“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!”
I feature this powerful quote from Maya Angelou on the home page of my new website because it encapsulates the approach I take when I’m speaking to business owners or entrepreneurs wanting their latest idea to come to fruition.
I also like it because it’s true – if we are willing to work hard enough, and build relationships with a great network of people, we can make pretty much any dream a reality.
So, what is the secret to achieving your goals when it comes to business? I help all sorts of people from successful small business owners who want to scale their operations, to entrepreneurs needing angel investments for their embryonic business idea. There are a few things which hold true whatever the situation and whatever the customer.
I call them my “4 tips to make your business ROAR”
Tip #1 – R is for Resources
When you embark on a business startup, success becomes all about what you have at your fingertips. Money is likely to be tight, even if you have funding, and time is of the essence so having resources to hand is essential to getting yourself up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Resources could be anything from people you know to lessons you have previously learned from. They could be educational, training programmes you need to fill any gaps in your knowledge, or physical such as buildings, materials and tools to start work with.
Resources aren’t just relevant at the start of your business journey, of course. They’re something that needs planning right the way through the lifecycle of your work. From knowing the right time to upskill or recruit additional people, to having the capacity in terms of space and/or materials to deal with the success of your marketing.
Tip #2 – O is for Optimisation
I’m talking about efficiency and accuracy. The quicker you can nail your business processes, ideally automating as many of them as possible, the quicker you will be in a position to make money. That’s because the admin doesn’t just drag us down, if it’s not addressed, it can actually drag us under. Paperwork: insurance, accounts, invoicing, contracts – if we don’t get these things right we are welcoming risk into our business.
Many start-up businesses fail to survive beyond their first 5 years and this is likely because while lots of energy went into the idea, the brand design, the launch and the business development, nobody really thought about the steady-state. What needed to happen once the orders were rolling in on a regular basis? Did the systems exist to keep on track? What aftercare or customer experience work has been done? How do we keep people loyal to our brand?
Tip #3 – A is for Access
Often, ideas – even brilliant ones – never get off the ground because those that come up with them simply haven’t got access to the right people. This is when your network comes into its own. I’ve spent years building a network of people with the right skills to help businesses get off the ground. In part, this consists of subject matter experts, marketers, branding experts, financial planners and more. It also consists of a strong network of investors.
Finding someone willing to put their money where your mouth is can be tricky if you don’t have the right contacts. Often, these angel investors will only consider business owners who come with a personal recommendation. It makes absolute sense to tap into the right network even if it’s not your own – doing so is a surefire way to ensure a sound investment, with a strong business footing and boundaries which help everyone measure progress.
Tip #4 – R is for Review (and refocus)
As a business evolves, it’s easy (especially for those of us who are over-excited entrepreneurs) to get distracted and start tweaking the business to cater for every enquiry. This can lead to a business that isn’t scalable, has no consistency in its offering and ultimately confuses its prospective client base.
It’s important to pay attention to that business plan you spent so long compiling. Stick to your aims, follow your goals and, if you do veer off centre, don’t be afraid to refocus.
An important element of any business is the ability to scale what you offer. Having bespoke processes and offerings for every client isn’t going to give you that option and you’ll then be very unlikely to meet your growth targets, not to mention killing any chance of ever getting your money back out of the business. Of course, there will be times when you need to change tack but this should happen as part of a conscious change program, carefully managed and implemented to ensure the necessary improvements are realised.
As a business consultancy that offers business advice, strategy, funding and planning services to start-ups and scale-ups, Streamlion Consulting has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs get their business journey right and realise their dreams.
A one-stop-shop for helping businesses to roar, Streamlion can help with everything from accessing funding and angel investments through to building, and exiting, a successful and sustainable business.
Find out more at www.streamlionconsulting.com
So, you’ve successfully entered the world of start-ups and found the adrenaline buzz of owning your own business to be addictive. Most entrepreneurs love the thrill of seeing an idea launch, which often leads to them moving on to new ideas in a fairly short timeframe.
However, to successfully remove yourself from a business and continue with the heady path to portfolio status, you need to know how to scale your existing business so it can continue to fund your future adventures in business.
