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Strategies for Achieving Business Growth in a Stagnant Economy
In a recent episode of The Money Show with Pavlo, the focus was on achieving growth for businesses, particularly in the challenging economic landscape of South Africa. Despite the stagnant growth of the economy, Pavlo shared invaluable insights and strategies for business owners to navigate and thrive. Let’s delve into some of the key takeaways:
Embrace a Growth Mindset
Pavlo emphasised the importance of adopting a growth mindset. In a stagnant economy, it’s crucial for business owners to shift their thinking towards growth opportunities. Being open to new ideas and continuous learning is essential for identifying and seizing growth prospects.
Understand the Economic Climate
While the overall economy might be stagnant, not all industries experience the same growth rates. Pavlo highlighted the significance of understanding industry dynamics and identifying sectors with higher growth potential. By focusing efforts on growth-oriented industries, business owners can capitalise on emerging opportunities.
Invest in Scalability
Scaling a business can be daunting, especially in uncertain economic times. However, Pavlo stressed the importance of building scalable systems and processes. By investing in infrastructure that can support growth, businesses can expand without compromising efficiency or profitability.
Differentiate from Competitors
In a market where many businesses are complacent or resistant to change, those with a growth mindset have a competitive advantage. Pavlo urged business owners to innovate and differentiate themselves from competitors. By offering unique value propositions and constantly evolving, businesses can attract customers and gain market share.
Focus on Profitability
Growth shouldn’t come at the expense of profitability. Pavlo cautioned against pursuing revenue growth without considering profitability. Instead, he encouraged businesses to focus on increasing profitability alongside expansion. Smart growth strategies should aim to enhance both revenue and profitability, ensuring sustainable, long-term success.
Measure Success Holistically
When evaluating growth, it’s essential to look beyond revenue figures. Pavlo advised business owners to consider factors such as increased customer base, market share expansion, and improved profitability. By taking a holistic approach to measuring success, businesses can assess their growth trajectory accurately.
Achieving business growth in a stagnant economy requires a proactive approach, strategic thinking, and a willingness to adapt. By embracing a growth mindset, understanding industry dynamics, investing in scalability, differentiating from competitors, prioritising profitability, and measuring success comprehensively, business owners can navigate challenges and unlock opportunities for sustainable growth.
Unveiling the Blueprint for Scaling Sales: Essential Insights for Business Owners
In the dynamic realm of business growth, the journey to scaling sales is both an art and a science. Understanding the intricacies of this process is key for business owners aiming to unlock their company’s full potential. Let’s explore invaluable insights, shedding light on essential lessons for businesses looking to scale their sales successfully.
Sales: The Core of Business Success
At the heart of every thriving business lies a robust sales strategy. Sales are the lifeblood of any enterprise, regardless of whether it offers products or services. Without a well-defined sales engine, growth and success become challenging.
The Science of Selling: A Delicate Balance
Drawing parallels between the artisanal craft of baking and the science of selling, we find a delicate balance required for success. Much like precision in baking, sales demand a systematic approach. This intersection of science and art becomes the foundation for sustainable business growth.
The Funding and Sales Conundrum: Finding the Right Mix
A common misconception among business owners is the belief that a great product alone can propel a business to success. But a stellar product is only one half of the equation. The other half involves establishing a robust formula for commercial success, with a well-oiled sales engine driving the process.
Navigating the Digital Evolution: Ground Presence Matters
In an ever-evolving digital landscape, the shift from relying solely on digital platforms to find clients and customers, to the importance of establishing a physical presence is critical. Finding motivated salespeople is a global challenge, underscoring the necessity of a dedicated team on the ground to connect with customers on a personal level.
The Secret of Selling: Understanding Your Customer
The core of selling is understanding your customer. Instead of immediately presenting your product’s features, start by comprehending your customer’s problems and needs. Building this initial connection sets the stage for a successful sales process.
Building a Scalable Sales Engine: The Key to Long-Term Success
Building a scalable sales engine involves creating systems that consistently deliver on promises to customers. By prioritising the development of a reliable sales team and system, business owners can focus on growth rather than mere maintenance.
As businesses navigate the challenges of scaling, embracing these lessons becomes a pivotal step towards sustained growth and success. Learn more in this podcast discussion on the sales engine, from The Money Show:
Business endurance lessons from Nyad
In the dynamic landscape of business, the ability to navigate challenges and uncertainties is paramount for success. As we step into 2024, a year filled with global elections, geopolitical tensions, and economic complexities, the need for strategic planning and purpose-driven leadership is more critical than ever. Drawing inspiration from an unexpected source, Pavlo Phitidis shares his thoughts on how the world of business can glean valuable lessons from the extraordinary journey of Diana Nyad, a world record holding long distance swimmer.
