Six proven techniques to keep your business growing – from people who’ve used them

aat comment

Paul Lindley sold his first company, Ella’s Kitchen, for tens of millions. In a few days, he launches his second, Paddy’s Bathroom. What growth rules does he and other premier-league entrepreneurs, always keep in mind? Here are five that have passed the road-test…

The customer isn’t always right

When you’re starting a business, you’re creating something new. Yes, be super-attentive to customers but, remember, they don’t know the market like you do. When developing the iPad (one of the biggest-selling products ever), Apple founder Steve Jobs famously said: “Get closer than ever to your customers; so close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”

Keep it simple

When growing Ella’s Kitchen to a £100m-turnover baby food brand, Paul Lindley was constantly invited to diversify into new product lines. And he always said no. “I’m sure someone else could do a great job making cycling energy drinks in capsules, but it wasn’t for us; our market is toddlers,” he says. Karen Callaghan was head of people at Innocent and now runs her own HR consultancy: don’t get distracted by the advice and ”experts” out there, she advises; keep your eye on the things that will make or break your business. “Focus on high-quality products and services.”

Take your time

Evernote founder Phil Libin talks about building a 100-year startup. Songkick’s Ian Hogarth has a long-term vision for success. So, while you’ll need to act fast, you don’t need to get everything done in a few weeks. As Big Brother winner Josie Gibson told us, her eagerness to get started on her slimming business following her TV appearances led at first to failure. “You’ve got to be patient,” she tells AAT Comment. “I was stunned by starting my own business because I didn’t plan properly.”

Think big

A PC on every desk. One billion servings of food. Bigger than Jesus. Grand ambition won’t just keep you motivated; it’ll convince your customers that they’re part of something big. “You’ve got to think bigger than you are and plan for that,” former Apprentice winner Yasmina Siadatan told us. Don’t just think of your business as it is today: “You’ve got to plan to grow – many people don’t look to the future.”

Encourage your team to take risks

The number one watchword in startups right now is to fail fast. Building a modern digital business is about trying – and testing – lots of product iterations. This means allowing your team to make mistakes. This rule applies in all types of business. For Jacqueline Gold, boss of Ann Summers lingerie shops, risk-taking is so key to business that she wrote it into the company’s P.R.I.D.E (Passionate Respectful Inclusive Daring Experts) mantra. “The most important of those is daring,” she says.

Pick the right investors – when the time is right for you

Most entrepreneurs have an investor horror story. They didn’t support us when we needed. They were only focused on the bottom line… The trick is to source external finance on your terms; not when you’re desperate for it. Veteran manufacturing entrepreneur Edward Atkin says: “Only try to raise money when you can walk away if the terms are not right.” Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden had a positive and long-standing relationship with Phoenix Equity Partners: “I found them extremely good to work alongside; they were honest and if things had to change we discussed it and we made the decision together. I never once felt ‘I wish I hadn’t done this’.” Remember, your investor relationship could be a long-term one, so be honest with yourself and go with the option that feels right.

And a tip for wannabe AAT entrepreneurs: the British Library’s Business & IP Centre is a free resource for anyone starting a business. Just apply for a reader’s card, and you’ll have access to huge market research, IP and advisory resources.

Started your own business or have a killer tip to help it grow? Let us know on Twitter @youraat or Facebook

Ben Walker is the former editor of Accounting Technician.

Related articles