Get connected – Be part of a success community

23/09/2015

In whatever arena you want to succeed you must identify and ultimately become part of the community where individuals with common interests share and connect with each other. In these communities you will meet like-minded people whose experiences, thoughts and attitudes could be of massive contribution to your own success. The entrepreneurial world has seen a dramatic increase in the number of business networking groups in recent year’s, these have acted as a source of personal and business development for ambitious people who want to progress their enterprise. These groups encourage networking and interaction – not only do they stimulate business activity, they also act as a portal of real life experiences, these can help in times when:

  • Difficult decisions have to be made
  • You really don’t know how to address a particular challenge
  • You are unsure as to which direction to take
  • You are exploring growth options
  • You have hit a ceiling in our growth staircase
  • You need to break out of our comfort zones

Being part of a community can teach us that ‘everything is possible’, they help to extend our comfort zones and believe that life holds far more than the status quo. The Quaker slogan ‘live adventurously’ is one we should all embrace.

How involved are you with the community relevant to your situation? How visible are you in it? Do you participate? Personal success for you will improve significantly when you get involved with your community of interest; it will give you the opportunity to:

  • Mix with individuals who have similar aspirations
  • Build personal relationships that can be vital to you in times of need
  • Share your wisdom with them
  • Exchange contacts that offer mutual benefit

Don’t be a passive observer in your community network, be an active part and ‘giver’ – this will come back to repay you many times over. Be vocal, let your thoughts be known and immerse yourself in what is going on. In today’s rapidly expanding wireless environment these communities can be virtual as well as physical. The exponential rise in online communities created through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide alternative routes to getting involved – don’t ignore the opportunities these tools give you to accessing the “Connectors”. These are the people who open doors in the quest for success; they will emerge from your community.

It is vital that you get hooked in as being an active contributor, and you will over time build a GCC – “Golden Circle of Connectors” – people whose opinions and inputs you both trust and respect, most of all they help you to make things happen.

Get connected and start to build links with those communities that will help you to move forward!


Growth wish entrepreneurs should train with the best

08/09/2015

If you want to excel in your professional life and get the most out of your business, work with those people who will take you to new limits. Training with these individuals will extend your comfort zone, teach you new skills and more importantly, allow you to gain insight into how they think. Many businesses fail to grow because their founders get stuck in a rut of the same old, day after day. Only when they immerse themselves with a group of high performers do they appreciate what is possible. High performers think in a different way, they have a mind-set that is conducive to grasping opportunities and ruthless execution to make things happen.

Defining who you believe to be the best in your field of work provides a benchmark for raising your own performance. Do away with any feeing of personal pride or sense of undermining your own capability and explore how you can spend time with those you identify as best in class.

High performing organisations consciously create conditions that get the best to push each other to new levels of performance. If you want to achieve greater success then align yourself to those who consistently out perform the rest. Be open in your approach to these people and ask them – Please can you help? Or please can I ask your advice? By asking in this way you are delivering a compliment and acknowledging their expertise and achievement mind-set. More often than not people will help. Your aim should be to:

  • Shadow them on meetings and in their day to day activities
  • Ask for some time to share their thoughts on why they constantly outperform
  • Seek insight on how they think and what drives them
  • Enquire what motivates them and what they read
  • Try to find win-win ways of working
  • Work out how your expertise can be of value to a high performer
  • Seek out strategic partnerships

By training with the best you set intentions and expectations that lift your mind-set to new levels of attainment. Individuals you train with are different to mentors – they are the sparring partners that you work with to develop and grow your skills on a real time basis – they are pivotal to moving your business to a higher level. If the person you want to work with views you as a potential threat, the relationship will not work. Be honourable about your intentions and by no means use it to gain insights that would be of disservice to them – be clear, be up front – if a conflict of interest presents itself then walk away.

John Leach, CEO Winning Pitch

For more leadership and entrepreneurial advice, visit: winning-pitch.co.uk/for-business-leaders/


Stop talking and start doing

10/07/2015

Allocating time to thinking and doing, in the right proportions, will significantly increase your chances of achieving business and personal growth. However, you must give due consideration to the quality of your thoughts as crisp and clear thinking will drive your plans in the right direction. Spending time thinking how to achieve your goals in stressful conditions creates chaotic thought patterns. This frame of mind adds no value and delivers minimal contribution to business success. You must make provision for Quality Thinking Time (QTT) – space to ponder without interference or distraction. A hectic life style resulting from trying to balance work, family, relationships and career can make QTT a challenging task.

Remember, it is vital for you to avoid over thinking situations, circumstances and options as this will lead to inertia. It will stop you from taking action. A maximum of 20% of your time should be allocated to gaining clarity of thought. The remaining 80% should then be devoted to doing. Individuals that fail to realise their goals can be sometimes be guilty of spending too much time thinking about what they are going to do and never getting on with it. Avoid pontificating about your desires and needs, be sure to get on with it when you have decided just exactly what it is you are going to do. Positive progress is only made when doing follows thinking, Dreams and visions will remain at home in the mind if you don’t push ourselves towards implementation. Failure to move on in business is often down to not grasping the nettle, however when we do the right things a personal momentum builds which manifests into positive outcomes. Think less, do more!