Setting the Destination:
In a recent discussion on “The Money Show,” Pavlo & Bruce Whitfield, shared insights into the challenges and opportunities awaiting in 2024. Recognizing the turbulent waters ahead, Pavlo turned to a surprising source for inspiration – a movie called “Nyad.” The film follows Diana Nyad’s quest to swim from Cuba to Florida, a 100-mile journey through shark-infested waters and unpredictable conditions.
Nyad’s journey became a metaphor for setting a destination in the business world. As Pavlo noted, “Without a destination, you’re going to be swimming in circles.” In the context of business, having a clear vision and purpose is essential to guide strategic decisions and overcome obstacles.
Lessons from Nyad’s Journey:
Diana Nyad’s determination and resilience offer profound insights for business owners facing challenges. Her journey wasn’t just about conquering a physical feat; it was driven by a deep purpose to achieve something remarkable. A key takeaway from the movie is the importance of defining a destination and building a team around that shared goal.
Pavlo emphasizes, “Destination matters.” Without a clear vision, businesses risk swimming aimlessly, unable to attract the right talent and resources. The parallel drawn between Nyad’s swim and business ownership highlights the significance of planning, teamwork, and unwavering commitment.
Team Collaboration: Nyad’s success wasn’t a solo effort. Behind her remarkable achievement were a coach, a navigator, a nutritionist, and a team dedicated to her vision. In the business world, Pavlo draws parallels to successful entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. Each of them began with a vision, assembling teams that shared their passion and commitment.
Dealing with Failure: The conversation delves into the fear of failure, acknowledging that failure is often seen as a black mark. However, the lesson from Nyad’s journey and the experiences of renowned inventors like Thomas Edison is that persistence and relentless pursuit of a goal lead to success.
Purpose Beyond Fame: One notable aspect of Nyad’s story is her pursuit of a greater purpose beyond fame or fortune. As Phitidis observes, “Diana Nyad never did what she did to be famous.” This echoes the idea that a business should be driven by a purpose that goes beyond financial success, leaving a lasting impact on the world.
As we navigate the business obsctacles of 2024, the lessons from Diana Nyad’s extraordinary swim resonate deeply. Setting a destination, building a committed team, embracing failure as part of the journey, and finding purpose beyond personal gain are crucial elements for enduring success in the business world. Let Nyad’s journey inspire business leaders, to swim with purpose and resilience, overcoming challenges to reach their desired destinations.
Elite Business: The six phases of business leadership to deliver your legacy
In this article, originally featured in Elite Business: To create wealth as a business owner, you need to change how and what you lead over time.
Wealth creation is a strategy, not luck. As a business owner, embracing change is vital to remain relevant, grow, and win in a noisy and competitive market. It’s essential to wealth creation.
Across your lifespan as a business owner, how you lead your business determines your wealth creation outcome. As your company grows, how you lead and direct it must change to ensure it becomes your greatest wealth-generating asset.
Using a framework against which to know when and how to change the way you lead a business is helpful. I’ve noticed six distinct shifts in leadership attention and direction that enable the likelihood that your business and career generate wealth and a legacy.
Positioning growth leadership
This is about understanding what business you are in defined not by your product or service but by who you serve, what problem your product or service solves for them and what the ideal engagement experience would be to favour your business above competitors. When you start, it’s about serving anyone and everyone in your industry. It ends when you can prioritise less than a handful of segments you want to dominate in the future. This engagement experience includes how to market, sell, fulfill and retain your customers and forms the blueprint of your business model.
Organic growth leadership
Once we know what business we are in and who our customer segments are, the next phase of leadership centres on scaling your customer engagement and fulfilment system using the blueprint. Put differently, it is about building commercial processes and systems, which you can delegate to a team that will create a reliable, consistent customer experience. Getting this right is vital to release your time from daily operations to deliver the next phase of leadership growth.
Accelerated growth leadership
At this point, at least 70% of your attention should focus on accelerating your growth to dominate your segments by deepening your market share of the segments you have chosen to dominate. For example, if a furniture manufacturer decides to dominate the SOHO segment, calculate its approximate value and ensure you develop and enable market access strategies, campaigns and relationships that deepen your market share.
Next-level growth leadership
As you deepen your share of the segment you’ve defined your business against, the next phase of leadership is about de-risking your exposure to that segment and deepening your profitability. In my book, Sweat-Scale-Sell, I highlight the trickiness of this phase of leadership through the story of Jack the Baker.
