Scaleup debate: Heading in the right direction

Lancashire’s scaleup businesses will play a massive part in the post-Covid recovery. We joined with Two Zero, the county’s scaleup programme, to look at how these growing businesses met the challenges of the pandemic and what help they will need going forward

What are ambitious scaleup businesses getting right?

AV: What we have found during the pandemic is that scaleup businesses, while obviously affected by the challenging obstacles it has created, have generally shown more resilience. They’ve had more robust infrastructure and systems, plus other elements, such has having a cash reserve in the bank. They were building that resilience pre-Covid and it has been highlighted during the pandemic.

NB: The ambition for growth has always been there. The events at the beginning of last year were very unpredictable, so like a lot of business we took stock of what we were doing and reviewed processes.

PRESENT:

  • Richard Slater Lancashire Business View (chair)
  • Nathaniel Butters – Industrial Systems UK
  • Nick Dykins - Slingco
  • Richard Few – Sales Geek
  • Coun Michael Green – Lancashire County Council
  • Stephen Pritchard – Matrix Platinum
  • Susan Scurlock – Primary Engineer
  • Lynn Sedgwick – Clayton Legal
  • Amin Vepari – Two Zero
  • John Woodruffe – Cube Thinking

If anything, the pandemic probably accelerated the idea of growth and how we can go about it. So once things started bouncing back for us, which was quite quickly in our industry, we decided to go on an aggressive recruitment drive. We could see a lot of people coming onto the market.

We’ve recruited 12 new members of staff over the last three to six months and we’ve got a robust programme to recruit another 20 to 30 over the next 12 months. We just ran at it. Once we knew there was some stability back in the market and we were bouncing back, we just decided, let’s go for it, let’s take this bull by the horns.

RF: The big shift for us started pre-Covid and in many respects Covid supported what we had ambitions to do.

One of the biggest gripes in the sales training market is the cost, because it is all delivered live to people in rooms. There are expensive day rates. We launched an app the week before Boris put us into lockdown, which was a great product for what went on. It’s full of short-form content and super accessible.

We’ve also moved our traditional, day-long type courses into a digital on-demand format.

ND: I’m extremely fortunate and lucky to be in a business that isn’t impacted in the same way as other people’s and that’s just good fortune. Managing the cash is something we do and are diligent about. The furlough scheme, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, all that was fantastic.

We have a risk register and probably like most people in the country, we didn’t have pandemic on it last year, so we immediately sat down and tried to assess, ‘What is going to be impacted?’ Following that we could adjust what we needed to be manufacturing, so that the demand was going to be met. It was a brilliant opportunity to get a measure of how well we work as a team.

SP: Covid has caused organisations to look at home-based, agile working solutions. It’s been a must, not a choice.

We are really trying to understand who our clients are, so we can concentrate on assisting and helping companies that we know are actually growing.

There are different attitudes, whether you bolt the hatches down or go on the attack and really try and be proactive. So we have looked at who is in growth and who is in decline and adapted for that.

We’ve looked at how we can reduce operating costs for a lot of organisations. The final thing we’ve done is to measure everything, looking and tracking all the trends.

SS: We became more ambitious and took the opportunity to stand back and look at what we did, rather than just carry on doing it. We also listened to people, we sought out advice.

Being able to stand back from what you’re doing and really understand the implications of the changes that you’re making, that was really beneficial for us. That’s where we’re starting to see that growth and also product development, because it rolls into different aspects of the business at the same time.

JW: We offer customers what we feel is a holistic approach, identifying the areas within their business that need specific support and feeding in the right people at the right times. What we’ve realised is that some businesses didn’t need help with their manufacturing, they had a brilliant production facility but couldn’t get any sales in.

LS: Being visible and valuable for customers was absolutely key to our survival because most of our competitors were just nowhere to be seen. Just having those hour-long conversations with chief execs, MDs and asking how they were, what they were doing, what was current for them and what their challenges were. That really enabled us to be supportive.

