Do you have a competitive edge?

17/06/2014

The school of thought that assumes all high growth businesses are technology based is wrong. Fast-moving companies display an edge that connects with their customer’s world, one filled with imagination, inspiration and fresh thinking. Their founders and teams have an inherent ability to spot a niche, an unfulfilled need or problem demanding a solution.

Gazelle performance can be achieved by repackaging a traditional idea. The fusion of a diverse range of business models to produce a whole new experience is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have perfected.

Focusing on activities that don’t necessarily bring in revenue can also attain the edge. However, they do position the organisation head and shoulders above the rest. In other words they produce a wow factor. Leading experts in creativity would claim that 95% of a company’s point of difference is achieved by as little as 5% of what it does.

High growth businesses excite their customers by displaying their edge with passion and clarity. Companies must avoid falling into becoming a “me too” market player – this drives down margins, the cheapest wins, a sort of spiral descent very difficult to recover from.

So how do you find the edge? It starts with the mindset of the leader – old world tells us to think outside the box. My recommendation is to get rid of the box because it does not exist – eliminate limiting beliefs, self-imposed boundaries and negative influences that restrict your ability to think. Find a coach or a mentor who will help you fill the pipeline with new possibilities. Find your 5%!


Freshness of thought drives great ideas

03/04/2014

The term “thinking outside the box” is a constant irritation for me. Easy to say, hard to do – how do you do it? Get to the route cause!

Don’t fall into the trap of routine. Repetitive behaviours will deliver a mindset that lacks vision, imagination and creative spirit. When we do the same things day-in day-out we establish a routine, this state of mind both inhibits and prohibits new possibilities. We find that the same old problems surface and bizarrely we think that by doing the same thing over and over again the results will be different. We must be aware of our habits as they become hard wired into our daily schedule. The manifestation of routine is that we experience a sense of monotony, feeling of being stuck in a rut, poor self-confidence, low energy levels and loss of purpose and direction.

Everyone experiences these feelings at some point, however we can take some simple steps to rewire our thinking. Emphasis must be placed on constantly searching for stimulus – things that will disrupt habitual behaviour, strengthen our creative muscles and deliver a freshness of thought;

Alternative perspectives – constantly look at your challenges from different angles – ask yourself “how would your role model address the issue?”

Remove yourself – from the daily routine and spend one day a month do something completely different.

Connect with nature – spend time in the open air and appreciate the wonder of the countryside. Combine this with regular exercise, it provides a boost to our energy levels. It also helps us to value our existence.

Don’t Think – don’t pre judge the outcome of any situation. Just observe and detach yourself from comment. By not thinking you clear your mind.

Take a look – observe what your peers do and share experiences with them. Wherever possible engage with people from other cultures, religions and regions of the world.

Five simple practices will act the fuel for fresh thinking. Doing away with routine is a liberating experience. It energises us, and keeps us motivated to perform at high levels.


Your business model must have an “edge”

24/01/2014

A key challenge I keep coming across at the moment is many SMEs fail to articulate or unlock their uniqueness. Many entrepreneurs find themselves bogged down by the need to keep cutting prices to remain competitive. This strategy in my view is a road to ruin. I always try to reinforce the point that – selling your product or service is far easier when you have a point of difference. Many entrepreneurs tell me that they are in commodity markets and that’s just the way it is.

I then go on to use the bizarre example of a notebook to demonstrate differentiation – after all a notebook is a commodity – a 14cm x 10cm notebook in Tesco will cost you around £1. However look at the same size Moleskine in Waterstones – it will cost you £10. If everyone bought notebooks on price they would all go to Tesco. Positioning through innovation is a key route to gaining competitive edge. When you open any Moleskine book there is a small fold away piece of paper titled “The history of a legendary notebook” – it goes on to reference famous people that have used these notebooks. There is a brilliant line that goes… “used for the past two centuries by great artists and thinkers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin. The trusty, pocket sized travel companion held their sketches, notes, stories and ideas before they became famous images or beloved books”. Then go and have a look at their website www.moleskine.com – they have made the business of a notebook a art form. They use storytelling to bring the notebook alive and engage the customer in a truly unique experience.

The lesson is – we can all find a point of difference if we embraced innovation into our business model. The invisible force of creativity, however must be embedded within yours and your teams mindset.


Think…….

02/08/2012

This was the headline of an advert in yesterday’s Financial Times, it was placed by the Qatar Foundation (www.qf.org.qa – unlocking human potential). It summed up wonderfully what I have been recommending to ambitious entrepreneurs on a mission to build a business. All too often individuals fail to create space to think, instead they embark on a crusade of activity with no direction – they fail to think it through. This can be extremely dangerous as chasing around like the proverbial headless chicken quite commonly leads to making decisions later regretted. Here is some fantastic wisdom for those of you running a business (its taken directly from the advert – it’s really powerful and very thought-provoking)

Few things possess more Power than a Thought

Because a Thought has the potential to become something significant. To solve something meaningful. And to inspire us to achieve great things.

