Stefano Maifreni is Founder & Director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion advisors.
Small companies often bask in the privilege of being fast on their feet — unshackled by corporate culture. However, can companies with few rules start to spiral out of control? Moreover, if so, how can this be avoided?
Anyone who’s worked for large, global enterprises will know how refreshing it is to be part of a leadership team at a small company. While SMEs can lack the deep pockets of their corporate counterparts, you can avoid departmental politics, stifling administration and that sense of being lost in the machine.
When new business opportunities come along, you can have a real impact. Decisions get made quickly, plans roll into action, and the results become visible. The sense of satisfaction is enormous, and the financial rewards may be significant too.
However, can all this ‘running free’ go wrong for small companies? Unfortunately, Yes.
Where is everyone?
Have you ever been out in the sea on an inflatable or a bodyboard? Maybe you’re enjoying the waves and splashing around with friends. After an hour, you return to shore, only to find everything is different and, worryingly, your clothes are nowhere to be seen!
However, after two minutes of panic, you realise that amid all the noise and excitement, you’d merely drifted. Bit by bit, you’d been swept quietly by the current. You look up and spot your family — 200 metres away.
Unfortunately, there’s a similar scenario that can affect small companies. It could begin to impact any smaller company going through significant business growth and change at any time. So how does it happen?
Five steps to chaos
Growing organically as a small company sounds natural and healthy. However, it could be straightforward to lose sight of what you’re all about and to lose connections with each other.
Imagine a small company of ten people that’s been operating 18 months. Business is going well, the client base is growing, and now there’s a new round of funding to take things to the next level. Full of optimism, the company expands.
Here’s what might unfold…
- Step 1: In the early days, the founders had a clear idea about company objectives. However, nothing was written down; it was so ‘obvious’. Today everyone has a different interpretation of these goals.
- Step 2: The workforce increases from 10 to 15 and then to 20 people. However, nobody gave the new joiners a clear vision of the company. Often, there’s no time to explain everything.
- Step 3: Big decisions need making. However, the once-united management team is now at loggerheads. Their hopes for the company seem to clash. Each accuses the other of being reckless, having a lack of imagination or losing the plot.
- Step 4: Rather than being agile and nimble, the company seems to be stalling. The passion has ebbed away. Staff lack direction and inspiration.
- Step 5: Customers start to notice. They’re getting mixed messages depending on whom they speak to about new features, support issues or order completion. It feels like a mess, and they lose confidence in the company.
So, can this scenario be avoided? If you make some essential changes early on, then Yes.
Keeping yourself focused
Yogi Berra, the American baseball star in the 1950s and 60s, was well known for his pithy statements. One often-attributed quote goes like this: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Small companies might even want to have this framed and stuck up in the conference room because there’s a fundamental truth here.
Going back to our seaside analogy, if you don’t keep yourself level with a visual marker on the beach like a clump of palm trees or a cafe — while being buffeted around in the surf — then you’ll be someplace else soon enough.
You need to fix on something, keep checking yourself against it and make it your destination.
Down to earth
There are things we all loathe about the corporate world. However, some practical tools and procedures keep companies anchored — and can be calibrated to suit smaller companies too.
Many of us have wasted hours in conference rooms thrashing out a corporate Vision, a lofty Mission and a set of Values — only for these to amount to a vague wish-list.
However, Vision/Mission/Values can work well for smaller companies and be the roots of effective operations if you approach them in the right way and use them correctly.
Small companies should aim for a ‘light’ version of these, perhaps just a couple of lines under each heading. Think of this as minimal governance: Something simple and down to earth. The earlier you lay them down, the better — and they can become the “one” story you share with new employees.
So how does it work in practice?
Balanced and focused
Rather than forming a strategy to conquer the world, this is about setting a clear direction that everyone understands. Try to see your Vision/Mission/Values as tools to drive the right decisions in day-to-day business and to place the right level of governance around them — not too much, not too little.
You can do this if you are small AND if you know where you are going. It’s the best of both worlds.
Small companies can still retain their ability to adapt and be agile. However, when circumstances change, you won’t be blown off course. There’s a danger within small companies to play everything by ear — or for the ‘issue of the moment’ to suddenly overwhelm everyone. Your Vision/Mission/Values will help you to keep balanced and focused: you can check decisions against your goals without it being bureaucratic; you can make decisions quickly too, without the swirl of the involvement of too many emotions. It’s far less likely that people will fall out with each other. Moreover, if they do, you’ll be able to see who’s gone adrift.
