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Do you know what a successful company looks like? I often get asked this by business owners, and they’re always surprised by the answer.

That’s because, as I tell them, success can’t be defined solely by a number – increase in turnover, profit, people or markets, for instance. It also needs to factor in the value of your own experience of running the business, and how this feeds into your preferred lifestyle today and your aspirations for tomorrow.

The truth is that the person at the helm of every organisation has to ask themselves one vital question: do I want to continue running a big small business, or do I want to grow it into a small big business?

MD versus CEO

Being an MD of a small business and stepping up to the role of CEO of a larger, yet not-quite-mid-market organisation is a much greater transition than you might think.

As an owner of a successful, single-director business, you can earn an excellent wage and retain control over key decisions at the head of an agile, flexible entity. But a bigger business is a very different beast.

Ironically, when you scale up a venture and build out its management team, you lose the ability to implement streamlined decision-making – and with it that single-minded purpose and agility. As CEO of a company with multiple directors, you not only have to share decision-making, but may even end up earning less as you are more restricted on what you can take out of the business.

Time to get personal

That’s why, at Haines Watts, we begin the business planning process by exploring the owner’s personal ‘destination’. We kick off with a session where we ask a series of questions that are designed to reveal the owner’s true path.

This includes looking at their business, lifestyle, where they want to be in five years’ time and their appetite for risk. It also means taking an honest look at their core skills and personality traits.

Five signs that reveal your destination

Here, I’ve laid out five key points that we discuss with business owners in these sessions so we can determine their personal destination:

  • Work versus play: is business part of your DNA or a way to fund your lifestyle? Do you enjoy scaling up your challenges at work or is it about the daily experience of running your small business – and also enjoying time with family and doing other hobbies?
  • Money motivation: are you happy with the amount you earn today and do you need to maintain this income consistently? Or would you be willing to take home less pay now to achieve greater gains in the long-term?
  • One-man-band or team player? Do you enjoy having the ability to make important decisions or would you prefer to work within a senior team? Do you enjoy having a view of the whole business or do you prefer to delegate to people in more specific roles?
  • Simplicity or bureaucracy? Do you like an agile and flexible working environment or does a more structured organisational structure appeal to you?
  • What’s your end game? How do you envisage your exit from the business? Do you want to retire young, fund a lavish retirement lifestyle or pass on the business to the next generation?

If you are at that crucial time in the lifecycle of your business – a time when your next move will mean either much greater scale or a commitment to a lifestyle model – it’s vital you pause to consider what that means for you as the business owner. You may be surprised where you end up.

What was the greatest challenge you encountered as you scaled your business from big small business to small big business?


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About the author

Chris Timms

Chris has been Managing Director of our South East Midlands region since 2013 and a member of the Haines Watts National Strategic Board since 2016. He’s led the expansion of client services, recruitment of the regional board and many of the senior management team, all of whom play a pivotal role in the current direction and leadership of the business. This in turn has seen the business grow from £1m turnover to £10m in the last 5 years, leading plans to double the market share in the next 3 years.

Aged 37, he’s been fortunate to have been mentored closely by senior leaders in the National Group and has benefited from observing them in action over the last 10 years. This has inspired him to support the next generation of talent and allows for individual innovation and freedom, something that’s very close to Chris’ heart. He believes strongly in allowing people to get on with what they’re good at, recognising and rewarding their expertise and providing them with as much, or as little framework as they need, to be the best they can and in doing so, this helps ensure clients get the best out of our business.

Chris trained as a chartered certified accountant, working in Audit & Accounting in the early 2000’s. Having achieved his first management role in 2005, it quickly became apparent to him that developing people was one of the most critical aspects any business should address. This remains a core focus of his working week, along with the growth and overall development of the business, the continued expansion of advisory services in the owner managed business space and building successful, lucrative relationships both internally and externally.

“Nothing beats the adrenalin of the business world; the increasingly fast paced environment, day to day challenges, learning from clients as well as giving them advice and working with people who’ve now become close friends. Behind this all is my young family, who of course help me make the hard decisions and everything more rewarding.”

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