There is nothing I wouldn’t want another person to see – even a competitor
An open approach to business, and a belief in the power of networking, even with a “competitor”, has seen Lisa Smith, founder of Ginger Bakers, through a multitude of personal and professional challenges.
To say that the past few years in the life of Cumbria-based bakery Ginger Bakers has been something of a rollercoaster ride for owner Lisa Smith would be an understatement.
As well as significant highs – such as winning awards and landing important new contracts – there have been some potentially devastating lows, each of them a test for the owner’s seemingly unlimited supply of resolve. Smith’s unfaltering tenacity has seen her through a calamitous flood in 2015 in which she lost her business premises, a significant hike in overheads and, worst of all, a major illness.
Part of the reason that the baker remains as committed to her family business as when she started back in 2006 is that she has built up a great team around her. As well as working alongside her husband, she is supported by colleague Julie Bland, who has been with Lisa since day one. Bland is currently bringing key learnings to the business through her involvement in a Be the Business peer action learning group.
Then there’s the small army of workers within the extended Ginger Bakers family, some of them with special needs and mental health issues, whose stories have so resonated with the big-hearted founder that she is considering transforming her business into a social enterprise in the future. For now, though, Smith is busy building her business – as we found out when we spoke to her.
It can be hard growing a business, Lisa – did you ever find that you had to battle through the “imposter syndrome” or work on your confidence?
“I think it takes a long time to get business confidence. The product is easier to believe in because that stands on its own, but when you’re a business owner it’s quite hard. We all hide behind this mask and nobody really knows what’s behind it – you just assume everyone is really confident and has an amazing turnover. But we’ve been lucky as we’ve won Cumbria Life Food and Drink awards a couple of times, and while I haven’t entered that many awards, I’m sharpening up my act this year and entering a few more – because we’re worthy.”
You’re currently taking part in the Be the Business Boards programme. What’s the attraction?
“I love to learn. Having a business is a journey and it’s moving all the time. I love that aspect of it, so any opportunity to learn and develop I’m there. You do have to reach out for help from time to time when you run a business. In 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I carried on working, because I had to. At that point we really needed to grow because we had huge overheads, having taken on new premises after we’d lost our old building when Storm Desmond hit Cumbria. I needed a new vision and real changes to meet the new overheads, so I reached out to a lot of different people. I looked at what markets we could go in to, and I have to say it’s a completely different picture now.”
Is there a specific business challenge that you’re keen to address with the advisory board?
“The first thing is getting the business in. During my last visit I discussed contracts and how to formalise them a bit more, and while I might seek more technical advice in the future, I’m mainly there for the challenges to my thinking. I like someone to challenge me, because being the head of a business you don’t get challenged by your staff very often. I always say, ‘Please tell me if you feel something’s not working or isn’t right,’ but it’s difficult for an employee to do that.”
Some business owners are very guarded about what they do – but you seem to embrace networking and sharing information. Why’s that?
“I think a key thing is to be really open and transparent. There is nothing I wouldn’t want another person to see – even a competitor. If we all share our information then it makes you less of a competitor, because it puts you in a different position. You recognise what your niche is and how you’re different.
Your setbacks seem to have given you the strength and confidence to push through anything. What would your advice be to other business leaders for when the going gets tough?
“Believe in yourself and really value what you do. Stick to your principles and stick to your values – and display them to everybody. It’s ok if you’re not feeling confident: just believe in what you’re doing, and it will come with time. And never be afraid to network. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. I love being asked questions – I will give it all away, because it’s just so rewarding. So, don’t be afraid to be that person knocking on that door.”
It's hard to build confidence when you're a business owner, but entering awards has reminded Lisa that what she does is valuable.
Even if you ask for feedback, it’s difficult for an employee to challenge the head of a business. It's important that you're getting those challenges from somewhere.
An attitude of total transparency has helped Lisa to see how her business is different.