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Growing your business

5 tips to help scale up your business

Barclays teamed up with expert research teams from Cambridge Judge Business School and Oxford Saïd Business School to investigate the challenges facing businesses ready to scale up.

The number of small and medium businesses in the UK has increased by 1.9 million (56%) since 2000 [1], but most experience little or no growth [2].

Our research revealed key tips that can help any small or medium business – established or brand new – get ready for rapid growth.

Here are the top 5.

1. Build a broad team

Start-up founders are often successful because of their vision — but scaling up is a team activity. Business owners should build a team with a broad range of skills including commercial, technical, strategic and execution strengths. ‘It is a well-known phenomenon that companies die as they grow, because the founder can no longer control (and sometimes understand) the growing complexity of the business,’ the researchers say.

Action: Ensure your team has complementary skills including commercial, technical, strategy and execution strengths.

2. Know your strengths

Many smaller businesses have simply evolved without asking exactly what their core competence, or skill, is. The researchers warn that if a core competence is not understood, business owners might invest in the wrong things.

For example, technology is not a core competence for many businesses but a detailed understanding of how consumers use a technological product is.

Action: Identify and articulate the core competence(s) of your company – the unique knowledge that you use to compete – and develop your strategy around it.

3. Collaborate

Do you work with external suppliers or service providers? Who is the most essential to your business? Connecting with partners is a key part of growth, and strengthening ties with your most strategic partnerships should be a priority.

Action: Identify your critical partnerships, and develop them. An annual overview of your partnership list could be presented to investors.

4. Put processes first

Start-up businesses are known for their ability to work ‘on the fly’ – a strength that can turn into the enemy of growth, the researchers say. A growing business needs to have repeatable processes such as shipping, hiring, closing sales and identifying new customers in order to achieve lasting growth.

‘While some founder teams loath the ‘bureaucracy’ that comes with standardisation, evidence clearly shows that without them, growth is not achieved,’ the researchers say.

Action: Identify key processes you could standardise and invest in support systems, including IT and training, before delegating them to employees.

5. You have to really want it

It sounds simple, but the researchers found having a real drive to grow was ‘crucially important’. Everything from fears about work-life balance to inexperience managing larger employee numbers led to many smaller business owners expressing little desire to grow. But this has to be overcome to scale up. “Growth does not just happen; it must be won,” the researchers say.

Action: Make a commitment to ambitious growth goals and develop an action plan with milestones, to be tested regularly by stakeholders.

Case study: Skyscanner

Travel comparison site Skyscanner was born in 2001 after co-founder Gareth Williams was struggling to compare flight prices for a ski getaway in France.

He envisioned a solution: a single website which would collate and compare flight prices all over the world.

After a pub brainstorming session with friends and co-founders Bonamy Grimes and Barry Smith, Skyscanner came into being.

It was initially a part-time operation for the three IT workers, but has since gone global. The founders have credited Skyscanner’s growth success to their ambition to grow, prior IT experience, delegation, strong managerial practices and clear strategy.

In 2015, the company had £112m revenue with a record 50 million monthly visitors to the site [3].

Key milestones:

2001: The idea for Skyscanner is born
2003: Official Skyscanner launch, office established in Edinburgh [2]
2005: Skyscanner expands into Europe [2]
2009: Car and hotel comparisons are introduced [4]
2011: Skyscanner opens an office in Singapore, as regional headquarters for its Asia-Pacific operations [5]
2013: Skyscanner opens new office in Miami as a base to build business in the US, Canada and Latin America [6]
2015: New offices in London and Sofia, Bulgaria, are opened and a total of 770 employees is reached [3]
2016: The company announces it had £120m revenues for 2015, up 28 per cent from 2014 [3]

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