Having positioned his business to solve the requirement of 365-fresh-baked-goods for continental breakfast to hotels, he created the ideal experience with his team to dominate this segment in the hospitality industry. His next-level growth play saw him translate the same proposition into the supermarket segment across food retail to solve the problem of morning trade.
It brought in a new source of revenue that could be serviced off his scalable fulfilment platform, necessitating only a moderate cost increase. The “yawn” between revenue and costs dropped down to the bottom line and a significant shift in profitability. The key to next-level growth is that leveraging your fulfilment platform solves the same problem. It was and remains the blueprint against which his brand, commercial system and team had become expert at delivering.
Capital growth leadership
This phase ensures you lock in your business value for a successful capital exit. From start to exit, over a 20–30-year period, a business built and led against the above framework should achieve a capital exit above £50m.
Yes, it is possible, and you can do it. I’ve seen this year in and out across the UK, USA and EU companies. Retiring in the sun by the sea is for the birds, bringing us to the final phase of leadership.
Legacy growth leadership
The opportunity to create a Family Office to house the capital gained from an exit is worth considering. Set aside a portion of the funds within your Family Office to invest in a few early-stage companies within the industry in which you have successfully built your now-former business. You will have the network and relationships to spot young winners who benefit from your knowledge, insight, relationships, and mentorship. Investing in them can keep you in the game at a strategic level, not a daily grind, and allow you to remain relevant and enjoy a life of purpose and meaning.
Wealth has three elements: Make money, the first 2 phases; Grow money – the subsequent 2 phases. And Protect money, the last 2 phases. Having a plan to make it happen is as important as enacting it. It will set you apart from the 94.6% of businesses started that ultimately close. It will also let you continue serving humankind, arguably a key to a rich, fulfilling and contended life.
Elite Business: Lead you must, so set the right destination!
In this article, originally featured in Elite Business: A goal that can’t be measured is meaningless, you need to calculate the numerical value of the business you’re working towards
A business owner has little choice but to lead their business. And you cannot lead without a destination or goal to guide and direct your leadership. So, what should it be?
I always ask about the future when I meet with a business owner. It’s the only thing we have control over. Mostly, in response to my opening line, “Where do you want to be in 3-5 years from now?”, answers talk about doubling growth or reaching a leading brand status. Alternatively, it is to exit the business, but without a clearly stated value.
I’ve always found these vague answers limiting as a destination. A better approach is to create a framework to lead that incorporates the entire business and team.
A business is a dynamic system of people, products, activities, and money. A single metric or two does not cater to this complexity and is not sophisticated enough to drive the well-being of a business and its intended outcome or destination.
Your company’s enterprise value offers a comprehensive, yet simple-enough-to-manage destination. It requires that you understand how your company would be valued, and the good news is that company valuation is largely in your control. It has five primary levers that you can design, build, manage and pull in your favour to maximise your valuation. At the same time, these “levers” incorporate your team, products, services, customers, and suppliers. It is decidedly comprehensive yet simple.
The levers of valuation can primarily be presented in 5 areas of attention.
Positioning:How do you differentiate your business in the eyes of customers?
To strategically position your business for growth, it is imperative to differentiate it in customers’ eyes by clearly defining your target audience, addressing their problems, and crafting a unique and compelling customer experience. Identify the segments you serve and articulate the value proposition you offer to each.
Measure your success by overall market growth and assess your segment market share expansion. This approach ensures a focused and tailored strategy that resonates with your audience, fostering sustainable business development.
A system of delivery: How do you achieve consistent, reliable customer experiences?
To establish consistent and reliable customer experiences, integrate commercial functions within a unified system to streamline your business positioning. It involves aligning various customer identification, acquisition, fulfilment, and retention activities. By focusing on the seamless coordination of these elements, businesses can achieve a standardised and dependable approach to customer interactions, ensuring continuity and reliability throughout the entire customer journey.
Measure the effectiveness of each commercial function by tracking key outcomes resulting from the activities within the integrated system.
A purposeful team: How do you always get the right people to do the right thing?
To consistently align actions with strategic goals you need a deliberate approach to human resources. Recruit and train new hires to operate the systems that deliver your business positioning. By cultivating a workforce that understands and executes their roles within the overarching business strategy, you can foster a culture where the right people consistently contribute to achieving the right outcomes, enhancing overall organisational effectiveness.
To gauge success, measure staff retention rates and performance outcomes against specific job descriptions.
