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  • Writer's pictureSelina Bolton

5 Characteristics of High Growth Organisations that all SMEs should adopt

Sustainable and profitable high growth should be the number one pursuit of SME owners and senior management.

But what exactly is ‘high growth’, and how exactly can it be achieved?

What is High Growth?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a high growth business is a ‘firm of 10 or more employees with a turnover of between £1 to £20 million, that grows either its employee or turnover by an average of more than 20 percent per year for three consecutive years.’

Whilst high growth small businesses represent only about 5% of all businesses, they play a crucial role in our economic landscape. According to the Scale Up Institute’s annual review 2019, they drive over 20% of employment growth and create an average of 3,000 new jobs every week.

High growth small businesses enjoy average annual growth of 20%

They exist in all sectors: construction, retail, education, manufacturing and scientific, and according to the UK Enterprise Research Centre, contribute about 14% of total UK turnover, and are robust and sustainable pillars of the economy.

Barriers to High Growth

Many businesses struggle to deliver on their growth plans. The majority of businesses will encounter difficulties such as cash flow issues, access to working capital or supply chain problems, but one of the biggest impediments to growth can actually be the business itself if it’s not operationally ready for growth. This could be due to lack of skilled labour, poor hiring decisions, or a lack of competitive intelligence.

The most significant inhibitors to high growth are:

  • Failing to plan and mitigate threats

  • Volatility in the marketplace

  • Shortage of talent

In our experience, there are five characteristics that differentiate high growth organisations from those operating in their shadow.

1. Bring the right people onboard

To grow you need to surround your business with great people.

Competition for talent is intensifying and finding qualified candidates can take time. Don’t leave it to the point operations are stretched before you start thinking about who can help your business grow. Always be on the lookout for talent and seek new hires based on the business goals, not its current position.

2. Study your business indicators

Growth indicators include your sales pipeline, conversion rates and market trends.

Is your pipeline trending favourably? Do you know what it takes and how long it takes to convert a prospect into a buyer? Which of your products are best sellers and in which territory and demographic?

Armed with this information you will be better placed to plan ahead, estimate revenue and profit performance, inform production and identify opportunities for client and market expansion.

3. Track the competition

In addition to analysing your own business indicators, bring in your competitors’. You can watch your competitors’ market strategies play out and analysing them helps you learn from their strengths as well as their mistakes. Being aware of the pulse of your industry and the players in your niche will inform your product and marketing strategy and help you develop your differentiating credentials.

4. Plan for cash flow issues

Growth sucks cash and cash flow issues are one of the most common reasons why small businesses fail. Growth comes with increased demands on inventory, headcount, marketing costs etc. As you plan for growth, create a cash flow forecast and focus on building a business development reserve and financial credibility that will enable access to financing should you need it.

5. Encourage ideas and innovation

Never stop thinking and innovating and encourage your organisation to be open-minded, share ideas and express themselves wherever appropriate.

Any one person in your organisation could come up with revelationary insight that helps you double your profits. Invest in your internal culture and implement rewards to incentivise your staff in delivering against your business growth goals.

Use these characteristics to assess where your business is at, and take steps to address the areas that are not yet in place or operating effectively.


Selina Bolton is a business strategist and the founder of Seed.Partners; a mergers & acquisitions firm specialising in attracting investment and creating opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses to scale and build value at pace.

Contact Us to find out how we can partner with you to accelerate your business growth.

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