I have been in business now for over 17 years and I think I have learnt something. The usual statistics are that somewhere between 60-80% of all businesses go out of businesses within the first five years; and over the next five years a similar number drop out. What then are the three top tips I could give to anybody who wanted to start a business, be that with small resources (like myself as a sole trader), or even with huge resources and backing? What is really critical?
What I am about to share with you was not, of course, obvious to me at the start back in 1995 when I gave up my job. But this is what I have learnt – and happy is the person who can actually learn from others’ mistakes!
First, and probably foremost, it is vital not to fall into the trap that so many businesses, large and small, but especially small, fall into. I mean the trap of specialism; you need specialism, but it can be a deadly trap.
I started business life as a trainer and I wanted to be the best. In fact I specifically wanted to be in the top 20% a la Pareto Principle. And beyond that in the top 20% of the top 20% – in other words, I set myself a goal to be in the top 4% of trainers. But based on what? Revenue? Size of Company? Number of employees? No. Typically, on training excellence and prowess – the ability to get those shifts in people who attend your training. I wanted, therefore, to be a superb trainer in a technical sense. If you check my Linkedin profile you will find some 75 public Recommendations – which is just the start of what all my delegates have said – so, yes, I think I achieved what I wanted.
But this is the danger – whether you are trainer, a plumber, an accountant, a tree surgeon, a lawyer, a web designer or whatever – a service supplier has a tendency to focus on the technical quality and execution of what they do. What they are good at, and their self-esteem in locked into that activity. And this is the opposite of being able to run an effective business.
For a sort of proof, ask yourself this question: if Richard Branson were interested in setting up a plumbing business, what would he be most concerned about establishing first – the technical capability of staff? No, that would be a given that followed afterwards. The key question would be: what is the market for this type of service and how can we effectively access it?
So, my first business tip is get the strategy and marketing right to begin with. Remember that strategy and marketing go hand in glove: they need each other. A great person to use if your business needs some strategy/marketing savvy is my friend the great Dr Dave Richards: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/drdaverichards.
Back in 1995 I have to confess my strategy was extremely weak, and my grasp of marketing was also defective. But sometimes you can succeed despite that if you can sell anyway. That I certainly could do and still can. And I am reminded of Brian Tracy’s wonderful dictum about selling: namely, ‘at least 50% of any sale is a transfer of enthusiasm’. How true! Enthusiasm and motivation are pretty synonymous – it’s about the energy you bring to work, you bring to your business, you bring to your clients and the world. And this energy is infectious and people want to be near it.
Thus lacking a strategy and even a half decent marketing plan, you can still go a long way if you are enthusiastic and motivated. And if you run a company with staff then this is crucial: your motivation impacts them, and this leads to ever higher levels of productivity and success.
Some great people I know who are massively enthused and motivated (and who have strategies and marketing plans too I hasten to add!) are: Barbara Cox of Nutrichef (www.nutrichef.co.uk ), Steve Cook of Seeker News (http://www.seekernews.co.uk/) , Frances Miles of Jobshop UK (www.jobshopuk.com ) and within my own business we have colleagues like Steve Jones (www.skillsforbusinesstraining.co.uk ), Roy Duffy (http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/roy-duffy/3/7b8/823 ), and Julie Holden (www.smartdevelopmentsolutions.co.uk ). These people enthuse and inspire others and the net result is that they attract business because they attract people.
Becoming motivated, then, is really essential and in any case has become the basis of my whole work. When I started I had the quality of high energy but I did not consciously rate it as highly as technical excellence – now I know better.
Finally, my third top tip is one I have also learnt the hard way. I have learnt it particularly since I abandoned self-employment in 2006 and set up the Motivational Maps Ltd business. Those who know Motivational Maps will also know that ‘Friend’ is one of the nine motivators. For some people it is a vital component of gaining satisfaction at work; for others it is no big deal. I am in that latter camp: ‘Friend’, or the need to belong, is low on my motivational map, although I would describe myself as a friendly person.
What has emerged for me as core since setting up the Maps business is the importance of relationships: deep, consistent, sincere, powerful and compelling relationships. In fact when relationships get to the ‘compelling’ level we can use another word or words: allies and alliances – all based on true relationships.
This gets us away from what I would call commodity or transactional business and into transformational and value added business. Further, it becomes a filter. I now actively look to have deep relationships with every supplier, client and ‘friend’ involved in my work; put another way, I don’t want to waste time with people I really don’t like and who at the end of the day are likely to cause me problems.
Ask yourself three simple questions about your suppliers, staff, and clients. One, do you know them? I mean, know them? Two, do you like them? And finally, do you trust them? If the answer is yes, then you want them, in whatever capacity, in your business.
To sum up: work on that strategy and marketing plan, be motivated at all times, and surround yourself with people you know, like and trust. There’s a good chance if you do these three things, then you will have a superb business – and a lot of fun along the way!
James Sale FRSA is a Director of Motivational Maps Ltd, an organisation with over 90 Management Consultants and Business Coaches licensed to use its unique product in the UK and abroad.
James is a recognised world expert on motivation, and also the World’s No 1 authority on Motivational Mapping and its application-rich set of tools – Reward Strategies, Management Development, Appraisal and Team Building.