Business culture wars: Who wins?

Business culture wars: Who wins?

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If you’re a CEO or senior executive, here’s a big question for you: Are your employees frozen by a fear of failing to meet specific goals? And if so, is there an alternative to the performance-based culture that’s so common across the corporate world?

What are you obsessing over?

I’ve been an avid reader of Harvard Business Review (HBR) ever since completing my Executive MBA at the London Business School. And I was intrigued by a recent article from a company president and CEO that suggested companies create a growth culture, not a performance-obsessed one.

HBR’s articles are always fascinating and very useful for my work. In fact, I have applied some of their theory to my clients’ businesses many times. What’s more, I think this particular article hits on a crucial business issue.

The article by Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project makes some compelling arguments: In a competitive, complex, and volatile business environment, companies need more from their employees than ever. But is a culture focused on performance the best, healthiest, or the most sustainable way to fuel results?

Schwartz encourages us to think about a growth culture that blends an environment where it feels safe to be vulnerable, with a focus on continuous learning, includes time-limited manageable experiments, and applies constant feedback to help individual growth.

Avoiding blind spots

The article makes some excellent points. But I think we need to reframe the issue. Rather than choosing between cultures based on performance or growth, I think we need something else.

To my mind, the most pressing need is for companies to avoid making objectives become the end and not the means.


Please read the full article on SME Web.

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Is the B2B newsletter dead?

Is the B2B newsletter dead?

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Are you discovering that B2B email newsletters are generating fewer leads than you’d hoped — or maybe none at all? If so, then it’s time to change tactics if you want to breathe life into your marketing.

B2B marketing has its fashions — and its vested interests. Sometimes various services promoted actively by marketing agencies will chime with target audiences. But sometimes there’s a dull thud as a trustworthy communications channel finally keels over and expires.

And it’s my sad duty to report the death of the B2B newsletter.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that B2B newsletters have disappeared entirely. There will be signs of life in your inbox – and more likely in your spam folder too. But they’re as good as finished in mainstream business when it comes to open rates and quality leads.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Information overload: Today’s target audiences have too much to wade through already and have many other channels they prefer as a way to find their news — and better news.
  1. Micro tasking: People’s busy lives are now peppered by zillions of small actions, completed in a few clicks. Reading a newsletter is too big a time investment for the payback anticipated.
  1. Irrelevance: Newsletter content is broad (“something for everyone”) which often means that 80 to 90% isn’t attractive at all. How many of us would watch a TV show that was only 10% interesting?

What shall we do instead?

Social media gets masses of attention for a host of reasons. Some marketing agencies will love to work with your budgets and keep the posts coming. With B2C marketing, this may


Please read the full article on Business Advice.

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Autonomous vehicles’ after-shocks will open doors for business

Autonomous vehicles’ after-shocks will open doors for business

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The arrival of autonomous vehicles will disrupt the world in more ways than we realise — but it’s the after-shocks that ambitious companies should be thinking about and urgently. Over the next decade, we’ll increasingly start to view car ownership as quaint and inefficient, especially for city dwellers. But it would be a mistake to think the autonomous vehicles’ revolution is only about changing how we get from A to B.

Autonomous vehicles will shake up the business world, far beyond the obvious implications for car sales, taxi services and haulage contracts. And if you’re running a technology company, then now’s the time to start thinking, designing and planning, because the doors will be opening to new business opportunities.

Autonomous vehicles won’t merely change the auto industry. Related sectors and adjacent markets will be impacted too, while niche new services will purr into action.

Here are seven big changes we’re likely to see – that could create the space for a host of bespoke products and services, created by forward-thinking companies:

1. Entertainment

With the tech doing the driving, the hours people spend travelling will become quality time. Cars will become an extension of the living room or meeting room. So imagine the products and services that consumers and executives may want, whether relaxing or working? Think screens, food, comfort, apps and smart ways to make the best use of compact spaces.

