Tag Archives: Princes Trust

Business support – what matters?

On the same day this week that I learnt, with surprise and delight, that I’d been listed as a Top 50 Adviser 2018 by Enterprise Nation, I was reminded by my employer how badly I’d missed my target for business starts. Working with a charity supporting young people with complicated lives I appreciate that, for the funders, entrepreneurial success is best measured in tangibles – loans made (and repaid!) businesses started, jobs created etc.

This is understandable – ‘soft outcomes’ like increased self-confidence and improved mental health, better relations with money and family, are harder to quantify. But it risks giving the impression, to which I’ve referred in past blogs, that only what can be easily counted counts.

A work colleague recently asked me how I would define success in my job. I explained the hard versus soft outcomes debate and then described the progress of a young woman I’ve worked with who will probably never set up her own business but has made massive strides in her personal development. I’ve only played a small part in that young woman’s achievements, but I know she’s not the only one who has benefited from my start-up guidance.

When I was first encouraged to throw my hat in the ring with the Enterprise Nation Top 50 Adviser competition, I decided I’d only do so if I got ten endorsements from the young people with whom I’ve worked over the past 20 months. With only 24 hours to the entry deadline, I had three independent nominations and ten endorsements with some truly heart-warming comments from the young entrepreneurs. See above.

Which is how I come to be in the national Top 50 listing with the possibility of being voted top in the ‘Branding and Design’ category https://enterprisenation.com/top50 If you’re considering voting and you want to get an insight into my work with young people, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

As you can imagine, I value that expression of support from those thirteen young people far more than any pay packet at the end of the month, but I do understand that I’m employed to keep other customers happy as well.

So, I must dash – there are businesses to be launched.

Voyages of discovery

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Sri Lanka born entrepreneur Robert Rajeswaran is passionate about solving what he describes as the ‘digital skills crisis’ by training young people to code in after-school and holiday clubs. Taking young people on a voyage of discovery – into the world of web development – reflects his own journey from an early age as a refugee, through countries and schools across the world. This may also explain why he comes across as a man in a hurry.

Within 15 months of starting his own business – Robert is founder of the GoCode Academy based at NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark facility in Milton Keynes – he has reached 3,000 children aged 6 – 18 and now has four fulltime staff.

A thirst for control and change

The roots of his success can be traced back to Robert’s dissatisfaction with a career start in investment banking in London where his work-life balance was compromised by long hours and where low expectations meant that progress was slow. A frustrating two years of being a small cog in a massive machine was followed by a fast-moving, fast-learning period with a financial technology start-up company. This experience inspired Robert to start his own business – to have more direct control and to make a real impact.

Robert credits NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark programme with giving him the space to explore – to find out what works well, to develop an openness to change. He warns would-be business owners about what he calls the “ugly baby syndrome”. Giving birth to a precious new business can blind the entrepreneur to the shortcomings of the new arrival. “Take constructive feedback” advises Roberts who credits a mentor with giving him guidance on how to ‘unfail your start-up’.

Building the team

Looking ahead, Robert is keen to grow his business – to generate the cash to increase capacity, to employ more people, and get his own space. But scaling up is not without its problems, as Robert acknowledges “Letting go is still difficult. When the business is part of you and you breathe it all the time – you recruit people who think like you and are as dedicated as you are. I’ve always tried to hire people who are passionate and share my vision.”

This may involve recruiting people who work in different ways. This can be beneficial – bringing in fresh ideas – but when it doesn’t work? “Hire fast and let them go early” is Robert’s short, sharp reply. He also warns against hiring family and friends. “Keep them outside the business – to keep those relationships strong. You can ask them for help and advice but they probably won’t challenge you. A good thing about hiring strangers is that you have to really sell your ideas – to get your views across convincingly to get them onboard.”

Robert’s man-in-a-hurry persona shines through again when he reflects on his experiences of the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme which he signed up to in London before joining Entrepreneurial Spark. Describing the 4-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course politely as ‘well-paced’, he is less complimentary about the pace of change that followed. “I like to move fast and it took 18 months to develop a business plan. You can spend too much time planning.”

This ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ mentality extends to Robert’s top tips for other young entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business. “Get out to your customers as soon as possible. Before you’ve developed your product talk to them – get further faster with early testing. Spend less time on details – like business name and logo – time and money are in short supply when you start a business.”

Further information:

About the business – http://gocode.academy

About the entrepreneur – http://tamilculture.com/child-refugee-tech-entrepreneur/#

About The Prince’s Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Turning houses into homes  

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Ask Sam Ryan to describe his business and his answer is clear and matter of fact. “I design and make wooden furniture and household items – to my own design for selling from stock, and on commission to the client’s specification. I’m also commissioned to repair, restore, and re-finish antique and modern furniture.”

