With Lord Young, Michelle Mone and Richard Reed delivering speeches, I was in the presence of business royalty for three hours at the Future of British Business Growth event. Aware this calibre of entrepreneur is pretty tricky to come by, I spent much of the morning scribbling down notes, trying to keep track of all the advice.
Combining keynote addresses with a lengthy panel discussion, the event offered SMEs a chance to gain some excellent growth tips. In addition to the entrepreneurs mentioned This is Money’s editor was in attendance, along with Tom Lawton – a renowned inventor with plenty of expertise. Enterprise Nation’s Emma Jones ran proceedings and kept the questions flowing.
Eager to pick their business brains? Here’s my top five takeaways from the day…
Seek clients in the public sector
Lord Young kicked off the day by unveiling government plans to cut red tape, the coalition is set to make it simpler for small businesses to win public sector contracts.
He suggested that more opportunities will soon become available via the Contracts Finder portal and promised that the government would do all in its power to make the public sector more accessible. As part of these plans he intends to push for the scrapping of PQQs (although only on contracts below £200,000).
Elsewhere he committed to confronting the problem of late payment, promising that the public sector would be required to pay up in 30 days. Refuse and they’ll face interest payments and public naming and shaming. A raft of measures first announced last year, judging by this speech, are on their way.
Constantly engage with your customers
‘Nowadays customers aren’t loyal’ stated Mone in the panel discussion, pointing to the way the web has intensified competition. She insisted that Ultimo stay one step ahead by constant engagement with customers and suppliers, revealing that she’s set to throw a dinner for her top 50 so she can speak and listen to them personally.
Throwing a lavish get together will be out of the reach of many small businesses but it’s still possible to engage on budget as Mone later explained. She revealed that focus groups and social media play a key part in Ultimo’s customer research, and these channels needn’t cost too much – social media engagement can even be free.
Perfect your PR
During her speech Michelle Mone talked about how PR helped Ultimo grow, reminding the audience of her infamous ‘surgeons against Ultimo’ stunt.
With her lingerie designs set to launch in London Selfridges she knew she had to capture public attention, so with her last £500 she hired some actors to protest outside the store. Masquerading as angry plastic surgeons, their ire attracted media attention, putting her brand in the public eye and shifting products in the process.
PR doesn’t have to be pricey – as this little stunt illustrated – and it can bring fantastic results. This is Money editor Simon Lambert echoed the importance of PR and told SMEs to simply ‘get their stories out there’. He insisted that journalists like writing about success stories, so if you’ve got good news, share it. Ensure you’ve got a good website and solid social media accounts though, as he stated journalists judge credibility through these.
Create a culture
Every panellist emphasised the importance of creating a company culture, agreeing that this was central to keeping and attracting the very best talent. Innocent’s Richard Reed was especially passionate here, suggesting that it was key to their success.
‘Anti gun crime, pro cheese’ was one Innocent value that drew laughs from the audience – but it illustrated an important point. Drawn up by an Innocent employee it reflected the company’s cohesion, Reed stating that the company’s distinct culture was created democratically.
Policies like these were commonplace at both Innocent and Ultimo, employee engagement and clear company values keeping these businesses on track. Create a one-sentence mission statement Reed suggested, as it’ll give your business focus. Become the best at one thing he insisted, before you think about expanding elsewhere.
We all know that technology has a huge role to play in the future of British Growth, so it was particularly interesting to see Michelle Mone and Tom Lawton go against the grain a little.
Michelle emphasised the importance of doing deals in person, so ‘you could gauge a client through their eyes’ whilst Tom outlined the benefits of stepping away from technology. Switching off and getting away from a screen helped both of them creatively, and judging by their success it’s done them no harm – so on that note I’m off down the park.
First published on Simply Business