There are 10 key strategic imperatives every business needs to understand if it’s to be successful.
In all of your marketing material, emails and social media, clarity is the foundation of selling. Avoid jargon, speak in simple language and don't assume that your prospects have an encyclopedic knowledge of industry terms. Be concise; get to the point and be relevant. Speak in terms of the prospects’ needs.
To people who find your message relevant, you can be a godsend. They need you and they want what you're offering. To everyone else, you're spam. For example, if you're selling car wax, people who own luxury cars will probably be glad to hear from you. But those who drive cheap cars just to get to work probably don't spend a lot of time waxing them. Know your customers and where to find them.
The best sales people qualify their prospects and only sell to people who are ready to buy. This is more specific than just finding the right market. You're looking for people within that market who need precisely what you're offering.
Make promises that you can deliver on more often than not and...
A business that delivers on its promises will thrive without having to spend millions on advertising. Playing it straight with your customers' expectations isn't just ethical – it's also profitable.
This will allow you to find out what you're doing right so that you can keep doing it – and what you're doing wrong so that you can make changes where necessary. If you're not going to make the necessary changes – don't bother gathering data in the first place.
Growing as a small business doesn't mean opening additional premises you can't afford. Growing means improving profitability, for example, by exploring an untapped market or discontinuing unpopular products. When you think of growth, think strictly in terms of profit margins and customer satisfaction.
If your business is costing you more than it earns or if it's just breaking even, it's not a business, it's a hobby. Taking out a second business loan and maxing out your credit cards is not cashflow. Be realistic about how much you need to stay in the black and how you're going to keep that money coming in.
Where are your shortcomings in terms of skill level, experience, customer service, marketing, etc? Spend some time thinking about what you could be doing better and how to improve on it. That could mean improving your knowledge when you have time or (if you can afford it) hiring someone who can bridge that gap for you while you get up to speed.
Successful entrepreneurs build something bigger than themselves. Building a business takes a lot of work; it can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Almost nobody has the energy to work for years without having a day off. So, one of your goals – and something that you should write into your business plan – is an opportunity to take some time to yourself. Whether your aim is a month-long vacation or selling the business, you need your business to be able to run without you.
Whenever you're faced with a decision in your business, double-check the 10 points above. With enough experience and education, you'll absorb these imperatives. They'll become second nature. Until then, whenever you feel uncertain about a business decision, check back and make sure that your ideas are financially and strategically sound.
Copyright © 2014 William Buist. William Buist is the owner of Abelard Collaborative Consultancy and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club. He is also the author of At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.
Never sit back and admire what you’ve achieved – always look forward to what’s next. Innovation is progress and progress leads to further success, so don’t put a lid on your ideas and goals – however successful your current business. Continually evolve your offering, responding to clients’ needs and aspirations to keep clear water between you and your competitors. Regularly step back to view your business from your customers’ perspective and always seek to exceed their expectations.
In the early days, cashflow was a major issue for us and we felt like we were hitting brick walls, one after the other, in our search for a bank to allow us BACS and direct debit capabilities. We knew we needed them for the development and scalability of the business and were determined not to give up. We finally found a bank to say ‘yes’ when all the advice around us urged caution. If you believe in something and know it’s right for you – stick to your guns.
Any business is only as good as the people in it, so you need to get your recruitment right. Recruit on attitude not qualifications on a piece of paper; have fun together; introduce a strong culture of reward and recognition; and – importantly – pay more to attract the very best.
When we started out in 2000, a time when outsourcing was seen as the preserve of larger businesses, we were considered to be bucking the trend by providing our service almost exclusively to start-ups and small firms. At that time, for larger businesses to even think about outsourcing their telephone answering function was virtually unheard of, so we faced many sceptics.
Listen to your clients, communicate well and think about what you need to do to reach new markets. Pre-empt. Don’t be afraid to be different. Stand out, so that it’s easier for prospects to make a choice. Get your name out there; get people talking about you and build fantastic relationships. Don’t just concentrate on new acquisitions; look after the ones you already have, too.