Sam’s words belie the care and attention he puts into his work and the craftsmanship that oozes out of each item he creates. He has acquired those skills through three years’ study in furniture making and restoration and a further three years starting and running his own business – Sam Ryan Furniture.

His reputation is spreading and Sam was recently commissioned by a client in north Hertfordshire to re-size a large antique oval dining table made of solid oak. The client, Susanne Gallagher, was delighted with the craftsmanship. “I think Sam has done a great job with the table – it’s a complex piece and it’s now perfect for our dining room.  It must be quite a responsibility working on someone else’s treasured piece of furniture.” Sam was equally pleased with the commission. “The table is a really lovely piece, oak is a dense wood that’s easy and enjoyable to work with.”

Sam proudly describes himself a perfectionist, but he appreciates that attention to detail and high quality work take time. The master craftsmen status to which Sam aspires can only make for a viable business if there are enough people willing to pay for his handmade pieces.

. “It’s the perfectionism that people appreciate” says Sam “but it’s also a matter of getting a balance between quality and price.”    

Balancing perfectionism and productivity is just one of a number of issues confronting this young entrepreneur. On his professional journey since leaving college Sam has had to contend with periodic ill health following a major operation in 2007.  He bears that reality positively and has made the most of the support offered by The Prince’s Trust.

Sam’s involvement with the Trust started with a four-day Explore Enterprise business skills course in London in June 2016 after which he developed a business plan, with the support of a staff member from the Prince’s Trust London Office.

After a transfer between the Trust’s London and Stevenage offices, Sam successfully presented to a Business Launch Group in May 2017 and now enjoys further one-to-one support from a business mentor in Hertfordshire. Whatever the level of support from family and friends, starting a business can be a lonely affair and a business mentor for the first couple of years can serve as a valuable sounding board and ‘critical friend’.

This is confirmed by Sam himself. “The course was fantastic but the business mentoring has topped it off. It’s completely changed me from being a furniture maker and restorer to also being a businessman. I’m now more confident about running a business thanks to my business mentor.”

For Sam – the passionate perfectionist, ever keen to learn and taking pride in his work – a growing circle of satisfied customers is proof that all the effort has been worthwhile.

See Sam’s craftwork at www.samryanfurniture.co.uk

About The Prince’s Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Enterprise essentials #1 – 21 tips from StartUp 2018

It’s January 13th 2018 and hundreds of entrepreneurs both young and old (but mainly young) are gathered in East London to consider anything and everything to do with starting a business. A great day with loads on on offer – so ‘pick and mix’ was the way to go.

The event was also refreshingly free from business bullshit and the hero-worshipping of edgy, sweary entrepreneurs spouting ‘awesome’, ‘cool’ and ‘disruptive’ all day. In no particular order (as they say on Strictly) I picked up the following tips by keeping my ears pinned back during the day.

  1. The recommended maximum number of questions and completion time for market research surveys is 22 questions and seven minutes (after that there’s a severe drop in response rates)
  2. Success in starting  business is largely down to a combination of ideas, skills and persistence, and lot of them – 90% of business start-ups fail within a year, 47% of retail businesses survive for 10 years
  3. Making products is not business, selling products is the business
  4. Focus on your passions, understand the core mission of your new business, be clear why you are different from other similar businesses (the competition)
  5. The difference between masculine and feminine marketing is the difference between ‘hard sell’ and ‘heart sell’
  6. Talk to as many people as possible- share your ideas freely. Unless your product is technical, forget patents (they’re expensive) and concentrate on protecting your trade mark
  7. Get your products out there as soon as possible – stop talking, start selling – just do it!
  8. Write down 50 people you think should know about your new business, decide how you’re going to reach them, and tell them
  9. “Success is selling something that doesn’t come back to people who do” A cliche, but true.
  10. Work hard, be nice to people, do your research, know your customers, be prepared to sacrifice sleep
  11. Start small, never stop learning and the business will grow with you
  12. When you start out in business think about your definition of success – is it making money, making a difference, or what?
  13. Ideas are worthless, execution is everything
  14. In your business pitch start with the pain for your customers
  15. When you start business planning, list all your assumptions and test each one [before someone else asks you awkward questions]
  16. Mentors are great for keeping you on track and keeping you going, particularly at start-up stage
  17. The highs and lows are more extreme when starting your own business [rather than working in someone else’s]
  18. Know your strengths and [particularly] your weaknesses when starting a business
  19. Tough times at start-up stage can be a springboard for great business development
  20. Understand your brand, focus on the core of your mission, follow your passion, talk to lots of people
  21. Starting a business takes three times as long as you think it will

Further support from www.enterprisenation.com and http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

 

What makes an entrepreneur?

