Small business owners ‘ready to give up’ (what?)

24/01/2012

This was the headline finding of a report compiled by Aviva and covered in today’s Daily Mail. It went on to read “a quarter of small business owners say the economic outlook is so bleak they would rather return to being an employee”. Given the job I do I am more than aware of the pressures and challenges entrepreneurs face, but why is the media constantly pushing out such bad news.

Negativity of this nature can condition ambitious people to hang up their boots up, we must balance all of this with celebrating the successes of many entrepreneurs who have decided not to participate in recession.

Headlines like this do nothing for the spirit or culture of enterprise. A brighter way of looking at the future is looking at the great successes of the past:

General Electric – formed by Edison when US economy faced collapse.

IBM – set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – went buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – took off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Microsoft – founded in the middle of a phase of stagflation

CNN – started in a “double dip” recession

Apple– thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

These are the messages we should be putting out into the market. One of the key ingredients for business success is the mental toughness of the entrepreneurial team – please can we stop with the doom and gloom – we all know things are tough, stop pushing it in our face. To quote Jim Collins (again) great leaders face the brutal facts but they maintain absolute faith and belief in what they set out to achieve.

Well I am sure Aviva did the research with all best intentions, but this is  my advice to those thinking of packing in:

1. Remember the very reason why you set up on your own

2. Get involved with a network/group and speak to other business owners, ask them for their advice

3. Find a mentor – someone to lean on

4. STOP – take a day off and try to rise above your business situation

5. Surround yourself with positive people

6. Stop listening to enterprising assassins

7. Be aware of negative thinking and reframe with positive thoughts

Challenges are all part of the business growth journey, many of us would be lost without the pain. More success and good news stories PLEASE.

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The Manchester Family

19/01/2012

Today’s headlines of the North West Insider Bulletin reads – Leese stresses importance of ‘family’ ties. This was one of the core themes of yesterday’s Manchester Economic Forum. What a great job the Sir’s Howard and Richard have done in placing Manchester as the UK’s second city. The City has a brand that spans every corner of the globe and the investment attracted and regeneration projects completed must be applauded – a fantastic job. The work on the graphene hub also provides bags of excitement for the Region.

My concern lie at the heart of how the Manchester Family can be perceived – can it portray an image of “closed shop”. This particularly relates to business support in the Greater Manchester Region. Every aspect of Manchester is world-class – however its business support infrastructure is outdated and out of touch with the real needs of growth SME’s. The Business Growth Hub needs passionate leadership that reflects the needs of the coal face, not world domination and self interest.

Still some work to be done here!


Your Business – An “asset” or “calling”

10/12/2011

It never ceases to amaze me how passionate and animated entrepreneurs become when they talk about their business and what they do. To those listening it can come across as “in your face”, however, the reality is, most founders are just so proud of what they have achieved. Business and personal time are inextricably linked feeding each off every minute of the day.

The successful high growth entrepreneurs I have worked with often started their business because of a “calling” – this means putting something right, fixing a problem, chasing a dream of freedom, pursue a passion, wanting to make a difference or proving to others they can achieve something quite amazing.

So many entrepreneurs often forget that their business is also an asset with value. The danger is when the founders view their company solely as an asset. This creates inward focused strategies, lack of customer focus, greed, ultimately this will lead to only one place  – a disconnection with the real world and decline. My advice is when the voice of the “calling”  gets overshadowed by the asset, its time for rethink. A danger zone is just around the corner. Its about balance, of course a business must generate wealth, however it works far better and in my view becomes more profitable when its game plan is linked to a purpose.

That feeling of doing what you do because it makes a difference to others is probably one of the best you can have in your career, long may it last!


