Entrepreneur Conferences need a business health warning.
November and March are always the biggest months for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship conferences. Last week, I was lucky enough to be in Liverpool for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. Last year it was in Dubai and next year it’s in Rio de Janeiro so we were lucky to have it in the UK. Liverpool is awesome, as is the Beatles Story, but I’m afraid the Congress didn’t float my boat. However, I did learn something important, for start up success, that I’d like to pass on.
On jumping into the taxi to take me to Lime Street station from my hotel I said to the taxi driver ‘Heck you were quick, you surprised me’. To which the taxi driver said ‘That’s what my wife says’. I laughed and it was a fab trip to the station and the taxi driver certainly earned his tip for cheering me up and educating me about all the new exciting development in Liverpool. That Liverpool taxi driver was the real deal. Everything you hope a taxi driver will be and that comes from real experience of handling hundreds of fares.
Intrepreneurs ain’t entrepreneurs
However, many of the speakers at the Congress weren’t. The reason they weren’t is they were people with monthly salaries in jobs. They were passing on what they think is important to be a successful entrepreneur. But really they were still just successful people in jobs not the real deal entrepreneur/enterprise owner. That’s different. They have budgets and functions and staff – it takes quite a bit o success before a start up gets any of these. They hadn’t taken a risk, on their own, with their own money to start and run their own enterprise. Only those that have are the real deal and can new starts authentic advice.
It’s simpler than they make out
The problem is they were magnetic, interesting people and you could tell why they’d got to the top and why peers might regard them as great leaders and entrepreneurs but what they were saying was dangerous. Indeed it is safer if prospective enterprise owners ignore their advice – difficult I know – because they’ll overcomplicate things for you and over-complication usually leads to very expensive ways of doing business.
Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar, despite their many critics, are definitely the real deal and although they’re now at the top of large organisations they haven’t forgotten what it is to start your own enterprise. Hearing from them is a reality check. Some things they said that show they are still totally in touch with practical realities. Branson is in favour of student type loans for start ups, and so am I. The difference between him and many of the other speakers is that he says, something like ‘it doesn’t take much money to start a business’.
Lord Sugar says something similar when he advises start ups that a good tip is to ‘work out how you’re going to make the salary you need in your first week of trading’. They know the value of a £pound and they see a few £thousand as a significant investment. Many bank advisers aren’t interested in loans under £50,000. Yet you or I investing £500 in our start up enterprise will be regarded as a serious entrepreneur by anyone who has started their own business.
Enterprise isn’t complex and it’s about your ability to sell products and services. It is not about leadership, business planning, strategy and pitching to investors.
Multiple income streams and test trading
Two weeks earlier I’d been in Leeds City library at an event for people thinking of starting their own business. Apart from my wonderful co-founder of the Enterprise Rockers, Tina Boden, the speakers made setting up and promoting your own business sound very complex. Why? Because all of them were speaking at the event for free. They hoped that the delegates might seek them out afterwards and pay them for their advice. If they made starting up sound easy no-one would pay them to help them. Again, advisers are not always the real deal.
What was disturbing were the number of people I spoke to that after listening to advice from the stage thought they had to work one business idea into a serious business plan and then get the finance to fund their plan. Two people I spoke to were very relieved to hear from me that you should test as many ideas as you can.
In fact testing is more important than planning. Certainly you can start with more than one product or service and can have multiple ways of making money. You may even choose to have money from a part time job or freelancing to help you in the early months.
Happiness is more than one egg in the basket
One person I spoke to went away happy that he could start, virtually the next day, seeing if he could make some money from both landscape gardening and making bicycles easier to ride by perfect fitting and alignment. He had been trained in law and was very confident at writing and was even more pleased that he could blog about totally different subjects and lead prospective clients to two very different websites.
The big lesson to me from all this is that real entrepreneurs that have started and run their own business know that the focus is on what can I sell, to whom, by when in order to start earning my living through my busness. That’s the real deal.