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Don't Tell me what you do. Tell me how you got there...

Don't Tell me what you do. Tell me how you got there...

12 April 2017


Behind every small business success there is a personal story of vision, commitment and challenges overcome. Mark Miles, founder of Swindon based VR and CGI Studio Rendermedia, took to the floor at the most recent Swindon & Wiltshire LEP business event to give his thoughts on what makes one business succeed where another struggles to make its mark…

I thought long and hard about what to say when invited by my Local Enterprise Partnership to speak on the subject of “Making your business greater”.

It’s a good starting point, because it assumes that – yes – your business is doing OK. But really, it could do a lot better. But how?

A lot of business owners I have heard speak over the years focus more on who they are and what they do. And while that is always interesting, I have always been far keener to know the story of how a business got to where it is now, the challenges they have overcome in getting there – and how they plan to get it to the next stage.

I can certainly vouch for the “challenges” part. Taking my business from a pipe dream to one of the thought leaders working in the most cutting edge in creative and innovative technology in the VR and AR and digital space has not been an overnight success and has taken many years in the making to get where we are today.

The SWLEP event was a great platform to share with over 200 business owners the fears and concerns, self-doubt, insecurities and questions that I had – and still have - constantly floating around in my head.

It turns out that they’re the same worries that we all share at different stages in growing our businesses, so just saying that certainly resonated with the audience. And it proved a good starting point to articulate when and where in our business we were when we went through difficult stages - and then how we got over them.

Harnessing coaching

To me, the key point of tackling business challenges is that – whatever it might feel like at times – what you’re going through is never new. Someone has trodden this road before. So someone will not only recognise your situation – but also be able to guide you through.

For me, tapping into coaching and strategic consultancy has been the key that has unlocked the potential in my business, sparking rapid growth in the business over the past few years.

A lot of business owners are so focussed in the early days on survival, and then finding opportunities, and then going from that to sustaining the work coming in that it’s really difficult to sometimes see past the next 12 months and past that again.

But for a business to fulfil its potential, you need to be looking much further out than that. “Where will this business be when it reaches its journey end?” is the question every company needs to ask itself. Unless you know the endpoint, you can hardly key the coordinates into your SatNav…

But those kind of statements are easy to say when you have the clarity to think that far ahead but how do you even do that to begin with, because your head is clouded with so much fog and the worry of knowing where the next project is coming from that you simply don’t have the luxury of foresight just the now.

Thinking too far into the future is difficult because you think it might mean that you have the now all sewn up and sorted out in your head but it doesn’t need to be as prescribed or that thought out.

Think of Strategy as an elastic band, you need to be as flexible in the early days to allow yourself to react to almost anything that comes at you early on and you want to be like that because the world's your oyster and why should you turn anything down.

But when you’re ready to apply strategy it’s like pulling it back on your finger and then you are ready to fire off in any direction the strategy takes you. And when that happens you need to be ready to respond to the opportunities that will happen when they happen.

Knowing where you want your business to be in five, ten, 15 years’ time is the starting point for putting in now the structures, policies and strategies you’re going to need as you grow.

A good business coach can help you lift your sights above the immediate horizon. But when people engage with a coach it’s important for the coach to understand exactly where the owner has come from in relation to setting up their business: were they “doers” in their previous job or have they found a niche vertical that they want to exploit? For me I was a CGI Artist and having been made redundant some 15 years ago was the spur for me to go it alone.

We have gone from providing a service to delivering solutions, which is a big step to make.

Recognising that potential for growth and evolving your business is where strategy comes into play, and we have a strategy coach who has helped us reshape our business from more of a horizontal to a vertical business.

Although, I confess, I didn’t even know we were a horizontal business until after we had gone through the strategic process! And in some sense Strategy or its effect can sometimes be a retrospective process.

Recognising who we are as a business and where we want to go, has determined the sort of work we go for, how we approach our clients and what we tell the marketplace about ourselves. It has also played a key role in how we recruit, and even how we engage with our local business community.

Early on each member of the team has come here directly from College or University and we have crafted software and application in our own way and along the way carved out a process for how we work internally as well as establishing and building a pipeline that connects education with Industry.

It has been really important for us as a business to support local talent, and through our connections with STEM and local colleges we are now in a great position to play a leading role in nurturing talent, and making students aware of what industry requires them to understand to be ready when they leave.

Strategy has played a defining role in my business and, by working with the SWLEP and sharing our story, we hope to have helped other business users to understand, and feel more self-assured about, the steps they are taking as business owners… it can be quite a lonely landscape out there.

Over 150 business owners attended the event, and from the hugely positive feedback we received on the day and since, I know the messages in my presentation struck a chord, and helped drive the message from the SWLEP and Growth Hub in Swindon that they – and their members - are there to support businesses locally and in the region

Paddy Bradley, Director of the SWLEP was kind enough to say: “Mark’s growth story was motivational and provided our delegates who run their own businesses an inspiring benchmark to grow their business in Swindon and Wiltshire.”

For us an hour simply isn't long enough to cover everything off of course. And we are looking to share our experience in more detail as part of a wider story of the different stages of our setting up and scaling a buisness called From Pencils to Puppets to Pixels.

A lot of business owners are so focussed in the early days on survival, and then finding opportunities, and then going from that to sustaining the work coming in that it’s really difficult to sometimes see past the next 12 months and past that again!