Great! Your technology works but can you run a business?

There are over 600,000 companies set up in the UK each year. Many of these companies seek to offer new technology to the market, technology that they hope will improve their customers’ efficiencies, safety and cost.

Indeed, there are fantastic ideas out there. But only a fraction of developed products are launched at all and over 80% of them fail once launched.

Harvard Business Review article written by Joan Schnieder and Julie Hall states,

Companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.”

So why do innovators sometimes give up launching their products? What support do they need?

Choosing to be an innovative entrepreneur

Over the years, I’ve seen ground-breaking, patented technology never leave the warehouse of the company that created it. There is also great technology hidden within the pages of an engineer’s notebook, never to be launched into a market that needs it.

I’ve met some of these innovators. They are usually experts in engineering, manufacturing, project management and similar technical roles. Often, they try to develop their idea while still working full-time. Sometimes, they fund the ventures themselves. Other times, they leave the monthly paycheck to become innovative entrepreneurs and business owners.  

Great products are not enough

There are pros and cons with both choices when it comes to successful market entry. The educational and/or professional experience of innovators help them create relevant products. But they often don’t have the skillset to build and run a business. It is a significant transition that requires additional support. And it’s all doable once that support is in place!

Great - Your Technology Works But Can You Run A Business - quote

Innovative products often save the buyer time, money and effort. There’s likely to be improvements in efficiencies and productivity too. But this doesn’t mean that a buyer will snap up the new product. It’s not a quick process and if ‘you build it they just won’t come’.  Even after you develop and validate your product through pilots and trials, the buyer is still going to assess the business risks and have a focus on the liability if something goes wrong. This is the nature of the business-to-business buying processes.

Support for building and running a successful business

So having technology that works is not enough. The business owner needs to evidence a strong business that provides a quality product or service with competent people to deliver it.  

Often buyers are looking at the business management system such as ISO accreditation, financial risk, the calibre of the management team and sometimes, membership of bodies like FPAL. Moreover, the business needs to cultivate the relevant relationships in its industry to develop and leverage opportunities for business growth.

Fortunately, Scotland and in particular, Aberdeen, offer support through programmes such as Elevator’s Accelerator, OGTC’s TechX and Grey Matters. New programmes for innovative ideas are continually launched e.g. ONE’s Digital and Entrepreneurship Hub launched with RGU and Codebase. These initiatives help businesses to get ready for investment and to be commercially successful with their technology.

If you have a new product or perhaps an idea that you aren’t sure how to progress, drop me a line for a quick chat at info@sarahdownsltd.com

Leadership Lessons From Running My Own Consultancy Business

At the May 2018 annual Leadercast conference, Neil Clark, RAF pilot and CEO at Human Factors Business IHF Ltd said, “Leadership is a behaviour, not a position.” This resonated with me.

Many people that I invite to Leadercast say they haven’t got a leadership title or that they are not leaders. We end up in a conversation about how you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. When you run your own business, you might not be a manager of a team but you can be a leader. It’s about being self-aware, leading yourself before you can lead others.

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position” Brian Tracy

What is your idea of a leader?

It often comes down to who we imagine a leader to be. If you look at your group of friends, for instance, you know the ones that are leaders. You will have met people who are quite happy to take responsibility, step up and use their initiative. People can quietly lead too. You don’t need to be outgoing or loud to be a leader.

Sometimes, there is the misconception that your voice needs to be louder than everyone else’s to be seen as the leader. “Public victories follow lots of victories won in private,” Dr Tharaka noted at Leadercast this year. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes for leaders who are publicly successful today.

Dr Mae Jemison talks about how leadership is like having a place at the table. If you are fortunate to have that place – whether it is in a boardroom or in your family – use it! You could support, help and influence the people around you with your place at the table. What is your purpose (or why) now that you are at the table?

