What are the characteristics of High Growth businesses? #HGPoll

by Colin Bell Email

A few weeks ago I embarked on a CrowdSourcing experiment asking what the characteristics of High Growth businesses are. Although most acknowledge that there is no set formula (and I think they are right), please find a summary of the responses below:

Great Leadership

>      Aspiration to grow

>      Have a clear vision

>      Have stretching growth goals

>      Clear communication

>      Are optimistic

>      Recruit and manage talent (focused on building an A team rather than a B team)

>      Has the right talent in the right roles

Ability to read the market

>      Have foresight - spot opportunities in growth sectors

>      Position themselves to catch the right wave

React to market opportunities

>      React quickly, fast paced

>      Think about the 2nd bounce of the ball - they have another great opportunity in reserve.

Culture & day to day approach

>      Proactive

>      Competitive

>      Creative

>      Innovative

>      Continually adapt

>      Measurement culture

>      Good use of technology

Research referenced: The Top Ten Percenters' Professor David Storey - download via link below:


Contributors: Bernard Goodchild, Alan Dring, Ray Portman, Neil Young, Caroline Law, Ged Mirfin, David Rowe, Heather Forrester

A BIG thanks for getting involved and if anyone has any further comments or observations then lets keep the #HGPoll going.........



It’s all about hands and legs

by Colin Bell Email

Perhaps it's an over simplistic view but when starting a business there are two vital ingredients:

1.     You need a good idea - one that has legs,

2.     in good hands

idea graphic

One doesn't work without the other. We therefore need to work on both the people and the idea. If the hands aren't good then it's a tough nut to crack, as a common characteristic of poor hands is not letting go - yet it can be done.

Perhaps a contentious issue but I strongly believe that creativity can be taught and that if the hands are good then ideas can be grown.  The evidence is there, we do this all the time.  It's our job to help people take a step back, break old habits and look at things from a different perspective.

And the building blocks required.............


Lets Make 2012 the year of West Midlands Innovation

by Colin Bell Email

The West Midlands is punching below its weight. Research indicates that on average 7% of all UK businesses are experiencing High Growth and that this same 7% generate the majority of new jobs. The West Midlands challenge is that the starting line if further back than the rest of the UK, having a High Growth business density of only 5% (NESTA 2011).

The response demanded from the West Midlands is two fold:

1.     To create quick wins, build cash and generate sales quickly,

2.     Whilst at the same time, building long-term value in Businesses and the Economy.

Business Model Innovation (BMI) provides an opportunity to respond to both of these demands. It delivers a 4 times higher return than product or process focused innovation and continues to yield higher returns over the longer-term (Boston Consulting Group & Business Week 2009)

What is Business Model Innovation?

Business Model Innovation is concerned with the reinvention of a business, to deliver a superior value proposition through a business model that captures value at each stage of the customer journey. It focuses on capturing value in the short term and creating value over the long term.

Short Term = Value Capture

Short term value capture is realised through the reinvention of the business model to expand existing markets and penetrate new markets.  This allows the value proposition to be delivered in a different, and often disruptive, way. The ability to deliver a superior value proposition is based on a superior knowledge of customer trends, needs and behaviours.

Long Term = Value Creation

Customer knowledge is at the heart of Business Model Innovation and as such Value Creation is developed over time as knowledge of the customer grows. This results in a multilayered innovation effect that transcends each section of the customer journey. This multilayered and continuous approach to innovation means that the replication of the value proposition is incredibly hard to achieve.

Think about Apple - competitors can replicate the iPhone or iPad. It's much more difficult however to replicate how the iTunes platform integrates with these devices - this is multilayered business model innovation.

Businesses therefore must not take a narrow approach to innovation; rather they should focus on innovating at each stage of the customer journey, using technology to optimise all aspects of their business to deliver a superior value proposition.