Growth: How do you grow revenue and profitability?
Accelerate growth by harnessing the power of your scalable commercial platform. If you have pulled the first three levers, the platform now has the capacity to handle increasing demands and adapt to evolving business needs.
Evaluate success through clear metrics, measuring not only overall revenue growth but also assessing improvements in profitability. This approach ensures that as your business expands, the commercial platform remains a dynamic and efficient engine for sustained growth, allowing you to capitalise on emerging opportunities and optimise financial performance.
Dependencies: How do you secure your value?
To secure your business’s enduring value, focus on the succession and transfer of operational and managerial responsibilities. Develop a robust plan that systematically identifies key roles; documents critical processes; and grooms internal talent. By ensuring a smooth transition of duties, you strengthen the organisation’s foundation, mitigating risks associated with key personnel changes. This strategic focus safeguards the continuity of operations. It contributes to your business’s long-term sustainability and resilience, solidifying its intrinsic value.
Applying your time and attention to these five levers and creating a framework around them lets you lead with purpose, intent, and consistency. Suppose you go further and involve your leadership team in defining the framework. In that case, it brings the efforts of your leadership team and their teams together within a framework everyone understands and is governed by.
Leadership is about building confidence and clarity of purpose. It’s about getting your people on board and ensuring you are sailing towards one articulated destination. Getting it right is hard until it is not. The starting point is choosing that destination.
Elite Business: Remote work is for the birds
In this article, first published in Elite Business, Pavlo puts a question mark on remote working.
Businesses are about people. And people are about skills, thinking and action. If your people are less than that, you should be looking at technology to do that person’s job. It’s more reliable, dependable and far easier to manage. But it won’t create magic, innovation or culture across your business. People will and do. Remote working puts a question mark on that.
Here are some reasons why.
When a problem arises, the ability to immediately resolve it by pulling people into a room before it cannot be done remotely. And if the problem and its solution need a multidisciplinary approach, which most problems do, then the right people in the room can step out after and all do what needs doing to get the job done.
As your business grows, it is even more critical because the people in the room might have to coordinate and organise their teams to get the job done. It’s instant, and when it comes to retaining clients and building a brand (problem resolution builds a brand better than any marketing campaign), you need to get it done there and then.
Culture and value
Culture is nebulous, yet without one, your business creates a staccato experience for suppliers, customers, and employees. Values create the nous that enables your business and its employees to operate against an intuitive framework when needed. This intuition or unconscious response develops over time. It doesn’t build from the values stated in your website or reception wall but through living, breathing and observing the behaviour of all business employees, especially its leaders.
If values create the framework and culture of the behaviour about what a company stands for, the best way to learn it is in person. Imagine a scenario where an employee enters the office of a manager. The door closes. A few minutes later, the employee leaves the office, pale and slightly stressed. Your colleague sitting next to you asks what went down. You explain what that employee did, and through that, you learn the authentic culture and values of that company. A word indicating a value, be it integrity, honesty, etc. means very little until it is understood and witnessed in practice.
Learning and training
While aspects of employee training are best offered online and therefore accessible remotely, the context, the application and the improvement of an employee’s performance arguably cannot be. We learn by doing not online engagements and content. Observation and “show and tell” are far more impactful ways of developing capability in your employees. Imagine trying to learn kung fu remotely rather than in the ring. Only when a punch lands do you genuinely understand how to take the theory and put it into a useful practice suited to your inherent abilities. The same goes for riding a bicycle, managing a project, managing a team, collecting a debtor book or selling.
Beyond a job, why do people opt to work in your business? I’ll put it into context in a recent meeting with a global law firm specialising in tax. Their brand exciting and innovative brand operates across a federation of autonomous companies operating in 169 countries. In the past, they won recruits with their innovative approach to tax, assured learning and very quick exposure to exciting clients. Their vibrancy won them talent before bigger firms’ cold, hard salary packages. But, they have found that remote working has directly prevented the handover of relationships from senior partners to junior partners and associates. It has harmed the transfer of knowledge on the subject matter, the personalities making up a client, the industry, and it has stunted the ability of senior partners to pick junior partners effectively and for junior partners in return to compete to work with promising associates.
Remote working is a privilege, not a right. If you are attracting employees who demand it, consider moving on. They are there for their comfort rather than the well-being of the business as active, engaged, committed contributors who go beyond fulfilling a functional role.
When is there a case for remote work? It should be part of your business-building toolkit. How to use it, when and where and then how to manage it is a future article.