Knowing your ‘why’ in leadership

Simon Sinek does great work on how to find your ‘why’. Not everyone knows their ‘why’. Once you find it, your everyday decisions should align with your ‘why’. If you are exhausted because you are throwing your energy into something, pause and ask if what you are doing aligns with your ‘why’. If it does, then it’s OK.  It could be the boost you need to move forward. If not, then you should revisit your motivations for doing what you’re doing.

 

When I started my business, I listened to a lot of podcasts including ones about leadership. It quickly became obvious to me that as a business owner, you have to be very clear about your ‘why’. Why do you do what you do?

My ‘why’ is definitely about helping people. When I look back at my career, I see that it has always been about that. Every job and voluntary position I have held has been about people. Jim Loehr at Leadercast said, “Align your life and energy with your why.” My career journey suggests that this is true for me.

Being a leader in my business

In running my business, I am committed to helping people. It’s all about my clients and what they need to succeed. For instance, if I felt that I didn’t have the right skills or network to help a potential client, I’ll pass the business to one of my associates who is better suited. It’s not about winning all the work. My goal is always to make a success of the work I’ve won.

Possibly the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in business is to be comfortable asking for help. It was a hard lesson because as a new business owner, I felt that other people believed I shouldn’t need to ask for help. For me, leadership is very much about being self-aware. It means knowing when to get support outside of myself to make progress. Rather than going it alone, I’ve built a supportive network of fellow business owners and mentors.

I’m often in a position where I’m leading my clients through business decisions. Sometimes, they have personal challenges that impact their business journey. I encourage and support them through that. The more you ask for help, the more comfortable it becomes to ask.

Leadership Lessons from Running My Own Consultancy Business

Challenge your own leadership

One of the greatest leadership skills is to be able to step outside yourself and challenge what you do. You could have people in your life that can ask you difficult questions to keep you in check – this is highly valuable as a leader. A few years ago at Leadercast, Kat Cole, COO and President of FOCUS brand (North America) described an interesting rule for challenging her own leadership. She called it, The Hot Shot Rule.

In The Hot Shot Rule, you imagine that you are away from work and a hot shot in your organisation has the opportunity to look over your work. What would they see that you could do better? What areas would need attention?

Kat explained that this rule works well for all aspects of our lives. A hot shot might see how you could manage your time better, be a better mother, or a better friend. Obviously, trying to be better at everything all at once is overwhelming so Kat picks one thing at a time to improve over time. This rule really resonated with me. It’s been almost three years ago that I heard it and I remember it well!

Being a leader could be a lonely place, even if you have a big team to manage. But you don’t need to be alone. Leadership thrives on self-awareness, support and being able to challenge yourself to make small and big improvements. Like Andy Stanley said, “The person in the mirror is counting on you.”

How to Bring New Technology to the Oil & Gas Market

Countless products are launched every day by small and large companies. Not every product succeeds. In fact, it is more likely for a developed product to never reach its market. According to the Marketing Research Association, just 40% of developed products make it to market. Of those that make it, only 60% will generate any revenue. Therefore, 76% of all developed products never sell at all!

In the oil and gas industry, these stats are probably even lower. In this blog, I will discuss key aspects of a successful product launch in the oil and gas industry.

Understand the market opportunities for your product

Before you develop a product, ensure you have done market research to understand the need your product will meet. Companies often focus on one application but research might show that there are opportunities across multiple sectors.

You might need to take time to better understand the sectors by going out and talking to people about their challenges. Consider ways to solve the most pressing issues in these sectors.

Know your potential buyers’ priorities

It is also important to know the potential buyers that you want to initially target. Find out if your product will be a priority purchase for these buyers. The reality is often that buying companies require resources to take on a new product.

There might be competing resources where your product will save a buying company £2M but there is another product in a different area that might save it £200M. You can guess where the buying company will put its limited resources.

Consider the risks to the buyer

Introducing new technology usually brings significant risks to the buying company. Understand these risks so that you can adequately support the buyer, and answer questions about liability and legal implications.

There is also the risk of a steep learning curve. That is, how long will it take the buyer’s employees to learn the new technology and be efficient in their use of it? Will there be downtime? Do staff need training? These are some of the questions that you will need to consider when launching a new product.

