4 Business Tips For Beginners With Harriet From The Coffee Barrow

We are fortunate at Bloxham Mill to have a resident barista – Harriet, from the Barrow Coffee. Harriet serves an array of delicious hot and cold drinks as well as cakes and sausage rolls (both sourced locally), homemade sandwiches and lunch delights. We recently caught up with Harriet to understand a bit more about her business, how she ended up with the Barrow Coffee and her 4 business tips for beginners. 

Harriet, tell us a bit about you and how you ended up with the wonderful coffee Barrow?

Hello – I’m Harriet Barrow, owner of The Barrow Coffee. I moved up to Banbury around two and a half years ago from London, as a result of the pandemic. My husband is from the Banbury area, so it made sense to come back up here, especially as he’s a thatcher and there’s a lot more thatch to maintain here than there is in London!

I’m a trained and experienced actor, but I’ve also worked extensively in hospitality. For many years I had considered setting up my own business, and when we re-located to Banbury, at the time of the pandemic, I felt that it was now or never. After spending hours browsing eBay, I spotted a coffee van and took a leap of faith.

I bought the van at a time when people wanted to support local businesses and maintain social contact, but still adhere to government guidelines. The van worked perfectly – people were far more comfortable drinking coffee outside than they were inside, and I felt I was on to a good thing.

The Barrow Coffee began it’s adventure on the Banbury High Street. This was a great way to get to know the area and the local community. However, having worked in co-working spaces previously, I understood that workers (generally!) demand good coffee, and with this knowledge I contacted Bloxham Mill to see whether I could provide my services to them. I’m now the resident coffee and food supplier at Bloxham Mill five days a week!

What do you love, Harriet, about being an entrepreneur?

What’s interesting is that although I have always dreamed of owning my own business, I didn’t necessarily think of myself as an entrepreneur. Mainly because I’m not very organised and I’m not very good at managing myself and time! And yet I’ve found myself in a position where I’ve kind of fallen into this business and actually probably need to be more confident with calling myself an entrepreneur! The moral of the story, if you put your mind to it, anyone can be a business owner. Back to the original point –  I very much LOVE working for myself. I like making my own rules. I like doing what I want to do on my terms from the services and products I provide, choosing the venues that I work with and the events that I attend. Most of all, I love providing something of quality to my customers, and I’m confident that I achieve that.

What challenges have you found that you've faced with your business and importantly how have you learned from these challenges?

For The Barrow Coffee, location is everything. Footfall is super important and I underestimated the fact that researching where your target audience are located is key. Take time to explore the area and understand what people want to eat and drink before setting up! 

Events are tricky because you can’t predict numbers. Spending hours preparing for an event, purchasing supplies and then finding that no one turns up, resulting in a loss – that’s really difficult.

Staffing is also a huge issue, but I know I’m not alone here. I’m not at the stage of requiring a full time employee but there are times where I need help so that I can undertake an acting job, or take a day off. It’s really hard to find good people on an ad-hoc basis (although I have recently taken on a couple of people who run their own local businesses and have a bit of time to help me out, which is awesome).

When your business was brand new how did you market yourself?

So I’m definitely still working on this, but personally, I found Instagram to be key. It’s been a very effective way to raise awareness for The Barrow and I’ve generated quite a following. I’ve also booked a significant amount of events through Instagram, so I try to keep on top of it and post everyday. As well as Instagram, it’s been massively important for me to build a community with local people and fellow traders. Lots of my customers have come through word of mouth.

I’ve also made a conscious effort over the last few years to put myself out there and say yes to everything! I’ve attended lots of local weekend events and markets which has been a great way to get The Barrow known in the area. Through this, I’ve managed to build up a relationship with a few local events company, who organise prestigious, high-end events, which I’ve supplied. But of course, this all takes time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. Stick at it!

business tips for beginners
business tips for beginners
business tips for beginners

What are your 4 business tips for beginners /someone who is considering setting up a business?

  1. Research, research, research! I found talking to other business owners before setting up to be invaluable. It helped me to understand my target audience, have a clear idea of actual business running costs, what to expect on a day-to-day basis and the pros and the cons of being a small business owner.
  2. Ahead of going for it, make sure you have a stash of money behind you as success really doesn’t happen overnight. If you have a pot of money that you can rely on in the early months, it takes away the stress when you’re trying to pay your bills but not yet receiving a reliable income (or even any income) from the business. It’s taken me 2.5 years to be able to pay myself a reasonable salary.
  3. Stay positive. Amongst the highs, there are plenty of lows in the initial stages of setting up your business. When you have a setback, be resilient, learn from it and most importantly believe in yourself. You will get there! 
  4. Be nice! Being approachable and personable (as well as being the best at what you do!) goes a long way. If you provide a good service, people want to buy from you and work with you, and that really does go a long way.

Who is your biggest role model?

The absolute truth is, it’s my husband – Michael!

Michael is a self-employed actor, but as I mentioned before, he’s also a thatcher.

We’ve always worked together and have consistently been involved in one-another’s work. He is absolutely someone who goes and grabs life by the horns and doesn’t let an opportunity pass him by. He takes risks which (generally) pay off, and he honestly inspires me every day. Although we’re both go-getters, he pushes me to do things out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. He was the one who kept driving me to set up The Barrow and funded it’s initial existence. He’s also extremely practical and has 100% supported me in the brains behind the operation. So yes, my role model (and cheerleader) is my lovely husband Michael!

If you’re looking for a coworking space or office space, we’d love to show you what we’re all about. You can grab a coffee from Harriet whilst you’re visiting!

Get in touch to find out more: reception@bloxhammill.com.

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