High Growth Foundation Wow Event – Insights from Google

02/12/2011

What an absolutely fantastic High Growth Foundation event the other night at the Imperial War Museum. Led by Michael Taylor with his usual charm, wit and insight, we had a great line up of speakers who had fantastic and inspirational stories to tell. Steve Oliver and his Music Magpie venture is a real one to watch in the Region, and success could not be more deserved, a really nice bloke. Steve speaks from the heart and his views on creating a loyal workforce with a culture of graft were well received. Deepak Jayaraman from Goldman Sachs articulated the benefits of mentoring and how the 10,000 small business programme can help in this regard.

Alexis Giles delivered a fantastic key-note and shared with over 200 delegates Google’s rules for building an innovative culture and gosh were they powerful, here they are:

  1. Ideas come from everywhere – everyone has a place at the table
  2. Share everything you can – create a culture of sharing new thoughts, no idea is a bad idea
  3. Hire smart people – they create a challenging culture
  4. Chase your dreams – create 20% thinking time
  5. Innovation is not instant perfection – have a go and refine
  6. Data is apolitical – provide the fact to evidence potential
  7. Creativity loves constraint – draws out new ideas quick
  8. Users not money – money follows the eyes
  9. Don’t kill projects, morph them – iterate till you get it right

Alexis was a real star performer and delivered some real value to businesses with a passion to grow. One of the nuggets I took away was the importance of embedding processes and systems as a company grows. Google are a shining example of how an innovative culture fused with discipline delivers excellence. The lack of processes and systems is what so often stunts growth, innovation on its own is not enough.

Alexis and the Google story was an inspiration for ambitious people – so chuffed she will be hosting our  study tour at Google’s Mountain View complex in March 2012 – what an experience that will be. Its not all doom and gloom.


High growth entrepreneurs need a mentor

08/11/2011

A mentor is one of the most important tools in the entrepreneurs kit bag. Growth companies constantly reach forks in the road – so, which way?  As your business gets bigger then hopefully the team you have created will help you to make the decision on which road to take.  However there are often BIG decisions that are outside the scope of the knowledge of the guys sat around the table.  Having a mentor – someone whos experience and judgement you trust can be a serious crutch on these occasions.  Asking those very simple questions like, what would you do?  How would you approach it?  Who should I go and speak to?  Who are the best advisers? – to someone who has experienced the scars of the pain you are feeling is all too often the answer.  Every successful entrepreneur we have worked with (and that’s thousands) lean on someone they respect, all too often that advice comes over a beer or coffee.  It’s not formal, it’s not shrouded in business plans and three-year P & L calculations – its good solid common sense.

The reality is that there are so many individuals out there who have succeeded in business and are more than happy to provide a helping hand – the fact is they have not been asked.  The wisdom, experience and insight to help us make better decisions often comes free, from willing souls who just want to help others overcome the hurdles and challenges they face. The High Growth Foundation we have set up is living proof that members who are much further on in their journey are only too willing to give someone their time, experience and thoughts, without any strings attached!

So the conclusion is, if you are trying to grow your business find someone who has been down your path – invite them for a brew and use the magic words – please can I ask your advice.  It could be the best couple of quid you have ever spent.

Most of the battles in business you have to win are in your mind first. Your mentor can help you work out your game plan and indeed make better informed decisions.


Coming soon – High Growth Foundation, Silicon Valley

25/10/2011

If the UK is going to become the best place to set up and grow a business then we need to look at great practice. The entrepreneurial capital of the world is the West Coast of the US, Silicon Valley. The UK has the expertise, knowledge, skills and talent to match any part of the world, so what’s holding us back? We need to change our mindset, think big and learn from those parts of the globe that just get on and do it. The High Growth Foundation, founded in the North will lead the charge on encouraging ambitious individuals to release their full potential.

Building on success to date, we will be setting up the HGF in Silicon Valley and encouraging best practice exchange, collaboration and business development. The future of the UK economy depends so heavily on high growth businesses, to get more of them we need a catalyst – hopefully the HGF will demonstrate just what is possible ! Watch this space.

http://www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk – this Friday


High Growth Foundation – Global Companies Event

07/10/2011

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”!