Leadership, Team, Vision and values

When businesses are formed, they immediately begin to reflect the values of the owner or leader.  We recruit people who seem to fit with us, we attract customers who like our values, and the business grows.  Usually these ‘values’ are not explicit or written down, but in a small team everyone pretty much knows what the boss wants and how they want things done.

As businesses grow, things begin to change.  Leaders of growing businesses have less time to spend with each member of a growing team.  Leaders are busy, need to recruit new people, work with new customers, and the values gradually become a bit less clear.  Not in the head of the leader of course, but everywhere else.

Why does this happen?  Well, it’s about relationships; in a business of 4 people, everyone knows everyone else and there are only 6 one-to-one relationships within the team.  It’s easy to be aware of what’s going on in each of these and the leader is personally involved in half of them, and just one step away from the others.

group relationships

By contrast when a business has 100 people, each knowing everyone else, there are 4950 one-to-one relationships going on – and the leader is involved in just 99.  So that’s just 2% of the working relationships that involve the leader.

So, what values will people bring to work?  We’ll bring our own of course, which may or may not be a good fit with those of the business.  Hence the need to be clear and explicit about the values of the business.  They become the heartbeat of the team, a reference point for every decision, and a wonderful tool for providing feedback to people (‘I saw what you did there; spot on, and a great example of our Values around service – thanks’.)

So somewhere on your growth path you will find it really helpful to think through your business values.  Engage your team in the discussion, get their views as well (they’ll probably have a different perspective to yours, which is really helpful) and as a leader get personally involved.

Used effectively, your business values will be a powerful tool for recruitment, giving feedback and managing performance, and for guiding every decision that you and your team make.

If you’d like to talk about getting this working better for you please give me a call on 01672 512001

One of the values which comes up sometimes in business is caring –  caring for customers, and caring for each other in the team.   Looking at the broader picture, 1 in 9 people (in Wiltshire, based on the 2011 census) is involved in caring for a family member at home.  Some of those people will of course be working as well.  For more guidance on support for carers and how businesses can support employees with caring responsibilities, see www.workingforcarers.co.uk . There are contact details on the website.

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Growth, Marketing, Profitability

Some Business Owners I meet have got their marketing pretty well taped.  Typically they’re always looking for ways to improve their results as well.  And because they’re looking, they will often find some.

marketing-plan

Other Business Owners however find the whole question of Marketing a bit tricky.  After all it’s easy to put time effort and money into it without really getting anything back.  On top of that you get so many calls from people wanting you to advertise here, improve your website there, invest in Social Media or hire salespeople that it’s hard to know where to start or what to do.  And anyway you’re busy running your business and you get most of your customers from Word of Mouth.

So if you really want to get better results from your business, what do you need to do?

There are lots of ways, but doing nothing isn’t one of them!  You can work on efficiency of course (yours and other people’s), improve pricing, change suppliers, exhort your employees to work harder – or you can keep your head down, work harder and hope.

Here are a few things you can do, starting right now.

  1. Understand what’s really creating profit for your business.  This means getting your head around some facts.  There are really only 5 things here, in every business:
    1. How many New Customer enquiries do you get, and where from?  This is genuinely new customers, people who haven’t done business with you before.
    2. How effectively do you convert these enquiries into customers, what is your success rate. (Note – when I ask people this question the most common answer is ‘It’s pretty good’, rather than a number.  We need facts.)
    3. How often do customers do business with you?  Think about it this way; if the frequency was going up, or going down, you’d want to know about it!
    4. What is each sale worth, on average?  Again, if this was changing you’d want to know.
    5. What is your profit margin, and where does it come from?
  2. Set a target for improving one or more of these things. Work out what impact this improvement will have on profit.  Choose the ‘quick wins’ first.
  3. Get on with it.  Take action now – clients tell me that they get what they focus on, so get focussed.
  4. Keep measuring so that you can see what result you are creating.
  5. Keep going; failure is often simply a consequence of giving up too early!
  6. Make a commitment to keep learning; how can you improve, what do other people do, how can technology help?

It’s simple enough, but may not be easy.  There may be obstacles in your way and sometimes the obstacle is us!  But think of it this way; businesses live in a competitive world  – if your competitors are working hard at winning new customers, serving them well and profitably – what are the implications for your business and your life?

