The extent to which we can grow our business can largely be guided by our thoughts, actions and behaviours. However, there are external factors often at play that we can’t control, many of which could impact on us progressing to what we want. All too often we end up spending time worrying about issues that with all the will in the world you cannot have any direct impact on making them go your way. These could range from global economic factors, through to political and social issues, down as far as the behaviour and actions of other people.
Spending time worrying about the big things we can’t control can result in energy being absorbed in non value added thought. Here is a great way to think about control:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference
Success comes from managing the things we can control. Embracing this principle will get you motivated to moving forward on those pressing issues that need sorting out. Focusing on factors outside your sphere of influence could create stress and reduce the effectiveness of your actions. Your mental toughness will become eroded by the enormity of the task associated with thinking about the things you can’t change. This habit becomes emotionally draining and will impact on your efficiency and effectiveness. Accept it!
Focus on the 10 things you can control:
- Attitude – believe you can, growth starts with believing you can
- Learning and knowledge – you must learn and acquire knowledge if you want success
- Friends – who you spend time with and who you share ideas with
- Motivation – the invisible force that comes from within
- Time – how you spend your time – who with and on what
- Capabilities and offer – what you are providing to others and how effectively you deliver it
- Financial matters – what you spend and your means
- Treat and deal with people – always with respect, honesty and integrity
- Deal with the environment – being aware of sustainability issues and how you treat your surroundings
- Reputation – what you stand for and your personal effectiveness
Successful business people tend to have a strong belief in their ability to take control of the circumstances, issues and factors that will give them their desired outcome, in particular they will:
- Actively take part in initiatives that improve their current situation
- Have a strong internal control orientation, this is hungry for goal achievement
- Actively pursue a policy of self development
- Inquire and actively commit to understanding why things turned out the way they did
- Embrace learning to ensure positive outcomes in the future
- Ignore people who drain their energy
When we master the art of controlling the controllable, additional energy will be made available for doing, consequently you will gain a better balance between activity and thinking. Success is well within your control!
Growing a business involves continuously making decisions about staff, customers, finance, suppliers, recruitment…the list is never ending. In the early days of growth, the founders have to be all things to the business; the necessity to think quickly and act fast becomes a hard-wired behavior, one that is very hard to shake off.
Start up businesses are characterised by their founders putting in long shifts – working on the tools during the day and ensuring the admin and paperwork is in order at night. Very little time to think about the strategic growth and direction, the ‘doing’ becomes an all-encompassing characteristic of being self employed. Working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’ becomes the norm. Here lies the dilemma for the ambitious individual who wants to take their business to the next level – how do I find time to think?
My experience shows that those entrepreneurs who make time to get rid of the interference of the day to day and tune into what really matters are the ones who make better decisions and ultimately build better businesses. The challenge is not feeling guilty about taking time to:
- Step back and think things through
- Consult with a mentor or adviser to work through a particular challenge
- Recharge the brains battery
- Operate at arms length from the business for a short while (energy management)
More often than not entrepreneurs are guilt-ridden if they take any time to pause for thought. That compelling feeling to be first in and last out of the office leaves a massive void in the need for strategic clarity. Neither time nor energy management benefit from such an approach to growing a business. The years of needing to be hands on creates the illusion of being productive and the macho image of the 24/7 life makes us feel good – this firefighting approach to the daily grind often delivers no strategic added value whatsoever.
As your company gets bigger so does the complexity of the decision-making. You cant run a growing business with the exact same mindset of that of a start up. Whilst the need to be innovative and nimble should never leave the culture of a business, escape time becomes the critical success factor for high quality decision-making. A winning business needs the leaders to get the right mix of thinking and doing. Escape time (whatever that means to you) becomes such an important part of the entrepreneur’s personal growth. Without it you become a busy fool – don’t be surprised if you can’t see the wood for the trees. Breakthroughs and inspired new ideas only come during periods of calm, and calm only happens during times of escape.
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.
