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Stick or Twist: Maintain or Innovate? – view from Eddie Hooker

So far we’ve discussed how to start a successful business, get your first customer and employ your first employee.  Now you’re asking “Should I innovate and ‘pivot’ or should I stick to what we are good at?”

Before we go any further, do not try to run before you can walk! Get the basics right first. Having solid foundations is vital. The roots of growth come from the platform you first build. I have known many people, big ideas people I call them, who continually chase the next big thing, take their eye off the ball of their existing business only then to lose what they originally built. Beware the pitfalls of thinking you will always have the Midas touch!

However, as important as it is to settle down and bed in, sometimes the market just won’t let you relax.

I have three top tips for entrepreneurs questioning whether they’ve got it right first time or whether they should look to innovate further:

 

Be prepared to ADAPT

Whatever you do don’t get lazy and allow your business to stagnate! A big part of growing a successful business is anticipating change and adapting your business to it. Business development and growth is a constant spinning of plates, balancing a whole host of things and from all angles. There is no one silver bullet and every business will have different areas of focus.

There are thousands of success stories all born out of an individual’s ability to adapt, overcome and eventually conquer. Take a passion of mine, music. Many artists come and go, riding the wave of the latest trends of their listeners. Other, more timeless artists, adapt their music to keep current whilst also offering their own unique style. One example is David Bowie. At first a glam rocker he realised that music tastes were changing and yearning for new styles. He branched out into soul, punk, pop, and grunge. A true chameleon, whatever the world threw at him he assessed the trends to his success and advantage. My advice is to be the David Bowie of your industry.

Let’s put it into the context of my business. Hamilton Fraser has adapted both what products it offers and how it offers them. What started as a generalist insurance brokerage some 20 years ago, we now offer deposit protection, compliance and redress schemes, back office support systems and, most recently, specialist legal services. We’ve also had to adapt to the internet boom of the early 2000s and 2010s whilst maintaining sufficient services for our clients that prefer pen and paper. We integrate with external software providers for seamless integration for our corporate clients, and have embraced the new world of customer service in a social media driven world.  Our next challenge, and one I think many established businesses face across all sectors, is to adapt to, and compete with, the growing horde of automated and intelligent technologies.

 

Take that GAMBLE

Some people are nervous about stepping into the unknown, often for fear of failing. I get that! But you and your business need to grow by making mistakes and learning from them.  I would be nowhere without some of the mistakes I’ve made because they have taught me vital life skills which have actually helped me to grow.

The fact of the matter is, you CANNOT progress by maintaining the status quo in today’s business environment. There is no such thing as a “good” time or environment to take a calculated risk. Some may even argue that the most insecure times lead to the greatest results if navigated well. Just look at the success stories that have risen from the ashes of the 2007-08 financial crisis by taking risks when others were too fearful. Hamilton Fraser launched mydeposits, our tenancy deposit protection scheme, at the height of this crisis in 2007 when everyone cautioned against it. But that business became the launchpad for everything we have done since. If you have the big picture firmly imprinted in your mind it will be your skill to manoeuvre the bumps and potholes of the surrounding circumstances that will lead to your success.

As another of my idols, Richard Branson, once said; ‘if someone offers you an opportunity and you don’t know how to do it, take the opportunity and learn how to do it later!’ I’m not suggesting for a moment that we all dive into things we have no clue about. But what he is getting at is that sometimes it is better to make a decision, commit and find out it was wrong than faffing about and never learning at all.  Your speed of execution will set you apart and, even if the gamble fails to pay off, you’ll have the experience to take advantage of the next opportunity you see.  Some people take so long to make a decision that when they do the opportunity has passed or someone else has beaten you to it. Just make sure, however, that your gambles and commitments benefit the longevity of your business. Research and plan and only commit what you are prepared to lose. Preparation for long term growth is more impressive than a single record month or fleeting press coverage. Don’t risk it all for a quick win.

Be prepared to try new things to stay ahead of the game. Do your research and explore different avenues. This knowledge gives you the power to make your business a success. We’ve just taken a calculated risk in the acquisition of Landlord Action. Any major acquisition is a risk to a business’ future because it ties up capital that could be used for business as usual or a rainy day.  However, I feel the Private Rental Sector is crying out for dedicated legal advice, especially aimed at the smaller operators and Landlord Action will allow us to provide this service and in turn expands and grows our portfolio of landlords and agents. Your role as an entrepreneur and business owner is to keep an eye on the future and make the decisions to improve your business. Sometimes it may feel like you need a crystal ball to guide you, but this can all be achieved by constantly staying up to date with what’s new and emerging in your industry.

 

Don’t forget to PERSEVERE

Success takes time, perseverance and a lot of hard work. This won’t all be possible in your standard 9-5 working day.  My evenings are often lost because I’m either out meeting new people or I’m out during the day and catching up with the day job later. You need to be prepared to make sacrifices.

The growth of a business is a gradual process and nine times out of ten your success will not be overnight. But that’s OK.  Don’t be disillusioned if you get off to slow start.  Stay positive. If you are employing people, remember they will look to you for leadership. If you’re down they will be too. If you are motivated then so will they. Motivated people make better decisions and sometimes that motivated junior member of staff might just come up with the next big thing!  One of my account execs came to me a few months ago to tell me that a small tweak to the way we were presenting the pricing of one of our products may improve its take up. We made the decision to trust his judgment as he was at the coal face and made the change immediately. Overnight the take up almost doubled.

 

In summary

The success of your business, to me, boils down to your commitment, sacrifice and hard work and your ability to acquire further knowledge and market intelligence. Ultimately it’s about your ability to change and adapt. Business is like preparing a nice meal. It takes many ingredients and constant tweaking. A bit more salt here, a shorter cooking time there. We can all follow the same recipe – after all, there are countless books on how to cook – but a really good meal has that secret ingredient or balance of ingredients that no one else uses. In business, that secret ingredient is you.

I look back on the last 20 years or so and sometimes struggle to comprehend the changes we, and the wider environment, have had to make. Business is a long-term game and making sure you remain relevant is part of the fun.  No one really knows what is ahead of us and what the next big trend will be but you can be sure that if you are to survive, and indeed thrive, in business, you’ll have to adapt. As Bowie once sang “Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes, there’s gonna have to be a different man”.

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