Positioning Your Business for Success: A Blueprint for Standing Out in the Marketplace
In the ever-changing landscape of business, where startups can skyrocket or vanish overnight, the journey from small business owner to industry veteran is nothing short of remarkable. What should you do when you’ve built a successful business over two, three, or four decades? Should you retire, or should you continue running the show until the end?
The Power of Positioning
Positioning transcends mere marketing—it’s the cornerstone upon which your business is constructed. It shapes your business’s identity, moulds its culture and values, and, when executed effectively, propels revenue and capital growth. To secure a competitive edge, business owners must understand their fundamental positioning and use them as a strategic guide to success.
Defining Your Purpose
Your business’s purpose is more than merely generating profits; it revolves around problem-solving. To unearth your genuine purpose, think about your skills, aptitudes, and interests Start by identifying the problem you aspire to resolve, its cost to your customers, and the impact it has on their lives. Your purpose should revolve around addressing this problem effectively.
Shaping Your Products or Services
Once you’ve ascertained your purpose, it’s time to craft products or services that harmonise with it. Instead of starting with what you can offer, initiate your journey with the problem you’re resolving. This method ensures that your offerings are relevant and invaluable to your target audience. A profound understanding of the problem’s cost empowers you to set the appropriate pricing strategy and generate added value for your clients.
Crafting a Memorable Customer Experience
Your business’s purpose and offerings should organically lead to an exceptional customer experience. This experience transcends a mere transaction; it revolves around your interactions with customers. When your purpose and offerings resonate with your clients, they will feel understood and valued. This, in turn, paves the way for positive engagement and word-of-mouth marketing, thus creating a potent cycle of growth.
The Art of Saying Yes and No
Discerning when to say yes and when to say no is one of the most intricate aspects of positioning. In the early phases of business, saying yes to every opportunity is a common tactic to maintain positive cash flow. However, as you acquire a deeper understanding of your purpose and problem-solving capabilities, you must learn to decline opportunities that do not align with your positioning strategy. This discernment is pivotal for sustaining your focus and establishing a robust brand.
Positioning your business for success involves grasping your purpose, aligning your products or services with that purpose, and delivering an unforgettable customer experience. By concentrating on these components and mastering the art of saying yes or no, you can differentiate your business from the competition and establish a distinct and compelling position in the marketplace.
To listen to the full discussion from the show:
Elite Business: Crack the skills crisis
In this article, originally featured in Elite Business, Pavlo explores the topic of the UK’s GBP6.6 billion skills gap, exacerbated by inflation and tech advances, demanding attention. To succeed, prioritise growth and talent. Build a resilient business model and hire system operators to navigate the skills crisis and pursue higher growth.
Skills are short globally. In the UK, the skills gap cost businesses an estimated GBP6.6 billion. The subsequent challenges of inflation, war in Europe, and the accelerated adoption of AI and other technologies can only have increased this.
This shortage of skills is not a problem if you don’t want to grow. There are two parts to this comment.
If you’re not growing, you’re dying because your competitors intend to, and in a low-growth environment, their growth will come from eating your lunch. Add inflation, and you are eroding the value you have built thus far. If you opt not to grow, look to exit and realise your value before it whittles away.
If you want to grow, there are two options. First, grow to maintain what you have. This pegs your annual growth rate at inflation, the tepid country growth rate, and your industry growth rate. It approximates 8% per annum. At this level, you are maintaining what you have. To grow beyond what you have, your growth rate should add another 5-10%, depending on your ambition.
In the instance of growth, you need a plan, and that plan needs two things. First, and most importantly, your time and attention to focus on growth. Next, a business model and team that allows your time and attention to focus on growth. Both mean you need to have a good team on board of the right people doing the right thing at the right time.
Across businesses I visit the following constraints regarding human talent become apparent.
- I need help finding the right people.
- I have people in senior roles who don’t have the skills or mindset to get the job done without my regular support and guidance.
- It takes ages for new employees to get up to speed and wash their faces.
- My “rock-star” employee is constantly toying with other opportunities.
The employment challenge is here to stay. Demographically, each year sees fewer people entering the workforce. Over 2.8m working people are sick, waiting for operations. About 500 000 able, capable 50 years and older, experienced people opted for early retirement.
If structure determines behaviour, build your business to accommodate the skills challenge.
A business does not just emerge. It is built against an operating model. Your operating model must sympathise with the challenges of growth, size, and shifts in the economy.
However, the bones of the operating model that will resolve many of your human capital challenges remain the same.
It begins with defining your business in terms of the customer segments you serve rather than the features and criteria of your products and services.
