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.

 

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Discipline must run in parallel with Innovation

31/03/2015

High growth companies are disproportionately innovative to those that are not, and whilst I believe creativity is the ultimate source of competitive advantage, I must caveat my views. The importance of embedding a culture to allow free thinking that stimulates new ideas is well documented. However, without control you end up with pet projects, loads of possibilities and hundreds of potential initiatives that absorb time, energy and resource. Large companies have processes to deal with their ideas pipeline, but in smaller high growth businesses the danger is that there is too much innovation and entrepreneurship and not enough control and discipline.

Commercial problems potentially loom when there is too much lateral thinking and lack of order. Jim Collins in Good to Great uses a very powerful phrase – “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. This embraces the notion of balance – innovative thinking and behaviours being guided within a framework of performance measures and KPI’s.

Too much Discipline – then a disconnection with customers, markets and new possibilities takes place

Too much Entrepreneurial flair – nothing gets done because everyone is bouncing off the walls with great ideas

Successful high growth companies tend to have a disciplined approach to new idea generation and implementation – a form of commercial filter. I often wonder how much smaller high growth companies can teach large corporates about innovative thinking and entrepreneurship. The reverse is also important – how can big companies help ambitious founders embed better housekeeping within their organisation? Feels like a powerful learning forum!


The high growth entrepreneurial mindset

05/03/2015

I am a great believer that successful high growth entrepreneurs embrace the right mindset for success. My second book Success Factor – Master the Secret of a Winning Mindset outlines my thoughts on the secret sauce of the way they think – here they are:

1. Define your personal intentions and align them to the things you love doing. With this sense of purpose and clarity you can then begin the journey to achieving what you desire from your life, business or profession. Remember alignment must be achieved between personal and professional intentions – they cannot work in isolation.

2. Prepare yourself for the journey by creating the right mental conditions. Resilience and mental toughness are directly related to your sense of purpose. If you give up after the first hurdle then your purpose is not strong enough! It wont be easy! Be careful about what you think about! That’s what you will get.

3. Personal responsibility for your actions means that you will make choices and not sacrifices. Belief in yourself is a key part of the way to think – if you don’t believe in yourself then no one will! When things go wrong don’t fall to victim mentality as this gives rise to a whole series of self defeating internal discussions – become the master of your own destiny.

4. Taking action must quickly follow all the thinking. Success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing. Strategies emerge when we take action – strategy comes alive in the execution – it is this action that creates serendipity – people will often talk about getting lucky! Success Factor believes that luck is the product of intense activity and personal clarity! We then start to walk the path of our destiny.

5. Embrace the spirit of cooperation and working with a team ethos. Going it alone can be a tiresome and difficult journey. Caring and working with others can be the catalyst for us reaching our destination. Finding those who can support our shortcomings and plug the gap in our performance, can make things happen smoother and quicker.

6. Learning to lead ourselves before we lead others is vital. Once self-leadership has been mastered the leadership of other can commence. This means we must foster an environment that create the conditions for success to flourish, we coach those we are supporting, we communicate with impact and we ensure those under our leadership conform to the rules.

7. Playing by the rules is an essential part of long-term sustainable success – we must observe the value of humility and operating by a set of values that show caring for others and our environment. Practicing the philosophy of giving before we receive warm the hearts of others and is visible representation of the fact that we live a life of integrity – our reputation is often all we have to trade.

8. Engaging with others and building win – win relationships is a vital step to success. By embracing a mindset that life is truly a pitch we begin to recognise that competition means that we have to sell to get what we want – this could be our skill and expertise, qualifications, talents or products and services. By active listening and marrying carefully our proposition to what others want – we start to build relationships.

9. A creative mindset helps us to truly stand out from the crowd. Creative capital is often viewed as the ultimate source of competitive advantage because it unlocks our imagination – drives innovative thought and delivers remarkable differentiated results. Keeping a fresh mind and outlook enables us to remain ahead of the game and become memorable to those we need to influence.

