Lara Morgan is a British entrepreneur and the founder and former CEO of Pacific Direct.
She recently shared her advice on how to cope with scaling up a business.
The scale-up institute website clearly outlines specific requirements commonly experienced in the challenges of scale-up growth. The need for capital, management competency, financial skills and organisational processes are all, in my experience, areas where learning and personal growth are required.
The talent and skills gap
The whole employment gauntlet is a massive part of the challenge when growing a business, but I would suggest this is as much of a problem with the founder’s approach than the lack of general ambition in UK.
So, how can employers find employees to hire who have the skills they need? In my opinion the culture, trust and flexibility a leader can offer – whilst being firm and fair – is vital.
Of course, like most things in the growth journey the founder will have limited expertise in the art of interviewing or perhaps the whole scary employment process. It is worth practicing a competency and having a black book of targets for future jobs you know you will need to fill. Keep track of your recruitment to ensure you have a fall back option, make sure you test key skills and are rigorous about the role description even before you begin the recruitment process.
Follow a template to record interviews by, so you fairly mark candidates, and make sure your advert expresses the kind of business you are and clearly define the important facets you need in your a-grade players. For example – don’t be boring. If you want world-class sales people, say so in the advert. Sometimes I have head hunted people myself. I have also worked very hard to listen a lot more in the face-to-face meetup, instead of talking, and I have often sold the fun growth culture very hard along with the experience someone would have and how they would contribute to the company’s success. Finally, I think it is important to make clear expectations for measured performance in your recruitment process. If you want an ounce of flesh, say so.
Your own leadership capacity gap
During times of growth you will no doubt need to personally build and grow your own leadership skills, time management efficiencies, ability to delegate and the capability to communicate openly and well to team members, suppliers (whom are too often forgotten) and customers. More recently this have grown to include the need to be digitally savvy, the importance to understand and appreciate the value of social media impact, the ways we should be utilizing data to source better focus for the strategy we need to build and the value of spending time on building a strategic intent with a unique offering that will set your business prospects apart to drive great results.
Ideas on how to do this effectively, and with great returns, include signing up to local free learning shares, listening to talks on subjects from people aiming the sell courses where great value is shared, learn and listen from experts and perhaps non-executives, plus invest in yourself and be brave enough and bright enough to know that going on well organised courses to build your own confidence and knowledge is a pitiful investment when it comes to the risk of being under-qualified to lead the growth of your company.
How can you expect others in your business to develop themselves to be interested in self-development and to bring cutting edge value back to your company if you fail to do the same. Investing in my own development actually kept me in business and gave me massive return on investment. It is almost impossible to spend out on training time and to not gain a considerable return for important new change and further growth perfection.
Understanding your markets and setting yourself apart from the competition involves continual effort. No longer does the SWOT system give you all you need, but it is a great starting place. Be passionate not only about accessing customers behaviour, through analytical data that has value (not just open rate but click through), but also study new potential markets / home markets and visit events to discover new potentials. Even fake it and find out the service response and systems of your competition. Aim to beat those that matter (not everyone as not everyone is relevant if they do not challenge your strategy).
The finance challenges are vast but as someone who was unaware of this at age 23 when I started, I just asked questions. I asked all questions, as you should never be afraid of getting help. Accessing the right combination of finance support, knowledge, reporting, even learning the financial language of banking and the process by which financial decisions are ranked and rated will count. Spend time on it, don’t duck the vital monthly review of balancing your accounts and do not even delegate your responsibility to know the numbers add up.
Your own infrastructure gap, from when you may have been a very small business all the way through scale up, will perhaps take you from the excel spread sheet run company you were to a fully systemized and managed business using different types of software to report sales, to keep on top of finance and to benefit from the speedy effective and efficient growth of your company.
In my 30 years of business experience, time and time again I have seen a lack of self-investment by the founder. Sometimes worst than this I have seen founders with an inability to take feedback about their leadership style – that creates a revolving door of failing recruits.
People remain the core component of success in many but not all companies. Much of the growth failure in Great Britain comes from leaders lacking in ambition that say they have a desire to grow, but do little to really build foundations to make it happen. Failure of companies I have come across stem from poor leadership where there is an inability to lead people whilst being conscious of the important fact that one individual cannot be an A grade expert in everything.
Often founders of companies create their own hamster wheel of repeated failure, but through continual learning and through trust we have to learn to allow that although others may execute differently than our own approach it does not mean that our way is better. I have learnt huge amounts from those that I have had the privilege of working with.
Self-awareness that is lacking in many founders requires either a partnership approach, which really brings the required skills, or sometimes an ability to get out of their own way. I had to bring in a General Manager as I liked sales more. Often founders are control freaks, that will admit it themselves, but seem to be unable to really recognize their own ability to let go. This damages their assets and the potential to work with great people whom are trusted for the ability they bring.
Sometimes I have seen people paralyse their potential with a lack of speedy considered decision making and worst complaining when others are brave enough to make a decision because they might have done something differently.
Another way to destroy growth is when a mistake is not appreciated as a desire to do the right thing or to discover a new way. Share and grow from mistakes, find a new path and let all of your team know the importance of making mistakes to drive faster growth learning.
Lara Morgan is speaking at Elite Business Live, a national conference and exhibition committed to providing UK startups and SMEs all the advice and guidance they need to become the billion-pound businesses of the future. Taking place at ExCeL, London, 21 & 22 September 2016. Registration for complimentary tickets at elitebusinessevent.co.uk