Thoughts + Doing = Results

The difference between success and failure is often down to whether action has been taken or not. The final thoughts are from Christopher Columbus:-

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his or her chosen destination”


Ambition and hard work – the foundations of success

02/06/2015

Putting in the minimum amount of effort to a task to achieve a satisfactory result is a behaviour associated with people that have little or no ambition. Successful individuals take nothing for granted. They realise that through hard work and loyal commitment to their goals they may from time to time have to put in extra hours or do things that may feel punishing to either their mind or body – quite often both. The reality is that very few people are willing to push themselves physically and emotionally to over deliver. This maybe work a weekend to complete an important project, staying late at the office to help colleagues complete a critical bid or a teacher spending more with a pupil struggling to grasp a learning point. Going the extra mile to please others is an extremely admiral behaviour, you become respected by your peer group and the opportunities for personal progression is enhanced because others become engaged by your level of commitment.

You will place yourself well ahead of the competition when you do more than what was expected of you. It is also extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. The mindset of going the extra mile helps when:

  • You don’t want to let someone down
  • You want to influence a customer or stakeholder
  • You have an ambition to achieve
  • Someone needs your help
  • You see an opportunity others have missed
  • Potential has not been realised

Think deeply about what you want to achieve and accept that by conditioning your mind to embrace the philosophy of doing more you will become evermore successful purely by outperforming others. This mental programming becomes an integral part of your behaviour and winning becomes a habit.

Working long hours does not always mean you are working smart, however if you are setting up a business and trying to get it moving in the right direction – there is often no short cuts – a long shift is vital. Ambition comes in two forms…stated and genuine. Many individuals talk about what they are going to do, I am inspired by those who talk about what they have done.

Growing a business requires genuine gritty hard graft, courage and luck. Its surprising how luckier you become when you put in more hours.


High growth companies actively pursue “customer lock in” strategies

21/04/2015

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship were there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold.

A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.

 


A decade of supporting high growth businesses

11/03/2015

This year marks Winning Pitch’s tenth anniversary of being in business. The very reason I founded our organisation was to provide the tools to create, build and support individuals get the most from themselves and their companies. To achieve our mission it was imperative that Winning Pitch demonstrated an authenticity that could never be challenged, in other words we practiced what we preach. Ten years on, I am very proud to announce that we have worked with some 6,000 companies. Those we have supported over the past two years have grown 4 times the rate of GDP, the average change achieved in net worth, following Winning Pitch help is 335.5%, their balance sheet value has also increased by more than £181.96m. Impact on local economies is so satisfying to observe, Winning Pitch assistance has delivered approximately 5,000 new jobs. As a business we have reached revenues in excess of £10M and over 100 full time employees across the North and rest of UK. These impacts are testament to our core beliefs of authenticity, trusted adviser and an ability to deliver.

There is no finishing line in business and complacency is a danger zone that every entrepreneur should avoid entering into. After a decade of passionately supporting the entrepreneurial business, we ourselves have moved up a gear in terms of our growth plans and ambitions. Helped by a £2.5M investment last year, I am delighted to announce a new look Winning Pitch – one that’s aims to deepen even further our profile and brand in the SME growth space. Growth SMEs are going to be even more important to local, regional and national economies over the next decade; they are the job generators, the source of innovation, graduate jobs and foreign earnings. I want Winning Pitch to be at the heart of making these businesses succeed – with clarity of vision, superior propositions, strong leadership and teams, an ability to live in the customers world as well good housekeeping and financial strategy and control, everything is possible.

I want to carry on supporting individuals to grow and helping the next generation of stars to accelerate their performance and win. More specifically, we want to give more attention to those companies that can scale their operation. These are the businesses with global potential, they become bedrocks of local economies by delivering jobs, this in turn helps communities to prosper and thrive. We will be placing increased emphasis on this unique set of companies, whose business support needs are more sophisticated and complex to deliver.

I look forward to another ten years of innovation and obsessive focus on unlocking entrepreneurial ambition. We will continue to build and expand the Winning Pitch entrepreneurial community by giving courageous individuals the trusted guidance they need to achieve both profitable growth and a business they can be proud of.


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


Global Entrepreneurship Week – more companies of scale

21/11/2014

Its fantastic that this week see’s a whole raft of activity being rolled out to celebrate and promote starting and growing a business as a series career option. As one graduate said to me the other week –

“I couldn’t find a job so I created my own”

a fantastic mindset that hopefully will continue to build the UK as the start up capital of Europe. With record numbers of start up’s this year, we should be turning our attention to creating long term sustainable businesses which have the capability, capacity and ambition to scale. These are the job creators of tomorrow. Scaling up a company is a massive challenge for any entrepreneur – its takes business acumen, courage, and lots of emotional intelligence – not forgetting energy. Scaling up a business to employ in my experience requires:

  • A mindset that is far greater than merely self-employment. There has to be an underpinning ambition to create a business model that involves a team of people fulfilling different roles. All too often people who set up in business merely want to ‘eat what they kill’. The pain of employing others is commonplace – not everyone wants the hassle that goes with creating jobs.