Scaling a business is about more than just growing your sales and employing more people. To successfully scale, your business needs to be based on the right foundations which ensure it is equipped to deal with a continued higher volume of transactions. It will undoubtedly involve further investment and a good amount of time invested in strategizing for future success.
At Streamlion, we work with clients at all stages of building and scaling businesses so we thought it would be useful to capture our top 5 tips on how to scale your business successfully.
Top Tip #1: Start at the beginning
It’s all too easy for excitable entrepreneurs to leap over the initial stages of scaling a business and move straight to the increase in marketing or selling. Before that, it’s essential to ensure your business is equipped to handle this extra throughput. Not doing so could result in disappointed customers which, in turn, could seriously damage your reputation and put paid to any future plans for growth. Premature scaling is cited as one of the leading causes of startup failure.
The beginning is planning. Scaling a business is not the same as growing it. Scaling involves innovating your business model as well as your product or service. You need to invest time in working out potential new markets, back-office automation and funding.
Top Tip #2: The price of growth
Scaling a business effectively is never cheap. In fact, one of the most common reasons that startups fail to scale is down to funding. And funding a scale-up is an entirely different prospect to funding a startup so it’s essential to work with experts who can help with creating a sustained growth plan as well as helping you understand the transformations that need to happen to set the business up for a successful future.
Like scaling, finding funding is down to putting in the right preparation and demonstrating that your business is ready for change and growth.
Top Tip #3: Optimisation is key to transformation
To quote Einstein “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” Scaling a business needs the same approach; success is all about understanding how things work and how they need improving to cope with a larger volume.
Achieving automation and integration, which are the likely outcomes of optimisation, will likely involve technology. The happy fact is, there’s no shortage of packages, apps and products that can help make things easier. However, finding the right one for your business is critical.
CRMs, automated marketing, accounting and your overall IT network all need to come under the microscope at this stage.
Top Tip #4: A change of pace
Your business goals might be clearer but it’s a well-documented fact that change management needs careful handling.
As well as any team members involved, it’s well worth getting under the skin of your customer experience journey. Plotting out every touchpoint between you and your clients will help to identify any areas that might need attention prior to scaling. We use Customer Journey Maps to help our clients to see any areas of friction which might cause problems when scaled. Additionally, you can identify areas for investment, which could be wrapped up with the other areas that need funding in order to create the very best version of your business.
Top Tip #5: It’s not all about you
Creating a business is a little like having a baby, you bring it into being, nurture and help it to grow and, inevitably, you eventually leave it to stand on its own two feet. This time is now.
For a business to scale, it needs to be able to operate consistently based on the policies and processes you’ve spent so long on assessing and improving. You have options as to whether you outsource some of the regular activities, or whether you hire a team to run things for you. Either way, taking a step back for the first time can be daunting.
The key thing to remember is that you’ve invested time in getting things right, so your business is ready for this, even if you aren’t. It’s also really important to hire the right people – people you know share your values and will continue to inject enthusiasm and innovation into the business.
Finally, as with most things in business, successful scaling is also a mindset. By working with a strong team of advisers and having faith in your own ideas, scalability becomes infinitely easier.
At Streamlion, we’re well known for getting business owners started and business ideas up and running.
But, did you know, it’s just as important to give some thought to how you leave your business when the time is right?
An exit strategy is a plan for how you will end your involvement in your business. The business will continue, perhaps with new ownership. You may go on to start something new or you may be retiring. Whatever your reason for wanting to exit, it’s important you get a good return on your investment of time and hard work over the years.
Exiting your business – where (and when) to start
The first and most important consideration is to leave your business in the very best shape. That means good turnover and profits, yes, but it also means your admin needs to be up to scrutiny. Processes need to be documented, your books must be up to date and accurate, and so on. As you can imagine, some of these things take time to put in place so it’s never too early to start planning.
Apart from increasing the likelihood of your business lasting long enough for you to need an exit plan, putting in this planning and preparation will almost certainly get you a better price when you come to sell it.
The Main Ways to Exit a Business
For an entrepreneur or small business owner, there are several ways you could consider as your exit plan:
- Merger & Acquisition – you might join forces with a similar business to create a larger or more wide-ranging business and then make yourself redundant as a result, or, you might look to be acquired by a larger organisation who operates in the same space as you.
