7 lessons learned: Tom Higgins, CEO of Gold-i

Tom Higgins, CEO of Gold-i, looks at the seven things he has learned since starting his business, with the benefit of hindsight.

GOLD i 2014

Tom Higgins is CEO of Gold-i, a Guildford-based trading software company which has transformed the global retail FX trading sector, helping retail brokers worldwide to become more profitable and manage their risk more effectively. Under Tom’s leadership, the organisation has won a host of awards, including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation.

1Think big from the start

Don’t under estimate how hard it can be to get your first client. You are asking a company to take a huge leap of faith to buy a product from an organisation which has never done any business before. Don’t wait until the product is completely ready but ‘sell the future’ in order to get your business off the ground quickly. 

Say ‘we’ and not ‘I’ from the outset – it makes you sound bigger than you are and gives more confidence to prospective buyers. It’s also important to get a proper domain from the beginning. Don’t use a Hotmail or Gmail email address and get a decent website from the start.

2Cash is king

Managing your cash flow should be your top priority. It is far more important than your profit. If your cash flow dries up you can’t pay your staff or invest in new products so this is a major area to focus on.

3Start PR at an early stage

Your business will never grow if you have a great product but don’t communicate its availability or benefits to your target audience. Gold-i engaged a specialist PR agency at a very early stage. Initially we focused exclusively on generating coverage in the trade media, announcing product developments and new clients as well as raising my profile as the CEO of the organisation. This approach fuelled interest in the company and gave us a lot of credibility. It really helped when visiting prospective clients that they had read about us in the media.

We have continued to use PR as our main marketing tool as it’s a very cost effective way of marketing your business and has played a major role in our growth.

4Outsource key functions 

Just because you can do something yourself, such as bookkeeping or payroll doesn’t mean that you should do it. It’s often a better use of time to outsource these functions and spend your time on more strategic or revenue generating opportunities.

It’s essential to get experts to help you to run your business, particularly in key areas such as PR or financial management. You can afford far more experienced people if you buy in external expertise for a few days per month as opposed to employing people to do these roles in-house, even on a part-time basis.

Support your local business community by selecting local companies to work with whenever possible. It’s easier to set up meetings at short notice and to meet up more regularly if your external partners are located close by.

5Take recruitment & HR seriously

Recruit the best people you can afford and employ people who are better than you. Take your time to select candidates who not only have the skills to do the job but who also share your corporate values.

We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and I found I was increasingly needing to talk to our outsourced HR Manager for advice. There is so much regulation around employment and it can also be very costly if you get the process wrong when hiring or firing. It made sense for us, as a rapidly growing business with increasing recruitment needs and a growing workforce, to employ an HR Manager in-house. We were lucky enough to be able to employ our outsourced HR Manager. 

6Entering awards helps with business planning

In my experience, entering awards helps significantly with business planning. The information needed for award submissions covers all areas of the business from financial management and planning to leadership, communication, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. The award submissions not only help you to focus on your achievements and plans but may also identify gaps in your business which you can then address. Of course, if you win an award it is a huge morale boost for all involved and a strong external endorsement that you are running a successful business.

7Learn to let go

As you get bigger, learn to let go. Build the right management team and step away from the day-to-day running of the company. Free up your time to focus on the strategic development of the organisation.

I have maintained a strong overview of all key functions by implementing a clear structure to manage Gold-i’s senior team. Every morning without fail, we have a 10 minute stand-up meeting during which the management team members go through their key priorities for the day. I also have one-to-one meetings with each management team member every week – if the weather’s good, we have these meetings outside, walking and talking, discussing issues, successes and priorities.

Gold-i also has weekly operational meetings, a monthly management team and six monthly away-days to think about longer-term planning. This may all sound as if we have a lot of meetings but sticking to this structure and communicating well has really helped us to operate effectively.