Thursday, 30 September 2010

James Caan: My favourite Dragons Den entrepreneur

I don't know how much attention you pay to "Dragons Den" these days. Personally, I've
slightly gone off the main programme and find instead that the follow-up What Happened Next
spin-offs are far more interesting. Sometimes you can pick up a good idea or a useful tip in
amongst the general business chit-chat.

Anyway, I just wanted to talk a little about my favourite Dragon and that's James Caan. He
comes across on TV as calm and thoughtful - "quiet" even, given that entrepreneurs generally
have plenty to say for themselves! And did any of you cricket fans out there hear his interview
with Jonathon Agnew on Radio 4's Test Match Special a few weeks ago? He's a busy, busy
guy with plenty to fill his life but what impresses me about him as a businessman and as a
human being is his ability to show compassion and care about the people he's doing business
with or trying to help through his charitable trust.

James' interview at the cricket was just a few days after the devastating flooding in Pakistan,
the country of his birth, and he was jumping on a plane to fly there straight after the interview
finished. His intention was to go out to some of the villages that had been destroyed; to see
what needed to be done; and to use his own money to help the poor villagers to rebuild their
homes and their lives.

An inspiring and touching story you may be thinking - but why have I posted it on a blog site
dedicated to the spirit of entrepreneurism?

Well the answer to that springs from something I mentioned in an earlier blog on this site, the
piece called “Take A Break: Why doing nothing for a day is good for your business”. In there
I spoke briefly about what happens when you've earnt far more money than you realistically
need so that other "rewards" start to have more value to you than just earning yet more
money. One of these rewards was the opportunity to "buy" time for you and your family by
being able to pay others to do tasks for you. This is a concept that we are all sort of aware of
but the first time that I saw the concept staring straight back at me in black and white so to
speak was in the pages of “How Come That Idiot’s Rich & I’m Not?” and it hit me then how
right the author Robert Shemin was.

Now, getting back to James Caan and his mercy flight to Pakistan, another
entrepreneurs "reward" that Robert Shemin explained and strongly advocated was the
entrepreneurs capability (because of his/her great personal wealth) to "give" to others. And
for grasping and implementing this concept whole-heartedly as a man, and through his
charitable foundation the James Caan Foundation, I believe that James Caan should be
warmly regarded and praised for all his good work.

If reading the biographies of the rich and famous is your thing, then I heartily recommend that
you read James' book “The Real Deal: My Story From Brick Lane to Dragons Den” about the
story of his life. It's my personal favourite out of all the biographies I have read because of
the warmth of James' thoughts and the focus he has always put on people, whether they be
customers, colleagues, friends or family members. So, when you've done your day's work, put
your feet up and "reward" yourself by reading the inspiring personal story of a really nice guy.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Words of Wisdom Quote

The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done,
and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
Theodore Roosevelt 

Friday, 10 September 2010

Decision-making: the lighter side of life!

Informed decision-making comes
from a long tradition of guessing and
then blaming others for inadequate results.

 - Scott Adams

Monday, 6 September 2010

Take A Break: Why doing nothing for a day is good for your business

When your an entrepreneur and the founder of a business let’s face it, it can be a hard slog at times. There is so much to be done and you naturally feel the pressure from the responsibility of needing to keep the business moving forward. Sometimes even those mad 80-hour weeks that you willingly do because of your love for your business just don’t seem to be getting you anywhere. What’s the solution you ask? The solution is: It’s time for you to take a break.

Yes, you did read that correctly. The solution is to take a break. Why? Because you need to get off the daily treadmill, recharge your batteries and take time out to think in a calm, unhurried way.

