Posted by: bevmeldrum | March 13, 2008

Driving Business Growth – ACEVO Conference Talk

Today I am speaking at ACEVO’s “The Business of Charity” conference in central London on the topic of “Driving Growth and Overcoming Market Competition”

This is the text from my talk.


Business Development – driving growth and overcoming market competition.

My job this morning is to introduce the topic for this session. There isn’t time to go into this in much detail so I’m going to focus mainly on the issue of getting your people right.

But let me start by introducing myself:

I have worked in the charity sector for the last 13 years starting off in homeless organisations and then in local CVSs providing business planning support. For the lat six years I have worked with charities on developing social enterprise.

My current role is as a Partner at The Tool Factory. The Tool Factory was a partnership between two existing social enterprises – 2amase and Social Enterprise Outcomes.

It all started because at 2amase we wanted to write our business plan and we were looking for some software to help us do that. But we just couldn’t find anything that suited our needs – the small business software just didn’t give us the opportunity to talk enough about our social aims and objectives – and the example business plans were irrelevant to us and often the software was just too complicated. The resources we found for organisations like ourselves were either paper-based or crude spreadsheets.

So this brings us to where we are today.

Today The Tool Factory offers a range of resources for Third Sector organisations that are looking to grow, develop and improve.

Business Plan Writer has been on the market for over a year now. E-News Writer – our email newsletter tool was launched last month. We have a blog called For More Than Profit for entrepreneurs in the Third Sector and in the coming months we will be launching E-Monitoring – the first monitoring database to monitor your soft outcomes as well as your usual monitoring statistics.

Let’s move on to the topic for this morning.

Why Grow?
The first thing we need to consider is why would we want to grow in the first place?

I like the way that Linda Damerell, from the Development Trust Association puts it:

“more profit means more mission”

If we are committed to our organisation’s social aims we will want to have the opportunity to impact more people’s lives through what we do.

Growth brings that opportunity.

A second question we need to consider is:

Can we afford to not grow? Are our organisations secure enough that we can actually stand still?

If we have secure and stable funding for the next five years or so maybe we do have the luxury of being able to just stay as we are. But if we don’t then we always need to be looking for opportunities to improve and expand what we do.

Actually, we are quite used to this as a sector aren’t we – traditionally we’ve always had our eye out for the next bit of funding and ready to re-design our projects to fit the funders new priorities at the drop of a hat.

The challenge is however, when we start to think about trading and social enterprise, the need to keep growing becomes even more important.

If you think that your social enterprise or trading idea is a good one and a real opportunity for you – there’s a real possibility that someone else has thought of it too. Or if they haven’t once they see it works for you, someone somewhere will start developing their own version.

Our Business Plan Writer software is a good example of this. When we launched it in March 2007 it was the only piece of business planning software on the market designed for the Third Sector. It still is.

However, we can’t get complacent. We know that someone somewhere will be working on an improved version or the mainstream software companies will have seen what we have achieved, realised that the Third Sector is a viable market and brought out ‘Social Enterprise’ versions on their own small business business planning tools.

How do we deal with that. As soon as we launched version 1 of Business Plan Writer we began work on version 2 – a much more sophisticated piece of software due out at the end of the year.

You will always need to keeping growing and developing your ideas. That is what will enable you to overcome market competition.

Social Enterprise As An Opportunity
Developing social enterprise activities can be about doing something new but it doesn’t have to be.

Think in terms of the resources you already have – is there a part of your building that is underused? Is there any spare capacity amongst your staff? What about your staff team’s expertise and specialist knowledge?

Another approach is to think about services that you are already delivering? Is there another way of doing this that doesn’t involve grant funding?

The best example I have come across of this is the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Wolverhampton. Traditionally they would apply for grant funding to put advisors in local community venues across the area to run ½ day advice sessions.

As you would imagine this project became harder to fund so they decided to take a completely different approach – effectively turning the whole idea on its head.

Now instead of applying for funding they offer local community centres, GP surgeries, schools etc. an advisor for ½ day a week and they charge £5,000 a year.

It is a lot easy for each community venue to raise £5,000 to bring in a trained advisor for their clients than it is for the Citizens Advice Bureau to fundraise for a large project.

At the last count they had advisors out in over 30 community venues across the area. I’ll leave you to do the math.

What I particularly like about this example is that they weren’t doing anything new – they just tried out a completely new way of thinking about it.

So a question for you think about … who else might be able to pay for the services you already offer?
Kick Starting Growth – 6 Top Tips
So if we are thinking about growth and overcoming market competition here are 6 top tips for kick starting growth in your organisation.

I’ve taken these 6 top tips for kick starting growth from Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t”

The book is based on a five-year research project into over 1,400 companies looking at what were the common elements to those companies that experienced exceptional growth.

The results of the research are useful in any organisational setting.

Tip 1 – Get the Right Leaders
Above all else you have to get the leader right.

Jim Collin’s refers to these leaders as Level 5 leaders – their ambitions and drive are first and foremost for the organisation and concern for its success not their own personal success.

Your ideal leaders are humble yet driven – get the right leader in place and you create the opportunity for growth.

Tip 2 – Get the Right People on Board
You get the best out of people when they are playing to their own strengths. We often spend too much time trying to train up our people to overcome their weaknesses.

If we are not very good at public speaking we get sent on a presentation course. If we are rubbish at finances it’s off to do some financial planning training.

If we can take a more flexible approach to roles in our organisations and release our people to play to their strengths then the growth will come.

If you’re people are not thriving at the roles they are in – take time to look at their individual strengths and move them if necessary.

That goes for Board Members as well.

Tip 3 – Confront the Brutal Facts
If we are going to create real opportunities for growth we have to encourage a culture of honesty within our organisations.

Do delve deep into why things didn’t work. But don’t assign blame. If you have the right people on board you don’t need to assign blame – everyone learns from the experience and moves on.

And do be honest with yourself if the problem is with you.

Tip 4 – Focus on What You Are Excellent At
The organisations in the research that achieved significant and sustainable growth focused purely on the things that they were excellent at – Collins calls it their hedgehog concept (you can read the book to find out why).

These organisations didn’t get distracted by opportunities that took them away from that which they excelled at – their hedgehog concept.

Ask yourself:

  • what can you become the best in the sector at?
  • what drives your social impact engine?
  • what are you deeply passionate about?

Your hedgehog concept is where these three overlap.

Tip 5 – Create Freedom Within Systems
Systems should not be about trying to control unruly staff. If you feel you need systems for that reason then you have the wrong people on board.

Bring in self-disciplined staff that don’t need to be closely managed – then keep becoming more efficient and effective by developing systems that help them rather than hinder them.

Tip 6 – Use Technology Where It Is Useful
Technology can either be more hassle than its worth or incredibly useful. Don’t get distracted by technology that doesn’t fit with your hedgehog concept – the thing you are excellent at.

But if there is a piece of technology that will help you become more efficient and effective embrace it – it will bring growth to your organisation.

If can do these six things you will find that growth becomes a natural thing in your organisation.

Facing The Challenges

The biggest obstacle to growth will be having the wrong people on board and forcing the right people to do too much in their role that doesn’t play to their strengths.

Get the people right and any other challenge becomes an opportunity for creative thinking and growth.

Quick Wins
So finally four things you can go away from today and start immediately as you look to drive growth in your organisation:

Start with your people:

  • find their strengths and tweak their roles to reflect them
  • help your people become more efficient and effective
  • celebrate success
  • and finally build relationships … wherever you can under promise and over deliver.

Thank you for your time.

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