Monday, 3 December 2007


Enterprise is not another word for business. It’s an attitude, a way of approaching life. You can find entrepreneurs in all sorts of places, from retail to politics, from engineering to exploration. They are everywhere, in every country, every social bracket, any age. But trying to define the term entrepreneur is like herding cats – they won’t be corralled. Get one in a box and 99 others will be off at high speed in 99 different directions.
But we are all being urged to become enterprising. Schools are gradually being infected with enthusiasm for enterprise, a.k.a. business studies, and the first series of Dragon’s Den was a surprise hit for BBC2. Venture capital is getting everyone talking – a few years ago most people had never heard the term.
Not everyone is, or wants to be, an entrepreneur; which is fine. Some people are partial entrepreneurs, with some of the characteristics and talent, but not enough to succeed alone: only when they meet up with their counterparts do they – together – become a whole entrepreneur and forge ahead.

Born – or made?????

Natural entrepreneurs are born, not made: not all of them realise they have the talent, and most people have something of the entrepreneur in them. Lots of us can sing a bit; few of us make a living singing; but an Elvis or a Pavarotti come along once in a blue moon. Same with entrepreneurs: people like Andrew Carnegie, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Ingvar Kamprad, Lakshmi Mittal are the rarities amongst the spectrum of enterprising individuals and teams who succeed to one degree or another.
Those of us who don’t have talents on a Mozartian scale can still achieve plenty. For starters: skills, behaviours and beliefs can be learned, or improved; and it’s astonishing what ordinary ideas can be transformed into wealth by persistence and nerve. The opposite is true: startlingly original ideas that could make someone a fortune wither on the vine for lack of confidence or, more often, lack of drive.
The words entrepreneur and enterprise come from the French verb entreprendre, to undertake – these are people who do things. They see an opportunity, assess the risk against the possible reward, and if the ratio is attractive, they go for it, all out, 100%, usually running on instinct. Many of the Score mention impulse, gut feeling, instinct, back of a fag packet moments. They almost always then do the homework and the analysis to back up their hunches, especially if there are other, more sceptical people to convince, or bureaucracy to handle. But it is always the flash of inspiration, the instant recognition of an opportunity, that gets the energy buzzing.
They don’t wait for someone to hand them something on a plate, in fact they don’t like waiting at all – though several of the interviewees say that if the end result is worth it, they will wait for as long as necessary to win the game. Common to our Score is a compulsion to make things happen, and to blast through obstacles they meet, human or otherwise.
They are prepared to do whatever it takes……………………

Educating entrepreneurs

Education, in the broadest sense, is a fascinating, frustrating, complex subject in the debate about entrepreneurism. Look at how many of our Score came away from school with few academic qualifications, if any. Some have at least one university degree – their brain patterns are beautifully in sync with the prevailing patterns of our education system.
The rest are intelligent, canny, resourceful, brave and full of life – but the school system didn’t think so. The folk who have made world-class successes of themselves have proved their educators wrong. They could have been unlucky, had bullies and bigots for teachers. But more often the story is that school didn’t interest them, that they didn’t fit into the pattern, that it was only when they were cut loose to find their own way did they come to life. They are pegs the shape of concave polygons, starfish, amoebae, waves – stuffed into rigidly square holes.
Here are 20 individuals, from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, from the very top of the social tree down to the grass roots. At least two of the academically-challenged went to two of the most famous schools in the country. One of them says the most valuable lessons he learned at said school were how to climb tall buildings at night, and how to defend himself against bullies. He has been, for 25 years, the leading exemplar in the world in his field. So much for exams.
A number of the Score said they had better things to do with their time and energy than waste it at school; a couple of others were actively discouraged and demoralised by their own teachers – told they were rubbish…………….

Types of business: ambition

The classic entrepreneur starts young, and usually as a sole trader. Buying bags of sweets on the way to school and selling them on at a profit is a cliché, as is the paper round and the carwashing business. Anything, in fact, to satisfy the instinct for trade and to start accumulating.
What happens after that depends on the character of the individual and what drives them: are they spurred on from childhood, or do they blossom much later when life takes an unexpected turn and forces them into radical change, perhaps with redundancy from a secure job, maybe a family break-up, or a chance meeting with a potential business partner?
However the enterprise begins, there are two crude shapes to the graph after that: one climbs gently and levels off at a stage where the entrepreneur feels comfortable and enjoys a good standard of living, keeping the business up to the mark, but with no plans for major growth. This is known as the lifestyle business, but it can range from, perhaps, a husband and wife team to an SME employing several dozen.
The other crudely drawn category is the growth business, where the owners are driven to build the company as far as possible, probably through organic growth at first, and then buying businesses to grow faster.
The difference between the two broad types is down, pretty much, to the mindset of the people in control…………….

