Monthly Archives :

December 2021

Creating Innovation 2

Creating Innovation 2 150 150 Cypher

Creating Innovation 2

Mention an innovative business and most people will point to a tech business; a platform, a SAAS product or a hardware producer like Apple or Dell. But for me innovation doesn’t just mean being the next Microsoft, there are a number of ways completely non-technical businesses can innovate.

The word ‘Innovation’ comes from the Latin root word innovare, which means ‘to renew or change’ and not, as is commonly assumed, the introduction of something new.

My innovation story is about buying a new car. I traded mine in during the summer because the price for my second hand car was phenomenal, largely caused by a lack of super conductor chips that were all destroyed in a factory fire in Germany. All the top brands were affected; BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Landover and it created a waiting list of around half a year for a new car

Buying an electric car
As any good accountant will tell you – now is the time to buy an electric car, so my wife and I wanted to look at a Polestar, which is a Swedish electric car manufacturer. The sales of electric and hybrid cars have never been greater, but have you ever seen a Polestar dealership? No, because they don’t have them. These guys have come from nowhere, engineered a car from scratch and as well as the innovative technology they use under the bonnet, the way they sell those cars is also completely different.

We arranged to see a vehicle at our local ‘centre’ – not a dealership, more like an art gallery- we booked in and were given a car and a route to follow via GPS and off we went, just the two of us. They made us aware that we wouldn’t be able to buy the car on the day, because they don’t employ sales people at the ‘centre’.

During your tour and test drive Polestar don’t talk price and they don’t talk finance deals; you can ask as many question as you want but there is no haggling. The next day you get a text which basically says if you are interested press 1, and if not thanks all the same.

The cars are a very impressive in their own right, but my point is they’ve innovated the whole sales process; my wife who does not like car dealerships, because she doesn’t like being sold to, could spend the whole morning touching all the fabric, getting in and out of the cars, all with no pressure, it’s a completely different way and that was the perfect buying experience from us.

I think there is a scale that innovation can be measured on from incremental right up to disruptive where a process – or in my example a customer journey has been turned on its head.

They are also innovative in their approach to the competition – I did a blog about Competing v Completing earlier in the year and as far as Polestar are concerned as long as the consumer chooses an electric car versus a petrol and diesel one, whether it is theirs or a Tesla or another brand, they don’t care. They want to grow the electric brand as a whole, they’re conscious that they’re innovating alongside Tesla or more traditional car manufacturers but as long as you’re in one of their ecosystems, long-term, that’s still a result for their business.

Top 10 most innovative companies in the UK
To help my discussion with , I Googled the top 10 most innovative companies in the UK. Some of the results might surprise you.

  1. Dyson – no great surprise with an investment of around $2m a week in R&D activities
  2. Shazam –an app that can identify music, movies, ads and TV shows, based on a short sample heard by your smart device
  3. Mind Candy-created an online game for children called Moshi Monster which is like a virtual Tamagotchi for the digital age. Your kids will be all over it.
  4. Arm Holdings, – who create semiconductors and chips, for smartphones and devices
  5. Spotify- the world’s largest music streaming service provider
  6. Burberry- the retail giant founded in the mid-19th Century has taken onmichannel retail to a new level. In their flagship Regent St store you can have a coat tailored to your fit and in real time see what it would look like if you took the hem up three inches or shortened the sleeves. They have brought the buying experience into the modern age.
  7. Heatherwick studio. Is a collection of designers and architects who in their own words are ‘dedicated to making the physical world around us better for everyone’.
  8. Raspberry PI has created a credit card-sized computer which you buy and then they challenge you to turn it into something else. I have one that is emulating an old Nintendo gaming system. You can turn them into security cameras, servers, phones, whatever. It’s an amazing bit of kit but in addition for every one bought they give one to the schools for kids to learn to code and build computers.
  9. Berg, were a creative design consultancy that wrapped up a few years ago.
  10. Marks and Spencer – who make the list because of their drive to make their stores greener. They’ve reduced CO2 by 23% in the last 15 years; they now operate at zero waste and have embraced eComm which has resulted in web and mobile sales going up 17% on.