What makes a Thought so powerful is that it can be created by anybody. At anytime. From anywhere.

That’s why Thinking should be encouraged and nurtured in all its forms. No matter how small. Or how impossibly grand.

Because wherever Thinking happens, Big ideas follow. Minds become enlightened. Knowledge grows. And people discover new ways to unlock their potential.

So start Thinking

Innovation is driven by the power of creative thought, experience shows that it is in those quite moments of contemplation that breakthroughs occur – a new product idea, new market or solution to an existing problem. It worked for Archimedes when he got in the bath (Eureka) and Isaac Newton when he was sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the universe.

Thinking is the precursor for strategy development and innovation. Balancing thinking with doing can deliver quantum shifts in performance – it also delivers clarity, one that so many entrepreneurs claim they lack for their business.


Collaboration is key to competitive advantage

13/07/2012

How times have changed in the past ten years. Companies I would have viewed as major competitors at the turn of 2000 have now become close allies – we are sharing knowledge, IP, business ideas and revenue streams. It strikes me that collaboration is very much embedded within the mindset of the forward thinking organisations I meet on a day-to-day basis. Those that hold their cards too close to their chest will almost certainly miss out on new business and product opportunities. Collaboration can present itself in many formats:

  • Businesses with complementary skills coming together to bid for large contracts – one where the mix of expertise and geographical coverage offers massive benefits to a customer. This can be achieved as a consortium or through what is commonly referred to as a special purpose vehicle (SPV)
  • Companies fusing complimentary products and services to create a new offering – WP did this several years ago, we took creative expertise of a University and combined it with coaching techniques to create the highly successful Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) – a great example of HE working with a SME
  • Euro Garages one of the North’s most successful companies brought together petrol stations with Starbucks and Subway franchises to build a new experience in filling the tank.
  • We see it everyday on the motorways with Starbucks, M & S and other high street chains teaming up with service operators to create a new service station break – this used to be a joke in terms of food quality, now, very different
  • Large pharma companies engaging with smaller niche R & D operators. A much nimbler and cost effective route for multi nationals to build their innovation pipeline

Fundamental to collaboration is a win- win attitude, there has to be a common goal, a shared vision, a sense of trust and purpose, fair commercial gain for both parties. Working as I do everyday with high growth companies, its very clear that those entrepreneurs who think partnership are opening themselves up to so many new possibilities.  Stay awake, think about who you can collaborate with, the only warning is, be sure why you are doing it and what’s in it for both of you!


The hunt is on for high growth businesses

12/06/2012

In the last year 480,000 new companies have been formed. There are now 4.5 million people classed as self-employed – to varying degrees these are entrepreneurs who are laying the foundations for the recovery and the creation of jobs and wealth.

All over the country, in city centres, business parks and market towns a quiet revolution is underway. A new economy is being built on the explosion of growth from fast growing businesses.

The hunt is on for the high growth businesses who have the capacity and the ability to know they are doing well – they’ve grown through the tough period we’re living in – but they want more. GrowthAccelerator is here to help them.

These businesses know they are good at what they do – this new business support service will help them do even better and get bigger, faster.

It isn’t for everyone, GrowthAccelerator’s aim is to help these businesses double within three years, by helping a business to remove the barriers to growth and throw off the shackles of caution.

By placing an expert business coach with the right skillset, the relevant sector understanding or the right keys to unlock funding, GrowthAccelerator can truly boost business performance.

GrowthAccelerator is on the hunt for small and medium sized businesses in England with real potential for growth to help them achieve their ambitions. On business parks and in city centres high growth businesses with the energy and ambition to grow need help to accelerate that growth.

These businesses can be in any sector – can be in any city, but must share the ambition to grow – the impetus for growth could be a revolutionary new scientific discovery, propelling a major new invention from one of a major university, but equally it could be a fresh new retail concept or a traditional manufacturing operation with the vision to expand into the growth markets of Brazil, Russia, India or China.

What they need is a service that identifies the barriers to growth and helps install the mechanisms to overcome them. This is GrowthAccelerator.

The hunt is on for the businesses that need this level of support. They will improve cities, they will bring more business to their supply chains. This is GrowthAccelerator.

They will create jobs and wealth – do you know one? Are you one?


Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning

06/06/2012

It is the leaders role to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy to staff and stakeholders. When this is done with passion and authenticity, strong foundations are built for innovation and creativity; it sets the scene for personal progression and engages teams to fire on all cylinders. But how does the leader gain the inspiration, insight and knowledge to build such an environment. Well the answer may lie in the cliché – leaders are readers. Having worked with over 3,000 small businesses over the past 6 years, many of which would be termed gazelles (high growth innovative firms), the one ingredient that differentiates outstanding performance from mediocre is a leaders approach to learning. Winning Pitch’s work in this field indicates that organisations led by individuals who create space to acquire and apply knowledge go on to derive benefits of faster and sustained levels of growth.