- Initial Public Offering (IPO) – this method looks to bring in shareholders who buy up your shares and effectively repay you and any other investors. However, this get-rich-quick scheme of old is less lucrative these days and no longer the preferred approach.
- Sell to an individual – this is different from a merger or acquisition because there’s no other entity in the deal, you’re simply handing over the reins for an agreed sum of money. Your ideal buyer would be someone who can take the business to the next level.
The method you choose will depend upon the type of business you have and the outcome you want from exiting. There are, of course, a myriad of other options, such as selling to your management team, passing the business on to family or simply shutting up shop and liquidating. It’s important to get good advice and consider every option carefully before committing to a plan.
Exit Strategies – Keeping It Real
We’d all love to be the next ‘Innocent Drinks-becomes-Coca-Cola’ type of success story but, in the real world, exit deals are often more modest. The most important thing, as a business owner, is to decide what you want from your exit and then engineer the best opportunity to achieve it.
Making sure your business is as automated as it can be is important, not just because it can drive a higher sale price. According to growthbusiness.co.uk, a massive 83% of entrepreneurs end up staying involved with the business they chose to exit. Now, in some cases, this will be part of the plan, as entrepreneurs reportedly continue in advisory or shareholder roles.
However, it’s clear that entrepreneurs still love the ‘art of the start’ as an incredible £108bn was made in sales during the 5 years to 2019 and, according to FreshBooks, 61% of baby-boomers say they would work through retirement by choice.
If you’re keen to explore exit strategies further, why not pick up the phone to Streamlion Consulting?
The UK is known for being highly entrepreneurial, with over 99% of all domestic businesses being classified as SMEs.
However, research carried out in 2019 showed that 64% of the British workforce has entrepreneurial dreams but an incredible 41% of those are put off setting up their own business by money fears.
In 2016, Hiscox and Bloomberg carried out research showing that 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start a business fail within the first 18 months. Cash flow is listed as the number one reason for failure.
Cash Is King
No surprise then, that my latest blog is all about cash. That four-letter-word which proves so critical to everything we do in business. At Streamlion, we help businesses to find funding for their entrepreneurial dreams but to do that effectively, we need to really focus in on cash.
Love or loathe the saying, but cash really is king.
Creating a cashflow forecast
When entrepreneurs work with Streamlion to arrange a business loan, we take a detailed look at cashflow forecasts, plotting out how and when they expect to make their sales.
Often, simply by undertaking this task, business owners give real thought to the incomings and outgoings of their business for the first time. It’s easy to think in ‘big handfuls’ when planning a business concept or launch but getting down to the finer detail will quickly expose unsafe assumptions or gaps in your business plan.
Doing a cashflow forecast at an early stage in the life of the business is also a great way to get into the habit of continually updating it. Cashflow isn’t something we glance at now and again. As a successful business owner, you need to have a clear view of your cash situation at pretty much every given moment.
That’s because, even if you have the funding you require to start the business, your cash can also be affected by late payment of invoices. This is an ongoing problem for the majority of Britain’s SMEs. In fact, during 2018, accounting software business FreeAgent found that just 58% of invoices were paid on time or within a 3-day window of their due date.
Gary Turner, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Xero puts this problem into sharp focus:
“Late payments don’t just damage business finances and relationships, they compromise personal finances and relationships. Our research illustrates how getting paid on time can have a dramatic effect on a small business owner’s happiness. When small businesses struggle, the whole of the UK struggles.”
Clarity of cashflow is key to decision making
Having a medium-term view of your cashflow is critical when it comes to business operations. When you run a business, you continually need to make sound decisions, often quickly. Whether your biggest customer goes bankrupt and can’t pay their latest invoice, or emergency investment is needed, you need to know whether the business can cope with the situation financially.
A sudden interruption to cashflow can be catastrophic for SME businesses. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, combatting late payments could keep an additional 500,000 businesses open every year.
The statistics are compelling. Positive cashflow is key to survival unless you have the funding you need to ride out the tricky times. Funding is always at a preferable rate if applied for in advance, so having the information you need, at the click of a button, gives you and your business a distinct advantage.
