Ed Brewer, Head of Business Development Coaching for GrowthAccelerator gives his top tips for SMEs looking to fulfil their growth ambitions in 2014
Evolve your plan
Your business plan shouldn’t simply be a piece of paper that sits on a shelf. It should be a live and regularly revisited strategy to keep your business focussed on your goals. Taking time out to work ‘on’ not ‘in’ their business is regularly cited as the biggest challenge faced by the SME leaders GrowthAccelerator works with. Our clients say that working with an independent expert coach helps to focus the attention of the leadership team, finding that an outside opinion helps to balance strategy and hone in on the vital few things that will achieve growth.
Regularly revisiting business plans in this way helps to keep businesses on track, ensuring things are moving in the right direction, and importantly, making changes if they are not.
Marketing: Keep it simple
When asked what they believed to be the biggest driver of revenue growth this year in a December 2013 GrowthAccelerator client survey, over a third (39%) of respondents answered ‘investment in marketing’. The greatest marketing initiatives may be clever and memorable, but what’s most important is that they help a company sell more of its product or service to even more customers. There are many different ways to approach marketing plans, but there are a number of fundamental questions that should form the basis of them. What is your overall objective, or your mission statement? This should underpin everything you’re doing both this year and beyond. Who are you targeting? What is your audience’s need now and how will it change over time? You also need to think about how to reach this audience through effective messaging and choosing the right channels. Keeping a very close eye on your competitors so you know what they are doing. Knowing what you can do this year to set you apart will help give you competitive advantage. Finally, you should consider how much budget and resource you have to execute your plans – and be realistic. Many businesses will already have put together marketing plans for 2014, but the above serves as a checklist to ensure these plans answer all of the important questions.
Think longer term
Business growth is a journey, and whilst 2014 may see a significant part of the route completed, it’s important to look further ahead than just the next 12 months to ensure your growth is sustainable. You should try to give as realistic an expectation as possible of what resources, people and infrastructure you will need to get your business to where you want it to be in the next year, five years and beyond. Otherwise you could find your business in a period of stagnation, with opportunities to grow but not enough people, product or resource to fulfil the need. Many SMEs will work towards one year, five year and even ten year goals. Some work even further ahead. Again, it’s crucial that you take time out to review any plans you have put in place so that you remain energised and can keep things on track.
Get the most out of your people
22 per cent of the respondents from the GrowthAccelerator December client survey cited increasing the size of their team as a key revenue driver for 2014. Undoubtedly, significant business growth is facilitated by taking on more staff, however it is important that you match your requirements to what you want to achieve as detailed in your business plan and that you consider which new hires will really enable your growth this year. You might be planning a significant investment in marketing for the year ahead, and have some challenging objectives that only a marketing expert could fulfil. Whether that’s full or part time is entirely up to you, and when you might need them should also be considered. When evaluating your recruitment needs, you should also scope out each role, looking at how you see it evolving over time. You should also consider whether any of your current team could work alongside or support your new recruit, and if so how you can enable their development towards a broader role. Training should be as much of a consideration as recruitment for the year ahead, because after all, you may already have all of the talent you need for the foreseeable future and it’s important to keep them motivated and engaged by investing in their development.
Foster intrapreneurship in your business
Whilst SMEs are often considered to be entrepreneurial at their very core, it’s easy for the energy and creativity to get swallowed up by the day to day running of the business, particularly if there are ambitious operational challenges which lie ahead. People are attracted to working in high growth businesses by the exciting, fast-paced environment and the greater influence they can have over both their own roles and the direction of company as a whole, so you should promote an ‘intrapreneurship’ culture within your business, encouraging ideas from everywhere and rewarding those that make a difference. Building an innovative working culture serves to enhance the operational and strategic plans you already have in place for 2014, and will also prove beneficial when you regularly revisit your business plans by helping to keep them fresh, exciting and compelling.