Lemon-squeezing for business growth

I am often asked what works well in terms of growing SME businesses organically. Presuming the strategic growth plan is in place, without exception, the answer is definitely ‘lemon-squeezing’. This is a term I first heard a few years ago from business owner friends who had attended Cranfield University’s Business Growth Programme (BGP).


I am often asked what works well in terms of growing SME businesses organically. Presuming the strategic growth plan is in place, without exception, the answer is definitely ‘lemon-squeezing’. This is a term I first heard a few years ago from business owner friends who had attended Cranfield University’s Business Growth Programme (BGP).

I subsequently had the good fortune to meet David Molian, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and then Director of BGP, who had coined the phrase using a cooking analogy (ask me if you’d like the details!). He explained how important it is for businesses to be well-established and to build strong roots in a chosen niche market, and to make the most of all current opportunities before considering diversification.


That got me thinking about how apt lemon-squeezing is for SMEs in the Recruitment Industry; the majority are typically run by entrepreneurs working really hard to find the next new opportunity. What if lemon-squeezing were to be applied as a wider concept across the whole business and its people, to really make the most of everything?


I started working on this with my clients and the results speak for themselves.


Lemon-squeezing through customer relationships (clients and candidates)

Developing long-term relationships requires time and a nurturing approach for existing customers, and this can easily be forgotten in all the excitement of chasing new clients. Working in the mid- to long-term helps ensure that customers are more likely to be retained, because they feel valued, and be less tempted to look elsewhere.

Simple things like having a meaningful conversation (not email!) with key contacts every so often, getting back to meet (even e-meet if distance is an issue) customers every now and then, sharing feedback and clients’ strategic direction goes a long way to creating advocacy and true partnerships.

It is this that builds the level of mutual trust, commitment, understanding and influence – all of which goes towards creating opportunities that would otherwise be unobtainable.


Results include:

  • Attainment of £375,000 in revenue in18 months as a result of re-visiting clients and a focus on requesting referrals.
  • Growth of key accounts via a comprehensive account management ‘squeezing the lemon’ approach, resulting in 20% increase in net profit in 2016 and 40% YTD in 2017.


Lemon-squeezing through people

By far one of the most exciting parts of my role is witnessing ‘light bulb moments’ when working with clients and their teams on soft skills development (whether leadership, management or customer care focused).

Gaining a deeper understanding of personalities, communication styles, motivation, and better ways to influence, takes relationships to another level – and definitely adds to the bottom line. This is because it enables individuals to ‘speak each other’s language’ to the benefit of external and internal customer relationships – and this invariably increases opportunities to build high-performing teams, increase revenues and aid business growth.


Results include:

  • Reduction of 65% in time spent onboarding new recruits.
  • solid senior management team with confidence and leadership and management know-how and techniques; and the creation of the next generation of leaders.
  • A step-change in culture and attitudes on customer service, leading to improvements in first time call handling to 99%, and year on year growth of 12%, attributed to the ease of dealing with clients first time, and greater confidence due to increased skills, knowledge and a desire to continuously improve.


Lemon-squeezing through processes

Making it easy for people to achieve the desired outcomes required of them is all down to not only what but also how they do it. As my first business partner put it, “if we’re going to do something, let’s make sure it is done well” – because when processes are linked with defined standards, and are designed to be clear, user-friendly and absolutely fit for purpose, the positive effect can be dramatic.


This can be a bit of a challenge to entrepreneurs, who often crave freedom from the ‘restraints’ of the type of process management they experienced before setting up their businesses. But just a few key basics, such as insisting on full detailed job briefs and candidate interviews, and ensuring the relevant data (including the ‘soft’ elements) is properly captured on the CRM, can make a remarkable difference.

The reason is that people’s confidence increases as they obtain the right information, so they get a lot better at managing clients, candidates and the process overall – including turning away bad business and expecting and achieving partnership-like treatment, such as exclusivity.

This helps to ensure resources are best utilised and a by-product is often an increase in referrals, because customers like the way they have been served.


Results include

  • 45% (contingent) permanent job fill rate up from 10% over a 3-month period.
  • Increase in referred business to become the most effective method of attracting clients and candidates.
  • Ability to achieve and maintain margins typically 2- 5 points higher than the norm.


So there you have it. I hope you are inspired to try squeezing a few lemons of your own, and that you enjoy the fruits of your labour as much as we do!



Denise Walker, FIRP is Founder Director of Absolutely Business, specialising in business growth, strategic implementation, practical training/learning/development, change management, and team building for the Recruitment Industry.For more information:
Call:      01189 821535 / 07900 266179
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