Understanding these segments, what problem you solve for them, and what experience they want in the process forms the blueprint of your operating model.
Using the blueprint, build the operating processes and systems to deliver that outcome reliably. Systems are sequential activities that bring the experience of the blueprint to life, and that can be taught and measured. Do this across all your commercial functions that comprise that customer experience blueprint. In each function, these activities make up a job description.
You can now hire people, not because they bring some of their superstar ability to the role, but because they can be evaluated and trained against the activities in their employed function.
Hiring system operators, rather than mavericks and gurus, has several benefits:
Recruitment is simplified as you can assess through simple questions whether someone has the experience or capability to perform the tasks that make up the system.
Your employees are motivated and have a purpose as they know what to do and when to do it, to achieve a specific outcome. Their performance can be measured and managed.
Your business becomes less reliant on you, as the systems that underpin it are documented, trainable, and don’t depend on a few superstars to get things done.
This unlocks your time to focus on next-level growth despite the skills crisis.
BUSINESS LEADER: Dying at your desk should be lauded
In this article, first published in Business Leader, Pavlo argues that retirement is for the birds, certainly if you are a business owner. Creating a business is hard.
I was recently absorbed in a debate about retirement with a highly accomplished business owner. Having started her business 26 years ago after a successful corporate career of 12 years, we met to talk about growth. But that’s not how it started. Originally, we were meeting to discuss her company’s valuation.
Our conversation felt light, fleeting, almost whimsical. Something was wrong. It was as if she was going through the motions of the conversation that she felt she should have.
“You have no interest in selling your business,” I remarked eventually. She looked surprised at my comment. After briefly pausing, she said, “I’d hate to sell it. But I’m in my 60s, and the pressure is immense. Family and friends are asking why I want to carry on. The debates get testy when, in casual conversation, I talk about new products, new markets, and new opportunities.”
“What is the response when you do?” I asked. “When is enough, enough. Aren’t you being greedy? You have earned the right to retire and other such comments,” she said, smiling tentatively.
The business owner’s odyssey
These kinds of comments come from many sources:
- Peers who are corporate employees that either face a forced retirement, experience work as a political battlefield, or have lived a life in a narrow functional silo
- Friends or family who want more of your time or envy your achievements
- In family business scenarios, your successors may well want to lead and take the business in a different direction
- Other business owners who, as competitors or friends, have a different lived experience of building, growing, and managing their companies, and who, exasperated, want out and project their lived experience onto you
- Finally, the ‘Joneses’, where the collective view of life is that you work to earn your retirement and that is a key indicator of success.
But here’s the thing. Most business owners I’ve met do what they do for more than the economy. Through their business, they find inspiration, meaning, friendship and purpose. These are the ingredients of meaning. And when work becomes more than economy and meaning becomes the greatest driver behind why you do what you do, retirement is not a likely ambition.
The art of legacy building
It may sound idealistic, but I’ve witnessed it repeatedly. I think back to the first real client I had 16 years ago. A successful industrial baker who, after 27 years, had built a respectable £5.8m annual revenue business and wanted out. Unable to fetch the price he wanted, and a need to retire with dignity and pride, we met to discuss what needed to be done. I asked why he wanted to sell. “Every day feels like a grind, a slog, and as much as I have invested in my team, I’m square and centre of daily, weekly and monthly operations. I’ve tried to delegate and let go. I’ve tried to work ‘on’ my business, not ‘in’ it. I’m fed up. What I loved has become a choke around my neck.”
He vented for some time, and eventually, we mapped out a path to attract the valuation he wanted. 16 years on, with annual revenues approaching £100m, he remains fully invested and at the helm of his business. Each year, I ask him, are you ready to retire? He laughs and says, “Next year.”
If structure determines behaviour, how you build and grow your business will determine how you spend your time and attention. Should you find yourself experiencing growth that is stuck or stagnant, or alternatively, chaotic, and complex, you will tire, and retirement will be attractive.
It’s not how it has to be. The right blueprint to inform the design and development of your business will release your time to focus on the things that feed your soul.
John Milton’s (1608-1674) sonnet, “on his blindness,” captures the idea beautifully. He argues that everyone has a talent, and the job of life is to put that talent into service of humankind. Creating a business is hard. Building and growing it is hard. The trials and tribulations are what create meaning and value. Retiring such a talent robs us all of future prosperity.
Dying at your desk, then, indeed, is a life fully lived.
Elite Business: There is more foam in the AI coffee than actual coffee right now
In this article, originally featured in Elite Business, Pavlo Phitidis explores the notion that while AI may not propel your business growth in the immediate future, grasping its potential value and applications is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge.
