Starting A Business: The Key Characteristics of The Entrepreneur
If you’re studying business already, or thinking of doing so, chances are you’ve considered setting up on your own rather than going into the corporate world and working for someone else.
But do you have the right attributes to make it as an entrepreneur?
We spoke to successful entrepreneur Nigel Taylor, who founded his own successful IT services business 19 years ago. At the time he felt he knew he was making the right choices because he scored highly in a test designed to measure entrepreneurship (http://www.psychometrictest.org.uk/entrepreneur-test/).
Nigel says there are some key themes that most successful business people have in common.
Successful business people have in common a strong work ethic and a real desire to win. “Don’t be beaten by anything: where there’s a will there’s a way,” says Taylor. He reckons it’s all about the ability to ‘never take no for an answer’, though Taylor qualifies this by adding: “Some people who won’t take no for an answer are tyrants. Refusing to listen when someone says ‘no’ can be dangerous. So aim high: aim for a yes, but realise that sometimes there will be situations where you have to listen to better judgement and where no really does mean no.”
>> read the Understanding Entrepreneurship module on the Entrepreneurship course.
The ability to spot – and pursue – opportunities.
Taylor set up his business, Taylor-Made Computer Solutions, after losing his job when one of his employer’s contracts fell through. His ex-employer told him about a company that wanted to buy some computer equipment and Taylor decided to pitch for the chance to do the procurement.
Against him was the fact that initially he didn’t have a business bank account, couldn’t get trade accounts with suppliers, was maxed out on his credit card – and wasn’t yet a limited company. He had only days to sort out that situation if he was to get the business.
“It would have been easy to fall at any of those hurdles,” he says. “But I decided to bash through the hurdles instead.” He got the business and that was the beginning of his now-successful company.
Being nice to people.
“Empathy has been very powerful for me. I always try to listen and understand other people’s points of view,” says Taylor. “About 10% of my workforce might have health, relationship, money issues at any one time. At some point I’ve bent over backwards to help them and under what I call the rule of reciprocation most of my staff will now do anything for me in return. If you’re nice to someone 100% of the time, you will get at least 80% back”
“In the corporate world it’s very different – it’s dog eat dog and people treading on each other to get up the ladder. Very often people who aren’t popular wonder why that is and because they’re not empathetic. If you’re nice only 50% of the time you will get only 40% back.”
This is one of the key phrases in Taylor’s vocabulary. He first heard about the concept when visiting Port Sunlight (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Sunlight), the ‘company town’ built by William Hesketh Lever of soap manufacturer Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever) in 1888, to house the company’s workers.
“Paternalism can sometimes have sinister overtones but if you can successfully combine the ideas of kindness, fairness and giving people a quality of life, you get get back unbelievable loyalty,” says Taylor, citing Richard Branson as one employer who’s got that mix right.
Taylor says it’s as a result of this approach that his company was named 8th best British SME to work for in a Sunday Times poll thanks to its staff feedback. “This was one of the proudest moments of my professional career; the emotional feeling was on a par with the satisfaction of making good profits,” he says.
Being a leader is not the same as being a manager, Taylor points out. The leader takes a strategic, long-term view, is visionary and inspiring. The manager is process driven, tactical and makes the strategy happen. Which one are you?
>> read more about Working with and Leading People.
Taylor is a keen believer in personality and psychometric testing. “It’s a brilliant tool to help you understand yourself and what sort of work you are suited for. Look at how many people say they want to be managers, and at how many of them later say they wish they’d never gone into it. Personality profiling would have helped them avoid making the wrong decisions in the first place.”
He recommends the Thomas International PPA profiling system (http://www.thomasinternational.net/en-gb/ourassessments/PPA.aspx), which gives insights into how people behave at work, answering questions such as: what are their strengths and limitations? How do they communicate? Are they self starters? What motivates them?
Taylor says care should be taken when interpreting the results. “Having a good work ethic or tenacity won’t on their own make you a good business person, but not having those traits will make it impossible to become one. Having two feet doesn’t mean you’ll be a good football player. It’s the absence of traits that’s most interesting.”
>> read more about Personal & Professional Development.
People often follow a traditional route of GCSEs, A levels and then university, but in business there are other ways of doing it. Taylor recommends: “Challenge that norm, and break with tradition if that’s right for you. As an employer I’ve never put massive emphasis on academic qualifications, and certainly not on a degree, unless it is totally relevant to the position. I don’t believe that a degree in history or philosophy, for example, adds much value to an employer.”
What he does “whole-heartedly support” is someone who studies for something that is directly related to their career – business management being a case in point.
Taylor himself left education after getting a single A level – that was in business studies and he believes that’s a useful subject for anyone who wants a career in a corporate environment. But he urges students to use their studies not simply as a means to passing an exam but as a way of genuinely absorbing learning that will benefit their future careers, especially if they plan to set up their own businesses.
“Having had business training can ensure the business owner has that vital understanding of the costs and mechanics of running a business. It’s so easy to start a business, not realising that every penny counts and how much it’s going to cost you to buy stock, pay rent, arrange cover for when you can’t be there …” A solid business plan can help avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.
That’s why businesses set up by 16- and 17-year-olds – and there are some – usually don’t last. “They just don’t have enough real-world skills,” says Taylor. But give it a few more years and a decent business course and the would-be entrepreneur will be in a much better place to make a go of things.
When he heard about the online Business Start-up and Entrepreneurship course offered by BrightonSBM, Nigel says: “This is an excellent idea, and yes I would have loved to have had a course like that. Any preparation for running a company would be beneficial, when I started I didn’t know where to get help. A year or so after I started, I found BusinessLink … too little, too late!”
Considering an MBA? Leave it until you’re established, advises Taylor. “They’re for people who’ve been working for a while. At a younger age you’re better off with a lower level qualification like an HNC or an HND in Business.”
Nigel Taylor is founder and chairman of Taylor-Made Computer Solutions, a specialist IT service provider based in Fareham, Hampshire. He is a former board member of Southampton and Fareham Chamber of Commerce and says he is fascinated by management styles, gurus and theories – and what makes good companies great.