Get inspired by what others have done

At Be the Business, we’ve been supporting business leaders like you since 2018 by bringing together companies of all shapes and sizes to share experiences and tackle challenges together. Below is a flavour of what that looks like.
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Our unique position at the frontline of business gives us insight into what business leaders are feeling, thinking and doing. In the content below, you’ll see six scenarios that are currently being played out in businesses across the UK right now. Have a look through the stats and then find out how businesses of all shapes and sizes are taking on these challenges.

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Scenario 1 – Employee morale focus

Restaurant employee looking happy

Some 40 per cent of business leaders are looking to improve employee morale in the next 12 months. Let's see how you can get started!

A highly motivated workforce has benefits across the board, from greater productivity to improved staff retention. It's no wonder it's a huge area of focus for leaders. You could consider:

  1. Have regular one-to-ones – schedule regular one-to-one meetings in your diary – holding ad hoc meetings means you’ll be talking to your employee on a basis that suits you, not them
  2. Show staff you care about their wellbeing – as well as work commitments, talk about how they’re feeling at work and if there’s anything you could do to make their work easier or more enjoyable
  3. Use perks and incentives to motivate staff – workplace perks are an effective way to boost motivation and productivity – who doesn’t like to be recognised for their hard work?

You could consider:

  • Flexible hours
  • Remote working
  • Paid birthday day off
  • Employee discounts at nearby businesses
  • Event tickets or gift cards for exceptional work
  • Some 40 per cent of business leaders are looking to improve employee morale in the next 12 months. Let's see how you can get started!

See how it has worked for one business

Another element to boosting morale comes from the leadership style you embrace. Trusting your team with responsibility can drive productivity and boost morale. But letting go is a challenge in itself for many business leaders. Trusting others with responsibility is a skill Alex-Michelle Parr, MD of Wolfestone Group, had to learn. The self-proclaimed micromanager even used a glass office to ensure that everyone was working hard enough.

But since learning to trust employees with responsibility, Alex said the team is more productive, employees are happier and the translation services business is growing at record levels.

“By trusting staff and giving them goals rather than tasks, I’ve got a lot more out of them. Productivity is higher than it’s ever been. Collaboration has improved. Because staff know that I’m trusting them and managers are trusting them, they feel happier because they don’t feel like they’re being watched all the time,” Alex said.

“In our culture, people are not motivated by money, so we decided that bonuses are not a route we wanted to take”

Chris Meah, CEO, School of Code

Scenario 2 – Can technology help?

Warehouse worker using technology

Are you one of the two in five businesses seeking efficiencies in response to rising inflation? See which tools could help you.

One of the toughest challenges business leaders currently face is rising inflation. With no end in sight, increasing process efficiency is a great way to reduce costs when money is tight.

Luckily, there are plenty of digital tools that can help you make these changes in your business:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning systems – standardise, streamline and automate key processes
  • Project management software – manage and coordinate the key elements of customer delivery
  • Supply chain management software – bring all your supply chain processes together to increase efficiency
  • Collaboration software – create a unified environment for projects and staff
  • Ecommerce – all tools required are unified in one single platform

Tips from someone who has done it

Adopting new technologies requires careful planning and a well-thought through implementation. For brother and sister leadership duo Tom Mathew and Hannah Barlow, the approach is one driven by some clear considerations. "When we approach any decision now on technology, we look at first, will it benefit our customers? Is there experience going to be improved? And second, is it good for us? Does it help us improve efficiency and productivity? If it gets both of those, then we'll look at it," they explained.

One business you might not expect to find technology at the core of is Outdoor Provisions, a maker of natural energy bars. "I don't think we'd have gotten to where we are so quickly without using these carefully selected bits of tech, because we would have ended up bogged down in more day to day tasks," said co-founder Luke Douglas. Luke and business partner Christian emphasise the need to have a clear focus on the features you really need, and then find the right balance between the cost of a system and the extent to which it meets these requirements.

As is often the case with embarking into an area you have less experience in, leveraging the support of an expert is vital. “The roadmap to successful digital transformation for SMEs, begins with a sound physical infrastructure. Starting and using the foundational technology in connectivity, collaboration and security will maximise the value of the solutions implemented.” Aine Rogers, head of small business, Cisco UK & Ireland

According to ONS, the introduction of digital tools has been shown to create a productivity uplift of around 25 per cent.

