Hi - I'm Alan Rae. I run a consultancy business which focuses on helping companies grow based on research (and our own experience) into the common barriers that need to be overcome.
I develop training materials and case studies for small businesses and those who want to reach them. Customers include HP, PCWorld and O2, government departments like the DTI and the Welsh assembly government and Business Schools such as Brunel, Southampton and RHUL. I've even worked with Virgin Atlantic and BNI. Most work is about communication - marketing, motivation and about building the processes that give customers a great experience and build your brand,.Some of it goes into books like this one
It's based on our own experiences of running internet businesses (see below) and a long running research collaboration with several business schools to establish how the most successful small businesses actually do promote themselves.
You can read some of the book online by following this link or in the unlikely event that you just want to buy it because you're convinced already that I know what I'm talking about you can just use this one. .
I live on a plant nursery in Sussex where I put my business ideas into practice in an internet business run with my wife called Free Spirits Ltd. We sell plants, organic vegetables and products for serious gardeners such as predators for plant pests (nematodes, ladybird larvae etc), devices to test soil and weather conditions and propagation and soil conditioning materials such as the beneficial fungi, mycorrhiza. The gardeners products are available via www.TheIntelligentGarden.com.
I do various projects for larger organisations which involve a research phase, a workbook production phase and a phase where we tell the world about it. A recent consultancy project came about because of the crossover between my best practice work and our nursery and I was appointed Horticultural Workforce Champion. I talked to growers, found case studies of good practice, write them up and use social media and face to face networking to tell the world all about it. You can see the results at www.growingjobs.org. I'm driven to understand how things work and spend my life looking for underlying patterns so that they can be put to work.
My D Phil was about how plants develop and I'm fascinated by evolution - of nature, business and society generally. I've been really fortunate to get paid to do things that interest me all along and for most of the time since 1981 I've been running businesses with my wife, Isobel.. We're now on our 4th business, the first two were IT related and specialised in technical applications like CAD and production control. The next one was concerned with IT and e-business training and grew out of a flagship IT training facility, the Executive Studio, that I built and ran for the Business Link in West London. There I mainly carried out research projects on how small companies used IT in business and developed a range of e-business training workshops. Here's a picture of the learning centre.
What I can do for you - sell you stuff to help you grow your garden - or your business - and entertain you. What you can do for me - buy stuff, help me build our business, take a holiday in our Turkish Villa, book the band or have interesting things to say. Now for the detail
In 2004 we got to the point where we thought we should move on from just talking about e-commerce and start doing it. So over the last 5 years we have developed several plant related businesses. The original one was www.plants4presents.co.uk which sells plants on line and also does a fair amount of work with PR agencies on specific promotions since we have the facilities to acquire, prep and despatch a wide range of plants. The rapid expansion of this business meant that six years ago we acquired Fletching Glasshouses.. However the packing station and propagation benches were ideal for our internet business and provided us with the expansion room we needed. You can see the nursery here.
Having the space to grow changes your thinking. So we have developed 3 additional, plant related businesses here. www.ladybirdplantcare.co.uk we acquired from one of our suppliers. It sells biological predators for garden and glasshouse pests - ladybird larvae for aphids, nematodes for slugs and leatherjackets etc etc. www.fletchingglasshouses.co.uk which uses the rest of the glass to grow organic vegetables to supply the local market of farm shops, box schemes and farmers markets - I do two to three of these a month. We got our Soil Association certification in 2008.
I talk to a lot of people at the Farmers Markets and have really noticed the growth in the grow your own movement. However I know that a lot of gardeners would benefit from a more focused - not to say scientific approach to producing healthy crops. So I've created a site which provides the know-how they need and supplies them with a range of products to help them. Things like pH meters, soil testing kits, weather stations, thermometers, gardeners microscopes for identifying pests etc.
However as organic growers, we know that the best way forward is to keep the soil well conditioned so we're selling things like beneficial fungi (mycorrhiza) and some tools to help propagation and cuttings. All the details about how to use these are on the site and you can buy the products there or via our Intelligent Garden store on Amazon.co.uk
It's truly a family business since as well as Isobel and me it employs our daughter Emily, my sister and 5 other people plus a few local students at peak times (we've just had 3 lads helping us pack for the Christmas rush)
One of the nice things is that all this sits alongside my consultancy work which these days seems to come when a couple of strands of my past coincide. This Autumn I've been teaching on an e-commerce MSc at Southampton University and carrying out a research project with Royal Holloway and Kingston Universities on how SMEs in the supply chain use social media to promote themselves. However the most interesting opportunity has come from the intersection of this type of good practice work with our experiences of being organic growers. I have been appointed as Regional Horticultural Workforce Champion - a project which involves me talking to Growers about their workforce issues so as to find half a dozen case studies of good practice, and then create a workbook and some downloadable materials - just like the work we used to do in the Executive Studio.
I still run workshops in online marketing and have several products you might find interesting. I don't do much marketing implementation for other people because, as a creator, I have too much bandwidth used up on my own projects. However I'm always happy to help you develop your own strategy using our "Punch above your Weight" Methodology - or help you research your market. (I'm an associate of the MRS and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing) In essence I'll help you develop your story - discuss with you when and where to promote it and show you how you can use online and offline networking to build the incoming leads and advocates that you need. The original method helps you develop your story, deconstruct it into keywords, test them using google Adwords and then use them to optimise your site and to tag blogs, you-tube videos and other social media to drive traffic to a site which can capture people's details in exchange for some useful information so you can manage you interaction with these new contacts and give them stuff that they want, quickly and easily. As part of a research project that we carried out with Ivan Misner of BNI, we established that most small business owners spend 12-15 hours a week promoting themselves. We also established that the same rules of engagement work on line as in the face to face world. So we changed the emphasis of Punch above your Weight to follow the sequence.