As a big believer in young business talent, I’d like to share some tips – learned through experience – about honing your skills as an entrepreneur. In my companies we thrive on the entrepreneurial spirit in our young employees, and consider mentoring them is key to their personal and professional growth, as well as that of our companies – so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write this guest post.
This post is applicable if you want to set up in business on your own some day, or already have a venture of some sort. Even if you just want to add more strings to your bow to be a better employee most of this still counts: an entrepreneurial mindset will take you further even when you work for others:
The biggest tip I could give anyone is: start early.
Aged about 10, myself and 2 friends sold farm waste to gardeners as fertiliser, by pushing barrows door to door in the village we lived in. At the time it was fun, and looking back it taught us how work is proportional to reward (if you get the model right) and that how bulk deals beat lots of small ones hands down. This also leads nicely into #2:
Start small and build.
Practice whilst it doesn’t matter. What I mean by this is start some sort of business venture, no matter how small, before you need to make a living out of it. One fun business of mine was building and upgrading my PC. Around when ebay launched I used to buy new PC components and auction the old one, frequently selling the old for more than the new (better) component cost me. Remember PCs cost a lot more 10-15 years ago than they do now. This all taught me ‘real life’ marketing and copywriting, and the value of simplifying offers to get a good price. I soon learnt that attention to detail; better pictures, better copy and throwing in free shipping got me a top price. I learnt that buyers will spend more for less if you sell it well. Because I wasn’t trying to earn a living from it I was free to experiment and get things wrong – learning from my mistakes. I also implemented things I learnt in copywriting books. I also always had a state-of-the-art PC too! Ebay and other marketplace sites are still good for this. Try selling your 2nd hand *anything* on Craigslist.com or Gumtree.com and hone your skills.
Realize the power of good writing.
Good writers are even more rare now than they used to be, partly because of how email, SMS, IM and tools like BlackBerry Messenger have taught us to “write”. Selling and marketing both need great copywriting skills, as do persuasive emails. As more people get lazy with their writing, being able to write becomes more and more powerful as a competitive advantage. If you can write good copy, you can sell anything online. If you can’t, you either won’t sell, or will need to hire someone to write for you. In my businesses we’ve seen that often the sales person who sells the most is the best writer: talking the talk is easy, backing it up with an effective, pitch-perfect email is much harder. We do a lot of coaching of new recruits on the wording they use in emails and on the phone – and even to colleagues.
Master the art of bootstrapping: aim to “bootstrap” first.
Don’t get tempted by the media that the only way to start (or grow) a business is to pitch your idea at a bank or investors until you get a big lump of cash. Fund it yourself, by working on the side, or living with family for another year or two instead – it might be slower, but it teaches you the real value of money (spending other people’s cash always means more gets wasted), plus once you do make it work you’ll have a much better story to tell at the end. Your business will also benefit from day one because it has no debts. The other down-side to other people’s money is the pressure they bring to get results their way, on their time scale. This means you have double the work: running your business plus keeping them happy. With TV and media finding the whole Venture Capitalist deal glamorous, it can be easy to forget bootstrapping – but owning 100% of something smaller is way more satisfying than owning just part of something bigger.
Be curious and adventurous: think like The North Face.
They say “never stop exploring” and I say “never stop learning”. You should be learning all the time, from books, blogs, podcasts, seminars, conferences, even through people you meet. In my experience, the people who aren’t as successful as they want to be in life are those who stopped learning the day they left formal education.
Remember to strive for individuality, and inject personality into what you do. Entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of just copying what else is out there and form another “me too” business. Euripides (Greek tragic dramatist , 484 BC – 406 BC) said “The wisest men follow their own direction” and whilst you *should* follow the masses when comes to operating within the law, when it comes to everything else you should be doing it your way. Getting scared by the competition and following what they do will kill your creativity – and if you are going to set up a business of your own, it should be about you, your personality, and doing it your way. I’m not saying don’t take advice, or don’t observe what’s out there, but do make it about you and follow your own direction. Innovation rarely comes from simply copying.
Not acting classes (unless you think it will help your personal development, see point #6), but take action. Do something. Start, get going. Take that first step. Back when I was setting up SSL247, I persuaded an associate we should form an automotive research company. I had proven online sales and marketing experience and would be responsible for web development, and he had all the industry contacts and was an established analyst. We both had years of experience in doing what we were proposing – years of successful experience. He’d write it, I’d sort out the website to market and sell it – except he never did write, and I got bored of chasing him (partly because I had another business, and partly because I didn’t believe he’d ever go for it). In the 4 or 5 years since then, SSL247 has doubled in size 5 or 6 times and I’ve set up another 2 startup businesses. I know if he’d just pushed himself to write that one report, that we’d probably have a business today. The difference between us is just action – I acted on my ideas, he didn’t. So… go and start something!
Oliver Wilkinson is based in London, England and is the owner/founder of Europe’s largest SSL reseller – SSL247 – plus is co-founder of France’s first disruptive online recruitment company, jobiso.fr. Ever since writing Europe’s first B2B study of banner ads’ effect on indirect response in 2001 he has regularly been published online and in traditional media. See http://oliverwilkinson.com for more, and to subscribe to future blogs and insight for free.