Such a simple statement to write and yet it can be difficult to achieve. There are many big businesses in the world that have achieved greatness – Microsoft, Apple, and Virgin to name a few – and they are recognised as “businesses of growth”. They all excel in three fundamental areas: product, vision, and people.
First, you need to have a product/service with significant USPs. One of my businesses sold non-investment financial services products. The market size was huge at the time and competition was fierce. What made us stand out from the crowd was exemplary service and the ethos that we would go the extra mile. Everything was personable. We had a national sales force of advisors and often customers would comment that if they were in a remote part of Scotland, Wales or the West Country, other companies could not be bothered to visit them. Through all of our sales processes, we developed a relationship with the client whether it was pre-sale, field sale or after sale. We had procedures in place to ensure only a maximum of three people interacted with the client from start to finish. Our processes were so streamlined that a remortgage could be completed within a week from an initial home visit.
Our products were competitive and in line with our competition, so we had to add value by providing a little extra service and attention – but always maintaining good margins. I regularly met with competitors who would question how we did it, but the bottom line is people will always pay for quality. Sometimes we are guilty of presuming instead of actually finding out what the customer wants and is prepared to pay to solve a problem.
Our new customers came via a multi-channel marketing strategy. In the early days, as part of our plans to grow the business, we focused on outbound telemarketing. Everything was measured in great detail and reviewed so we could spot problems and opportunities – our focus on excellence was applied to the business as well as customers.
We did surveys after every sale to establish customer satisfaction levels, which helped generate incredible repeat business and referrals. We worked our customer base all the time and cherished them. Losing customers was not an option – everyone in the business knew this and were empowered to do whatever it took to keep customers happy at all times.
It’s a shame that some of the bigger brands spend so much money on new business marketing, but are very poor at retaining clients. Mobile phone providers are a good example of this.
The vision of your business is critical. You would not leave home in the morning without knowing where you were going, would you? Why should business be any different? In fact, you could argue that entrepreneurs should be professional dreamers to create new opportunities, and then lead others to them. It’s all down to having a clear vision and being able to make it a reality.
Before we started trading, I recall sitting in our accountant’s office and being asked, “What are your ambitions for the company?” I immediately said, “Floating the company would be cool”. I knew there was going to be an exit, but not sure how. As it happens, it became clear after twelve months. With the way the market was, our buyer was going to be a lender or an insurance company. From that day forward, we started to align ourselves with strategically selected lenders and insurance companies, ensuring we added value to their business so when the opportunity arose, we would be well placed.
As the company grew, I ensured that my relationship with lenders at board level was exceptionally strong. I was always sowing the seed that my business was a valuable asset to them and their competitors!
My vision always starts where I want to be. Then I work backwards. Now my vision was to sell without any real substance to the figures, whether it was based on turnover or profit. By the way, everything in your business should be geared around profit – turnover is irrelevant. That may be obvious, but I have spoken to many business owners who seem more interested in their turnover. Remember the old adage: turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.
What I learnt from my experience is not only to have the vision, but also some substance to the final figures that form the measurement of that vision. This became very clear after sitting on the management board of the group that eventually acquired us.
The final piece of the jigsaw is people. Without them, no business can exist, so they are a critical component to the success of any enterprise. I believe you have to be inclusive and involve everyone. All staff must be encouraged to buy into your vision – it’s all about hearts and minds. It’s alright for the board devising a plan, but the plan has to be communicated down to all levels.
A motivated team can achieve anything they want whereas a slightly de-motivated team can
destroy your plans. Communication is the biggest bug-bear in business because it is difficult to perfect. However, there is so much more you can do to make sure it is proficient, ensuring each team member is motivated by clearly defined and achievable key performance indicators (KPIs).
At all levels, we had KPIs that were linked directly into an incentives/commission structure, which focused on quality and quantity. Most importantly, I rewarded those that made the company more profit with bigger commissions. I also had no cap on commissions.
Performance reviews need to be done regularly and consistently from the outset. This provides good management practice and ensures that everyone knows where they stand and what they’re working towards.
It is vital that you have the right calibre of staff at the appropriate stages of your growth. An operations director at £1m turnover is a different skillset than one at £10m. You either help talented staff grow or bring in people above them. Where possible, I helped staff grow. Indeed that was a major factor in our staff retention being so high in key areas, many of them being 6+ years service after 8 years of trading. When growing a business, this is such a fundamentally important point. If people feel they are valued and that there is progression, their performance will be enhanced.
After 8 years of business, we were acquired by, guess who? Yes, a lender! There is much to consider when growing a business. When doing this for the first time, you will make a number of errors. In life, we all learn from experience. However, there is considerable benefit to working with people who have experienced this before. You will save money by reducing the number of errors made. Also, you’ll increase income by having the creativity of an external advisor, one who has delivered successful results before.
Having built and sold my SME, I now work with SMEs. I understand their model by embedding myself in the senior management team so I feel the heartbeat of the business. All areas are covered, but the four questions that we work on solving are: How do I grow my business?, How do I achieve client excellence?, How do I make more profit?, and Does my business model deliver?
If you would like to discuss this this article then either email email@example.com or phone 07976 846776
Please follow me on www.twitter.com/davesymondson and retweet this article.