In our Scale-up series with sponsor Smith & Williamson we've been speaking to experts in rapid and sustainable growth on their tips for those looking to do the same.

NBA : Hi Rebecca, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

RC: My name is Rebecca Combes, and I am Head of the Business Tax Team for Smith & Williamson’s Southampton office.  As a team, our core focus is in delivering an exceptional, value-added tax service to our clients, be it on the routine compliance front, or in helping them work through significant operational changes in the business and understanding the tax implications thereof.  The South Coast has a huge, diverse range of businesses and it’s an ever evolving area to work in.

NBA : In the economy’s current climate what do you think are the biggest challenges for scale-up business?

RC: I think there has been such a huge pressure on staff and businesses that everyone is under-resourced and still feeling the deliver results.  That means a real “heads down” mentality has kicked in and thus the connectivity is being lost amongst peers and potential opportunities not being exploited fully.

"Access to good staff is challenging, which in turn prohibits real growth."

RC: We are also still in a phase of staff not wanting to move for fear of being last in first out if things down turn again.  Thus access to good staff is challenging, which in turn prohibits real growth.

Clearly I would say this! But I do think a complex and often uncertain tax system also adds a challenge to scale up businesses.  I don’t think tax is at the forefront of people’s mind when growing their business, however, it can present obstacles and hurdles which is frustrating and may cause some loss of momentum on the growth curve.

NBA : Do you have an outstanding example of a local company which has achieved scale-up status?

RC: There have been a couple of local businesses recently that have grown very quickly and since sold, which is always interesting to see and understand. On a smaller scale, CoolLED Limited is a client recently sold to Judges Scientific plc, and a local company that grew quickly with a clear plan and strategic direction to achieve.  Their focus was around developing and exploiting their technology and finding new routes to market.  Ultimately, that has proved successful for them thus far. 

"It’s about being bold… but respecting the market and staff"

RC: At the larger end, Naim Audio are a client who have continued to expand their product range and into new territories, and have taken the bold step of focusing their recent efforts on their new MuSo and Mini-Muso products.  These follow a very different model from everything they have previously done, and early signs are this has been a highly successful move for them.

Although not a client, PampurredPets is another local business that has grown and continued to expand its store presence despite the economic conditions.  That group has just been sold to Pets Corner, a move that will see them having a combined store number of over 150 across the UK.

NBA : What learnings can we take from CoolLED or Naim?

RC: For CoolLED and Naim Audio I think it’s about being bold and willing to take a risk on trying something new, but at the same time continuing to respect the market, their staff, and their peers etc to preserve existing value.

"Always have a plan B."

NBA : What would be your top tip for companies looking to achieve sustained growth?

RC: Be bold but not rash.  Sustainable growth will come from being bold enough to risk making mistakes, but then learning from those mistakes and being confident enough to make assured decisions.

NBA : Any advice to avoid the pitfalls of sustained growth?

RC: Always have a plan B.  Be trusting and open but don’t trust everyone or everything.

NBA : What are the biggest factors influencing sustainable growth along the South Coast currently?

RC: It’s an expanding economy but I feel its one that is being pulled in lots of different directions and perhaps isn’t quite sure what’s its identity is or should be.  Certainly, within Southampton itself, the current dominance is the growing University and student population, but at the same time, we have a great wealth of businesses and business advisors and retaining clear access to those will be critical for the area.

NBA : What message would being the Smith & Williamson Scale-Up Business of the Year tell investors, potential clients and partners about that winner?

"“Scale-Up” is a relatively modern term and something we will see used much more over the next few years."

RC: Winning awards is always a good thing; it adds credence, it boosts morale and confidence, it’s a real hook to hang your hat on and shout about.  I think “Scale-Up” is a relatively modern term and something we will see used much more over the next few years, clearly being a focus of Government and its advisors.  That’s why we, as a firm, have been so proud to get involved in the new Scale-Up Institute at its founding stages, and that same value will be passed on to the winner of this award.

NBA: Thanks for speaking with us Rebecca.

RC: My pleasure.

Scale-Up Part 3

Read the latest issue of the Scale-Up interviews


Scale-Up Part 1

Jeff Seldon gives us his insight into growing businesses, and making the most of your advantages while you still can.

Krista Woodman about getting the timing right to achieve sustainable scale-up and having the resources to back it up


Smith & Williamson

The firm has a dedicated entrepreneurs group which understands the complexities facing growing businesses and their owners, providing end-to-end services to meet their needs.


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Regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for a range of investment business activities. A member of Nexia International


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