By Jeremy Thorn
Winston Churchill once said: “Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot at: others as a cow to be milked; but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon”.
Isn’t that a great quote? In some countries, striking out on your own in business is widely applauded. Even failure is allowed. (I believe Warren Avis in the USA wrote in his autobiography that he went bankrupt several times before setting up Avis Car Hire. This could never happen in the UK!)
Yet for all those who want ‘to shoot the cow or milk it’, there are many others who might laudably love the idea of becoming more enterprising themselves, but just don’t know how?
From whom might an entrepreneur gain wise advice?
For example, I think of all the sandwich-shops and ‘yet another’ ethnic restaurant that set up in a crowded High Street for example. My heart bleeds for them. These are surely most unlikely ever to be winning business models, unless they have something really special going for them. Why didn’t somebody tell them?
And for many other ‘great’ new business ideas that someone had, that anyone else might have privately advised against, I also despair. What about the entrepreneur whom I once met who wanted to invest all their savings in setting-up a dating agency with just a card-index file and no network; or the inventor of a keep-fit device to hang on a door-lintel to do pull-ups, or yet another who wanted to build motorway road-barriers with piles of discarded rubber tyres? All true stories— and all failures to my knowledge. I am sure they didn’t need to have been, if only with perhaps just a little more advice?
I can’t bear to think of all that passionate entrepreneurial effort going to waste, at who-knows-what private family grief and personal cost.
And yet as a country, we desperately need new more entrepreneurs more than ever!
So who can help?
Formal Sources of Advice?
This isn’t the thrust of this article. But there are many sources of help out there if you want them - and there is a vast if quickly-changing patchwork of agencies available, even if they might not all yet make a full quilt!
In the past ‘good-old’/‘bad-old’ days of Government and European Grants, there used to be so-called ‘free money’ for new businesses. (It isn’t my place to say this, but many UK agencies did really excellent work in supporting new businesses through such grants, even if sadly some did not. And I well recognise that in some regions at least, they sadly only encouraged a grant-dependency culture that was not entirely healthy, even if many did not.)
Even so, there is still a vast network of able support agencies out there to support new entrepreneurs; ranging from Chambers of Trade and/or Commerce, a multitude of specialist consultants, small-business federations, special-interest groups and networking organisations; to many Accountants, local Business Angel groups and even Universities and Science Parks - all very keen to assist new business start-ups and spin-outs if they possibly can, depending on just where you live.
And even now, the national Business Link network, so sadly and possibly wrongly discredited by many in all its transformations of the past, is still available at the time of writing as a great port of call if you can find the right person to speak to, with a compelling story to engage them.
But whom else can you turn to?
Informal Sources of Advice
Whatever the wealth of past support for new entrepreneurs, and those that might follow on once a business is better-established - such as any number of trade groups, Chambers, a Trade Federations or professional Institutes, and the Academy for Chief Executives and their like much more widely - and no doubt many others; from whom else MUST an entrepreneur seek helpful guidance?
Certainly you will need a supportive bank and some shareholders who will share your business vision who will invest in you. And they can all help.
But who else? I think most entrepreneurs, as with any business, will need some real champions who will support you through thick and thin!
- Of course you will need some key target customers on board. They are the essential starting point and foundation for any business, so build a relationship with them and ask them what they want?
My own experience is that if you ever ask for help, most will always give it. It may come with a vested interest or two, but that is where ‘business nous’ is so important, to interpret this advice realistically.
- You will also need to get some key staff on board, even if they may not join you from the start; so why not ask for their advice too? If they don’t believe in your business model, why should anyone else?
(And pick your team wisely, by the way? - not just as clones of yourself!)
- In some businesses, you will also need to pick some key suppliers. Ones who will stand by you, understand what you are trying to achieve and support you. (Without them, you may not have a business!) That does include your bank if they are funding you, but much less obviously, all others with whom you might want to trade to any significant degree.
They may often know far more about your markets that you do!
- Pick some specialist advisers, and wisely? They may come from all sorts of sources! But we all need them.
They will need to understand both you and your business idea; you both need to be able to trust each other, there must be no private axes to grind between you for your own selective benefits; and each must recognise their own limitations!
- And above all? Engage the support of your own family!
Setting up your own business may be one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling things you ever do. But your family may not think so, unless you can win their wholehearted support and understanding!
I wish you well!
Jeremy Thorn’s passion is for developing successful organisations and their senior managers to achieve their full potential. Having been the Managing Director of a large international engineering company, he set up and developed his own successful nationwide consultancy which he has recently sold to its management.
An experienced executive coach and author of several prize-winning experiential management books, he is a frequent workshop facilitator, speaker and writer for the Academy for Chief Executives and many others. He is also a long-standing Non-Executive Director and Board Advisor of a number of successful high-growth companies, both large and small.
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