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.
I am constantly being asked – what are the ingredients of a great SME coach? There are some very common characteristics that comprise of:
- Business expertise
- Market knowledge
- Functional expertise – finance
- Marketing strategy etc.
These are all very relevant but in my experience there is far more to coaching and mentoring that sits outside just business and management expertise. I have coached literally hundreds of business people over the years as well as running my own businesses – what this experience tells me is that there are human beings with emotions and fears that sit behind the business plan and very often, the façade of success.
Growing a business is a lonely place to be, in many instances the founder and the team have hidden anxieties that relate to mundane yet crucial components to an individuals overall well being. The pressures that come with, for example, personal guarantees required by the bank, small pension pot, lack of savings, big mortgage……many of these lay dormant in the business persons mind because running the business is all consuming and nothing else matters.
For many entrepreneurs achieving a sense of freedom is the very reason they set up and often this freedom ends up feeling like a prison sentence. The old cliché, working on the business rather than in the business is so true – this is what great coaches do. They help businessmen and women take a helicopter view of their organisation and look at the big picture.
Great coaches in my view are a fusion of business expert and Samaritan. They are able to address personal and emotional anxieties as well as the business ones. They have an ability to connect with these issues in a highly practical way. The starting point for any coach is to understand the individual – what makes them tick, what keeps them awake at night, intentions and aspirations. Once this is worked out then the business becomes the engine to fulfill the entrepreneur’s needs and goals. All too often the business runs the individual – best coaches turn this round, sort of a Samaritan.
In recent years a number of investment and financial readiness initiatives have been launched to the SME world, these have been designed to raise awareness of what businesses need to do to raise funding. Whilst these have a place in supporting enterprise, many have failed to take into account the time, effort and resource needed to be “really prepared”. Securing money to drive growth whether debt or equity is more than crafting a well-presented business plan and forecasts. Many of the challenges linked to fund raising lie in an organisations fundamental operating systems, management team and business model. A significant number of entrepreneurial SMEs fail to display good housekeeping. This makes them unattractive to potential funders.
My experience is that many entrepreneurs are just not ready to pitch to an investor or bank when the need for funding is identified – often they require a sort of MOT well in advance of their pitch. In many instances structural changes are needed within a SMEs operation – when solid foundations are in place a robust case can be confidently proposed to an investment or relationship manager. This puts key decision makers within financial institutions in a stronger position when they, in turn, make their case to the relevant credit committees.
Entrepreneurs can lose credibility with investors and banks because their business plans cannot withstand scrutiny of a due diligence or credit appraisal process. I believe there needs to be a higher level of awareness and education within the SME community as to what banks and the broader investment community need to see within a financing proposition. SME’s should never forget that the credibility of a financial forecast is built on the effectiveness and robustness of its systems, people, processes and service/product propositions. These latter issues seem to somehow often get overlooked. A failed pitch can close the door on investors or banks for months and in many instances, years.
Broader and closely related issues to fund raising would suggest that many entrepreneurial businesses often:
- Lack absolute clarity of strategy, vision and planning
- Spend too much time in the business and not on it – fail to look at the big picture
- Lack effective management teams, this puts funders on the back foot when it comes to assessing an organisations capability to deliver the plan
- Become slaves to their business and lose sight of the growth plan
- Hallucinate – their vision/strategy is a wish list
- Have financial systems and controls which are not fit for purpose
- Fail to build relationships with their funders and last minute request for funding, often when its too late, is commonplace
Because of the entrepreneur’s lack of awareness of what funders want, financial institutions have come under significant attack for poor lending strategies. Whilst this maybe true in some cases, my experience would indicate that there is no lack of funds for well run businesses, commercially viable ideas and sound new ventures supported by a strong management team. The gap often lies in what the entrepreneurial SME fails to understand about both the process and the quality of their business model. Growth hungry entrepreneurs should spend more time “living in the funders world”.
Many individuals have big goals but only few put in the energy and effort to attain them. Why is this? Actions speak louder than words and to be grounded for a second, big goals can sometimes feel like an awesome undertaking. That’s when the goal just remains a dream.
Breaking the £1m revenue target, implementing a new quality system, opening up that new export market or whatever it means to you needs careful planning and iteration.
Patience, routine, trial and error and action are important contributors to passing across the finishing line – you just can’t leap to the end point, that’s why so many just give up.