2. Cityscapes

If driverless vehicles become standard, then it makes sense that engineers will start to design roads and cities in an entirely different way. This could affect street signs, bus stops, Wi-Fi technology, buildings and planning regulations. For example,


Please read the full article on IoT Now Transport.

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Company Strategy? I’ll have mine “to go”, please …

Company Strategy? I’ll have mine “to go”, please …

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Do you hate boardroom brainstorms— with those over-excited colleagues, the bizarre ideas and a whiteboard covered in random words? The great news is that strategic decision-making is changing for the better at smart companies.

Most of us have lost many hours of our lives to heavy-duty strategy meetings that failed to deliver much at all. Years ago, we probably saw these sessions as a necessity as we set budgets, identified priorities and carefully steered the course of our companies.

But that drizzly Wednesday you spent last October holed-up with ten other people may not be the springboard for success that everyone imagined anymore… it could be your downfall.

The simple truth is that the world doesn’t stand still long enough to lock ourselves in a room for a day and decide what’ll happen over the next 12 months. And here are just a few reasons why:

Customer expectations will evolve quickly and rise considerably. New competitors will emerge — from start-ups or larger businesses expanding aggressively into your marketplace. And disruptive technologies may present opportunities for you to enhance your products and services.

And don’t forget, your company dynamics can shift profoundly too. Changes to personnel, investors and offices can mean you’ve got suddenly double or half the resources you had before. Illness and other unforeseen factors can change everything too.

The world can look very different… even a few months later.

Sticking rigidly to a detailed strategy can create ‘group-think’, lead to blind spots and prove fatal for a company if you can’t respond to unforeseen challenges.

Relying on consultants to come up with all the answers isn’t the solution either. Most will follow the same point-in-time approach — and not be around when the storms hit home.

So what’s the best way forward for strategic decision-making?


Please read the full article on The Executive Magazine.

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Do you want famine or feast?

Do you want famine or feast?

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Imagine you’re ravenous — and someone brings you plates of your two favourite dishes. You like them equally and both are the same distance away on the table. Which do you choose — or is there a very real risk you’ll starve because you just can’t make up your mind?

This may seem like a bizarre scenario. But there’s a business parallel that I’ll explore in a moment.

As for the dilemma itself, it’s one that philosophers have been chewing over since the 14th century. The quandary was dubbed “Buridan’s ass” which — let us assure you — has more to do with donkeys than derrières.

The scene goes like this … a donkey is equally hungry and thirsty but finds itself precisely midway between a stack of hay and a bucket of water. The paradox suggests the animal will die of hunger and thirst because it cannot make a rational decision to choose one over the other.


So what’s the business message?

At this point, we need to think about another animal … the elephant in the room.

We’re talking about a recent event, not seen in generations. A head-to-head contest, with a narrow victory. Something that left a country shocked and divided, raising all sorts of questions. As we’re sure you realise, we’re talking about the BBC losing out to Channel 4 over the signing of the Great British Bake-Off …

Seriously though, we do mean Brexit. For UK businesses, the country’s decision to leave the EU creates a major dilemma.


Put simply, companies face two options after the referendum:

1) Should we invest, seeing Brexit as an opportunity?

2) Or, should we batten down the hatches, make cutbacks and anticipate a downturn?


Note: this post has been published as an article on Real Business, where you can find the full version.

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Expanding abroad? What you need to know first.

Expanding abroad? What you need to know first.

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Are you thinking of selling globally — and hoping to win new customers and secure big profits? If so, then you need to tread carefully. But don’t be put off.


There’s a point in the entrepreneurial journey when expanding abroad seems the right thing to do. It’s seductive, of course, with the promise of travel, glamour and the kudos of having a global empire in the making. Such a move can make perfect sense though: A new market may become your most profitable stream of revenue and turn out to be that moment when your firm ‘really took off’.

However, the risks are significant. Over-reaching and over-spending can be enough to topple an otherwise-stable business. Unknown local market dynamics and factors could trip you up. And then there are those logistical and language hurdles.

