Helping people be brilliant at being them is something I wish I had learnt when I started my first company 20 years ago. I was so eager to help others achieve their dreams, I poured hours into building a ladder for staff to climb. They jumped on this taking their future into their own hands and quickly progressed, cherry picking the things they were good at. They soon slowed down and eventually stalled on the things that didn’t come naturally to them.
Entrepreneurs need to be obsessive about the goal and will be more successful allowing people to follow in their own way.
1. At a personal level, I wish I’d known that a career isn’t a race or competition. Measuring oneself against others, pursuing personal ambition, acquiring stuff… are the quick route to misery
2. Most of what we “know” about how business works is an out of date theory. I wish I’d known sooner to be more curious, more questioning and to be the change I sought.
3. Pay attention to what really matters. Relationships matter. Health matters. This months quota… less so.
Properly defining a business offer and becoming a specialist (and award-winning leader) in corporate branding and comms has been key to success. Understanding where strengths lie and properly focussing services has resulted in a business that is stronger, more expert and with greater revenues. Learning to say “No” to the stuff outside of this focus has been hard to do but is one of the defining factors for prosperity.
Along with a real business focus, you cannot afford to stand still. When circumstances change (especially for the worse) having the vision, courage and acumen to make changes within a business can mean the difference between profit and loss or just surviving and great success. This might mean making mistakes along the way but with experience comes expertise and with that has come a tried and trusted process and approach.
“The business of business is business” was something I read very early on and something that has become increasingly more important. It is true for any kind of company and in some respects, one of the three things I already knew when I started – I just didn’t know how important it was. Whether its struggling to make a profit (compared to just a turnover) or battling the day-to-day cashflow, nothing focusses the mind more than money.
1. Leverage the power of the network – why approach people cold when you can use your combined contacts – you will be amazed by how powerful connections are
2. Do what you are good at – don’t dilute your services and outsource, partner or automate the non critical stuff where possible
3. Take time to meet your clients in person – not only will you build better relationships, you will get real insight on what your customers value and what they are really looking for
When I started out I was very much focused on money and status as the things that gave me validation. When I got that I realised it was not what I really wanted – I was focusing on ‘means’ goals. I now keep my focus on my ‘end’ goals rather than any means to an end. So, outside of all the material things, I regularly ask myself:
– Who do I want to spend time with and what experiences do I want to share with them?
– What areas do I want to learn and grow in?
– How can I give value back?
Focusing on these will ensure you are asking the right questions of yourself.
I’ve learnt that implementation beats ideas EVERY time.
Less thinking and strategising.
Less talking and procrastinating.
More DOING and CREATING
For me, this is the key the any successes you will have.
I’ve made many hiring mistakes in my career. One of the more painful lessons I’ve learnt, to coin a Warren Buffet quote, is
“you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. If you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. Think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
When we reached out to our potential customers, we were amazed by the responses we received from people willing to help our start-up.
I could have made this even more effective by:
1. Understanding better what target market we should attack
2. The size of company we should focus on
3. Who within the organisation we should target.
Once you better understand the challenges your potential clients have and how you can fix them then it gets easier to articulate the business value.
1. Work on your proposition until it’s laser sharp. Only then will your business get real traction. When Write Arm began, its proposition was ‘We will write anything for anyone. Oh and, by the way, we can also do design, photography and web build.’ No one really got it and we won business despite it, rather than because of it. Now it’s really pared down to ‘We are a flexible writing resource for marketers.’ It’s an easy sell, which our target market gets in an instant.
2. Culture and values come first. If you want to start a business, even as a sole trader, then before you do anything else you should develop a strong, progressive company culture that is true to your personal values. This is the soil from which all successful modern companies grow. If you start out on your own, as I did, culture and values can seem irrelevant, but they shouldn’t be. They must inform everything that you do – the \’what\’ and the \’how\’. Once your culture is fully formed, your basic proposition should flow naturally from it. On the subject of which.
3. It’s a cliche, but… Play to your strengths. When I started the business, I was bad with figures, hated admin and was incapable of sales patter. All that I really had going for me were my people skills. I worried that I didn’t have what it takes to build a successful business. Nothing has changed, except that I no longer worry, because time has proven that my one talent was enough. You just have to keep faith with what you do well.
1. I wish I knew how hard it would be conduct proper market research.
When I first started, my path to market with our products was something like: “if my friends say they like it, it must be a good idea”. Oh how wrong I was.
2. Social Media, a love hate relationship If i know how much time I would waste with social media I would have paid someone right from the beginning to set up a good SM strategy .
3. It’s a lonely road. “Working for yourself is the ultimate freedom” someone once said.
1. Is your success inevitable?
A colleague who won an Olympic Gold medal says “Leadership is creating the conditions where success becomes inevitable.” In many early ventures I only succeeded IF got lucky or UNLESS I was unlucky.!
