Concluding a three-part series of what I’ve learnt over two years working with young would-be business owners….
As business advisers to young people, I think we’re at risk of overlooking one of the most valuable resources we have in our midst – other young people of a similar age. We see it happening in group training sessions – the animated exchange of ideas in the breaks away from the formal learning. To date I’ve been largely unable to capitalise on this opportunity for encouraging peer support as a potentially effective way to sustain the commitment to business start-up.
I’ve facilitated ‘buddying up’ on a limited scale – notably where one young entrepreneur is now employing another, and a couple of ‘joint ventures’ – but there’s scope for more. Role models of the same age, albeit with only relatively greater experience, are also potentially more motivating than even successful business people from another generation.
The sharing of profiles of young entrepreneurs – covering their successes as well as their failures – becomes ever more possible in our increasingly multi-media world. This is not about setting them up cool, edgy mini celebrities, rather it’s about getting it straight from honest influencers they relate to and can trust. It’s also showing what’s possible through relatable case studies.
What it takes to succeed
18 months after launching her (successful) beauty business, one of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with apologised for not responding sooner to my e-mail – “I’ve just had my first holiday” she explained.
I’ll be using this to get across to other young entrepreneurs a bit of the reality of setting up a new business. It’s always a fine line between being brutally honest and being positive and encouraging, but mass media and ‘get rich quick’ TV programmes can give a false impression of the life of the entrepreneur.
Guidance from those who have been there and done it (as suggested above) can be important voices in administering a dose of reality mixed with inspiration – ‘see what I achieved despite the setbacks.’ There’s also a place for giving greater attention to the entrepreneurial mindset needed to start a business (often alone) without suggesting that it can’t be learned. Many of the young people I work with have too often been told what they can’t do, rather than being encouraged to see what they might achieve.
I’ve been accused of being too soft on the young people with whom I work – giving them too much of my time, making too many allowances for their behaviour, seeing only the best in them. An observation from a supportive and very experienced colleague “this business idea should have been knocked on the head at birth” pretty much sums it up.
At an organisational level, it points up the difficult balancing act that is living your personal and professional values – to support those that the rest of society may have written off while recognising that, ultimately, would-be entrepreneurs have got to do it for themselves and that no organisation can afford to ‘flog dead horses’.
If you’re 18-30 and want to explore the possibility of starting your own business (or you know someone who does), The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is for you. It’s free and available both face-to-face and online, visit www.princes-trust.org.uk/enterprise to find out more.