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03 Auigust 2017
When Jenny Knighting founded Nutcracker Agency in May 2014 her friends and family were thrilled, yet sceptical about the rate of growth she envisaged. Fast-forward three years and Jenny and the team have smashed those projections with a year-on-year growth of 96%, and are now finalists for the New Business of the Year at the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards. Here's what she's learnt along the way.
By Jenny Knighting, founder and MD of Nutcracker Agency.
Hire people who are better than you...
I know my strengths but I also know my weaknesses. If you don't hire people with different strengths to your own, you'll create something that stops at the limit of your own skill-set. Don't be afraid to hire people who are as talented as you are; leave your ego at the door.
....and make them feel special
You can't grow your business without talent, but who wants to work for a small business or start-up? Plenty of people. The key is to attract them with the right incentives and assurances, which might be flexible working, part-time or training opportunities. It's your job to attract high-calibre people by making your business an attractive proposition and a fantastic place to work.
...and then hold on to them
Once you've recruited a great team you need to remember that they are a team of individuals. Ensure that every member of your staff is motivated to fulfil his or her own potential. Remember why you employed that team-member and utilise his or her skills fully. Involve all your team in decision making (where appropriate) and ensure that everyone feels valued and part of the company's success.
Set goals and have clear financial targets…
It's not very sexy, but what makes a business successful is that all-important business plan and a competent structure to support it. I see many start-ups with fantastic ideas and tonnes of passion and energy, but they're too disorganised – too involved in their own imagined successful endpoint. There's no organisational structure and no clear business plan to support their brilliant ideas.
… and stick to them
As a business leader you need to set clear financial targets from day one. The plan needs to be fine-tuned by regularly visiting it and comparing it with what's being achieved and making sure that the two don't diverge too much. Monthly, as well as quarterly targets, are essential for start-ups: plan how you're going to hit or surpass those targets. Planning might seem dull and far removed from the grand ideas but it's vitally important.
Plan for resource growth (and use freelancers)
Yes, it's the p-word again. It's no good planning for growth if you don't plan for the resources that you'll need to grow. This is especially true for start-ups with very small teams. Too many people ignore the freelance market and consequently turn their back on great talent. At Nutcracker we used freelancers from the very beginning and we continue to use them to supplement our growing team. Motivating freelancers isn't very different from motivating your PAYE employees. They are an asset to your organisation and need to be treated as such.
Create a culture for growth – not one of fear
Be careful not to rule through fear – I've seen this happen too many times. While your business might struggle financially to begin with, this is no reason to make your employees feel nervous about losing their jobs. It is usually best to keep your woes to yourself. It is without doubt more beneficial to motivate and energise your team so that they work smarter and more enthusiastically. Your team should have clear, attainable goals that will motivate and drive them forward.
Spend wisely (not lavishly)
It may seem obvious but many small businesses and start-ups are wasteful – and this does hold up growth and can even prove fatal. An unnecessarily lavish office, a reluctance to consult professionals, and buying the wrong equipment are just a few of the wasteful choices I've come across. Don't feed your ego with swanky office space or believe that you have accountancy skills or IT skills. Someone else is almost always better placed to advise you. By not being directly involved with a business and outside professional can provide a fresh – and often valuable – perspective. Spend money, but spend it in the right places.
Know that it's not (all) about the money, money, money...
Jessie J was on to something: not every single piece of work will necessarily make a tidy profit in the beginning. Loss leaders don't just apply to supermarkets. When looking at business opportunities don't just consider the level of profit, how lucrative it may be, but think about other gains it could bring instead. Opportunities such as entering a new market or consistent work for your freelancers. Play the long game.
Network, network and network...
This one is particularly hard for time-poor business leaders, but it's still so important. Get out there and meet people and tell them about your business; the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards is a great way of doing this and getting the whole team involved. If the idea of networking makes your skin crawl then make sure that your BDMs are doing plenty of it, which leads me nicely onto my next point.
...hire a brilliant sales director (or an agency)
You can do all the above but, ultimately, to grow your business you need new business. Take a moment to think about your sales team or sales manager. Is he or she brilliant? Would you buy from that person? Is the pitch water-tight? Do you have the collateral to back the pitch up? I've worked with businesses who spend years developing innovative products and services – disruptive businesses driving real change in their respective industries – but nobody knows about them. Why? Because their sales and marketing arm is too poor.
Lastly, remember that it's a marathon not a 100m sprint
While it can be tempting to take on lots of new business very quickly, beware of taking on too much and not delivering the standard of quality you want – and need – to build your reputation and keep on growing. This is something I've simply had to learn in my time building Nutcracker Agency. Be patient, it will pay off. You'll see.
Jenny Knighting is founder and MD of Nutcracker Agency: an integrated sales and marketing organisation that specialises in helping SMEs scale.