I’m delighted to feature an update from my old friend Carrie Weeks and her lovely business partner Fran Glover from A Natural Undertaking, the independent undertakers. I’ve been watching them go from strength to strength since they launched exactly two years ago, in November 2014. I interviewed them in October 2015, and I can see there’s been a big change from a company less than a year old to a thriving and established (and multi-award-winning) business now. The most well-prepared new business I’ve ever come across, this was the plan for A Natural Undertaking for the year that’s just passed:
- We want to have a higher percentage of our funerals to be from the Kings Heath and Moseley area and a higher percentage of those to be natural burials, because those are beautiful.
- We want to be seriously considering our own premises and what those would be.
- In parallel with the business development, we would like to be more visible and high-profile around Birmingham as facilitating the death conversation.
- We want to make sure that we’re continuing to look after ourselves.
- We want to bring other local companies into our network so that we can run our business within a local, sustainable supply chain.
- We want to be making sure that people have more information and better choices about funerals for themselves and their loved ones.
All that remains now is to see how they’ve done!
Hello again, Carrie and Fran! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
• We want to have a higher percentage of our funerals to be from the Kings Heath and Moseley area and a higher percentage of those to be natural burials, because those are beautiful.
We have achieved this through word of mouth and reputation and repeat business within families we have worked with, being welcomed back into the families, which is lovely. We are getting there with the natural burials: we are recommended by our local natural burial ground when there is a particular type of funeral that needs to be arranged.
• We want to be seriously considering our own premises and what those would be.
We are still considering this, moving closer to fulfilling this plan and researching our options.
• In parallel with the business development, we would like to be more visible and high-profile around Birmingham as facilitating the death conversation.
Carrie is the chair of Brumyodo (Brum You Only Die Once), a 45 person-strong voluntary collective that works in the community to make people aware of the options they have.
• We want to make sure that we’re continuing to look after ourselves.
We have achieved this – we have had holidays and are able to have time off, and have the support in place to enable this to happen.
• We want to bring other local companies into our network so that we can run our business within a local, sustainable supply chain.
We work with local caterers, florists and venues and are constantly working on making use of members of Brumyodo.
• We want to be making sure that people have more information and better choices about funerals for themselves and their loved ones.
We are definitely doing this, attending the Kings Heath Street Market, having a presence at death cafes and pop up shops and distributing death wishes cards around the neighbourhood, as well as other community and awareness-raising activities.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
It’s been all about consolidating this year. We’ve been putting the support in place to allow us to have holidays and time off, backed up by other funeral directors in our network.
We have had to produce formalised policies and procedures in order to become members of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, so we have built the company ethos and culture into those at the same time as formulating them on paper.
We have increased confidence in the business model, and we are still looking at the next stage, but with that increased confidence, getting the numbers up and securing premises.
We’ve won awards, becoming Modern Funeral Director of the Year 2016, and Carrie took part in a panel discussion, “It’s Your Funeral”, at the Cheltenham Literary Festival this year.
What hasn’t changed is the service we’re able to give: high-quality, personal service, growing gradually enough that we can still do that ourselves.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
We wish we’d known it was OK to be confident about it all. We’re actively selling the service now: a year ago we were less brave.
Winning awards and getting consistently good reviews, testimonials, recommendations and repeat business within families has given us that confidence.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Trust your gut instinct, especially if you’ve set up a new business in your middle years after having a multitude of experience in other areas. Also, you can’t be the only person to experience whatever it is you’re experiencing, so share your questions and learning points within your networks.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
How do we make more money … without diluting the principles that drove us to start this business in the way we did in the first place?
And … where do you see yourselves and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
• Hopefully with premises or further along the line to having them
• With some staff
• Maintaining momentum while giving people the same level of service and choice
• Developing new products and services, partnering with other people in the wider industry: we have lots of ideas here
• Succeeding but without losing our essential characters and business characteristics
Watch this space – there are so many exciting things going on and it’s lovely to see A Natural Undertaking growing – but slowly enough to keep things on an even plane and operating at a high quality – and developing the brand and what they’re doing. They’ve really found their niche, and I can only look forward with excitement to what will happen next. Oh, and Carrie has recently starred in my friend Verity’s FLASH project on people who were librarians in a former job role – do pop over and have a read about how she got from libraries to funerals!
Carrie Weekes or Fran Glover are available 24 / 7 on Phone: (0121) 444 0437 and Mobile: 07986 423 146 and you can email them, too.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.