Would you like your business to reach £1m turnover? Most business owners would answer yes, but 96% of them will fail. Only 4% of businesses reach £1m turnover.
Why so few? Well, it has a lot to do with how you started the business and what pillars you have in place to allow you to reach that level.
Having worked with hundreds of businesses over the past few years, I have discovered that there are some striking differences between the ‘micro’ business owner and the owner of a £1m enterprise:
Starting a business requires no formal education or qualification. The process of going online and registering a new company is easy.
This ‘low bar’ to start also means that most people assume that what they know is likely to be enough. They then spend the entire first year bravely finding their footing and ‘learning to walk’.
The skills they develop at this early stage will influence their ability to break through the £1m mark later on.
Most businesses hit a ceiling because the way they began means further improvement and growth is too complex for them to handle and pursue.
Effectively, the business becomes trapped in what is sometimes called the ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ – an average growth rate of around 3% each year – just enough to keep pace with inflation.
To break through this ceiling, new systems need to be employed to allow for growth to happen, while at the same time managing the increasing complexity of the business. What allowed many entrepreneurs to run a successful small business simply cannot support larger, more complex teams and issues.
It is at times like this that it helps to have an outside party shine fresh light on your business processes.
Every entrepreneur – ideally at the start-up stage – needs to become fluent in the language of business. This language is all about numbers; profit, sales, cashflow, receivables, assets, equity, ROI, average value sale, conversion rate – these are all numbers that the professional business person not just understands, but is also able to leverage for every business decision they make.
In marketing, sales, team management and leadership there are key metrics to measure, estimate and average to evaluate and justify decisions that will lead to sustainable growth.
If you want your business to break through the £1m threshold, review your techniques and decision-making processes now. Don’t wait until you hit the ceiling and get stuck.
The transition from being an independent freelancer to a business owner is a process of shifting responsibilities and needs. For me, moving from freelance copywriter to founder and MD of my own copywriting agency has been one of moving from one set of challenges to the next – and developing processes or recruiting people to meet those challenges.
As the business has grown we’ve increasingly moved from being reactive to proactive, and that has been crucial in ensuring the continuing success of the agency. I’d like to share with you seven proactive steps you need to take to move your business to the next level. Many of these are true not just for freelance copywriters moving into agency territory, but anyone making the shift from self-employed individual to business owner and boss.
To give clients the sense they’re dealing with a bona fide business rather than an individual, you need to market your business as such. Outline the core values of your business and shift from using ‘I’ in your promotional copy to ‘we’. Consciously create a brand image that leverages the strengths of your agency and sets it apart from the rest.
Once you’ve got staff, use them. There are only so many hours in the day, so to grow your business and focus on areas such as marketing, entrust certain activities to others. Once I’d taken on other copywriters, I found I spent most of my time being an editor. Later, I went on to recruit one of my senior writers to work full time as an editor, freeing me up work on expanding the business and developing processes to increase efficiency.
As a lone freelance writer you can weather the lulls and cut back on the groceries till that big client finally pays up. But if you’re employing other people (or even sub-contracting to other freelancers) you must have a much better handle on your cashflow. Nobody works just for praise and promises, and if you can’t afford to pay them, you may find that your business suddenly contracts again.
Continued business growth requires an investment of time and money in marketing. You also need to develop a cohesive marketing strategy that will exploit your business strengths and conform to current market conditions. If you fail to market sufficiently or effectively, you may find you’ve got an excess of manpower and a shortage of work.
To produce a consistent product, you need to have processes that ensure quality. This extends to everything from gauging client requirements and expectations to briefing writers, invoicing clients and dealing with problems that arise. Remember, delegating will give you the time to develop these processes.
One of the key transitions from freelancer to business owner is to redefine your offering. Where once we focussed solely on providing writing and editing services, now we offer PR, consultation and training. The larger your business grows, the greater the possibilities.
