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



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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


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

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.

#BrandNetwork – is Brand UK all about Misbehaviour?

At the last meeting of the Brand Network we were looking at what are the key issues of brand UK. I rather glibly suggested that misbehaviour was the dominant leitmotif illustrating the kind of creative anarchy that we like to entertain here in the UK

2 weeks after that we had the riots so I was required by my co-conspirator to come back and justify the analysis.  This is about what we concluded. I started by presenting this photo montage.


Brand UK = Misbehaviour?

The centre image comes from a pastiche of riot photos shown as if they were part of a prospectus for the London Olympics. You know weight lifting = running off with cardboard boxes of stuff, shot put = hurling bricks at the police. All in the great tradition of British Satire.

Seeing it as part of my brief to be tough on the causes of riot I’ve chosen to surround them with some prime movers in our public life.  So please welcome TBliar, the Bullingdon boys, the Duchess Fergiana,  Fred the Shred, Rebekah who is largely responsible for creating the hysteria that required 10 million of her fellow citizens to go on a useless CRB register  as well as the phone hacking imbroglio and the appalling Hazel Blears shown hypocritically complaining about oiks instead of MPs stealing things.

Other items include the BP logo as redesigned by Greenpeace, Clarkson and poor Amy who demonstrate careers built on creative misbehaviour, and some local misbehaviour from the Lewes Bonfire, some Pagan Morris men and my band Newick Folk illustrating the local values of “wunt be druv” as they say round here.


So what we said can be summarised as

The issue

Brand UK is about creativity contained. We recognise that creativity and anarchy are two sides of the coin but that over time the balance has shifted and needs to be rebalanced

–      The energy has got a bit darker

–      The powers that be have behaved badly

–      The infrastructure has been run down

–      We are more controlled and have become the CCTV capital of the world

We concluded that’s what needed is just enough structure to keep the balance between the powerful and the rest of us. That means we need light touch interventions for most of us unlike the “Regulatation, Regulation, Regulation” of the Tbliar era and tough rules for the powerful to be vigilant against structural corruption.  We need to end the strike of Capital we’ve endured since WW2 and maybe we need to revise down the Monopolies and Mergers threshold to stop the powerful from abusing  market share.

We need  to  regenerate national capital instead of running it down or selling  it off cheap  whether it was Margaret flogging off the family silver, Gordon selling off the Gold reserves at rock bottom or the shameful way in which successive governments have devalued our higher education system that should be a pivotal building block in the knowledge economy.

We need to persuade our politicians to deal with this to preserve our creativity – all we have to work with in the knowledge economy.

This is not to say there have not been some noble attempts and dare I say it successes achieved in a very quiet and British way.

Sports education is a case in point. We have build some great University based centres of excellence recently while  lottery funding of sport has let us succeed in a wide variety of disciplines. Who would ever have thought we would end up with the number one cricket team.

The way that the riots have been dealt with is also a triumph for the British Way. Old fashioned policing, use of CCTV and getting people before the courts where standard if exemplary sentences have been handed out has contained the situation now that they know that enough of them will get caught to restrain the rest.  At least it’s stopped the radical right in it’s tracks.

We also see the spread of effective crime prevention measures like Speed Awareness Courses which instead of handing out fines and points give the inattentive  an hour and a half of “speed kills” and two and a half hours of advanced motoring skills – all run by experienced lady driving instructors.

Very clever that  – we need more of it.

So our prescription for brand UK is to foster creative anarchy with just enough structure to channel it.

This means investing  in  infrastructure, reversing  the run down of research and training for practical activities and build a culture of competing on the edge.

Inventing a pill to deliver “Science from first principles” would be handy too.

We – don’t need no education – essence of brand UK part 2

At the last brand network event we were discussing what makes Britain unique – what is the underlying essence of Brand UK?

In a fit of uncharacteristic prophecy I said – Misbehaviour. This was about 2 weeks before the riots kicked off.

It can perhaps be summarised by our unofficial national anthem. The one that starts “We don’t need no education”.

I was arguing that its the positive side of this streak of bloody mindedness – Wunt be Druv as they say around here – that is the source of the creativity that the rest of the world knows us for held in dynamic tension with the kind of precision operations that make things like Royal Weddings and trouping the colour possible.

My partner in crime in the brand network – – Mark Wing – has insisted that I come and defend this point of view at a special brand network event on Thursday at our usual haunt the ship in Fitzrovia.

You can sign up here This is an official Ecademy event btw given that the Brand Network is an Ecademy Club.

Of course if you can’t wait till then you can always debate the point here.