The A to Z of being a successful entrepreneur

About Jonathan Lea

Jonathan is a specialist corporate and commercial solicitor who has over 11 years of experience at both large international City firms and smaller practices. For the last two years he has worked on a self-employed basis with a network of other freelance lawyers focused on entrepreneur-led businesses. If you'd like a competitive quote for any legal work please send an email to the address on the home page. You can also follow him on Twitter @jonathanlea

The following blog post summarises a talk given by Gavin Eddy in Cornwall a few weeks ago. Gavin owns and runs Forward Space Ltd in Somerset, an innovation centre for small and emerging businesses, and also invests in young private companies. Previously, Gavin spent ten years as a trader at Merrill Lynch and UBS in London.

In the following A to Z guide, Gavin highlights what he believes are the most important things for any entrepreneur to focus on:

Angels 

Angel investors are individuals who look to invest their own money in young and small private companies in return for acquiring a proportion of the investee company’s share capital. Angel investors are commonly experienced entrepreneurs themselves and look to add value to their investment through mentoring, guiding and introducing opportunities through their existing network. Angel investment is a rapidly emerging trend as wealthy individuals look to invest their own money directly to secure higher future returns.

Branding

It’s important to choose an original and strong brand name and logo that will give your business an instantly recognisable identity.

Cash flow

Never underestimate the importance of cash flow to the success of a business. Business owners should keep an eagle eye on the cash flow position and know what it is at any point of the day.

Directors (non-executive)

Young companies should look to appoint non-executive directors. These should be well connected people who have your best interests at heart. Importantly, non-executive directors do not make decisions, but have a purely advisory role. They are usually older and wiser with relevant sector experience and are important to have on board when looking for outside investment.

Exit strategies   

Whether you are starting your own business or investing in one you should always have a plan and target at the outset for when and how you can leave the company and sell your interest. 

Franchising

Franchising is a cheap, easy and fast way to grow a business whereby your business licences its brand and rights in any given territory in return for a licence fee. The franchise contract represents a proprietary interest that can be sold on.

Growth cycle

Through adversity comes opportunity. History shows that the number of start ups increases in a recession when tight economic conditions make people reassess conventional business practices, adopt more efficient technologies and take risks due to job losses. As a result of the difficult trading environment new businesses are likely to be better run and less likely to make mistakes. Both Microsoft and Apple started in recessions.

Help

Always ask for help and learn from your mistakes. Don’t ever panic or despair. Make sure you find really good business mentors and listen to accountants and lawyers. Don’t immediately think you need to close your company when circumstances are difficult as this can be very expensive and is almost always unnecessary.

Incubation centres

Shared working spaces with onsite support services, such as Cornwall’s Pool Innovation Centre, provide the best environment for start-ups. Resident companies can easily share ideas, collaborate and access mentors and advisors.

Just do it

There is never a right time! Take the plunge as soon as possible and learn and develop your skills as you go. Continuously tweak and reassess the business.

Knowledge

The businesses that produce the most innovative products and services which drive demand and revenue generation are fuelled by their superior knowledge base and access to information. In the present day internet age people are exposed to more new information every day than someone in their whole lifetime in the 18th century, so it’s never been more important to ensure that you have a top knowledge acquisition and management set up.  

Leadership

Entrepreneurs need to be self-reliant, work on gut instinct and want to control their own destiny, but they also need to learn how to empower people, delegate and communicate. Leaders need to have a team in place that allows them to focus on the strategic direction of the business rather than get bogged down in detail. 

Management

Organisational efficiency commonly drops as companies grow larger. Once their business has got to a certain size, entrepreneurs need to appoint good managers to take control of the day-to-day running of the business, enabling them to focus on the strategic leadership role.

Negotiation

Always do your homework in advance of negotiations and make sure you know your position, whether weak or strong, so that you can use whatever leverage to get yourself a better outcome. Don’t bother flattering people as it doesn’t work and they will lose respect for you.

Online

With a 16% annual growth rate in respect of online sales, any new business has to have a good online strategy. Furthermore, there are low cost barriers to entry on the web. However, getting the customer experience right online is not always easy and entrepreneurs should look to outsource certain functions and development aspects to experts.

People  

Know your own limitations and listen to people who can do things you can’t. Employ and engage the best people you can afford and make sure you deal with people who are prepared to challenge you. Understand how to make your people happy and ensure that they are motivated and keen to stay with the business.

Quality

All successful businesses are great at customer care. Make sure you are always delivering a product (or service) in accordance with your client’s expectations and that you fully understand their needs.  

Risk management

A very important element of being an entrepreneur is having a great attitude to risk, which is essential for growth. Entrepreneurs are successful because they understand risk and emerging trends and know how to manage these better than others. However, investors in a company will penalise risk, so a good risk management strategy needs to be in place to give them comfort.

Sell, sell, sell

This is commonly the hardest aspect of business and should be compulsory training for all entrepreneurs. You’ll need to become a master salesman and then employ great sales people.

Training

What you learn in the past quickly becomes redundant. This has never been more apt than in the present day where technology changes so rapidly. You need to constantly update your skills and knowledge.

Up to it?

You need to ask yourself serious questions about your capabilities and make a firm commitment to pursue your venture. There’s no turning back!

Valuation

A buyer of a business will look at the historical accounts in order to arrive at a valuation and offer price, but a seller needs to sell the future potential of the business, as well as the quality of its client base. In good times, 7x a company’s annual net profit figure is a common multiple for a sale price.

Working capital

Don’t extend credit to anyone if you can help it. Don’t over stock, get rid of obsolete stock and make use of credit terms. Always ensure that there is sufficient working capital available.

X Factor

You need to know what your X factor is and articulate well your unique selling points. 

You

At the end of the day it’s all about you and your ideas. Always talk about what you do. Talk to everybody, especially
wealthy people. Make connections everywhere.

Zzz

You can sleep when you’re dead. You’ll be busier than you’ve ever been building a business, but you’ll find this enormously rewarding and won’t want to slow down!

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