Expanding into new markets or diversifying a product range requires targeted technical support to be water tight. Without having information and data you can rely on at your fingertips, all too often valuable time can be spent scrambling around.Speaking with James Hind, CEO of vehicle buying platform carwow, we discovered the key part of building his business plan was understanding the drivers of the business, such as customer conversion and marketing – and assessing which parts make the most difference and have the biggest impact. Describing his growth strategy as “decidedly aggressive”, he doesn’t, however, believe it is overtly risky as the team know they’re building a business that isn’t far off sustainability already. “Knowledge of how the key drivers are changing and constantly monitoring them is vital. We constantly running A/B tests on the site to assess new features and designs for usability,” he explained. “We use proprietary dashboards to track everything that happens on the site, from conversion rates and sales figures to real-time data on all the tests we’re currently running. Technology is absolutely vital as it’s the only way to quantifiably measure how the business is doing. All of the tools we’ve built [such as a sales dashboard] exist to be responsive to changes and work out how we can constantly, relentlessly make carwow better.” This kind of sentiment is echoed by Mark Robinson, market business developer at Canon. For him, the secret to building a business that is set for growth is to make essential investments from the outset that will support you in the long term.
“If you plan to run a marathon, you don’t buy cheap trainers that might fall apart after the first half. Likewise, if you have projections for your business that involve significant growth or an increase in your workforce, then it’s worth bearing in mind when you’re making tech purchasing decisions,” he explained. “The use of cloud applications has proven very beneficial for smaller businesses who aim to grow fast, as business owners only need to pay a small monthly fee for the services they need, but always have the option to scale up during busy times or growth periods.” Away from the online nature of carwow, Sisters Grimm is a theatrical production company that was set up by former Royal Ballet ballerina Pietra Mello-Pittman and composer Ella Spira. Having taken on board factors such as cash flow and financial forecasts, fundraising and appointing the best team in their business plan, they define themselves as “aggressive in persistence” – but aggression emanating from efficiency of delivery. Mello-Pittman said: “The nature of our company means that in every venture and aspect of business there is high risk initially, but our experience is that with persistence, sticking to our company ethos and support from some key individuals, the investment of our time, effort and funds comes with huge results.” While not on the surface a seemingly data or digital-rich company, Sisters Grimm ran tests to see what marketing was most effective in driving sales for its last tour. Tools such as Google Analytics are used on its site and sales platforms to collect “vital data”. From there it’s about combining the company website, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to reach as big an audience as possible. While Mello-Pittman and her business partner are relatively new to the entrepreneur game, Andrew Hodgkin has been running his own enterprise for a lot longer – two decades now. Hodgkins’ Smart Group is described as a “highly-commercial organisation” by the founder himself, something that is tapered by balancing risk. Having started life as a business doing Christmas parties, it then expanded operations into live events and corporate hospitality – fusing both the organisational and catering aspects.
“Many businesses in events grow rapidly through taking on high risk venues and contracts,” he explained. “This can prove rewarding, but over the long run these businesses find it hard to get through any downturns in the market and the economy at large. We aim for sustainable growth across all the businesses.” Accurate market information is key for Hodgkins and his team, along with strong relationships and a “great reputation”. These things, he said, allow the company to access new opportunities rather than just trying to outbid rivals for existing opportunities. “Technology is key to running the business and to sales and marketing, however as catering is core it’s about having a high-level creativity and culinary innovation rather than the technology. “We are a company of foodies who love to showcase what we create in the huge range of events and environment in which we work.” Keen to give advice to others thinking about how technology can support the business plan with mission-critical information, he suggested doing things for a purpose, rather than just because it represents the latest “buzzword”. “Ask yourself, will this improve our customers’ experience? Will it deliver more sales or more exposure? You can’t take on board all new ideas and technologies so you need to find the ones that will give you a real advantage,” he added. Examining the hardware side of things, and where it makes sense to make investments, Canon’s Robinson highlighted the need to not just implement technology that does the job currently required for the business, as it will let you down as your business grows. “For example, a simple notebook computer might not be able to run a more advanced version of your office software, while a basic printer might struggle with producing a higher number of pages per month if required. Instead, chose hardware that is slightly better and can still service the needs of your small, but growing, business in 6-12 months’ time.” He also pointed to Canon research which found that a fifth of all business owners in Europe feel they spend too much time on IT-related tasks, and as a result almost a third feel they are unable to spend enough time on growth opportunities. “Implementing future-proof hardware takes away this headache and provides small businesses with a strong foundation to strategically plan for growth, rather than having to worry about simply keeping things running,” he added. While there is an abundance of supportive technology in the market today, our conversations with successful entrepreneurs converse on the same point – make sure it is relevant to your company and can evolve as it does. Making decisions with these two key factors in place can help produce that vital support network of targeted technical suppliers.
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