As a freelancer you are in direct control of the quality of your output. As a business owner your staff now play a crucial role in maintaining that quality. Effective recruitment and training policies will go a long way keeping standards high. Your staff are now one of you key assets. Look after them!
Blog supplied by Derryck Strachan, MD of content marketing and copywriting agency Big Star Copywriting.
At the beginning of the year, the government announced a 15-month, £30m small business growth scheme. Qualifying small businesses can register for up to £2,000 of funding support for:
Small businesses must match the government’s funding and those that are selected randomly must work with the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insights Team, which has been tasked with finding out how the funding helps businesses that receive it.
To qualify the small businesses must:
The Prime Minister’s enterprise adviser, Lord Young, heads up the fund and principally it’s meant to help businesses conduct research before launching a new product or entering a new market.
All services must be bought from approved advisers (there are more than 3,160 of them) through Enterprise Nation. As of 6 March 2014, Enterprise Nation reported that more than 1,400 businesses had applied for funding, and 598 vouchers had been allocated, with a value of more than £1m. Here’s the breakdown of the types of strategic advice small businesses have invested in so far:
With the scheme due to run for 15 months, I’d advise small businesses to apply – but be aware that you have to pay fees upfront before reclaiming money from the government. Find out more about the scheme here.
With the giant cogs of the British economy finally whirring back into life, many businesses may experience significant growth in 2014. However, for companies to achieve successful and sustainable growth, they must expand with maturity. Here are my top five tips on how to go about it.
When a company grows organically, you create certain processes and people can get stuck in their ways. You may also find that when people take responsibility for things naturally, or by necessity, this can lead to them becoming possessive over one particular part of the company.
It’s an age-old cliché but there is ‘no I in team’, and employees putting themselves in charge of certain things and then being unwilling to relinquish them could be very unhealthy for the company. Therefore, as you grow and start to hand over responsibilities correctly, it’s important that you…
As processes grow, they often become more complex or require more detailed monitoring and management. For instance, in the case of officebroker.com these areas include the likes of pay-per-click advertising and database administration.
When we were smaller, these responsibilities were handled in an ‘all-hands-to-the-pumps’ type approach. However, to maintain their integrity and maximise their potential to influence service levels and revenue generation, boxing off these responsibilities into defined roles can be hugely beneficial. However, to specialise you need…
Specialising means handing over ownership and sometimes relinquishing the day-to-day knowledge that you gain from this interaction. This means you have to put trust in the person taking ownership. Sometimes this can be difficult, as you are very familiar and efficient in how you complete a task – but given the right support your successor will flourish and in many cases a fresh perspective can help to improve it. Nevertheless, for trust to be built you need to develop effective…
Growing companies are often built around a nucleus – be they the owners, investors or trusted employees. Stay mindful that those who were there on day one will often have a sense of ownership toward the company, built around their involvement and the part they have played in helping it grow.
As the company grows and new team members arrive, it’s important to understand that their connection and attitude may be different. To keep them engaged, communicate clearly and find the “currency” that works for them (eg financial rewards, success, acknowledgment). And finally…
Change brings challenges, but similarly, challenges bring change and it’s all too easy to resist them, have knee-jerk responses or fall back into old habits when they present themselves. You need to keep thinking forward and give the changes and people delivering them every chance of success. That said, never lose sight of the past nor ignore what it has taught you.
Blog supplied by for Liz Yorke, Director of Global Operations at officebroker.com.
As the recovery begins, it's a sobering thought that because they have become reconditioned by a common ‘batten-down-the-hatches’ approach to recession, few companies are likely to be engineered for growth. The repercussions could be fatal.
The danger is no longer 'boom and bust' - but ‘boom and rust’. Proactive organisations will grow, but more pedestrian businesses risk stumbling into terminal decline. There is the real possibility that if business owners/managers remain in a risk-averse mindset, they will preside over organisational paralysis that not only prevents growth, but also allows competitors to seize market share.
