Unexpected Tips for Business Growth: Part 1

In a year that saw mass layoffs, permanent closures and the GDP shrink to just 8.2%, some companies still managed to achieve growth.

R&D tax credit specialists, Myriad Associates grew by 20% during the pandemic. Artisan gin makers Bramley & Gage recorded an 800% increase in online sales, and CookiesHQ, a mobile app and web development company, closed its strongest first quarter in 2020 with a 15% increase on the previous year.

How did these companies manage to grow during such an unexpectedly tough year?

Of course, we could attribute their success to things like industry, sector or even luck. But a large part of it comes down to the navigational skills of the captains who carefully steered their ships through the stormy waters of COVID-19: The CEO’s.

What advice can stalwart CEO’s like this offer us? What does it really take to steer a ship to safety during turbulent times?

Business growth tip 1: Don’t focus on growth

“At Myriad we never say we must increase turnover by X amount in X number of years. That’s never been the case.” - Barrie Dowsett, CEO of Myriad Associates & Tax Cloud

I always thought, to be successful in business you needed to keep your eyes and your efforts firmly on growth metrics, revenue figures and turnover targets.

But, if company directors get too bogged down in the detail of profit, loss, turnover and revenue, they lose sight of the bigger picture. They become so far removed from the market and customers they’re serving, that they have no idea what’s going on within their own company.

Take Blockbuster for example. Up until 2004, they were top of the video rental tree. They had over 9,000 stores worldwide and were making a staggering $5.9bn annually. But they were so focused on their current revenue model and rate of success that they failed to spot the market moving away from video rental and towards streaming services, like Netflix. And you know what happened next…

So, if profit, loss and growth isn’t the focus, what is?  

“Business growth is simply a by-product of doing a first-class job. Providing a fantastic service. To go above and beyond client expectations. To provide not a five-star service, but a seven-star service.” - Barrie Dowsett, CEO of Myriad Associates & Tax Cloud

“My advice to my younger self is to take care of the customer first, make a great product, and the profits will follow.” - Jesse Willms, CEO of Terra Marketing Group

“Understand the importance of delivering as much value as possible to your clients because business is all about value creation.” - Russ Ruffino, CEO of ClientsonDemand

Your business is nothing without customers, right? So, it makes sense that they should be at the centre of everything you do. Rather than poring over forecasts, setting growth targets and fretting about the figures, lift your head up, smell the roses, and focus on what matters: your customers.

Business growth tip 2: Say no. A lot

“Really successful people say no to almost everything.” - Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Saying ‘no’ can be tough. As an entrepreneur, you’re a natural doer, and saying 'yes' to every opportunity, task, or request makes you feel good; like you’re moving your business forwards.

Saying no, therefore, can feel incredibly counterintuitive.

But the danger of saying yes to everything is that you get distracted by the trivial things that will ultimately do nothing for the direction of your business. If you take on too much, you’re likely to accomplish very little.

“Sometimes the best decision is not to do something. If the potential benefits of the project, acquisition or other decision do not justify the cost, the CEO should question whether it is really an important undertaking.” - Chief Outsiders

But how do you know when to say no?

“I always ensure that everything I do overlaps with at least three of our guiding principles…if a task or ask does not, then the answer is simply no.” - Jared Cannon, CEO of Simply Good Jars.

“There’s an endless stream of opportunities but a finite amount of time each day. Rather than look far ahead in the calendar for some white space, I ask myself whether I would want to take this meeting tomorrow. If not, I probably don’t want to take it three weeks from now either.” - Nils Mattisson, CEO of Minut

Taking the subjectivity out of a decision by establishing your priorities as a business makes it easier to say no when you should, and yes when it makes sense.

Business growth tip 3: Speak less

As the figurehead of the company, talking is something you must do. You need to communicate with your management team, your advisors, your investors, your employees and your customers.

But talking should always come secondary to listening.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” - Indra Nooyi, CEO at PepsiCo

The pay-off for growth is being unable to keep a finger on the pulse of every single person, decision, activity or action in your business. It’s an inevitable part of growth that, as you develop and expand, you become further and further removed from your customers and your employees. And, if you’re not careful, you’ll also start to lose touch with what’s going on within your own company and the market.

So, welcoming input from employees and customers and listening to what they’re saying will give you a far greater chance of success than listening to the sound of your own voice.

“If you listen to everyone, from the people you’re serving to your franchise owners, managers or employees to your vendors and investors - whoever your stakeholders are - you’ll know as much as any CEO could possibly know.” - Peter Tourian, CEO of Synergy HomeCare

Take the former CEO of Tesco, Sir David John Lewis as an example. On his first day at the supermarket, he emailed every single employee to ask them how they thought the business could be improved. Every. Single. Employee. That’s over half a million people.  And, six years after that day, he’d grown Tesco’s operating profit by 12.6% year on year to £1.13bn and achieved a 4.4% profit margin.

Stay tuned for part 2 to get more hidden pearls of wisdom from inspirational CEO’s.