Growth-Link was established in 2000 as the outsourced leadership development centre of a large mining company. As a result of “Big Daddy’s” withdrawal of support, a disastrous merger attempt and serious leadership issues, it was technically insolvent in 2004. The incumbent team of directors exited and a new team took over: small, enthusiastic, highly competent and willing to work extremely hard.
Today, Growth-Link has 35 permanent employees, 15 associate consultants and 40 facilitators, 57 clients and an annual turnover of almost R19 million.
Dr Ilizanne Joubert, newly appointed MD, shares the lessons they have learnt on their way to success:
Be a partner that implements solutions, not merely a provider that sells products. Says Ilizanne: “We establish service partnerships; by removing the ‘schlep’ factor inherent in people development initiatives, we help our clients to focus on their core business.”
Quality is not negotiable
Apart from their in-house quality assurance systems, Growth-Link uses the balanced scorecard principle to formally measure the quality delivered to their large corporate customers.
Focus on operational excellence
One of the first things Growth-Link did to dig themselves out of trouble in 2004, was to ensure internal operational effectiveness. “We appointed as one of our directors a person with exceptional implementation capabilities. One of her first actions was to ensure that all our courses were registered with the appropriate SETAs and were NQF accredited – a critical success element in our line of business.”
Do your homework
Whether you are considering a tender, wanting to appoint an employee or acquire an associate, Ilizane is adamant that nothing should stand in the way of a proper due diligence. “You have to know as much as possible about what you are getting yourself into in order to make an informed decision. We neglected our homework with the merger and that very nearly meant the end of Growth-Link.”
Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business
You can have the healthiest client list under the sun but if those clients don’t pay you on time (or not at all) your doors will have to close sooner rather than later. “Cash flow is especially important in times of growth and expansion. To grow you have to spend money – on equipment, additional employees – and your cash flow predictions become absolutely critical to prevent you from biting off more than you can chew.”
Develop with your clients
The secret for a long-term relationship is to grow with your clients by ensuring their immediate operational needs are met while also keeping an eye on the future to cement you role as trusted advisor and value adding consultant. This is not an easy balancing act.
Growth-Link addresses the challenge by assigning an operational account manager as well as a strategic relationship manager for each of their five largest clients. Ilizanne concedes that this is a luxury for a small business but one that they find to be indispensible.
Mix it up
Ilizanne recommends a mix of larger and smaller companies on your client list as their advantages and disadvantages result in a healthy balance. “We divide our clients into different categories, with Category 1 being the biggest revenue earners, and define our service offering for each category. We also use this system for strategic planning.”
Client penetration vs market penetration
“Our ability to grow our service delivery to a client is a particular strength. Once we have a foot in the door, we focus on growing the client through a combination of professional service delivery, credible and regular measurements to prove results and a ‘charm offensive’ aimed at building relationships.”
Match people with the right jobs
Growth-Link take great pains to appoint the right employees for the right jobs. They do the same when it comes to matching an associate consultant or team of facilitators with a client.
One of the most striking examples of this principle in action was the decision of the previous MD to step down in January 2008. “Paul is an entrepreneur at heart and was getting bored with the day-to-day business of running a company. Recognising that he could be putting the business as risk, he decided to relinquish the management responsibility and rather focus on growing our consulting division.”
Build a community
Ilizanne wants to create additional value for Growth-Link’s employees, clients and associates by building a community through initiatives such as networking events and regular communication. “I want to host events where our associates can meet one another, build their own networks and come away stimulated and rejuvenated. The same goes for clients – by facilitating value adding networks I hope to increase their experience of us as a true.