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Scaling is one of the top three challenges CEOs describe when they apply for advice from All Together. With so many factors to consider, CEOs can often feel lost, but our latest live event fostered some spectacular advice to make the scale-up process a lot easier to navigate for our members.

With the help of our partners at CMS UK, we celebrated International Women’s Day by inviting four of Britain’s most exciting businesswomen to give their advice for CEOs and founders hoping to scale their businesses. We asked a variety of questions, from how to deal with changes in purpose, to whether investors truly care about diversity and inclusion. What came from the following discussion covered three main themes for all CEOs and founders: purpose, investment, and culture. Each of these constructs play into the creation of workplace environments that embody business values, encourage teams to work hard, and convince investors that growth is not only possible, but probable. Our panel discussion was moderated by Katie Nagy De Nagybaczon, Corporate Partner at CMS.

Why is purpose so important?

We hear so often that purpose is an integral part of any business’ success and the first to tell us why was Joanna Swash, CEO of leading customer service firm, Moneypenny. “Your purpose is why you do what you do. It should be the heart of your structure, your objectives, and your corporate identity, no matter how big your business grows.” This sentiment was echoed by former Wagamama CEO, Emma Woods, who described it as “the dent you are trying to make in the universe. It isn’t just a bumper sticker, something you slap on a wall to look good; it really has to drive your business.” Purpose feeds into your culture and provides team members with a mission to throw themselves into. It is critical that every member of your business shares your belief in this mission, only then will they work their hardest to help your enterprise achieve its goals.

How does your purpose change as you scale-up?

The panel’s response to this question was simply that it shouldn’t, only the way it is executed should. Serial investor and Partner at BGF, Daina Spedding, was keen to offer her thoughts on this subject. “It is relatively easy for a small team, in a start-up for instance, to be on the same page. The CEO can be present in almost every meeting and is therefore able to ensure the team remains focused on the company purpose. As a business scales, however, this becomes more difficult; it is inevitable that the CEO won’t be present for every conversation or meeting. This is the time that you must write down your purpose. You need to ensure that it remains at the centre of every decision your business makes, and to do this, literally everyone in your company must know its purpose.” One of the most effective ways of doing this is to use the ‘one page rule’. This is the idea that your purpose, vision, and values must all fit onto one page and everyone in your organisation must know and understand them.

How do you ensure your leadership team buys into your purpose?

Recent founder of The You Effect, and partner of S.W. Mitchell Capital, Nadia Manzoor, offered her tips for finding people you can trust to propagate your purpose. “For me, hiring is so important. You really need to ask why candidates want to work with you and if they are truly going to share your vision.” In short, CEOs need to know who they are hiring, rather than what they are hiring.

Nevertheless, the question of precisely how to do this remains, and the answer, according to Nadia, lies in the utility of progressive interview techniques. “You can ask people about their values and beliefs, of course, but that still comes down to how genuine they are. I think you should aim to conduct multiple interviews, and not exclusively office interviews, either. Invite potential hires for a coffee, or even a drink. See how they are in more informal environments, that will give you a more accurate understanding of their true nature and whether they are a good fit for your business.” Finding people of this ilk will undoubtedly help your business to grow, which will lead to the question of investment and how to secure it.

What do financiers look for in a potential investment?

Daina’s vast experience as a serial investor made her the perfect panel member to answer this question. “You need to figure out what is special about your business, what sets it apart from others in the same market. There must be a barrier that makes it difficult for other companies to do what you do.” She referred to this concept as the ‘secret sauce’, which might seem like something completely unique or ground-breaking, but this isn’t the case: “Yes, sometimes it is deep tech, intellectual property, something completely new that needs to be invented from scratch, but often it is something much less tangible. It could be something like outstanding customer service, or super engaging content that you can create with a small marketing budget.” In short, businesses who want to scale must be able to prioritise. They must know what they do best and what to focus on to transform that into as significant an advantage over competitors as possible.

How can you reassure investors in times of uncertainty?

Uncertainty has been a constant theme of the last 5 years with Brexit, Covid, and now the war in Ukraine. To shed some light on how to negotiate with investors in such times, Nadia Manzoor shared her thoughts. “I think one thing people sometimes forget is to really research who they’re sitting across the table from. You might have been engaged in advanced negotiations with a potential investor to then have them pull out because of an event like Covid. By understanding who they are and what their business interests are, you can consider what concerns they may have. If you can come up with a solution to alleviate those concerns, great. If not, you might have to wait a couple of months to see how the situation progresses. The worst thing you can do is to be pushy at the wrong time.”

Daina added to Nadia’s advice at this point and explained that investors are always investing. “During the lockdowns, I completed multiple deals! The key is honesty. You have to recognise that costs will most likely rise, but you should research it so you can explain in depth how you plan to deal with that issue.” She finished by saying, “The worst thing you can say to an investor is something like, ‘don’t worry, it’ll be fine!’ Investors appreciate you being aware of, and researching, issues that could affect the success of your business.”

How do you build a culture for growth?

The importance of being honest does not only apply to investors, however; it is also a crucial component of a strong culture that will drive growth. “You must allocate time to codifying what your culture actually is, why that is special, and how you can nurture it. That can come down to who you recruit, but it is also to do with the rhythms and rituals you implement. For small business leaders, these things must come from you. You must portray the culture you want to create and be honest and authentic in doing so. There is no use in trying to copy a culture from elsewhere. Your culture must be unique to your business and it must come from within.”

What about diversity and inclusion?

The prominence of diversity and inclusion is growing daily. We asked the panel for their take on those themes, and Daina gave an enlightening exposition of their importance for businesses hoping to scale. “As an investor myself, I really am one to look for how diverse a business’s culture is. I know that more and more investors are also starting to think this way, too. It has been proven to affect returns, and there is increasing evidence to support the theory that diverse teams deliver better results and create more value.” Emma quickly followed up on this subject, stating that she agreed wholeheartedly with Daina’s interpretation. “The more differences there are in a team, in terms of background and experience, the more comfortable everyone feels. This allows teams to give their whole selves, which is the only way they will outperform expectations.”

What do you do when things don’t go to plan?

Nadia was keen to address this question, stating how important it is not to panic. “Things will go wrong, but when they do it’s important not to panic. You have to make sure you’re asking the right questions: what has gone wrong? Why? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” She expanded further by citing the importance of being in an environment where “you and your team feel comfortable to say what went wrong and ask why.” Emma noted that this comes back to culture, to the idea that “businesses need to cultivate atmospheres that encourage people to ask the difficult questions and answer them without becoming defensive.”

Emma rounded off the discussion by explaining what all CEOs should be looking to do currently to steer their ships through such unruly waters. “You need to stay positive, keep being inspiring and giving people confidence. In times of crisis, the good businesses will survive so if you keep doing the right things, you’ll be fine!”

All together would like to thank our guest speakers for taking the time to provide such excellent and exciting advice, and to say a huge thank you to CMS for all their help in organising, promoting, and moderating this event. To all those who attended, if you found this discussion useful, do not hesitate to apply today for up to five hours of pro bono advice from a leading CEO in your industry.

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A full recording of the event is available watch on our YouTube Channel.