That said, it’s essential that you don’t set your strategy in stone. Also, this is another advantage you can have over corporations. Because your goals are lightweight and flexible, they can adapt quickly. You can feedback what you’re learning as a company — and revisit your Vision/Mission/Values and your strategy from time to time.
Checks and balances
If crafted carefully, your goals won’t throttle your growth. Instead, they’ll serve as useful checks, balances and inspiration to help you to thrive.
If you rarely end up needing to refer back to these guides, then that’s great. However, if the waters get choppy or you want to ride some monster waves, then you’ll know whether the company is sticking to its correct course and headed in the right direction.
Stefano Maifreni, Founder & Director of Eggcelerate
Passionate about helping companies to succeed with their business challenges in effective and profitable ways. An engineer by education, product manager by role and expert at achieving growth by career, Stefano has an outstanding track record in business strategy, operations, product and marketing, with extensive P&L management and international expansion experience.
WHY 2020 IS THE RIGHT TIME FOR FS MODERNISATION
Chris McLaughlin is chief product and marketing officer at Nuxeo
Few would argue against the notion that the UK financial services (FS) industry is facing many challenges as both a new year and new decade begin. Uncertainty over Brexit, the potential threat from new competitors and Big Tech brands, and rising customer expectations are just some of the challenges facing the sector.
But for every challenge, there is also opportunity. Digital banking paves the way for greater service continuity, making it easier for banks to capture and analyse data (with consumers’ permission), reduced repetition of information collection, and delivering more of what customers want in terms of products and services.
By innovating with richer and more convenient online and mobile banking experiences, and by using technology to deliver smarter and more streamlined backend operations, traditional FS providers can roll out and execute services more cost-efficiently too.
But many FS firms have been restricted in their ability to innovate and realise such opportunities, due to the outdated and inefficient systems and applications to be found in many organisations. However, with many FS workers believing that the challenges the industry face could see their company lose customers in 2020, the time is ripe for FS firms to embrace modernisation.
The 2020 agenda according to UK FS workers
Nuxeo recently surveyed 501 UK FS workers that focused on the challenges, concerns, and opportunities facing the industry. The main 2020 FS industry challenges were Brexit uncertainty; cybersecurity threats and information or data breaches; physical branches closing down; the burden of increasing regulation; competition from Big Tech firms potentially moving into FS; and competition from new challenger banks.
Perhaps of most concern to the industry is the fact that 59% of FS workers in the study felt that these challenges left their organisation vulnerable to losing customers over the next 12 months. But there are signs that FS firms are adapting to the new market reality and embracing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) that can help them modernise and address such challenges.
Almost two-thirds of respondents claimed their organisations are committed to innovation, and more than half (58 per cent) believe that firms which use AI in creative ways make for more attractive employers. 68% of respondents say their organisation is already using AI for content search or is in discussion to do so, and 67% say the same for automating backend processes, suggesting that FS firms are alive to the value that can be achieved.
Transforming customer service delivery is also a key focus for AI ambitions, with more than one-third (34 per cent) of respondents saying their organisation is already trying out AI in this context. Chatbots, often used to improve the customer experience, are being used by one-quarter. Meanwhile, 41 per cent are already using AI-based capabilities for some form of data analysis, suggesting that FS providers are attuned to the need to target their activities more strategically.
Smarter management of data, content and information
One of the major threats to productivity is the inability for FS firms to connect and organise all the data they have at their disposal and there is a real need for smarter management of data, content and information. Compared to newer industry market entrants, established banks and FS providers have far richer data going back decades or longer. If institutions could tap into this considerable resource, it could be used to distil invaluable intelligence and insights into consumer trends, product performance, and relative account profitability.
Although organisations have all the underlying information stored within their legacy systems, it is typically very difficult for teams to access, combine and cross-analyse this data. This is because, too often, systems are unconnected, use incompatible data formats and feature considerable data duplication between applications.
In the Nuxeo research, FS providers confirm that, on average, they store information and content across nine different systems. And these systems tend to operate in silos: almost three-quarters of respondents say their organisation’s systems are not fully connected with each other.
