Feature
Chris Cole

Taking your business from good to great

You can take it easy or you can take your business to the next level, says Chris Cole, co-founder of award-winning website Make It Cheaper – the second of his businesses to make it on to the Sunday Times Fast Track 100.

There comes a point in time for every successful business where you can either settle for a comfortable living or take profits to the next level by fast-tracking growth. Chris Cole, MD of Make It Cheaper – a website that helps SMEs save money on their utility bills and other services – has driven the business to a current turnover of £14 million per year. Here are his tips for taking your business from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
 
1. Select a growth market

 
You can kickstart an existing business or fast-track a new one by picking markets where you have a following wind behind you. Look for supply and demand imbalances and opportunities to disrupt the market. Analyse long-term demographic and economic trends that will help take your business forward.
 
2. Work to a three-year plan
 
In my experience, five-year plans involve a lot of crystal-gazing and guesswork, while two-year plans are too short to see the results of your hard work. A three-year plan will give you accuracy, direction and focus. Don’t get distracted; align your resources and deliver to your plan.
 
3. Differentiate your business
 
You don’t need to grow a new market but you do need to give people a reason to work with you. At Make It Cheaper, we’ve outlined clear USPs that differentiate us from our competitors. Work out what gives your business its unique edge, making it harder for customers to find a similar offering elsewhere.
 
4. Get the right people on board
 
The Quality of Hire survey by Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, compared companies that outperformed their peers. His conclusion: great talent will help you to achieve great things. Once you’ve hired the right person, set them clear goals and career plans, and recognise and reward their achievements. However, also remember that it’s easy to become paternalistic about employees and you have to know when it’s time for people to move on; they might not be the right people for the next stage of your journey.
 
5. Do your maths
 
Understand the financial model that drives your business. How does your business work? How do you please your customers? Where do you make money? I believe in the mantra ‘Turnover is vanity, cash is sanity and profit is reality’. You need to know the detail to make your business successful, without stifling growth by over-managing that detail.
 
6. Don’t lose sight of your customers
 
It’s easy to spend all your time in internal meetings and forget who you’re doing this for. Be obsessive about customer service. It’s your customers that make your business in the first instance, and your customers who will make it bigger. At Make It Cheaper, our most important meeting each month is our customer survey meeting.
 
7. Take it global
 
Act as an international company – it can be easier to take your business into a new overseas market and give customers what you know they want than to expand into new areas at home. Explore new markets, distribution channels and business opportunities.
 
Explore these principles, successfully adapt them to your own unique business model, and you too could find yourself on a fast-track to growth.

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