To realise long-term value creation, businesses must develop an innovation culture that continuously anticipates, adapts and innovates - this cycle must be embedded in the organisation's psyche.

adaptation cycle

In summary BMI generates a higher return overtime as:

>      Multilayered innovation is more difficult to imitate;

>      The value proposition provides the context for innovation and the alignment of resources and effort;

>      Customer lock-in is engineered into the business model;

>      The Value Proposition is continuously adapted & reviewed;

>      A Value focus combined with strong leadership means everyone involved understand the part they play;

>      The optimisation of technology, resources and effort can result in a lower cost structure;

>      The business competes on their superior knowledge of the customer.

A call to action

Lets mobilise our collective skills, creativity resources and determination to recapture the top position.

Associated blogs:

I've previously blogged on Freemium, which is a great example of Business Model Innovation

Zoë's blog on Value Proposition will also help demystify the concept.


Defining your Value Proposition

by Zoe Wallis Email


Why do customers buy from you?

If you can’t answer that question, you don’t know what your business is all about.  Why people buy from your business, over and above any other is what makes you unique.  If you can’t articulate what makes you different, what your Unique Selling Proposition, or USP, actually is, then how do you expect to attract new customers as well as retain the existing ones?

The odds are that there are other businesses selling what you sell and doing what you do already.  Unless you happen to be the first person to hit on the next big thing, there’s no point trying to compete in terms of what you’re selling.  This leaves SMEs with 2 options to stand out from the competition:

1) Compete on the basis of price (ie sell things more cheaply)

2) Compete on the basis of offer (ie not just what you sell but how you package and sell it

For SMEs, competing on price is very risky.  You’ve set your price at a level for a reason and whilst there may be some margin for negotiation, the fact is that once you start entering the game of negotiation with customers on the basis of price, you’re putting yourself in a position where a) you will make less money and will have to work even harder to maintain profits (or for that matter remain profitable!) and b) you permanently devalue your brand and product.  You will forever be seen as a ‘cheap’ supplier; a position that is hard to live up to for an SME.

This then brings about the bigger problem.  Customers will pay a price because they perceive goods/services have a certain value and they therefore weight that perceived value in the context of the actual price.  By dropping the price of your goods and services, you’re demonstrating to your customers that they’re actually worth less and that the customer’s perception of value at the higher level was misinformed.  You’re effectively devaluing yourself, your business, your IP and opening the door for your customers to negotiate with you on the price of all of your products and services.

To avoid this trap, and indeed to pull yourself out of it, SMEs need to establish what differentiates them for their marketplace.  They need their customers to perceive them as better value for money, not because their products and services are cheapest but because they provide something that is unique to their product.

Most readers of this blog will be mobile phone owners.  You know that the mobile phone marketplace is saturated with network providers. Whilst price may be a small consideration in your choice of provider, it is generally outweighed by other factors such as brand, network coverage, freebies, level of customer service….etc  All things that contribute to an excellent experience as a consumer.

Most people will consider paying a couple of extra pound per month because it means they get good service, or that they get away from continuing to experience bad service.  In fact, the strength of these other ‘things’ often means that customers won’t even shop around.  I recall being a customer of one such provider and on account of receiving what, in my opinion, amounted to atrocious customer service (long call queuing times, rude customer service assistants, phone put down as soon as I got through requiring me to queue in the calling system yet again, transferred through to the wrong departments….the list goes on) I changed my mobile phone provider as soon as I could and have never gone back to them since.  In fact my experience with the new provider has been poles apart from the old provider; so much so that I have been with them as a customer since 2006 and would not consider switching.  Granted they may not always be the cheapest deal, however I can guarantee that I will benefit from a fantastic customer experience.



...how does this apply in the context of your business?  How can you compete on this basis?

Quite simply by identifying your core product and service and then surrounding it with added value elements that will deliver a great customer experience.  Things like great quality, excellent service, freebies, a recognisable brand.  The added value elements may differ slightly for each product/service you offer or may differ by market segment, but they’ll still be there and wills till be influential factors for your customers.  These can be used to help shape and develop your sales and marketing plans.

It is these added value components that will enable you to differentiate from the competition and clearly define what makes you as an organisation unique. When you establish this, you establish a clear reason why customers should buy from you rather than your competitors, not just this time but every time. This is your value proposition and it’s this that differentiates you from the competition and makes you unique.

