With the challenges of running a business becoming ever greater - How does the Boss keep control and stay focused on the right things?
Carl Fillery, Heads the Strategy and Business Planning Team at EMC

What areas can you focus on that will make a difference to your business?
Have a Plan - Be clear on what you expect to achieve, who is responsible. Measure what’s important, too many measures and being too busy are common distractions that take your attention away from priorities. Ensure you are clear on long term and short-term goals. You need to switch from a long-term perspective and the immediate and back again.

Anybody can reduce price but how will you increase your business?
Pricing is the main way to improve profitability. It will make all the other business decisions difficult if you don’t get this right. Pricing is a strategic decision with far reaching implications, don’t delegate be involved. Pricing may appear to be straight forward, it’s not. It can be far more complex than appreciated. When did you last really review or check your pricing strategy? There is plenty of expert support and advice available if you are struggling to manage this.

Customer-centric Companies are more profitable!
Given that delivering great customer experience increases revenues, loyalty and improves brands, surely this should be on your agenda! Don’t let it be a crisis that makes you take notice. Change can be gradual and go unnoticed. You only have to look to the struggling big brands to know this! Ensure you are clear on who your customers are, how they have changed, their demands and requirement. Customers expect a seamless experience at all your touch-points and move on quickly if they don’t experience this. Don’t just listen, know them, observe them! Know your competitors’, ex-customers and your unhappy customers. Having an external perspective can be very beneficial.

Why leadership and innovation can create long lasting advantages!
Innovation and taking calculated risks are important ingredients for long term success. Companies tend to want innovation but lack the tolerance of failure. You must accept that there is risk. Go for some stretch targets, be bolder, push for real improvements. Being
decisive, taking braver decisions sooner will drive performance.

In order to achieve your goals, you need the right support and team onboard. Allow teams to provide solutions and take responsibility for the outcomes. But be prepared for mistakes, make sure you can live with them. Meet person-to-person, don’t forget the power of a conversation. Know your people, know how they are feeling, what they can do. Make effort to engage with your teams. This is the only way to know what is really going on! However, be prepared to make the tough decisions if the team cannot perform or you need different skills. Lead and the results will follow.

Technology is more important than ever - ignore it at your peril
Tony Barsham is head of the technology team at EMC

As businesses come out of the pandemic, what are the three technology topics that should be on Business Leaders’ agenda as they drive for recovery and growth?

Business Models Have Changed
The demise of some major names on the high street is both sad and inevitable.  Businesses that did not keep pace with the ‘B2C agenda’ were losing ground beforehand, and the pandemic has only accelerated that demise.  Organisations must recognise that business models have changed – be that B2C e-commerce or the use of AI to enhance the customer experience – and embrace those quickly and efficiently. There is plenty of advice and support available as needed.

Working Patterns Have Changed
Many employees will be desperate to return to the workplace and get back some ‘semblance’ of normality to their lives.  However the ‘working at home’ culture is at least partially here to stay, and the flexibility it gives to people will not be taken back so easily. 

Organisations must embrace this – both in terms of the technology that they use to support employees (much more than Zoom or Teams) as well as the working practices that must be put in place (Health & Safety, Performance Management etc.) Responsibility for home working will be as strong if not stronger than office working so plan and be prepared.

Use Data to See Light Through Darkness
Many organisations will have seen top lines struggle over the last few months and many will think they know where the challenges are. The best approach is to use data to really understand the situation –  internally generated transaction data (which describes an inside out view of the marketplace) coupled with external facing data (which could be syndicated marketing data, social media ‘listening’ data, or data created by interaction with customers (for example market surveys).  By combining this data organisations can get a ‘360’ view of their business and really understand how the market is moving. In any A&M process data is seen as a key asset - do you know what yours really is and what its worth?

What three things should be on the Business Leaders agenda as they navigate out of this uncertain business climate?
John Stevenson, Head of Operational Excellence at EMC

Sales and the customer relationship
There will be few routes to market that will not be affected by the impact of the pandemic. Customers have become more self-service and B2B customers will expect online channels to provide a high-quality customer experience. Ensure data access and downloading is easily searchable and quickly navigated.

