For our latest blog we’re taking you behind the brand with the lovely Hannah Moule of the Rural Planning Co. Hannah first founded her eponymous brand Moule & Co. in 2010 to offer farming and rural businesses with a ‘one stop shop’ for professional advice, business development, legislative and administrative support. Hannah rebranded the planning arm of the business in December 2020 to create The Rural Planning Co. This new brand gives clients access to a dedicated planning team with decades of rural, farming and equestrian sector expertise.
At a time when there are so many factors transforming the face of the British countryside, clear, expert advice on rural planning has never been more important. Plus, we love hearing about successful female business owners and couldn’t wait to find out more. So, without further ado – let’s dive in!
Tell us how you have ended up working in planning and rural business consultancy?
My choice of career came about through sheer luck, and no judgement whatsoever. When I was 17 or 18, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to work in something related to agriculture. Going back to the farm wasn’t really an option for me, so off to agricultural college I went. My decision to apply only to Harper Adams was based solely on the fact that Harper reputedly had the longest university bar in England… That and the fact that my highly relevant A in art A-Level got me enough points to get in to study Land Management!
I had an incredible four years at Harper, although I think I was largely drunk from about 1999 to 2003 and genuinely have no idea how I actually got a degree, but it set me up with friends and a rural network of contacts for life. I didn’t even know I would like the job until I did my placement year which I loved, and then got a job at Worcester Market when I graduated. It really was sheer luck that I did a course which led to a career that I thoroughly enjoy.
What made you decide to start your own company?
I have always been that way minded, looking for opportunities and thinking of money-making ideas. I started my own egg round at the age of 12 when I used to sell eggs to people in our village. Ever since then, I have wanted to be my own boss. I have always enjoyed the business/commercial side to work almost more than the actual job itself, so I felt unfulfilled ‘just doing a job’. Also, I am a bit of a rebel at heart and not very good at taking orders from other people. So even back then there was never really a question around it – I would end up working for myself!
Have there been any particular challenges along the way?
I wouldn’t say there have been major challenges, but I would say for me there are two things I have found particularly hard about running a business. The first is managing other people; I am not naturally a people manager because I can’t do detail and I am not naturally patient enough. Also I am probably not hard enough. Because I am friends with all of my colleagues, I find the distinction between being a boss and the friendship hard to manage sometimes. The second is that you can never, ever switch off from work when it’s your own business. You can’t close the door at 5pm and just stop thinking about it. Your business becomes a huge part of you and when you have a family too, it is a battle to manage and balance it.
What’s been the biggest lesson you have learnt from running your own business?
Face up to what you are and aren’t good at. You can then learn what you are bad at and get better at it or, as soon as you can, delegate and outsource. Use your skills and strongest traits to best effect. As I said above, I am not a detail person. I like shiny new things and fully admit I get bored quickly. So that makes me very good at business development – I like the first win of getting business – but I am shockingly bad at following it up in 12 months’ time. I put processes into place and get someone who is good at lists and detail, do that follow up instead. If you keep trying to do things you aren’t good at, you won’t do them well and you won’t enjoy it.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
Lockdown 1.0 stopped the planning work for a few months whilst people weren’t sure what was going on, but the rest of the year was enormously busy. We managed to get through without having to furlough anyone. In fact our business grew in the last twelve months! On reflection we are reasonably happy with the position we are in.
What other trends and events are impacting your sector at the moment?
Brexit will have an impact. As farmers begin to lose their Basic Payment Scheme income, they will be looking to replace it from other, diversified sources. That will inevitably involve planning and we will be well placed to help them navigate that journey. Likewise, the boom of the ‘staycation’ from Covid-19 will have a positive effect. We expect to see farmers looking to add tourism accommodation to their incomes.
You’ve celebrated 10 years in business, what are your plans for the next 10 years?
We have an extremely ambitious growth plan for the next three years. We are planning on doubling our planning team and disrupting the national rural planning businesses. Watch this space. I haven’t planned for after that…!
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice”. We have grown from 20 clients to over 800 in ten years, and I credit much of this to just being nice people that our clients want to work with. Being ‘nice’ might seem bland, but I think it goes a really long way in life. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, make time to have a chat to people about their lives.
Tell us something about you that might surprise people about you?
People always tell me they are surprised that I am quite nice! I think people sometimes assume that a woman in business (especially in a male dominated sector) must be ‘hard-faced’. I’m told I am intimidating at the start – but I find it funny as I am pretty soft really 😊.
What advice would you give someone hoping to work in your industry?
Go for it. I love my job, our clients are wonderful to work for, we get involved in people’s lives and businesses and feel like we can make a difference. All whilst working in the beautiful British countryside – what isn’t there to like?!
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I have three little girls aged 7, 5 and 2 and my husband and I also farm at home. So, with a busy family and home life and running the business, there isn’t a great deal of time left over for hobbies! I do enjoy running, traveling and exploring new places when I get the chance, as well as doing some art. We are aiming to start building our own house later this year and I am enjoying planning that.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for us?
Running your own business is hugely rewarding and can give you a great lifestyle, but it isn’t for everyone. I am lucky that I am generally an optimist and can partially switch my brain off to stress and pressure! Not all the time, of course, but it’s something I have tried to train myself to do. If you can’t, or you don’t handle pressure or stress well, I would think carefully about starting your own business. There can be great rewards, but a lot of the time it is hard work and slog!
To learn more about Hannah Moule and the rest of the expert team at the Rural Planning Co. visit their website.