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!


Courage and its role in growth

11/06/2015

Fear of the unknown can have a massive impact on our ability to realise our business dreams. Virtually anyone who has succeeded in their profession, career or sport has been able to overcome their inner fears. Fear comes in many shapes and forms, it could be:

  • Fear of losing a big contract
  • Fear of being unable to provide for our family
  • Fear of speaking in public
  • Fear of providing personal guarantees to the bank to support growth
  • Fear of taking on that new overseas market
  • Fear of investing in the infrastructure needed to take the business to the next level

In many instances, fear is an emotion we create in our own mind and it often results from negative self-talk. Fear can hold us back from doing what we want to do and what we want to achieve – it acts as a barrier to personal and business progression. The emotional turmoil created by fear stunts our personal growth, creates self-limiting beliefs and leads to a lacklustre performance that will not get you your desired outcome.

By getting into the habit of confronting our fears, we release the internal brakes of the mind. This allows us to move forward with our personal intentions to create the life and career we desire. Mind conditioning is required if we are going to overcome the fears that hold us back. We must get into the habit of listening to those fears but asking ourselves – how real are they? Do away with those fears by:

  • Taking small steps to overcome those fears by forcing yourself to take action
  • Visualise the outcome you want – not the fear factor
  • Ask yourself how real is the fear?
  • Dispel the invisible audience that fear creates in the mind
  • How much do you want success? If you can’t do away with the fear, disappointment will result
  • Exhibit courage

Surrendering to fear will hold you back, don’t fall victim to it. Take positive steps to embrace fear and push through it. Once in the habit, you will never look back – almost anything becomes a possibility.

Courage is one of the most important qualities a leader needs to acquire, without out it you can’t overcome fear, you stand still and accept the status quo. In the words of Aristotle – “you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind to honour”

Growing a business can be a scary thing to do; it generates lots of fears. Only when you get courageous can you move things forward.


Business growth needs great leadership

09/04/2015

Growth is what everyone is talking about at the moment. Whether its public sector policy makers or entrepreneurs, we all need growth. Easy to say but do we truly understand the implications of going for for it! Growth requires a vision; a sense of purpose, a plan, resilience, mental toughness, teamwork and a whole lot more. Whether you are trying to grow a business or turn around a failing school someone has to build a picture of what the future success looks like then execute a plan that gets everyone on board for the journey.

My own particular passion is around driving the entrepreneurial growth of UK plc. More specifically, encouraging individuals who have got what it takes to pursue their ambition of being their own boss. This extends to supporting existing entrepreneurs to think bigger and truly maximize the potential of their business. As Adam Smith the Scottish philosopher and economist quoted in his book The Wealth of Nations back in 1776 –

“we are a nation of shop keepers”.

Well not much has changed, the economy relies so heavily on the very small business, it amazes me that well over 90% of companies in the UK employ less than 50 people, very few ever get past employing more than 25 people – so why is this? The reasons are wide ranging but all too often the stresses and strains that come with growth are just one step too far for most people. Taking financial risks and the associated personal, professional and commercial challenges, which the journey inevitably brings, results in the pursuit of a more pedestrian voyage.

There is much debate at the moment about a special group of businesses commonly referred to as gazelles. These are fast moving businesses that exhibit sustained levels of growth over a three-year period – they achieve growth rates above 20% per annum and their contribution to the economy is phenomenal. Independent research conducted by Nesta shows that 6% of ambitious innovative businesses over the coming years will deliver 50% of new jobs. So the answer is, we need more of them. Game changing leadership lies at the heart of driving more gazelles and therefore improved growth, individuals who can create a culture that enthuses and motivates others to perform and deliver.

There are many schools of thought on what great leadership look like, however my own insights, (derived from the great fortune of being immersed in a world of successful entrepreneurs) would lead me to conclude that there are ten essential ingredients, most notably, leaders who drive growth:

  1. Have an ability to embrace and drive change to the benefit of all stakeholders
  2. Personally very driven with aligned personal and professional intentions
  3. Are future focused and have clarity of what needs to be achieved
  4. Operate by the philosophy of success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing – progression involves iteration and this builds momentum
  5. Communicate their purpose and values with passion both internally and externally
  6. Build a team ethos with roles and responsibilities of all clearly mapped out and monitored
  7. Ruthlessly guard their reputation and have a moral compass which ensures all decisions are made with best intentions
  8. Performance management and key performance indicators (KPI’s) are embedded throughout their organisation – they know if they are on track
  9. Have a mindset aligned to success, this is supported by an innovative positive mental attitude that delivers the edge
  10. Leaders are readers, they commit to personal development and usually have a mentor who helps locate personal blind spots…very self aware, knowing very clearly their strengths and weaknesses!

