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.


Great coaches – Business Expert or Samaritan?

15/01/2015

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.


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.


Pitching yourself through life

13/03/2014

Success involves people and organisations having to sell what they have to offer – this could be our skill, a product or service. This term frightens the life out of many as it conjures images of unethical smooth talking individuals manipulating others so as to get their own way. This is not the case, a great pitch is grounded in ethical behaviour fused to a mindset of offering real value through a passionate belief in what you have to offer. Personal and professional progression means that you will frequently be in a situation where you have to pitch for what you want. Applying for a career promotion, a place on the school board or attracting new customers fundamentally means we are in competition and there is a need to sell.

If you don’t adopt this mindset then you will struggle to get what you want out of life. When you find yourself in a situation where selling is vital, start by asking:

  • Do I understand their world?
  • What problem am I going to solve for the person I am pitching to?
  • What do I know about my audience?
  • What value do I bring?
  • What examples can I use to evidence credibility?
  • How can I bring to life the impact I make?
  • What is special about what I have to offer?

Personal progression means you must embrace the philosophy of life is a pitch. In doing this you condition yourself to delivering an effective and engaging performance to those that matter. Convincing others of the benefit of your talent, idea, product or service is an integral component to achieving your goals. Other people have an influence on whether we succeed or not. Your pitching mindset should help you to position your key messages in the following way:

  • Real and tangible
  • Deliver it with passion and meaning
  • Ruthlessly simplistic message
  • Clearly shows the difference you will make
  • Win – win outcome

Practicing your pitching skills to enhance your chances of success. It will put you in a stronger position to beat off competition.


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.

 


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!


Entrepreneurial Learning

29/06/2012

I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.

As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.

From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.


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.


Non Executive Directors – Try before you buy!

10/05/2012

It seems very much the rage at the moment for companies to hire Non Executive Directors (NED). I am a big fan of these “outsiders looking inside“. They provide wisdom, guidance, help to raise the bar and introduce more robust systems and processes, help leaders make decisions and support change. In many instances an NED can help to open up new doors to finance and potential customers – help in the transition of growing up. If you are pursuing VC funding or PE finance then having a NED is often part of the deal.

One observation would be that many young companies appoint NEDs too early on in their cycle. They view them as the saving grace and the magic wand with all the answers. The reality is young fast growing companies should initially seek out a mentor or experienced person and trial the relationship before Companies House papers are signed. There are many individuals out there searching for NED trophies, it almost becomes their barometer for success – food for the ego!

My message to young growing companies who are seeking their new best friend, the NED, is be sure they can add value, be clear on where they can take you and most of all dont GIVE AWAY equity, people either buy or earn a stake in your company.


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!