Case study

Company director — Deborah Wood

Deborah is a company director at Premier Polytunnels Ltd. Discover how her work experience and time at university lead her to become a successful businesswoman

What did you study at university?

I studied a BA (Hons) Journalism with Photography at the University of Lancashire. After completing my degree, I went into the world eagerly seeking my dream job as a journalist. However, it wasn't that simple and it transpired that the local newspapers I wanted to work for wanted me to have NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualifications.

I began working as an editorial assistant at a local daily newspaper, but I knew that I would have to pass the NCTJ to sit at the writers' desk. I went back to university to do a postgraduate diploma in journalism.

How did you become self-employed?

I finished my postgraduate diploma at a time when the UK was in recession. I decided it was time to stop chasing my childhood dream and instead take control and set up my own business.

So, what business should I set up? I had grown up with my dad, who ran his own polytunnel business. I spent a lot of time helping, so I decided on manufacturing and selling polytunnels to the horticultural market. Some people thought I was crazy setting up a brand-new business in a recession, but this was a business I knew inside out, so I was confident I could make it work.

How is your degree relevant?

Both my degree course and postgraduate diploma have definitely helped me in my current role, particularly when it comes to communicating with customers, writing content for my company website and with the marketing aspect of my role, such as writing newsletter and social media content.

Being able to do 100 words a minute shorthand, (which was a requirement to pass the NCTJ) is also helpful when speaking to customers on the telephone or making lots of notes for blog posts.

What does a typical day involve?

As a director of a small family business, I'm involved in all aspects of the organisation, although I'm mainly sales and marketing based.

A typical day starts with replying to existing or potential customers' enquiries via e-mail and telephone and preparing quotations for them, moving on to processing orders received via the website and over the telephone, raising invoices to be sent to customers and preparing the manufacturing paperwork required for our production team.

In the afternoon I process the delivery paperwork and labels for orders being dispatched that day, and place orders with suppliers. I keep up-to-date with marketing campaigns, including SEO requirements, social media marketing and print advertising. I also liaise with our website developers regarding updates and changes to the website as and when required.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Happy customers, without a doubt.

Hearing from happy customers or reading about their positive experiences on their social media accounts always makes me feel very proud.

What is your career highlight to date?

My greatest accomplishment is definitely setting up my own business at the age of 25 and running this successfully for 11 years.

My company has won many accolades, including a number of gold awards in the annual Great British Growing Awards, run by a national gardening magazine and voted for by the reading public.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?

I feel very blessed to be in my position, but if I had to nitpick I would say that I definitely sacrifice quality time with my family. Being successful takes time, effort and dedication - you can't just switch off at 5pm.

What are the five key elements for running a successful business?

  1. Know your target audience - who are they, where are they, how old are they, what do they do for work, what are their hobbies and so on. When you really know your audience, you know how to connect with them and how to market to them.
  2. Invest in marketing to the right audience - it's no good having a quality product that your target audience would love if they don't know you are there.
  3. Know your numbers - it's easy to look at what your competitors are charging, but you need to know your numbers to ensure you are charging the right amount and, ultimately, if you're going to make a profit.
  4. Customer service is everything - you and your colleagues must know the importance of every interaction your company has with a customer. Every customer comes to you thinking that they are the most important and it is up to you to make sure they still feel that way when they leave. 
  5. Build a strong team and treat them right - to quote Richard Branson 'If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

How do I set up my own business?

Do your research. Make sure you really know what it takes to get into the job you want and choose the right course. Work experience gave me a great insight into what the job really entailed, taught me some important lessons about the profession and helped me to build up a portfolio. 

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