So what tools can we use to assist us get what we want? I was inspired by the story of what made GB Cycling world class and the envy of other nations . Their coach referred to the “aggregation of marginal gains” as being central to their success. In other words small improvements that all add up to a magnificent performance.
My interpretation of this is:
1. Be clear about what it is you are looking to achieve and and nail a measure and timescale to it
2. Put in place the plan of the milestones and improvements that need to be reached and by when
3. Train like crazy and put in the activity needed to get there – KpI’s (that awful term – but paramount to monitoring where you are – be clear on what they are as well)
The GB Cycling philosophy of marginal gains can be of massive use to us in business. The key lesson is that small nudges in the right direction delivers a winning result. Get on your bike and pedal – if you fall off, get back on and pedal faster!
So what are the ingredients of a high growth business or gazelle as they are commonly referred to? This is a question that I must be asked at least twice a week. As both a founder of several and adviser to loads I am still learning every day. As an obsessive researcher of their behavior, tactics and strategies, one conclusion is gazelles are not just the stereotypical university high technology spin –out, they are also well established organisations from mature sectors – with fire in their belly.
So how do entrepreneurs unearth the Gazelle spot for their business? This is the point at which rapid growth ensues, new markets open up, customers display a strong desire to buy and value is created for both the founder and stakeholders. For the economy they become job generators and employers of skilled individuals. The challenge is there are only a small proportion of these businesses, nationally and globally – why? because its really hard to grow a business, get the right people on board pointing in the same direction, raise and manage finance….the list goes. This G-spot takes time to find, as one member of the High Growth Foundation® muttered the other night – it has taken me 10 years to become an overnight success – or as Malcolm Gladwell puts it 10,000 hours of effort and practice are needed to become an expert at anything.
Lots of entrepreneurs talk a good game but many fail to cope with the roller coaster ride that so often accompanies growth – the high and the lows can be quite debilitating and at times the problems just “do your head in”. Having a resilient and positive mindset able to cope with uncertainty and unforeseen challenges is an ability too few have. High growth will usually equate to high risk (that’s why banks are scared stiff of high growth entrepreneurs), embracing fear and having the courage to see through immediate and longer term challenges is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have honed.
The Entrepreneurial G-Spot is a complex framework involving an eclectic mix of business, commercial and emotional components. Put very simply it’s the fusion of a sound business model with propositions and service that carry a market place edge – disciplined doers not talkers execute the plan to achieve the vision and everyone knows their role. The active ingredient is brilliant leadership, more specifically a culture of ambition underpinned by mental toughness and an ability to cope. All too often it’s the latter that is missing, so many entrepreneurs fail to truly realise their potential, they run out of steam and to put it frankly cant be bothered with the hassle.
You’re a long time dead, get stuck in, have a go, fail fast move on, get your head in gear and unlock the potential of your business. Only practice and iteration makes perfect!
I am delighted to announce that Winning Pitch will be part of the team delivering the UK Government Business Coaching for Growth programme – here is an extract from today’s BIS’s Enterprise Directorate publication – Business Improvement Programme Newsletter
Appointment of BCG Provider
We are pleased to announce the appointment of the ‘Coaching for Growth Consortium’ as our preferred bidder to deliver the Business Coaching for Growth programme. The consortium comprises Grant Thornton, Pera, Oxford Innovation and Winning Pitch along with 7 other key delivery partners together with excellent connections to local support providers right across the country. The service will be delivered on a national basis across England and will be up and running in spring 2012.
A great opportunity to make a massive difference to UK growth and our forward thinking, ambitious and innovative SMEs!
Last night we launched the HGF’s “Global Companies” initiative. Another great turnout of members with a fantastic and most distinguished panel of speakers. I feel really proud that the High Growth Community we have built over the past three years, has come together and attracted the support of some of the North’s most successful entrepreneurs. The HGF is about ambition and belief and last night a panel debate chaired by Michael Taylor, got to the heart of what it takes to create and build a company of scale. These are the key messages I took away:
Rob Cotton – Chief Executive NCC – go for it, if you don’t you will regret it. Set the agenda lead in your market and don’t follow the competition.
Robert Fine – Metabridge Silicon Valley network – embrace risk and immerse yourself in the financial networks. The mindset of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is one where there is no ceiling on what can be achieved. Those businesses start with the end game in mind.
