Thursday, 8 September 2011

The "Secrets of Success" - My Foot! Research On Mastermind Groups (reprinted)

Due to popular demand I am republishing this article here. Apologies for any cross-posting. It was originally published at The Directors' Centre Online Business Club

The eternal search for the secrets of business success creates wave upon wave of products and services that “unlock the potential” etc etc. However, some evidence of what actually works does already exist.

After a late night brandy and long discussions about exciting people I have worked with in the past, I decided to do some digging around. I followed up a cadre of companies I worked with some ten years ago and decided to see quite what had happened to them.

What we do know is that the ‘successful’ are very different from the ‘less successful’ (see the Magic Million Survey) and one of the key differences is how the successful take control and ownership of their destinies. They do not blame others.

Other characteristics include a “can do”, “take action now” and “get the best help” attitude. All good stuff. And then, of course, there is the obsession with strategy, marketing and teams… but that’s not what I wish to talk about here.

So what became of my 2001 business group (and why)?

I chose to chase up a typical group of entrepreneur and business owners that I had worked with in 2001. The eight businesses had an average turnover of £1.2million; they varied between £50k and £3m turnovers. They worked with me over the year, coming together in what would now be called a Mastermind Group, to explore and develop their businesses. And what became of them?

Well, the results were almost too good to be true (but I think I can explain that). Depending on how you measure “current business activity” (because of acquisitions, mergers etc), the average £1.2m p.a. turnover is now between £3.5m and £13m.

All are still trading in one form or another. They have gone on to achieve:
• Sales in excess of £500 million
• One business sold for in excess of £20million
• One business the subject of a full management buy-out in excess of £10million
• One business owner able to retire aged 42 and hand over the business to a management team.

So, is there some kind of secret formula? Some magic, silver bullet? Well, the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’!

But, mainly no.

Let me explain.

The world is currently littered with get-rich-quick, too-good-to-be-true, money-back-guaranteed promises to help you grow your business. Our inner child looking for relief from the stress and pain of our ‘under-performing’ business responds positively to offers.

Sometimes the “ten things to do in the next ten days” type programme can be the red-hot raw ginger we need to sort our businesses. But, more often than not, the real problem is more, shall we say, ‘structural’ and requires a more considered and bespoke solution to create a long-term improvement. Anyhow I digress.

My point is this. You need to think about whether your business will benefit from a quick fix (a quick tune-up, points, plus an oil change) or whether it needs a more significant, real fix (changing or replacing key components to match what is really required). Either way we all know what we think about anything that claims to be a quick-fix or too-good-to-be-true.

So, why did these businesses do so well?

I believe that there were two reasons:-

1. The nature of the programme: A closed group that meets with the sole intention of improving each other’s businesses. All attendees were looking for profound, significant and measurable growth in business performance; they shared ‘insider secrets’ and best practice from ‘been-there-done-it’ experts. The programme also created intense, supportive business relationships and produced the accountability required to make delegates over-deliver on their action plans.

2. The nature of the people who are attracted to such a programme: Only certain people (the truly success-focused) would be attracted to such a programme, people with the “can do”, “take action now” and “get the best help” attitude that I mentioned before.

This combination of the right programme and the right people creates a dynamic and electric atmosphere.

Government Health Warning: While the results of the individual firms concerned are very impressive, one doesn’t really know whether they would have done much, much better or much, much worse had they not attended!!! We will never know the answer but what we do know is that the sort of people who do attend these kind of programmes see truly significant improvements in their business performance.

P.S. I have subsequently looked at other similar groups and they have all got similar leaps in business performance


Monday, 5 September 2011

The Real Virus That Is Killing Your Business

There seems to be a virulent disease spreading through the business community. Like all viruses it has pervaded its hosts almost unnoticed, and slowly but surely it has spread and got so comfortable with its parasitic existence within the body of its hosts that the hosts seem oblivious of its existence.

This disease, this scourge of the business community, is the recently discovered “five-year-old-itis”.


The symptoms are plain to see:

  • Nothing seems to work as well as it used to (sales campaigns, adverts, proposals)
  • Everything seems to take longer (commitments, decisions, replies to emails)
  • There seems to be less traction and more ambiguity wherever you look
  • You’re working harder than ever before and making less progress than in the past.

These are warning signs that you are probably suffering from “five-year-old-itis”!


Most businesses have behaved like frightened rabbits in the headlights of the recession. They have got stuck, unable to decide what to do, petrified of making the wrong decision. And their whole world view will have been based on a pre-recession model of the world. In the past five years everything (and nothing) has changed. Five years ago everyone was doing pretty well. There was virtually no Twitter, FaceBook or Linkedin; we had become familiar with living in a constantly-growing economy where consumer demand and house prices just kept going up. And then the bubble burst.

Most businesses that I currently see are using five-year-old assumptions about:

  • Their business and financial model
  • Who the customers are and why and when and how they prefer to buy
  • Who the competition is
  • Current staff, processes and systems, and whether they are the right people for today’s true customer and market needs.


There is no shortage of hyperventilating, breathless, get-rich-quick, money-back-guaranteed, effusive, testimonial-driven business programmes now on the market. However, I am not convinced that a one-size-fits-all quick fix is necessarily the right answer for your business. None of us believe that quick fixes (hair removal, sun tans, patio doors, weight loss) really work. (As my mother says, if it is too good to be true then it probably is.) So, why would you think that a quick fix would work for your business?

The alternative to the quick fix (despite how seductive and appealing it may look), would be the ‘proper fix’. And this, my friends, may be harder work but may sort you out properly. By this I mean actually stopping and redesigning your business, creating a business for today and tomorrow rather than for five years ago.

Food for thought.