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Natalie Campbell: How to answer the toughest business growth questions of 2015

16th Jan 15 10:19 am

Great growth advice from the founder of A Very Good Company

We’re only 16 days into the New Year but already I get a sense that colleagues and friends that run companies – large and small – are plotting new, different ways to do business.

Not because they want to. Because they have to.

It’s down to ‘shift’ and ‘influence’.

The world is shifting. Wars are raging. The global economic picture is hazy at best and new technology and digital mediums burst onto the scene daily.

That’s just the external picture. Internally, all employees can ask for flexible working hours (I wonder how many do); working parents have the option to share maternity benefits and mix employment patterns under the shared parental leave scheme (about time); and people are starting to understand that working in oppressive offices with blue or grey carpets and damp ceiling tiles just isn’t healthy. Healthy working environments have had a revival.

There is a long and growing list of things to navigate.

And what about influencers? Across most industries, new technologies, innovative design and a network culture (think the circular economy) have been influencing the bottom line for some time.

To keep your business ahead of the competition nowadays, you need to understand more than your industry and the odd policy change or market.

You need to understand all of the influencers that might derail plans and projects, often without warning.

Recently, I’ve had a few phone calls that go something like this:

  • “Do you know anything about fintech and is it the next big thing?”
  • “Do you know any great freelance staff that enjoy their autonomy but don’t mind being part of the team?”
  • “How do I go about operating out of a politically unstable country, how do I protect the business?”

My friends are lucky that I like them, because usually these questions are asked before they ask how I am! And they aren’t always easy questions to answer.

For the most part, I connect the askers to experts, but their calls have given me insights into what people are talking about around the boardroom table or coffee shop bench.

They are working hard to be ‘disruptive’, ‘responsible’, ‘agile’, ‘unusual’ (as in business-unusual) and profitable.

It’s a hard mix to maintain. If I’m honest, I feel for them.

How to answer those tough (but everyday) questions

I am now teaching all of my start-ups to research and write detailed PESTLE analysis to support their business models – because the world is shifting daily and the ignorant will not survive long-term.

The challenge for most leaders, however, is that with the rate of change and the number of things to keep up with, how do you know you’re doing the right thing both in the short- and long-term?

I guess you don’t, but to help those grappling with the unknown (my friends included), here are my suggestions to help you through 2015 into 2016.

1.   Don’t act out of fear

If you are a start-up or early-stage business in the capital, it is easy to get caught up in industry hype around a trend. You then start planning and plotting based on the desire to be a market leader. Don’t let fear – fear of being left behind or missing out on a magic pot of money – be the basis for decision-making.

2.   Chillax

If you’ve been running for five years or more, I would make 2015 the year you stepped back to watch how the world and markets shift. Get an understanding of what is influencing decision-making.

In the next 18 months we’ll have elections happening all over the world and in major economies. Alliances and business opportunities can, and will, come and go.

Why not run a ‘Business-As-Usual-With-Excellence’ policy? Leave the innovation and challenge to your competitors. Do as much as you can for your current clients, then step up to 2016 with gusto, having watched from the sidelines.

3.   Offer real work flexibility

The job market is picking up, so this will be the year when people have the confidence to start looking around for a new job or start their own business following the economic crisis.

Why not create all of the same opportunities within your business? How about a new venture or ideas fund for employees (for 2016 launches)?

Mixed secondments to new departments and other businesses or just let more people work from home or job share. Retaining good team members is always cheaper than hiring and training their replacements.

I’ll be sharing more insight into my hunches for business in 2015 at the Management Today Inspiring Business Conference in Edinburgh on the 4th February. It’s a great line-up, check it out here

Natalie Campbell is the founder of A Very Good Company, Author of Starting A Business in 7 Simple Steps, and a trustee of UnLtd

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