I spend a huge amount of my working life supporting micro firms, many of them start ups. Specifically through my work with Shell LiveWIRE, I look at a huge number of funding applications for our monthly awards- this is a great privilege and gives me an insight to the ‘state of the entrepreneurial nation’! I read every single one, primarily to score them ready for external judging, but also as we ask specific questions on the application form about what could be done to help young people starting up in business. The usual suspects are always there- the holy trinity of funding, mentoring and networking. No one is going to be surprised at those three being there. The thing is, as I point out to many people, we are not particularly lacking in these in terms of support (if you look)- if you have a good idea. OK, there is going to be less funding around due to the state of the economy, but it is there. Mentors are out there and there are schemes being rolled out as I write. Networking?- well this happens everywhere, and you have to make the effort to get involved. But I want to look at the notion of a ‘good idea’…
When you start in the journey of wanting to start a business, it is important to get into a mindset. That is this; The only people that matter as to whether you have a good idea or not- are the potential customers. I tell people when I give talks on starting up, that a business is a lever to the pocket of a stranger; that is the business is your tool to take money from someone else’s pocket and put it in yours- plain and simple. Try it- go and ask a stranger to give you money for nothing- likely response= a fat ‘NO!’. Approach the same person with something to sell them or provide them in exchange for the same money- and you stand a sporting chance that you might get it…with one BIG condition. That condition is that they actually want what you have. How would you know that? By doing some research.
Something I see going on at the moment has got me concerned. We live in a time were many are transfixed by celebrity culture- you could argue that many entrepreneurs are the new Rockstars. This is no bad thing, we need a positive image of the entrepreneur to enthuse others to take up the challenge of wealth creation. However, one thing I have seen a rise of, is young people starting off in business with the specific aim to become a celebrity- rather than a great business person. This is often at the detriment to actually seeing if the business idea is actually any good, by testing it with potential customers. Very often people are so obsessed with the label of entrepreneur/ founder/ serial entrepreneur and self marketing as such, that the actual business proposition is weak- or at least weaker than it should be. Social media has enabled people to create huge self identity and is a fabulous marketing tool both personally and for business. However, no matter what you can do with social media to market- you still need a ‘good idea’ behind you. I don’t mind celeb entrepreneurs at all, in fact I work with many of them- but I like them to be viable-Like a good business idea!
Here’s the crux of the issue. If you have a great idea- and you have proved it as such, you will likely get help- be that the holy trinity as above, or further. A good idea also brings with it the trappings of PR and profile all of which go to making the business sustainable. Often the end result is you get the gig! Who does not like a good ‘rags to riches’ story? If you spend all of your time self marketing, and have seldom looked into whether your idea is a good one, the gigs might come- but they will not last. You’ll have a problem attracting the help you need in the long run, and celeb status does not make a weak idea good- people buy the product not the person.
What’s my point? Simple really- for start ups, the basics work and still very much apply. You can use technology to help, but at some point, someone with help to offer is going to ask you if you have potential customers lined up- and you have got to be ready to say- YES! If you are having trouble getting finance for your business for example, go back to the plan and really examine whether your research tells you that this is a good idea. Be harsh- after all, how many times have you seen people get tripped up on Dragons Den by their own (or lack of) market research?