Digging for fire will spark your thinking

Fire_TreasureLast month’s blog post entitled ‘Top 10 websites for entrepreneurs’ highlighted the most popular sites being recommended to people starting in business.

But when looking more deeply at the sites and social media sources that didn’t make top ten status, it became clear that something that lacks popularity may still have game-changing value. Much like the globally renowned Edinburgh Festival, you must visit its ‘Fringe event’ if you want to unmask the future diamonds of entertainment.

So intrigued was I by the ‘entrepreneurial fringe data’ (supplied to me by research respondents), that I found myself losing hours reviewing recommended social media sites, blogs, YouTube videos, books as well as web applications and tools. The content is spectacular. But the really interesting discovery is the thinking patterns and connections which reveal where the future of entrepreneurial learning and application is headed.

Top 10 fringe websites 

So what are the wonderful other websites (‘WoWs’) deserving of your attention?

A popular choice centred around the research completed by Sara Sarasvathy. Her robust studies identified (and subsequently modelled) how entrepreneurial minds think and how and where fundamental differences exist compared to the mind of the corporate employee. Her research has serious implications for teachers and trainers.

Wow1: Read more about Sara’s work and watch her explain her theories too.

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Linked to, but independent of Sara’s research, is compelling work completed by key people including Alex Osterwalder, Eric Ries and Steve Blank. The traditional business plan may still have a place in teaching as well as supporting people into start-up but the thinking expressed by these experts exposes the flaws of how plans are developed and then used.

“A start-up is a temporary organisation designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model” explains Steve Blank who is both a serial entrepreneur and academic. Several websites were recommended where Steve Blank shares his thinking and highlights fundamental implications for teachers, trainers and of course entrepreneurs themselves.

Wow2. Watch Steve Blank explain his groundbreaking theories at IEEC 2012.

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In his book ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries emphasises the need for people to be able to build, share and test new ideas quickly and efficiently, rather than working slowly on concepts, plans and policies that date faster than the ink dries.

An excellent and practical web application that makes real sense of the Business Canvas and Eric Ries’ thinking is the ‘Lean Launch Lab’. For me, this site conveys a complex issue in a pragmatic manner. The visual nature of the Lean Launch Lab makes it a powerful resource to use.

Wow3. See the Lean Launch Lab in action

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Steve Johnson is an author and speaker I’ve referred to in previous blog posts on this site. His book ‘Where good ideas come from’ is a highly recommended read for any entrepreneur seeking to make sense of their own innovative thoughts and direction. His 4 minute stop-animation film summarises some of his great thinking and backs up Sara Sarasvathy’s, Steve Blank’s and Alex Osterwalder’s research.

Wow4. Be reassured and inspired by Steve Johnson

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Numerous web tools were also recommended within the research. Two that really stood out for me included ‘Quora’ and ‘Popcorn’. Quora is a database connecting tens of thousands of people who are seeking advice and supplying answers on a range of topics including business and entrepreneurship. Popcorn on the other hand is an on-line resource that makes it easy to enhance, remix and share web video. So if like the SimVenture Team you want to use eye-catching film to help promote your work, visit their site.

Wow5. Make worldwide connections with Quora and stand out with Popcorn.

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So many respondents fed back great YouTube sites that support entrepreneurial learning and teaching. YouTube has an unlimited supply of relevant and insightful films and you only have to type in the names of people mentioned in this post to start discovering treasures that will both accelerate and focus your own thinking.

Wow6. YouTube has it all and below are four of my favourites:

What it takes to be a successful entrepreneur

Inspiring the entrepreneur inside you to act & change the world

Not in the research but a personal favourite that fires my mind

How one idea sparks further thinking (you may wet yourself laughing too)

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Another feature of the research was the list of people cited as highly inspirational and entrepreneurial. Neither Richard Branson nor Alan Sugar made the shortlist but one person who received multiple votes was Paul Graham. Programmer, writer, serial entrepreneur and investor, Paul’s published articles received 17 million views in 2011. His startup incubator has also funded over 450 startups, including Dropbox, Stripe & Reddit.

Wow7. Does Paul Graham run the best Startup Programme in the World?

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If you’ve visited Paul Graham’s site you’ll have noticed his platform is based around a simple blog site. Blogs are so easy to create and as long as you have something valuable to say, people will visit and then help promote your work. A key blog site that was recommended to me several times concerns the work of best-selling author Seth Godin who is encouraging us all to make something happen with our lives.

Wow8. Seth Godin inspires the creative entrepreneur in all of us

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Smack in the middle of this research project, I received an email from those clever people at the ‘big river’. Their subject headline: ‘View the top ten books about entrepreneurship’. How could I not pass on this simple and obvious website recommendation to you?

