London-based business adviser Martin Allpress shares his insights into how to survive and thrive
“Businesses fail because of poor management. I worked in insolvency for more than 30 years and I never came across a business that failed for any other reason,” says Martin Allpress, business adviser at the London Small Business Centre, a leading enterprise agency in the capital that provides face-to-face advice and mentoring to start-ups and small firms, as well as funding, workspaces and training.
“The key to longevity in business is staying in control,” he adds. “Managers must stay in control – that’s what they are paid to do. Many of the closures on the high street we’ve seen in recent years are good examples of bad management. Businesses and brands can lose direction; they no longer address customer needs as well as they used to; they ignore the competition. The business may have been good once – but once was yesterday.”
Allpress says the key to staying in business in the medium to long term is to plan properly, fully research your market and keep that knowledge current, make sure you keep one eye on the competition and make sure you continue to serve a genuine market need, and stay in control of your cash flow, your business should not fail.
“The key to success is planning, re-planning, planning again, always looking to the future, it’s a never-ending process. And you must listen to your customers,” he stresses. Allpress also believes that businesses must be prepared to change over time. “All successful businesses that have stuck around for a long time have evolved. The solution is evolution. How many record shops are there now? Getting stuck in a rut can soon spell the end for your business.”
Successful companies constantly look for new opportunities, says Allpress, and some are even prepared to diversify into entirely new markets. “Nokia at one time made galoshes,” he smiles. “Richard Branson went from selling records to owning an airline and many other things. Success in business is about remaining agile and exploiting good opportunities.” Standing still isn’t an option, because even great businesses lose customers over time. Having a sound marketing strategy that attracts new customers is essential. “This too must be continually updated,” says Allpress.
Business owners should continually be thinking about who they’re going to sell to, how often these customers will buy and how much they will spend. And businesses that pass the test of time are normally highly adept at controlling costs. “You need to buy wisely; not overstretch your finances – nor gamble without very careful consideration.”
Allpress also believes that successful businesses are run by good decision-makers, people who aren’t afraid to make a difficult call – especially when the going gets tough. “That can mean having to let people go when necessary,” he explains. “People are the most valuable asset for most successful businesses, but there are times when they have to leave for the good of the business. These are the decisions managers have to make at times to ensure survival.”
Bringing the right people in at the right time, whether at boardroom or shop-floor level, is another key ingredient when it comes to longevity in business, says Allpress. “You also need to make sure they have the tools and responsibility needed to do their job to the best of their ability. And make sure they have the required knowledge, of course. Businesses that last are usually those that invest in their people. Training and education is vital – and that applies to everyone who works for the business, including the owners and senior managers.”