What next?

If you’d like some help getting to grips with your marketing click here to book a meeting with me, or click here to come to one of my workshops.  It’s free, and it might just change the way you think about your business.  Or phone me on 01672 512001.

And if you choose not to do anything, remember the old saying

‘If you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got!’

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Case study, Growth, Leadership, Vision and values

 

Every entrepreneur needs to be enthusiastic and passionate. Dedication and determination will get you a long way.

But at some point you need to stop and think about your business: decide whether your drive is driving you in the right direction, and look around to make sure your team are still with you.

When Tom Bowles, founder of the award-winning farm shop Hartley Farm near Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, first started working with ActionCOACH Nigel Scott just over a year ago, he was being swept along with the success of a rapidly-expanding business.

He made business decisions based on instinct, and hoped that his growing team of employees shared his vision… but he couldn’t be sure.

tom and nigel

“My mantra is that entrepreneurs should take time to work on their business, as well as in their business,” says Nigel. “This was a great business with huge potential and it needed a sense of direction, planning, controls, and focus.”

Nigel and Tom work together regularly, and have a monthly face-to-face meeting. The sessions give Tom time to stop and think about his business.

For Tom – who studied economics at university, but eschewed an intended life in The City to return to the countryside, and his family’s 150-acre farm – Nigel has been a valuable mentor. “I came into an industry I knew nothing about. I didn’t know good business practice, or how to be a good boss,” admits Tom.

“Nigel has made me realise what I can achieve, and I’m reassured that what I’m doing is basically the right thing, and I’m finding ways to make it manageable.

“His guidance and feedback is important – he’s a sounding board for new ideas, and he keeps me in check.”

To ensure that the whole team – which had rapidly expanded from five in 2008 to 35 by 2014 – shared a vision for the business, Nigel helped Tom draw up the Vision, Values and Purpose which guide the company and are used to recruit and develop new and existing staff.

Far from being a dry document that will sit in Tom’s desk drawer, it is aimed at inspiring staff and encouraging customers – it is proudly displayed in public areas of the business.

It starts: “Our Purpose – To inspire by creating a happy, fun and educational environment for our people with great food at the centre whilst committing to supporting and celebrating sustainable farming and food production.”

“When you have 35 people working for you, you can’t be with them all the time,” says Nigel. “I’ve helped Tom to become a better manager and leader.”

“It’s true,” says Tom. “I used to be a busy, stressed boss. With Nigel’s help I’ve developed into what a boss should be – and I’ve seen improvements in my staff as a result.”

Among the customers to read the Purposes and Values document was the journalist and broadcaster Bel Mooney, who was so impressed that she wrote about them in her Daily Mail column.

“I reckon that set of aims would benefit any business. Read and learn, Alan Sugar!” she said.

Nigel and Tom have also worked on a Plan for Profit. “Business growth eats away at your cash,” says Nigel. “We’ve been working hard to ensure that the business is profitable while encouraging growth of the core business and expansion into other areas.”

“I’ve recognised that we need a diverse income stream,” says Tom. “That’s why we’ve been working on projects, like education: running courses and foraging walks, and getting school parties to the farm.

“I’ve also been building the online side of the business. Click and collect is a new venture for us, and we’ve started to offer national mail order delivery of our products.”

Back at the farm shop, a new area – purpose-built for families – will open in the summer. Little Hartley Farm is an extension of the award-winning on-site cafe.

Nigel and Tom were determined that Hartley Farm should get some awards under its belt, to give the business local and national recognition. As a result, the business now has 15 awards to its name, including some coveted “Taste of the West” Awards.

And the whole thing is paying off: turnover is expected to increase by 15 percent in 2014, with further revenue from Little Hartley Farm when it opens. Cashflow is also stronger than ever and the business is showing that it can consistently generate cash to fund dividends and further investment projects.

 

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Leadership, Team

Any followers of football, and probably most people who aren’t, will be aware that Germany won the World Cup recently.  They won for one simple reason; they were the best team in the competition.  They don’t have Messi or Neymar, they don’t even have Wayne Rooney.  But they are the best team.  They pass and run, pass and run and support each other. Constantly, without interruption..

ants play football

Which brings us to Ants.  Jim Rohn writes about the philosophy of Ants.  I think the term Philosophy is a bit strong when applied to an ant, but maybe we should be kind to them – after all they get paid a lot less than German footballers.

