How do you stay true to your roots as you grow? For many SMEs, as they battle through the worst downturn in living memory, this probably sounds like a ‘high-quality problem’, as they say. But there are SMEs out there who are still growing despite the recession, and that does bring its own challenges. So how do you manage? According to moneysupermarket.com founder Simon Nixon, the key is to commit to a set of values, get your core offering perfect and keep trying to make all your customers feel special – even when you have thousands rather than dozens…
Defining a set of values is obviously a pretty good way to crystallise what you think are the most important things about your company. ‘You know why you set up your business and what you wanted to achieve from it,’ says Nixon (who’s just gone through this process for his new travel guide website, simonseeks.com). ‘But it’s still important to commit to a set of values that can act as a guide for what you do and don’t do to get there.’ On the other hand, he reckons you shouldn’t feel obliged to stick to them come what may – as time goes by, you may need to adapt them. ‘It’s possible to become too shackled to ideas that may only belong to a certain set of circumstances,’ he says. Still, once you’ve got your values, everyone in the company has to live them – so those who deal with you always get a consistent message.
Not getting distracted is another good way to stay true to your roots. Innocent founder Richard Reed likes to quote Stephen Covey’s famous dictum of ‘keep the main thing, the main thing’ – which presumably means that although it’s now branched out into juices and veg pots, making good smoothies is still top of the priority list. Nixon is clearly not averse to dabbling in new areas, given his new business venture – but he agrees that you shouldn’t try and diversify at the expense of your core offering. ‘It’s almost always better to do one thing extremely well than to do many things only moderately well,’ he admits.
Nixon’s third top tip is to keep trying to give your customers the personal touch – something that’s a lot easier when you’re a start-up and you don’t have many. There’s no easy solution to this, he says; it means investing time and resources to make sure your service is appropriate to the customer (particularly online): ‘Any inappropriate communication can lose their faith you in overnight’. Technology is almost certainly part of the answer, though; for instance, ‘keeping clever databases up to date’, or combining online communities with expert advice ‘to make people feel they are being heard’, he suggests.
We suppose that the things that helped your business grow in the first place won’t necessarily be the things that help you grow in the future. But generally speaking, maintaining a clear identity and looking after your customers sounds like a pretty good place to start.
Simon Nixon is the founder of moneysupermarket.com and simonseeks.com. He’s also one of the judges for this year’s Cisco Customer Kings 2010 competition.
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