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.
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.
It’s really sad to see how many businesses fail to realise their full potential. Is it down to poorly defined value propositions, bad design, poor sales and marketing or financial control…sometimes it is. My view is that a company’s growth prospects are inextricably linked to the rate at which the founder, team and leaders can develop themselves. Businesses make transitions at key points of their journey and if the management fail to personally address these changes and the extra demands placed on them, then the “growth ceiling” very quickly presents itself.
It starts with the leader’s ability to undergo personal change and continuously adapt their style and approach to overcome the challenges faced along the journey – self awareness is a must have for all entrepreneurs. In a high growth business the founder has to be clear on what they are good and bad at and build a team around them that compensates for their own personal shortcomings. The inability to delegate is the classic dilemma faced by so many individuals running their own business. This is the very reason why so few companies go on to employ more than 25 employees. Organisational development is a pivotal part of achieving growth, and what do the VCs keep telling us? – it’s all about the team.
My advice to any high growth business/entrepreneur is get the right people in the right seats doing the right things. Having the wrong people doing the right job is so common, and if we are honest with ourselves virtually all of us have been there and got it wrong, big time! A company without an effective team delivers sluggish performance at best – gazelle performance? Not a chance.
Embracing a learning culture and environment where personal improvement is encouraged and supported is non negotiable, but of course this takes time. Staff and the team are the most important component of any business. When we get the right team in place almost anything is possible. Without it growth is stunted and blockages appear – these blockages manifest in long working hours, customers being let down, poorly managed contracts, finances going off the rails, quality dipping, disgruntled staff, poor communications – a feeling of rabbit in the headlights, can’t see the wood for the tress, all familiar clichés entrepreneurs have come to live with. The antidote is investing in people and staff.
Getting the organisational structure and team right is a difficult job and perfection is challenging to say the least. Your organisation is only as good as the people who are part of it, and remember the organisational and team effectiveness will dictate your rate of growth.