Scenario 3 – Crisis of skills confidence

Business leader talks to his team

Over half of business leaders say that confidence in their own skills has fallen – but there are ways you can get your conviction back.

Knowing where you, as a leader, are most effective within the business is a constantly evolving discipline. Set against a backdrop of different business challenges, whether it is making sure the sales pipeline is sufficiently primed or getting your team motivated and working towards a common goal, leaders need to adapt as a company does so. For Little Soap Company CEO Emma Heathcote-James, leadership was something she almost accidentally fell into. Becoming an effective leader meant reevaluating where her position in the natural soap company sat.

“One of the things that struck me was my view of leadership. I was thinking about it in the wrong way. My team was not there to help me. They are trusted, talented individuals, competent in their roles, and it is for me to help and support them so they can do the best job. This turnaround in my perspective of leadership was pivotal to how I now approach people management,” she said.

Developing your own unique set of skills will allow you to harness the latest technology, fix inefficiencies and stay ahead of the curve – but there’s only so much time in the day.

Think about what digital skills are most important to the business and be smart about where you spend your time as a leader with the help of our action plan:

  1. Take the time to assess your skills gaps, and those of other senior leaders – what should you learn yourself or what could you delegate or outsource?
  2. Set a development goal – make sure any new skills will drive the business or your own personal growth forward
  3. Reach out to your network – speak to peers for advice or even a demo of the tools they’re using
  4. Sign up for training – webinars are a great way to fill any gaps in your knowledge
  5. Build on it – Make training regular or even seek out a series of helpful newsletters

Realising what his best skills were helped this leader

After recognising that his skills weren’t necessarily in company management, Dan Blum decided to bring in a new MD at lunchbox and water bottle maker Black+Blum. This move enabled Dan to focus on his strengths in design while someone more suited to the MD role stepped into the shoes of leadership. Since refining its strategy and streamlining its offering, Black+Blum has become a key player in the market, increasing revenues from £2.2m to £4m in two years. “It’s so much better having someone who is disciplined and doing that side of a business. It allows me to focus on what I'm better at, which is the ideas," Dan added.

By expanding your network, meeting new people and getting in contact with leaders encountering similar challenges, you realise there isn’t just one way to do something. The more experiences you can draw on, and the more you realise that, while there are always things you can improve, you’re maybe not doing too badly.

Being careful not to prescribe a particular approach is a critical aspect of supporting an entrepreneur, said Bhavna Saraf, managing director, head of Trade Product, at Lloyds Banking Group. “It’s about recycling or recalibrating your experience in a way that is helpful and appropriate for the company you’re advising,” she said. “Banks get paid for taking risks, so we have a good understanding of how to evaluate risk, but when you’re talking to small business it has different risks, so it is very important that we listen to them and offer very tailored help.”

“It gave me confidence that I’d been making the right decisions, at the right time, according to the circumstances we’re in.”

Val Hennessy, founder, International House

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Scenario 4 – Innovation returns

Two colleagues talk about a new product

Are you part of the 52 per cent of leaders who say their innovations haven’t produced the expected ROI?

Developing a new product or service is a delicate balancing act of time and resources. Businesses need to speak to customers, create prototypes and test the product’s viability, all while making sure the rest of the company continues to run smoothly. It’s no mean feat, so where do you start?

Getting customers involved early

Netherton Foundry is a family business that makes handcrafted, locally-sourced iron cookware using time-honoured methods. MD Neil Currie and wife Sue use social media to engage with customers and get ideas for new products.

“We follow trends and listen to customers. I come up with the technical stories for social media and Sue will engage with people and get them talking. We’re ruthlessly milking them for good ideas,” Neil said.

Customers have provided the foundation for some of Netherton Foundry’s most recent product developments.

One of the toughest challenges with developing a new product or service is justifying the time investment when there’s no guarantee of success.

While the material cost of developing new products at Netherton Foundry isn’t enormous, the time cost is. Neil reconciles this cost by using product innovation as a sales and marketing tool – everything that’s created is another story to engage customers.

It's important that business are not to test ideas. Create a quick test version, make sure customers know that it’s not quite perfect and see what people think. Even if it doesn’t succeed, at least you’ll know quickly that it’s the wrong thing for your business and you can move on to the next idea.

Knowing where the gaps in the market are is key to making sure your new product or service is useful for customers.

