Small business: Fast growth - Chris Pescott

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Chris Pescott, CEO – Perceptive, a market research company that specialises in customer experience research for a NZ and Australian client base

Chris Pescott CEO of Perceptive.
Chris Pescott CEO of Perceptive.

Perceptive's core focus is helping businesses get closer to their customers by understanding how they think, feel and act.

What growth surges have you had over its lifetime?

We've had several growth curves, which usually follow new services we introduce or new technology that we develop for the market. There have been years we have had triple figure growth, often year on year, and then we have a year where we achieve a more modest growth rates. When the business turned five -we are now eight - we had a tremendous period of growth, which I put down to new technology and a push into Australia.

Has it ever been almost too much?

Yes, absolutely. Growth can be very intimidating. Sometimes its hard to realize why you feel so stressed, or why your working so hard, and that's often when it dawns on you. You suddenly realize that you are experiencing growth and the associated pressure that this causes.

What kinds of advice have you listened to, to help you manage strong growth?

I have spent a lot of time studying high growth businesses. I think the best advice for me was to carefully manage cash flow through these times. Ensure your recruitment process is robust, and your businesses systems are scaleable. These are the areas where you can find yourself in hot water quite quickly. If you focus on your revenue streams, your people and your systems you will manage strong growth. The other variable that sits outside of your business but is equally important, are your customers. The easiest way for strong growth to have a negative impact on your business is for you to forget about your customers, fail to service them or make their life more difficult. Keeping a watchful eye over how they are feeling is essential in managing strong growth and making this growth sustainable.

What systems do you have in place for when demand surges?

We have leveraged the latest available technology to the fullest extent. We operate our entire business in the cloud, from file and document management, to accounting, to CRM (customer relationship management), and even how we deliver our unique blend of research services. We use the cloud across our entire business purely because of its scalability and how we can customize our requirements based on our growth rates. I also monitor all areas of the business closely through cloud-based dashboards which track our growth KPI's in real time. I can usually see a surge in demand in plenty of time these days.

What would you advise other SMEs to do to survive strong growth?

Isolate why you're growing. This is probably the first exercise in learning how to not only survive the growth, but make it more sustainable and ultimately more profitable. Identify whether you can continue to fund the growth organically, if you can that's fantastic. If you need to source capital to support the growth, then don't rush this process as it can be a minefield. Seek plenty of independent advice. In our case, we couldn't organically fund our growth, and we did not want to raise capital so we chose door number three. I consolidated for twelve months and let our cash reserves grow before investing in our product to meet the demand from the market. The outcome was great but you have to be more patient if this is the solution you choose. Easier said than done let me assure you.

How are you going to be managing your growth in the future?

By maintaining a good relationship with all of our stakeholders. This includes our staff, suppliers and of course our clients. Our growth will either come from, or be managed by these people, so we need to ensure we have open and transparent communication with everyone.

Our opportunities for significant growth are offshore. I'm happy with the growth rate of our New Zealand business, but we have only scratched the surface in Australia.

Where would you like to see the business in five years' time?

First and foremost I would like to see our business continue to deliver amazing value for our clients. Beyond that, our Australian operation will have matured and from there we would be expanding into other parts of Asia and eventually the West Coast of the United States. Its sounds like a big goal, but I guess that's just one of those things when you're running a high growth company, you're encouraged to have big plans. It's great fun.

And with precious customers in mind, next week, our topic of discussion is going to be customer service. What can SMEs do better and why do they sometimes do it better than their corporate competition?

- NZ Herald

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