That said, if you follow these five steps, you’ll be on safer ground.

Step #1: Choose your market
It’s easy to say ‘abroad’, but which country first? Research what the local competition is offering and the level of demand from customers. Also, use industry events and networking contacts to get insights from people who work in that country. Then consider what the culture and language gap may mean for you: Do you need English to be spoken? Do you have issues with time-zone or proximity? For example, is Brazil more suitable than the US, or South Africa better than Germany?

Step #2: Fine-tune your proposition
Focus on just a few verticals — and adjust your product or service offerings to fit the local market, based on your research.


Note: this post has been published as an article in The Executive Magazine, where you can find the full version.

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Expanding in 2018: Should you focus on growth or profit?

Expanding in 2018: Should you focus on growth or profit?

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Extra funding can be a huge boost for any small business with a burning desire to expand. But how should you spend an influx of cash? Should you go for growth or profit?

Scaling up can be a make-or-break moment. Perhaps your launch went well and now you’ve got some traction? With a well-designed core product or service, some encouraging financial figures, and a thriving customer base, you’ll be on your way to attracting a second round of investment. But should you focus additional funding on growth or profit?

It’s good to have a clear idea of whether you’ll use funding for growth or profit before you even start approaching investors.


Going giddy over growth

Broadly speaking, young business bosses usually look for growth because they need to get known, and are maybe challenging established players, if not industry assumptions. This is understandable.

However, focusing on growth does not mean the business model shouldn’t be profitable, or that the business should give its products or services away for the sake of reaching as many customers as possible.

There’s also the temptation to grow by starting to own more things and employing lots of salespeople and other staff on permanent contracts. Then you need a lease on a larger premises, heftier insurance, HR people, lots of IT and much more. This might feel good at first. But in reality, you’re narrowing your options for the future and increasing your liabilities.

It’s also possible to run into problems quickly. Without orders, you’ll be like an empty machine. With too many orders, the operations side of your business may feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the delivery of products or services.


Note: this post has been published as an article on Real Business, where you can find the full version.

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Big versus Small: Which is better?

Big versus Small: Which is better?

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Towards the end of last year, I was invited to FT Innovate, a flagship event organised by FT Live, the global events arm of the Financial Times.

It was an intense two days of presentations, meetings and discussions. I met many interesting people and attended a dinner with the founder of Evernote and the CIO of Eurostar. I also joined a debate hosted by TableCrowd.

The buzz was around ‘Big vs. Small: which one is better?’ For me, this is always a hot topic, because I left the corporate world to focus on growth strategy for SMEs.

The debate was all around how companies of any size generate, propagate and scale innovation. Some familiar themes emerged …

Big companies have the availability of resources, but they face the pressure of the quarterly results, and innovation can sometimes be stifled by corporate processes. In contrast, small companies can engage with great new ideas more easily, but struggle with getting expertise and how to scale up without sizeable investment.

It was a good discussion. But I felt we had missed something.

Afterwards, I wondered: Are we simply accepting the traditional ‘rules’ of the game? If you win in one way, do you automatically lose in another? And what about the medium-sized companies? Are they forever doomed to be caught in the middle – beaten by the smalls or eaten by the bigs?

If you were a small company with big ambitions, how could you go about growth in a better way? Is it possible to get the best of all worlds?

I think the answer is ‘Yes’ if you take a step back and consider three simple truths.

Truth #1: Success isn’t measured by what you own physically

Unless people have a burning ambition to build an empire, then success shouldn’t be about size in terms of buildings, people or even product ranges. Success should be about growing, profitable revenue.

In effect, you could be small business – let’s say 10 people – and be astonishingly profitable without needing to add to your headcount or invest much at all in new equipment.

Truth #2: Success is often linked to being very good at one thing

Can you sum up what makes your business special in just a few words?

