As part of a new series of blog posts, we take an in depth look at some of our customers’ business successes. I interviewed Sally-Ann Reed from Hellbent Engineering Ltd and asked for details of how they got where they are today and what advice they would give to others.

Hellbent Engineering Ltd is a small CNC machine shop in North Walsham, North Norfolk. They manufacture high quality, precision parts from a range of materials including aluminium, stainless steel, brass and various engineering plastics.

• How did Hellbent Engineering all begin?

The business began life in 2009 as a partnership set up by my husband Logan and myself. Logan had over 15 years’ experience as an engineer and I had spent the last 15 years working in pharmaceuticals, the latter half as a Commercial Manager. We funded the start up with a redundancy pay out I received and Hellbent Engineering began in a small purpose self-built workshop next to our house. By the beginning of 2011 we had outgrown our humble beginnings and moved into a 1900 square foot workshop on the industrial estate in the nearby market town of North Walsham, where we remain today. Last year we ceased the partnership and incorporated the business.

• What has been the biggest success for your organisation?

We started our business in the midst of the global recession in 2009. We were lucky enough to be able to self-fund and nearly five years later do not have and never have had an overdraft. We began with no customers and have built the business up, to turn over in excess of £100,000 last year still with only the two of us (and a bit of part time help when it all gets too mad). We pride ourselves on our quality of product and customer service. Despite the recession, we have been paid for every piece of work we have ever done and not had to write off any bad debt, despite us offering 30 day credit terms (subject to references).

• What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

As a small business that started in the recession and has only run for nearly five years, challenging trading circumstances are all we have known and we have built the business up in that time into a successful entity. We are looking forward to what less challenging trading circumstances will bring us.

• What advice would you give to other business?

Learn to do as much for yourselves as you can. Not only is it really satisfying to be as self-sufficient as you can be, it is also very cost effective. We have an accountant but I make sure I do all the work I can to keep external costs down. When we incorporated, our accountant very kindly offered to do the process for us, run our payroll, sort dividend meetings/payments and many other things. While I thanked them for their offer, I did all these things myself at no extra cost. It’s good to understand the “hows” and “whys” in business.

Negotiate relentlessly with suppliers including electricity/gas companies to get the best prices and service. Take time to find good, reliable local suppliers who will work with you and care about you. In turn, look after them – tell them how much you appreciate their service when they pull the stops out for you and always pay them on time, every time. Our excellent relationships with our suppliers are part of the foundation to the fantastic rapport we build with our customers.

Finally the old adage ‘under promise and over deliver’. Business is full of chancers who agree to tight deadlines knowing they are unachievable and then let customers down. We only agree to what we know we can deliver and have earned respect by doing so.

• What’s your main use of energy in your business?

We are very cheap to run on the energy front. The machines produce the majority of our heat so we hardly use our gas supply which runs the heating. Our electricity costs are quite nominal considering we use the three phase to power three large CNC machines, a dozen manual machines and various other things such as welders, drills etc. Our total spend on business energy equates to less than 10% of our total overheads.

• Where do you see your business in 12 months?

A little older and a little wiser, much like its directors… If things continue as they are we will need another part time employee on a regular rather than ad hoc basis, another large manual lathe and potentially a full-time turner to operate it. We part financed the first two CNC machines we bought at start up and the last payment is due in July this year. We hope to then purchase another new larger CNC mill which will give us additional capacity in an area we struggle to keep up with demand in. Other than that; much as we are now but with higher turnover and hopefully increased profits.

• What would you do to help small business if you were Prime Minister for a day?

Re-direct the foreign aid payments made to countries with space & nuclear programmes etc., to this country to support start-up businesses, business funding and training schemes for youngsters to get them useful experience so small business’ like ours can take them on and benefit from their training.

Small businesses still struggle under the weight of red tape in all areas (health and safety, HMRC requirements to name but a couple) which is being addressed, but to what extent remains to be seen.

Business rates are also a worry – We currently pay only a token amount but this will be an additional overhead if, or rather, when, the rates holiday ends.

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