From start-up to international organisation: How to grow your business from scratch

In this piece, we look at how logistics company Baxter Freight has grown to a £13 million turnover company today and reveal chairman Ian Baxter's approach to expansion.

Established three years ago by Ian Baxter, Peter Isler and Steve Rafferty, multimodal logistics company Baxter Freight has grown to a £13 million turnover company today by focusing on building a strong customer service offering.

The company is described by the founders as a one-stop-shop for any UK SMEs that have a need to move goods, but it’s not just moving goods from A to B at a competitive price that has got Baxter Freight to where it is today. Here, Baxter discusses some of the secrets to expansion as the company sets its sights on a target of £18 million turnover for 2018.

Setting the right company culture

Arguably the single most important aspect of growing your own business is to ensure the company culture is right from the outset. If you allow inconsistencies to creep in or you haven’t decided what your company culture is when starting out then it can be a long, drawn-out process to get it right.

Regardless of whether you’re managing teams across a number of locations, or a team based under one roof, the process of setting the right company culture is not something that you can simply ignore and hope for the best.

Lead from the top

You have no choice but to lead from the top – don’t make the mistake of thinking you can delegate the setting of culture to others within the business or that it will be okay if it simply emerges from what the group does. That’s not to say you have to do everything yourself as owner or CEO, but it is you, the leader of the business, that needs to set your stall out on culture from the beginning. Your business is a reflection of you. Everyone in the business need to understand that good practices are valued most above anything else, you need to demonstrate that it is possible to apply good practices across all disciplines.

As the owner of the business – even if a multi-location structure means they may hardly ever see the whites of your eyes – your employees need to know who you are and what you expect from them. Equally they need to understand that bad behaviours such as dishonesty, bullying and taking undue risks are not tolerated.

But what is most important is that individuals need to see examples of what this means in practice, with the leader taking brave and bold actions when company culture and values are challenged – even when it is difficult to do so. This is ultimately how ‘leading from the top’ is brought to life.

Finding the right people

At Baxter Freight, people are the lifeblood of the business. Our trading floor is split down the middle, with a sizeable and growing sales team on one side to support our growth plans and operations on the opposite side managing the day-to-day execution of orders, ensuring that our partners are moving goods for customers on time and in budget amongst other responsibilities.

If you’re growing a business from scratch, the first challenge is to attract the people you need. To entice talent to join a start-up company or small business, you have to show those individuals the opportunities available to them that they otherwise wouldn’t have at a bigger, shinier company. That’s been the single most important selling point we’ve used when recruiting – to tap into individuals that are hungry to be really involved with the business and who want to be a part of something that they can help to grow and shape.

Many of the sales account managers that we recruited in 2014 are still with the business today and this is certainly linked to setting the right company culture and giving people an enjoyable environment to work in. Regardless of whether you’re a service-based business or you have a product to sell, the principles should always be the same when recruiting and that’s fundamentally to make the proposition as attractive as possible but also to recruit for the long-term. Is this person hungry for progression? Will they go the extra mile – what’s the incentive for them to do so?

For a start-up or growing business, it’s about finding the balance between recruiting based on experience and potential. This is arguably where many go wrong by being too focused on finding someone that is the finished article. Yes, you need experienced heads within the senior leadership team, but finding people with the potential to develop through the right training and support is equally to the business overall.

Growth is a challenge

Growing a business brings its own unique set of challenges and no matter what stage of growth your organisation is at, the foundations for the company need to be strong in order to truly capitalise on that growth. Of course, winning new business and expanding is an achievement in itself, but it’s also important to properly manage that growth. Are you prepared? Have you planned ahead? How will you ensure that the values the business was built on remain the same during and after the period of growth? These are important questions to ask when planning ahead for future growth – if your business isn’t ready, then growth can bring out underlying problems alongside the positive change.

Ultimately, it is those businesses that offer a point of difference and focus on adding value to their clients’ customers that will continue to expand and grow. I’m a big believer in generating an environment where people love to work and are motivated to do so. I believe that’s why Baxter Freight is so quickly growing into an established international business.

Ian Baxter is chairman of Baxter Freight.

See also: 6 things to do if your fast growth business is scaling up

Ben Lobel

Ella Swaniawski

Ben Lobel was the editor of and from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.