Make Your Own Career #3: Entrepreneurs

Over the course of November I’ve been freelancing at Bath Spa University running a series of events on enterprising career paths.

This is the third of three blogs about the events I’ve facilitated.

The third event in the series was focused on entrepreneurship, and we defined this within the series as being about starting up a growth business – as opposed to freelancing, contracting, or deliberately just selling your own work to support yourself. We put this event last because we felt the previous events would be more appealing to the Bath Spa creative students, but that we could use those events to start introducing the language of entrepreneurship and then cross-sell this final event as being really useful and (despite its ‘business/entrepreneurship’ language) an appropriate follow-up to the ideas discussed in the previous events.

The strategy did work and we did manage to attract some of the prospective freelancers and artists from previous events back to this event to hone their business ideas and practice their pitch.

We scheduled two workshops:

Firstly I spoke on the subject of ‘Is my bright idea ready for business?’ and delivered a short session targeted at students who thought they might have an idea for a business. The aim of this session was to tease out the differences between an ‘idea’ and a ‘business idea’. I used the Value Proposition Canvas and Business Model Canvas, and introduced the Lean Start-up methodology in a very quick and digestible form to encourage the participants to go and test their assumptions, build prototypes, and talk to prospective customers.

Then I had invited Greville Commins, the Entrepreneur in Residence at the Bristol SETSquared Centre and a veteran business mentor, to give a masterclass on developing a basic business plan and drafting an elevator pitch. The logic here was to introduce some key areas of future planning and to get the students confident with a basic pitch they could use when enlisting early support and trying to source interest.

Here’s the distillation of the key lessons we both conveyed:

Passion is critical

Every successful business is powered by passion and interest in the idea. If the founder isn’t enthused and committed enough then those early speed-bumps might actually stop the idea dead in its tracks. Early failures are inevitable, so enthusiasm is critical to succeed. Even at a later stage in a company’s development it is the leader’s passion that continues to power innovation and energises staff to grow the business. Greville had been mentoring a company that very morning who had been stagnating before the founder re-ignited his passion and pivoted the company onto a new path to continued growth.

What’s in it for me?

Personal interest is critical throughout any business – but not just your interest! Your customers, your investors, your staff, anyone who has a stake in the business is at some stage thinking “what’s in it for me?” and you should be able to respond to that to capture their interest and keep their engagement. Whether its crafting your value proposition to respond to a finely-tuned customer segmentation profile or developing a close relationship to your investors you need to invest in servicing the needs of others.

A Business Plan is somewhere you keep your thinking

Business plans needn’t be dry documents for showing to the bank manager; they should not only set out the thinking at the heart of the business model they can be a place to keep all the ideas and evidence you’ve assembled to establish the business. There is also a good discipline to writing plans (or pitch decks) that helps you refine and focus your ideas, trimming away the fat and sharpening the efficiency with which you deliver the right value to the right customers.

Cut the time to “A-ha!”

Greville stressed the importance of the elevator pitch, and the moment in that pitch where the listener really GETS it – the “A-ha!” moment when the penny drops as to the beauty, scale, impact, or brilliance of the idea. The quicker you can get to that insight the better. From my own experience it isn’t just an explanation, it’s an illustration – it has to be understood not just heard. It might be an example, a statistic, a picture, or a link to a lived experience on the part of the listener. The more often you try your pitch and gauge how it goes the more likely you are to find or develop that neat illustration that delivers the “A-ha!”

Don’t waste a good pitch.

Always remember to ask for something when you pitch; it might just be another conversation. But you should always make some reasonable request, illustrate the benefits to the listener, and propose a next step to take. However good the pitch, don’t waste the glow by forgetting to ask for something!

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