Glenfin Features on a new business advisory website www.bizstartup.ie Brian Phelan gives his advice to budding entrepreneurs.Brian Phelan is the owner-manager of Glenfin Farm, a business based in Co Monaghan that has become a leading distributor of duck eggs in Ireland.
Phelan, who set up the business in 2008, now has a total of 2,500 ducks, with each one producing an egg a day. With two vans, he works with distributors to supply his eggs to specialist food stores and butcher shops around the country. At the moment, Glenfin Farm’s biggest customer is Avoca.
Phelan’s background is in property and he was working for a property company when he sourced his first batch of ducks and decided to rent out a disused shed in Monaghan. He has recently extended his premises.
In terms of business support, mentoring has been pivotal to Glenfin Farm’s evolution, he says, with his first port of call being his local county enterprise board.
“One of the issues with smaller businesses is you don’t know who to go to or speak to. I went to my county enterprise board and when I met them they talked me through what was available to me. The area I was most interested in was mentoring.
“I met a guy who had been in the business for a long time. I asked him would he be willing to do some mentoring and I went back to the enterprise board and said I had found someone who was very useful and could he be my mentor. The county enterprise board was fantastic,” explains Phelan.
In turn, he had five half-day sessions with his mentor, an industry veteran, who has 30 years’ experience of supplying hen eggs to supermarkets.
“He put me in contact with distributors, gave me a lot of advice about areas such as who was good in the business and packaging. I used to ring him any time I had a problem in those first few months. It was a great boost.”
In addition, Phelan also availed of an employment grant from Monaghan County Enterprise Board to go towards hiring someone full time for six months.
“I applied for that and it was approved. That was very helpful in terms of cash flow. It was great support at the start.”
This summer, he also got a great injection of PR and mentoring when he took part in the RTÉ TV series, ‘Higher Ground’. While participating in the programme, he obtained vital advice and guidance from Peter Young of The Irish Farmers’ Journal and Paul McCarthy, a rural business specialist with Teagasc.
Says Phelan: “It was a great time because we had upped our production significantly.
“When the programme came on, up to then I had been knocking unannounced on butcher’s doors, but then distributors started to ring me asking me could I supply them with wholesale.”
His advice to others is to carry out ample market research before they commit to starting a new business.
“I didn’t take the decision to start a business lightly. I put a lot of research into it and I got great support from the University of Limerick where I got my degree. I went back to their business consulting module and they did a serious piece of market research for me. That was a huge help. I felt there was a niche and they went and researched it.
“I invested my own money at the start, so it gave me confidence to go ahead. I carried out that research myself and I travelled abroad to learn more about it. I put a lot of work in beforehand and I think some people maybe go into business a little bit too quickly before doing the right amount of research.”
As part of their market research, he says people could do up a basic survey.
“Do a little bit of research on potential consumers and see do they actually want the product and what kind of price they are willing to pay. It’s just some primary market research.”
As for Glenfin Farm, the business was recently announced as the winner of the 2009 EasyFood Artisan Ireland award.
Questions we ask every start-up entrepreneur:
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting a business, what would it be?Do the right amount of research and business planning. Your market research should feed into you business plan, which should be a well thought-out document that you can constantly go back to and change.
In your view, what book should someone read when starting a business?How to Win Friends and Influence People is an unbelievable book. Even if you don’t own a business, you should read this book!
What software would you recommend to a new business owner?
Sage Line 50. As early as possible, you need to get the right type of accounting package that you can use yourself.
What is your favourite website?
If you are a food business, Bord Bia has a fantastic website called Vantage.