One of the sustained ideologies of modern business is the expectation of continuous growth. I am not going to argue against that.
However, I do wish to start with this notion: not every entrepreneur or company is seeking growth, and I don’t think everyone should. In our society, it also needs to be acceptable just to run your own business for your own reasonable income, as an alternative to working as an employee somewhere.
That said, my article still focuses on my short selection of business growth fundamentals, for those who really are seeking growth.
Know Your Environment and Build Your Vision
Days of strict strategic long-term targets and plans are gone. The days of strategic thinking and strategic choices certainly are not. In fact, I think they are needed perhaps more today than ever before.
Major growth stories are almost always driven by an early realization of a possible future state of things. An outline of a potential future. Better yet in plural: of potential alternative futures.
I think you should continuously and systematically be scanning your business environment to build your own understanding of those potential futures. And of your position in those different futures. This is fundamental to staying alert with all your business decisions: which futures are supported by your choices today, which perhaps not. Which fully new opportunities you can identify and should really seek after, which ones not.
Continuously building your vision is also key to identifying your competition – both existing and emerging.
Finally, visions of your future operating environment and of your position in that future world are valuable stories to tell your customers today. And again, to learn more from their responses.
Know Your Customer and Focus. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Easier said than done. As an early-stage entrepreneur (and previously as a corporate business developer), I am seeing new opportunities everywhere! It’s just that with so limited resources, you really, really, need to focus your efforts.
You need to focus on many levels. I think that especially in the early stages of growth the most important one to focus on is your product-market fit. And, ultimately, this is about customer understanding.
Why is a customer buying your product or service? In other cases, why not? Do you really know the answers?
Well, ask! Many, many customers – consumers and corporates alike – will tell you why they bought from you. Surprisingly many will also tell you why they did not buy from you. But you need to ask.
The core value your customers are seeking oftentimes is not exactly what you first thought. It may even be something a lot simpler than you originally thought it was. Focus on this understanding, and it will guide you in keeping your customers satisfied. In articulating your next marketing messages. And in finding new target markets for growth.
Deeply understanding the customer-experienced value of today will also help you realize their changing expectations in future. And, thus, not too surprisingly, to grow again.
Put Your Ideas to Execution. But First Test Them, Cheap and Fast.
At large corporates, the five most-discussed innovation topics in 2019 are employee centricity, innovation culture, rapid prototyping, digital transformation, and ecosystem and startup collaboration.
Of those five, I’d pick rapid prototyping as my favourite for being applicable to any business of any size, in any stage of their business, seeking new growth.
For anyone seeking growth, I have noticed it’s usually not the lack of ideas holding you back. It is more about choosing the right ideas and being rigid about the execution to follow.
Overlapping with the need to focus I mentioned earlier, I think you should put your ideas on a real test to see if they stick. Test them fast and cheap. Fail or succeed. Learn. And repeat.
Do NOT try out all your ideas at once, but prioritize. Give your ideas a real chance. Be systematic about your trials.
As a fabricated example of going for rapid trials, and even idea prioritizations: what if McDonald’s had two competing brilliant ideas of starting either a McSushi or a McPasta product line?
Traditionally, the guys and gals at McDonald’s would be calculating their market size estimations, doing focus groups, and segmenting the market, building the business case. Simultaneously they’d be working on a test run of these new products, trying out their recipes, working with new suppliers, and so on. Then, ultimately, they’d run a test campaign in selected restaurants. Fail or succeed, I don’t know, but a lot of time, money, and effort would have been spent for sure.
In the rapid prototyping world, old McD might just put up the campaign for the new McSushi platters and the new McPasta boxes, in just selected restaurants perhaps. Not having the products at all, but just pictures and prices on their screens! And then they’d take in the orders to see how many consumers would buy.
Undoubtedly, consumers would be disappointed to realize those were just commercials and there really is no such McSushi Deluxe Meal available – they might feel stupid even – but perhaps they still might be compensated by a massive thank you and a free family lunch of their choice, right? In the end, McDonald’s would really know how many consumers would buy those new entry products…because, in essence, the consumers already did buy. Money and time spent on running this test? Well, zilch.
I am not suggesting McDonald’s do that. Neither am I suggesting any similar stunt you should do. What I am suggesting is that there are simple, affordable, and fast ways of testing almost any one of your ideas: whether they are about your new offerings, prices, marketing messages, recruitment campaigns, or whatnot.
I know this is far from a comprehensive list, but what I’ve outlined above as my key takeaways for growth fundamentals are as follows:
1) Know your environment and build your vision.
2) Know your customer and be focused, really focused.
3) Put your ideas to execution – but first, try them out cheap and fast.
Ultimately, growth is indeed about execution.
Market understanding and vision, strategic choices, new ideas, rapid prototyping…all highly important.
But of zero value unless there is execution.
Panu Kause has worked for 25 years in different business development roles, both as an executive and as a consultant and an interim manager. He is a member of the Strategic Management Society of Finland, and a VIP member of the Boardman Grow network of growth business professionals. Panu is also part of the external faculty at Aalto University Executive Education, the number #1 executive education organization in Finland.
Panu is the CEO of FIBRES Online Ltd, building a b2b SaaS product ’FIBRES’, used by major corporates and selected consultancies for continuously tracking and making sense of the changes in their operating environment.