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Big thinking can boost small businesses

Well, we completed our tour of 14 Start-Up Live gigs in association with Ulster Bank, during which we have shared a panel with more than 40 businesspeople from across the island.

Talk about butcher, baker and candlestick maker. We’ve had business people involved in international software, hairdressing, home help, house cleaning, restaurants, hotels, internet firms, engineering, accountancy, outsourcing, e-learning, transport…you name it.

Here are some of the key lessons which have come out for anyone starting or in the early stage of running a business.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Panelists agreed that there is tons of help out there but that you have to look for it. Our events have shown that people are more than willing to help and share insights and experiences. Nobody is going to face a problem that someone else hasn’t overcome.

Be persistent

The help is out there but it can be fragmented and sometimes wrapped in bureaucracy and disinterest by some officials. But you need to be determined and wade through. It’s the businesses that are sticking to the task — and not making excuses — that are getting help.

Break the job into small manageable tasks

We all knew this but it’s worth repeating because there were discussions about some people getting overwhelmed with the apparent size of the task of getting a business off the ground.

Have a bit of integrity in what you’re doing

Having pride in what you were doing was the most inspirational theme that ran through the sessions to date. The lack of integrity in many leadership organisations today seems to have put the need for businesses to provide a bit of direction and inspiration back onto the agenda in a big way.

A number of panelists also talked about stakeholders that the business needed to look after — staff, customers, partners, financiers — as now including the community in which the business exists.

Have a go… you can only fail

All the panelists had this ‘have a go’ trait.

They talked about being motivated by getting things done, by starting projects and completing them. The comparison with the USA was made where businesspeople seem to see failure as a badge of honour once the businessman gets back up and dusts himself down to start again.

Understanding sales processes

Although customer service, quality products and good pricing are paramount, ‘it’s all about sales’ was an underlying theme. This applies to not only knowing how customers ticked, how they wanted to interact with the seller, what they were willing to pay and gaining their loyalty — it also means being aware of how other stakeholders operated. How getting to know the bank manager or enterprise board official was vital and understanding the criteria for getting proposals approved.

The need to be positive

This came down to having self-belief and surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded people.