We were also able to look at our business, highlighting the areas key to long-term growth and getting our house in order. That was invaluable.

MG: I am inspired by businesses that are able to adapt to the market as it changes and that’s a key part of being successful, never more so than now.

That adaptability, seizing those opportunities, remaining visible and investing and innovating, they are all ingredients making up a successful business.

Despite everything that went on in 2020 and all the challenges businesses have had to face, Lancashire’s scaleups have grown turnover and that is a credit to them.

Lancashire as a collective has tremendous potential to grow in 2021 and beyond and to seize any opportunities that arise.

Boost has been working helping businesses to survive, assisting the business community in many ways.

Beyond that it is having ambitions. As a county council we have a £1.75bn pipeline of projects coming forward. In terms of scaleup, we are scaling up our team to make sure we have the capacity in place to take forward these projects.

How are you supported with your ambitions and what more do you need?

RF: There is fantastic funded and private support in Lancashire that you can invest in to help grow your business.

The fuel for our first three-and-a-half years of growth has been the people of Lancashire. The business community here has to be one of the most welcoming and supportive in the UK.

I’m not from Lancashire and didn’t know anybody when we started, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do this anywhere else. There’s an old-fashioned willingness to support people, give them a leg up and help them when they’re down, but also to celebrate their success.

Lancashire as a collective has tremendous potential to grow in 2021 and beyond and to seize any opportunities that arise.

NB: As a growth business you keep hitting ceilings and you’ve got to break through. We’re all looking to better ourselves because it’s the only way you can grow. You need that growth mindset to be able to change and adapt when things are thrown at you.

The support in Lancashire is really good, there are various different funding pots you can dip into, there is support through mentoring, through marketing, all different things. Sometimes it’s understanding where you can find that funding when you are so busy. The community support is great.

ND: Digital transformation in terms of integration project work is one area where there could be more practical support as well as in the export space in terms of the drain on cash, particularly if you’re paying raw material suppliers and they want money in advance. On the whole, we’re very lucky to be in Lancashire for a whole host of reasons. We’ve had great peer support.

SP: Being able to tap into all the resource from the Two Zero programme and all the people that you can get access to has been fantastic for us.

There needs to be a lot more said about buying in Lancashire. Preston has led that brilliantly; it is about using suppliers in Lancashire as much as possible. Perhaps some additional support or programmes around this, to show what people are doing and what the benefits are?

SS: There is support out there, the question is what you do with it. You can get a load of advice but how do you implement it? How do you actually take the next step? It boils down to what you do with what you’ve been given. It is also spreading the word out to other people that it is here.

JW: The support has been fantastic. We now need to think about the bigger picture for the future. What other help and support are we going to give scaleup businesses within Lancashire? It’s important because the top 20 per cent of scaleups in Lancashire are going to deliver 80 per cent of the growth and recruitment.

Perhaps if there was aligned plan on procurement, leading back to the let’s buy it in Lancashire’ message?

LS: Looking forward, we need more help and that is primarily funded at the moment by ourselves. We’re on a new peer-to-peer programme which is going to be superb. I feel surrounded and supported by a group of world class experts in their fields that I can dip into. Any additional support would be great. We also need to work to direct the wider business community towards the help that is out there.

RF: If you ask the question, what is your biggest challenge going forward?’ it would be talent, it’s a big barrier to growth for a lot of Lancashire businesses. We need more help with personnel and skills.

AV: We’re looking at a couple of ideas for 2021 as we look to deliver what scaling businesses need. We’re open and receptive to ideas.

The debt market is getting saturated so we are looking at what the alternative finance market looks like, with private equity as an example. There is a low take up in Lancashire, we need to understand why and what we can do differently and better.

MG: We do touch thousands of businesses and support them in many ways, but we still only touch a fraction of the businesses. The challenge for the county council is how do we get to more? This is a great county, and we are ambitious for it to become ever better, but we can only do that by working together.

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