Entrepreneurs, don’t be afraid to ask for help

Surround yourself with the best people for the job and your business will reap the benefit.

I am often asked about the key challenges that face businesses making the transition from small to medium size. They are of course varied, but one of the most critical areas is support and advice.

An ambitious business owner needs people around them who have the experience and expertise to support their next phase of growth.

So, how best to address this?

When an entrepreneur initially establishes their business, they often have no choice but to do it all themselves. Not only as the chairman and chief executive, but also as marketing, sales, finance and HR director. They concurrently juggle the varied demands of their business.

Then, as their resource grows, they may surround themselves with a small pool of trusted colleagues, often drawn from friends and family. And in the early stages of a business, which has less than 20 people on the payroll, this approach can work well.

However, as a business moves to the next level, the entrepreneur must become more outward looking in both their day-to-day operations and in how they plan for the future. This process should start with an honest assessment of the team itself.

Many entrepreneurs find this step one of the hardest to take.

An evolving business will invariably require more specialist skills.  Whilst for many, a dedicated finance or marketing director is perceived as a luxury, there is no question that a skilled professional in both these areas can transform a business.

Less bookkeeping and more long term financial and business planning is required for a company to accelerate growth. Certainly an investor will look for this level of clarity and credibility.

A business with sales of £10 million per year is very different to a business with sales of £30 million per year. To double or triple profits, an entrepreneur will most likely need some external help.

Into the unknown

The life of an entrepreneur can be a lonely one. It can be isolating, particularly when you need, or are forced, to move outside your comfort zone.

Where do you turn when you hit a headwind or a bump in the road?  What do you do when a key customer or supplier is being unreasonable? Entering a new market or exporting for the first time – where do you start?

These are the sorts of growing pains that a young business is likely to face and these are the very situations where mentoring and the injection of experience can make all the difference.

It is why the entrepreneurs that we back, when asked ‘why BGF?’, so often cite the partnership approach, the sharing of expertise and contacts, and the real life experience from someone who has battled to overcome similar challenges.

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At BGF we are working to develop what will become the largest network of expert non-executive talent in the UK. For the network, it means the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and work with some of the most exciting young businesses in the country. For those businesses, it is a chance to be guided by some of the most experienced and inspirational business people in the UK.

It is a big decision to bring in new board members and there may be understandable concern about what that really means. Many of the entrepreneurs that we back have never worked with a non-executive chairman or director before.

But, like BGF, these seasoned business people are not looking to take the wheel.  What they offer is something of a ‘turbo charge’ – the means to help gear up for the next stage or to navigate challenging territory – while leaving the management still very much in the driving seat.

It can be hard to step back from the day to day running of a business. A non-exec is there to bring objectivity and an ability to prioritise, enabling management to make the right decisions.

To entrepreneurs and business owners, my message is clear. Don’t be afraid to make some tough decisions about the make up of your team and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Stephen Welton of the BGF

Stephen Welton

Stephen Welton has over 20 years of experience in the development capital and private equity industry. He joined the Business Growth Fund in 2010 after ten years with private equity firm CCMP Capital (formerly...

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