John Meiklejohn – Strategem – On the West coast of the US professors in the universities are not only academics but entrepreneurs as well. They have started companies, sit on the board of many businesses and they rub shoulders with VCs and financial communities. They are able to ‘speak each others language’.
Stephen Todd – Oxford Said Business School, University of Oxford – there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what going global means in the UK. It’s more than exporting, it’s about creating a business that can be scaled and have an international orientation from day one of starting up.
Richard Young – Enterprise Ventures – The universities in the UK have to rethink how they go about commercialising. There have been some massive successes but there is always an opportunity to do more. Quote of the night was “pitching gets up my nose!”. Richard’s view was how on earth can you get to know about an idea in a 3 minute pitch? You need at least an hour to talk to someone to get under the skin of who they are and what they are trying to do. When you speak to Richard you know “he’s present”- how refreshing for a VC.
Really great feedback from the evening was from a very successful early stage entrepreneur, she said “I am buzzing – really going for it now big time”!
I was delighted to part of last nights Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses celebration and first cohort graduation event. The results and growth achieved from the participating companies was very impressive to say the least. As usual I was observing what happens when a room full of ambitious entrepreneurs get together to network and share ideas and experiences – this is were real business advice takes place, in communities of like-minded individuals. The stimulus and input from other successful, been there done it, businessmen and women should not be underestimated either.
When ambitious people get together to share the pain and stories, remarkable things happen:
– The feeling of loneliness is less profound
– You get new ideas and different perspectives to take your business forward
– You get to hear about trusted advisers and networks relevant to your business
– You become introduced to new potential customers and collaborators
– Answers to challenges present themselves
– Your mind gets refreshed
– When you see others doing well you end up running faster!
These environments help to raise the bar of personal performance, training with the best is a very effective way to improve.
Congratulations to MMU on their facilitation of the activity and I am really chuffed to being part of this activity going forward. A great example of how public and private sector collaboration is the answer to growing new business talent.
I am a firm believer that the UK has some of the best universities in the world. However, does a game plan to raise the bar of performance feature within their strategic plans, particularly in relation to what happens when they wave good bye to their graduates. We turn out amazing talent, equipped with knowledge and expertise in writing highly intellectual theses and essays. But what happens when they try to get a job. As an employer and interviewer of graduate talent, what comes across my desk every day is CV’s that lack depth, an inability to articulate a point of differentiation and to be honest a document so generic it misses the point. The resultant effect is we send out piles of “no thank you” letters, this must be highly discouraging to those poor graduates who thought their degree was a passport to the world.
Well I think its time for a rethink of how we make the talent pool more ready for the work place – many universities have a careers advice service, but just how effective is it? Employers are looking for a tailored CV, crisp and to the point, giving evidence led narrative, supported by an interview where the applicant is prepared and up for the pitch. Attitude is just as important as qualification.
So where does the responsibility lie for job readiness? Is it the employer or the university? My view it’s the latter. If it’s going to be the growth SMEs that create new jobs, I believe it’s the universities role to turn out more rounded graduates ready for the work place. Those who have been taught the importance of self motivation, the power of communication, researching employer needs and writing CVs that hit the spot. If we don’t get a grip of this we will end up with graduates whacking out hundreds of CVs and applications with many of them receiving the obvious replies – this will manifest into bright sparks becoming depressed and ultimately lacking self worth. A thought for policy makers.
Yesterday morning I spoke to a fantastic group of ambitious high growth SMEs. The theme was how do growth businesses embrace a winning approach to selling. My aim was to dispel some of the myths that go with this notoriously challenging dimension of business growth. Other key messages included, superior and sustained sales growth is achieved when there is clarity in the business model, strong team ethos, robust processes and systems linked to clearly differentiated propositions.
We also discussed what makes great selling at the coal face. When you love, believe in and are passionate about what you are offering it creates an energy and customers will very often tune into messages at an emotional level. If you don’t love what you are offering don’t expect the customer to. Only last week my philosophy of selling from within was summed up wonderfully by a delegate at another event, she said “my best sales performances are when I get the opportunity to just talk about what we do and how we add value”. The era of the hard sell is over, the order of the day is building customer relationships through partnerships and collaboration. It is vital to embrace this mindset when you turn up to your customers. Dont let them think you are only there to flog them something.