Start with the end in mind

Know where you’re going. It might sound obvious, but few business owners actually take the time to formulate a clear plan for the future. It can become even more difficult to set out a plan when two people are jointly running a business, as they have to agree on goals, a vision and a future they can both believe in.

This was the situation Andrew Farrell and his brother Oliver found themselves in at the end of last year. Both brothers had joined the family engineering business, Cheshire-based Farrat Isolevel, from very different backgrounds. Oliver was an engineer by profession, while Andrew had studied economics and worked in commercial roles.

The business was doing quite well. It had established a reputation as a leading player in the field of vibration control engineering and machine mounting methods and had built up a team of 13 knowledgeable and technically-able staff. Their father, who had taken over from his father in the early 1980s, was keen to take more of a back seat, and let his sons take over the running of the business.

Andrew and Oliver had no trouble establishing what their respective roles should be – Oliver was keen to concentrate on sales and business development, while Andrew was happy to take over the mantle of MD.

However, what they couldn’t reconcile were their views on what direction the company should take, which was what prompted to them to embark on the Better Business Programme in January.

“We didn’t have a coherent strategy,” says Andrew. “There were various avenues we could go down and several product ranges we could focus on but they were competing with each other in terms of time, resources and money. We wanted to use the programme as an opportunity to set a clear direction for the company.”

He adds: “What made it more difficult was that Oliver and I were coming at the strategy from different directions and without a common view of where we wanted to be.”

The programme showed them that the best starting point was actually the end point.

“We started by defining the end point, looking at what shape and feel we want for the business in five years time and working backwards from there,” recalls Andrew. “We were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had the same long term vision for the company: to make most of family heritage, put greater emphasis on quality and go after certain customers and projects. It was only through the programme that we were able to reach that common understanding of how we wanted the company to look.”

The brothers have set two five-year goals for the business: being the best at what they do on a worldwide basis and growing the business to three times its current size in terms of revenue and profits.

The route to achieving these ambitions is now set out in a detailed business plan, which they developed as part of the programme.

“We’d had strategy documents and meetings before but nothing as detailed and thought through as this,” says Andrew. “There’s a lot to do, from investing in product development to installing a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.”

The plan has not just created clarity but, according to Andrew, has motivated and inspired them. “The process of writing the plan made me feel energised – thinking through every element makes you believe you can actually do this.”

The brothers have presented the plan to their father, and the next step is to communicate it to everyone in the company. “There won’t be any surprises as we’ve already had informal conversations with everyone individually,” says Andrew. “We really want to ensure that we communicate this well to make sure they all know what they are working towards and that they are working towards the same goal.”

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