High Growth Entrepreneurs – Have you got an innovation department?


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 which 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”. My next few blogs will explore some simple yet highly effective ideas for embedding a culture of incubation.

Building a high growth business – The Essentials


I was really honored to be asked to present the fast growing business award at last weeks North of England Excellence Dinner. The winner was 3P Logistics and at the end of the ceremonies I made a beeline for the winner, Ian Walker, I wanted to get his view on what it takes to build a high growth company. It was clear the moment Ian started talking he had a passion for his business that was off the scale – it created an instant engagement which meant you had to listen to what he had to say. The guts of his story provided a truly fascinating insight into the motivators for setting up and growing a business. As well as passion, courage and bravery feature high on the list of special qualities – leaving a highly paid job when you have dependants can be an extremely scary moment in life, this is what sorts out the true entrepreneurs from the dreamers. This takes an enourmous amount of guts – fear is what holds so many individuals back from taking the leap.

A few years down the line new dilemmas and challenges are presented to entrepreneurs like Ian.  They become most profound at the point when the company is providing a comfortable life style – the internal conversations usually goes something like this, do I take more risk and go for it again and build an even bigger business? However, so few are willing to subject themselves to the burdens and stresses that got them to the well deserved position of a regular salary and the associated benefits that come with being your own boss.

Well my advice for those who decide to continue going for growth is, find a mentor first, someone you trust, then together work out how you are going to do it – the following are what I refer to as “The Essentials” –

  • Become future focused and prepare a strategy and game plan which sets the course for the next three years
  • Understand the best ways of financing growth, one that balances personal risk, commercial gain and control (or loss of control)
  • Effective leadership is core to success. Building a team/organisational structure you can rely on to support the business transition is vital
  • Embed disciplined management systems to provide an effective barometer of commercial performance – the bigger you get the tighter the controls need to be
  • Ensure you have created a customer focused culture, one that delivers innovative product and service propositions carrying higher margins
  • Ensure you have a differentiated business model  – one that creates real competitive advantage to support domestic and possibly international growth
  • Condition your mindset to win and success.
  • Ensure you have the support of your partner and immediate family

Having trusted advisers and being part of a network of likeminded people becomes an important part of the journey it also helps to maintain your sanity.


High growth entrepreneurs need a mentor


A mentor is one of the most important tools in the entrepreneurs 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 whos experience and judgement 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 and 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. The High Growth Foundation we have set up is living proof that members who are much further on in their journey are only too willing to give someone their time, experience and thoughts, without any strings attached!

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

High growth companies – “safety net” required


As I have said in recent blogs, high growth equals high personal risk. What comes with high risk is the need for a safety net that cushions any potential falls or scary moments encountered along the way. A CEO of one of the North’s leading companies stated this week:

What would have helped early on, would have been investment and advice from another entrepreneur who had already built and sold a business.

The safety net here is very clear – “advice from someone who has been there and done it”. Entrepreneurs need to operate in a safe environment, typically with those who get it! The notion of an entrepreneur being a nut case risking personal assets every day of the week is totally wrong. My experience is that great entrepreneurs embrace strategies that de risk the potential challenges they face (courage is a necessary ingredient because 100% de risk is not possible). Going forward hopefully public sector will roll out support that provides a safety net of been, there done, it operators who can encourage, motivate and help set clear direction. Being able to anticipate the risks and surprises ahead is what the stars of the future need.

My own personal experience of business support in the past has been that it was too light touch, lacking depth and credibility. Often delivered by individuals who had no empathy with a personal/business high growth journey. This must change in the future.

High Growth Companies Need Critical Friends


The journey of a high growth business is very much a roller coaster ride with added twists and turns, some you see coming over the horizon and others smacking you in the face without prior notice. It has struck me that high growth businesses and their teams need to create a whole team of what I call critical friends to support the growth journey, these include:

1. Customers – we have to convince them we can deliver and do the job well. Very often the catalyst for high growth is a single customer who trusts you and your company with a big order. Many customers/buyers like to play it safe and all too often will default to the less hassle option. You must persuade this critical friend to give you the break, if they do, be sure they enjoy a great experience, this big order provides the evidence to others that you can handle serious levels of business. Let them down and you have potentially blown it.

