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Dig for Gold in Small/Med Businesses

I started my own micro business when I was 10 years old selling vegetables off the allotment I looked after. It did not make a fortune but it taught me so many valuable lessons and these talents have stayed with me all my working life. Every role I have taken, every person I have worked for, or worked with has taught me something I still hold dear today. I have worked for some great people in public, private and voluntary organisations. Serving as an elected official, a volunteer, manager, CEO and then at 22 years of age starting my own “grown up” business, I have been lucky enough to be coached and mentored by some real heroes. After I had success in building my company from £3m to £180m I sold the company. Now I have the joy of continuing to share and learn from everybody I meet; new tools, insights, evaluation methods, innovations which help me develop others.

I have been a business coach for 20 years working with small and medium sized businesses and I get really excited about working with the founders or executive teams of these companies when they want to grow. I don’t work with teams who are happy with the status quo, comfortable with a marginal increase on last years profits or blind to the fact they are stagnant. The shareholders of these companies sip the dividends of stagnancy whilst they slip painlessly into terminal decline to the applause of their competitors.

I choose only to work with hungry, energetic teams who are focused and believe in their potential for growth. Companies that understand growth appreciate that “Growth” has a personality all of its own. Growth provides security, it demands excellence and innovation. Growth does not carry passengers, it employs only the best, rewards winners, cares and adores customers. Growth needs unrelenting effort, passion and focus. Growth sulks when ignored and is jealous when it has to share attention with hobbies, families or pets. Growth is never happy with the levels of service it delivers, it is always grumpy and miserable with the steady state because it knows therein lies a miserable liquidation at some point in the future.

When I walk into a new company I immediately switch into gold digger mentality, I am looking for gold nuggets, I am not interested in gold dust or selling off the family silver. I want to dig deep until I find the big gold nuggets in the company so that we can use to grow, de-risk and stabilise the business. I use special equipment when digging for gold inside small and medium sized companies; calculators, patience, eyes, microscopes and most importantly ears for lots of intense listening. 

Here is my route map for finding gold;

  1. Talk to the front line staff; what can we be doing differently to grow, what barriers can we remove that will make your job easier, what are customers telling you they need which we don’t currently supply?

  2. Talk to customers; what do we do that delights you, what could we do better, who do you think are our closest competitors and why, what is the one thing you would change about the way this company serves you?

  3. Talk to the suppliers; what is happening in the sector that we have missed, what do you supply to our competitors, do you want to co-design a new widget for our sector based on our customer feedback, how could we make ourselves easier to deal with as a customer of yours?

  4. Talk to finance and look at the debtor process and debtor days, look beyond the data to find the financial knowledge of this business and absorb every decimal point.

  5. Talk to procurement and look at the last time we renegotiated our procurement deals, challenge stock holding levels, logistic standards and product ranges.

  6. Visit competitors and ask them what is happening in this market, seek collaboration opportunities, mirror and build upon best practices and consider acquisitions.

  7. Look at export capability within the company and make matches from my networks to secure new markets.

  8. Meet the senior team and test to see if they are the best of the best, test the commitment to training, question the performance management systems and results.

  9. Review the use of technology to find assets, opportunities, waste, abuse, improvements and ways in which technology can simplify or transform the customer experience.

  10. Look at what is on the cutting room floor, waste that can be turned into gold, old products that can be dusted down for less developed markets, staff who’s great ideas never get listened to, customer feedback filed in dusty complaint files hidden in cardboard boxes marked “toxic”.

  11. Hunt down the blockers, the terrorists, the nodders, the shruggers, the “we’ve tried that before mob”, the unofficial shop stewards and assassins of positivity.

  12. Look at Social Media use and see if we are wasting £££s chasing the kings new clothes, or is there something special we can maximise, just because an employee is under 25 and spotty does not mean they are an SEO guru worthy of a huge budget and no KPIs - however some youngsters are worth their weight in gold - make a judgement call and test for gold.

There are more areas to dig for gold, but I don’t like the number 13 so I left it at 12. A fresh pair of eyes is always good, turn over every stone, listen like you have never listened before. Make notes, write it all up in a report. polish and hone it down to an action plan for growth and then annihilate the plan to the point of exhaustion.

I have been very successful in working with founders and their teams to dig for gold, there is no better time to dig for gold than now. Opportunities for growth abound and I am working with companies today who are breaking “best ever” targets, so let us make this happen.

If you follow my plan above I guarantee you will find, gold, glory, happy customers, engaged staff and a much better work life balance (after the exhaustion of driving the growth plan). Shout if I can help or you want to know the rest of the places to look for gold in your business.

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