Being a new entrepreneur can feel both bewildering and exhilarating. In the early days of any business journey, as an entrepreneur you will need to be all things to all people. Because of this, you will need to be extremely tenacious and ride the rows of obstacles that will be thrown your way. In the beginning the entrepreneur does, and almost is, everything – simply because there is noone else and everything is down to you.
The setbacks you face will often feel both challenging and time consuming, and there will inevitably come a time when you can no longer wear all the hats you needed to wear when you were getting started. Eventually, you’ll need to find people out there who are better suited to managing some of the areas of your business than you are.
At this point, you’ll need to build a support network, improve your processes and structures for business scale and free up some of your own time so that you can focus on the areas you’re more passionate about (and probably are best at) – it’s very likely it’s these areas that drove you to start your business in the first place!
In my experience of growing and exiting three of my own businesses, as well as advising several others, it is fair to say none would have achieved the best possible outcome without the help of a great support network and without surrounding yourself with a few, good, key individuals.
Support systems can take many different shapes and forms. Here are my four top tips on surrounding yourself with self-starters to drive growth and scale.
Recruit for where you want your business to be, not where it is right now
There will come a time when you need to step back and build a team of people on whom you can rely. Don’t fall into the trap of hurriedly filling the empty seats around you. It’s important to remember that while there’s work to be done immediately, whoever you recruit today will become the team that shapes the way your business will look tomorrow. Essentially, you need to surround yourself with self-starters, but self-starters who understand what it is you want for your business.
One of the easiest ways to make sure you attract (and more importantly retain) the ‘right’ people, is by embedding a culture that transcends the way you behave and act around one another the way you make decisions. Ideally, this will be one that encourages the right kind of attitude and behaviours and fosters consistent and direct performance against established and shared goals.
“Once you have your core team in place, you can carry on recruiting in their likeness”
By very definition, an entrepreneur is someone who creates something tangible from an idea originating within their own head. Before heading out on your first recruitment drive, you might consider writing down your vision, your mission and some of the traits your business would have were it a human being. Think about the effect you want your business to have on others and on your clients, and what you plan to do to get there. Also think about your ambition. Are you building for an exit, or do you plan to stick in the game for a while? This is key as you form a broad team of stakeholders around you.
Once you’ve penned these ideas, you can begin conversations with your potential recruits.
Once you have your core team in place, you can carry on recruiting in their likeness, creating a cohesive culture and building a set of behaviours that your whole organisation embodies.
Create a culture of innovation and freedom
The key to this is your own attitude. You must allow your new recruits the scope to get on with their job. You cannot afford to look over their shoulders or micro-manage their roles. You need to provide an environment where autonomy thrives, and so too will innovation. Above all, stop doing so much and start to lead, inspire and motivate more. You’ll need to be present – don’t underestimate the impact your energy will have on the business and your team – but you’ll also need to learn to take a step back and inspire from within the team.
If you do the above, your self-starters will do what you brought them into the business to do – self-start! But without you generating the time to set and communicate the vision and to focus on leading and motivating, like a rudderless ship, the self-starters will drive your business in many directions at the same time, resulting in chaos.
Lean on your peers, and learn from their experiences too
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that you are the exact average of the five people you spend the most time with, and I have no doubt that vicarious learning can be one of the key drivers of success when proper commitment is applied.
While it can be difficult to take the time out of your day, surrounding yourself with your peers as often as possible will lighten the burden and encourage you to look at your situation from new perspectives that you may have otherwise overlooked.
It’s important to remember that while your peers may not be experts in their fields, they likely will not have a vested interest in your business. This way they are far more likely to give you impartial and honest advice that they would act on if they were in your shoes.
Build an experienced non-executive board who will open doors for you
Building a relationship with a mentor or adviser to help you grow your business is a route that many take: learning from another’s technical knowledge, know-how or relevant experience is key to quick progression. Mentors often have invaluable little black books which can open doors you may not have been able to reach yourself.
There will come a point when you will look to outwardly grow your board, and recruiting a non-executive director, who shares the passion for your business and is enthusiastic about putting ‘skin in the game’, will be the logical next step. A great non-executive director (NED) will energise and reignite any passions lost through working long hours, or being too involved in day-to-day delivery and project management to have much time for strategic insights.
Treat recruiting a NED as you would any other team member. Write a job spec, court a few and then hold formal interviews. When it comes to decision-making time, consider whether they share your values and work ethic? Will they be a good cultural fit? Can I see myself working with them for an extended period? Also, get some informal references from those who have worked with them in the past, ideally as a mentee.
When recruiting an NED, you will either be looking for specific industry knowledge or business growth experience. While chemistry is important, do not be blindsided by personal relationships and impressive sales pitches. Relevant experience to your own industry or the current growth-phase of your business is important but make sure any decision you make suits the business’s short-term goals and longer-term strategies to ensure the best possible outcome.
John Stapleton is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and speaker on a range of topics including entrepreneurship, leadership and #GetBrexitReady