Getting the best out of your business by Ann Elliott

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Ten thoughts on getting the best out of your business by Ann Elliott

Recently, I was sat having a beer with a friend outside her cafe, when she said to me: “If you had this place, what would you do with it?”

Friendships are very important to me, so I thought I would think about it first before saying anything – here is what I want to say to her (any comments are very welcome).


1. If this were mine, I would put my vision down for the business on one piece of paper so that I have some lights to guide my way and to judge everything by. This would probably distil into three or four key words that everyone (me, team, investors, customers) could understand so they too would come to say “that fits our brand” or “that’s not what we do around here”. This vision and these words would then help determine everything to do with the offer – branding, interior design, food and drink offer, service and atmosphere.

2. I would have a picture in my mind (and put on paper) of my customers and how I think they would use this place – what they look like, where they live, what they do and what they would eat and drink when here. I’d walk the streets to see where they go now and develop some ideas on how I can give them a better experience so they really look forward to coming here (and want to keep coming back).

3. I would recruit people I liked and who had the right attitude to help me run the business – starting with the manager. I would want a team that is joyful, optimistic, glass half-full, energetic, friendly, and not care about their backgrounds or career to date because the training would be second to none.

4. I would talk to other operators about the best operating standards and procedures to put in place because this isn’t really my forte. Others are much better at this than me but I know it’s important. Tim Bacon once said to me that he put process in place as if he trusted no one and whilst that’s not my life philosophy, I think it would be useful here.

5. The external appearance of the cafe would be critical – it’s that first impression piece. Chairs and tables, window decals, flowers, awnings all have to fit with the three brand words and tell customers what to expect, which then has to follow through internally. I would write a brief for an internal designer friend (another thing I can’t do myself) and develop an interior that fits my vision, which customers will like and my team can work in (and have the best loos in town). The original Loungers philosophy of interior design and supply chain really appeals to me.

6. Of course the offer has to fit with the vision. The team, and perhaps a nice group of potential customers, has a really positive role to play in developing this. Pricing has to fit the competitive environment but also reflect the quality of the offer and the margin I want to earn.

7. To open, I would do absolutely everything I could to ensure that the customers I want to get in know about this place and want to give it a try. The team and I would have to visit all local shops, offices, organisations, clubs and societies, press, schools and universities, churches, hairdressers, taxi ranks, local government offices, hotels, giving out samples and information. We would take email addresses and build all that information into a database so we could keep in regular contact. I would have as many opening parties for the community/neighbourhood as possible – the more the merrier.

8. I think a database is vital so I would aim to build this as quickly and efficiently as possible. My website would have to be the best from day one and be as interactive as possible. With the team, I would develop a content plan and would have (hopefully) recruited team members who can implement that for the cafe on a daily basis.

9. Once everything is up and running, then it would be really important to get constant feedback from team and customers and not just rely on TripAdvisor and social media channels. I would have to make this a regular process piece and to act on what I heard.

10. I would then sit back and enjoy (as if).

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