Research indirect competitors and alternatives

When you are doing your market research, don’t just look at competing products that can do exactly what your product does. Look at indirect competitors to your product and also alternative technologies. It’s about knowing where your product fits so that you can find your niche, both nationally and internationally.

Align with industry priorities

If your technology doesn’t align with current industry priorities, it could be difficult for buying companies e.g. oil and gas operators to pay attention to your product — regardless of how good it is.

For the oil and gas sector, industry bodies have specific calls for ideas. Consider these when developing your product; alignment with these is likely to help you gain funding and support to launch to the market.

Comply with commercial requirements

Ideally, you want to have both strong technical and commercial team members to allow you to create a robust, sustainable business model.

Ensure you have people in your organisation looking at finance, quality e.g. ISO standards and environmental impact, which are required to do business in the industry. Do this so that when there is an opportunity to sell to a buyer, you can say, “Yes, we tick all the boxes”. Therefore, the transaction is likely to go smoothly. You can get support in these areas from an outsourced resource, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a staff position.

Have the right roles in place

You need sales, business development and marketing working together to create an effective strategy so these roles are crucial.

If the groundwork is done properly, you will have the right messages and a good understanding of your target customers. Over time, your marketing team will have drip fed key messages via various channels so that your product launch doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Get support for international expansion

If you are looking to expand your launch outside your current location, reach out to business support bodies such as Scottish Development International (SDI) if you are based in Scotland and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) if you are outside Scotland.

Ensure that your product is ready for an international audience and that you have considered all political, economic, social, environmental, technological and legal aspects. Having SDI or DTI support you, and with the right team in place, you should get the advice you need.

Create a robust business development plan

At the beginning of product development, the focus is on market research and product design so business development doesn’t have a key role, however it can support the marketing team with research using face-to-face relationships.

When that’s done and the product is ready to launch, the priority then becomes creating visibility for the product. This could be through exhibitions, speaking engagements and simply opening the doors within potential buying companies, suppliers or partners. Business development (BD) often acts as the focal point for these relationship-building activities.

Communicate and track success

Stakeholders such as investors need to be kept updated with what’s going on. The BD role can support in the engagement by tracking success and creating a pipeline.

If there’s a sale or a lead, it is important to reflect on that success and identify what has worked. By creating a sales process, building a good understanding of customer touch-points throughout the sales journey. That way, you can replicate the steps that led to a successful product launch.

Build a strong company brand

Companies often launch a great product with a strong brand. While this is beneficial from a branding perspective, most potential buyers want to develop a relationship with the company — not the product.

In developing a brand for your product, make sure that you are building your company’s brand too and not overtaking it. Your company should be clearly associated with your product’s brand so that customers get to know your business. In doing so, you set yourself up for selling more products into the market. It will not be such hard work to introduce future products as your company’s trusted brand is at the forefront.

Manage new clients and deliver well

It’s not over when you make a sale. The journey with your new client begins after PO is sent and it’s now time to implement an account management structure that enhances the customers’ experience.

Actively ask your customers for feedback, always verifying what you thought you knew and creating iterative communication lines between your company and the market it serves.

Document lessons learned

Over time, you will have more and more information from your market about your product’s performance.

Create processes for regularly updating your website and social media platforms. This allows you to build awareness of your company’s success in the market. Collaborate with your customers to document case studies and testimonials, which you should share with prospect clients.

Developing new technology and successfully launching to an ideal market is a challenge in any industry. However, with careful planning, support and documented lessons, it will be easier each time you do it. Your market will come to eagerly await your next product launch.

 

How to Build a Support Network for Your Business

Many of us start our own businesses for the same reasons: to have more flexibility, to make a difference, to be rewarded for all the hard work we put in and maybe to look after ourselves better. These were the reasons I went into self-employment in 2015; following a cancer diagnosis and finally getting the ‘all-clear’.

I started with good intentions. I was going to take more time for myself and have at least one day off a week. But it never happened. I was at full work capacity within 3 months, then I became pregnant. It was crazy!

