Lessons learnt from managing a high growth firm
Dan Williams, founder and managing director at 100% Group
Last year my business celebrated its ten-year anniversary; and while we’ve reached significant milestones and achievements through the last decade, I’ve also learnt a number of valuable lessons about running a business.
100% Group was formed as a way of going back to what I knew best. My family has historic involvement within the retail installation and POP industry, and after a short stint in advertising, I started up my own retail installation and maintenance business to address what I saw as a clear market opportunity. And despite being founded at the time of the financial crisis, we have enjoyed rapid and sustained year-on-year growth. In the first year, I brought my brother on board and we turned over £800,000. Today, we employ 76 people, have a diverse client base of established household brands and in 2019 we increased revenue by 14%.
However, if I had my time again, there are a few things I would approach differently - hindsight is always 20/20! I hope the following insights and learnings can be beneficial to you, should you be in the early stages of running a business or thinking about starting up a new venture.
Building and maintaining a strong client base - We’ve managed to build our client base without having a sales team, however we’ve always invested generously in our marketing. It’s important to establish what your message is, the value you can offer to customers and how you go about it. We know from experience that we get our best social media engagement when we post about our people. I think our culture, our values and the service we provide are huge factors in attracting our customers in the first place.
We also work hard to form long-term relationships with customers and have a high retention rate – in fact, my first ever client is still a client 10+ years later! I believe the key to customer retention is going above and beyond to solve their challenges so you form a partnership with them. This also feeds back into the marketing and communicating well with existing customers.
Recruitment - In 2018 we experienced the biggest year of growth in terms of employees; we went from 36 people to 72, mostly to fulfil the requirements of one contract. I have a lot less involvement in the recruitment process today as this mainly lies with individual team managers, but my key learning in handing over this process is the importance of having a firm idea and effective communication of your company culture. I believe cultural fit is a key part of recruitment, but it’s vital to have that culture defined so other people understand it and can recruit accordingly.
We have also recently recruited a dedicated HR manager to implement our new ‘assess, acquire, develop, recognise and reward’ process. This is largely about performance management and fundamentally relies on clear job roles and well-defined KPIs. Having overperforming and underperforming employees can be challenging, and with clear job descriptions we can identify where people might not be as strong as we need them to be and form appropriate development plans. That also feeds into employee retention; having the right people in the right jobs and ensuring that employees are being developed and remain engaged with the company.
Documenting operations - One of my biggest learnings from growing the business is the importance of documenting processes, especially if you’re growing and recruiting quickly. That way, it’s a lot easier to get people to do things the way you want them to be done; regardless of whether it’s the on-boarding process for new employees, your messaging around certain product or service offerings, or something else. Documenting processes to establish consistency is a lot easier when you’re a smaller team, rather than trying to retrofit it into your business.
Building a positive company culture - Company culture is really important to us, and we’ve always tried to maintain our family-feel culture – although that’s a lot easier to achieve having just a few employees compared to 76! However, we’re really proud of the diverse team we have today, and as we’ve grown, we’ve been able to implement initiatives that we wouldn’t have been able to justify as a smaller team, including our employee awards, themed monthly lunches and bi-annual conferences.
Despite the job having its demands and challenges, we’ve always tried to ensure that employees enjoy what they do. If everyone is bought into the culture and going about their jobs the right way, it contributes to keeping customers happy. Employee performance and attitude go hand in hand with satisfied customers in my view.
Financing options - Although we had a very tight control of cash in the business’ earlier days, a trap we fell into as we have grown is lessening control on our finances.
Financial control and forward planning in a growth context is incredibly important. When taking on new work and clients, it’s important to plan the cash demands that come with it so you can prepare and make sure you have adequate working capital available to fund that growth. If you need to recruit, costs of new capital equipment and training need to be taken into account. When taking on new customers, you need to assess payment profiles and, if necessary, put contingency plans in place for late payments. Our bank didn’t offer flexible finance when we really needed it and proved too rigid for our growth needs. Therefore, in a high growth scenario, selecting a flexible finance partner that will work with you as you grow is key.
While I’d be pleased if any of my learnings can help anyone else embarking on a journey to grow their own business, the best lessons always come from your own mistakes and experience. Each of the challenges we have encountered have pushed us to find a solution and make improvements, contributing to everything 100% Group is today.