How important are the behind-the-scene stories of your business and can authentic influencer marketing opportunities open up when you make genuine connections with your customers? Find the answers to this and more in the latest podcast.

Welcome to episode 35 of The Whin Big Podcast, where Katie chats with Sophie Barham co-founder of the much loved Dingle Hill Tearooms and Dingle Marsh Barns Cottages on the Suffolk coast. As well as talking about stories and influencer marketing they discuss the benefits of founding a business with your parents and Sophie talks about her love of being able to give back to her local economy.

Today’s episode is sponsored by my Instagram MOT. This 20-point checklist will take you through all the most important things you need to get right in your Instagram marketing. Head to thewhin.co/mot to sign up for the free training and download the checklist. Now, let’s get into the episode.

The road to starting your own business

How ready were you to jump into the grown-up world of work? This week’s guest – Sophie Barham – wasn’t sure she wanted a “normal” job when she finished her Business Management degree at university. 

Instead, she took herself to the US where she worked at Disney World and delayed ‘real’ working life in a job that combined fun, lots of hard work and make-believe. 

Returning to the UK, her working life in recruitment couldn’t have been more different. Recognising it wasn’t a good fit, she started to look around for new opportunities. 

Leaning into the unexpected

Around the time Sophie left the world of recruitment, a local teahouse went up for sale. Unusually, it was the same tearoom Sophie worked in as a 14-year-old dishwasher. Her mum had also worked there in the past. 

Without lots of capital to invest, or experience of running a tea room, Sophie and her mum bought it.

“As with all the best things in life – going into business was all a bit of an accident, but we’re a really good example of hard work paying off.” – Sophie

Building on hard work and seizing opportunities

The family have owned Dingle Hill Tearooms for 8 years. They’ve taken it from a bankrupt business to one that’s booming. In the height of the season, the tearoom can serve up to 450 people in one day.

Three years ago, the family bought the connecting cottages and set up Dingle Marsh Barns, three stunning self-catering cottages. They have plans to renovate the cottages into B&B accommodation in the coming months and have a longer-term plan to set up glamping accommodation in the paddock.

Supporting the local community as well as the economy

Sophie and Katie discuss the need for freedom as a driver for many people setting up a business. As someone with a (self-confessed) terrible work-life balance, Sophie doesn’t have much freedom from work. Instead, her driver is in the people in her local community.

Dingle Hill Tearooms prides itself on being a fair and well-paying employer in the community. They are rewarded with loyal, hard-working staff. For Sophie, this is her favourite thing about having a business.

The geographical area is expensive to live in, with few work opportunities for local people. Sophie loves being able to pay a good wage and help people afford to stay in the area they love, without the need to travel far for work.

“If you’re in a position to, I think giving back to the community should be a priority. And I don’t feel enough people do it.” – Sophie

Marketing tips from Dingle Hill Tearoom

Serving 450 people a day means there’s less time to concentrate on digital marketing. The family post to social media twice a week (per business) and make use of Trip Advisor, Airbnb and SEO on their website to grow their audience.

In this episode, Katie and Sophie also talked about the benefits of:

  • Making connections with local businesses and talent
  • Staying authentic on social media
  • Having real conversations with customers

“From a consumer’s perspective, influencer partnership works well when it’s an authentic match. When they are already a genuine customer of the brand.” – Katie

By taking time for genuine conversations and making authentic connections, Sophie’s businesses have featured in lifestyle blogs and tourist magazines across the country thanks to the growing success of influencer blogs.

Sophie and Katie agreed that with influencer marketing, it’s vital to keep an eye on the authenticity of the collaboration. Anything else would alienate the tearoom’s core audience and work against them.

How bright does the future look for Dingle Hill Tearooms?

Sophie might consider herself to have a terrible work-life balance, but she’s a glass-half-full kind of person. She’s feeling optimistic about the future, despite the issues around coronavirus and lockdown.

“We’ve worked so hard to build up our businesses. We have loyal customers. The countryside is still here and people still want to come.” – Sophie

Links to other resources & websites

Blogs and resources for business owners

Book recommendations:

Further resources discussed in the episode:

About Sophie Barham, Dingle Hill Tearooms and Dingle Marsh Barns

In 2012, Sophie and her mum bought the local tearoom. The building sits in acres of farmland with views out to sea and alongside the stone cottages next door made up part of a traditional farm. Both Sophie and her mum had worked in this very tearoom many years before, so buying it and lovingly building the business up made perfect sense to them.

Now, 8 years on, they’ve bought the cottages and surrounding acres. They run two businesses from the site – the tearooms and self-catering holidays and the family have plans to grow the business even more in the coming months and years.

Find out more about Sophie’s family businesses here:

Dingle Marsh Barns

Dingle Hill Tearooms

Dingle Hill on Instagram