Winning Moves Core and Surround

Defining your value proposition need not be a daunting task. Simply, pick one of your key products and services. Then….

  1. Identify your competitors and ask questions about how they operate, using the outer 2 circles of the model for prompts. How do they sell that product? who do they sell to, how do they package and display it (what’s the brand/image they apply)? What added extras do they provide? What skills do they have that make them better at delivering the product/service than us?
  2. Now ask yourself those same questions. Are you doing the same thing? Importantly, could you do something different? Is there a new way you could brand/package/sell/deliver the product/service that’s different from everyone else?

This isn’t about reinventing the wheel but it is about looking at things differently. Ask yourself "Why" – Why do we sell that way? Why do we call it that? Why do our customers buy from us? Why might our customers shop elsewhere? Why do we call our product that?


When you’ve asked “Why” start asking “What If” – What if we called it “x”? What if we made it pink/green/blue…instead of black? What if we provided our service at a different time? What if we worked different hours? And so on.

Let all questions be valid ones and answer them honestly. Use these as the basis for changes you could make that allow you to define your products and services in a different way and that make your value proposition unique.


starting and running a small business

by Adrian Davies Email


I have been asked several times by friends and friends of friends what advice I can give about starting and running a business.  This is typical of my response ...

1. know where you’re going

Vision is an often misunderstood concept, so put aside the theory.  For me, when I was starting a business, vision was always about knowing where “I” wanted to be.  What did starting a business mean for me? At some point, you may need to agree a collective vision for your business - to satisfy the needs of your partners or shareholders, but never lose sight of what it means for you.  And, visions can be personal things - don’t be forced into sharing them, but equally don’t be embarrassed by them.  My fellow partners in Winning Moves know exactly what my personal vision is (and me theirs) and how it fits into our collective vision of the company.

2. ask yourself, “why?”

Why are you doing this?  Why are you running your own business?  There really isn’t any right answer, but try and be clear why you are doing it.  I read a piece of research by the Kaufman foundation which revealed that most entrepreneurs  are in business to create value (wealth) - nearly 75%.  Perfect!  From my economic A-level studies I remember that the purpose of any business is to make a profit; so if you can create a business that persistently makes a profit, you’re building value.  But, there has to be more to it than that, doesn’t there?  Wealth creation is one of the goals for you and your business - maybe even your vision - but there has to be more.  If there isn’t, then you could be doing anything from criminal activity to being a thrifty employee.  There has to be some reason why your are doing this particular business.  Whatever the reason, if it doesn’t put a spring in your step and a smile on your face, think about doing something else - otherwise, you may end up being rich and miserable. I know 1 or 2 people like that!

3. let ends drive means

I am privileged that Winning Moves has worked with literally many thousands of businesses.  What is fascinating for me is how people set objectives and targets.  Most businesses plan with reference to the past; they set targets that reflect current ways of working; that are grounded in current possibilities.  What this does is maintains status quo.  It isn’t disruptive.  This is why Skype was created by 2 people who didn’t work in the telecoms industry - they weren’t constrained by the past - see later.  So set yourself and your businesses goals that will stretch you; that will make you feel uncomfortable; and that will make you have to make some changes in order to achieve them.  Unless, of course, status quo is good enough - and for many it is.

When I started my software business, I knew very little about software - I saw an opportunity presented by the emergence of Web technologies and knew I wanted to be a part of it.  I had no idea how it was going to happen; I just knew it would.  So I set some goals that stretched me and that would have been impossible to achieve if I limited my thinking to current possibilities.  In fact, I never would have gotten started.  The first thing I did, though, was a Masters Degree in IT and Software Engineering, as I believie you have to understand the business you are in ....

One of the best definitions of entrepreneurship I have seen is:

"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." Howard Stevenson, Harvard University

This really underscores the point.  If you define your visions and goals in the context of current resources and capabilities, you are are not being entreprenuerial.

4. make sure you understand the business you are in

Unless you are an investor and you have identified a business that has a great product or idea, with an exceptional management team and with a large and growing market for what the product or service is, under no circumstances get involved unless you understand the business 100%.  Now, let me repeat this, because this is a really important point: don’t get involved unless you understand your product and market really well. This is why the failure rate is so high for start-up restaurants; the owners started them because they can cook!  What they fail to recognise are all of the other important aspects of running a succesful restaurant and the market in which will they will operate.

