I celebrated 10 years in business this year - 10 years since I started my company in the lounge of my rented flat in Basingstoke. The business has consistently grown at over 40% a year. So what are my expectations for our current financial year, which started back in July and ends in June 2009? My intention, of course, is for the company to continue to grow at that rate. But however do I manage to achieve this in the current economic turmoil? Let me tell you what I see around us at present and how my business is responding.
We're a telemarketing company making business-to-business sales appointments for our clients. We've seen that when it comes to new business, decisions on spending money are taking longer. People who haven't used a service like ours before are thinking longer about committing to spending the money.
However, we work across just about every business sector and have seen different challenges in different sectors. Some are feeling the impact of the downturn more than others. Companies with a small number of clients are particularly hard-hit. They haven't spread their risk across a wide client list, and really feel it when they lose a customer.
On the other hand, our existing clients are still buying our services because they know that they need a continuous flow of sales appointments for their own businesses to succeed. In a sense, they're the converts: they know the value of the service we provide and that they need more sales appointments to hit their sales targets.
In my opinion, these companies are being very savvy by increasing their marketing spend during these frugal times in order to maintain or increase their revenue. In contrast, the companies that are unlikely to hold or increase their fortunes are those that are cutting back and reducing costs in an attempt to maintain profits.
We're certainly in the former category and have just invested in a programme to increase the talent in our sales organisation. We need our people to sell at a higher level, focusing on the key business issues that leaders are facing and joining in the conversations that they are already having. We need to be maximising the value of our service and focusing on the return on investment that a customer can achieve. When we can move our sales conversion rate from one in five to one in three, it will have a major impact on our business.
I firmly believe that what makes a great entrepreneur is the ability to recognise opportunities, grab them by the throat and not let go until you have squeezed every ounce of benefit from them. So where are the opportunities in a recession? In the first place, take a close look at your business. Are you driving innovation and delivering the best service in your industry to your clients? Now is a major opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff. Start with your people. Understand which of them bring real value to the business and your clients and which don't. Nurture the high-value ones and help the others to develop their career, potentially elsewhere. This really is a wake-up call for employees who may have become apathetic in the good times. They need to sharpen up their act and understand, and maximise, the value that their talent brings to the business.
Another major opportunity in the marketplace will be that the poor competition will fail and the good competition will survive - which is fine for us. Good competition helps to spread the word about the product or service that is sold in your markets. Customers of good competitors will believe in the product or service and will tell their colleagues about it. Bad competition, however, spreads bad news and builds poor perceptions.
So where am I spending my time? I'm concentrating on strengthening and developing my team. I'm bringing them ever closer together, and together we are developing the vision of our company's brilliant future. A united team with a common purpose, excited about what lies ahead, is invaluable. My team knows that we are in business to win and retain clients, nothing else. Everything we do in our business contributes to achieving that goal.
We know it isn't going to be easy all the time, but we're fully prepared for the fight. We are, after all, in a battle for market share and the hearts and minds of prospects.
Lastly, let me talk about attitude and belief. My favourite quote of all time is from Henry Ford, who said: 'If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right.' I've always found that to be true, and I know that my business will thrive through the crunch. No doubt about it, though, it is more challenging to be a leader during a downturn. In my experience, belief and attitude are such powerful drivers of results. This is true now more than ever as we face the challenges of a tough year ahead.
I know that my attitude and my behaviours will have a huge impact on my people's attitude and behaviours and the results that we achieve as a team. Leaders of other organisations would do well to take this lesson to heart.
Liz Jackson MBE is founder and managing director of Great Guns Marketing, a leading business-to-business telemarketing company. She employs more than 100 people across the UK and has won many business awards. Liz was awarded an MBE in the 2007 New Year's Honours List for services to business; all this despite being totally blind.