Tuesday October 12, 2010
Jo Harley on Entrepreneurship.
It made me smile when, during the first episode of this year’s ‘The Apprentice’, Lord Sugar told the soon-to-be-fired candidate that he couldn’t call himself an entrepreneur saying “An entrepreneur is not something you call yourself, it’s normally something that other people observe”.
Entrepreneurship has been more and more talked about in the last ten years, and surely everyone can name at least one well-known ‘entrepreneur'? Perhaps it is the celebrity of the new decade? We at learnpurple certainly hope so; we would much rather that young people looked up to successful business people rather than ‘it girls’ and footballers.
The word, defined as ‘a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome’ (Wikipedia), actually applies to few. We cannot dispute the positive connotations and I don’t know of anyone that wouldn’t like to be a called an entrepreneur, or indeed be associated with the traits that come with the designation. It is also interesting to think about what we can learn from these people, what can leaders of small businesses and start ups do? And what can larger, more established business learn from the individuals that succeed in doing so?
In September’s Harvard Business Review, the spotlight was on ‘thinking like an entrepreneur'. BBC2’s ‘Dragons Den’ is on its seventh series with spin off shows showing us just how successful these self made business people are, whilst making or breaking wannabe protégées. 'The Social Network’, a film released on October the 10th, is the story of arguably the most successful entrepreneur of recent times, Mark Zuckerberg who made millions from ‘Facebook’. There is a magazine dedicated to entrepreneurs, and an awards ceremony just for them in, where else, but Monte Carlo; no ‘slumming it’ at a Middle England conference venue for the best of the best.
Everywhere we look the world is changing, moving, adapting, and these are ideal times to cash in on this for those that have the confidence and belief to do so.
In some ways, and despite the hard time of recent years, there is now more opportunity to become an entrepreneur than ever, for example, you do not need vast amounts of money to start a business. In their article ‘The High Intensity Entrepreneur’ Habiby et el point out that in the last century it was “about individuals that got access to sophisticated capital in a few advanced markets” for example Microsoft; whereas now there are opportunities everywhere, emerging markets being a prime example. Socially we are never better equipped, the 20 somethings of the Western world have grown up with an ‘I can have it all attitude’. The positive reinforcement around ‘you can be anything you want to be’ has given this age group a confidence to get up and go, go, go. People are admired for being tenacious and rewarded for risk taking. At last there seems to be an understanding that not all clever people fit into the traditions of the education system. Zuckerburg dropped out of Harvard and Richard Branson didn’t make it into further education, neither did Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne or Peter Jones.
The advancements of technology mean that people spotting a gap in the market can fulfill that need quickly and cost effectively, sometimes starting businesses whilst holding down a full time job. And it’s not just new ideas, recently I read about Debbie Davis who has a workforce of 8000 and has become Britain’s first millionaire ‘Avon lady’.
So, what is it that makes some people stand out from the crowd? And how can businesses bring in the benefits of an entrepreneurial spirit? There are of course many thousands of articles and ideologies around this, however we like to keep it simple and easy to implement, so here are ours:
Obviously you want to succeed in everything that you do, however having the courage to fail is an important part of growing. Leadership expert Peter Drucker comments "The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he will try." Many well known business people have lost money before they made it (Peter Jones for one). As long as you and your people have the courage to have and try new ideas, and learn from the ones that didn’t work then you will grow. Giving people permission to fail and adopting a ‘no blame’ culture is one of the fastest ways to success. Eddison found thousands of ways for the lightbulb not to work before he found the way that did, this brings us to our next point….
Keep at it and don’t give up. If you believe in something (point 4) then do whatever it takes to encourage others to believe in it too. There are going to be a series of highs and lows, so make sure that you and your teams are prepared and ready to do whatever it takes. Work all night if you need to (but not too often!), never ask people to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Think of interesting ways to get in front of the people that you need to, our CEO, in the early days, overheard a magazine editor remark that he had never had a decent curry in London, so she called him the next day and took him for a great curry. Since then they have had an amazing relationship and we have benefited from some great (free) PR. Give your people the freedom to make relationships any way they can (with a few well defined boundaries). However, it’s important know when to stop! This is the true mark of an entrepreneurial culture, know when to stop and move on rather than keep going at a plan or an idea that just won’t work, as WC Fields quotes “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it”.
3. Belief & Ownership
It is your company/product/idea, and that is why you are passionate about it – you believe in it, you know, without doubt that it is the best company/idea/product out there, and if you don’t then perhaps find something that you do believe in. In the same way, everyone that works for you should have the same amount of passion that you do. People tend to be far more passionate when they feel as though they are a part of something new, exciting and growing and especially when they are given responsibility for their work. Share financial results with the company, let people know exactly what their contribution to the workplace is and allow them the autonomy to get on with their jobs. Ask ‘what is the worst thing that could happen?’(back to point 2). People will have an opinion so listen to all the advice, but remember you are likely to be challenging convention so ensure you have the confidence to see it through. Be decisive, make sound decisions quickly, and encourage your team to do the same.
It’s become a cliché, however it’s a true adage; ‘people buy from people’. Unless you have an amazing product you will probably have to get out there and connect with the customer (even in on line businesses). Richard Branson is dyslexic and, as mentioned had a poor academic start, however his ability to build relationships and connect with people has made him one of the most successful in the world. Whether he actually is or not, he always comes across as being generous, approachable and friendly. People need to know they can talk to you. Have time every week, regardless of how big your business is, where people can come and talk to you and feel you are accessible. If you are the ‘face’ of the business’ get yourself out there and if you have products ensure that you are clear about what they do (and what you do) Something we are learning about at the moment from Carrie Beddingfield at www.onefishtwofish.com .
It’s all very well when you start out, as the business owner you are there seeing through every deal, answering every question and personally overseeing operations. But what happens when you grow. Can you still trust that the product and level of service is exactly as you envisaged? The way to make this live is to ensure that everyone in the business is an expert on the product and knows as much as you do. Know all there is to know about the industry you are in and make sure people know to come to your business if they have any questions, knowledge after all is power.