Being an entrepreneur comes naturally to Helen Colley, having been surrounded by it all her life. In many ways, it would’ve been slightly strange if the founder of Farmhouse Fare had decided not to become her own boss.“I’ve only just realised I am an entrepreneur!” she admits. “I don’t think entrepreneurs actually know they are one until someone points it out.
“I think an entrepreneur is bloody minded and a free spirit, and I think I have those qualities. From the age of 10, I was making things and trying to sell them to shops.
“It never occurred to me not to be my own boss – I was brought up on a farm where my parents were self-employed. I always thought I would do my own thing.”
Raised on Shuttleworth Farm near Clitheroe, Lancashire, Helen set up her own catering company on a borrowed £250 when aged just 18. Over the next 20 years, the business became on of the largest outside caterers in Lancashire, specialising in large, marqueed events.
Farmhouse Fare, a supplier of hot puddings, only came about after Helen felt the need to diversify away from outside catering.
Coffee mornings at the farm generated huge interest for the sticky toffee puddings on sale, so Helen decided to exploit this by selling the puddings during winter when there was no marquee work, so that she could keep a regular cash-flow and keep the full-time staff employed.
However, the demand was such that in 2001, during the outbreak of foot and mouth that decimated outside events in the area, Helen decided to make a full-time business based on the puddings.
“I had been working in hospitality for 18 years and it was very hard work. I thought this might be easier and I wanted to change direction,” she explains.
“I got some containers and a mixer and made puddings that I managed to sell to butchers and delis. From there, I approached some supermarkets and I then got the call from Sainsbury’s.”
Local Booths Supermarkets were the first to stock the puddings, with Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Selfridges and Tesco subsequently signing up. Helen, who admits to having no boardroom dealings before, insists it’s been fairly easy to convince the supermarkets about the products.
“I am basically the sales and marketing team and I’m a very persistent caller!” she explains. “I don’t do PowerPoint presentations, I go and see them, explain what we do and they taste the products.
“Because I believe in what I do so much, it makes selling quite easy.
“We have exclusive ranges for each of the supermarkets – each customer is different. The buyers tell me what they want and I know their aspirations.”
Helen funded the business through the sale of the catering company, along with a grant from the Rural Enterprise Agency and a loan from her bank, who she describes as “superb”. She also approached Business Link for advice.
Despite this, she reveals that she did very little formal business planning – as seemingly befits her character, she simply went about starting the business with the minimum of fuss.