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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 in the professional service industry since 2000, starting his career with Haines Watts and continuing through to his current position as Managing Partner and equity owner in offices within the East Midlands region. In addition to managing a number of client portfolios, Chris is also leading the management team behind the development of our expanding range of business advisory services and the commercial and strategic growth of Haines Watts across Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.

Having worked his way through Haines Watts, Chris has dealt with a range of owner-managed businesses in a variety of industry sectors. It is this hands-on experience, together with excellent technical training and business development programmes, which enables him to give a broad overview of the challenges business owners face. He firmly believes that the profession is all about relationships and the provision of specialist services and continues to grow the business to ensure that Haines Watts offers a full spectrum of services for our clients.

Chris enjoys the pace of work and the business challenges he has helped to overcome both for clients and, closer to home, within the regional team. His current focus on developing a culture of continuous improvement across the regional offices ensures that each member of the company is developed to their full potential and he is extremely proud of the collaborative, forward-thinking team we have become.

For Chris, life both in and out of the office can be very similar as work and clients have blended into hobbies and friends, however his young family gives him the time to enjoy the reasons we all work for.

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