Cast your mind back to when you started your business. Can you remember why you did it? Did it happen to be because the doyens of the industry had become old-fashioned and you, the upstart, could see a radical new way of doing it?
Let’s talk about today then. How’s it all going?
Lots of competition? Tricky times? And who’s winning pitches ahead of you? Who’s getting the staff you want to hire? Who’s getting all the accolades?
It’s not that new upstart is it?
One of the most fascinating aspects of talking to and hear from lots of businesses, is that I get to see patterns. And one of the most prevalent patterns I’ve seen recently is that of middle-aged (in business terms, no reflection on the founder) professional services firms feeling the heat from new young businesses in their industry.
The professional services industry (PR, marketing, advertising, recruitment, accounting, etc) lends itself nicely to this cycle.
As a youngster you join a firm, get trained, notice the business’s failings, and decide you can do it better. And off you go starting your own business.
Once there you find it’s pretty tough, but you hang on in, winning work because of your new vision, and hiring people who find your excitement contagious.
You forge a successful business, you learn what works and what doesn’t work, you stop taking risks and you settle into a comfortable existence. You might do things a little better and you might become a little bigger. But you don’t do anything radical. Your clients seem to like you, are used to the way you do things and you don’t want to go upsetting the apple cart.
First of all you don’t even notice the new businesses popping up.
When you do you’re not bothered. You have a giggle over the innocence of the new businesses’ founders. “That will never work”, you chortle.
After a little while you’re a little taken aback to find that some of your clients are quite taken in by these new business. What? Your longest standing clients are actually starting to believe the promise of a different way of doing things? You start to feel a bit threatened by this so you, um, rubbish the competition. “It’s all gloss, you know. These businesses have no substance, no experience. They’ll be gone within a year”, you say.
But they’re not – which brings us to today.
You finally realise that these new business are, groan, actually very good and, yep, they are here to stay.
So what do you do? How do you compete? Well you have to get your sparkle back.
To do that you need to start by stepping away from your business (metaphorically only please, no need to throw in the towel yet) and ask what’s wrong with the way your industry works.
Then, get some of your youngest and newest employees together to find out what they think about the industry and your business’s place in it. Have a look at what’s happening overseas. Look at other similar industries and see what’s happening there. And take a look at those new businesses in your industry, what are they doing well?
You’ve shaken up the industry once, you can do it again. You’ve just got to shift your eyes from inside your business to outside your business. Oh yes, and get a little of your youthful anti-establishmentarianism back!
Julia Bickerstaff‘s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has an economics degree from The London School of Economics (London University).