5. Just do it

How many times do you hear somebody tell you that they had the business idea behind some current day success story but didn’t do anything with it!  I hear this all the time.  In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve actually said this a number of times myself.  My attitude tends to be, if you have an idea that you believe in, follow the Nike mantra and “Just do it!”  I’m not suggesting recklessness, but I am saying don’t procrastinate.  My own mantra and one that we use at Winning Moves is “fail fast.”  Don’t over analyse things; you sometime just know things will work but if you try and rationalise your feelings, you’ll end up talking yourself out of it (take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink).  So instead, we just do it. You will end up with some failures, but as long as you recognise them quickly, you are one-step closer to the big one; the idea that is going to change your life.

6. trust yourself

In almost every venture I have started, I have chosen to partner with someone.  Not because they had the great idea, or the finance, but because they were a friend or colleague that I valued.  The thought of going into business on my own always scared me; and so having somebody to share my dreams with, mull over the difficulties with, and contemplate the various options with, was very appealing.  On almost every occasion, though, this has failed.  More often than not, people can’t run at your pace - they slow you down. This is largely due to the fact that my partners were adding not a great deal more than I could have bought in as hired labour, but I had sacrificed control and given up equity.  Also, I was usually taking most of the risk, but was sharing the reward.  This breeds resentment and as soon as you start to feel this way, there is only one direction things are going to go.  So unless you fully understand your respective roles and each of you believes that you can bring something more than your labour, go it alone.

7. be tenacious

The number of times I’ve nearly given up.  In fact, on some of my earlier ventures, I did give up.  There was nothing fundamentally wrong with those early businesses, things just weren’t happening fast enough and I gave up on them.  I’ve since seen others doing the thingss that I gave up on with incredible results.  They had stuck it out and through their own tenacity, hard work and favourable changes in market conditions have made great successes of their business.  My current business is only where it is because I have become tenacious.  Even when things have been really tough, we have kept going.  It would have been easy on a number of occasions to give up and this is why so many fail, they give up too soon.

8. work out the next bounce of the ball

You will have maybe come across the terms “foresight” or “horizon scanning.”  Basically, these terms allude to the competitive benefit that can be gained from anticipating trends in your market.  In fact, if you are really clever, you can create these trends!!  The second bounce is a metaphor for this.  The first bounce is obvious to all; it is the second bounce that’s harder to predict.  Those that predict it accurately stand to gain significantly.  Again, in my current business, we are investing heavily in anticipation of the next bounce ... let’s hope we get it right.  Ronald Cohen has written a great book on this subject.

9. surround yourself with good people that you can trust

People make the difference!  They also make the job much more fun.  Having the right people means that you don’t have to micro manage; that you can trust things to be done when you’re not there; but, most importantly, that you are going to achieve your intended results.  If you have the right people, they will demand more from you than a job.  And it’s only right that they should share in the success ... after all they are sharing the risk.  Working for a small business is very risky - not because of its size or financial position - but because if you are ambitious, the opportunity cost in terms of a career elsewhere can be enormous.

10. look in the mirror

Mahatma Gandhi summed this up for me when he said, “be the change you want to see in the World.”  It’s the same in the office; be the person you want others to be - be your ideal employee. If you want energy levels to be high, be energetic yourself; if you want people to work long hours, don’t be the first to leave the office every day; don’t drive a big car and penny pinch over someone else’s mileage claim; don’t refuse flexibility around child arrangements, and leave the office early to collect the kids; don’t bang on about punctuality and arrive late for meetings.  I’ve seen all of these things done.  And I know there is another school of thought; one that says, “it’s my business, I’ve earned the right ...”  There is some logic to this argument, but equally I’ve seen the effects it has on people.  If you can’t be consistent between your own behaviour and that which you expect, have good reason for it - “It’s my business” isn’t good enough!!

