This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about growth aspirations.

Lesa Davis is managing director of Nitrogenx, an Auckland-based business that offers services and equipment to clients primarily in the medical sector.

What are some of your targets for growing the business in 2016?

In recent years we've tended to have organic growth of around 10 percent and I think that's been down to our business model. We service the smaller, medical clinical side of the health sector - so primarily GPs and medical centres, rather than DHBs and hospitals - and we're very much a face-to-face company where we visit our clients in person more than communicating with them over the phone or through social media. That's worked well because I think that helps people to recommend our services to others.

This year we've set ourselves a higher target though because we've got some new products coming on board. We've got an overall growth target of around 15 percent-plus this year.


What are some of the strategies you've been working on to help you reach that target?

Late last year we had a think-tank session, which involved our staff as well as some external people related to the business including our business mentor and the suppliers of those new products. We're going to be introducing those products to our current customer base but we're also looking at other customers who might benefit from them. So the aim of the think-tank was for our staff to learn more about the products from our suppliers and then to throw around some ideas about a whole lot of things, like how they might be pitched to our current customers, and who else outside our current customer base we might target.

Was that the first time you'd undertaken that kind of think-tank process?

It was. We always introduce new products to our staff members so they can understand and try them, but the think-tank was more around 'how do we make the most of these new opportunities?'. We've also brought on a full-time marketing person in the business this month, which we haven't had before, so the session was a chance to get everyone on the same page with some of our marketing ideas before they're refined and implemented in the year to come.

What are some of the constraints you're conscious of as you're going for growth?

Market penetration is definitely one. There are so many competing products out there, and competing space for products, so we're always asking 'how do we effectively cut through that?', especially to create the recurring sales that we're looking for.

Another factor is education. For example some of our new products are based on new technology, which means you need to educate your market, but how do you get that information out there? We do have some early adopters among our clients, and also our suppliers will go out and support our sales team to do things like talk to a whole group of people at a surgery about a product. But we just need to get more traction along those lines, and that's what the new marketing role will be focusing on - increasing our market reach and penetration, and growing brand awareness.

And then there are people issues, because sometimes staff can't handle change at the rate I would like it to take place. When you're coming up with the ideas you find it can take a while for those to filter through and for people to get on board.


What's the biggest lesson you've learnt about how to effectively manage growth in your business?

You need to manage growth from multiple perspectives. When you're growing you usually have to invest financially in that - whether it's through stock or bigger premises - and you've got to keep things a lot tighter in terms of things like cashflow and ensuring you've got product coming in at the right time. And you need to keep a constant eye on your resources with things like staffing and systems. I've found you have to continually be on top of things and looking forward.