entrepreneur (1)

Some pretty amazingly successful entrepreneurs have been speaking at Cardiff Business Week, revealing the secrets to their success in our Entrepreneurs Forum.

"The UK is an incredible place to start a business," says Michael Jacobsen, the man who took the Dirty Dancing brand and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. "There has never been a better time to start a business," says Hugh Chappel, the man who created and then sold TrustedReviews.

"Probably best not to do what I did," said an unnecessarily humble Bernard Howard, the founder of website totallylegal.com. He said that one golden rule to setting up a business is to focus on an area you know well, but he knew next to nothing about the recruitment business, let alone recruitment within the legal profession.

But there is at least one thing that both Hugh Chappel and Bernard Howard did that was very similar. They both managed to sell advertising on their website before they had a big following. "We didn't even have a website,"says Mr Howard, but he told his first sponsor that this was to its advantage, as they could work with him on the design, to get their branding right. We gave them "founder member status," he said.

Mr Chappel offered advertising to clients at "a special price," fixed so that as readership grew these earlier advertisers didn't have to pay out more.

There is something else Messrs Chappel and Howard have in common and that is they were, and indeed are, good at selling. Let's face it, selling advertising before you have a product is not so easy.

But selling is just about everything, suggests Lara Morgan, the women who created Pacific Direct. "You can have all the ideas in the world," she suggests , you can have great packaging and a wonderful website "but without customers you have nothing."

But all our entrepreneurs put emphasis on creating the right team. As David Buttress, founder of JustEat said: "The entrepreneur sets the tone of a business, but they have to bring in great talent, that is vital."

It's an emphasis that Rachel Clacher, the woman behind MoneyPenny, shares. She says that one of the company's core beliefs is to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. So that means providing clients with the right service, which in the case of MoneyPenny is answering the phone for clients with all the enthusiasm of their most conscientious employees. But she also puts emphasis on creating a wonderful place to work, you can hear the enthisiasm in her voice as she talks about her main office in Wrexham - "a wonderful building she says." But there is more to it than that. "We are one of the top five companies in the UK to work for," she says with obvious pride.

Returning to Michael Jacobsen, here is a man who believes in the importance of entrepreneurs. "Everything that wasn't created by nature was created by entrepreneurs," he says. But then he is also concerned about why so many businesses fail. "Entrepreneurs have this amazing force to get inspiration from nowhere." Their business is their baby, but the need to appreciate that their business is a brand in itself. They must not be the brand.

He also says that some entrepreneurs over obsess about money. It's the vision that matters, that is the key.

He is also concerned that some businesses fail thanks to bad advice, while others fail because the entrepreneur didn't set a high enough fund raising targets in the first place. One piece of advice to entrepreneurs is not to reduce funding targets in a business plan in an attempt to make it more palatable.

And that takes us to selling. Michael Jacobsen says that "it is not necessarily the best person who gets the 'gig' but the person who got in contact most recently."

To say that Lara Morgan puts emphasis on selling is an understatement. She says "I need to sell at high margins as I make so many mistakes."

She is an unusual combination of modesty and confidence. She is disparaging about her own ability, but asks if you are not selling, and pushing yourself forward in front of people "what are you doing?"

"You need to make a call seven times to get an order," she says and cites the example of making 872 calls just to get a meeting with a PA at a major hotel. Although the PA in question was going places.

"What matters is not originality, it's how you present and sell," she claims.

One thing is for sure, not many people can sell advertising on a website before you have readers. But then Hugh Chappell is not many people. Before setting up TrustedReviews he already had a track record of working with Apple when it was set up in the UK, for example.

He has a piece of advice for those looking to sell their business. Don't chase. "If you have a great product people will come to you."

All the entrepreneurs are keen to give something back to support budding entrepreneurs, David Buttress for example talks about creating a food tech incubator.

And that is what is so uplifting. These are not people who like to keep success to themselves, they want to engage with entrepreneurs, but maybe that is the characteristic that made them succesful in the first place