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Taking Back Control

Written by Alana Spencer on Thursday, 31 October 2019. Posted in Start-up Diaries

Alana Spencer, winner of the BBC programme The Apprentice in 2016, gives a frank assessment of why outsourcing was not right for her, and why it was important to reclaim day-to-day control of her company.

Taking Back Control

Alana Spencer, winner of the BBC programme The Apprentice in 2016, gives a frank assessment of why outsourcing was not right for her, and why it was important to reclaim day-to-day control of her company.

Life and business has moved quickly for Alana Spencer since winning The Apprentice three years ago.

As a result of her success in the high-profile show, her cake-making business expanded at an alarming rate, which led her to outsource production to another company.

It is not overstating matters to suggest that Alana found this extremely difficult.

While she admits it was great to watch her business grow, she accepts it was tough not to have complete control of proceedings on a day-to-day basis.

Since then, she has reeled back control all over again, by opening a bakery in her hometown of Aberystwyth.

For her, the great satisfaction is being hands-on, from the moment she starts her working day through to when she heads for home early evening – or much later depending on what needs finishing off.

This is her story of how she conceded some control of her business, soon after becoming a TV personality, but then discovered she needed to reassert her own authority before it was too late.

‘As some of you may know, when I first began my cake business Ridiculously Rich by Alana (previously named ‘Narna’s’), I was baking all of the cakes myself in my very small kitchen.

I would take the cakes to food events across the UK and, although some weeks were very hectic, it was manageable.

After the BBC Apprentice win, orders immediately started to increase and it became clear very quickly that my little kitchen just wasn’t going to cut it.

Initially, we moved to a factory, and then for the last 18 months I have been working very closely with a lovely bakery in north Wales, whose hardworking team have been looking after the production and dispatching of our cakes.

Yet outsourcing production was a terrifying move. All of a sudden you have much less control and input, and you don’t get to witness the day to day output of goods – which is always a moment of pride and satisfaction for anyone who runs their own business. 

I gave away 50% of my business to Lord Sugar, and this was a real challenge for me because finding the right company to undertake this work makes the world of difference.

In short, it was important to find a company with employees that would take the day-to-day manufacture of cakes as seriously as I have always taken it myself.

The Dream Which Lived On

But one thing still bugged me. I desperately needed to fulfil my dream of opening my very own bakery in my hometown of Aberystwyth.

The business has continued to grow and, with some of the initial madness now taken care of and built into the daily routine, it made sense to take back control.

I wanted to cater for more customers, offer more delicious products and welcome an in-house bakery team to Ridiculously Rich.

The first thing I will say is: I had no idea how big a mission this would be until it was already too late.

I quickly found the perfect space which was a big empty unit on my local industrial estate. But it was certainly not a pre-made bakery.

A plan was put in place and, before I knew it, the new unit was filled day and night with builders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and more, to transform the empty shell into a fully functioning space, one complete with bakery, warehouse, office and shop.

I had to put my laptop to one side, and pick up whatever was required – usually a paintbrush – in order for the extremely tight deadline to be met. We needed to begin production ASAP.

Recruitment Enthusiasm

While this was taking place, I needed to find new team members that would be as passionate about quality as I am. 

I wanted individuals that would work together well and in whom I could trust with my recipes. I needed to find people who wanted to grow the business with me.

I was a little nervous at first, not knowing if I would find many takers in my home town.

However, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who responded to our adverts for roles.

We spoke to many potential employees and partners, passionate about working for an independent business in Aberystwyth. This was so refreshing and amazing to hear.

I was constantly trying to work out which roles these people would undertake, but also trying to assess their individual characters.

It was vital to put together a team that would forge a happy working environment and be relaxed in each other’s company.

There were a few really strong contenders, and I would have loved to have given everyone a job.

But, at the end of two long days of interviews, a clear selection of contenders stood out. These were the people who had shown real passion, dedication and work ethic.

Luckily, they all accepted my offer and my new team had been formed.

Before I knew it, the building work had been completed and the new bakery was ready for opening.

The first couple of weeks of production are now a blur. Having been used to producing cakes on a large scale, but not being in control of the process for a few years, I had completely forgotten the buzz and sometimes pure panic you experience, when working to a deadline.

I know my recipes inside out, but this sort of information was stored in my head and not on the hard drive.

I can very quickly calculate exactly how much is needed to produce a certain quantity of brownies, and how many we can make in a day, based on how long they take to bake and cool.

But, all of a sudden, I needed to remember to share this data with my team, explain why certain things are done in certain ways and in a specific order – rather than keeping these details in my own head.

There are a few things to iron out, and we are still making last minute dashes to buy items of equipment or ingredients we may have casually forgotten about. However, bit by bit and with a lot of determination, it is all finally starting to fall into place.

Remain Calm And Patient

If you have recently changed the direction of your business, integrated something new, or all of a sudden been thrown in at the deep end, all I can advise is patience.

Trust in your team and those around you, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when you need it.

There may be a lot of very late nights, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but just remind yourself why you are doing this.

Taking back the manufacture of my own cakes was completely the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

Over the past few months there have been highs, but there have also been many lows too. At times I have questioned myself about what I was doing. 

But I know it was the correct decision for both myself and the business. And when my delicious cakes are wheeled out from the factory floor to be greeted by customers and stockists, it all feels worth it. 

In business you have to continually adapt. What you were doing five years ago, or perhaps even one year ago, might not be the right thing to do now, especially if it slows down your true potential.

I have had to reinvent and adapt my business many times over during the 10 years since I started it. But this is what keeps me relevant, keeps me improving and keeps me focused.

Hopefully, it will also inspire those working for me to do the same.’

About the Author

Alana Spencer

Alana Spencer

Since securing a business partnership with Alan Sugar in The Apprentice 2016, Alana Spencer's cake company Ridiculously Rich has been doing ridiculously well. As a winner of the series, she's writing a weekly round-up detailing the performance of The Apprentice 2019 candidates exclusively for Elite Business.

Follow Alana Spencer on Twitter @alana_spencer_, Instagram @ridicrichbyalana and her Facebook page Ridiculously Rich by Alana.

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