Here is how I grew and sustained the support network that keeps me sane.

Remember your vision

I have found a number of ways to look after myself, but the most important has been the support network that I have built around me. It includes my family and friends, but my peers play the most vital role.

These are professional contacts, mainly business owners, who I can speak openly to and learn from. I’ve learned things like time management, prioritisation, good leadership and how to not take things personally.

One huge lesson for me has been to keep revisiting why you started up and what is important to you. Remind yourself of these facts over and over… especially when you’re having a tough day.

Keep loving what you do

Occasionally, I meet and work with business owners who have stopped enjoying what they do. They might even hate it! I love being one of the people that can help them turn it around again.  It makes my job so rewarding as a consultant.

Because I come across these people, I always think “I never want that to be me”. I don’t want to get to a point in my business where I’m not enjoying what I’m doing. My support network helps me to keep loving every minute and remind me of why I’m doing it.

Find your best friend in business

I’ve built a support group by meeting new people and building relationships. This has now culminated in running a networking group called Business Connect UK with my friend and colleague, Catriona Stevenson.

We originally met through a mutual business contact and we hit it off straight away. We speak every day now, even on weekends. Our husbands and some clients call us “the work wives” – it’s become a running joke!

Working for yourself can be very lonely. In a team, you can bounce ideas off each other, or have someone read a proposal before you send it to a client. Building a network gives you that support from people who want you to succeed.

Network with other business owners

When I’m at networking events or engaging on LinkedIn, I often ask business owners if we can meet for a follow-up coffee. I know that they’re likely to be going through the same things I’m experiencing as a business owner. You don’t have to always be selling to someone.

I want to learn from these people, and in turn, they often want to know more about my business. I realise that they are not always going to need or want my service offering but, nonetheless, I always try and help them somehow, maybe with an introduction or some useful intel.

Gradually, the relationship starts to build. So, whilst I don’t have an official mentor, in reality, I have many unofficial mentors. Actively going to people and saying, “Look, I’m stuck here, can you help me?” can be difficult, but it is a powerful thing.  

If you are a business owner, connect with other business owners. If you work alone, force yourself to get out and meet people.

 

how to build a support network for your business

 

Form a routine to meet and follow up with new contacts

One networking platform that helped me when I started was ABN Contact Builder. It forced me to get out and meet a couple of new people each month.

I never knew who I was going to meet because Andrew Smith would send me an email with the names of the new contacts to follow up with. It could be anybody – IT, Telecoms, Retail, Charity, Oil & Gas etc. If the meeting went well, I’d usually say, “Why don’t we catch up again in 3 months?”. Usually, you can schedule something there and then.

But here’s a small caveat. You sometimes need more than one meeting to ‘click’ and feel comfortable with the person, before they become part of your peer support group.

Manage your time wisely

When I first started my business, I wasn’t a mum, so I had way more time on my hands. But I was still doing crazy hours. Every day, I’m working with clients, doing my own business development and maintaining a network – that’s more than a full-time job all by itself.

The hardest thing is to get that balance. My network is very important for what I do – and it’s not just my network, it’s my clients’ network too.

To manage time, I sometimes have Skype calls instead of face-to-face meetings. If you live outside the city and you are travelling in for an hour-long meeting, it turns into 3 hours of your time by the time you add on the commute.

Skype is not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. But try suggesting it next time you meet someone. Say, “Why don’t we have a call on Skype next time?”. Slowly, they will become comfortable with it. And you’ll both get time back.

But be careful…

It might sound horrible, but pick and choose who you include in your network. Some people simply want to squeeze as much information from you as possible. They don’t give anything back. Keep this in mind as you meet people. You’ll learn who is out there to use you. Avoid learning the hard way like I did!

In summary…

Running your business is more enjoyable when you have a support network that you can learn from, gain support from and trust. Don’t struggle on your own. Access networking groups and follow up with people that you click with. Who knows? You might even find a ‘business best friend’, save lots of time and watch your business thrive.

Contact

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