Over the last year surveys have shown the B2B community has changed its view on preferring an online interaction to a traditional sales relationship. This has moved from a 45% online acceptance in 2019 to 75% in 2020. Ensure your business has appropriate digital tools, including good AI usage, to provide a sophisticated but quick and straightforward online buying experience.

This is an ideal time for an audit and review of your sales & marketing strategy, normally a day’s commitment with some support will identify clear new priorities for the year ahead.

Market Share
With an improved e commerce strategy and online presence companies need to be aware of what new markets may be available to them. It is much easier to test new markets and geographies through a digital strategy. This allows modest investment to provide real time market feedback.

A small US manufacturer of a PC timing card has used the new online world as an opportunity to increase its export presence. It was previously concerned about its ability to technically support its clients. This has been overcome with the, now acceptable, use of communication platforms such as Zoom or Teams.

Businesses and consumers are much more open to new products and suppliers, ensure you can identify micro segments of growth through client/ market intelligence.

Spending some time on analysing your product/service portfolio will identify where to allocate your sales and marketing resource. This will often require difficult choices in where and where not to invest. The sales audit and deeper portfolio analysis with some experienced help will quickly give clear investment choices.

Industrial Margin Improvement
There is a growing productivity and profitability gap between traditional operations and those companies, small and large, who use digital tools in their value chain to drive margin improvements. Maximise data gathering and minimise manual intervention, especially in labour intensive practices. Demand real time KPIs from your operations, suppliers, and logistics providers. Some simple analysis through clear operational dashboards will always identify low hanging fruit and give margin enhancing opportunities. Developing these KPI’s and relevant dashboards is one of the first tasks I undertake when working with an organization and it normally will give rapid returns.

What type of investor are you seeking; and are you ready?
Laura McKenzie is a Director at EMC and has worked with businesses preparing them to secure angel, VC and PE investments

As a business owner seeking to raise external capital, are you approaching angel, venture capitalists or private equity investors? All will require you to share information on your business, for them perform due diligence (DD) to various degrees of rigour before committing funds. DD has the potential to be a huge distraction from business as usual, and frustratingly, derail the investment process. Are you ready?

Angel investors
Individuals invested £2 billion of their personal cash in private UK companies in 2019. Some individuals will be hands-on, others hands-off; some decide to invest quickly others take longer; many are successful entrepreneurs themselves.

Venture Capital “VC” investors
In 2020, UK VC fund managers invested £12.5 billion of funds raised from HNW individual and institutional investors in a portfolio on their behalf. VCs tend to require more commercial traction; team hires beyond the founders and product market fit, and are significant minority shareholders requiring board seats, and an exit within their fund life.

Private Equity “PE” investors
Professional PE fund managers invested £22.3 billion in established businesses in the UK in 2019. Business owners relinquish control but often remain in leadership roles in the business and share in the upside. PE investors tend to look to sell their stakes within four to seven years.

The older or more complex the business, the more onerous the DD. It is useful to assemble a data-room with a robust financial model and business plan, intellectual property and historic financial, tax and legal information up front. This limits distractions, enabling you to focus on running the business in the midst of fundraising. Nothing instils more confidence in potential investors than successfully executing your business plan during due diligence of up to six months. Too many investments fall over because the owners are not prepared or do not have the figures and information available. Don’t let this happen to you.

Nikolai Askaroff

Nik is the leading Corporate Financier in the South East having won the prestigious ‘Dealmaker of the Year’ title on regular occasions. He has completed over 200 corporate transactions personally and acted on some of the highest profile deals in the Region.

Nik is a former President of the South Eastern Society of Chartered Accountants, past Chairman of both Business Link Sussex and Sussex Enterprise (the Chamber of Commerce for Sussex) and has chaired the South East Proof of Concept Fund and the Innovation and Growth team.

Nik holds board positions with six companies and at EMC focuses on strategy, merger and acquisition work and commercial business development. He has considerable overseas experience, particularly in the emerging markets of China, Russia and India as well as the USA and most European countries. His sector experience covers healthcare, media and marketing, food, electronics and retail as well as having a passion for UK manufacturing.

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