But ants are determined creatures.  If we watch a line of ants collecting  food and returning to the nest, for example, they will collectively maintain that line come what may.  No matter what obstacle is put in their path they will find a way over, under or round it.  There may be a period of confusion while the new route is established, then as soon as it is, the line is re-established.  Every ant is completely focused on the same goal.  Thoughts of failure will not deter them.  They behave like one organism.  In short, they are a highly effective team, and who knows – they may even wear German team colours (red, black and yellow)!

But people, of course, are a lot more sophisticated than ants.  We have our own individual ideas, thoughts, opinions and fears.  We have them in our private lives and we bring them to work.  It just might be worth thinking, though, about what we can learn from the humble ant.  What does it take to get a team working so single-mindedly on the same goal?  How do we get people, with all the richness and complexity of human interactions, to act like that because they want to?

This is the art of Leading a team, of managing those interactions, of creating an environment where people feel inspired to do their very best work.  Just imagine what would happen if every team in every business was working like this!  Just imagine how much wealth would be created in our communities, if every business was like this.

As business leaders it’s our job to pay attention to creating that environment.  No-one else will do it.

So we can all learn some lessons from the German football team (even while gnashing our teeth) and from the humble ant.

If you’d like some help with ant philosophy for your business, I’d love to talk to you about it.

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Business planning, Growth, Leadership, Personal development

When we boil a kettle, we apply heat energy to water until it boils.  If we heat water up to 99 degrees, we’ve applied a lot of energy but it’s still not boiling, it’s just the last bit of energy that takes water ‘over the line’ and into a changed state at 100 degrees.

A-kettle-boiling-006

 

 

 

 

Improving a business is a little bit the same!  It takes energy to improve things, bit by bit, and the business will start to respond, to warm up, as you do so.  Of course physics tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and that can happen in businesses too!  Staff not happy with the changes you want to make?  Individuals who used to perform really well no longer able to do so as you’ve grown and the job has changed?

As the business grows, and the team grow, there are more and more interactions going on, both within the business and with customers – and you’re not involved in most of those interactions.  Can be a scary thought!  Ever wondered how your customers feel AFTER they have had some interaction with your team?  What happened last time you asked them?

As we improve things, there’s a lot to think about.  Where will new customers come from? Marketing needs focus, measuring, continuous improvement.  How about sales, does making sales depend on you, the business owner?  Is that what you want long term?  Giving existing customers a great experience, and keeping it going even as you create more of them.  How about recruitment, induction, training the team?  Then there’s planning, evaluating progress, putting systems in place (and making sure people use them!).

Everything needs focus and attention – but not necessarily at the same time.  Having a plan, selecting priorities and pushing those things to completion, is often what makes the difference.  Of course we all know this – but things can get in the way.  Sometimes it’s us, getting in our own way.

The kettle, of course, simply applies energy consistently to the water until it gets where it needs to be.

If you’d like to explore how your business is responding to the energy you are putting in, and what’s next in getting you to where you need to be, please get in touch right away.  Come for a coffee or for a free workshop full of energy and ideas.  Consider it an investment of time in yourself!

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Vision and values

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Normally, my messages concern such things as vision, goals, planning, cashflow, building a team…

Today though is a day to remember all the people (mainly young men the age of my own sons or younger) who gave so much for us at the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944.

My own father was a naval officer whose ship stood off the coast at Arromanches Beach protecting the troops from sniper fire. He is now nearly 95 and has dementia. Sadly, even his memories of that key time in his life are fading but I know that if he could he would be remembering the companions he lost.

For these men at that time their goal was to survive until the next day and their vision was a world at peace. We all owe these men a huge debt of gratitude as without them who know what the world would be like today and what possibilities we would have.

Enjoy the day – and make the most of it!

 

 

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Case study, Client results, Growth

Running a rapidly-expanding enterprise sounds like a key to a bright future, but often part of the challenge for business owners is keeping pace with the accelerating growth of their companies.

Business was already soaring for airborne adventure firm GoSkydive when Nigel Scott flew in to help the company plan for the future.

