Successful strategies for growth

In our conversations with ambitious business owners, we often hear two schools of thought – those who support the development of a strategic plan for their business and those who don’t. When you look beyond the subjective argument of these two camps, which is often based upon a clear personal bias, there is strong evidence for the benefit of longer-term strategic thinking in business. Despite this overwhelming fact, many ambitious business owners struggle to realise the ambitions for their own business. We find them asking:

  • what is it about strategic planning that works?
  • what strategic options do I face?
  • which strategic choices carry with them greater chances of success?

It was these questions that formed the basis of our Cog:ent workshop entitled “Successful strategies for growth” on 14 April 2016. As ever, the events provide a safe space for business owners to receive, share and apply relevant learning to the growth of their business.

This blog captures the discussion and learning that took place on the day. You can view the materials used by clicking on this link (160413 Successful strategies for growth – slides v5)

A light bulb moment that became an overnight success after 25 years

We were privileged to hear, first-hand from co-founder Richard Gyselynck, on the story of Acorne PLC. The business started life as a private pilot training school and now runs Virgin Experience Days.

For us, the story brought to life some elements of a good strategic approach:

  • The importance of gaining insight about the real value you bring to your real customer – it was the time that Richard spent trying to understand the customer (what drives and motivates them to buy?) that ultimately provided the stimulus for a different approach to the business. In understanding this, Richard began to realise that what they were doing was not providing flight training but giving ‘the man or woman in the street’ the opportunity to participate in a high value experience at an affordable price.
  • Understanding value and purpose drives strategy – this shift in purpose began a more deliberate and strategic pursuit. The new perspective freed up new ways of thinking and subsequent experimentation honed and fine-tuned a range of ideas linked to a rejuvenated purpose for the business.
  • The importance of using an external perspective to strengthen internal thinking – early on, realising that marketing was now a core capability that the business required, Richard brought in some external support to develop a deeper understanding of what drove success in their new business model. What dawned was the realisation that, as now a marketing business, it was distribution of the vouchers that was key to a successful strategy for growth.
  • The slow and steady march to add things to the core – with the niche essentially defined by a revolutionary shift in perspective, and over a period of years not weeks and months, the offer was then refined and extended (evolutionary growth). In the beginning, growth was fuelled by airfield-related activities, added to this were adrenalin based experiences, but in the last 12 – 24 months it is the rise of ‘afternoon tea’ that has stimulated further growth. The disciplined growth of, and addition to, the core has created a very different business to the original one but the core purpose remains.
  • The role leadership plays in guiding management – crucial to all of this appears to have been Richard’s ability to bring capability into the business to complement his own. Whilst arguing that delegation simply demonstrates his aspirations of laziness, recognising what capability is required to successful implement the strategy (as well as finding and motivating that resource) appears to be a key aspect to Acorne’s success – that and the usual dose of good luck and timing. By freeing themselves from the shackles of running the day-to-day, Richard and his business partner have been able to become non-executives in their own business. They now spend the majority of their time on creating the future and nurturing the identity of the business.

If you want to buy someone special that special gift, or find out more about the Acorne story, please visit click here.

Lessons learned in a joint exploration of strategic success

Participants were then given the opportunity to reflect on Richard story, and our own learning, by applying the thinking to their own business context. The following additional themes of discussion confirmed and strengthened the view of what drives a successful strategy:

  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast (and for lunch and dinner too!) – people and relationships are the key to any strategy. So whilst “hard” factors and objective thinking are important to getting the right strategy, it is the “soft” elements of people, relationships, engagement, motivation and alignment that are crucial to getting strategy right.
  • Good strategy adapts and evolves with the changing tide – with the rapid pace of change, and the increasing need to be responsive and agile, the five year strategic plan is all but dead and buried. However, taking a long-term perspective and updating the strategic approach on an annual basis appears to be an option that is viewed as sensible by all.
  • A shift in strategy often requires a shift in approach and people – this came to life in the exploration of a strategic shift from product selling to solution selling. What seems a simple change on paper is more fundamental in reality. In the first instance, it requires you to make sure you are selling nurofen (solving a real problem) not vitamins (a nicety). And more importantly, your sales team need to be equipped to resource the adapted approach – ninja, warrior, farmer or hunter where words that came to mind – and sometimes this requires bringing in new capability to the business. Linked to this, being pro-active in creating the shift for yourself seems a better choice than waiting for the shift to be created for you.

So with all this learning, what simple messages do we need to take away? The following high level questions, are aimed to help you to consider what is required to create and deliver a successful strategy?

  • Managing the present – What can you learn from what you are doing now? What is the real value that you provide for your real customers? And how might you improve how you deliver it?
  • Nurturing your identity – How is your purpose relevant today and tomorrow? What values and principles are guiding your long-term decision making?
  • Creating the future – How is the external perspective changing? What is your renewed ambition in this changing new context? How might you win?
  • Leading the system – How do you need to change to deliver a balanced result? Who do you need to engage with in order to answer your key strategic questions? How does your strategy fit together as one coherent whole?

If you would like to discuss any of the themes arising in this blog, attend our next Cog:ent meeting or explore how we can support the growth of your own business, please contact

About adampscampbell
Passionate about helping ambitious business owners to create sustainable success. For information on our work with our broader client base please feel free to look at the website To connect more with our work with ambitious business owners follow me @adampscampbell or connect at

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