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 were 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.
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.
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!
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.
Recent press reports would suggest that our gazelles are finding it harder than other European Countries to raise cash. More than a fifth of companies (many from information and communications technology sectors) failed to get the loan applications approved in recent years. The report which I have yet to find, claims that it provides further evidence of the damaging effects the credit shortage is having on the economy.
Whilst I understand attitudes to funding have changed and the banks have had a severe kicking, I do think we need to look further into the detail. My experience (we have worked with over 3,000 potential high growths!) is that lots of these businesses are just not investment ready and it would be ludicrous to give them cash and indeed subject the founders to PG’s – its for their own good in many instances.
Poorly thought through applications, business models just not viable and inexperienced management teams are also part of the reason for the lack of funds being pushed into the market. Whilst funding is harder to extract, there is cash for well thought through propositions, period. Many of the high growth potential (gazelle types) companies need to be nurtured, mentored and supported – we must look at the quality of the business plans falling onto the desks of VCs and funders, maybe then we would get a better view of the world. My advice to anyone seeking funding is:
1. Can you evidence a viable business model with customers that want to buy what you are offering?
2.Have you got the team in place – thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers
3. Do you have the resources to make it happen and do the financials stack up? More importantly would they stand scrutiny.
4. Can you articulate 1-3 clearly, concisely and convincingly.
If you can’t then dont blame the banks!