Types of business: activity

Business touches every part of our lives: you can make a living from every moment, cradle to grave (and beyond). Wherever there is a market, or might be a market, there’s a business opportunity.
Business is industry (making things), trade (buying and selling), commerce (the other bits). And human nature is infinitely diverse, which means that while one person might be fascinated by sport or music, another is consumed by building bridges, or grafting trees, or inventing intelligent textiles. The possibilities for an entrepreneur are limitless, and growing by the day: from the most basic to the most sophisticated, from the everlasting to the ephemeral.
Look at this picture. Most people would see a cocktail and nibbles. They might not see any business here at all. But it took at least a thousand businesses to create this image. What’s on the table: olives, crisps, spirit, cherry, table linen, paper napkin, glass, bowls, saucer, menu, table, chairs. All of those are supplied by different businesses; they in turn are supplied by others, and those suppliers by their own suppliers. Take the crisps: ingredients are potatoes, salt, oil, flavouring; the packaging they came in (bags and cardboard carton, which are printed, assembled, packed and transported). This is all brought together and served by the restaurant. Suppliers feeding into those processes range from the potato farmers to the makers of the kitchen equipment to cook and process the spuds; the makers of the vegetable oil and flavourings; the logistics software designers and the truck manufacturers……………

Types of business: structure

An entrepreneur might start as a sole trader, but after a while, unless unlucky, lazy or very antisocial, the business will outgrow one person and needs to take on one of a number of legal shapes and sizes. Which you choose will depend on the most efficient way of structuring it for tax efficiency, future growth, and smooth management. That in turn will depend on the nature of the business – an antique shop will have a different shape to a training company or a restaurant, for instance………..

Finding the cash

Not much can be done without money. Finding it can be a major challenge for a start-up, but it’s a headache for businesses of every size, getting more complicated as the business grows. But there is plenty of help available (contacts p168), to point you in the right direction, help you ask the right questions and provide the right answers, and deal with the money providers in the right way. There’s also plenty of money out there – it’s just a question of getting your hands on it, for the right price and without too many ifs and buts and maybes.
In order of risk and cost, then (lowest first), here are the main sources of cash, in its many forms……………

Cutting the risk

Fear of failing is the biggest obstacle to starting a new business. As you have seen, one of the biggest differences between entrepreneurs and the rest of us is that they don’t see it the same way. Failure is not a dreadful thing but a step towards success. Risk, to them, is about percentages.
What chance does X have of working, and how big is the potential reward?
If it costs me £100 to do X, and there’s a one in ten chance (10%) of it working, it’s quite risky. If it is only going to make me £200, it’s not worth the risk. If it is going to make me £2,000, however, it’s probably worth it.
Having taken the decision to take the risk, the next job is to minimise the risk as far as possible by good planning, careful management, putting in a safety net if possible, having an escape plan, or – safest of all – having enough spare cash so that losing £100 isn’t going to matter too much...............

What, now?

Yes, now. It’s entirely up to you. Do something this minute – if nothing else, write down on these pages one idea, and what you will have done by a certain date to make it happen. We all know that 98% of people who buy self-help books never do more than the first exercise in the book before putting it on the teetering pile of Things To Be Done (otherwise known as The Pending Tray, or the Limbo of Procrastination).
You are amongst the 2% who do something immediately, yes? That is, after all, the mark of the entrepreneur – see an opportunity and grab it. So – seize the moment. Just do it. Don’t wait. Life’s too short. Pick up your pen and write....


Contacts are vital to business. People do business with people, after all, and you will find a great deal of help, advice, introductions, market information and access to cash, if you talk to the right people. Probably more than would imagine. No-one can succeed on their own, after all, and many of the networks listed opposite are not only geared to business, but the social side of life, too.
You can sit at home writing a business plan for months, but at some point you’ll have to get out there and see what’s going on…………