Dr Alan Rae - Business Advice - Horticulture - Music

Alan pretending to look like a Sage

Alan Rae

I presently act as a business adviser and coach focusing on helping growing companies overcome marketing and communication issues having been an owner manager of IT related companies since 1981.

I research how small companies behave particularly how they communicate to their customers and staff and I write books, develop training materials, run workshops and give face to face advice and give talks on these subjects.  I also teach courses in Entrepreneurial Marketing at business schools in the UK and in France. The materials are available at How to do Business.

I’m a Chairman of our family horticultural business at Fletching Glasshouses in Sussex . We sell plants on the internet as wwww.plants4presents.co.uk, grow organic vegetables for the local market and sell things for organic gardeners who want to be a bit more scientific about their Gardening. I’m in charge of the sales of the veg products and you can find me at Lewes weekly market quite often.  I also chair the East Sussex County Council Food Working Party for its environmental strategy group and was Horticultural workforce champion for SEEDA a few years back.

Finally I’m a musician playing guitar and piano. I tend to operate in the folk / blues / jazz triangle and play keyboard at the local open mic. Recent adventures include playing keyboards with Blues Business at the Himalayan Blues Festival in Katmandu and the launch of Newick Folk which has meant taking up the Mandolin More details at www.newickfolk.com. I’m also playing keyboards for a great Tina Turner Tribute Band – Just Tina



Look at Alan Rae's profile on LinkedIn


Entrepreneurial Marketing

Developing a successful business means that we have to create value that our customers will be prepared to pay more for than it will cost us to provide it.

In the corporate world there are resources to shape the market in the direction we want – brand, research, persuasion power.

In the entrepreneur’s world we have to work more collaboratively with the environment we find ourselves in – we have to work interactively with the customers to co-create an offer and we have to find a network of partners to deliver the minimum viable offer that will enable us to get started.

Once we have some business going, then we have to feed the flame to find more customers like the ones we have and as time goes on work out from the original combination of offer and customer to develop new offers and new groups of customers. Successful businesses have learned how to do this systematically.

But we also have to create just enough structure to let us deliver it. It’s getting this right and then becoming more efficient that lets us take cost out of the business model and deliver the profits that allow us to grow and expand. Much of this is about combining the intelligent use of metrics with the people skills needed to attract, retain and motivate the people who will form the backbone of your growing company.

Entrepreneurial Growth image

Entrepreneurial Growth

It involves using both sides of the brain – vision and detail – to construct an operation that’s able both to do the entrepreneurial work of seeing new possibilities and the managerial work of making it systematic.
As the business grows we alternate periods of exploration when we operating as entrepreneurs and periods of exploitation when we have to operate in manager mode. During the exploratory phases we need to focus on the relationships with our customers and our new partners while during the managerial phases we have to focus on building a transactional structure to allow the repetition that takes the cost out of the business model. During these phases we need to refine the ad hoc value network we have constructed to get the offer to market into something that more resembles a conventional supply chain.
Managing these challenges is what growing the business is about. I am in the process of developing an entrepreneurial marketing workbook to help business owners who find managing these transitions challenging. If you would like to join our publication notification list you can sign up here.
And if you would like to contribute your influence to the detail of what it contains you can take our short (10 minute) survey here.
I hope you choose to join us on this exciting ride.
Alan Rae


Curated posts on Business Communication

More curated material

Some curated posts on Organic Horticulture

Thanks to the wonders of social media we can now easily pull together material from different places. Here are some of my thoughts and posts on organic horticulture

If your personal brand is this good at 75 you're doing well

I don’t often get blown away by something but it being the memsahibs birthday yesterday we went to London to see the Hockney exhibition.

I’ve never really rated his early stuff but what he’s achieved with this landscape exhibition is something else – he’s had to master watercolour technique and using the iPad to draw to create these marvellous paintings.

He also displays such a feel for the plants. You can feel the spirit of the landscape, the presence of the individual trees and the sequence of spring coming day by day and week by week is a drama played out in my garden here

The man is 75 – to produce some of these he had to paint two large canvases a day most days for a month.

If I’m still learning and creating at this rate when I’m his age (not so far away now alas) I shall think I’m doing well.

Premature Scaling – Part 2

A second Graphic which goes into the basics behind the premature scaling model in more detail.

Heartily Recommended


Why startups Fail - Premature Scaling Part 1

This is probably the most valuable and informative business graphic I’ve seen in a long time.

I’d advise you to look at it in detail as it’s got a lot of meat in it about when to go forward and when to hold back at different stages of the business.

How to do Business - 7 Guiding Principles

I find that many insights these days come through conversations on-line and in pubs. There’s something aout conversations that crystallise your thinking.

I do quite a lot of this on the Ecademy Blog page. I mention this because that’s where the impetus to consolidate this came from. You can read an extended version of this in my e-book 21 Business Stories but the headlines are here.