2. Relationships beat everything!
“Rapport” is like a bridge between you and another person and you can’t drive a 1-tonne lorry across a rope-bridge. Be patient with your colleagues and customers and get the relationship right first.
3. If you build it they will NOT come.
No matter how good your product is it will not sell itself. Product development is the ultimate comfort blanket for those in denial. Winning Sales usually fixes the biggest problems in any business.
When I left Uni in the early 1990’s, the World was less connected. Technological and digital advancements have changed this. Being physically and virtually present is only ever going to get easier. As clichéd as it is, the World is shrinking. So, with that in mind:
1. The World is your marketplace. Don’t be limited by borders, stereotypes or even language. Anything can be overcome with a genuine smile and heartfelt determination.
2. Find a passion. Be obsessed by it. And tell your story. It doesn’t matter how niche it is, if you’re good, you’ll catch the attention of other like-minded people who will admire what you do. Wherever they are. And don’t be afraid to evolve or change as your interests change – the same rules apply. You’ll always be in demand.
3. Be you. Being authentic is an advantage, because so many of us fall in to the trap of trying to be someone that we think we should be. Authentic is memorable. Authentic is likable. And authentic is genuine. So be you – everyone else is taken!
The first thing is that you are better, stronger and more resilient than you think you are – be confident, be bold and never ever give in.
Secondly, when at a dinner draw a quick plan of the table on a napkin and write the names of the guests down in position around the table – it is an invaluable way to ensure you can always refer to everyone by name.
Finally, time moves fast, enjoy your life and your family as you go along – its the journey not the destination.
1. Surround yourself with the best people you can find/afford, shut up, listen and learn from them and celebrate their success.
2. Empowered people thrive and grow as will you and your business.
3. You are only as good as your last job, no matter how trivial, if you are going to do it do it to the best of your ability
4. Fail fast, learn fast don’t do it again…
5. Turnover is vanity profit is sanity…focus on the right targets.
You can’t do everything. And trying to do everything hinders rather than helps growth. Letting go of control of tasks might feel counter intuitive and like losing control however it should be viewed as liberating – especially when a business gets to the stage that the people taking these tasks are specialists in their area and actually far more qualified to do them than you.
Live well within your means. No matter how awesome and untouchable your business or idea is the rainy days that your Nan always told you to save for will come. And it will rain like f**k.
1. The level of persistence needed to win an Industry over to something new, to get attention, and the risk of change can too often overwhelm the attraction of a good idea.
2. That our product could be so dramatically improved. We thought it was good on day 1, but now its so much better there is no comparison. Its taken a lot of time and money to do this.
3. How much marketing money is “wasted”, how few expenditures get any short term payback. And how difficult it is to know which is which ahead of time.
Always set out a clear mission, vision and values… before getting started.
I’m continually amazed by the lack of adherence to such an obvious golden rule. Think about it, if your goals change at the 6 month point, then again a few months later, then again somewhere between Y1 and Y2… then boom… PIVOT! Before you know it you just squandered 80% of your series A on wasted R&D for a product you’ll never release. Interrogate your plans intensely before starting then work confidently towards that clear vision.
Don’t be afraid to Raise early
Some businesses are capital intensive and won’t stand a chance without significant early capital.
If you can self-fund… great, but never starve a business of the capital required to hit the market simply because you don’t understand how to fundraise. Bootstrapping is a nice idea but it really only works in a few scenarios and often requires deep pockets. Worried about losing equity…? Consider that nearly 80% founders wind up owning 100% of F*@k all.
Sell your product, not your roadmap.
With so many small businesses on the scene it’s harder than ever to stand out. It’s a common trap but the fastest way to sound like a big steamy pot of vapourware is to brush over your product and discuss the awesome stuff coming “really soon”. Far better to wow them with today’s offering, that is after all, what you are selling.
1. In business as in life, if I really do want something doing, I really do need to take control and own it to conclusion. Delegation is fine Abdication isn’t.
2. The more I train, practice, work hard at something the luckier I get, yes, in sports like tennis, but in most things I do; it can also help be prepared for bad luck and to make the most of good fortune.
3. I wish I’d known what great fun tennis is, learning a sport at 50 has challenges, being fit, healthy and social is a great reward
“Thing 1: Everything changes faster than you think. Plan on services being obsolete within 18 months. It’ll sharpen your offering and give you fresh reasons to connect. We’ve retired more services than we offer today.
Thing 2: Near competitors don’t inspire, they just threaten – but parallel industries are far more inspiring as idea sources. Don’t be slow to implement when inspiration comes, and don’t be afraid to restructure the whole business. We did.
Thing 3: Don’t measure everything, like they say. It’s a waste of time, and de-focusing. But do know what measures best reflect your vision, update them if you have to restructure, and then target those weekly and monthly.”