11. be careful about the advice you seek

This has bit me on the arse several times, but most notably in respect of property.  Back in the mid 90’s, I came across an investment opportunity - to buy cheap houses and rent them out.  It was phenomenal - I could get a terraced house for as little as £15,000 and rent it out for £2,500.  What a return!  On my minimal deposit of £1,500, after all debt servicing and maintenance, I would clear up to a £1,000 - that’s right up to 75% on my investment.  It was, as they say, a no brainer and I quickly developed a small portfolio.  Except, a surveyor friend told me I was being foolish; that the houses I was buying were “sub-market.”  This was a term he used to describe houses that were below the value that a first time buyer could afford on an average salary, using mortgage lenders income multipliers of 3.5 times combined salary.  In fact, so much below market value were they, that he convinced me I would get my fingers burned; he didn’t just advise me, he urged me to stop in my madness.  I did!  He was a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Surveyors and I knew little about property cycles.  I couldn’t go against his warnings, could I?  Within a year, the term ‘buy-to-let’ was coined and lot’s of people made lots of money.  I made some, but not as much as I would have done if I had followed my own counsel

12. there are no shortcuts

The very clever boys that created Skype, sold it to eBay for over $4bn within 2-years of it’s creation.  How staggering is that!?  It is staggering not just in the value that was created in a short space of time, but also how such a disruptive technology emerged and took hold so quickly.  Nobody could have predicted that - not even the clever boys at Skype.  For most of us, that’s not going to happen; you’re going to have to be patient.  And, if I’m honest, it’s going to be a lot of hard work.  It isn’t all rock ‘n roll, as they say.  Just as glamour models have made us all feel fat, the current obsession with entrepreneurs is in danger of making us businessmen and woman feel inadequate in a different way. Don’t!!  We are just not all destined to be super models, but that’s not to say that we are not going to do some great things, have a great deal of fun and make some money along the way.

13. never forget who the customer is

I interviewed someone for a job recently and she had a personal mission of, “leaving a positive impression on everyone she meets.”  Wow!  I loved that.  And ... she did.  I will remember that little expression, and that interview and this person forever.  There are not many people who come into our lives that can do that!  And it wasn’t just the words; you knew she meant it.  I think the reason it connected with me so much was that is how I have always felt about my customers: I want to leave a positive impression on all of them.  Even if they will never do business with me again, I want them to have had a positive experience.  This relates to not only the products and services we sell; but also the Winning Moves gang; our office; our philosophy; in fact, everything - absolutely everything.  And let me tell you, despite almost every organisation claiming that customer service is important to them, very few have this as their mission.  Make this your mission today; it is possibly the only USP you will ever need.

14. don’t try and create markets (unless you have tons of money)

I’ve fallen into this trap so many times, I can’t believe it still happens to me.  Picture the scene: we have a great idea for a product; there is no other product like it in the market; it is within our wit to design, build and market it; and only a fraction of the market needs to take it for it to change all of our lives.  Now you’d have to to a fool not to go ahead ... wouldn’t you?  The problem is the market doesn’t know that it needs it; it hasn’t yet identified the problem our product solves.  The Sinclair C5 is a great example of this; a product created by a genius in my opinion.  What problem was the C5 solving for people?  It was a product trying to find a market!!  In some cases, you can create the market; as Apple have done with the iPod, but you need lots of money, time and a killer product.  What most of us should look for is a market that needs a product or a problem that needs a solution.

15. have outside interests

This is really important, but I didn’t realise just how much until I got a little older.  I used to be totally focused on my career; to the exclusion of almost everything else.  I didn’t play sports, I didn’t socialise that much, I didn’t have any hobbies, I didn’t even watch TV.  So I worked, studied, read and watched a bit of TV (usually factual).  All this work and no play, you could have called me Jack!  I think things changed with the arrival of my daughter, as it forced a little balance; but it also made me realise that time away from work, made it all that more enjoyable.  A bit like dieting makes food more enjoyable, so too does getting a bit of balance in your life.  And, it will make you a a more interesting person too.

16. don’t take things too seriously

Enjoy the journey.  Enough said.

And remember being an entrepreneur is cool.  Steve Jobs was one of the coolest guys on the planet and will be forever an icon.


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