The 7 Point Plan for How to do Business

This is all about how to build a sustainable business that will grow. Sustainable as in “Lots of Apples at a reasonable profit for a long time” – Emily Durrant.

1 Treat people who buy from you, sell to you and work for you as grown ups – it’s amazing the difference this makes.

2 Identify something that people want to buy – then sell it to them – politely

3 Describe what you have to sell in words of one syllable focusing on why it’s useful to whoever’s going to buy it. If you are selling spinach then this step is not necessary.

4 Take the trouble to create easy to operate procedures that have some resilience in them.

5 Think permaculture and build sustainability into your business model. It’s no longer a nice-to-have but a core part of a 21st century business strategy. For instance we’ve put in a rainwater harvesting reservoir this year. It will save us £8k a year.

6 When you screw up admit it and refund without question – this will save time, money and your blood pressure.

7 Take whatever profits you make and spend them on something that is valuable, useful or beautiful. Don’t what ever you do entrust it to a suit to invest on your behalf.

If you want to build some of these into your own business I  can help you. Next event is a Free webinar on 1st November on using Social Media for Real Businesses – you can book on here.

Articles : Being unique – and leveraging that uniqueness – Social Media / Groups / Social Indexes

Success in the networked economy means being unique. Increasingly we get business because of the conjunction of two or more dissimilar capabilities – eg research ability, organic growing practice, social media fluency.

The question is how best to promote that uniqueness.

One way is to create and manage a stream of outbound information that can be picked up via Twitter or the destinations to which the feeds are routed. But it also means holding conversations with the inbound communications that the original broadcast evokes. I think that is what Thomas means be engagement and is largely what the Ecademy index is seeking to measure.

Another way to leverage this uniqueness a good idea is to run a group. This has been, I think, successfully demonstrated by the way the Brand Network has developed here on Ecademy.

The owner of such a group wants ultimately to build a community of fans and advocates who will offer and produce profit opportunities and income streams – or support for their cause.

Someone considering investing time in joining someone else’s group will ask two questions.

1) Is the content any good?
2) Is this person to be taken seriously?

Traditionally networked environments have looked at the degree of connectedness and surrogates for performance such as speed of response. This was borne out by one of our recent research projects.

However now we see more comprehensive measures of influence emerging – tools such as Klout, Peerindex, Empire Avenue and most recently the Ecademy index.

This means that it’s possible to identify who the players are in a particular industry and for the community leader to proactively engage with these individuals to establish the relationships necessary to build the business.

I am coming to the view that the effective use of screening for high profile individuals is a valuable addition to the marketing tool kit of people trying to build communities of influence.

I may well come up with some case studies of people who I think do this well

Be afraid – be very afraid wink


I’ve been looking at #Permaculture in wonder recently.

Here’s a remarkable video clip from Geoff Lawton – I think it speaks for itself about how powerful this approach can be in greening the desert.

It looks a better bet for feeding the world than handing the future on a plate to Monsanto.

This whole approach to designing a functioning ecosystem from day one is something that we really should be looking at more given that I’m beginning to suspect that what we think of as conventional farming is uncomfortably dependent on cheap oil.

I defy you not to be inspired.


Digital Business Brighton – a great day with great people

Social Media for Real Businesses

If you’re wondering about how to use the tools of digital media to get some more business, you need to be clear about what role they play in your sales. marketing and networking.

For most of us who are selling to other businesses, we get most of our business from face to face meetings and referrals from people who know, trust and like us. However when someone new meets or is introduced to you, pretty soon they’re going to check you out on line.

Then you want them to find things that recommend you, that show what you can do and that generally presents you in a good light. The scenery for the play so to speak. Now you can have a play without scenery but there’s usually a better response if the prospective client is put at ease.

So I’d like to invite you to a full day on how to apply all of these tools in your business.

Digital Business Brighton.

It’s called Digital Business Brighton and happens on Friday 27th th January 2012 at the Pavilion Theatre in the heart of Brighton.

In addition to me there’s a great line up of speakers and workshops including my two co-presenters from the CIM’s recent #beyondtheblog event.  @PennyPower, founder of Ecademy which is still the most sophisticated online networking environment and @NickTadd founder of property tribes who will be talking with his wife Vanessa (@4walls) about how they developed this forum for property investors

Other speakers include @warrencass, founder of business scene who will be talking about what lessons the porn industry can teach us in its use of social media and @nicolacairnx of money gym fame.

It should be a great day – you can book here at the early bird discount of £50 until the 21st September.

I’ll be talking about how to pull it all together and develop a wide reaching presence using social media to lead people to the social proof that you’re got at what you do using tools like Slideshare, youtube,  and paper.li and how to integrate these with face to face techniques like networking, workshops and (dare I say it) selling.

And if you can’t make it to Digital Brighton you can always buy the book –  Social Media for Real Businesses.