Founder of the British edible flower business, Jan Billington, gives us her advice and tips on what it’s like to be a rural business owner.

What does it take to be a successful business owner?

You need to be adaptable. You also need to be aware of what you can and can’t control. In our case, the weather is something that is out of our control and I have learnt to embrace and celebrate that instead of trying to fight it. I used to have sleepless nights worrying about frosts but now instead of apologising for the British weather I celebrate it.

See also: Flexibility in business ensures organic business succeeds

What advice were you told when you first started your business?

I wasn’t told this directly but I read a quote from Richard Branson which said, ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it say yes – then learn how to do it later.’

I thought about that a lot when forming the business. The British are naturally self-deprecating and will generally opt for the easy option and immediately think ‘I can’t do this.’ Often when I am approached about a new venture I ask for the details to be emailed and then I ask for a few days to think it over before making a decision.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

You could say extremely badly. I work an average of 50 hours/week in winter and this rises to an eye-watering 85 hours/week at the height of summer. I’m not sure how one gets around this really when you are running your own business that requires a lot of field work as well as administration.

In the summer, I am often up and out between 5.30 am and 6:00 am. Emails need to be answered, orders printed off and loaded onto the courier system and organised so that by the time my team of pickers arrive they are ready to go.

Once all the flowers are packed up at the end of the day and have been collected by the courier then there is still the job of answering more enquiries, watering, picking any surplus blooms for drying, deadheading etc.

What motivates you to get out of bed each morning?

I love my job and take huge pride in what we have achieved both financially and by reputation on a tiny patch of land. I am very much motivated by the number of young people and, women in particular, who are setting up their own businesses and thriving by using social media as a means of promoting their products.

Where do you see your business in five years’ time?

I have no idea where the business will be in five years’ time. We are small and flexible and intend to stay that way. I am very dismissive of ‘bigger is better’. So many businesses fail when they try and grow either too fast or beyond their USP. Always strive to improve but be true to who you are and what you want.

What would be your three top tips for those looking to start their own rural business?

  1. Don’t beat yourself for getting things wrong. It’s important to recognise mistakes and correct them, but move forward having learnt from them rather than dwelling on the past
  2. Be unique. Don’t try and copy anybody else’s business model. Identify and nurture your USP
  3. Detail and quality is everything. Never compromise on the quality or the service that you offer

Are there any books or blogs you would recommend reading?

I would suggest that you read anything and everything you can. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places. For examples, I follow a BBQ blog because I love the way they use their images, as well as a canal barge living seed seller because I love the way he has personalised his business, and loads of chefs, cake makers and mixologists from all over the world. Ultimately, these people are my end customers and the more I get to know them the more I can target my product to them.

To read more from Jan Billington and Maddocks Farm Organics click here.

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