Not being able to see the wood for the trees is a common feature of life. People regularly talk about being busy and overworked – but just how much of this is self inflicted. All too often we engage in activity that brings no value to achieving our highest goals and ambitions. Without reflective time, our decision making becomes blurred and it is common to lose sight of what we want. The result is stale thought with patterns of behaviour that fail to deliver our deepest desires. Successful people have the fortunate ability to think clearly, this is helped by finding the time to take well earned breaks from being “busy”. This cleansing process provides the opportunity to de clutter the mind.
The practice of finding sanctuary helps to remove mental blockages and fosters a sense of balance between work and play. Without regular periods of reflection you will find yourself eventually in a rut – the place you don’t want to be!
You must think of Sanctuary on three levels of “time out”:
- Daily sanctuary to help us to prepare for the day ahead – time with family, exercise, meditation, prayer, reading. Starting each day with 10 minutes of deep reflection, provides a kick start to focused activity and just being aware
- Weekly sanctuary that helps divert our energies into non related activities like pursuing a hobby, sport or spending more time with family and relationships. These activities release you from the week that was – puts you in a good frame for the week ahead
- Sanctuary includes those activities that most people can only fit in two or three times a year. They would typically involve family holiday’s, short breaks or some form or retreat. This level gives you the opportunity to ask the big questions – what is my life all about? What needs to change? Should I go and do something else?
Dedication to the 3 Levels will open your mind to new possibilities and opportunities. Chasing success can be as destructive as it is constructive – practicing the art of Finding Sanctuary will build perspective into your life and help to differentiate between what is and what is not important, what brings fulfilment and what does not – embed these disciplines into your routine and you will experience a profound improvement in clarity of thought – you will see things more clearly, you will make better decisions and life will feel less hectic.
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 where 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.
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”.
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 a 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.
The 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 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 gain a better handle on their organisation? Feels like a powerful learning forum!
There has been extensive research into the business life cycle, however few studies have pointed to the practicalities of the intervention that are pivotal at each stage of growth. There is undoubtedly some common ground and overlap across the different phases, however some conclusions can be drawn in relation to – what support is needed at these critical stages. My experience shows that companies hit major challenges at a number of key points on their growth journey, particularly as it relates to employee numbers:
When a business reaches 5-7 employees – this is when a company starts to take shape and the founders find themselves faced with a set of challenges they never envisaged. Leadership skills become tested at this point as does managing people and cash. Funding for growth becomes a critical issue.
When a business reaches 25-30 people – the leaders are now faced with the issue of relatively high monthly costs to run the business. Structure and team working becomes vital. I believe this stage presents a real danger zone as organisational development and financing, along with more strategic selling become vital to sustained development. It is at this point that business owners set out to recruit a sales manager/director – a challenge for many! Financial control becomes a full time job
When an SME approaches 50 people – corporate thinking and mindsets are presented with KPIs becoming even more important as business issues become more complex and demanding. Management teams become preoccupied by sustainable revenue streams – key functions start to emerge and divisional perspectives give rise to profit centre management. Tight operational monitoring, management and control need to be embedded to ensure lean processes prevail. Staying ahead of the game is vital otherwise a disconnection from the market place will lead to stagnation and potential decline – not a good place to be!
An entrepreneurial mindset conducive to embracing constant change is vital to making the above transitions. The most common challenges for entrepreneurs along the journey present themselves in the form of how to:
- Achieve clarity in relation to business and personal aspiration – vision, strategy and plan
- Effective sales and marketing in increasingly competitive environments
- Organisational development – the right team in place all working towards a common goal
- Financial engineering – getting the right funding in place and managing the finances
- Managing costs and ensuring lean and efficient processes across all functions
Non-executive directors (NEDS), coaching and mentoring prove to be vital external inputs to addressing these key challenges and stages of growth. One thing that inhibits the growth wish of many entrepreneurs is the management of people. Embedding effective organizational processes and systems are vital. A business can only grow as quick as its team so getting the people elements is vital.