Recent research by Innovate UK and YouGov asked 18-30 year olds that were not in employment, education or training about their attitudes to innovation and entrepreneurship. One of many findings suggested that young people have problems with the word ‘entrepreneur’ and only 8% of those interviewed said they would describe themselves as ‘entrepreneurial’.

This got me thinking about the images conjured up by the word ‘entrepreneur’ and why young ‘disadvantaged’ young people might distance themselves from that image.

I think mass media has a lot to answer for here. TV programmes (or ‘shows’ as Lord Sugar once described his) like The Apprentice and, to a lesser extent, Dragon’s Den have long since given up on pretending to reflect real business and typical business people – no doubt in the scramble for viewing figures and the need to edit hours of filming down to a few handpicked moments of high drama, however contrived they may appear in the final cut.

The confrontational format of both those TV programmes probably does nothing to encourage more thoughtful and less gobby would-be entrepreneurs to consider starting their own businesses. This may also explain why 82% of those young people that YouGov consulted viewed the business sector as ‘difficult to access’ (whatever that really means).

But I also think the contrasting portrayal of entrepreneurs – as super-cool, edgy, risk-takers – is equally unhelpful. I assume this portrayal is intended to make entrepreneurship more attractive to younger people, but giving entrepreneurs super-hero qualities can also be off-putting if you’re perfectly capable but low on self-confidence.

Maybe the potentially confusing terminology is also to blame. I’m not sure I could clearly describe the difference between an innovator, an inventor, and an entrepreneur. And that’s just in a business context; as far as I’m concerned all three individuals might have no plans to invest their particular talents in setting up a business, but still aspire to make a difference and change the world.

There are any number of articles defining ‘what makes an entrepreneur’. A Google search with this question gets you 30.7m results and I myself have written about this in the past, in relation to ‘social entrepreneurs’ in particular. There’s a mind-boggling array of arguments about whether entrepreneurship is about having the right mindset, relevant practical skills, or suitable character traits – in reality it’s probably a mix of all those elements.

Sometimes I work in the Entrepreneurial Spark incubator in Milton Keynes – a business start-up-and-grow facility (‘powered by NatWest’ it says on the publicity) and there I’ve seen a large poster with E-Spark’s interpretation of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur. The poster’s list of 22 ingredients in their recipe for success [with my own commentary in brackets] are below:

I focus, focus, focus [yes – procrastination and being all over the place is rarely helpful]

I re-imagine daily [whatever that means… could it be about constantly monitoring progress?]

Outcomes rule my day [being effective as opposed to efficient (which is about outputs) makes sense – ‘results-focused’ is another way of putting this]

I am self-aware ALWAYS [if this means knowing what you’re not good at, knowing your limits and how to plug the gaps, that a good thing]

I know my numbers [yes – whether you like or loathe them, you need to understand figures]

I engage my customers [Engage is one of my red-rag words because it’s so vague – so is this ingredient]

I am constantly curious [although they say the best entrepreneurs are not too bright – so they don’t always think about what could go wrong and focus instead on the destination]

My business has vision [I suppose as long as your vision and that of the business are complementary…]

I am humbly confident [yep – I think that strikes about the right balance]

I inspire my team to excel [leading by example is clever, leading from behind is even smarter]

Uncomfortable? I’m comfortable with that [the ability to take yourself out of your much-talked-about comfort zone is an essential requirement when starting a business – be prepared to do it]

I love to collaborate [yes – I believe collaboration (rather than competition) is the future for businesses that matter]

I am aware… Always on [I hope this doesn’t mean you never switch off from being an entrepreneur – that is not a healthy habit]

I make decisions intuitively [gut feeling is important for some people and, if you’re wrong, they also say ‘fail early, fail fast’ to make you feel better about your mistakes]

I take action – ALWAYS [cue old joke – I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure]

I am constantly selling and pitching [interestingly there’s a current backlash against pitching. And a tip – don’t sell and pitch to your friends and family]

I wake up ready to communicate [as long as this doesn’t keep you or your partner awake at night!]