Leadership and growth are inextricably linked; lets hope the business stars of tomorrow will emerge over the coming months. A new generation of go getting individuals who will drive innovation, wealth creation, exports and jobs. They are the hero’s of the economy.


John Leach – An interview with Carter Corson

16/03/2015

John Leach, Chief Executive, Winning Pitch, describes how it is always important for entrepreneurs to consider the emotional as well as financial costs to growth.

Click here to the article and more from Carter Corson

In your work you talk about “profitable, sustainable high growth”. What does sustainable refer to?

One of the key things around growth is that it all starts at the top. When we talk about high-growth businesses and organisations, what we’re referring to are those that can sustain 20% growth each year. This level of growth usually pivots around an individual who has a high degree of energy and wants to take the business to places where other entrepreneurs don’t want to go.

It begins with a mind-set driven by a genuine intention and ambition toward growth. There are many individuals who state that they want to grow but there’s a lack of genuine commitment. There are many people who talk about growth who are actually hallucinating rather than visioning.

Sustainable growth starts with genuine, sustainable intent that is actually followed through with strong execution. Sustainable intent translates into building the right team, working out the business model, financing it in a feasible and taking calculated risks.

There is a common misconception that entrepreneurs are nutcases who play the lottery with the family jewels. In fact, successful entrepreneurs are very much about assessing risk rather than taking risk. This gives them clarity in deciding what mitigating actions are required to avoid doing something calamitous.

When we talk about entrepreneurship, do you think that we sometimes over-focus on the individual? Can we lose sight of how while individuals may be the driving force behind a company, it takes a team to build it?

It does indeed start with the individual. The founders who grow their businesses into something quite special are the ones who have a high degree of self-awareness. However, it is important to think about the DNA of a great team, which I call the Thinkers, Doers, Sellers and Controllers. When you first set up, the founder is all of those things but they typically have a natural orientation to one or two of them. Successful entrepreneurs build a finely tuned engine that has an even mix of all four. Self-awareness is such an important part of the growth equation. You can’t do it all yourself – the minute you try to, you have a serious problem. You really need to build a team around you that is significantly better than you in lots of different areas.

Often, entrepreneurs can suffer from an imposture syndrome. They end up sitting in the board room thinking “everyone in here is smarter than me”. In reality, they have got themselves that far by being clever enough to have the right people around them. That is such an important part of the mix. .

In the UK there are 4.8 million businesses. There are only 36,000 that employ over 50 people. Why? Because it is so difficult. To grow beyond 50 you have to really be good at managing and building, which means recruiting while retaining the right talent. When they have 25 or more people, many entrepreneurs give up, sell up or they choose to downsize. Ultimately, sustaining profitable growth is a leadership challenge and this is a big problem for the UK plc. It comes back to the issue of recognising what skills needs to fit around the top table and who needs to sit in the right seat.

In a recent report, the problem of ‘leadership capability’ was cited as the second most important reason for the failure of UK businesses to scale up…

Absolutely. What you do when you start-up on your kitchen table is very different to when you are running a business of 150+ people. You have to develop and change.

I explain it as the Mind-set Staircase. Your mind has to make various transactions across the staircase where you go from being a founder, to a social worker once you have more employees. Then you assume the role of a strategic manager once you have other layers in there that are dealing with the numerous aspects of managing a business. That is one of the main reasons people don’t grow. Entrepreneurs say “the more people I employ, the harder it gets”.

Again, finding the right talent to sit in the right seat is crucial. I am a non-exec on four fast-growing businesses. In each of these, the first challenge to address is the people/talent issue. Often we find we have the wrong people, so invariably we start to look at the team. In most instances it has grown and has a product and a market, but the team running it is not fit for purchase. In many instances, we work on team dynamics – getting the right people doing the right jobs while building a culture that is conducive to innovation and success. That is one of the hardest things to do in business.

For entrepreneurs, what do you see as the emotional costs to growth?

Growth is more than just a series of spreadsheets showing financial projections. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made that impact on people around the entrepreneurial team – family, kids, wives and husbands. When making an executive decision, very often there is a difficult conversation going on back at home: “I need £200,000. I am going to re-mortgage the house.” “What does that mean for us?”

These are emotional decisions and they start to weigh heavy. There is often not only a financial cost to growth, but very often there is a medical cost. I see so many health-related complaints with ambitious people – anxiety, high blood pressure and ulcers. We never read about this but within my own networks, I see the impact that running a business actually has. It ends up running your life. This means you have to be mentally resilient, being capable of switching off and or to cope with uncertainty. Because we are British, we don’t talk about these things.


A decade of supporting high growth businesses

11/03/2015

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.


