Thursday, 8 August 2013

Growing our medium-sized businesses

For the last twenty years I have been working with successful high-growth firms and I have to say that a set of themes recur again and again. While this is no perfect model of business growth these themes just won’t go away.


The successful businesses tend to have three main obsessions:

  • Strategy - “where the heck are we going?”
  • Marketing - “how are we going to sell this stuff?”
  • Teams - “how can we get on better?”


Beyond that there needs to be a recognition that external advice and probably external finance will be needed.


With respect to strategy, it makes absolute sense to focus on recession-proof consumer trends, the general digitalisation and exporting. In fact, we could do well to learn from the Germans. It always seems to end up that way. And finally, there is always a call to get the right external support, get the right business services and support.


Every few years we are reminded to look at the German model. Mittelstand companies often focus on niche areas (where they become world leaders!), tend to be innovation-focused, committed to long-term profitability. I know that these are sweeping generalisations, but we could learn a thing or two from them. So, yes, we should spend more time examining what they do so right.


None of the statements above are remarkable. Just plain common sense. But how often do we see that? In fact the ‘ology’ borders on the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ type sayings. However, they are actually backed by sense. More importantly, this relatively straightforward approach (strategy, marketing and teams + external support and finance) seems almost too simple.


The high-performing businesses that I deal with consistently get ticks in these boxes. I have been running programmes at business schools, as well as in my mastermind groups, and the great businesses are hitting all the hot spots again and again. I will repeat them again - strategy, marketing and teams plus external support and external finance.


Recession-proof as a phrase makes sense but actually we are now in Year Five of the recession and it shows no sign of ending. So, your business must sell something that really is needed in a recession. Too many businesses are based on five-year-old business models using outdated assumptions about how customers relate and behave. It will never be 2007 again. We need to understand how the recession-hit consumer behaves. The answer is that they will still buy most things but they will also expect more for less.


So, what’s recession-proof? Gyms, janitorial supplies, customer acquisition, auction houses…


The three As (Automation, Asia and Abundance) change how the world acts and behaves. The digitalisation of just about every aspect of our world needs to be embraced. Those businesses that ignore it do so at their own peril. The sheer scale of change can only be grasped when we step back and look at how much the world has changed since 2000.

All businesses have been hit by the Three As. Competition, access to bigger audiences, threats from global competition, many costs heading towards zero, all impact. Auction houses now take bids worldwide, suddenly China is a realistic market for a precision engineer.


Export is not just the theme promoted by the Government but it makes sense. If you cannot sell to the depressed domestic market then you need to look elsewhere. And hence the logic to get involved in exporting. It expands your customer base, but is not so easy in reality. Working with some 50 exporters, every case has been different. There is no simple template you can apply. Each case seems to require its own rules of engagement.


Businesses need to surround themselves with the right support. It is the recognition that you cannot do everything yourself that separates the exceptional MD from the ordinary. You need to bring in the best support, advice and team to help you grow your business. End of.


Medium-sized businesses (however you wish to define them) are often referred to in revered terms. Sweeping generalisations expound as to how to help them, how they should help themselves, and how they will solve all the ailments of our weakened economy
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