Leanne Bonner-Cooke, is the Managing Director at Evolve. She established the company in 2007, after recognising that in many organisations’ IT and the business do not work well together. As an energetic and enthusiastic, leader and strategic thinker, she has established a successful business helping others get the most out of their people, process and technology assets.Leanne Bonner-Cooke_Evolve Resize 400 x 267

What inspired you to start a business? 

I was inspired by having several bad experience in dealing with software suppliers and consultancies.  When I hit the ceiling in my corporate career, I decided to set up business and really focus on the needs of the customer.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

The greatest challenge has been the steep learning curve in having to re-skill in many areas that I initially didn’t even consider, like sales and marketing!  That is the start of the process and I knew nothing about it, especially social media.  Then there is the whole recruitment process…..Suddenly I have become the CEO, H&S, HR, Finance and Sales and Marketing Director….And not the consultant I set out to be.

The greatest reward is that you have the ability to achieve whatever you want without any constraints, and operate to your own values and those of your customers.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures. You have to have a vision and set goals in order to achieve that vision.  Without a plan you will not be able to measure your success. Find a good mentor to keep you in check along your journey and to keep the pressure on you to ensure your focus is on the right thing.

Celebrate your successes, as business owners we are our own worst critics and always aspire to do better.  You will be more motivated if you recognise each step of your journey as a success.

There is no such thing as failure!  FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.  If we don’t fail, we don’t learn.  As long as you do learn, and are aware of why the situation happened, and how to prevent it from happening again you have learnt something you would never have known about otherwise.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

There are two:

The ability to generate new sales leads; this is about having the right messaging and engaging with your target market to drive more inbound activity, and not giving up!  Also being able to predict your pipeline of future work as closely as possible.

The other is cash flow.  Being a service business, our costs are instant but our customers delay payment for as long as possible. Having a cash flow forecast is so important to any business to manage and mitigate risk.

How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

I have had various experience with coaches and have benefited in gaining knowledge in areas where I have been weak.  Coaches charge for their time and focus on a particular activity e.g. sales pipeline.  Whilst coaches can be of great value they only work if you are clear what you are trying to achieve and are prepared to put in the hard work.

Mentoring is much different and I have had more success with mentors.  They typically give you their time and have actually done it themselves and can therefore give you sound advice as to the what and how.  Again though, it is about being clear of what you are trying to achieve and picking the right person.  Remember they are giving up their time for you, so you have to be committed.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

Networking is critical to raise awareness of you and your companies brand.  There are so many networking events, be really clear about how you will measure the success. For example, good referral network, companies there that I want to do business with, specific to the sector(s) I want to work with.

Otherwise you can go along meet some great people and have a good time but never generate any new business opportunites.  You have to ‘put yourself in the room’ when networking and you will quickly work out if it is right for you and your business.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

To scale your business, have a well-constructed business plan, understand where your growth if going to come from e.g. which markets, which sector, what products or services you are going to sell more of.  Then look at your operational costs and see how they are going to increase in order for you to achieve your growth.  Be clear about what your gross profit and net profit need to be as a business to ensure it is sustainable and then measure along your journey and take action as soon as things are not in line with your plans.

Also be aware of what growth means in terms of resourcing and plan ahead.

Map out a SWOT analysis as part of your growth plans to make sure you have understood all the risks and can mitigate them, should they occur.

What does the future hold for you?

The future is about ensuing Evolve is a sustainable and valuable business moving forward that has engaged employees and satisfied customers.

As a business my long term vision is about the exit strategy.  When will that be, what do I need to do to ensure the business is of maximum value, how will I exit (sell or management buyout), where will I get advice about exiting and planning for exit and who will be involved in the exit.

When you decide to set up in business you are accountable for the business vision and strategy.  You are the leader and the buck stops with you.  Accept that you don’t know everything and take external advise from mentoring and outsource providers when and where appropriate.

Appreciate the team that help you achieve the business vision, you cannot do it alone.

Have fun along the journey and remember there is always a work life balance!