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Grow Consulting’s Michael Greyling On Building To Be Big

If you want to grow a big business with an enduring brand, you need to think long-term. Grow Consulting’s Michael Greyling did this by fostering future relationships.

Nadine Todd




Vital stats

  • Players: Michael Greyling and Marlene de Lange
  • Company: Grow Consulting
  • Est: 1998
  • Visit:

According to Michael Greyling, co-founder of Grow Consulting, the biggest growth shift the business has experienced happened when they started saying no to potential clients.

“It’s a scary decision to make,” he says. “We were saying no to revenue in order to build future relationships.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, and yet the strategy has proven itself over and over again.

Former Deloitte consultants, Michael Greyling and Marlene de Lange launched Grow with a clear goal to build their people development consulting firm into a trusted industry player.

“This was always going to be a five-day game,” he says. “We were targeting large corporates as clients, and that takes time. You need to build up trust. I knew we couldn’t approach the kinds of clients we wanted from a product mindset. They’re over-run by people asking them for a valuable slot in their diaries to pitch product solutions.”

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Instead, Greyling and his team took the long view, although there were a few hurdles. “It took a while for revenue and reputation to align,” he says.

“I was used to flashing my Deloitte card and watching the red carpet roll out. Now I needed to build brand trust from the ground up. To do that, I needed to know what my long-term
goal was.”

With the aim of real, sustainable growth in mind, Grow Consulting started small.

“We needed to build trust. This meant starting with smaller, less strategic work to get our foot into the organisations that we were targeting. We knew that if we could prove ourselves there, we could work our way up. It’s all about proving value.”

Trust first

From the outset, Greyling was prepared for the business to take five to six years before it started to gain real traction in the market.

“We facilitate people development and culture transformation projects, which take medium- to long-term commitments from our clients. There’s a significant investment in terms of time and costs involved, and so the sales cycle is long. In some cases we’ve had a two-to three-year lead time before signing a client.”

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that corporates trust capability and track records. “This has always been our focus – concentrate on building trust first, and the business will follow,” he adds.

This is where saying no to potential work comes in. “We’ve built our reputation on a two-pronged approach. Our clients trust us based on what we’ve delivered in the past, often on smaller, less strategic projects to prove ourselves; and they’ve learnt that we genuinely have their best interests at heart.”

Getting real

For Greyling, the conversation is simple: “We want to understand our clients’ pain points, their business dynamics, industries and pressures – and we don’t want to waste their time. We offer a bespoke solution, and to build long-term relationships and our own future growth, those solutions need to deliver measurable value to the bottom line.

“For this reason, when we know an organisation needs a solution that we can’t deliver – or that we’re not the best at delivering – we tell them. We’ll even recommend another expert or company that we believe can help them. In the short- term it means saying no to revenue, but in the long-term we’ve built incredible and enduring relationships, and that means clients who trust us, and will always turn to us first.”

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Lessons in Growth

Know what you’re selling. For example, a new CEO is brought in to turn a business around. We’re not selling training; we’re selling trust in our capability to help them turn the business around.

Understand who your future clients are

The CEOs and CFOs of tomorrow are in our mid-manager sessions today. Our business has grown with many mid-level managers who have gone on to become senior managers and CEOs.

They weren’t buyers, but today they are, and if we’ve helped them to become successful, they’ll always be loyal to us, and want to work with us at a strategic level.

Build relationships with the business – not individuals

We learnt this the hard way. In the early days, 70% of our business was with one client, specifically the relationship we had built up with the HR director. He fell out of favour with the new CEO, and just like that we received no more business from that company.

Now we build relationships across the organisation

There’s a difficulty here, as big corporates are full of politics and you need to navigate them, but if you take the time to understand the lay of the land, you pay attention to the various players and their objectives, and you don’t play people off against each other, you’ll build sustainable relationships across the board.

Stakeholder management is key

Corporates have an interesting dynamic because there is never just one decision-maker. SMEs often forget this going into a complex sale.

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The CEO and CFO might love what you’re offering, but they can’t get budgetary approval without the buy-in of Procurement, HR, and in our case Learning & Development.

Each department has its own objectives, and no-one likes to have something foisted on them. Build a relationship with everyone, and remain as neutral as possible.

If you want to be the best, hire the best

This was difficult for us, as we can’t compete with corporate packages. What we can offer is a flexible office environment based on output rather than hours.

We treat everyone like adults and the professionals they are, which means they have the freedom to express themselves and live their values.

It’s a real draw-card for many professionals, and one that allows us to attract and retain top talent. In 17 years we’ve never had a consultant resign.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

7 Pieces Of Wise Advice For Start-Up Entrepreneurs From Successful Business Owners

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

Nadine Todd




“What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.” 

So you want to start a business? Seven successful entrepreneurs share their words of wisdom for start-up entrepreneurs

1. Offer advice and share your expertise freely

The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn’t make my service redundant — it built trust between us. — Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. Stop planning and start doing

We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on. — Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

3. Play your heart out and the money will follow

I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don’t stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It’s the same in business. You can’t look at the bottom line first; it’s the other way around. — Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

4. Love learning lessons

What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you. I wasn’t paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn’t realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me. — Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. Landing an investor starts with your story

A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level. — Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Offer solutions

If you’re not solving a problem and creating value, don’t ship it — throw it away. That’s cheaper than selling a bad product. — Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. Small, clever decisions lead to big profits

One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It’s that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it’s about. — Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, Watermark

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.





In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton



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Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

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