How do we create more high-growth small businesses?

Given the urgent need to find new growth to sustain the economy and offset the shortfalls in public coffers it seems that the maths are simple and therefore the question we have to answer is: “How do we create more of these HGSBs?” Or perhaps more importantly “how do we turn more of our existing small businesses into HGSBs?”

The benefit of increasing the number of HGSBs is clear. Aside from more jobs today only 22 per cent of UK businesses export, so there should be a clear incentive for the Treasury to support the growth of these businesses.

The challenge – being perceived as a nation of shopkeepers

What is stopping more businesses from becoming high growth enterprises? Analysis by Robert Gordon University Aberdeen suggests the problem lies with the owners of the businesses – people like me, in other words. There is a suggestion that British owners are more parochial, resistant to change and unwilling to look abroad for opportunities. Perhaps this argument is validated, because 75 per cent of British enterprises are micro businesses with very few, if any employees, other than the owners. While they are an essential part of our economy I wonder whether we are not generating enough HGSBs, because we have grown comfortable with the title of being “a nation of shopkeepers?”

Media coverage of small business often emphasises the “small” and repeats well-worn arguments about the challenges these businesses face, such as red tape, skills and a lack of Government support. It feels as though repetition of these barriers reinforces the “shopkeeper” notion and encourages a mindset of limited ambition, rather than celebrating the ambition and adventurous spirit of emerging companies looking to take on the world.

This is not a size issue

For me small does not mean lacking in ambition or parochial and we should do more to encourage businesses of every shape and size to aspire to be HGSBs.  

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Understanding your customers and their business pressures is critical to identifying new opportunities, which help your clients, but in turn help you grow your own business. Exhibiting such insight will give clients confidence to entrust their business to you.

Secondly you must be confident of your abilities and unique selling points as a business. Ambition is key, but you must understand your market place, your competitors and above all your customers.

Do not be afraid to demonstrate your expertise without sounding arrogant. I have come up against much larger competitors in sales processes who make eyebrow raising claims and we have won, because we can confidently prove our capabilities. Our business has survived as long as it has, because we have a team who know their stuff. If customers are buying from you then I would hope one of the main reasons is because they are confident of your knowledge. Price is always a consideration, but clients are more interested in how your expertise can help their business.

Confidence in your expertise should also give you confidence to be expansive in your business strategy. If your expertise has been applied successfully in one market sector, are there any neighbouring sectors where it could also be applied? If you analyse your competitors (who you have beaten in one sector) could you apply your expertise and experience to challenge them in another?

Finally, if you need reminding, do not think that having secured a contract with one of the world’s leading brands that the job is done and that there are no more opportunities. Be entrepreneurial in your relationships with existing customers. If you gain a foothold with a global organisation first concentrate on proving you are as good as you say and diligent about delivering great customer service. Then use that success as an opportunity to see how the relationship could blossom. And do not limit yourself just to the UK.  

It is my firm belief that the ground rules for creating any successful business are the same and when I look around the UK small business community I see a lot of companies with the potential to become HGSBs. If you demonstrate tireless commitment to your customers, a deep understanding of how your product or service can add value to their business and trust in the potential opportunities your expertise can bring, your business will be able to chart a strong and healthy growth path.

Giles Thorpe is managing director of CCE.

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