10. Going the extra mile by doing things others wont do will get you remembered. Life has become extremely competitive which means there are far more applicants than jobs, more suppliers than contracts, less places on popular courses. The only way to get the edge is by digging deep and going one step further than others.

 


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.


Interview with Avensure HR

30/10/2014

I recently did an interview with Avensure HR for their new website HR24. I thought I would share it, so you can either follow this link or read the Q and A below: http://avensure.com/hr24/industry-news/john-leach-interview/

1. Tell us about a usual working day?

The day starts at 6am with a 3 mile walk over the Lancashire Moors with my black Labrador Buddy. This gives me time to think about the day and what I am going to do. Work is based on the ethos of 20% thinking and reviewing, 80% just doing. I am usually at my desk for 7.30am following up on emails and arranging appointments with customers, partners, associates and individuals/organisations who can add value to the WP offer. I am constantly in search of the next big idea and that involves quite a bit of experimentation. The day usually ends at around 7.00pm with a 45min walk with the dog, which gives me time to reflect and think about tomorrow. After dinner (8.30pm ish), I will then spend at least another hour or two researching and following up emails from the day. I don’t differentiate between work and play as work is my life, my hobby and I just love the buzz of moving things forward. Bed at around mid night!

2. What’s Winning Pitch’s proudest achievement?

Winning a £10M contract when we where only 2 years old as a business. A great motivator for me is when people tell me something can’t be done. I usually respond with the comment – “ I will show and prove to you that it can”

3. How many employees work for Winning Pitch?

We currently employ 120 people. I guess within the next 12 months we will be moving towards 200

4. Are the majority home or office-based?

We operate through offices in Salford Quays, Liverpool, Gateshead, Leeds, Cardiff and soon London. All staff are office based but the nature of the work means that they spend a large proportion of their time on the road.

5. How do you keep employees engaged?

This involves a mix of things ranging from monthly internal bulletins with updates on what’s going on through to staff communication days twice a year, a big Christmas Party, team leader dissemination sessions and a policy of ‘the door is open and the phone always switched on’. Staff are encouraged to live by the ethos of ‘there is no such thing as a bad idea’ – this drives innovation and new thinking.

6. I think Robert Kiyosaki assessment that ‘when times are bad is when the real entrepreneurs emerge’ seems very true to what is happening here in Manchester. What are your thoughts?

Totally agree – been there myself. An ability to ride the tough times and maintain infrastructure and capability is vital. This means having something put away for a rainy day – sticking true to your purpose and vision is critical. Those entrepreneurs who come through the bad times emerge from the other end with lots of wisdom and in better shape. You learn how to run a tight ship and more importantly the lessons learnt create food for thought for the future. As Winston Churchill said “when you are going through hell, keep going”

7. In your experience, do entrepreneurs make good managers?

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes – what is vital for an entrepreneur is self awareness and knowing what you are good and bad at. What makes a great business is a good mix of “doers”, “sellers”, “thinkers” and “controllers”. I personally view myself as a thinker – I am certainly not a controller, but I know someone needs to do it.

Successful entrepreneurs in my experience are the ones who can build a multidisciplinary team. I would define that as good housekeeping without losing entrepreneurial flair.

So I guess the answer is some do and some don’t.

8. You’re an expert in helping businesses design growth solutions. How much emphasis do new companies put on HR strategies and people as key elements in their prospective growth?

Building a business is all about people. Staff first customers second. Many companies stall because the founder has failed to get the people systems and structures in place and as an organisation grows the HR strategy needs to get more and more sophisticated. Trying to build a business without the right HR foundations in place is like trying to build a tower block on sand.

9.  What are the common mistakes made by entrepreneurs?

There are so many where do you start? What is critical to success is having a clear vision, passion, innovative proposition, solid team, strong leadership, good governance, tight control on finances and cash, commitment to delivering great customer experiences backed up by a flawless reputation. The common mistakes I suppose are doing the opposite of the very things needed for success.