Recently, I grabbed a to-go coffee between meetings. As the coffee arrived, I tapped and left. It felt light, given the size of the cup. I lifted the lid and stared into the foamy abyss. Using the wooden stirring stick as a dipstick, I realised my large coffee was 70% foam!
It’s much like the current hype about AI.
If the job of a coffee is to have the caffeine keep you racy, pacy and alert, why the big cup if it is 70% foam? We buy with our eyes, and the psychological economics of different cup sizes and price points makes for smart retailing.
The same triggers in our brain that let us buy with our eyes activate around the AI hype feeding hope and fear. And the world of AI did a great job of it with the introduction of ChatGPT earlier this year. And that is where it feels like it has stayed.
In response to the impact of ChatGPT, we sprang into action and spoke to our teams. The message was clear. You’re fired if you ever approach me with a question that ChatGPT could answer. However, if you ever come forward with an answer that ChatGPT provided and that you could not explain or argue, you’re equally fired. Two juxtaposed positions are dramatised for impact but point to a simple, clear message. Get with it on tech, or you are no longer relevant in the world of future commerce, and that future is now.
Mindset matters, and adopting the right one to technology is essential to stay relevant and solvent. But mindset on tech is not enough to use it effectively and profitably.
Over the last 6 months since ChatGPT sprung into the market, we’ve reviewed multiple AI solutions or strategies proposed by clients across most industries. By far, most have been theoretical in value or moribund in reality. I write from the position of established mid-sized businesses with annual revenues between £5m-£75m.
Theoretical in value
Be it the hype, noise and thousands of AI hack infographics on LinkedIn; videos on YouTube and articles in the digisphere, the world of possibility is interesting but not practical. From taking jobs, doing jobs, and creating new jobs, what started fast has slowed as quickly. Bringing real productivity gains into your business without losing a distinctive personality remains a hope and dream rather than an accessible, practical reality. Building AI is hard and expensive, monetising it across a broad landscape through SaaS offerings and overcrowded app stores is harder.
Moribund in reality
Already, ChatGPT feels like it’s entering this categorisation. Has it become dumber? The quality of answers it offers on mostly similar questions I asked over the last 6 months has waned. It has left me wondering if a suite of privacy interventions has compromised its ability to generate more meaningful and robust answers. Even prompt engineering hardly distinguishes one answer from the next. Across marketing, content generation seems to have peaked already, with little or no impact on the cost and investment in time and money to use the ocean of AI options.
A profitable reality
Across more than 3,000 companies, we see an approach, rather than a neat AI app, win the day on digitisation and AI solutions. However, it’s not about a hack or infographic on bringing AI into your business profitably. Like most successful acts in business, it goes down to the basic principles of what informs your action in building your business and step-by-step patient work.
First, know what business you are in. It has nothing to do with your product or service whose sole job is to solve a problem for your customer. It is all about who that customer is. Broad definitions of customers harm your ability to get this crisp and clear. Narrow definitions of customer are notoriously hard to get right. Yet, they are the blueprint against which your business should be defined, built and shaped.
Second, articulate your commercial activities, processes and procedures using this blueprint. How they are designed and implemented must be determined by that blueprint. The smart way to do this is with your team. Their involvement will create ownership and accountability as well as measured outcomes.
Finally, these activities hold the key to digitisation and AI adoption. Whether across marketing, sales, fulfilment, administration or procurement, inefficiencies and dull processing requirements are the first areas that lend to digitisation. Try it with your functional teams. Ask what is the most tedious part of their job and start there. Take that activity and see how it can be digitised using off-the-shelf or native software.
Don’t put the horse before the cart.
What is critical in this process is that you start at the beginning and define your business. For example, adopting software to digitise a marketing or sales process not designed and characterised by your customer segment’s behaviour creates a generic experience. Perhaps we no longer respond to canned marketing emails or automated sales engagements. If you start with the software, you will build what everyone else already has because they use software to create structure and systems, not the lived experience of the people in the organisations that engage and buy answers to problems.
AI is exciting. We have baked it into our platform across 3 areas. It’s working okay. Each week, it gets better as we learn its limitations and potential. Adopting technology is a vital act of leadership. Leading it, adapting it and recognising that it does not hold all the answers but will hold many opportunities is a critical mindset.
Navigating the Road to Retirement: Building a Lasting Legacy in Business
In the ever-changing landscape of business, where startups can skyrocket or vanish overnight, the journey from small business owner to industry veteran is nothing short of remarkable. What should you do when you’ve built a successful business over two, three, or four decades? Should you retire, or should you continue running the show until the end?