I have a lean work ethic [makes sense for some businesses – particularly those with low start-up costs, as does the concept of a ‘minimal viable product’]

I develop a relevant network [love or loathe networking, it can get you further faster]

I value working with mentors [never stop learning and never think you know it all]

I am opportunity hungry [I think this means being able to spot opportunities and take them]

The buck stops with me [exciting and scary – as is much of ‘going it alone’ in business]

Further reading:

Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

Age and social entrepreneurship https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/age-and-social-entrepreneurship

Has pitching had its day? https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/15/the-apprentice-pitch-pitching-productive?

Authenticity, creativity and better business

In my work with young entrepreneurs thinking of setting up their own businesses, I stress the importance of honesty and integrity in business practices. This is not just about keeping on the right side of the law and avoiding business bullshit in promotion and sales, it’s about being honest about strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware is important as long as it’s balanced – absolute honesty in our relations with others doesn’t always help…

It’s also about business values – red lines that would-be business owners will not cross. This came up in a meeting last week when a young entrepreneur told me “I don’t want to develop my business if that’s the kind of way I’m expected to behave.” She might have been talking about a recent edition of The Apprentice; it was actually something closer to home. I congratulated her on making that stand – her personal integrity being more important than the pursuit of pure (or, in her view, impure) business success and sales.

The red lines are not nearly so easily drawn in other, more creative, ventures. Last Friday I had two demonstrations of this at different ends of the same day.

At a breakfast meeting with a photographer we were talking about the digital manipulation of images which, at its most extreme is the difference being a documentary record and a digital artwork. The photographer’s view was that, in artistic terms, if the final image (whether manipulated or not) pleases the viewer that’s what matters. He backed up his argument by saying that landscape painter Constable would manipulate the view, re-arranging trees and other intrusions, to create the desired effect. Whether enhancement is digital (as in fingers) or digital (as in electronic) he suggested, it’s a widely accepted tradition.

Last Friday night, 14 hours after my discussion with the photographer, I was at our local folk club enjoying a breath-taking performance by a guitar-playing singer-songwriter backed by six very talented string musicians. The room was too small and too hot for comfort, the sound was unbalanced, and the guitar for the first number was out of tune. But the performance was amazing – raw, untamed… in a word, authentic. I bought a CD of the pieces the band had performed – engineered in a studio to iron out all the music imperfections. It was still a delight, but a pale imitation of the authentic original live performance.

For value-based enterprises, a business manifesto is one way to wear your heart on your sleeve http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/blog/how-to-write-a-business-manifesto

See also https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/are-experts-overrated

What young people have taught me about starting a business #1 – what it takes 

I’m a year into my new job with The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, supporting young people aged 18 – 30 as they explore enterprise and self-employment. It seems like a good time to reflect and take stock.

As someone old enough to be their parent (and, dare I say it, I could be their grandparent) there’s a temptation to think that the wisdom of age and experience trumps all other knowledge. Of course it doesn’t – I never stop learning. So what have I learnt over the past 12 months from the young entrepreneurs?

Many of the young people I meet expect to be told what to do and castigated when they don’t (or can’t) do it. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is not about pushing young people to start their own businesses – it’s about enabling them to make informed decisions about where they want to get to in the world of work, and how they might get there. Self-employment is just one possible destination.

A lot of the young people are surprised by this laid-back approach. It’s a fine line between encouragement and more assertive guidance but, in reality, if they can’t motivate themselves to develop their business ideas they’re unlikely to succeed. And if they want a regular boot up the backside, I suggest to them they find someone else to do the kicking.

It’s easy to make achievement one dimensional – as if only what can be counted counts. Yes, it’s important to celebrate success and statistics about new business starts, number of loans made, and mentors matched; these are tangible and easy to compare year on year. But the real progress may be far less visible. Given the complicated lives of some of the young entrepreneurs, arriving at a meeting at the right time and place can be a major achievement in itself. Many are trying to set up a business against all odds – and there are some remarkable successes, even within some ‘failed’ businesses.

Passion is not enough. TV talent shows have created this myth for young people that if they want something badly enough they’ll succeed. This is unfair, it sets up unrealistic expectation in the young entrepreneurs – their business idea may be a bad one and/or they may simply not have what it takes. Managing expectations calls for sensitivity and sometimes, as with parenting, you have to bite your lip and allow young people to make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.

A final lesson I’ve learned from these young, sometimes inspirational, entrepreneurs is that setting up a business is often their ‘plan B’. Plan A is to get someone else to pay you to work 9 – 5 with limited responsibility and certainly with someone else working out Tax and National Insurance.

And that’s where The Prince’s Trust can also point to success.

A large number of young people may not be successful business owners but, after attending a four-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course, mentoring, and developing a business plan, they’re more confident and employable. And a good number then get work – job done!

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.