and we had the event over Easter weekend. It was amazing. In the last six months we’ve seen wholesale customers grow by about 25 per cent, and we’ve had more corporate customers and worked with some high-profile clients too,” she said.

After these impressive achievements, growth is staying on the agenda for The Chocolate Cellar.

“I’m very much about growing a little bit, letting it steady out, then growing a little more and letting that steady out. So I’m going to target specific customers that I’d like to work with directly over the next six months to keep up the growth,” Bala explained.

Proactively seeking business support

Bala’s advice to other founders is to always take opportunities to learn.

“It’s very valuable, and people are reluctant to ask for help because it’s a pride issue. But even if growth isn’t your intention, [business support] makes you run a much neater business. At the start, I thought I knew what I was doing, and for the most part I do. But even if you’ve been doing it for 18 years like I have, there's always something to learn,” she said.

I think it's really important that as a business owner, you accept that things do change. And being in a business, you don't always see how things work, but you can always settle things down, streamline things and help them grow.

Want to see the benefits of a board’s support in your own business? Be the Business’ Strive programme offers support to ethnic minority small business owners – find out more about Strive and apply here.

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