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How a Strategic Approach Led to a Successful Business Story

Strategies! We write about them all the time on this blog. Our website is rich with frameworks telling you how to develop a strategy. Essentially it boils down to working out where you are now, deciding where you want to go, and developing a plan for getting there.

But it is never as simple as this. Let me tell you a story. I used to run a market research company. We were successful in our specialised way, focusing on business to business market research. We carried out many overseas studies, always from our UK base. Like many companies we wanted to grow and were eager and impatient to do so.

One day, Matt Harrison , one of my co-directors, and I shared a long car journey. Matt is a keen football supporter (forgive him, he is devoted to Notts Forest). I know nothing about football but was intrigued by the reports I'd read in the press of Sheffield United buying a football club in China. In the whimsical way discussions go when you are driving for hours we wondered what they were up to, expanding in China and more critically, how easy or difficult this would be for them. It wasn't long before one of us said "Why don’t we have a go?".

There was no formal board meeting, no written plan, just an idea that was fomenting in our minds. A few days later I learned of someone who could speak Chinese and had a fair knowledge of market research. He had a Chinese wife and wanted to set up home in China. In no time at all we had an office in Beijing. Buoyed by our success in becoming truly international, Matt did a recce of the US and we shortly opened an office in New York. That fanciful conversation in the car had set a ball rolling that eventually resulted in offices being added in Germany and Singapore.

A lot of strategies are like this. We had a strong commitment to growth. We wanted to expand overseas. We weren't quite sure how to do it but our conversations opened avenues that we followed and that ultimately were successful. We could have written this up as a textbook case of strategy in that we understood where we were, we knew where we wanted to go, and we thought we knew how to get there. But it wasn't textbook stuff. We followed a hunch, we took a risk, and did many course corrections. This got the flywheel moving and established a momentum that took us forward. And that is how most strategies develop.

So today's blog is a reminder that frameworks should never be cookie cutters. Whatever the framework lays out, almost certainly what you do will be different. As long as your decisions are based on facts and logic, as long as they are fuelled by passion and commitment, and as long as you are bold enough to recognise mistakes and correct them, there is a very good chance you will succeed.


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