Spotlight on Emily Boyce
Here at Spotlight, we had the opportunity to chat with Emily Boyce, Founder of Sweet Thyme Foods. She gave us advice for those looking to start a business and gave us a look at what the future looks like for Sweet Thyme Foods.
A background into you and your business?
I started Sweet Thyme Foods 18 months ago - we’re now a team of 3 ambitious women who are set on championing independent food and drink brands.
We support these challenger brands by getting them listed in stores across the UK – these can be independent stores, premium stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, large chains of restaurants and food service. We also arrange the route to market (the wholesalers that deliver to them). Through this, we intend to get brands to a point where they can fulfil major supermarkets, which straight off the bat could be difficult from a financial and operational perspective, as well as without the sales data to convince buyers.
I started my food and drink career as an office manager to suss out where I could see myself best fitting in a company. Marketing always seemed the most natural fit from my understanding at university studying Business Management at King’s College London. But, in practice, it was certainly different! I found that sales was the perfect hybrid of the creativity of marketing and the logic of operations that suited my personality much better. For me, it comes down to implementing creative ideas quickly to maximise results.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I have always had an interest in great food and drink brands, not just those that are delicious, but those that are a healthy (or healthier than mainstream) option. This is definitely a factor that’s creeping up the buyers’ agendas too.
Often, someone will similarly have a passion to launch a brand that aligns with their personal food/drink values – it’s not unusual for them to start in their own kitchens! They may not have experience in the industry nor the capital to afford a sales team that can get them the quick wins they desperately need to survive.
I realised that outsourcing was a way for them to access experienced sales staff to maximise their sales without the risk or need to take on a salary. We can solely focus on sales without the distraction of running the day to day business to turn listings around far more quickly than the brands might on their own.
What is it that gives you the drive and determination to succeed?
I’m hugely fortunate to have supportive and driven parents who have instilled a ‘paddle your own canoe’ attitude in both me and my brother. It’s not that there was pressure to do this, but we knew that we could take the leap without judgement or excessive worry.
What three tips would you give to those starting their careers?
Don’t self-reject. It’s easy to be the one to stop yourself from doing something because it seems too daunting, but showing that you believe in yourself will enable others to believe in you too. In our case, to trust us with the reputation of their brand.
Be as efficient as you can be. When dawdling over a task you’re not only wasting your time but also the person’s who’s waiting for you to complete the task.
Be a sponge! For everything. You need to soak up as much information as possible so you’re more valuable to your next employer, or in a stronger position to set up your own company. This can be as simple as seeing what email formats get the best response from buyers, how frequently to contact them, at what stage to send samples etc. Learning from others mistakes or successes can save you a lot of time falling into the same pitfalls.
Advice to people who are wanting to start a business
Do you REALLY want to do it? Are you willing to sacrifice the ‘leave it at the door’ work life? If so, do, and go all guns blazing. Doing something half-heartedly won’t get you the results that warranted you leaving your stable job in the first place.
I think being a ‘founder’ or ‘entrepreneur’ is glamorised and can make people rush into pursuing that lifestyle without a clear insight into what it entails. I was fortunate to work as a first employee at one stage and hence got an insight into the founders’ lives from working so closely with them. If you’re coming from a big company, I’d perhaps suggest working for a smaller company in the desired industry – you’ll get the double benefit of broader experience and the insight into what being self-employed is like.
Before committing (and handing in your notice!), there’s a lot of value in making a clear plan at the very least, and at best proving the strategy works by doing it alongside your 9-5. Taking the time to understand your industry, your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, pricing and scope will ensure you can hit the ground running.
Advice to those aiming for leadership positions
I think you can learn more from the good and bad leaders you’ve had than you can from any book. What did they do that motivated you, made you want to do that extra hour’s work for them or vice versa? Take the time to truly think about this, and then aim to replicate the good bits.
In regards to getting there, prove that you’re indispensable and have initiative by going above and beyond your job title. In doing so you’ll prove that you can step up and be suitable for the promotion.
The best part of your job
I’d love to say flexibility – but of course these days it’s not an option!
So, I’d say the opportunity of flexibility. As Sweet Thyme Foods becomes more established and lockdown is lifted, I’d revel in the opportunity to travel whilst working. I just need to force myself to book the flight..
The worst part of your job
It’s difficult to get your brain to switch off. Even when watching a film you might have a work idea and quickly jot it down/email yourself. You don’t have to always be ‘working’ (ie, sat in front of a laptop) to not be switching off, but I think finding out how to do the latter is integral (and difficult!!). Once you’ve found it, make it part of your routine and endeavour to stick to it.
I also struggle with today’s hustle culture. I feel the constant pressure - not only from myself but from others - to be checking emails out of hours, replying if someone else is working and to constantly be available. It’s easy to judge yourself for taking weekends off when others are working, but in prioritising a work/life structure I’d like to think it will give me stamina and longevity.
I have every intention of Sweet Thyme Foods being the change in the SME food and drinks industry in which sales are initially outsourced before hiring your own sales team. It’s financially more effective and also enables brands to get access to an experienced sales team which wouldn’t be possible with initial salary budgets.
We’ll continue to get more clients and hire more team members, which can either be lateral (ie work on the same area of the market for different clients), or vertically to fulfil our clients’ needs across sales or other functions.
We’re operating quite reactively at the moment until the market settles, but once this happens there’s the opportunity for us to explore export, larger companies, different categories besides from food and drink, different business functions other than sales. There’s a huge amount of scope and potential!