The power of escape time – the key to better decision-making

18/05/2015

Growing a business involves continuously making decisions about staff, customers, finance, suppliers, recruitment…the list is never ending. In the early days of growth, the founders have to be all things to the business; the necessity to think quickly and act fast becomes a hard-wired behavior, one that is very hard to shake off.

Start up businesses are characterised by their founders putting in long shifts – working on the tools during the day and ensuring the admin and paperwork is in order at night. Very little time to think about the strategic growth and direction, the ‘doing’ becomes an all-encompassing characteristic of being self employed. Working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’ becomes the norm. Here lies the dilemma for the ambitious individual who wants to take their business to the next level – how do I find time to think?

My experience shows that those entrepreneurs who make time to get rid of the interference of the day to day and tune into what really matters are the ones who make better decisions and ultimately build better businesses. The challenge is not feeling guilty about taking time to:

  • Step back and think things through
  • Consult with a mentor or adviser to work through a particular challenge
  • Recharge the brains battery
  • Operate at arms length from the business for a short while (energy management)

More often than not entrepreneurs are guilt-ridden if they take any time to pause for thought. That compelling feeling to be first in and last out of the office leaves a massive void in the need for strategic clarity. Neither time nor energy management benefit from such an approach to growing a business. The years of needing to be hands on creates the illusion of being productive and the macho image of the 24/7 life makes us feel good – this firefighting approach to the daily grind often delivers no strategic added value whatsoever.

As your company gets bigger so does the complexity of the decision-making. You cant run a growing business with the exact same mindset of that of a start up. Whilst the need to be innovative and nimble should never leave the culture of a business, escape time becomes the critical success factor for high quality decision-making. A winning business needs the leaders to get the right mix of thinking and doing. Escape time (whatever that means to you) becomes such an important part of the entrepreneur’s personal growth. Without it you become a busy fool – don’t be surprised if you can’t see the wood for the trees. Breakthroughs and inspired new ideas only come during periods of calm, and calm only happens during times of escape.

winning-pitch.co.uk


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.


High growth entrepreneurs have an innovation department

26/08/2014

Business incubators have become a common feature of public sector enterprise support in recent years; many of these establishments have proved to be highly effective in nurturing early stage entrepreneurs. They don’t just provide a desk and somewhere to turn up every morning, their added value comprises: a place to network, share ideas and collaborate. The really good ones offer mentoring and coaching, this is often what makes the real difference between success and me too performance. In many UK regions, incubators have become a hot bed of exciting new businesses, the potential employers of graduate talent – Autonomy in Cambridge is a fantastic example.

This concept of incubation needs to feature prominently in the culture and mindset of winning businesses – any ambitious entrepreneurial company should have a “department” or function responsible for building a pipeline of new thinking that delivers potential new revenue streams or adds value to existing customer experiences. I don’t mean a department literally – it’s about having an organisational process that brings together thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers, one that not only develops new ideas but also implements the commercially viable nuggets that emerge from the process of discovery. The concept of incubation delivers a major thrust for gaining an edge in the market place.

It is my opinion that creative intelligence is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – high growth companies tend to be disproportionately more innovative than the rest of the SME population. They explore, embrace diversity, live in their customer’s world, experiment with new possibilities and avoid complacency by making creative thought a habit, not something they do once a fortnight on a Friday afternoon. It must form part of an organisations “soul”. 


10 Principles for Growth

29/07/2012

I have touched on these before and updated them for individuals who want to build a high growth business – this stuff really does work. The insight has been built on studying what the best do – I have used them myself and supported/encouraged lots of ambitious entrepreneurs to use them. If you are up for it then embrace them and go for it: The 10 principles:

Principle 1 – An ability to climb the growth staircase

Embrace change and commit to personal development, this facilitates smooth transitions along the growth staircase.

Principle 2 – Effective leadership

Highly tuned leadership and management capability lies at the heart of strong profitable growth. An ability to enthuse others, set and execute strategy is paramount. Internal and external leadership must be displayed at all times.

Principle 3 – Be future focused

Shared clarity of vision and strategy is a must have. A practical game plan with clearly devolved roles and responsibilities is paramount –success is based on 20% thinking and 80% doing. Iteration is vital and let tactics dictate strategy.

Principle 4 – Build a great team

Thinkers, sellers, doers and controllers provide the balance needed to gather momentum – create a culture where values and behaviours are aligned to delivering great service both internally and externally

Principle 5 – Disciplined systems and processes

Innovation and entrepreneurial flair must be tempered with the implementation of a robust set of disciplined systems, processes and controls. The appropriate dials on the dashboard (KPIs)will provide a real time picture of the company state of health. Finance, sales, pipeline, customer service – be clear on the crucial dials for your business. (Disciplined Entrepreneurship)

Principle 6 – Gain an edge through innovation and creativity

Drive innovation into the processes and functions of your company and practice alternative thinking. Be clear on your points of difference and embed a culture of freshness. Fusion of ideas to create new ones helps to drive the “innovative edge”. Have a voice in your sector – be seen as the movers and shakers.

Principle 7 – Build differentiated propositions

Differentiated propositions that stand out from the crowd win the day, they must be memorable – demonstrating and evidencing the difference and impact products and services bring to customers is a job well done. Avoid competing on price, as this strategy is not sustainable; compete on difference – IP, brand and quality.

Principle 8 – Live in the “Customers World”

By living in the “Customer’s World” real product and service needs are captured. This fuels a sales approach based on an authentic sense of purpose – it’s selling what you believe in and not just a product or service. Embed effective customer connectivity strategies within the find, reach, win, keep framework.

Principle 9 – A winning mindset

Condition your mindset to one of infinite growth and potential – Clarity, mental toughness, passion, determination, endurance, faith, sense of purpose, resilience, confidence. A BYC mentality – Believe You Can, is vital to gazelle thinkers.

Principle 10 – Have a mentor

Find connectors who can provide answers to the challenges you face – experienced mentors will help to raise the bar of performance. Be part of a like-minded network, this eliminates the feeling of loneliness – they will point you in the right direction.

 


Entrepreneurship in the public sector

19/07/2012

This morning I experienced a great example of public sector entrepreneurship. We recently moved to Salford Quays next to Media City (new location of the BBC) – one of the key attractions was to be close to the digital expertise located in the area and indeed the Media department of Salford University. Why? can any business overlook the benefits this new digital age will bring?

All well and good, however business growth only takes place when conversations and personal relationships gather momentum, trust is built and mutual respect results. Critical non essentials such as courtesy, humility and just caring are so often overlooked in the teaching in business schools and the books they encourage us to read.

Back to the point, having been in our new office for only 1 week a call came into us from Salford City Council – Matthew Lynn, one of the Economic Development Officers. Can I come in and talk to you about how we can help? Firstly, I was astounded that they knew we were coming and secondly, today a meeting with Matthew clearly demonstrated:

– Customer focus

– An interest in what we do

– An explanation of what services the Council can offer

– The introductions they can make to partners

– Details of networking opportunities

– Opportunities to work together (win-win)

I was left with an overwhelming sense of entrepreneurial flair and what I call living in the “Customers World”. Top stuff, I was inspired to see that both an individual and the Council had a genuine interest in us. The start of a great relationship (I hope) – who said the public sector is not entrepreneurial!

 

 


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.