Company boss Gordon Blamire had ambitions to become the biggest tandem skydive operation in the UK, and it was Nigel’s job to make sure Gordon’s head wasn’t in the clouds, and that his plans didn’t come down to earth with a bump.

Two years ago, GoSkydive was helping 1,800 customers to throw themselves from a plane every year, with the help of three full-time staff and eight part-timers. The annual turnover was around £400,000.

Today, 4,000 customers a year are taking a leap of faith – just over twice the number – and yet turnover has trebled to around £1.4m. And the company employs 23 full-time staff, with 10 more working part-time.

“The average sale value has increased from £280 per customer to £330 per customer,” explains Gordon. “That’s one of the things Nigel helped us to do. We have Key Performance Indicators and targets in place to help us measure the value of each sale.

“We’ve invested heavily in marketing, and in bigger, faster aircraft, which gives us the opportunity to up-sell.

“We also do a lot more direct booking now. Two years ago agency bookings accounted for around fifty percent of our business, which brought pressure on margins. Now agencies account for around 15 percent, so the combination of better sales mix and higher average sale per customers has a big impact on profit.

“Nigel has had a huge influence in these areas.”

Besides coaching the core team on a monthly basis, Nigel has been mentoring Gordon. “When I started out, I knew a lot about skydiving, but not a lot about running a business,” says Gordon.

“Nigel’s had a real input in the growth of the business, from marketing and methods to team management. I’ve also been able to adopt more of a management role, which allows me to focus on the future development of the business.”

The company – which currently operates from Old Sarum, near Salisbury – aims to have four or five sites across southern England within the next five years. It’s already among the biggest providers of tandem skydive experiences in the UK; this will make it the largest.

“I expect we would have got into difficulties during the growth period without Nigel’s input,” says Gordon. We were investing a lot in infrastructure and in the future, and we needed to be able to handle the cashflow.”

“Revenue-wise we are growing fifty percent faster than we would have done had Nigel not been involved.

“Nigel has made a very significant impact on the success of GoSkydive. To any director of a growing business, I would recommend Nigel.”

The key challenges for the owners of rapidly-growing businesses, and Nigel’s tips for success, are:

People: find really great people whom you can trust to take on day-to-day responsibility of the business while you concentrate on the future.

Managing the money: Growth eats up cash. It’s important to have a handle on the cash flow.

Sustainability: Have continuous sales and marketing efforts to keep the show on the road. Monitor your activity rigorously.

“At  GoSkydive, we implemented annual goals and a 90-day plan for the whole team, looking at areas like sales and marketing, operations, and financial planning,” says Nigel.

“They conformed to the ActionCOACH mantra of Plan, Do, Review. It is important for everyone to understand what is working, and what isn’t working so well by testing, measuring, and making sure the money is well spent.

“GoSkydive  has an exciting future ahead, and we’re all looking forward to being part of the success story.”

 

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Business planning, Growth, Systems

One of the most intimidating aspects of selling your business can be facing the barrage of questions during the various presentations you’ll be doing for potential acquirers. Be prepared to be grilled on all facets of your operations.  Of course every meeting will be different, but here are some questions you can expect to be asked when you’re in the hot seat:

1. Why do you want to sell your business?

It’s a slippery question because if your business truly does have a bright future—and you want the buyer to believe that’s the case—the obvious question is:  ‘Why do you want to sell it, and why do you want to sell it now?’

2. What is your cost per new customer acquired?

The potential acquirer wants to find out if you have a predictable, economical and scalable formula for finding new customers.  And they’ll want to know what level of sales and profit you expect to get over time from each customer you acquire.

3. What is your market penetration rate?

The acquirer, with an eye to future growth, is trying to understand how big the potential market is for your product or service and what part of the field remains to be harvested.

4. Who are the critical members of your team?

The acquirer wants to understand the breadth and depth of your team and determine specifically which members need to be motivated and retained post-purchase.

5. Who buys what you sell?

Strategic buyers will be searching for any possible synergies between what you sell and what they sell. The more you know about your customer demographics, the better the buyer will be able to assess the strategic fit. If your customers are other businesses, a buyer will want to know what functional role (e.g. training manager, head of sales and marketing) buys your product or service.

6. How do you make what you sell?

This question is asked in an effort to size up the uniqueness of your formula for creating your product or service. Potential buyers want to know if you have any proprietary systems that would be hard for a competitor to replicate. For various reasons, they will also want to understand if the creation of your product or service is dependent on any one person.  Especially you.

