28 January 2018

ukfast campus manchester - lawrence jones mbe - business growthI was proud to be asked to join the panel at the first Scale Up Forum with the Alliance Manchester Business School. Joining the panel on Thursday, with speakers from Apadmi and Deloitte among others, I was asked what it takes to turn scale up aspirations into reality.

Speakers at the event were:

  • Sherry Coutu, author of the 2015 The Scale-Up Report on UK Economic Growth
  • Marcus Hadfield, Chief Strategy Officer, Apadmi, the UK’s leading mobile technology group
  • Christian Stephenson, Crawford Healthcare, winner of the 2017 UK Export Excellence award for its successful US growth strategy
  • Andy Tong, Deloitte, author of the Scale-Up Challenge
  • Sarah Fatchett, Founder and Chief Product Officer, 365Response, award-winning software services organisation
  • Lynn Sheppard, Director, Manchester Enterprise Centre, Alliance Manchester Business School
  • Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, The University of Manchester

Firstly, what is a scale up? Officially it is classed as: “A scaleup (company) is a company who has an average annualized return of at least 20% in the past 3 years with at least 10 employees in the beginning of the period (OECD, 2007)”. More generally, they’re seen as businesses showing strong, consistent growth.

Interesting, there is so much focus on the startup culture that often we forget about these scale ups. Surely it makes sense to be looking beyond that initial phase to where startups should be aiming. Scale ups have many different challenges and certainly seem to be overlooked at the moment.

So how do you turn scale up aspirations into reality? How do you move from startup to scale up? In my experience, whenever you’re looking for growth you need to set that goal. What does the goal look like? Set your point on the horizon and then break it down into digestible, achievable chunks. When you’ve first set this goal and then broken it down in this way, you can easily see what is needed to get there.

Dividing a goal into digestible pieces also enables you to set milestones. I often use the analogy of the big goal being your Everest. To get to Everest you have to train and do plenty of Mount Snowdons along the way. The smaller goals become the Snowdons.

Goal setting is absolutely essential to track how you’re progressing and to celebrate that progress.

The challenge comes when you want to grow too quickly. Whenever you do anything at speed it becomes more risk and you have less control. Take driving for example; travelling along at 30mph you’re in significantly more control that at 100mph. Instead of rushing into it, focus on moving towards your goal every single day, even if that’s just by 1mm at a time.

My most valuable advice

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can give is to think about what you can save. All too often people focus on what they can earn. Instead, consider how much money you’d have if you had been more frugal and saved every penny you could have by not making frivolous purchases.

Look at where you can save money. Do you need to rush into getting a fancy office with quirky furniture and expensive coffee machines? How could you reduce costs like this throughout the business? If you’re frugal in these early days, the time will come when you can invest in those wonderful extras that create an awesome workplace.

We’ve always looked at the largest area of cost in our businesses and established ways to neutralise them. This has included setting up new areas of the business including a building arm and recruitment business. And this strategy led to the creation of our own data centre facilities – the first of which we launched in 2011. Whilst this seemed like a big investment at the time, in fact, in the long term we’ve been able to boost our service level exponentially.

Finally, the bigger the goal you have, the more people you need at your side. Recruitment therefore is an essential part of any growth aspirations in business. We’ve always placed incredible value on getting the right people on board – people who match our culture and who are passionate about the journey. Having the right people by your side will only accelerate your growth and ensure you’re always adding to your company culture rather than diluting it.

Share your advice and thoughts in the comments below.

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