The perils of premature scaling and how to avoid it

I’ve been learning important business lessons of late that are well captured by the concept of ‘premature scaling’. So I thought I’d share my experiences in case they help you avoid my mistakes.

The vanity of team size

The first mistake I made was to equate the size of our team with success of the business. It is from this root that many future issues stemmed.

I can see why I made this mistake. When people ask you about your business you assume they are sizing you up. Perhaps they are?  ‘Is this guy for real?’ they seem to wonder.

This is particularly the case in the world of website development because anyone can set up shop. So I drew satisfaction from telling people I was part of a ‘decent sized team’ (the team at White Fuse has been around or over the 10 people mark for the last couple of years). I was gratified by responses like ‘ooh that’s quite big’. ‘Yes’, I thought, ‘I have a team of ten people and therefore I have a substantial business’. Continue reading “The perils of premature scaling and how to avoid it”

Board skills audit: building an effective trustee board

1) Take a broad view of ‘relevant skills’

It can be easy to focus in on practical skills first: who will look after the finances? who will review policies? Practical skills are essential but don’t neglect the ‘soft’ skills.

The Educator

A board is just like any other team or group: it has the capacity to grow and improve but is unlikely to do so without some intentional skills development. Some people are great at pushing forward a board and keeping it learning.

The People Person

Directors and trustees often have to make hard decisions and manage change, both inside the board and within the organisation they govern. This needs people of diplomacy, tact and compassion.

The Enthusiast

It can sound naive, but the drive and energy that comes from genuine enthusiasm can be a powerful force when harnessed by a well balanced board. This can often be an argument for youth and new faces, but not necessarily so.

The Politician

Most organisations can benefit from partnerships and external input. It is therefore important to have people on the board who know how to network, manage external relationships and advocate.

The Strategist

Boards should be active in shaping the future direction of their organisation. For this reason, they need people who anticipate future challenges and generate vision.

The Analyst

A major part of trustees’ legal responsibility is to keep a charity accountable to its objects and best practice. This requires board members to spot problems quickly and understand an operational context they are not part of on a day-to-day basis.
Continue reading “Board skills audit: building an effective trustee board”

Why your business should choose to specialise more

Starting a business is hard enough already, without limiting yourself still further and turning down work, right? Surely, as a new business you should cast the net wide and take everything that comes?

Wrong.

Lots of people are running businesses that are competing with yours. They have been around longer than you. They may even be better at what they do. Why would anyone choose to do business with you and not the other guy?

Specialise to make your business stand out

The key to promoting your business more effectively than the rest is to make sure you are different. In some tangible way, a potential customer must see in your start-up something they don’t see in your competitors. This is your company’s unique selling point; your differentiating factor.

Specialising can be counter-intuitive for small businesses but it is a great way to differentiate yourself.

Specialise to deepen experience

Another value of specialisation is depth of experience. If you really want to become better than the competition quicker then you can’t just sleep less. By focusing on a narrower area than your competition you can more quickly build a depth of expertise that make you stand out.

Once you have developed a specialism, there is nothing to stop you branching out and try other things. But resist the generalist trap as it may sentence you to mediocrity.

About this blog

‘Why am I starting a blog?’

That is the subject of this first, short, post.

I trained and qualified as a solicitor. I specialised in commercial contract law. This was undoubtedly very useful training but it was boring. Let’s face it, wading through 200 page contracts day after day takes its toll.

Since then I have set up a number of companies and charities. This has been much more fun.

The purpose of this blog is to let loose on the world some of the things I have learned about setting up and running businesses and charities. There will also be a generous spattering of opinion, something I am never short on. Take or leave these as you see fit.

Enjoy.