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Successful entrepreneurs seldom do it alone

Becoming a successful business owner can be a hard slog – but getting it right may bring huge rewards.

Whilst there are those who hit on a brilliant idea or develop a breakthrough new technology, most businesses offer a product or service that isn’t necessarily something totally out of the ordinary, and so there’s plenty of work needed to establish the business and to keep it running profitably.

Constantly assessing how your business is doing is an important part of making it a success.  Every entrepreneur should spend some time being introspective, and learn as much as possible about their business.

Among the lessons that successful entrepreneurs can attest to being valuable is that it doesn’t make sense to go it alone at all times. Many will advise an entrepreneur to ‘learn from the best’ – in other words, tap into the thinking of the other successful business owners, whether they are big names such as Richard Branson or Jack Welch, or a former boss, or another entrepreneur in your city or in your industry.  Other business owners will always have valuable insights and experiences to share, so make use of this gold mine.

According to Robert Wilcocks, the Managing Director of London financial advice firm, Wilcocks & Wilcocks, “Whether you’re looking for new business opportunities or to build connections with those in the same industry, joining a community of like-minded people is the first step in creating these opportunities. A network creates opportunities to discuss any issues or dilemmas you might be experiencing as a business owner.”

Wilcocks has found great value from his membership in a formal network, such as Entrepreneurs Organisation. He has been a member of the London Chapter of this international group for many years, giving him access to a global network of over 15 000 entrepreneurs, all of whom have businesses that earn more than US $1million annually.

A formal network such as Entrepreneurs Organisation may also provide for another crucial element of growing a business: mentorship.  Using a formal mentorship programme, a business owner can benefit from the experience of someone who is ahead in terms of having run a successful business. The mentor is able to give the entrepreneur a view of the business from an outside perspective, which can be particularly useful. As Sid Jashnani, a successful entrepreneur and current Mentorship Chair for Entrepreneurs Organisation, has found in his own experience of having been mentored on numerous occasions, discussing things about his business with a mentor contributed to an ‘aha’ moment when he had hit the ceiling in his business. After trying various approaches to overcoming an issue in the business, the insight offered by the mentor provided him with the solution he had been looking for.

Many successful entrepreneurs also speak of the need to build a team of people who fit well with the culture of the business.  This can be an uncomfortable process because it means that sometimes you have to push a certain person out of the business – but it’s a necessary one.

Successful entrepreneur Firdaus Nagree, the founder and CEO of FCI London, a supplier of designer furniture, explains the process he has put in place to get the employee side right. “Every six months I write down the name of every key person in my company. I then go over the list and consider whether I would re-employ every single person on it if I had the opportunity. If I hesitate over a name, I consider whether this is an emotional reaction first. Then I really analyse the individual and their work and figure out why I had that slight hesitation.”

Having the right team also means that the key members of your staff understand and share the values that you want in your business. This means that, to be meaningful, the values must be lived in very practical ways.

From the top, alignment on values is crucial. “If the values are not clear and are not shared among all the owners of the business,” Wilcocks says, “it’s likely that there will be friction among the owners, and this can hinder the business in its growth trajectory.”

At FCI, “The business made a massive shift when we took our core values and really scrutinised them. Taking them off the spreadsheet, screensaver and mousepad, and actively doing things based around our values – looking at behaviour, assessing performance, hiring and firing in accordance and really being adamant about the values in every step of the job.” Another advantage of this, explains Nagree, is that, in that process, the leadership of his business at times realised  that there was a core value that they just could not live by – whether it was commercially or practically not viable. These values were then identified and dropped.

Building a business entirely on one’s own can be a very lonely process. But, if you ask for help, call on support from your peers, and tap into the experiences of others who have walked a similar path, there is lots to benefit from.

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