System users who need to access information as a regular part of their jobs can be spending up to an hour a day (52 minutes) searching for what they need because it is not readily discoverable. Given that this equates to four hours 20 minutes each week per employee spent looking for information, the total time wasted across an organisation over a year is quite significant.
Embarking on a managed journey of modernisation
13 per cent of respondents in Nuxeo’s study believe their organisation’s inability to adopt AI quickly enough is one of the main challenges facing UK FS in 2020, so it’s something that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
But a managed modernisation journey, incorporating wider use of AI, which can help address many of the issues that are so concerning to those that work in FS, is already underway for many. Such modernisation can deliver quick wins, without incurring new risk or detracting from other critical work that needs to be done in 2020 and should be embraced wholeheartedly as the FS industry embarks on the new decade.
WHY MAKING MONEY ON YOUR MOBILE IS EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
Aaron Brooks, Co-Founder of Vamp
For Millennials and Generation Z, becoming a social media influencer is an increasingly desired career. According to a recent study, 86% of millennials want to use their social platforms to post sponsored content. It comes as no surprise. Getting paid to produce content about the products you love, why wouldn’t you?
It’s more than just a pipe dream too. While marketing used to revolve around big brands, employing big agencies to create ads, technological advancements have created a user generated content boom. Thanks to smartphones, most of us now have a 12 megapixel camera in our pockets. Brands have capitalised on this, launching campaigns that harvest user generated content, asking their customers to share their brand experiences through pictures, videos and reviews.
Social networks have normalised the sharing of content, which has helped propel this movement further. ASOS’ UGC hashtag #AsSeenOnMe has over a million entries on Instagram. Then of course there’s Apple’s incredible ‘Shot on an iPhone’ billboards, which use their user’s images to promote their phones.
Influencer marketing takes this a step further. These social creators produce high-end content and have engaged followings – both a valuable commodities for brands. 93% of marketers now using influencer marketing. So if you’re looking to make your mark as a content creator, there are plenty of opportunities. Don’t be put off if your Instagram following isn’t in the high thousands either. Micro influencers, with their small but highly engaged audiences, have become popular among marketers and this trend will continue to grow in 2020.
Of course, brands want high-quality content to represent their brand, but if you’re keen to kick start your creator career and start making money, a smart phone and a creative eye is a good place to start. If you want to take it further, then follow these three tips for success.
Hone your personal brand
Rather than trying to be fashion, art, foodie and travel all in one neat package, find a niche and create a consistent message. The same goes for photography styles. If you want to be the flatlay expert, I’d recommend sticking to that at least 80% of the time.
Finding your niche and making it your hallmark will let people know what they can expect from you. It’ll make you more likely to maintain follower loyalty and help you to stand out from the crowd. Make sure it’s of genuine interest to you. You’ll need enough enthusiasm to post consistently in order to build your authority in that area.
Cultivate an engaged following
While a high follower count was once the most prized possession of the influencer community, times have changed. These days if you want the attention of big name brands, not only do you need a beautiful feed, but a highly engaged following. That means people who follow you, spend time with your content and engage with it.
Actively engaging with your existing audience and contributing to the larger Instagram community will help you build relationships on Instagram. This means replying with genuine
comments and pro-actively engaging by offering your own comments on other accounts.
While it might be tempting to take shortcuts by buying fake engagement or followers, it will only sabotage your efforts. Software has become increasingly effective at spotting fakes so chances are, you’ll be found out and blacklisted.
Maximise influencer marketing platforms
Once you’ve honed your personal brand and cultivated an engaged following, you can begin making money on your mobile. Rather than waiting for these opportunities to find you, you can take a proactive approach and join an influencer marketing platform.
These technology services connect brands with content creators. Depending on the platform, it may have a database of thousands of pre-vetted influencers who have opted-in to receive content collaboration briefs from brands. You’ll get opportunities delivered direct to your mobile and will be able to choose whether you opt in or not. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to work with brands that truly resonate with you and balance the work around other commitments.
With brands constantly searching for people who boast content creation skills, there are plenty of career opportunities in the influencer space. For those looking to make money in this space, all you will need is a smart phone, passion and creativity to begin carving a career as an influencer.
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