Fangtastic business tricks and treats

Why scaling up needn’t give you the Halloween heebie-jeebies

In a spook-tacular series of interviews with experienced entrepreneurs and investors, we’ve uncovered some terrific business tricks – and a few high-growth treats too – that can help you to expand your operation fast. And don’t worry, there’s nothing scary lurking… (except some terrible Halloween puns)

Our experienced entrepreneurs and investors are

  • Fran Bishop, founder of The Pud Store
  • Ben Fletcher, founder of Fast Growth Icons
  • Tania Boler, CEO at Elvie
  • Bianca Miller-Cole and Byron Cole, authors of 'Self Made: The Definitive Guide to Business Startup Success'

1. Is there a spell for success when it comes to expansion?

Ben Fletcher: The key is to find something you can successfully replicate. Once you’ve got a product to fit the market and sales and marketing channels which produce positive return on investment, double down on those aggressively. 

Fran Bishop: For me, it’s to not be afraid of what expansion will bring – just dive in and figure it out on the way. 

Byron Cole: I’d say it’s to lead by example – your staff will do what they see you do. If you work late, they will be more inclined to work late; if you show up on time, so will they. 

2.  What was your biggest fright when scaling up your business? 

Bianca Miller-Cole: Being able to maintain the same company ethos whilst scaling the brand. When your business grows it can change the culture, even though that’s often not the aim. So it’s vital to know how to get your team ready for such changes while still aiming to be nimble and efficient. 

Fran Bishop: My fright was probably wondering how on earth I would manage being a mother and wife and still run the business to be the best it can possibly be. I had to be certain I didn’t scale up too quickly and risk losing the heart of the business, and also be sure to carry on the school run with my little boy.

3. Does running a scaled-up business always mean working well into the moonlight?

Bianca Miller-Cole: I find the moonlight hours are sometimes the best hours to get things done – there’s less distraction! I advocate finding a work/life balance that works for you – if you happen to be a night owl, then adapt your schedule. But sacrificing sleep is not a long term solution for success – strike the balance that works for you and your key stakeholders.

Fran Bishop: I’m in bed every night by 9pm! It’s not about the hours you put in but how productive you are in the hours you’re working.

Ben Fletcher: I believe in being effective – impossible to do if you are overworking. You need the head space to think laterally about business challenges and if you are at the grindstone 12 hours a day you don't get that. Unless it's essential that you do a particular task, then delegate – or hire if necessary.

4. What’s your best business trick?

Fran Bishop: Teaching my team that it’s far better to (try something, get it wrong and) ask for forgiveness rather than (keep asking for) permission (to do something). My team go above and beyond for our customers, and keep the business running – without them I wouldn’t be in the position to scale up. 

Ben Fletcher: The knowledge that, although it's tempting to seek silver bullets, there's no one thing that will transform your business. Also ensure the context for all decisions is clear. Spell it out at the start of meetings where you’re trying to make a decision. There's no such thing as an abstract 'good decision' – it can only be good in a specific context.

5. How does your business treat its employees?

Byron Cole: We’ve flown our team around the world to invest in their personal development. They attend seminars, courses, read and listen to audio books to learn from the best. We recently flew our team out to Europe to see my favourite trainers in action and learn from them.

Ben Fletcher: I think people get the most from an environment where they’re trusted, respected, work on challenging problems and deliver solutions they can see are improving people's lives. Personalised ‘thank-yous’ for specific work that goes above and beyond are also very effective.

Tania Boler: As well as the opportunity to work from home, we have a Friday drinks trolley for employees’ poison of choice and we’ve just become a four-legged creature-friendly office.

6. What’s the most haunting thing to happen to you in your career? 

Fran Bishop: Probably getting fired by Lord Sugar from The Apprentice! Also the lack of respect from people who’d been in my chosen industry for years. Retail – especially childrenswear – is very close-knit and most (involved) are generational. I came in with no experience and all these new philosophies, so it’s been a fight (to get) people to understand what I’m trying to do.

Bianca Miller-Cole: It was working in an organisation, in the past, that thought nothing of racism and discrimination. That was scary and I had to quickly get out. It was a very important learning curve.

7. What’s the most magical advice you could give to someone just starting out in business?

Ben Fletcher: Stay focused on margin, not revenue – and know your most profitable staff members, clients and marketing channels. If you always make a decent gross margin on activities, scaling up will bring you decent profits. It's very easy to get seduced by high-volume, low-margin activities – these 'problem children' then suck up a lot of attention that would be better focused on what works well.  

Tania Boler: Employ those with the same vision as you. You need your team to be just as passionate and focused on the company as you are yourself. As long as you’re all working towards the same goal, it makes it so much easier to get what you wand (groan!).

Byron Cole: Find a mentor and use proven success methods, or find someone in your industry or within your network that’s done it before you. Don’t waste years trying to learn what someone else has already done. Or buy a book – it’ll save you years of mistakes.  

8. Do you believe creating a successful business is down to the supernatural or to skill?

Fran Bishop: A bit of both! But most of all sheer graft. There’s no set formula for success but there are entrepreneurial traits which will help you get on the right path. People always comment on my grit and determination, and I think you need that to succeed. 

Bianca Miller-Cole: Success is often down to a passion for change – to make a product or service better, say. While passion can’t be taught or learnt, skills can. And I think what might be perceived as ‘supernatural’ is the ability to keep going – to go from problem to problem without losing enthusiasm. Now that is magic! 

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