  • Time away from your business is good for you and your health. Get some decent rest. Go out and get some gentle physical exercise walking the dog or going to the gym. Spend some time absorbed in a favourite book or a favourite hobby. Forget the business and do something totally unrelated. That’s good therapy for your body and mind with the bonus that when you do return to your business you’ll feel refreshed and have that exciting entrepreneur buzz once again.
  • Remember too that your business and entrepreneur skills are absolutely the number one most important asset of the business. Your family, business partners, investors and employees rely upon the wealth that your skills are creating, so its a priority to look after yourself. Here’s a quote from American entrepreneur and author Robert Shemin in his book “How Come That Idiot’s Rich & I’m Not?”:  “When you act, act to take care of yourself first. Pay yourself first. Rest yourself first. Reward yourself first. If you don’t take good care of your primary asset - you - you won’t be able to take care of all the other people who will come to depend on you as you become more and more wealthy.”
  • Its not a crime to enjoy the fruits of your success. You had the idea. You got the business up and running. You are entitled to reward yourself with money, gifts or time away from the business. Time is a commodity that you should place a high value on. Once you have enough income to stop worrying about how to pay the household bills, start thinking about using your wealth to pay other people to do tasks for you that save you time. Having quality time for your family, friends and hobbies soon becomes more precious to you than extra wealth. After all, when you worked the 9-5 as an employee for somebody else, wasn’t it always your dream to quit and spend your time doing the things that interested you far more? Start seeing a little time away from the business as a reward not a crime.
  • Finally, stepping away from the business for a short time is good for the business because it gives you precious time to review what’s happened recently. Did the new marketing campaign work or not? Are costs under more control this quarter compared to the last one? Do I know what cash reserves the business had in the bank last week? Is it enough to see the business through a sudden downturn in business, or to fund a sudden increase in output and sales?
  • Plan out what your priority activities need to be for the next two days when you get back to the business and allocate time in your diary to get them done ahead of all other demands on your time. Achieving these priorities will drive the business forward, thereby reducing the pressure you might have been feeling and giving your confidence a great boost also.
  • Finally, finally. Set up your favourite deckchair in the garden and pour yourself a glass of something pleasant and satisfying. Now close your eyes, empty your mind and enjoy some “blue sky time”. Let your mind wander freely over all aspects of your business. Write down all the important stuff that comes into your mind because ideas, challenges and inspirational thoughts will certainly come by the dozen. Place a high value upon blue sky time and don’t just dismiss it as wasteful daydreaming. Trust me, you’ll come up with some really great stuff that will give you and your business a significant boost. That’s why I called this article “Take A Break: Why doing nothing for a day is good for your business”.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Entrepreneur skills: what it takes to be successful

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and research lately into what you might call the skills or qualities that a successful entrepreneur needs. Here’s a quick whizz through some of the things that I reckon you need to create and run your business:

  • Original Thinking & Creativity. Whether your business idea is brand new or an attempt to use an existing idea but doing it better than anyone else, keep your eyes and your mind open for ways of making your business stand out from everybody elses. Look for new trends, new ways of expressing yourself, a different angle on an old product or service. Ask employees and customers what they think.  Spend time evaluating all the ideas and feedback that comes your way. You will find the answer.
  • Managing Money. Even if facts and figures aren’t your strong point, it is critical to know the costs of your business in detail. You must know to the nearest pound how much it costs to provide your product or service. Only then can you get a feel for what price to charge in order to earn a profit. And only then can you consider doing deals and providing quotes to generate new business. Keep a very close eye on money coming in to the business and the bills that you need to pay soon. Question every item of expenditure in the earliest days of a new business. Don’t waste money on a luxurious office and the latest PC.  Work from home or get a market stall. Beg or borrow equipment rather than buying or leasing. Keep those costs right down at the start to give yourself a chance of making some money early on to build up a business with.
  • Motivation & Persistence. The great entrepreneurs are always characterised by their passion for what they are doing. Are you 100% rock-solid committed (some would say obsessed) to your business idea? Are you finding it mentally tough to keep going when things just don’t seem to be going your way? Feel like throwing in the towel because its just too hard and not worth the effort? Don’t give up. Take a long term view, build up your business slowly, carefully and with solid foundations. Keep on going. Read the biographies of the rich and famous and you will always find that they believe in theirselves and their business. When they reach a setback they fight back by finding a different way of moving their business forward until success is achieved, no matter what it takes.
  • Time Management & Delegation. In the early days there is just so much to do that the pressure is on to be a jack-of-all-trades. To save on costs you try to do everything yourself, understandably. The clever trick once the business is earning a little money is to delegate or outsource those bits of the business that don’t interest you or that you acknowledge you are no good at. The number one role for an entrepreneur is to keep the business moving forward. Make sure that you concentrate on leading the business and on the things that you are good at. Get the best people around you to do the other things. There’s one thing that you must keep a very close eye on, even if you delegate the day-to-day stuff to someone else. And that’s the money side of the business. If you don’t fully understand it, for goodness sake get someone trustworthy to manage it for you and to keep you fully informed on a very regular basis.
  • Marketing. Its easy to get passionate and excited about your idea for a new product/service but you must balance that against a dose of reality. Think hard about who is likely to buy this product and how they are going to know about its existence. In actual fact, there’s a lot of sense in looking at the marketing challenge the other way round, i.e customers first, then product. At first it sounds a difficult concept to get your head round but try to think in terms of who the customers are for your business; then find out what products they really, really want; and then you know with certainty what products you should be trying to create. Going through this process will help you enormously to work out how to advertise your new product to your prospective customers. When you’re ready, go all out with your marketing campaigns to get their attention and get them buying. Better to spend your last £100 on marketing your existing products than wasting it on developing the latest gee-whizz gadget but then finding you’ve no money to market it to anyone. This is crucial. No marketing means no sales means no business. So get good at marketing as quickly as you can. Your business depends upon it.