7. What makes your product truly unique?

A buyer is trying to understand how big the moat is around your business and what kind of protection it offers from competitors who may decide to compete with you in the future. What have you done to safeguard yourself against the competition?

8. Can you describe your back-office setup?

Most buyers will try to understand how easily they can integrate your back office into their operation. They’ll want to know what bookkeeping and billing software you use, how customers pay, and how you pay suppliers.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start when you’re preparing to represent your company to your potential buyers.

You might want to take a critical look at how your business measures up against ‘Sellability’ criteria.  (Even if you don’t want to sell it, Sellability means you can get freedom from it if you wish to – lack of Sellability means you are tied to it for ever).

Curious?  Take this online assessment (with my compliments) and I’ll send you a summary report assessing the Sellability of your business against 8 key criteria for selling businesses.

 

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Customer service, Leadership, Vision and values

I think a lot about the Values that businesses have (or don’t!). Values drive behaviour, and behaviour determines how your customers feel.

Someone visited our house the other day to give us a quote for some flooring work we are having done.  We’d previously been to their showroom, made preliminary selections (the person behind the desk made notes of our choices and offered to deliver them to our home so we could have a look in situ) and asked for a visit to measure and quote.  The person arrived at the appointed time and measured up very efficiently.  So far so good.

However nobody called us the day before to confirm the appointment, and while the sample books we’d requested were delivered as promised, the notes on which samples we’d chosen seemed to have disappeared – so we had to start again.  The person who came along didn’t introduce himself, so I couldn’t tell you his name if I wanted to.  I’m left feeling that the products are probably fine, and technically the firm are probably fine, but I don’t feel they really care about the impression they make on customers.  Or if they care, it doesn’t show.  So how do I feel about placing an order?  So-so.

On the other hand Tom Bowles of Hartley Farm found himself in the national papers (Daily Mail to be exact) because one of their writers had such a good experience there.  Tom’s family runs a farm, livery and farm shop/cafe at Winsley near Bath.  They have around 30 in the team, many part time, and Tom has put lots of thought, effort and training into the Values that are important to him, and how he wants his team to behave as a consequence.  This is what Bel Mooney picked up on when she visited, and wrote about in the national press.  If you’d like to read her short article, follow this link (you have to scroll down to the bit about Turkeys at the bottom!).

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the value, the business has just had their best ever year for sales.  Well done to Tom and the whole team at the Farm.

 

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Business planning, Leadership, Team

Most people in business face a crisis at some stage, and sometimes how we come through one can be a defining moment in our business career. Even if you plan and run your business really effectively, sometimes things happen that are just out of your control. In my own career I’ve experienced two major crises, both of them life threatening. Not my life but the lives of people using the products; mercifully no-one was hurt but the experience certainly focussed my mind. With hindsight , both situations could and should have been avoided but nevertheless having to deal with them taught me a few lessons.

So aside from being a defining moment how can facing up to a crisis be good for you?

  • It gives us a jolt to the business system, a kick up the backside, a wake-up call and teaches us to beware of complacency
  • It forces us to recognise the need for change
  • We learn that we can deal with the unexpected. Whatever the outcome, good or not, we learn from the experience
  • It provides a sense of urgency
  • It pulls people together. We learn who we can depend on. In my own case I have felt truly humbled by the commitment shown by hundreds of people, within my business and outside, including customers and industry regulators, all pulling together to resolve the crisis
  • We may learn the power of planning, communicating and executing at speed.

Here is a link to an article by Patrick Thean of Gazelles with his thoughts on the Do’s and Dont’s of managing crisis which I thought I would share with you.

We can never foresee every crisis that might arise but, by thinking about what might happen, we can ensure we are prepared for many eventualities.

Here are three things you can do right now:

  • Look at my post “Who’s in the War Room?” which describes an approach used by Sir Clive Woodward
  • Write down the 5 biggest challenges in your business at the moment (the next step will be to make a plan for how to deal with them!)
  • Make sure you have a system in place for communicating quickly and effectively with staff and customers should you need to

If you’ve come through a crisis in your business I’d love to hear your story.

If you’re facing one now and would like some help please call me on 01672 512001.

 

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