Helm is a community of like-minded business founders with businesses already over £1m. The founders who join Helm want to scale their business. They have already reached the £1m mark and this means the business has gone through changes and is a different outfit from the one it was at launch.
Whatever stage they have got to in their founder's journey, they know they will face challenges. This where being part of the Helm community comes into its own. The ability to share ideas and insights, tips, contacts with and suggestions from fellow founders prove useful boosters for growth and invaluable tools for turning a challenge into an opportunity. Members tell us all the time how much they value both the wisdom of fellow members and the ability to help each other.
Challenges ahead in 2023
As already highlighted, these are challenging and uncertain times and it wasn’t clear what are the key issues keeping members awake at night.
With regular reports of a tight labour market, and a difficulty in recruiting talent, it was perhaps no surprise that people challenges topped the list of responses. Along with the inevitable challenge of sales – an inherent feature of many scale-ups is that they can’t ever seem to grow fast enough.
These are not entirely separate responses, since we frequently hear from members that getting reliable senior sales and marketing staff can be tricky at the moment, while members also regularly seek assistance with navigating the ever-complex world of digital sales and marketing.
As the channels shift and change – from in-person to email to social and back – so the major gripes and problems remain similar. How can I achieve a better return on marketing spend? How can I convert a higher proportion of engaged audience into active customers and how can I turn new customers into loyal advocates?
We asked members what challenges they are currently facing.
It's about the people, stupid
For the 60% who selected “people” as their main challenges we dug a little deeper and asked them to be more specific, selecting as many people challenges from a prompted list.
Here the results were a little more surprising, notably for the low number of members who felt that retention of talent was a challenge. This again possibly reflects the fact that our members run high-growth scale-ups where there are always new opportunities for staff opening up. Pathways to personal growth are easier to see in an expanding business. Retaining talent in a high-growth, positive environment is easier than when things are hard and business is stable or sluggish.
The people challenge in more depth
Helm member Leon Milns is one of the co-founders of digital marketing recruitment company We Are Adam. He says that there is no surprise that people challenges would be the top issue facing Helm members.
“This is what we are hearing time and again from clients, prospects and the wider market. It’s no surprise finding talent remains such a huge challenge for business leaders, there is a shortage of good people across all roles and all industries. Business leaders have to work hard to make their business stand out and be different, to make it the chosen destination for the best candidates.“
But Milns is surprised to see retention score so low.“Retention is vital for good businesses. They have to do all they can to keep star performers. Maybe having grown the business, the key to retention is less of a mystery to members and thus less of a challenge.
Helm members know they have to match their talk on culture with delivery, that they need to offer flexible working and rewarding work with clear career development opportunities.”
When it comes to being an attractive place for prospective employees, Milns says the desire for flexible working has shot up the requirement list since the pandemic. But he says people also want to see an authentic culture and to believe in the leadership and vision of the organisation. “They want to see the leaders have a vision and to be able to see how they will contribute to the organisation’s success.”
Milns adds that seeing “Leadership and management” score highly as a people challenge could well be about this need to lay out a clear and meaningful vision from the top. But it could also relate to the challenge of finding people able to step up into positions of management and leadership, allowing founders and CEOs to step back and focus on future growth. “The question is are we setting up businesses that allow employees the opportunity and space to make decisions, fail and learn? As long as this happens in a supportive, learning environment and the failure can be fast and limited, it can be very positive.”