2. Funders – many companies hit a road block because of cash. They need the necessary funding to take their business to the next level, without this critical friend you are going nowhere. Be sure you have trusted advisers, not fee chasers – they should help you present your case in a clear and concise way. Always keep your bank in the loop and supply them with regular management accounts. Avoid surprises, if you envisage a problem let them know well in advance.

3.Strategic partners – An organisation is often viewed by the company they keep, be sure to surround yourself with partners and collaborators that add value to your brand. Strategic partnering can help you extend your service offering, enter new markets and innovate. For new high growth businesses partnering with larger organisations can help you punch above your weight.

4.New Staff – As a business grows, gaps start to emerge in ability and capability. Remember all companies need thinkers, doers, controllers and sellers. New critical friends to complement the management team are often pivotal to moving a business to the next level – typically sales and financial control. Word of caution, be careful about how you choose these new friends, so often lack of rigour in selection can lead to cash burn! I have seen it so often with high growth businesses recruiting sales staff that never make the mark.

5. Mentors – These critical friends are so important for an entrepreneurial founder. The journey can be lonely and all to often the leader has to put on a brave face, in front of staff, customers, suppliers (and all too often family). This can be a draining experience. All successful entrepreneurs I have researched have consult mentors in times of need, this can be both business and emotional issues. Mentors help to develop new ideas, overcome barriers, connect you with experts, help out on strategy, help to shift mindset, help to prioritise……..

Be sure to find these critical friends, my research shows they make the journey much more manageable.









Fast tracking personal peak performance


I am constantly looking at ways in which individuals can enhance their performance and deliver high impact results faster. Research reveals how important mentors can be in personal development. I would totally agree that a mentor is a vital ingredient to an ambitious persons life plan. Many people have benefitted from the experiences of individuals they admire. With this in mind I came up with the concept of “Role Model Benchmarking” (RMB) some time ago, I have trialed it with a number of small groups – it went down a storm. Benchmarking has been around for years and it is used as an effective tool in enhancing company performance – essentially it’s a methodology where a company will rate itself against best in class, identify shortfall in performance then put a plan of improvement in place.

We can take the principles of this management tool and apply it to personal development – in other words benchmark yourself against individuals who inspire you. This approach will put momentum into change and accelerate you to achieving your goals, whether this is in life, career or business.

Just have a go at this simple exercise:

1. Define those individuals you consider brilliant – as part of your overall career or business strategy, think about those individuals you feel you could learn from – these are your role models, characters (real or fictional). Write down a list of five role models.

2. Clarify specifically what it is you admire – think about their skills, behaviours, strategies and approaches you consider could be beneficial in your own quest for success. Is it their networks, skills, knowledge, personal philosophies, values, attitude to life?  You have to be very, very specific about what their qualities are e.g. great presenter, effective negotiation skills, amazing ability of winning new business, caring attitude, written a book….. List the 20 specific things you consider important.

3. Reflect on your list – Of the 20 very specific qualities, behaviours or strategies listed, you must cut this down to a maximum of ten admirable aspects of your role models “DNA”. These become the additives vital to you achieving your own goals and ambitions.

4. Benchmark yourself against these 10 aspects – rate your own performance against those characteristics you consider important on a scale of 1-10 (if you score 10 on any aspect you are not being honest with yourself). There are different visuals you can use to represent your results; the one I recommend is the wheel of life format.

5. Implementation – take action!

By benchmarking your own personal performance against what you consider great will lead to fast tracking personal development. RMB allows you to pin point very precisely what needs to improve or change. It brings practical focus to your learning and development, more importantly it will define specific areas for improvement. RMB will catalyse personal improvement!