The 4am Wakeup Worry: Finding the right strategic support

In this blog series, we explore the worries that hinder the world of high-growth and the concerns that entrepreneurs and business leaders share. David Staveley, CFPro consultant and leading industry and growth expert, shares his own anecdotes and insight on conquering concerns, overcoming stress and building a business that sees long-term growth, and a happy team.

You’re most likely at the point in your business life cycle where you’re ready to scale-up your efforts. You probably know that you need to, but you also probably are acutely aware that you may not have the right skill and expertise to do that. The team may be functioning well, but strategically, you’re in dire need of business support that will help you to expand into the right direction that is right for your business, and you. You may be asking the following questions:

  • Why is it so hard to convince banks to lend, despite the business having sufficient years of accounts to show progression?
  • How do I find the right support that will enable met to take advantage of growth allowances and government support where applicable?
  • I need advice from someone who is experienced in my field and who understands where my business needs to be, but where do I find that mentorship that I need to help spearhead my business into the right direction?
  • My leadership team and board seem to be disjointed and I am simply unable to keep myself up to date to provide the information they need. Where do I find support to make sure my stakeholders are kept happy?

David Says:

We all should know a lot about our businesses but should be realistic enough to recognise that there are other pools of knowledge and experience out there that can help us to move forward too.

In Canada with 400 employees and a significant production facility, I used to limit myself to meeting up with 4 or 5 “Consultants” a year, to pick their brains on the latest business management techniques. IT was obviously a key element of the business and we determined to install an MRPII system to improve throughput and stock turns. (Thanks to this exercise, we went from 2x to 6x per annum stock turns, with an average of about 12 processes for each of our 2500 products).

This was not simply an IT project but a company-wide transformation and driver for culture change. We ensured that everyone, from the third shift operators to the Directors, was involved. The key was melding the business expertise of the IT and business consultants, through a dedicated company project team, to the whole company using their accumulated experience. The benefits of reduction in working capital, improved service and reduced quality complaints would not have been achieved without the participation of the external advisors in direction, implementation and training.

When we decided to introduce an Activity-Based Management system, we not only used the leading external consultants (we were the first organisation outside the auto industry to install that package) but, as extra hands, called on the Group Internal Auditors to support us too – the first time that anyone had actually asked for their help.

When you go through a step change or transition process you need extra hands on deck to get the work done so that the majority of your established employees can get on with their day job and not take their eyes off keeping regular business going. Many firms who try to do it all themselves may establish their new systems or processes successfully but in the meantime they are worse off because they have lost a good chunk of their established business. So it is not only the external experts that you need but also extra hands to either replace your regular staff who have been seconded to the project or assist in the migration of once-off activities.

A similar situation can occur when trying to manage an acquisition or company sale. There is an enormous amount of work involved in Due Diligence and setting up and maintaining data rooms and many a company has lost its steam whilst in the midst of an acquisition or sale process.

But where do you find this external support and expertise?

The first step is to determine exactly what you think you want and then sense-check it. Benchmarking has been a useful tool for many organisations and don’t dismiss it as only for the big boys. It can be very formal and structured or a more ad hoc process where you try to see where other similar outfits (not necessarily in your line of business) are outperforming you and what it is that they are doing differently. There are many ways to obtain this information from talking to customers, suppliers and professional advisors to studying published information and reports.

Once you have determined what you want (which might not be what you first thought) you need to ask around who has successfully helped others to achieve their step changes or improvements. Don’t just take the word of a salesman, but ask to speak to the person who will actually be working with you and be sure to ask for references too – yes there may be confidentiality-related issues but any expert should be able to give a reference who would confirm their professionalism and ability to meet your objectives.

Part of your strategic growth plan should be about having a clear idea as to where you’re going. But more important to that is having the buy-in of all the key participants that will help to get you there; both internal and external. A growth plan should be something that is clearly documented that can easily be referred to and discussed with other key stakeholders such as funders who you may need to support your journey. Remember that for them, they’re looking for clear, accurate ideas – not something that is full of jargon and redundant language. Include a concise Executive summary and be careful to be realistic at all times justifying anything that may appear to be overoptimistic. If you do include a sensitivity analysis, the lower numbers in your report should be what you expect to achieve as this will probably be what funders use!

Finally, always ensure that you have your team’s buy-in to your growth plan. After all, they are the ones which will help to get you there. Contradictions will only create confusion – especially when you’re being tested. Eradicate any confusion and give your team the space to ask questions and develop a complete understanding of what you expect, and what is expected of them too.

If you’re looking for help to get your team and your business ready for growth and to see you through the transition, we can help. Get in touch with us today.

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