After five years of surviving it's an understandable response, but it leads to an uncomfortable truth – many UK businesses have forgotten how to grow.
So, as the 'green shoots' of recovery begin to take root, what should businesses be doing to reinvigorate themselves and create a platform for growth? Experience suggests that many will be doing the very thing they should most avoid – focus solely on profit.
The alternative approach will send chills down the spines of accountants the world over, no doubt, and it may appear to defy common business logic, but the best advice for business owners seeking growth through the upturn is don't just focus on profit.
There are tried-and-tested ways to keep your business small and stressful and the most common is to obsess about profit as the markets recover and hold on too tightly to the P&L. This approach will prevent you from creating the headspace required to innovate and grow. You may well stay profitable, but you'll also stay small.
In the longer-term, the most successful businesses will facilitate a fundamental shift from a focus on profit to a focus on 'multiple'. They'll look at the long-term value of their business and switch attention from the P&L to the balance sheet. And crucially, they'll shift their focus from income to assets. After all, income follows assets.
As well as traditional 'balance sheet' assets, there are ‘intangible assets’. And the key to long-term growth - and driving the value and multiple in a business - is to focus on the intangibles.
Intangible assets generally boil down to culture, talent and systems. They're the people and processes that drive equity value and combine to form your intellectual property. The challenge is to structure your business culturally and organisationally so that it drives value, grows sustainable revenue streams and supports your long-term ambitions. Creating and building upon the right cultural platform to empower staff to deliver these common objectives - leaving senior management free to plan for tomorrow - is critical.
The economic upturn should present a clear catalyst for growth - but business owners must not allow their desire for short-term profit to dictate caution about long-term planning and investment. Now is not the time for 'logical' product innovation and extension based on understanding today's marketplace – taking baby steps will only keep you small. Today's green shoots represent the ‘teenage years’ - and to exploit them, businesses need bold innovations if they are to capture whole new markets and appetites.
To progress, owners should consider pursuing an asset-based strategy. The challenge is to understand the ‘rocket juice’ in your business – the core intellectual property that powers your current product and channel. Once you identify it, you'll be well placed to innovate into radical new product areas and channels that are more lucrative and less competitive.
The most successful companies at this point in the economic cycle will always be outwardly-focused - and they will look for partners that can help stretch and stimulate their thinking. Business coaching can provide an independent perspective on how companies can invigorate their core intangible assets to drive value, increase their multiple and stimulate sustainable growth.
The most common way to keep your business small and stressful is to focus obsessively on profit. But there are also innovative ways to engineer growth and the best is to concentrate on intangible assets, and to work with a partner that can help to revitalise your company and create new platforms for growth. After years of austerity, UK businesses may well have forgotten how to grow, but they need to get their memory back - and quick.
Blog supplied by John Rosling, CEO of business growth consultancy Shirlaws (UK) Ltd.
Tristram Mayhew, “Chief Gorilla” at popular forest-based leisure adventure attraction Go Ape, provides his eight top tips on how to be a successful ‘On-tree-preneur’.
1 Find a business opportunity that you enjoy
If you do something you actually love, you're more likely to be successful at it. It will be fun rather than just work and your natural passion and enthusiasm will rub off on those around you. That can make all the difference.
Starting a business is probably the single most risky financial adventure you are ever likely to make. You can minimise the risk of failure by learning from the wisdom of those who have gone before you. There is a library full of great tips and advice that, for just a few pounds, might save you tens of thousands of pounds. One book that I recommend is Guy Rigby's From Vision to Exit.