Some of the businesses on this list are very new, some like Burberry and Marks and Spencer’s are very old, which proves that innovation is not just a young businesses game. But for me, while market disruption can come from start-ups and new businesses, for an entire industry to shift to something new, it needs one of the big players, the established brands to pivot to show the world what’s possible.

We have seen the way that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have come along and stolen market share from traditional TV services and cinema to some extent, but now Disney – probably one of the oldest media companies in the world has launched Disney+ into the mix, now everyone is jumping on this streaming bandwagon. HBO are now doing it, Sky has a streaming service too.

If Mark’s and Spencer’s get their e-commerce site absolutely nailed and working, there’s no excuse for the other established high street retailers not to be able to move along with those times. Like Polestar, M&S has re-engineered the customer experience.

The remarkable tablet
I wanted to finish this blog talking about one of the best named products on the market. It has no internet, doesn’t send or receive text messages; it is basically a tool to write notes on. For me it’s replaced a thousand Xero branded notebooks and has reinvented writing on paper- which, incidentally is one of their core marketing messages. It allows me to complete a simple process of writing notes and then, once I have finished, by pushing a button it turns my notes into text and emails them to our systems so that everyone in the team has got a record of my notes.

It means that  whenever I meet a client or pick up the phone to someone, I push a button and I’ve got their notes in front of me; I don’t have to go hunting through the last book to find the last time I spoke to them and that is a complete game changer in my world.

By the time I’d had it six months –despite feeling it was a finished product- it had moved on three or four times. Now whatever you write can appear on a second unit in real time, which is mind-boggling. The point is though, they could have waited to release it when it was perfect, which might have delayed its launch but instead they put it out there and continued to innovate.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Business Strategy

Business Strategy 150 150 Cypher

Business Strategy

As we approach the end of 2021 – yes it has, hasn’t it – lots of business owners will be thinking about their plans for 2022.

I did a blog on business planning previously and for me, you can’t really write a business plan unless you’ve got some kind of strategy that underpins it. If a business strategy isn’t written down and no-one knows about it, is it really a strategy?

A definition of strategy
The term strategy throws up different connotations. Google says strategy is ‘a plan of action, designed to achieve a long term or overall aim,’ or the ‘art of planning and directing overall military operations’, so strategy in a specific context. Both definitions have a long-term feel about them and I think that’s where some of the tension comes, as more and more businesses look to become more agile, reactive and focus more on the short-term.

Mind you, if someone asked me about the Cypher strategy, I am not sure I have a coherent answer. We knew what we wanted the firm to be; we knew we wanted to be different because we saw an opportunity to do so and now a lot of the industry is moving into the space that we’re in and we are working hard to keep that first mover advantage.

In his capacity as a business coach Alan suggested that our vision is to stay two steps ahead of the mainstream in our industry; that is our strategic intent and the set of actions that underpin this will become our strategy.

If the first definitions of a strategy lend themselves to a big old plan that achieves something spectacular in the long run, then perhaps a more useful way for businesses today to consider a strategy is to think about, for example, how to create the best customer care on the high street, or how to gain 200 clients within six months and to then create a set of actions to achieve these goals. This feels like more nimble, agile and quite frankly more doable. Being achievable is surely a key element of any strategy after all!

Another definition of a strategy then is ‘a set of actions that win’. So think of two or three spaces you want to win in and create a set of actions to get there. In this regard, I am comfortable considering a strategy as the culmination of four 90-day plans.

90 – Day planning
Looking too far ahead loses helpfulness. The reason we are all told to create 90-day plans is that the human brain is simply not wired to fixate on a goal five years out. You need to be succinct in your strategy so that it’s easier for you as the business owner or the senior managers or whomever to digest and action it.

When a strategy is broken down into smaller chunks, it also offers you more opportunities to see wins, to see progress towards bigger goals. You tick a box; get a pat on the back and then move on to the next  90-day chunk.

If you are ready to take control of 2022, come to a Growth Club event on Wednesday 12th January. In conjunction with action Coach Newbury, we will look at alignment for the whole year and you will leave with clear goals and a 90 day plan in place.