  • A clear picture of what the next 3-5 years is going to look like, supported by a clear plan of what resources are going to be needed – finance, office space, people skills, IT and supporting functions.

  • Understand the available funding options and use of trusted advice which ensures both the business case and model can withstand scrutiny from a third party debt or equity funder.

  • Strong leadership and an ability of the founder to develop both his/herself as well as the team on the top table. Recruiting and retaining high calibre staff is probably one of the most frustrating challenges for any ambitious founder.

  • Strongly connected networks of trusted advisers who can help the entrepreneur make the transitions points of growth. This usually involves funders, legal, IT, recruitment, strategic and tactical finance people, marketing etc. NED’s play an important role in opening up ‘connected network’.

  • Great housekeeping comes with growth, this means strong governance, great management information, KPI’s – all coming together and reported on a regular board meetings. So many businesses fail to see the benefit of board meetings – as you grow ignore them and you are destined to lose the grip on business performance.

Setting up a business is not for everyone, those not willing to embrace a life of uncertainty should go and get a salaried job. Growing a business is equally not everyone’s cup of tea – hopefully, Global Entrepreneurship Week will get many to give it a second thought.


Hard wired ambition is the key to growth

13/11/2014

People often ask what are the essential ingredients to growing a successful business. Cliché’s such as ‘Think Big’, ‘Anything is Possible’ and ‘Dare to Dream’ often roll off the tongue of young entrepreneurs and aspiring new business start up’s. Regularly found in self-help and motivational books, these terms offer a great source of encouragement to the next generation of business men and women – they have a critical place in the growth journey. As a great believer that mindset is critical to success, what underpins real growth of both a business and individuals is deep-rooted ambition.

Successful businesses, communities and ultimately – economies are built on individuals who have this hard-wired ambition. One of my frustrations is that I visit many truly outstanding businesses with growth potential, but what’s holding them back is very often the lack of ambition. In equal amounts I hear the rhetoric of entrepreneurs who talk a good game about what they are going to achieve but consistently fail to deliver on any of the things they commit to do. They talk about what they are going to do rather than what they have done. Ambition needs an engine, it needs action, it requires mental toughness and when failure presents itself – successful ambitious individuals get back on their bike and pedal that bit harder.

When I coach entrepreneurs, I am constantly looking for ambition evidence. Have they done what they said they would do? Did they achieve that target they set themselves? Was that investment made? Did they hit the financial targets they said they would? A consistent stream of excuses of why things have not been done or failure to execute the actions agreed are tell tale signs that the ambition is not for real. What comes along with hard wired ambition is courage and an ability to extend comfort zones and manage risk.

One of the best definitions of ambition came from Elvis Presley – “ambition is a dream with a V8 engine”. Having a business dream is fantastic, however, without hard graft, long shifts and small nudges forward, the dream becomes a hallucination.


We need more mid sized businesses (MSB’s) – 10 ways to build one

16/10/2014

The need to help and support medium sized businesses (MSB) is very much at the heart of economic policy making at the moment. The missing component of the great work research institutes, accountants and think tanks have come up with is, just how difficult it is to set up and build one? Having done it with Winning Pitch (and working with a handful of others to do the same) there are so many lessons I would like to share. Here are 10 platforms critical to anyone on a MSB journey:

  1. Think big – genuine ambition is vital – be clear on your higher purpose.
  2. Be clear on the business model – a detailed plan to execute and operationalize the strategy to scale is crucial.
  3. Understand the different funding routes and instruments to fuel growth.
  4. A high quality senior team is vital, combine this with a great culture and you have the magic dust – values become more important the more staff you recruit.
  5. Consider the role of NEDs – having someone who has already done it sat round the boardroom table offers many advantages.
  6. Don’t be too precious about hanging on to your equity – smart people want a share of the value they bring.
  7. Embed tight operational control and strong performance management – remember it comes down to always having enough cash.
  8. Establish a clear brand and communicate this with passion – celebrate with fervor what makes you different and why you are the “go to organisation” for what you do.
  9. Strong internal (in the office) and external (in the market place) leadership is vital.
  10. Stay one step ahead of your competitors by living in the customer’s world – deliver innovative propositions with an edge.

From a UK business base of 4.8M companies, 99% employ less than 49 staff. So the current stock of mid sized businesses is less than 50,000. We must not only look at helping existing mid sized companies we also need to address how we fill the pipeline – the next generation.

Sustaining growth beyond 50 staff is a massive task – this is why so many entrepreneurs sell out before they burn out. Beyond 50 staff, business help and guidance becomes more sophisticated – PE/VC, NEDs, headhunters, governance, IPO’s, expensive lawyers and financial engineers, corporate finance… trusted support is pivotal to sustained growth. A community of trusted help is vital to the entrepreneurs who are aiming to do something special with their business.