10. What makes you optimistic? 

Having a clear sense of purpose supported by clarity of personal and business intentions.


8 Essential ingredients of a high growth mindset

23/10/2014

The issue of what constitutes a high growth entrepreneurial mindset is one that has fascinated me for years. We saw in yesterday’s press that 50% of new start ups fail within five years, a recent report from leading accountants MazarsHow to be a stand out SME – showed that very few SMEs grow beyond the micro stage (10 staff). Across Europe, 92% of companies have fewer than 10 employees. Surely not all of these entrepreneurs fail to have a business model that lacks the potential to scale – there must be other issues that lead to what is almost a shopkeeper mentality. My frustration is that I see day in day out companies with massive potential, however the founders often fail to recognise that, with more motivation, much greater value could be created for themselves stakeholders and their family’s. So what holds them back? It’s their pedestrian mindset – If they only had more fire in their belly!

Whilst I would never encourage a business owner to go for growth, if they genuinely did not want it, my experience is that many do want to achieve more – I would say its more than 70% do. My conclusion is the wrong state of mind holds too many entrepreneurs back from greater thingstheir mindset is not tuned into the reality of what it takes to grow. Having a great business idea and tight control over key functions and processes is only part of the success equation. It’s also about having a high performing mental attitude. Mindset is a hugely complex area with many constituent parts. Here is my simple view on the top 8 ingredients that deliver a high growth, high performance mindset:

Desire and intention – every action flows from genuine desire and personal intention. I want to grow my business is easy to say but hard to do. Desire is observed when entrepreneurs practice the 20% thinking and 80% doing rule. Growth entrepreneurs talk about what they have done not what they are going to do. Strong personal intentions create a performance culture mindset and go the extra mile mentality.

Sell, Sell, Sell – every successful entrepreneur knows that without a sale, there is no business, period. Thomas Edison, said I don’t invent anything I can’t sell, how true. I am constantly amazed at how many businesses are started on the basis of an idea with no attention paid to customers or does anyone want to buy this? Selling is not a dirty word; great entrepreneurs are great sales people – get comfortable with it!

Mental resilience – an ability to cope with the random nature of business supported by an ability to get back up when the chips are down is one of the most defining traits of a winner’s mindset.

Self-awareness –there is no way one person can do it all, winners create an effective team and call on the support of others. The inability of a founder/entrepreneur to recognise their own failings will inevitably lead to slow growth. Better decisions are made when entrepreneurs actively encourage trusted team members to contribute and to input to debate. Accelerated growth only happens when the founder starts to let go of parts of the business.

Creativity – the invisible force that drives innovation and ultimately creates a fantastic culture – it also underpins a positive memorable customer experience. Great entrepreneurs have an ability to embrace ambiguity, they are curious, they experiment with new ideas, and they take action. New sales ultimately result.

Self- belief – If you believe you can, you can, if you believe you cant then you’re correct. A belief in ones ability is a good starting point for any growth entrepreneur. Growing a business can be very tough, along the ways critics emerge who drain enthusiasm and energy. Successful entrepreneurs have an ability to close off to negative energy. Very often in a growth business such negativity emerges from the market place and scarily from staff. BYC – Believe You Can.

Clarity – don’t be surprised if you don’t end up at your destination if you don’t know where you are going. Successful entrepreneurs have a vision of what they want to achieve in the marketplace – revenue, profit, market and customers and business model.

Higher purpose – a desire to change a market place, solve a burning issue or address an unfulfilled need is a massive motivator for many entrepreneurs. Higher purpose provides a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Without a reason, business becomes mundane, passion disappears and people disengage. Personal and business performance suffers. A clearly defined higher purpose and reason instills a desire to serve.

There are many other components but being aware of the above is a great starting point. Create foundations for growth by getting your head.


Being investment ready – The truth

24/09/2014

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”.