The Essence of a Business
A fundamental principle in business is that it should be designed to operate independently. Your business is a living entity, much like a well-functioning organism. So, what should you consider when you find yourself in your 60s or 70s after dedicating a lifetime to your business? Is retirement the next logical step?
Legacy and Purpose
Contrary to common perception, entrepreneurs don’t typically retire solely for financial gain or out of sheer greed. The decision to retire often arises from exhaustion, health concerns, family matters, or a sense of stagnation. These factors raise a fundamental question: What drives business owners to continue or to step away from their enterprises?
I believe there are deeper motivations that underpin the decisions of business owners. The journey of entrepreneurship begins with an audacious act of courage, often driven by necessity. It involves doing things differently, leveraging your skills and knowledge, and creating something unique that leaves an indelible mark on the world. This is the genesis of meaning in one’s entrepreneurial voyage.
Furthermore, business owners must care deeply about their employees, suppliers, and customers. Being in service to others while nurturing creativity adds profound meaning to one’s life. The fusion of creativity and service forms the very essence of an entrepreneur’s existence.
The Challenge of Letting Go
When a business is well-established and capable of operating autonomously, the thought of retirement may cross your mind. But what comes next? This is a question that every aspiring retiree must confront. The routines, habits, and rituals that have defined your daily life suddenly vanish. Where can you find purpose in the post-retirement phase?
Creating a Vision for Progress
One way to ensure a fulfilling transition is by envisioning your role within the industry. Consider the story of an 84-year-old business owner who, due to a lack of innovation and systematization, couldn’t let go of his business. Had he exited at the zenith of his business’s success and reinvested in nurturing emerging businesses within the industry, he would have continued to make a meaningful impact and maintain a sense of purpose.
The journey of a business owner doesn’t have to conclude with retirement. It can transform into a purposeful existence that fuels innovation and contributes to the industry’s growth. These insights remind us that entrepreneurship isn’t just about creating wealth; it’s about crafting lasting legacies that endure beyond one’s lifetime. So, whether you choose to retire or remain at the helm, your decision should align with your vision for a meaningful and impactful journey in the world of business.
To listen to the full discussion from the show:
Unlocking Business Growth: Navigating Stagnation, Stuckness, and Chaos
In the world of business, growth isn’t always a straightforward path. Many business owners, regardless of their experience, encounter three common growth challenges that can leave them feeling frustrated and exhausted. Let’s delve into these challenges and explore strategies for overcoming them.
1. Stagnation: When Growth Hits a Wall
Stagnation in business is like running on a treadmill—you’re expending energy, but you’re not getting anywhere. Business owners often attribute this to external factors, like market conditions or economic fluctuations. However, it’s crucial to recognize that stagnant growth often reflects an inward-looking, passive approach.
The solution? Start by re-evaluating your business mindset. Instead of dwelling on external factors, shift your focus to what you can control. Embrace change, be proactive, and actively seek out growth opportunities. Blaming external factors won’t drive progress, but a change in attitude and approach can.
2. Stuck Growth: Spinning Your Wheels
Stuck growth is akin to trying to move a car out of the mud—you’re putting in effort, but the wheels keep spinning. In this scenario, your business might be making deliberate efforts to expand, but the outcomes remain disappointing.
To break free from this situation, it’s necessary to reconsider your approach and actions. Understand that what worked in the past may no longer be effective in the current business landscape. Re-evaluate your strategies, investments, and operations. Seek expert guidance if required. Don’t persist with the same methods if they’re not yielding results.
3. Chaotic Growth: Thriving Amid Turbulence
Chaotic growth can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Your business is expanding, but it feels like you’re constantly putting out fires. Daily operations become increasingly complex, and you’re pulled in every direction.
To regain control during chaotic growth, focus on establishing a robust foundation. Reorganize your business structure and operational processes. Simplify workflows, delegate responsibilities, and introduce systems that can handle growth efficiently. Building a structured foundation will prevent you from getting bogged down by the daily whirlwind.
Regardless of the growth challenge you’re facing, it all begins with a shift in attitude and approach. Recognize that your business and the business environment are in a constant state of evolution. What worked in the past might not be effective today. Embrace change, take control of your business’s destiny, and adapt to the evolving landscape.
In the words of Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Don’t let these challenges deter you; instead, view them as opportunities to evolve and thrive in the ever-changing business world. Unlock your business’s growth potential by adopting the right mindset and strategies.
To listen to the full discussion from the show: