Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What Do High Growth Businesses Do Differently?

Percent Symbols - Best Percentage Growth or In...
That’s a question that most of us find intriguing because we all want to know the secret of success. Many business owners I know, whom others might consider successful, are themselves a little nervous as they don’t really understand why they got to where they are now. Their problem, obviously, is that if they don't understand why they got there in the first place; they won’t know what to do if things go wrong.

You might have noticed that more recently I have been focusing on ambitious business owners that are seeking to rapidly grow their business. These High Growth businesses provide us with some valuable insights about how to be successful. A recent survey of High Growth businesses in the USA by Hinge Marketing concluded that there were 4 things that high growth businesses do differently from others, which contributed to their growth.

1. They focus on delivering client’s desired outcomes. They were not touting the firm’s qualifications or their products or service strengths but rather what the results were of providing their product or services and what it meant to the client. This idea of focusing on outcomes makes them much more likely to deliver as they have their eyes on the prize.

2. They are truly customer focused; their job is to make the client’s life easier. You won’t hear complaints about customer attitude or how clients are making their life difficult. They see a problem with a customer as an opportunity for them to improve. Some businesses are actually disappointed if they don’t get negative feedback from their clients as it doesn't give them the opportunity to further improve their business.

3. They are flexible. They recognise how much, both prospects and clients, value flexibility and very many high growth businesses feature flexibility in their marketing and sales material.

4. They focus on their reputation. They work very hard at promoting and protecting their reputation and their brand.

There is a 5th thing that High Growth businesses do, or rather and interestingly what they don’t do and that is spend excessive amounts on marketing. Surprisingly, High Growth businesses spend slightly less than the average business on marketing. You'd intuitively expect that High Growth businesses (in this case growing @ 20% plus pa over 2 years) would be spending disproportionately more. However the survey indicated that these " High Growth " businesses spent only 4.9% of their revenues on marketing as opposed to 5.1% for the average business.

This leads to the obvious question; how do they do that? Whilst I have no empirical evidence I can anecdotally, at least, support this finding. If I look at those High Growth businesses I've worked with virtually all of them spent much less on marketing than you’d expect. Having looked into this further it seems to me that many High Growth businesses have accidentally locked on to something which fits the market demands better than the competition and the clarity of their proposition has got prospects pounding at their door. 

I can think of two obvious examples; one a construction business that is currently experiencing an 80%pa growth over this year and forecasting similar next with no marketing spend at all. In fact they are receiving so many enquiries that they are hard pressed to respond at all.  Looking at it for the first time you might even think that their sales process was broken. Yet despite all of that their growth is and continues to be phenomenal. Why, "word of mouth". They will move heaven and earth to get things right first time. This attitude marks them out from their competition and keeps both existing and new customers approaching them for proposals.

The second is a services business which has landed several strategic contracts with some very high profile companies in the UK, with no formal sales function and more startlingly having no one with any formal sales training. Its success once again appears purely based on what it can deliver and “word of mouth” from a couple of existing clients.

What I find interesting is that the results of this report suggest that a business’s success has much more to do with how well they had thought through why and how they deliver their product or service and their value proposition and much less to do with the size of their wallet.

For a full download of the Hinge Marketing report click here.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Time To Review Your Value Proposition.

We can at last say with some confidence that we are seeing some "green shoots of recovery". Recent figures have indicated an acceleration in growth and this points towards a more buoyant economy. Let's not get carried away as we are still operating at levels below the pre 2008 crash. Nevertheless, the supply side of the economy is optimistic that interest in its products and services and hopefully sales will increase next year, as potential  buyers at last dip into their cash hoardings and start investing in their businesses.

A direct consequence of this improvement in sentiment is that many companies will gear up their sales machines in anticipation of improved demand. Collectively that means increased competition for sales.

Also, as buyers start to loosen the purse strings, their years in a very tight market will have changed their perceptions of what is important to them and their expectations of their suppliers and their solutions. This means that your product or service may no longer fit the market as well as it once did. As a result the value you bring to your market may be reduced resulting in a poorer take up of your services and offering your competitors a chance to get ahead.
Identifying your Unique Value Proposition
Identifying your Unique Value Proposition (Photo credit: Intern. Forum Of Visual Practitioners ifvp.org)

New entrants into the market will also be seeking ways to differentiate their product to better reflect buyers changing needs. All these pressures should lead you to the conclusion that you need to review your value. More explicitly you should be reconsidering your value proposition and testing its relevance to a changing market.

Your Value Proposition

Your value proposition is a short statement which explains to your target audience what problem you solve and why they should buy it from you instead of your competition. What is different about your solution or offering compared to your competition. It is sometimes called an elevator pitch or positioning statement. However you want to describe it, now is the time to give it a review.

It's easy to become a little blasé about your value proposition after all you know and love your product. Your target market doesn't have the same attachment and will go after what they want and will not hesitate to ignore you if you no longer meet their needs.

I remember listening to an interview with Jack Nicklaus where he said every year at the beginning of the golf season he would go to his coach and go through the basics of his grip, his stance and his swing in minute detail to make sure that he hadn't picked up any bad habits that might affect his future performance.  Taking that analogy forward we should regularly review our value proposition to ensure its relevance.

Your Value Proposition Components

Lets just remind ourselves what should be included in our value proposition.

What is our target market? Has this changed? Is our market bigger or smaller than before?

What is the current problem we are solving for our target market? Is it an important consideration for customers in our market? For those of you who don’t have a formal value proposition, start with the biggest issue customers have with your industry and see if you address this. If your product or solution is less important to your market than previously, then you’ll have a tough time selling it.

What are we offering? Is it a new product or service? Can we explain it easily?

What is different about our solution? At this point many people talk about a unique selling point. For most businesses finding something that is unique is almost impossible. What you want to isolate is what you do differently or what additional capability you have, that will make them buy from you rather than your competition.

Which brings me to the last point what alternatives are there to what you offer? Why is your offering superior to the competitions? What is the Return on Investment from adopting your solution?

By asking yourselves these questions you should get a good understanding of changes in the market and how that might affect your value proposition. You may be affected by such things as changes in legislation, new products entering the market or your industry being more interested in other problems. Unless you answer these questions, you may well find your value proposition increasingly irrelevant at a time when your target market will be more active than it has been for years.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

How Poor Recruitment Kills High Growth

Recruiting is often overlooked as a major limiting factor to sustaining high growth, but it is often at this hurdle that high growth businesses fall over. To meet the growing needs of your business you will have to be successful in recruiting and retaining staff. In order to achieve this you will need to consider two critical factors. 

How poor recruitment affects high growth
Poor integration of new hires is an unnecessary drag on growth
Firstly, that you have an effective recruitment process and secondly, how quickly you can assimilate new employees into the business.This post recruitment activity is a fundamental driver to sustaining high growth. Get it wrong, or do it poorly and you'll struggle to sustain any sort of growth at all.

This article is not intending to go into detail about the processes you may want to adopt but rather to highlight the implications of getting it wrong. The two issues we're looking at are recruiting the wrong people and the impact of not being able to integrate them into your business, and how these factors if not addressed act as a stall on growth.

The Recruitment Process

Firstly, as the title indicates, you should a have a process. Not a hand crafted set of actions but a repeatable process. This, amongst other things gives you consistency and quality control. When recruiting you should consider two things, how well the candidate will fit into your organisation and their capability or skills to do the job. 

I deliberately put fit first; if you are growing fast and taking people on you don't want them to be antagonising the rest of the team, you want them to fit right in. Only after you are confident of their fit should you investigate their capability.  Getting fit right first will increase the speed with which they are assimilated into the business, the quicker this happens the more staff you can recruit before they create a drag on your business.

Integrating New Recruits into the Business

Once recruited you should consider how quickly you can integrate this new recruit into your business. I think we would all accept that there is a period after you take on a new employee where they act as a drag on your resources rather than contributing to it. This is normally seen as on the job training. How effective you are in bringing new employees up to speed and integrating them into your business will determine the rate with which you can recruit to support growth. So like recruiting you need a post recruitment integration process

The two key factors in a post recruitment process are training and a culture process, which is about the alignment of values.  

If you have no post recruitment process or, more politely, an informal one, it will take you a long time to get returns from your new recruit. Typically you'll see a lot of frustration in the business as the new employee is largely left to their own devices and the necessary training comes in fits and starts with little or no coherence. This makes it more difficult for the new starter to:
1) learn enough about his job to be a net contributor to the business; and
2) integrate into the company, that is absorb and identify with the companies aims and culture. 

The consequences are often:

1) the new hire leaves because they've become disillusioned with your company (what a waste of time and effort) 
2) your existing staff see taking on new staff as a chore and therefore don't put in the effort they should, often resulting in the new employee becoming disillusioned and leaving. 

Even if they stay, the whole process has been unsatisfactory for everybody and will have inevitably consumed more resources that it should and taken much longer that it needed to. In a high growth environment it simply leads to an unacceptable drag on growth.

The culture process or alignment of values is equally, if not more important than the training. It's crucial to get new staff who share the businesses' cultural values.

I'm sure at this point there are some of you are scratching your head at the moment and are saying to themselves but I'm only looking to recruit 1 or 2 people a year; what's the problem? My answer is that whilst the numbers are low a new recruit will most likely be a member of a small team. This is where being a small number works against you. Think of the recruit as a percentage of your workforce; if it's 5 a new recruit represents about 20% and if its 10 its 10%. Now image the damage to your business if 20% of your workforce were not engaged with the business. Worse still, what if that new recruit is actively trying to promote an entirely alien set of values to the rest of your team, think about the disruption then.

To mitigate against this problem your post recruitment process must include an amount of orientation about how you do things in your business and what is and what is not acceptable. It is inevitable that new recruits are going to question what you do and why you do it, either because they are likely to have come from a business that did things differently or because they are interested in how your business does things. Either way you need to have an answer.

At some time you will get a recruitment wrong, however if you don't have a recruitment or integration process you will make more mistakes and have created a lot more unnecessary problems for your business. 

If you would like to find out more us and how we can support your business, you can contact us via Exigent Consulting or Managing High Growth,  We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 8 November 2013

The High Growth Challenge

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Growing a business is a challenge in its own right, growing a business in an environment of  high growth is doubly difficult. To get an idea of just how difficult that is you only have to look at how few businesses manage to sustain high growth (20%pa) over say 4 years; and what a tiny percentage of those will achieve this state for a decade. So be under no illusion  sustaining high growth is a major challenge.

So what makes it so difficult? It is my contention that too many businesses focus on the wrong issue. In any business there are two basic components that need to grow together sales and the organisation. Sales is the easy bit. OK so thats a bit of an oversimplification. Growing sales is tough, how tough, depends to a significant degree on market growth. It is self evident that its harder to achieve high growth in a slow growing or even stagnant market compared to a market which is also in high growth. Some might even say that growing at 35% when your market is growing at 50% is actually under-performing. However too many so called growth experts focus on sales and marketing because thats the key driver. Absolutely true. What sustains high growth, however, is matching organisational growth to support sales growth and thats a whole different order of difficult.

Why is it so difficult? Firstly, because it involves managing multiple disciplines successfully not just one. Further these different functions have to, as far as possible, be kept in balance along the way. In addition the matching of organisation to sales has to be close enough to allow the business to make a profit sufficient to allow it to reinvest in maintaining growth. This is because for the most part businesses have to rely on their own cash generation to fund growth. There businesses that generate extra ordinary growth but this usually only possible because they have access to extra ordinary amounts of cash. Those cases aside it's up to the business owner to fund his own growth.

English: Hammer thrower Mike Mai practices at ...
English: Hammer thrower Mike Mai practices at Fort Lewis, July 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To illustrate this in a different way, let's use the analogy of a hammer thrower. At its basics you pick up the hammer rotate across the circle and hurl it into the distance. In reality it is a very technically demanding sport. The key to success is to remain in control even though your rotate faster and faster across the circle before launching the hammer into the distance. In order to be successful the hammer thrower needs to stay ahead of the hammer. This means that the hammer stays slightly behind the throwers rotation so that they retain control. If however the hammer gets ahead of the thrower then control switches immediately from the thrower to the hammer as they are in effect being pulled around by the hammer. The result is that the subsequent throw is out of control and either it crashes into the side netting or if by chance it does make the opening it has no great distance or direction. The problem for the hammer thrower is that if the hammer gets ahead of him it is impossible to slow the ball down a little bit to get back in control. Slowing down inevitably results in sufficient loss of momentum for the hammer to just falls to the ground. If we read sales growth for the hammer and organisational growth for the thrower we can see that if organisational growth falls behind sales growth the only way for the position to correct itself is for sales growth to slow. The problem is, that like the hammer falling to the floor, sales growth tends to stall completely.

7 principles of Managing High GrowthThis common occurrence is evidenced by what I call "shooting star" businesses that shine brightly, for a brief time  then disappear. These are businesses that grow very rapidly for a year or so but then the wheels come off management spends the next year to 18 months clearing up the mess. Significantly this experience is so painful that the business often makes a conscious decision to avoid high growth in the future.

Secondly, it requires a very broad range of business knowledge and expertise. Its something that few business owners are aware of, especially in the early stages when often they are struggling to make the mind shift from being an exponent of what they do to being the MD of a business that provides those products or services  Even if they are aware of it few business owners have thought about managing the impact of growth or assessing the interconnections between functions which accentuate both good and bad decisions. I've put them into seven areas. They are:

Vision, Culture, Strategy and Planning, Talent Management, Financial Management & Control, Business Processes and Business Development. The first are about leadership and infrastructure. The other 5 look at key business activities but will be much more effective if the infrastructure is in place. 

The challenge for a business in maintaining high growth is to grow the organisation consistently over time to match sales. In supporting businesses to understand and undertake this challenge in a knowledgeable way we are much more like to provide sustainable high growth businesses. 

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Death by Social Media?

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Help I'm going round in circles! I cant stand it. Every week there is a new must have social media platform which claims to: increase my lead generation or destroy the opposition or dominate my niche or explode my sales. (I like this one as in my mind its a bomb going off in my sales sending bit of sales shrapnel everywhere). I'm on so many platforms now that I don't have time to sleep and I'm reduced to a dribbling wreck, so i've had to stop uploading selfies on Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram...... see what I mean. I just want some LEADS!!! I'm a failure, whats wrong with me?!

Death by Social Media?
Different Ways To Engage Social Media
Not content with the new must haves, there is the recycling of the existing must haves. This month its blogging. A recent Hubspot e-book indicated the following, but it doesn't make sense; they say I can get 67 % more leads to my website if I blog than if I don't. But I don't get any and 67% of nothing is still pathetic. Even better they say if I blog 16-20 times a month I'll get twice the amount of traffic to my website than if  I blog 4 times a month or less. Am I bonkers or are they really recommending that I increase my output by 4 times to get 2 times the reward. (Sorry Hubspot I couldn't resist that, but then I'm just jealous that you got over $65 million in VC funding and I cant get 65 quid)

Before that it was LinkedIn "the business network". I've joined 50 groups started my own, involved myself in hundreds of discussions and I still haven't got a descent lead or even the offer of a cup of coffee. Am I the new elephant man? I hope not I've had nice comments about my picture but mostly from women with strange names and even stranger addresses.

Then before that..... you get the picture...

I feel another panic attack coming on I've missed 30 minutes of my twitter stream.
Time to calm down, take some deep breathes and apply a bit on common sense to this.
After all to most of us over 35 social networking is a parallel universe, like I cant understand why my sons text one another or their girl friends whilst they're in he same room. Why cant they just say it?  Why would you want to make public intimate details of your  life I'm embarrassed just thinking about it let alone sharing it with my followers.

More seriously social media is in danger of taking over our lives, and in parallels with the dot com boom of the 2000's we seem to be failing to apply basic business principles to our activities. As a business user its a marketing channel and has to deliver results. All that "it improves your profile and helps you compete" is just baloney if it doesn't deliver results. Nothing is still nothing how ever fashionable the route.

At its core social media is a conversation it is also a slow burn, just because you have a lot of followers doesn't mean people are reading what you put out. A recent survey on twitter suggested that only 4% of your followers are likely to see a tweet at any one time. So if you have 1000 followers only 40 will read it. This suggests that you need to repeat and vary the same message a number of times across a day to expose it to a significant proportion of your community.

From a marketing perspective you should only use what you are comfortable with. I struggle with Facebook so I don't use it much. I'm happier blogging but I limit myself to 1 to 2 posts a month. More importantly I realise that you don't get instant results. There are always anecdotal stories of people who "won the lottery" and got that big deal almost as soon as they started but for the vast bulk of us it requires persistence and diligence to get results. But lets be sensible if other routes to market are more successful for you, then use them.

So don't be a victim of death by social media. Take control and do what delivers the best results for you. If you don't know what that is just contact me and I'll help you find the best way for you to market your company to the outside world.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services to the Small and Medium Business including Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

Good Culture and Return On Investment

There has been a lot in the press and blogosphere recently about how its people that matter in providing a competitive advantage to a business. In a recent discussion with a number of  high growth companies, whilst there was a general acceptance that people and more specifically Culture mattered; there was a mixture of both skepticism and confusion about how one might quantify the benefits. 
Good Cuture
Buddhist Flags Tibet

I went away to think about how I could use simple recognisable examples to demonstrate the economic value of "good" culture over a "bad" culture. 

