By Claire Taylor

‘NAME IT, own it, claim it and believe in yourself’ – just one of the inspiring quotes to arise from the fifth annual Women In Agriculture Scotland conference held at RBS in Gogarburn this week.

Over 100 delegates gathered for a jam-packed day listening to motivational speakers, with the chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, Professor Lynne Cadenhead kicking things off with some inspiring advice for supporting women in business: “Women tend to say yes to everything. My advice is get a ‘No Coach’ and start meticulously guarding your time. Whilst managing demands on your time it is also important to reach out and ask for support from others, especially when starting up a business. It can get lonely so surround yourself with a positive network and always prioritise self-care – giving yourself time-out will help you achieve the right mind-set to respond effectively to different situations.”

Ms Cadenhead took the opportunity to rebuff some common myths surrounding women in business such as being ‘risk averse’ or ‘lacking in confidence’: “Women often have advanced risk awareness this is different to being risk averse. It is hugely important to be prudent when looking at ways to make your business more sustainable and there is huge benefit in applying a risk management lens to different situations.”

Addressing the latter myth, she stressed that the best way to grow confidence is to accept that failure is an option and that learning from life experiences is an important part of the process.

Succession planning was a key topic of discussion during the day and a step by step guide was given by Eilidh Adams of Gillespie Macandrew LLP, who began by acknowledging that it is a difficult subject impacting those on both sides of the equation: “There is no one size fits all succession plan but the importance of why this discussion needs to take place is pertinent to the whole industry. Farmers are often advised from a tax point of view to ‘die with their boots on’ but this doesn’t mean this is best practice for your business and family. Succession planning will give you a significant amount of peace of mind that loved ones will be protected and that the business you have built up will be safeguarded for future generations.”

Ms Adams continued: “It is never too early to begin conversations around succession as it will give you more time to prepare your family to take on the farm and allow them to benefit from your counsel. The first discussion might be difficult so it could be beneficial to have a written agenda or to have a facilitator to mediate the conversation – this can be a close family friend who knows the business.”

She urged individuals to ensure they have an up to date will in place and stressed that in the event of an unexpected death that many people in Scotland wrongly believe that a spouse will automatically inherit their business: ”Under Scottish legislation, death of a partner dissolves the partnership – so make sure to keep your will up to date and appoint trusted executors to carry out your wishes,” she concluded.

Delegates reconvened after a networking lunch to hear from Business Gateway Fife senior growth advisor Fraser McKee who offered advice to new and existing rural businesses looking to access support:

“Business Gateway is traditionally seen to focus on start-ups, but we also direct a huge amount of support towards growing established businesses. For those looking to diversify their farm, we can identify competitors and help you make definitive decisions about pursuing an idea.”

He explained that one-on-one advice is available at a local level with Business Gateway branches helping individuals to develop a business plan, talk through cash flow, access IT support and legal advice, plus much more.

The penultimate speaker of the day Katy Rodger shared with the delegates her personal journey running Knockraich dairy farm and the highs and lows she has experienced with her own personal ambitions as well as those of the farm.

After giving up her work as a hairdresser and starting a new life with her husband on the farm, she began to struggle with her new environment and entered in to a period of depression. She managed to turn herself around by deciding to go back in to doing something she loved and set up a successful business going to people’s houses in the local area and doing their hair.

This was the start of what became an entrepreneurial journey where she took opportunities where they presented themselves and found herself exploring new diversification opportunities on the farm. From making ice cream, to building the first self-catering apartment in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, building a coffee shop and pursuing her passion to set up her own interior design soft furnishing business.

Along the way she was met with constant financial challenges and negativity from individuals telling her that her ideas wouldn’t work, but remained positive in her outlook. In 2012, her farm-produced artisan yoghurts gained her recognition as Scotland Food and Drink product of the year and catapulted her dairy business to centre-stage, receiving interest from the top restaurants in the business including a visit from renowned Michelin chef Albert Roux.

Her message to the delegates was clear, that setbacks to your business should be embraced as part of a learning journey and to pursue opportunities which ignite your passions.

Rounding up a day of inspiring stories and hard-hitting advice, head of rural research at Savills, Emily Norton urged the room to turn problems in to opportunities.

“Don’t get stuck in your family business – if it’s not right for you or people are holding you back, make a change. Follow your passions and work at what you’re good at, not what you are expected to do. Women often feel they have to be the team for everyone else, but we need a team around us just as much. If we are to be successful, ask who is helping me?”

Echoing the words of the opening presentation she reminded delegates once again that ‘selfcare is not selfish’: “It is important to recognise when we need to take time for ourselves. Make sure you have a broad network surrounding you – play to your strengths, call in experts where appropriate and ask for help – make the most of support from others,” she concluded.