Coracle Online: Suffolk shipping tutors plot new course for business growth

A small Suffolk company that has helped to train thousands of commercial shipping professionals around the world is plotting a new direction for its business growth with help from a high-growth coaching programme.

Coracle Online Ltd, based just outside Sudbury, signed an exclusive contract with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers in 2006 to convert paper-based, distance learning qualifications into interactive online courses. Since then, over 3,000 students have enrolled on Coracle’s courses, studying everything from port management to shipping law through a combination of audiobooks, online seminars (or ‘webinars’) and interactive assessments.

Alongside their courses, Coracle developed a series of podcasts and mobile applications to keep students and shipping professionals up-to-date with the latest news and regulations affecting their industry. Coracle’s daily shipping podcasts have been downloaded 5 million times to date, whilst its mobile application, Ship It!, became the number one educational game in January 2011 – downloaded by 40,000 people across 41 countries in just one day.

Having established a successful formula for both sharing information and learning within a vast industry like shipping, Coracle now plan to roll-out their model across new target sectors, including security, insurance, recruitment and law.

To prepare their business for significant growth in operations, husband and wife team – James and Mary Tweed – turned to a high-growth coaching programme for help. Delivered by St John’s Innovation Centre on behalf of EEDA, Coaching for High Growth offers Suffolk companies exclusive access to some of the UK’s top business coaches for one-to-one support, guidance and mentoring.

James Tweed, founder and director of Coracle, said:

“Like many businesses, we had aspirations to grow but lacked a clear strategy. Having proven our business model and built a strong reputation within the shipping industry, we recognised significant potential for replicating our success across other sectors. So we knew where we wanted to go, but were not sure how best to get there.”

“Coaching for High Growth provided us with an invaluable sounding board at just the right time. We now have the plan and confidence to conquer new markets, grow our business eight-fold over the next two years and double our staff numbers along the way.”

Following an introductory growth masterclass, St John’s programme paired Coracle with Sharon Stevens – a professional business coach with over 25 years experience of working with blue chip businesses and some of the UK’s fastest-growing small businesses. During four one-to-one coaching sessions, Coracle focused on defining their business proposition, distinguishing themselves in the marketplace, and planning team resources.

Mary Tweed said:  “Sharon challenged us to come up with our own solutions to the problems we faced. As a small team, we operated an ‘all hands on deck’ approach before our coaching experience. However, the discipline of taking a step back really helped us to define a solid structure to our company and allocate tasks in a much more logical way. We have been able to identify which key roles need filling and have started recruiting.”

On a personal level, the coaching experience also helped Mary Tweed to develop a better balance between work and the responsibility of raising four young children.

Mary said:  “Juggling the demands of a high-growth business on one hand and potty training on the other was a daunting day-to-day challenge. As a result, I lacked confidence in the value I brought to the company. Some one-to-one coaching from Sharon has helped to clarify my role, and I have established a better work/life balance.”

Sharon Stevens, Coracle’s business coach, said:

“Coaching a high-growth business is comparable to coaching a champion sports star in the making. We start by setting short-term, achievable goals that build confidence and install a winning mentality.

“Entrepreneurs can find themselves overwhelmed by the complexities of growing their business – the key is to break that journey down into manageable steps. Coracle now has a month-by-month, achievable business plan in place for conquering new markets. Our coaching sessions have focused on defining Coracle’s USPs and establishing a strong team structure – essential preparatory work for any business with aspirations for growth.”