Entrepreneurial mindset in changing environments

19/02/2015

The journey to reaching your vision will involve a number of stages or interim goals – the key milestones that will be your targets along the way, providing a route to your dream. Each stage will represent a progression either personally or professionally – or both, depending on your vision. As your goals move on, so will the circumstances you find yourself in and the challenges you’ll face. It’s likely that decisions you have to make will become more demanding and the risks more acute. To handle this changing environment, you’ll need to progress personally, shifting your mindset to a new level at each stage.

The critical steps in growing a business or embarking on a challenging new project will place pressure on the way you think – it will push you into new areas and possibly further than you have gone before. It’s likely to stretch your abilities to the limit. So it’s important to adapt your way of thinking to be able to cope with the new risks and challenges each new situation brings. Otherwise you will find yourself frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to make the necessary decisions to take you forward.

Successful entrepreneurs, for example, will tell you that growing their companies tested their capabilities to the breaking point. How comfortable will you feel if you need to give a personal guarantee to secure bank funding, or learn new skills to support the growth of your business or personal project?

To prepare yourself for the climb ahead, it pays to work out the different challenges you’ll face as you move from achieving one goal to embarking onto the next, so that you can be mentally ready to deal with them. Viewing each goal as a step towards your vision will help you to define the mindset that you need to develop to negotiate each stage successfully, allowing you to move forward with focus and clarity of thought.


John Leach – An interview with Global Innovation Magazine

03/02/2015

This interview with John Leach, Non-Executive Director of Trustech was published in the Global Innovation Magazine.

Click here to read the rest of the article ‘NHS Manchester – Global Healthare Innovation

John Leach is a non-executive director of Trustech and is a well-known speaker on business and innovation as well as being a lecturer of entrepreneurship.

Do you think that the NHS on the whole ignores the revenue it could bring in through innovation?

Yes. There’s more that we could extract from the NHS in terms of enterprise, knowledge and Intellectual Property and I think that’s also the case with surrounding universities. There could be and should be a better way for value extraction without taking away the quality of care that the individual receives. More could be done. The real challenge is cultures colliding.

Is part of the issue that NHS staff are measured on performance and not innovation?

That’s the point. There are a couple of Trustech innovations that have come from clinicians, consultants. That takes a very enlightened person. People join the medical professions with the aim to make sure that their patients leave the hospital fully intact. They’re not looking at value creation.
If we can find those role models and we can find those individuals that have done it, then we can expose those heroes that have been able to balance commercial with science, with healthcare. It then makes it real to others. You can do both. It’s not wrong to do both. We don’t celebrate the success enough.

What’s the solution?

One way you address this is to create communities of people that have done it. That have been successful in the innovation process. Create a community of people that have come-up with an idea and got it to market. A community that is willing to share experiences and talk to others. That for me is where the gap is.

Trustech started in 2001, where is healthcare innovation in the UK heading now?

We shouldn’t underestimate what has already been achieved. With initiatives like Citylabs and hopefully a move into other parts of the UK, we can start to bring it together by creating conversations with those that have already capitalized on their innovations. Growth essentially. You get entrepreneurial growth by pulling people together. A fast-track learning environment, a safe environment to share experiences and ideas. That’s where it’s at, that’s what Trustech offers.

How has Manchester become a global hotspot for healthcare innovation? It’s a combination of academia, access to Europe’s biggest hospital site, research, a readily-available skilled workforce and determination, all being pulled together by the innovative approach of Trustech; an NHS organization.

Find Trustech at http://www.trustech.org.uk


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


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.


Strategic thinker and shopkeeper

29/01/2013

Every business needs strategic thinkers. They have an ability to look over the horizon and spot the next wave of opportunity. Great entrepreneurs, who are usually the visionary, do this by immersing themselves in the customers world, gaining an intimate understanding of current and future needs. They test new ideas in a controlled way, seek feedback and iterate until they get it right. In my view this is what innovation is all about – experimenting, trying, getting it wrong, refining ideas and eventually coming up with propositions that can be monetized. Be clear on how the ideas you develop will ultimately generate revenue. So many small businesses fall short in this area – too much innovation not enough focus on sales. Ideas are great but if they don’t add value or generate cash, then what’s the point.

This is where shopkeeper mindset is very important. Every company needs someone in the team with such a mentality. The classic British comedy Open All Hours with Ronnie Barker playing the archetypal corner shopkeeper Arkwright is something all entrepreneurs should be mindful of. A very simple approach to business – more should go in the till than goes out. So why do so many growing businesses lose sight of such a basic principle?

As a company grows, the monthly invoices get bigger month on month. This can lead to complacency and corresponding spend can get out of control – usually money wasted on bonkers marketing activities that deliver nothing but an empty wallet.

So what’s the lesson? Always stay grounded, think big, think strategically, live in the customers world…..but please don’t burn cash or waste it on silly ideas – PR that delivers no results, website advice that offers no added value, marketing fads that look great but fail to drive the sales engine….the list goes on…

Balance strategic thinking with shopkeeper thinking.