A mentor is vital

01/09/2014

A mentor is one of the most important tools in an entrepreneur’s 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 who’s experience and judgment 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, who 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.

So the conclusion is, if you are trying to grow your business, find someone who has been down your path – invite them for a coffee 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.

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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”. 


Train with those you think are “best in class”

22/04/2014

If you want to excel in your entrepreneurial life, work with those people that will take you to new limits. Training with these individuals will extend your comfort zone, teach you new skills and more importantly allow you to gain insight to how they think. Defining who you believe to be the best in your field of work provides a benchmark for raising your own performance. Do away with any feeling of personal pride or sense of undermining your own capability and explore how you can spend time with those you identify as best in class.

High performing organisations consciously create conditions that get the best to push each other to new levels of performance. If you want to achieve greater success then align yourself to those that consistently out perform the rest. Be open in your approach to these people and ask them – Please can you help? Or please can I ask your advice? By asking in this way you are delivering a complement and acknowledging their expertise and achievement mindset. More often than not people will help. Your aim should be to:

  • Shadow them on meetings and in their day to day activities
  • Ask for sometime to share their thoughts on why they constantly outperform
  • Seek insight on how they think and what drives them
  • Enquire what motivates them and what they read

By training with the best you set intentions and expectations that lift your mindset to new levels of attainment. Individuals you train with are different to mentors – they are the sparring partners that you work with to develop and grow your skills on a real time basis. If the person you want to work with views you as a potential threat the relationship will not work. Be honourable about your intentions and by no means use it to gain insights that would be of disservice to them – be clear be up front – if a conflict of interest presents itself then walk away.

 

 


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.


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.


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.