Apple’s Agenda for 2011
Earlier this year Apple were engaged in a major legal battle with Epic Games, about the distribution of funds from games sold through the app store. During the trial, internal emails from Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs were released including an agenda for a 2010 meeting of the 100 most influential Apple employees. At the time Apple were in the middle of a massive pivot; the I-phone and I-pad were in their infancy, Apple was engaged in another war with Google and preparing the ground work for their new headquarters in California. There were six points on this agenda.

The first two points were internal facing questions; who are we and what do we do? His point was that the business then was not what it was about to be and that in five years’ time it would become something else again.

Next was a point about the products and positioning and moving into the post PC era, stealing a great chunk of market share from laptops by encouraging consumers to do IT things in the palm of their hands. The fourth bullet was about competitors called ‘the holy war with Google’, who themselves were growing an empire away from the search engine into hardware and had started to overlap with Apple products.

The fifth point was around the wider tech landscape, suggesting that 2011 would be the year of the cloud as businesses and individuals learned to operate within the cloud environment that is now standard. The sixth and final point was to focus on Apple’s subsequent move to a $5bn, 176 acre site as its new headquarters.

In the five years after this agenda, Apple was probably the most successful business on the planet, but you could take this agenda and apply it almost any business and it would create a very decent strategic set of action points.

Multiple strategies
Let’s be honest, how many businesses or business owners create a marketing strategy and a recruitment strategy and a procurement strategy and a technology strategy? How many can compartmentalise these distinct functions and how many of us let them merge into one? Given the impact optimising any one of these functions can have on a business overall, there’s definitely value in picking them apart and then bringing them back together under one overarching strategy.

Getting clarity and identifying spaces you want your business to win in – and what winning looks like – whether that be attracting the best people or offering the client experience, creating a healthier cash flow; the big rocks that Stephen Covey would say make the biggest positive impact on your company- identify those and create the set of actions that will drive those outcomes.

What do you want to achieve
Lastly, as a business owner, before you build your strategy, it’s important that you ask yourself what you want to achieve. If you build a strategy around confusion, you’re going to create more confusion, if you build a strategy around clarity, you’re going to get clarity. And achievement – or winning – isn’t the same for everyone.

Strategy is about setting objectives to be achieved over a set of 90-day periods that lead to wider goals. Strategies can only help you win if you know what winning looks like to you.

New Year, new idea
There is never a bad time, but the next few weeks might provide the time and space for business owners to become galvanized and enthused about the word strategy again. Space to think about will lead to strategic intent; your vision or mission, which gives you a purpose. Clarity of purpose, using Steve Jobs’ six agenda items, answers the big questions –the big rocks – which will create a strategic set of actions.

Identifying who you are and what you do, who the big competitor is – as well as recognising that it may not be the obvious choice, but someone that offers your customer the same result but with a completely different product or service- is another big piece of the puzzle along with the landscape of your industry and big plans you may have on the horizon.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Technology in Business

Technology in Business 150 150 Cypher

Technology in Business

I was listening to Jack FM – a number of our clients advertise with the station – and an advert came on for the Oxford Institute for Ethical AI. Firstly, I’m really pleased that there is an Institute for ethical AI, because that feels like it’s going to keep the terminators at bay, but secondly, why are they advertising? Is there so much AI around now that people need to know there is a body like this to keep the ethics of the industry in check?

As usual, it got Alan and I talking!

Covid-19 has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations in generations. How we work, exercise, shop, learn and communicate has changed, possibly forever.  But one of the constants of the last two years is the role that digital technology- and the wider tech sector-has played for businesses. From enabling the transition to remote working, to helping small businesses pivot and reach new customers, technology has become integral to almost every business on the planet. It certainly is for mine.

The acceleration over the last two years have been massive but go back even just 10 years and pick any business in any industry and look at what software, systems and technology they were using and see just how much it has changed. It’s mad to think that we now have more power in our pocket on an iPhone than they had when they put men on the moon in the sixties.

