Get connected – Be part of a success community

23/09/2015

In whatever arena you want to succeed you must identify and ultimately become part of the community where individuals with common interests share and connect with each other. In these communities you will meet like-minded people whose experiences, thoughts and attitudes could be of massive contribution to your own success. The entrepreneurial world has seen a dramatic increase in the number of business networking groups in recent year’s, these have acted as a source of personal and business development for ambitious people who want to progress their enterprise. These groups encourage networking and interaction – not only do they stimulate business activity, they also act as a portal of real life experiences, these can help in times when:

  • Difficult decisions have to be made
  • You really don’t know how to address a particular challenge
  • You are unsure as to which direction to take
  • You are exploring growth options
  • You have hit a ceiling in our growth staircase
  • You need to break out of our comfort zones

Being part of a community can teach us that ‘everything is possible’, they help to extend our comfort zones and believe that life holds far more than the status quo. The Quaker slogan ‘live adventurously’ is one we should all embrace.

How involved are you with the community relevant to your situation? How visible are you in it? Do you participate? Personal success for you will improve significantly when you get involved with your community of interest; it will give you the opportunity to:

  • Mix with individuals who have similar aspirations
  • Build personal relationships that can be vital to you in times of need
  • Share your wisdom with them
  • Exchange contacts that offer mutual benefit

Don’t be a passive observer in your community network, be an active part and ‘giver’ – this will come back to repay you many times over. Be vocal, let your thoughts be known and immerse yourself in what is going on. In today’s rapidly expanding wireless environment these communities can be virtual as well as physical. The exponential rise in online communities created through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide alternative routes to getting involved – don’t ignore the opportunities these tools give you to accessing the “Connectors”. These are the people who open doors in the quest for success; they will emerge from your community.

It is vital that you get hooked in as being an active contributor, and you will over time build a GCC – “Golden Circle of Connectors” – people whose opinions and inputs you both trust and respect, most of all they help you to make things happen.

Get connected and start to build links with those communities that will help you to move forward!


The power of your personal brand

27/08/2015

It is not uncommon for people to choose or buy their favourite branded goods and items. This is because we have an affinity with them both emotionally and functionally. This is a concept you must apply to yourself – personal brand. An ability to strike a good relationship is dependant upon the personal chemistry we develop with others. Successful people have a powerful ability to connect with others through their personality and personal power.

Start to cultivate your personal brand as the success of future relationships. Partnerships and connections will largely hinge on how others view and perceive you. You can think of your personal brand on three levels:

Functional mastery – the expertise you bring and what you are good at. This element of your personal brand should articulate that you are accomplished at your vocation, trade or profession. Others will trust your judgement when you know what you are talking about.

Social Mastery – this is the ability to communicate effectively with others and develop meaningful dialogue. The social dimension also extends to our personal networks with which we associate. Credible, honourable and professional people tend to maintain ethical and similarly professional company – all too often we can be judge by the alliances we have – so be careful.

Spiritual Mastery – this relates to the how you conduct yourself, personal beliefs and values we maintain. Strong personal brands deliver on their promises, they are extremely ethical and transparent in how they conduct themselves and their life.

Think about your own personal brand and how you are perceived. Do the best job you can, develop an ability to engage with your community effectively and be a great communicator. Also be clear on what you stand for and don’t deviate from a strong ethical position. By doing this, you will build a strong personal brand – one that others will want to associate with.


Ambition and hard work – the foundations of success

02/06/2015

Putting in the minimum amount of effort to a task to achieve a satisfactory result is a behaviour associated with people that have little or no ambition. Successful individuals take nothing for granted. They realise that through hard work and loyal commitment to their goals they may from time to time have to put in extra hours or do things that may feel punishing to either their mind or body – quite often both. The reality is that very few people are willing to push themselves physically and emotionally to over deliver. This maybe work a weekend to complete an important project, staying late at the office to help colleagues complete a critical bid or a teacher spending more with a pupil struggling to grasp a learning point. Going the extra mile to please others is an extremely admiral behaviour, you become respected by your peer group and the opportunities for personal progression is enhanced because others become engaged by your level of commitment.

You will place yourself well ahead of the competition when you do more than what was expected of you. It is also extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. The mindset of going the extra mile helps when:

  • You don’t want to let someone down
  • You want to influence a customer or stakeholder
  • You have an ambition to achieve
  • Someone needs your help
  • You see an opportunity others have missed
  • Potential has not been realised

Think deeply about what you want to achieve and accept that by conditioning your mind to embrace the philosophy of doing more you will become evermore successful purely by outperforming others. This mental programming becomes an integral part of your behaviour and winning becomes a habit.

