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Lessons Learnt

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.”

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Munaaz Catering Equipment Puts Customer Experience First

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.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Entelect CEO Shashi Hansjee’s 4 Life Hacks and 1 Little Quirk That Deliver the Dough

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+.

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Lessons Learnt

7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow



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1. Brendan Kennedy


Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt




You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:


The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.


The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.


It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.


It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.


Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks




When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on

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