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E157 | How Adolescent Businesses Can Get Out of the Success Trap with Nick Cramp

Nick Cramp is a transformation coach and author. He challenges leaders to consider Better Before Bigger. 

In the past he’s been an e-myth coach, out of which came a book looking at how to build processes into your business, but now he’s written a new book, Better Before Bigger – Rethinking business success, where he shares how leaders can get out of the success trap. 

In this episode, Nick shares some guiding principles to help you rethink your business and how to define what success looks like. 

Business owners and leaders get to the point often where there are no more hours in the day, they can’t work any harder. And that’s when you’ve been caught in the success trap. 

  • How do you get out of that? 
  • How do you build teams of people? 
  • How do you build companies that can function with less, so that you can enjoy the success that you’ve built? 
  • What internal resources do you need? 
  • What resistance will you find within the organisation? 
  • What principles will guide you on this journey? 

Nick answers all of these questions and more in this great conversation. We really enjoyed it, we hope you will too. 

On today’s podcast:

  • The success trap
  • The first hire
  • Build in the plateau phase
  • Reframe, rethink, and then refocus
  • Working with Nick Cramp


Getting Out Of The Success Trap & Building During The Plateau Phase with Nick Cramp

Nick Cramp is a business coach and author who specialises in working with leaders and their leadership teams as they make the challenge transformation from an adolescent business to a mature company. 

He advocates his own Better Before Bigger philosophy and has developed a comprehensive programme which guides leaders through the changes they need to make to create a business that works for them rather than one they work for. 

His philosophy and approach has been refined over 30 years of first hand experience firstly as a business owner and for the last 15 years as a coach working across all sectors. In 2020 he published his first book Better Before Bigger – Rethinking business success.

“I work with businesses across all sectors. But my specialism is adolescent stage businesses. These are businesses that have been around for a while, and are successful. But have got to the maximum capacity with the current structure, and I developed a programme to help you overcome that.”

The success trap

Have you ever found yourself in a paradoxical situation – you’re successful in terms of increasing revenue, you’re increasing customers, but you can’t scale the business beyond that level, because what got you here, can’t get you there?

That’s the success trap. 

For most startups, the founder doesn’t understand their role as a leader. Most founders are technicians who work on the business, because they’re the smartest person in the room, if not the only person in the room. 

And that’s the fallacy. Because this is the point where you need a leader to get things running at the front of the business, to confidently stride ahead, but to then step aside and let the rest of the team take on the accountability and to learn leadership. 

Because what stops the business from scaling is the leadership capability in the organisation. 

“If that’s on one person’s shoulders, it’s obviously a bit limited. And the sooner you can get that leadership team in place, the sooner you can step back and allow others to do some of the decision making, then the easier it is to see the other opportunities and to build the next version of the business in your head.”

The problem is, the people around the leader usually know less than the leader, and so the hardest hire is always the first specialist hire you bring in, the person who knows more than you, as the leader. 

The first hire

The first hire, says Nick, is usually on the operational side, because this is where things start to fray first. 

“When we’re small, our customer service is great, our response time is really good. But as we scale, unless we scale the systems and processes and people in the middle of the business, that starts to fray first.”

The problem with the first hire, says Nick, is that we tend to shop hungry. I.e you’ll hire someone to fill the present need. You don’t think too far ahead about what you’ll need two years down the line. You take on someone to solve an existing situation, when what you should be doing is hiring someone who’s got the ability to grow with the company for the next 3-5 years. 

“So we basically shop too cheaply. We need to hire above the level that we currently need. So as the organisation grows, you’ve got people around you that are comfortable at that next level.”

Build in the plateau phase

“The main advice I give people is that they’ve got to embrace the plateau. I think that it’s like the offseason for sporting teams. The plateau period is when you can get better.”

However most businesses run 24/7/365, in a continuous cycle. They don’t build in plateau periods where they can step back and review what’s happened and plan for the next cycle. 

But it’s in the plateau period when you grow. This is the time when you step back and need to become a learner again. Check out those businesses that have scaled beyond what you have, what did they do? 

“There’s so much resource out there for us to be continually learning every day. But the danger is when we spend the time with people like us, people at our level, with our thinking, we’re sitting in this echo chamber where we just get reverberated back to us, our view of the world.”

Reframe, rethink, and then refocus

When you’re in the plateau phase, this is when you should reframe, rethink, and then refocus, says Nick. 

The reframing is looking at things through different stakeholder lenses. How do customers see your business? Is it different from how employees see it? This allows you, as the leader, to reframe where you’re at. 

Rethink is where you say: ‘if we were starting over again tomorrow, what would the business look like? What would we do differently in the last 18 months? This is where you challenge the status quo. Just because it got you here, doesn’t mean it’s going to take you forward. 

Refocus is getting clear on what changes you need to make across the business. Where do you need to hire better people? Where do you need to improve your processes and your systems? 

Refocus is your transformation stage.  

Working with Nick Cramp

What does Nick get clients to do so that they come up with this better version of their business?

“The first thing is I am working with them on their mindset. What are their limiting beliefs, what’s holding them back at the moment, and talking about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, and just getting deep with them about what’s missing for them.”

They’re the ones who have to sell this transformation to the rest of the organization, so he has to start with the owners and leaders. 

To show progress, he extrapolates out the key metrics for the business and the industry it operates in, i.e if it’s a service based business, that might be the retention rate.

What does Nick wish he’d known earlier?

“I wish I had known earlier that working on the future vision of the business is a continual job that needs time allocated every week. I’m a really big believer that people should spend a day a week on strategizing, on creative thinking, to get to where they want to be in the future. Without that time, they’re robbing themselves of a better future.”

Book recommendations 

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