The inability or lack of motivation to allow time for learning often results in leaders pursuing business as usual strategies. In the worst case this leads to disconnection from the market place and the needs of customers. The resultant impact is lack of competitive advantage and a spiral decline in margins, market share and revenue. Innovative high growth business leaders practice the philosophy of 20% thinking and learning along with 80% doing and reviewing. This mental framework facilitates an iterative approach to entrepreneurship, project implementation, idea generation and learning. It is a process commonly associated with scientific discovery. Iteration provides an effective route to positive progression and getting new ideas and projects off the ground more rapidly. It drives momentum, a characteristic commonly displayed by successful entrepreneurs.

Maintaining the healthy 20:80 split is extremely important as a slip in either direction can lead to either inertia, particularly if too much learning prevails or chaos if too much doing dominates the agenda. The latter gives rise to another popular cliché – not being able to see the wood for the trees. So what is the secret sauce to achieving an optimum return for the 20%? It is appropriate to point out that entrepreneurial leaders embrace different learning preferences and styles, however our experiences are summed up wonderfully in the Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

The power of learning by seeing and doing charaterises many of the ambitious entrepreneurial leaders Winning Pitch has worked with. Several learning formats that have emerged from this school of thought, the most popular being peer to peer networking – informal environments where entrepreneurs’ get together to discuss and debate issues and challenges they face. This becomes an extremely powerful option to fast tracked learning, the reason being many problems associated with growth are common – very often they revolve around building teams, finance, access to markets and regulations.

An environment where entrepreneurs debate how they solved specific growth challenges can save others facing similar difficulties an enormous amount of time. Such edited highlights are proving to be an increasingly popular way of consuming new learning. This approach has given rise to numerous entrepreneurial networking organisations such as Entrepreneurs Circle, Supper Club, Tie and Winning Pitch’s High Growth Foundation. Entrepreneurs often make reference to living a lonely life and exposure to their peer group can deliver a whole range of learning benefits, firstly, they can help to alleviate and cope with those feelings of isolation and secondly, they can steer them to solutions only obvious to an external viewer.

Experience sharing is a valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and their leaders; more specifically it produces accelerated learning within organisations where training budgets are limited. Simple yet highly effective routes to achieving this can be done by:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales & marketing approaches implemented by non-competing organisations. This helps entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge of trusted advisers and expertise. All too often entrepreneurs end up on the receiving end of bad advice. By speaking to those deemed as exemplar this can fast track to effective support networks.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong. There are excellent learning opportunities distilled from bad experiences and more often than not entrepreneurs are only too willing to help others avoid the mistakes they made themselves.

Studying biographies of success – we live in an age where the digital environment provides a content rich source of inspirational stories of the tactics and tools successful people have implemented to achieve great results. Many high performing entrepreneurs featured as part of Winning Pitch’s network regularly refer to the insights gained from studying these biographies as being – stimulus for change, acquiring new knowledge and delivering enhanced performance.

In early 2012, Winning Pitch via its High Growth Foundation accompanied 18 entrepreneurial leaders on a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Common to these UK entrepreneurs was their desire to build globally focused organisations. Through Winning Pitch’s contacts on the West Coast ambitious individuals were exposed to some of the largest brands on the planet including Google and LinkedIn. On return participants stated that the learning journey had acted as catalyst for both personal and company progression.  Participating entrepreneurs listened to the stories and methods used by global company leaders – how they go about their business, innovate, manage staff, build culture, access finance – not only what they do but more importantly how they think. The UK delegation were united in one key learning outcome – The mindset and the scale of thinking within Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a quantum level greater than that seen in the UK. Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning (See www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk for more information)

 

The UK boasts internationally competitive and highly recognised educational institutions, ones equipped to teach strategy, management tools and techniques and associated frameworks and philosophies at the highest level. However, is there a missing link in the provision of assistance? Could more be done to help entrepreneurs embrace a mindset which raises the bar of performance in a big way? The UK economy needs more high growth businesses and new starts to deliver employment opportunities – NESTA’s Vital 6 per cent report clearly showed that a small minority of high-growth businesses hold the key to job creation and wider prosperity. This means we need UK entrepreneurs to learn how to think bigger, no better way of doing that than seeing it in action.


