On growing a business and going global: by Claire Lister, MD of Pitman Training Group

Claire_3

Claire Lister, wife, mum of two and MD of Pitman Training Group shares with us her tips for how to  grow a business to international expansion…and how she involves her very supportive family in the process. A dynamic driven career woman, has been involved in the business in many guises since she first joined in 1998 and has now developed it to an international franchise. Claire is still very hands on in the business, working with the head office team and also the franchisees but also travels the country sharing her experience through event speaking and she is a regular columnist for Executive PA and VA Magazine. Claire lives in Yorkshire, UK.

The key foundations

In my opinion, there are 5 cornerstones of a business for sound growth.  These are :

  • the team
  • the brand
  • the services or product that you are selling, and finally
  • an instinctual sense of good timing
  • a strong handle on the financials

Having the right team around you is absolutely key, not only having the right resources but having the right calibre of resources, for instance, the candidates with Cert 3 in Business, will only improve the quality of service you provide due to their skills. Some key members may have been great for you during the early stages of getting established, but may need bolstering or even replacing once the business grows and moves into new or larger markets.  This doesn’t mean that I’m not loyal – I pride myself on having developed a great team on the back of some great values, but sometimes, as in any relationship, the things that meant you were right for each other once upon a time, may have changed – you may have effectively grown in different directions.  They key I believe is to recognise this, and effect a transition gracefully and wherever possible maintaining those positive relationships for the future.

Working with others

image 1Sometimes in business, you need to bring in a particular skill or specialism to give your in house team that extra boost, or to tackle a particular challenge or project.  This can be difficult to manage as liaising between in house teams and external consultants can be tricky in practice, but if you get it right, can reap rewards for the business, as you get the best of both worlds.

We have found this particularly relevant for our international expansion, as getting the right advice about different international markets, as well as adding resource to the business to assist with this expansion without necessarily increasing the overhead base early on, was key.  I do believe however, that for international expansion to work well, those leading a business must do their homework and be actively involved in the strategic planning and research.  It’s all very well for an external consultant to advise on international potential, but if it’s your business, you know your business better than anybody else, then you should take advice from the experts, and immerse yourself in those potential new markets.  By all means resource up once established, but I do believe especially early on in the establishment of the international expansion, that the involvement of the owner or leader of the business is key.  Not only does this ensure that the strategic aims of the business are implemented thoroughly, but that any new international partners are reassured from dealing at that level – it really does mean a lot, and garners tremendous goodwill.

Standing out in the crowd

Your brand and product have to be well thought out, robust and provide outstanding service and results.  They have to ensure that you stand out from the competition and can deliver better results for your customers than the competition.  I think it’s key that you and your teams believe in and fully understand what your brand represents and ensure that this is mirrored by the rest of your business, including your product or services.

The nth degree

In terms of our international expansion, understanding when to invest was key.  A number of factors had come together in our business, and a thorough understanding of what was happening, ensured that we were able to judge the timing well, and commence our research in time to ensure that we hit target in terms of global expansion plans.

In my opinion it takes a sensitive leader to be able to gauge the multitude of different factors in any business, their potential impacts on each other, judge the potential risks and opportunities, whilst still being able to make decisive and well informed business decisions to move the business forwards.  A strong ability to understand and assess financial information and market fluctuations, to the nth degree, is essential.

Family Influence

Claire_2From my perspective, being a female in business, and a mother with 2 children, it has been essential to have the support and encouragement of my family.  Timing has been key as well in this regard, as, if I’m being honest, it wouldn’t have been as easy to take the business global whilst my children were really young.  But now they are both older (11 and 15), it has meant that I’m more able to spend longer periods away from home.  My husband has been a fantastic support, looking after the family whilst I am travelling.  My daughters I believe benefit from having a driven and ambitious mother in so many ways.  Material ways yes, but more importantly, I hope I’m setting a good example to them in terms of what is possible for them in their lives.  I also hope that because they have seen less than traditional mother and father roles (my husband is more likely to cook supper than myself), they are more likely to demand a fairer share of such household chores when they have families of their own. There were some great stats recently which showed that daughters of working mums were more likely to have better careers and more equal relationships and sons of working mums were more likely to share household chores when they got married (Ref Guardian). My family are also a great support and asset to the business in the UK when international partners come to the UK and need hosting.  I think it’s important to give them a taste of British hospitality, and that sometimes includes my husband preparing a dinner party for 12 or hosting a tour of local stately homes – it’s all part of the service he says.  I suppose I am very lucky.

Embrace Culture

International expansion is a great opportunity to travel and see some of the world and explore and experience different cultures.  Be prepared however for a lot of time spent in airports and hotels (if you are lucky air conditioned).   Regardless of business class, international travel is hard work and requires you to be prepared, well researched and willing to embrace new cultures and ways of doing business.  By all means take your business and its uniqueness to another country, but don’t be ignorant of local culture or arrogant thinking that you know how to do things best.  As soon as you start to think that way, you’ll be proved wrong!

Treat others as you would like to be treated – what goes around, comes around – and there are many other such phrases.  But I genuinely do believe that being honourable in how you behave towards others in business really does pay dividends in the long run.

 About the author: Claire Lister, wife, mum of two and MD of Pitman Training Group shares with us her tips for how to  grow a business to international expansion…and how she involves her very supportive family in the process. A dynamic driven career woman, has been involved in the business in many guises since she first joined in 1998 and has now developed it to an international franchise. Claire is still very hands on in the business, working with the head office team and also the franchisees but also travels the country sharing her experience through event speaking and she is a regular columnist for Executive PA and VA Magazine. Claire lives in Yorkshire, UK.

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