By Mike Southon
One of my keenest memories of 2011 was being in Central London as public sector employees took to the streets in protest about the proposed changes to their pension plans.
I do not subscribe to the view of many entrepreneurs that these protests were inappropriate given the state of the economy, or to the misconception that public sector workers all have secure jobs and a relatively easy life. Nor do I begrudge the protesters having what seemed like a jolly day out in Central London; my view is they deserve all the fun they can get.
The prime motivation for becoming an entrepreneur is boredom, to escape being stuck in a dead-end job. One of my hardest tasks is going into public sector organisations with a brief to galvanise the audience into thinking in a more enterprising way.
While they generally accept the theory, it is clear that many have become so demotivated over time that they have given up all hope of enjoying their working lives. More troubling are those who find themselves unexpectedly on the job market lacking the basic survival skills that are endemic to the serial entrepreneur.
But hopefully all public sector workers will exit their organisations with a pension of some sort. If you scratch under the surface, it is difficult to find an entrepreneur that has any concept of the need for pension planning.
This attitude is a combination of many factors. Foremost, if there is a classic role model for the typical entrepreneur it is Mr Micawber from David Copperfield. Always just one step ahead of his creditors, Micawber was convinced that something was about to turn up which would change his fortunes.
This confidence and optimism is essential for anyone who takes the first steps towards starting a business. To grow the business they will need to partner with someone more pragmatic, ideally a finance professional that will make sure the successful business does not collapse due to poor cash flow management.
They will also need to keep a tight control over costs, to prevent the classic entrepreneur's desire to solve problems by throwing money at them, or to confuse revenue with cash that can be spent on rewards for all the long hours and hard work.
The finance professional will have to explain to the entrepreneur that if they have even a small number of employees, they will soon, by law, have to put in place a pension scheme, either one of their own or the government's NEST scheme.
This process will require the entrepreneur to submit to torture they equate to the Spanish Inquisition. This involves a sensible but dull person explaining the minute details of the various pension plan options and legal requirements.
The culture gap between an entrepreneur and a pension advisor is always around the concept of a specified retirement age. In their heart, every entrepreneur knows they are never going to stop; there will always be another adventure on the horizon.
Hopefully a good pension plan is put in place swiftly and painlessly, allowing entrepreneurs to get back to what they do best, creating wealth and employment. If it all goes horribly wrong, they cannot strike for better terms and conditions; in most cases, they have only themselves to blame if they fail.
But perhaps we should organise an entrepreneurs' parade, not as a protest, but a celebration of life, like a Mardi Gras. Our message to all the public sector workers looking on in amazement would be this: we may be living from hand to mouth at times, but at least we are having fun.
Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com
Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.
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