High Growth Foundation – A trip to Silicon Valley

18/05/2012

What delegates found in Silicon Valley was the theme of last night’s High Growth Foundation event – you could actually feel the entrepreneurial spark in the air at Manchester Airport’s Concorde Suite. I don’t think attendees actually realised that Concorde was going to be in the room – over 150 delegates sat under the fuselage and listened to what was a set of fantastic contributors. As always our resident compare Michael Taylor did a great job unlocking interesting stories from the massively enthusiastic Gareth Burton, fun loving Jim Clarke, and the practical go getting Janet Green. (On the side lines Liz Weston, a Winning Pitch friend and Foundation supporter was busily tweeting).

The setting for this event was symbolic of what the Foundation is all about. Our purpose is to support entrepreneurs who have the desire and ambition to move their business forward at supersonic speed but doing it within a framework of disciplined management and focus on key business processes.  Encouraging companies to deliver sustainable growth over a long period of time is what we are about. The session I feel was an effective antidote and reminder of not to take part in the doom and gloom thinking we have seen over the past months.

The event brought together almost one year of social media activity and events whose messages focused on thinking globally and thinking big, a state of mind that is finely tuned into “going for growth”.

One of the most effective ways entrepreneurs learn is by experience sharing:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales marketing

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong

Studying biographies of success – personal and business journies

Well in March this year 18 entrepreneurs did experience sharing in a big way. They went to Silicon Valley to observe how some of the most successful brands on the planet go about their business.

More to follow on insights from the West Coast!

Our guest speaker Scott Fletcher went down a storm – his messages focused on conditioning yourself to develop a positive mindset, create a great culture and look after staff.   He’s is a living example of an entrepreneur who has embraced the big thinking mindset.  As Chairman of the ANS Group, he has off the scale ambition and grown one of the Region’s finest businesses – one that has rapidly transformed itself from gazelle to gorilla.

Really chuffed great that Pannone supported this event, especially Lisa Conmy their very own passionate ambassador for the entrepreneurial agenda.


Gazelles – past and present (part 2)

02/05/2012

I wrote a blog a week ago that covered Harvey Goldsmith’s view of the Top 10 greatest entrepreneurs past and present (part 1). Here is the final listing from 6 – 10 and the insights I think are important for other ambitious people:

6. Harry Hyams (1928 – ) – a man who changed the face of commercial property. He built Centre Point in the 60’s and left it controversially empty for months. He was a man who got his timing right, stirred things up – a great example of success is often down to luck. Many would say he planned to be “lucky”

7.Bernie Ecclestone (1930-) – grasped the opportunity when he saw it. From selling cars to F1 supremo. The window of opportunity is presented to so many of us but how many grab it when it appears? It often only lasts for a short time. His vision and leadership is an inspiration to us all.

8.William Morris (1834-1896) – crafts and arts specialist who dreamed of improving the quality of life for British workers. He was a highly successful artist whose designs are still around today – the message is? Leaving a legacy and putting something back!

9.Lew Grade (1906 -1998) – a master entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Famous for pushing an idea across the finishing line – how many of us are guilty of losing faith in an idea when the first hurdle presents itself. Faith is such an important part of getting the idea into the market place. Sunday Night at the Palladium and Pink Panther were several of his major accomplishments.

10. Sir Martin Sorrell (1945-) Not had the best of press this week given the big salary. However, so many forget what this man has achieved. In the mid 80’s he bought a little company called Wire & Plastic Products – this became WPP. It emerged as a world-beating communications and advertising business. Annual revenues running into billions and profits approaching £1bn. How many others can say they have done that. Grit and determination are key ingredients of his success. So the press….get off his back, how short people’s memories are!


The Silver Bullets – Rules for Gazelles

22/04/2012

Here they are, and they work!

  1. Create and craft differentiated propositions that stand out from the crowd – don’t compete on price, compete on difference
  2. Develop an effective vision, strategy and execute of a practical game plan – communicate this to the rest of your team – success is 20% thinking and 80% doing
  3. Drive innovation into the processes and functions of your company and always look at doing things differently
  4. Embrace change and see it as an opportunity to develop and introduce new propositions
  5. Build a great team – thinkers, sellers, doers and controllers – create a culture where values and behaviours are aligned to delivering great service both internally and externally
  6. Condition your mindset – coping with the challenges that come with growth means a Believe You Can (BYC) state of mind is vital
  7. Live in the “Customer’s World” and deliver services and products that capture their need and voice. Build long-term relationship and keep coming up with new ideas to address their challenges.
  8. Disciplined systems and processes need to be put in place – KPIs that provide a real time state of business health are vital. Key your eye on cash and how you finance your company. Get expert help.
  9. Become great at selling and put the sales engine in place – sales are the lifeblood of any organisations, sell what you believe in as well as the products and services you offer.
  10. Find connectors that can provide answers to the challenges you face – getting experienced mentors, coaches and non executive directors working to raise the bar of performance are an essential ingredient of success

Personal development is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – be aware of what you are good and bad at. Review how you are performing in relation to the Ten Silver Bullets !