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Firms must expand before reaching breaking point

“Bring in people too early and they’ll be a financial burden; too late and your business can’t perform.” These are words of wisdom from Ajith Jayawickrema, published in last week’s quarterly SME magazine by The Times. 

The Turtle Bay Restaurant founder was surveyed on his thoughts on the question: “how long should businesses hold out?” Within three years, he has quintupled his locations, hired 240 employees and achieved a £9m turnover. In the next six months, he plans to open another five restaurants. With these targets in place, Jayawickrema’s main focus is managing growth.  


Sharing senior responsibility 

“Until now, we’ve done everything with a skeleton team. We don’t have a head office. Actually, we don’t have any office. We work off our laptops in coffee shops. We wander round our sites and talk to people. I like it this way – it’s nimble and efficient,” he says. However, he recognises that the small business mind set will one day have to evolve the way his decidedly medium-sized business has. “At some point we’ll have to call in experts in particular areas. And here’s my dilemma: when’s the right time?”


Making room for a mentor 

We recently discussed the mentoring gap in Britain, and why sector stalwarts are crucial to SME growth. But according to Jayawickrema, some firms may be hogging all the experts. “In my sector, I know at least one business with a brand manager, a social media manager, a purchasing manager, a logistics manager, a franchising manager, a head of property, property manager, an analyst manager… Let’s not forget the two training managers – and possibly a few managers to manage them.”


Fear of delegation 

What Jayawickrema worries about is delegating control. Once you get a head office, and fill it with new people, “you’re damned if you know what they’re doing,” he says. Indeed, as you get bigger, you do risk your purpose being diluted or reinterpreted down the chain of command. But that’s up to you, as a founder or director of your firm. How you train your team, the way you encourage bonding, the incentives you put in place – all this can help you maintain your message as you expand.

Reflecting on his nature – and the personality traits typical of most entrepreneurs – Jayawickrema admits he can be a little bit jaded. “We [entrepreneurs] are used to doing everything ourselves, on a shoestring, twice as fast as everyone else. We’re visionaries, pioneers, martyrs for our cause. No one cares more about our business than we do.” But it’s important to remember that people with different causes can be just as caring, and their cause may be precisely what you need to achieve new levels of growth. “We must learn to accept we need an extra pair or two of hands. Expert hands – with all they represent,” says Jayawickrema.

And as our blog about the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ findings can confirm, what experts represent can translate to major financial gains. 

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