Working long hours does not always mean you are working smart, however if you are setting up a business and trying to get it moving in the right direction – there is often no short cuts – a long shift is vital. Ambition comes in two forms…stated and genuine. Many individuals talk about what they are going to do, I am inspired by those who talk about what they have done.

Growing a business requires genuine gritty hard graft, courage and luck. Its surprising how luckier you become when you put in more hours.


The North West Fund – Inspire Magazine

07/05/2015

An interview for The North West Fund Inspire Magazine Issue Ten 2015

What would you say has been the greatest achievement for the business?

The strapline to our logo and brand is ‘everything is possible’ and we strongly practice what we preach. The first manifestation of this belief was in 2008 when we secured a £10M contract against international competition to deliver one of Europe’s largest business support contracts. Over three years we helped over 1,000 high growth small and medium sized businesses. At the time we were less than £1M turnover and only 3 years old.

What has been the biggest challenge for you, in building the business?

The challenges in running a business are wide ranging and come in many different forms. The ability to scale has probably been the most daunting for us. It almost feels that we reached ceilings at different points of our journey – these related to breaking the employee barriers of 10, 25, 50 and 100. As we have grown up so has the need to bring in a new breed of managers and leaders, particularly those who can support the inevitable challenges that ambition brings with it. Identifying, recruiting and retaining great talent I suppose has been the biggest challenge.

How did you hear about The North West Fund and what was it that made you apply for funding?

I heard about the North West Fund through a seminar I attend. I felt the fund offered many advantages over more conventional and traditional funding routes. I was particularly attracted to the mix of debt and equity funding made available through Enterprise Ventures. The mezzanine loan was very appealing as it did away with the pressures of personal guarantees required by the high street banks. Just as important as the funding was the expertise that came with the money. We needed higher-level management support as well as funding – this made the North West Fund our preferred funding option.

How is your business changing/growing as a result of receiving funding?

The business has continued to grow at levels we had predicted, without the funding it would have been almost impossible to develop new markets and attract new staff. Testament to our growth is recent research published by market intelligence specialists Plimsoll, its shows that in our market place of 1000 active companies, Winning Pitch was the 6th fastest growing company in 2014. Without help from the North West Fund this would not been achieved.

Are there areas of the business you would like to grow/develop further?

Winning Pitch will continue to grow in adjacent market sectors the most important at the moment being skills. Also high on our agenda for the coming financial year is, developing overseas markets, particular in those economies where there is a desire to improve economic wellbeing through enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. We see promising prospects in emerging and growing international economies.

Having worked with thousands of companies which are looking to grow, do you have any tips for The Fund’s future applicants?

Great companies in my view are the ones who balance innovation and entrepreneurial flair with good housekeeping and discipline. At the heart of entrepreneurial flair is customer centric behavior, trying new things and making sure the customer’s expectations are always exceeded. This needs to be supported with strong management, a firm grip on finances, regular management meetings all wrapped up in a performance culture which ensures the things that matter get done and get measured. Being able to demonstrate a great management team with a well thought through plan with clarity is paramount.


Academic achievement must go hand in hand with an entrepreneurial mindset

30/04/2015

The next three months will see universities churning out thousands of very proud new graduates – BA Hons, BSc’s the lot. A great education with brains packed full of new learning, knowledge and facts. But why do so many fail to find a job? How many of these bright new graduates have had their prospects limited by the conditioning of the external environment? These young adults have been supported in life skills and getting their head in shape for the next stage of their life. How many walk away with a personal growth plan that defines very clearly how to move their life on and make the best of their three years spent at university? How many have thought creatively about next steps… charity work, setting up their own business, free lancing using specialist skills they have acquired?

My view, is that we have some of the best academic institutions in the world and we create some of the finest talent, but so many never realise their potential and end up in jobs that fall way below their true capability – futures that lack direction, bouncing around from one job to another. It’s no use having a long list of qualifications if you don’t put them to best use. More effort and energy should be put into developing the creative and entrepreneurial mindsets that drive ambition and ultimately greater achievement. If you cant find a job why not create your own and set up in business? We need to see more graduate entrepreneurship.

I speak from experience, I left university in 1986 with a degree in Chemistry – great technical skills, but struggled having conversations, making presentations and generally selling myself to potential employers – no skills for life. I am not sure much has changed to be honest – I had to work it out for myself. We need to equip this next generation with a more rounded experience thereby allowing them to combine great academic qualifications with a mindset conducive to achievement and releasing personal potential. We must remember that we get what we think about. The universities are a rich seam of next generation entrepreneurs, work is needed to getting them started.

Are the cap and gown, the photograph that hangs on mum and dads wall and the handshake from the university chancellor the best send off we can give them? As well as the well-earned degree certificate, they should all leave with a “plan for life” or maybe a plan for their own business.


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.


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”.