Once you have got through the start-up phase, if you want your business to really take off you need to give it some rocket fuel. I put Go Ape through Cranfield School of Management's 'Business Growth and Development Program' (BGDP). It takes four weekends over eight weeks and is only for owner-managers. It is a potent mix of practical theory and case studies, which you then apply to your own business. The 30 or so other owner-managers on the course work on your business with you, and you on theirs, their advice and experience was invaluable. The BGPD was worth every penny. It was the point when Go Ape grew up from being a good idea into a great business. Our growth and profitability took off after that.
If you know where you're going, you're more likely to get there. So come up with a plan for your business. Be bold. Go for some big, hairy goals. It needs to inspire your team and your customers, and ideally put fear into your competitors. It should set out your vision, mission and tactical plan. Once you have worked out where you want to go, ask yourself what you have to do for that to happen. This will become your 'to-do' list.
5 Delegate and empower
If you are to manage rapid growth successfully, you must bring on a great team. You can't do it all. Unless you can make yourself redundant, you won't have a business that can truly grow, nor will you have a business that you can sell. Encourage your team to take entrepreneurial risks. Don't punish them if they make mistakes, but praise them for trying. If you recruit good people, when you drop them into the deep end, most will swim rather than sink.
6 Become a strategist
One of the main lessons from Cranfield is that you have to stop being the 'Hero' (ie someone who makes all the decisions in your business), because this limits your businesses growth potential. You need to become a 'strategist' and work on the business not in it. Your job is not to do the heavy work, but to look ahead and guide your business around obstacles, coaching, encouraging and motivating your team as you go.
Running your own business can be quite lonely. Getting to know other people who are in the same boat can be a great source of encouragement and advice. There are lots of clubs and social events for entrepreneurs, so try out a few and make the most of the advice and support on offer.
8 Enter business awards
If you are aiming high and want to be the best, why not enter some business awards? Entering the National Business Awards is a great test to put your business through. The Application process makes you take a long cool look at your whole business. Whether you win or not you get feedback on how well your business scored in a number of key areas, which helps you target improvement. If you do win it's a terrific morale boost for your team, and also introduces you to a stellar network of useful contacts and leading entrepreneurs. Entrants for the 2013 National business Awards need to be submitted before 31st May.
If your business is to continue to expand and grow, then plans need to be put in place for that growth potential to occur right from the start. If you make a smart choice when you set up your business Internet services, then you’ll have faith in its capacity to expand as your business grows. But if you don’t choose right first time, you may end up paying the price when you need to shell out to cover the expense of expanding your Internet operations each time your business or organisation grows.
If you wish to save time and money, then it’s best to choose an Internet services company with the flexibility for expansion built in:
Multi User VoIP:
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is growing in popularity with businesses due to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness and quality of service. VoIP to VoIP calls are free and the system is easy to set up with no expensive capital outlay at the beginning. With Multi User VoIP, you can add internal extensions to your existing VoIP phone services quickly and without any additional cost, allowing your rapidly expanding call teams to respond to increasing demand.
Exchange allows you to share all your important information with others and access your mail on your computer or mobile device. Share calendars, files, and address books and ensure that everyone is using the same up to date details. As your needs change and your business grows, increasing your email services will simply be a matter of adjustments, not having to look for a brand new product.
The standard broadband should give you the fastest possible speeds that your telephone exchange will allow. Broadband should also give you a very generous bandwidth limit and direct access to a VoIP network, like the Gradwell. However, as your organisation grows and your needs change, you may need faster connection speeds, more bandwidth and line prioritisation with a separate line for data, to free up your VoIP phone line as the number of calls increases.
Getting reliable hosting for your web activities is vital from the start. Poor hosting leads to down time that damages reputation, productivity, confidence and sales. It’s important that your web hosting is reliable and robust enough to ensure your site can handle all the demands that could be made on it – particularly when an influx of new visitors occurs, if there’s a sudden surge of interest in your business. Many companies fail to plan for these surges and end up with their sites going down when visitor numbers spike.
Your web host should provide plenty of web space, quick speeds and reliable, expandable services, and if they don’t – maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.
Peter Gradwell, Gradwell