Britain’s business owners continue to struggle with rising interest rates and high inflation. Not to mention the economic hangover created by Brexit, the pandemic, and the War in Ukraine. However, it is possible to keep growing your business during uncertain times, here’s how.
1. Don't be afraid to back yourself
Martin Port is a serial entrepreneur with three successful ventures under his belt. His most recent business, BigChange Link opens in a new window, a mobile workforce management platform, was recently valued at £100m. He believes that the current economic pressures are discouraging many business owners from investing in their businesses. “That is a mistake,” he says. “You need to keep pushing your marketing, even when times are tough, because if you’re not selling and finding new customers, you’re already in trouble.” He is a passionate technologist, who encourages all entrepreneurs to find the tools and platforms that can help them build more efficient, streamlined businesses. This too may come with an upfront cost – but it’s worth it, he insists. “Think about the return on investment in terms of man hours or tanks of fuel saved,” he says. “It takes guts to invest when the economy is in freefall. It’s hard to resist the urge to batten down the hatches - especially when everyone around you is telling you to stop spending. Throughout my career, I have always invested when others were fearful, and that has served me well.”
2. Get on TikTok
“It used to take years to secure meetings with high-level executives at multinationals,” says Dan Scarfe, the CEO of XRAI Link opens in a new window, a technology firm that subtitles life in real-time for deaf people. “But these people have been cold calling us and inviting us into meetings.” His secret? “When we sit down with people at these big companies, normally the exec tells us that they saw us on their son or daughter’s TikTok. That was how they found us.” Scarfe says that any company operating today needs to get their brand on the platform and be visible to the new generation. “I’m telling you, it may sound like madness, but this is how to reach multinationals these days.” Jake Karia, founder of street food brand Jake & Nayns Link opens in a new window – creator of the “Indian take on a Cornish pastry”, the Naanster, also believes that TikTok is a vital platform for any consumer-facing brand. “During the pandemic, people weren’t going into work so our ‘on-the-go’ sales fell off a cliff,” he says. “We used TikTok to show people how to eat our products at home with chips or rice or salad, and that helped us pivot the business.” Karia, who now sells 100,000 products every week, is determined to create a campaign that goes viral on TikTok. “Remember when someone put baked beans on a Weetabix, and suddenly everyone was trying all these weird combinations? That’s the kind of buzz I want to create for my brand.”
3. Don't be too 'salesy'
“Remember the old days when companies would employ salespeople to call prospects up eight times a day?” asks Jay Short, founder of Solarflare Studio Link opens in a new window. “That doesn’t work anymore. The system has changed.” He launched his experiential agency, which runs hi-tech projects on behalf of clients such as Formula 1 and UEFA, with three other founders back in 2019. He has managed to grow his business through four years of economic uncertainty by building relationships with customers, rather than trying to flog those ideas or services. “We keep up a constant dialogue without it ever being too salesy,” he reveals. “We’ll call someone up and tell them that we have been experimenting with a certain artificial intelligence technology and tell them what it was capable of. Sometimes that client will turn around and say, ‘That’s serendipitous because we were just talking about using AI for a new project.” Solarflare’s salespeople don’t badger clients; it’s more about checking in and taking the lead on education: “What are the big trends right now? That kind of thing,” says Short. “We create advocates within client businesses who know that we will have great ideas that ultimately make them look good, so they do the selling for us.”
4. Empower your people to take the business forward
If you really want your business to grow and thrive, says Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny, you need to hire great people and let them do their thing. Moneypenny Link opens in a new window employs 1,200 people to run live chat systems and answer phones on behalf of clients across the UK and US. “My top tip is to surround yourself with brilliant people,” she says. “I look at my management team and I know each one is amazing in their own right; better than me!” She sees herself as the glue that holds the organisation together. “I give people clarity and resources, empowering them to go and make decisions and do great things,” she says. “I say to them, ‘Go forth and do things that you think will benefit the business. If you make a mistake, ‘fess up, and we’ll fix it together’.” This strategy helped revenues at Moneypenny climb by 18% last year. “People need to feel confident to go and do things out on their own because it feels right,” Swash adds. “In this way Moneypenny can be really entrepreneurial and pivot very, very quickly.”
5. Postpone fundraising (if you can)
To scale fast, many founders raise finance from external investors. However, the fundraising process itself can be a huge distraction from growing your business, argues Shane Ryan, whose plant-based food business Fiid Link opens in a new window sells products that can sit on the shelf for up to a year without spoiling. “If you are running a consumer business, try and not take any money until you absolutely cannot grow any more without it,” he says. “Fundraising is a full-time job. You must take three months off growing your business and meeting customers just to court investors.” Ryan, whose products are available on Amazon and Ocado, believes that the start-up ecosystem “has a sick obsession with fundraising.” “We waited a long time until we raised money – and even then, we didn’t raise much,” he adds. “We raised £384,000 in August 2020. It only took me six weeks to meet, convince and sign with two investors – even during the pandemic. My prudence throughout the previous two years meant that they were confident in me as a steward of resources within the company. Investors could see how much work we had done ourselves, which made the process so much easier.”
So, there you have it, from ensuring you’re promoting your business on TikTok to hiring people who know more than you do in expert fields. We hope these tips come in handy in helping you take your business to the next level.
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