How to manage a growing business in uncertain times

With the furlough scheme ending and economic recovery in sight, many businesses still face an uncertain future. Tony Machin, CEO of TrustID, shares his key learnings on maintaining a growing business in times of change.

The importance of long-term planning

There’s always a danger, when looking back on a particular set of circumstances, of falling into the classic business error of focusing on the tactical response. It’s true that to run a successful business you need to prepare for challenges. But firstly, you don’t know what the next challenge will be, and, secondly, there’s rarely a one-size fits all solution to any given challenge. Different sectors and businesses will always be affected in different ways.

For me, the underpinning principle of growing a business is to get the fundamentals right. Having grown organisations in many countries, I’ve learned that the real challenge is in embedding those principals into the business and building a long-term strategy – not in responding tactically to short term problems.

The pillars for growing a successful business will vary for different business models and sectors – but for TrustID they are good products, good operational delivery, and credibility.

These three pillars are themselves built on three key foundations: people, culture, and technology. Why? Because you can’t create good products without good technology and good developers, and you can’t achieve good operational delivery, or gain credibility, without great people operating within the right culture.

In short, my advice on how to maintain business growth in uncertain times is to make sure you have good people behaving and operating the right way, supported by great technology. The two main challenges, then, are: to recruit, retain, develop, and maintain company culture when the business is growing through a changing environment, and to rapidly evolve technology to meet current circumstances.

Maintaining the culture

TrustID is a mid-sized (but fast-growing) company with an entrepreneurial outlook. We’re highly dependent on our team, so it’s important to create an enjoyable place to work where everybody feels that they are valued.

There’s no question that it’s hard to recruit the right people and that there’s a lot of competition for skilled workers – so it’s worth putting in the effort to retain them. Developers are a particularly interesting group to recruit for. Typically, they’ll join a company, work on project, and then look elsewhere. But we work hard on retention because they build such intimate knowledge of our products.

Our strategy for retaining developers is simply to make sure the work they’re doing is interesting, and to reward them fairly. We also give them visibility of where the business is developing over the next two to three years. If they can see that they are in an exciting sector that is growing, they are more likely to stay.

It’s also important to hire people that fit in with the company culture. Staff need to buy into what TrustID is trying to do from day one. For example, we don’t look for salespeople who are highly focused and driven by commission. They may be right for another business – one that’s purely focused on rapid growth – but not for TrustID. We look for people who will only recommend products that are right for the client – and offering high commission won’t always achieve that.

Another way to maintain company culture is to invest in the staff that you have. Over the last 8 years, Trust ID has grown from a start up with just two or three people, to a mid-sized business with 35 people and counting. We’ve mentored the people that have joined the company during this time, given them scope to develop, and provided the opportunity for career progression. And of course, we pay and reward them well.

I also think it’s important to have a clear sense of purpose that everyone can buy into. At TrustID, we detect and deter crime. Through our Right to Work (RtW) service, we prevent people from working illegally, thereby safeguarding an organisation’s staff, its clients, and the public. And through our Know Your Customer (KYC) checks, we help businesses avoid unintentionally supporting terrorism through money-laundering and protect them from fraud. That’s something that our staff can understand – and gives them the knowledge and satisfaction that they’re doing important work.

Culture is central to another important pillar, credibility – because in a sector like ours, without credibility, however good your products and service delivery are, you’re not going to grow your business. At TrustID we’ve built credibility by investing in the training and development of our staff to create a knowledge centre for our clients, and by being very active in our interaction with those government agencies that require identity documents to be checked. We are also one of the few organisations in our sector that is able and willing to share our fake document detection intelligence with appropriate authorities – something that sets us apart from many of our competitors and helps raise our profile. In short, we have become the trusted experts in our field – and that gives us the all-important credibility we need.

Delivering the right technology

Good product is one of our three pillars for growing a successful business – and as a tech company, we need to make sure that we’re always delivering the right technology at the right time for our customer.

When TrustID first began offering identity checking services, most of our clients were using purpose-built scanners to check original documents face-to-face. However, we quickly realised that these scanners weren’t suitable for every organisation’s processes, so we evolved a suite of cloud products, enabling them to access our services remotely. We now offer a flexible suite of office- and cloud-based products, all based around the core principle of identity. Customers can pick and choose the access method and level of validation they want – whether that’s a straightforward document check, facial recognition for greater security, address verification, or PEPs and Sanction checks to meet KYC and AML regulations.

Thanks to our cloud-based solutions we were already in a great position at the start of the pandemic because clients were able to access our services remotely. But our solutions also put us in a good position to quickly react to the new circumstances.

One thing we did immediately in March 2020 was to develop a Guest Link facility. Our clients were already able to access our services remotely, but the Guest Link enables them to onboard their own customers and staff remotely, too – helping them maintain social distancing. We developed the Guest Link in about six weeks and made it available to all online users at no additional cost.

The key to being able to react to change in this way is to make sure you have the technology and the team in place to help deliver those products when they are needed.

Looking ahead

TrustID is in the fortunate position that there’s no shortage of opportunity in our sector. While there are likely to be changes in compliance legislation in the next few years – and these may affect what technology we need and what services our customers require – the need for identity checking won’t go away. So, my challenge, looking ahead is, how do I ensure TrustID picks up the right parts of that opportunity? And I think that’s true for many other businesses too.

Businesses need to be very disciplined about what opportunities they choose to pursue. And the way to make sure you’re in a position to take advantage of those opportunities is to have the right people operating in the right culture, supported by the right technology. Put those foundations down, and add the three pillars of good products, good operational delivery, and credibility, and you’ll have a solid recipe for success.

Author: Editorial Team

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