It’s much better to do one thing exceptionally well, rather than being a mile wide and an inch deep. Often it’s helpful to get some outside expertise to help capture your USP (unique selling point) – and revisit this from time to time. Otherwise, it’s very easy to lose focus and drift when you start to grow. Staying fairly small – in terms of your core team – can keep you focused on what you do best.

Truth #3: Other people are willing to handle 99% of the cost and risk of investing

Cash-flow is the lifeblood of smaller companies. But as you start to grow, there’s the temptation to start owning things and employing lots of people on permanent contracts. Then you need a lease on a larger premises, bigger insurance, HR people, lots of IT and much more. This might feel good at first. But, in reality, you’re narrowing your options for the future and increasing your liabilities.

Today, virtually every kind of service can be purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis. And the list seems to be getting longer: office space, cars, people, telephony, IT hardware, software, hosted services, videoconferencing and more. Simply let other people invest in these things and make them brilliant. Just pick the best of them rather than try to create or own them. Then simply only pay for what you use, month by month, scaling up and down easily. That’s optimum efficiency.

What will the small-big company of the future look like?

In the extreme, I suppose it might look like a large company in marketing and financial terms – a brand with a massive turnover, recognised within every home and business.

But behind the logo, there might simply be a handful of innovators and their intellectual property. They might not even own a desk between them. If they want to change direction by 180-degrees, they can – or they might set up other ‘small-big’ businesses on the side (which entrepreneurs love to do).

As a result, they combine that ‘small company’ innovative spirit and agility with those ‘big company’ resources and scalability.


Note: the original post dates back to the beginning of 2016; it’s been recently published as an article on MyEntrepreneurMagazine.


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The entrepreneurial vision: built to last

The entrepreneurial vision: built to last

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“You don’t always need an exit plan – especially with small companies, where life and business are really interwoven,” says Stefano Maifreni, founder of business-expansion consultancy Eggcelerate. “It all depends on what you want to do: do you want to conquer the world, or do you want a decent life with no real dream of being the next ‘unicorn’ [a start-up worth $1bn or more]? It’s perfectly OK to keep running a business for as long as it makes you happy.”

Maifreni agrees that finding your niche is imperative: “Look for something that is not quite grabbing the headlines yet, but is growing,” he says. “Ride on a trend that you will be able to scale.”

He says it’s equally important for founders of ‘lifestyle’ businesses to know that their market will probably be very different in five years’ time to what it looks like today. “You need to be open and to constantly question your business model,” he says. “You need people who can help you, and you’ll also need to be able to delegate as you’ll have less and less time to do the things you did when the business first started.”

Read the full article on Natwest Content Live.

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Why Marketing can be your best friend or your worst enemy

Why Marketing can be your best friend or your worst enemy

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Giving birth to a new product can feel awesome. You’re full of pride as your idea comes to life, passes important tests and gets ready for the big wide world. But your product needs a partner, someone who will help your product to blossom. As a proud parent, you want the best. So when a flashy individual called marketing steps out from the shadows, you might have mixed feelings.

Love it or hate it, marketing is essential. It translates great products into great sales.

But few SMEs have a chief marketing officer. Often, it’s the owner or managing director who decides what approach to take – or maybe it’s the sales manager?

If you’re about to launch a new product, you’ve most likely set aside some funds for marketing. But maybe you’re not sure what to do next, and everyone wants your money. Some may even promise instant results.

It’s wise to be very cautious about what you spend – and how you spend it. Things can go horribly and expensively wrong, and the reputation of both your product and company are on the line.

Here are some helpful principles for getting it right.

Hold yourself back – think strategy first

In some ways, marketing has never been easier. Making announcements on Facebook and Twitter means you can start promoting your new product within seconds of reading this blog. You can send emails to a list of targets in moments. Then there’s pay-per-click, print advertising, trade shows, websites and much more.

No-one likes to curb enthusiasm. But don’t start marketing your product before you’ve developed your strategy and your ‘story’. Without this, you’ll waste budget, get poor results and your stress levels will rocket.

Please read the full article on London Business Matter (page 33). The article was also featured on SME Insider.

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