Lets take two examples. The first is a company which might be described as having a bad culture or perhaps a culture where the employees don't feel engaged or committed to the business. I expect we can all recognise similar companies.

In this business employees turn up for work between 8 and 9 am but do not voluntarily start their work and continue to read their newspapers or use their smartphones until 9am. During the working day they stick religiously to the rules having 15 mins break in the morning and having their 1 hour lunch break. At the end of the day to make sure they can leave at 5pm exactly, consequently work winds down around 4:45 and everything is put away, necessary ablutions done in time for a mass exit at 5pm.

In the second business where they have a "good" culture staff arrive between 8 and 9am and mostly start their working day when they arrive, whilst everyone takes a lunch break many can be found back at their desks working resulting in them having substantially less than the mandatory hour. When 5pm arrives most of the staff are still working and they gradually drift away from work over the next  hour.

So its easy to see that on average people in the company with a "good" culture or where they are engaged with the organisation work longer. For the sake of this example lets assume that on average the "good" culture business get 30 minutes more per day per employee than the business with a "bad" culture. Based on my everyday example I don't think that's an unreasonable estimate to make.

Over a week that's 2.5 hours per employee on the basis that an employee works 46 weeks a year, excluding holiday entitlement and public holidays, that equates to 115 hours per employee per year or if you prefer about 16.5 days.   

For a company with 10 employees that's 165 extra free days work or 33 man weeks. That about 3/4 of a full time employee every year for a 50 man company that's 3.5 man years of effort extra.

So what does that mean in financial terms. That's a bit more difficult to quantify because were are going to have to make some assumptions about average pay across the business. Using composite rate of £10 an hour, which I suspect is a little conservative but makes the maths easier, we get an economic benefit of about £1150 per employee per year. For our 10 man company that £11500 per year. For our 50 man company that's £57500 comfortably more than a couple of employees. If we assume the businesses are in aerospace, IT or other high skilled industries the financial benefit increases dramatically because the average hourly rate is probably closer to £25 than £10.

So what have we discovered? Firstly I would say small differences matter 30 minutes a day isn't much spread across employees but it adds up to a significant extra saving and competitive edge. Secondly, in keeping this example as simple as possible we have ignored a number of other benefits including the fact that people work harder and more effectively when they are happy at work. They don't "clock watch", they operate better as a team. All these additional factors increase productivity and performance. They are however very difficult to quantify and certainly not without an organised an scientific study which is way beyond my capabilities. 

Nevertheless I think it has been possible to demonstrate clearly that there is a quantifiable benefit to having a "good" culture and even on this anecdotal basis its financial benefits are not to be ignored.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Does Your Website Pass the "I" "We" "You" Test?

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Two Perspectives - Yours and the readers, chose the readers.
Two-Point Perspective. Write from the readers perspective on your website. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the use of websites to promote our brand and generate leads intensifies too many of us fail a basic but critical test which dramatically impact the performance of our sites.

You will know by now that Google wants everyone to focus on content, yes, that’s the boring bit we have to produce which goes on those lovely well designed web pages we've paid for. For most of us writing copy is not something we do as a profession, but there is something simple we can do which will help us connect with your audience even if we aren’t confident about writing copy.

The most influential is the "I" "we" "you" test. What does that mean? This is simply the number of times you use the terms "I", "we", or "you" on a single page of text. The ideal ratio is 1 "I" "we" to every 6 "you". Sadly for most web sites the ratio is the complete opposite. Why is this important? As a visitor to a site I want to you to be writing from my perspective about thing of interest or benefit to me and about things that might or should be important to me. Its a basic marketing principle that you should always write from the prospective of the reader not the writer. The reason for this is simple when we write from our own perspective we get to focused on what is important to us, which in most cases is not what is important to the reader.

For example writing on your web site “we’ve been established for 25 years and we offer the best in class widget, our quality makes us different” Well lovely, but frankly I’m just not that bothered. However, if you wrote “As a user of widgets you've probably found that the biggest problem is inconsistent quality. So you’ll be looking for a supplier who can give you guarantees about the performance of the widgets you need”. Well you know what; I’m interested.

The two short extracts are talking about the same thing but from a completely different perspectives and it’s the latter which employs “you” that speaks from a potential purchasers perspective which engages the reader, and that is the perspective you must have to get the maximum performance from your site.

Now then why don’t you nip over to your website and see how you fair in the "I" "we" "you" test.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for High Growth BusinessesBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business.