As recently as 2018, the government committed to improving the late payment situation by affording protection to smaller businesses, who are the main sufferers when larger companies take too long to pay. So, the issue has been recognised, but we’re yet to see any firm legislation. Let’s hope our leaders can see the benefit of supporting entrepreneurship and work harder to ensure the UK retains its reputation as one of the best countries in the world in which to start a business.
I’ve been having a lot of fun recently working with some serial entrepreneurs – on their business strategies and helping them get start-up funding for their next new ventures. These founders have already started, managed, grown and sold successful small businesses in the past and have the appetite and know-how to do it all over again… And again. They are pretty awesome.
So, how do they do this? How do they land on a good idea and make it a reality? How do they spot when to get financial help, when to spend on expert advice and with whom, how much to spend on marketing, PR and Social Media, which manufacturers and suppliers to use and when to take on staff? I can tell you how – they set themselves realistic expectations and aren’t afraid to take out finance in the start-up phase to give them the boost they need to get going.
I’ve heard many a small business owner say – “Oh, I don’t want to borrow any money – I’ll keep on working full time and put what I can into my idea and take it from there”. The problem with this is that many great ideas “seize the moment” and are the answer to current business or social problems or indeed current phases/trends. If you wait too long, the moment will have passed and you will have missed it.
So, how do you set yourself realistic expectations? I believe in these 5 golden rules:
- Know your market; know your customer; know your business – this is the KEY. Successful entrepreneurs know exactly who they are selling to and what those customers want to buy. Get that right and you have your business.
- Have enough cash to set up – take out a Start-up loan or other means of finance so that you can do what you need to do in the start-up months. Start-up loans are unsecured and each Director can borrow up to £25K.
- Take time to do a proper Business Plan and Financial Forecast – pay an outside consultant to do this for you if necessary as they will accurately capture your projected order book and record all expenses. There may be hidden costs that you might have overlooked that would give an unrealistic margin expectation. To have an independent view adds great value.
- Monitor your expenses and spend when you can afford it – we all know that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, so make sure that you have a sensible roll-out plan in accordance with your business plan. As revenue comes in and grows, then fixed expenses can be taken on.
- Be confident, resilient and enthusiastic – if you don’t love your business and have the staying power to make it succeed, then it is hard for others/employees to feel the enthusiasm.
So, back to my entrepreneurs. They have got it and it’s this realism that will make these small businesses grow, at pace, to become buoyant, lucrative and successful future companies.
Are you just crazy madly busy at the moment? Do you feel that you are juggling so many balls and just praying that they stay in the air and don’t all come crashing down? It’s a common theme I’m hearing amongst my SME colleagues and friends at this time of year and we all know why – our work/life balance is out of kilter!!
When you are a solo entrepreneur or “solopreneur” you manage everything yourself – selling new products and services to give you billable revenue for the future months, delivering the services that you have already sold plus all the associated admin work that comes with running a business – bookkeeping, invoicing, quoting, writing proposals, marketing, PR and Social Media. Each one of those tasks is a full-time job in itself and I haven’t even mentioned putting time aside to brainstorm and plan your company growth! Plus of course, my all-time favourite – customer service! You need to nurture and spend time with your existing customers too.
But how do you manage your time to make sure that you are still getting a good work/life balance and making sure that you give yourself some precious “down” time??
These last few weeks I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, selling and delivering work and also trying to carve out time to spend with my young son. I haven’t been succeeding on the latter! I mean, that’s the reason why I left the corporate world in the first place – to run my own show and be able to spend quality time with my lovely boy as he grows up.
So, time to get that balance back by designing my own life. But how do I set and enforce the boundaries that I want to live by but also get everything done that I need to do? By making small adjustments to my everyday – the small things matter. With the smallest investments in the right place, I can make a real difference.
So, here are my 5 “small things”:
(1) Make sure that I do something mentally relaxing every day – be that walking the dogs or having a quick coffee with a friend. It doesn’t have to be all morning or I will start to panic about time lost but just 20 mins/half an hour to give me time to pause for breath!
(2) Get more sleep. We all know that sleep deprivation impacts mental ability and falling asleep on the keyboard isn’t productive!
(3) No phones at bedtime – put the phone on sleep mode. Emails can wait until the morning.
(4) Keep my sense of humour – laughter is most definitely the best medicine.
(5) Hug my son every day.
I’ll let you know how I get on!