Technology as a disrupter
We support a number of Estate Agents and the disruption in the property market caused by the launch of on-line estate agencies like Purple Bricks or Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo has been massive. They have completely flattened the market. From traditional questions about how a property would be marketed; would there be a leaflet drop, would there be a photo in the centre of the shop window; where was the shop window and did it have high footfall? Nowadays it’s far more straightforward; everyone uses Right Move or Zoopla and – as long as they are prepared to pay the prices -90% of Estate Agents use these same tech platforms and even post almost exactly the same listing details. It means it’s much harder to stand out.

What’s interesting though is that the on-line agency hasn’t completely removed the need for humans – far from it. People want to see the listing on Right Move, for sure, but, for what is usually the largest purchase in someone’s life, they want the comfort blanket of dealing with a person.

Integrated Systems
When we set up Cypher, we knew that we wanted to base the business around Xero so we tested different software systems that support the product that we deliver; the accounts, the tax, the VAT returns and this is now all driven by Xero directly or via systems that integrate to Xero.

Our mantra is that we never enter data more than once and having chosen Xero we then spent time understanding what we could do to speed up the non-product side of our business.  We now have four distinct platforms; a CRM system, a bookkeeping system, a proposal system and a direct debit system that all talk to each other, which means that when a new client signs a proposal it creates jobs in our CRM system, which creates tasks in our diaries, clients are invited into our portal with a nice email that also requests anti money laundering information and then triggers the direct debit mandate.

The key to all of this is integration. Systems working in isolation will – at some point- hold you back.

The Rise of Big Data
In a world of big data it’s quite scary how much information is available on every individual and business in the public domain if you know where to look. We work with a company that scrapes about 300 bits of data from prospects, while they are filling in a contact form, to determine whether they are a good match for their product or not. They only want to work with businesses of a certain size, with a certain amount of web traffic, that have a top brand position and operate in certain countries. If a prospect answers yes to these criteria they throw the kitchen sink at you – if you’re a no for whatever reason they put you down a different path.

Businesses that can leverage data about their customers or potential clients will be part of the next big advance.

Instant reporting
We work with a chain of cafes and via an I-phone the business owner has instant access to up-to-the-minute daily sales information. They know who’s in their shop and what the spend is across sites. They can be anywhere in the world and as long as they’ve got internet connection they’ve got that visibility. Technology has flattened the playing surface to some extent and now a small independent can compete with a global retailer.

Risk v Reward
Of course, a reliance on tech can cause greater risks – ones we didn’t see 10 years ago. If say Boots had an issue with a server, it could potentially knock out a number of connected sites in a way that years ago wouldn’t have been possible. When I was at Halfords in my youth, if the card machines went down, no one batted an eye lid because customers carried cash and kept on spending. Nowadays, I don’t even take my wallet out; generally I take my phone and use Apple pay; that is how much the world has fundamentally shifted. But it means if your till system, or your card machines go down, you are in trouble.

Tech as a threat or opportunity
As business owners or entrepreneurs there is no doubt we need to get more tech savvy. Do we see advances in technology as a threat or an opportunity? What elements of any business could be improved significantly by technology? Technology has been a great leveller for business; anyone with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection can now compete with huge multi-national businesses. Platforms like Amazon, E-bay, Etsy and Not on the High Street have offered every type of business, from garden fencing to a side hustle an opportunity to go global. Technology is growing – humans need to understand it and take advantage of it.

The Human Element
The genie is definitely out of the bottle; technology gives new businesses with new offerings a  fresh opportunity to consider which technology platform and what technology advantages they want to bring in with their new ideas.

Tech has enabled a shift; it’s enabled wider choice, it’s opened the curtains on the windows to many business models, but so much is still driven by the human element and it will continue to be driven by the human element because so many consumers are not ready for that next step.

Advances in technology have meant that every business in every industry is fundamentally different to what it was 15 years ago. However, if I ran a business 15 years ago, I would say nine out of 10 of the conversations that I still have with clients today would be the same.

Whatever the business, the issues business owners face; not having enough time, not having enough cash flow, stress with people, none of that has changed.  Businesses maybe more complex but every business owner is still wants more time back, still wants to make more money. So the human element in business is still as important as it ever was.

Find out more

If your business could use the Cypher touch, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.