Basing your developments on assumptions rather than concrete market research can have disastrous results. A worst case scenario is creating something that people just don’t want, but market research can inform everything from pricing to competitor differentiation.

Research needs to be thorough and involve existing or target customers. It might involve surveys, focus groups or one-on-one interviews with customers. Even if you’re against the clock, don’t skip the research step.

“Consumers are demanding new products more quickly and so those products have a shorter shelf life. It means that we constantly need to be innovating to get more products on the shelves. We also need to make sure that each product is more accurately targeted at the right consumers.”

Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin

Scenario 5 – Management upskilling

Employees listen during staff meeting

With business leaders having less confidence in their own skill sets, a growing number are focusing on those of their management team – with nine per cent putting investment in.

Upskilling your management team has a number of benefits including: the ability to delegate more, give you the confidence to work on things like strategy and, in the long term, give the business the long-term leadership direction it will need.

To make upskilling effective, it must be build into the culture of a business rather than being a one-off exercise. At social media listening business Brandwatch, the company has developed a successful upskilling and career progression strategy, which it calls “career universe”. As part of this strategy, employees develop a document detailing where they see themselves in one, five and ten years.

Completing a skills gap exercise will help you rate your leadership team’s ability to perform against key competencies.  This will lead to a greater understanding of where you need to upskill your team, useful for both your business’ performance and overall morale.

Think about:

  1. Working through important leadership capabilities
  2. Identifying the future skills needed
  3. Selecting five key areas of improvement

Taking the time to upskill your employees can have a huge impact on your business. “There is a notable positive correlation between development and high performance. When people are inspired and motivated, they tend to do their best work. They also understand the business better,” explained Derek Eassey, VP of Brandwatch’s People Team. He added that companies that don’t prioritise upskilling will end up losing out. “If we are not giving our employees an opportunity to innovate and do more, they are more likely to look elsewhere.”

Use a scale of 1-10 to give a score for factors such as management employees, motivating, communication, strategic planning, problem solving, decisiveness and self-awareness. There will be others that are suited to the kind of company yours is. Then also indicate where your desired levels of capabilities in the future lies for each of your staff – these will serve as targets to revisit when you want to track progress.

Data from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that organisations with effective management and leadership development programmes have on average 23% better results and are 32% more productive.

Scenario 6 – Ecommerce investments

Man looks at computer screen with his boss

Are you one of the two in five companies planning to invest in ecommerce software in the coming year?

Data from Oberlo suggests that ecommerce serves 2.14bn people so, if you’re not already using an ecommerce system, you could be missing out on a huge customer base.

Learning on the job helped this leader

A strong online presence helps you to connect with customers, solidify your reputation and drive sales. For Sidonie Warren, founder and CEO of Papersmiths, developing the digital offering was essential when her business experienced a fall in revenue.

Traditionally, only five per cent of Papersmiths’ revenue came from online sales. However, when Sidonie decided to expand the company's digital presence, ecommerce transactions increased by 200 per cent week-on-week.

“I’m spending my time and energy on extending our online offering. We saw a huge uplift initially and now it’s growing steadily. That’s giving me the chance to grow my marketing skills, and find out what’s working and what’s not,” she added.

Tweaks the company has made include developing an Instagram profile, setting up email marketing, expanding the ecommerce offering and launching a newsletter. Sidonie said the changes have had such a positive impact that it has been a challenge to keep up with orders.

For Sidonie, learning new skills was a relatively small step that had a huge effect on Papersmiths. It’s something she will continue to develop going forward.

In their most basic form, ecommerce platforms enable businesses to sell products and services online. They can also be more complex, used for making money transfers and transferring data.

If you don’t have a website already you can move straight into creating one that is ecommerce-enabled from the start. However, if you do have your own site, you might want to upgrade it with an online shopping function. This has the merit of familiarity for your existing customers and gives you more freedom to stick with your own, more distinctive site.

Services such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace and Wix offer one-stop-shop ecommerce platforms. As well as the website templates these serviesc can help with search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing tools to help customers find you. Each also provide various services such as payment processing systems, dispatch for products and sales analytics so that you can see who has bought what when. Most small businesses can expect to pay somewhere between about £15 and £100 a month, depending on their size and the various services that they add to the basic package.

"Technology has gotten us where we are – it's given us opportunities."

Tom Simmonds, CEO, AllSaved

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