Friday, 26 November 2010

The Big Mistake: Not Staying Small

“Wherever something is wrong," wrote the economist Leopold Kohr, "something is too big."

At a small scale, he observed, things are "flexible, healthy, manageable and delightful, even a baby's ferocious bite". Conversely, at a large scale, things become unstable and easily assume the "proportions of terror". A firework is fun, a cluster bomb is not.” (The Guardian)

Many businesses succeed in their early days when their founding entrepreneur is working “at the coal face”. Then he gets tired of that, and grows the business, gets away from the coal face, and everything starts to stutter. The business does not function as well as it used to. The founding entrepreneur gets disheartened, and casts around for grasses greener, so the business falters further.

So two big mistakes of small companies:

  1. Letting the founder stop doing what (s)he does best – and the most common example of that is stopping meeting customers and clients, and stopping providing solutions her/himself for them. Delegation is necessary, but only when you have “cloned” (or trained) other people to be as good. (The problem is that most people don’t know why they are “good with customers”, so don’t know how to identify potential staff or train them)
  2. Thinking that success means growing the company. Staying small and profitable may mean more satisfaction, better life-work balance, and a more sustainable (recession proof) business. We are obsessed with growth because of the example the media presents of “successful” people.

Staying small and staying close to the coal face may be the smartest things to do. Getting bigger should not be assumed to be the right strategy for every company.

That creates other problems – like succession and small scale expansion – and that needs outside help from other people who have already been-there-and-done-that.

Everyday Entrepreneurs need to be at the coal face at some time everyday. Lose that and you can lose what made the company originally successful.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

30-Day Growth Challenge - Son of the 30-Day Growth Challenge!

The post New Robert Craven 30-Day Growth Challenge got 48 comments. It clearly hit a nerve.

So, we launched "the challenge".

We had 100% turn-up on the day.

The Challenge was -
"you have 30 days to improve your business (based on a workshop with me). After 30 days we'll ask you what you have achieved. Only at that point will we consider asking for payment. You will pay what you want.

So, great excitement and anticipation. We already have some serious results. But we will wait till Thursday when the 30 days are up. To what extent will the experiment have worked?

Based on results so far we have decided to proceed with not one but two Growth Challenges at the start of the New Year. Book in now.

Spend half-a-day working with me. Wait 30 days and I'll call you up. You tell me what the improvement has been.

You then decide what to pay for the results you have achieved.

The catch? None.

A thought: we live in times when people do not want to just buy "more of the same"... people want stuff that delivers and that they should pay what they, the customer, considers to be a fair price. (Try employing a solicitor!!!) More professional service firms should charge on results and not on selling time.

UPDATE: Robert Craven's 30-Day Growth Challenge.- London & Bristol in April 2011
New Robert Craven 30-Day Growth Challenge - the post that got 48 comments
Being Disruptive Pays - blog post

Monday, 15 November 2010

Real Entrepreneurs Uninspired by the Celebrities

The truth is out.

Celebrity business TV shows are not helpful to people who actually run businesses.

More than six out of ten respondents in the Better Business Survey felt that the shows (Apprentice, Dragons’ Den etc) were not helpful or inspirational.

Less than one in twenty (that’s less than 5%) claimed that they were very helpful, but a third did believe that they had provided some help and inspiration after viewing them.(Better Business Oct/Nov 2010)

Are we surprised? Of course not.

Most TV business shows are exactly that. They are shows. Like Big Brother or X-Factor they are designed to entertain and attract viewers. They are not designed to, and they do not honestly claim to, replicate reality. They are simply combining the reality show formula (embarrass people stupid enough to want their 15 minutes of fame) with ‘business’ and an exquisite new programming franchise is created.

I do not dispute that the programmes can be great entertainment as we watch the wannabes attempt to impress the celebrities but we get no real insight into the business side of things.

The programmes would be very dull television without some tension and without a few people making utter fools of themselves. So, the TV companies select candidates that will make great television. And that’s exactly what is created: great television.

I squirm when I meet people whose business education comprises of trying to behave like Lord Sugar (“you’re fired” etc) while willingly trying to sell 30% of their business for a paltry sum that they should have been able to get from a decent angel investor.

Meanwhile, the programmes present a distorted view of what it is to run your own business. Few businesses are set up to take on venture capital type funding à la Dragons’ Den; poor, often needy, wannabes are fed like lambs to the slaughter.

Often humiliated - remember the man with the sweaty armpits and the stutter - the candidates believe that the PR from DD will be enough to catapult their business into the stratosphere.

Sometimes it does. But not always.

I openly admit that I watch too much TV and that I will watch most business TV shows but we should recognise them for what they are: good TV with occasional glimpses and insights that may help us make sense of the businesses that we run.

However, for business education or inspiration, the research says that we need to look elsewhere.


Survey shows business owners prefer BBC and local papers for business news and current affairs

Friday, 5 November 2010

Can Apple and Waitrose be Wrong?

Business School theory is great. Fascinating stuff. Intellectually intriguing but I am not quite sure what it has to do with reality and what people really do. Here are two quick examples

Steve Job's Strategy? "Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff" - a traditional management philosophy taught in business schools is to reduce risk by diversifying your product offerings.

Apple represents the anti-business school philosophy. Apple's approach is to put its resources behind a few products and commit to making those products exceptionally well. "Apple is a $30 billion company yet we've got less than 30 major products. I don't know if that's ever been done before," Steve Jobs told
Fortune magazine .

Apple clearly bucks the trend that endlessly focuses on diversifying risk, milking cash cows blah blah.

Can Waitrose Have It All? - Why on earth would a brand with an enviably distinctive premium positioning promise to match Tesco prices on 1,000 branded products?

Waitrose will no doubt assert that it is not competing on price, but simply addressing the perception that it is expensive. However, by choosing to match prices with Tesco, it is in danger of being drawn into a price war with the big three supermarkets by proxy.

With Waitrose I am not sure what is going on. Maybe they just haven't read the text books or maybe they went to a poor business school but I don't quite get why they are trying to compete on quality and on price in the same store.

With Apple it clearly works; with Waitrose I am not so sure..