Wow9. Amazon does Entrepreneurship in books and Kindle

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And finally, if you’re not already involved, join the on-line parties at LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. For me, the available information through these social media sites is invaluable and the work and referrals I’ve received through these sources continues unabated. Other people said exactly the same.

Wow10. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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Well, that’s about it on the subject of researching & reviewing websites and social media for now. As ever, please feedback thoughts or leave a post below. A tonne of other ideas waiting to be transformed into the written word await me and I look forward to getting back into the creative hitchhiking groove very soon.

Special thanks…

Before closing, I must thank again everyone who contributed to the research, and especially Matthew Draycott, Simon Brown and Nigel Adams who shared so much recommended material for this post. Cheers chaps.

Top 10 websites for entrepreneurs

ToptenFor the past 2 months I’ve conducted some basic research to establish the best websites that help people start and stay in business in the UK. Over 500 individuals (who work in an advisory and business support capacity in academia, public as well as the private sector as well as people running businesses) were asked to provide feedback on the single question ‘What are the really good websites you recommend people use?’.

The purpose of the exercise was to start work to clear the fog of information. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites claiming to provide support, information and advice to entrepreneurs. Such duplication and fragmentation is confusing and only undermines what is really credible. So what did the research uncover?

Findings summary

In total, respondents recommended nearly 100 different sites. No single site stood out completely from the crowd but the final count provided a conclusive top 10.

Whilst no locally or regionally focussed website received a high enough number of votes to make the top slots, two universities that serve thousands of students (Birmingham & Bristol) were recommended as popular portals since they provide high quality information and signpost students to external websites that add value.

One example of an external website that serves the needs of thousands of users  is run by the Northern Ireland Business Enterprise Agency ‘Advantage NI‘. From ‘Business Profiling’ and ‘Bootcamps’ through to ‘Market Synopsis’ and ‘Export Support’, this site looks comprehensive, highly applicable to a wider audience and well worth a visit.

Also of note is a new website co-founded by Peter Bailey and David Friel, both from Loughborough University. Entrepreneurhandbook is a comprehensive portal of the main UK websites that support ‘startups’ and budding entrepreneurs. A key selling point for the site is the way it references other information sources in an easy-to access manner.

Making the Top 10

Respondents noted favourites for different reasons. As you will see, the top 10 includes a mix of the creative and inspiring as well as some that simply focus on robust factual data. Of note is the fact bank websites received little more than a sniff of appreciation from respondents, although HSBC and Lloyds were complemented for their ‘Start-Up’ Guides.

Equally noteworthy was the sparsity of interest in ‘crowdsourcing’ sites and specifically ones that help people raise funds when starting in business. Seedrs for example is dedicated to helping people raise start-up capital as well as signposting investors to new businesses. The site is doing great things. Will sites like this become future favourites?

Interestingly, whilst the research asked for recommended websites, many respondents were also keen to suggest social media content and great YouTube videos. Since I received so much data on this subject I’m going to publish a separate Blog Post in a couple of weeks highlighting the great material that’s out there.

But for now, here are the top 10 sites in order of popularity. Please note this is only a top-line survey and more robust research is needed on a regular basis to help provide the definitive list; however, I hope this post kick-starts thinking and helps you to find, recommend and use credible and valuable information more quickly.

1. Startups.co.uk

Definitive website providing an array of relevant information all presented in an easy to access and digest manner. From ‘what business to start’ and an on-line forum to advice on IT purchases and franchise creation, it seems this detailed site has data on everything the entrepreneur needs to get going.

2. Entrepreneur.com

Whilst some of the information on this US portal may not be UK relevant, the interactive nature of the site combined with its powerful blog and commitment to answering ‘How to..?’ questions gets it to the No.2 slot.

3. www.gov.uk

Whether it’s information about a specific type of business to start or advice on trademarks, copyright and IP , this is the place for the facts. Don’t expect stunning graphics but the navigation is straightforward. You’ll also find links to all other relevant government sites.

4. HMRC

Surprised me that two government sites should make the top four, but clearly good things are being done to make every detail about tax (PAYE, VAT, Corporation Tax, NI, Self Assessment etc.) and finance easily available. You can even register as a user on this site.

5. Smarta

Use the site to get advice, see films of successful entrepreneurs talking about their journey and/or access the organisation’s ‘Business Builder’ (chargeable); this site combines information with highly innovative and valuable services for the entrepreneur.

6. StartupDonut

Comprehensive portal of information, advice, guidance and ideas on everything linked to business creation and management. The availability of free document templates and provision of an event diary makes this site a must for any budding entrepreneur.

7. Shell LiveWire

Linked to the Oil Giant, this site is highly credible. Annual awards event and 4 * £1,000 monthly prizes marks Shell Livewire out from others. I was a beneficiary of this organisation 20 years ago, so can only endorse all their work to date.

8. Cobweb

Cobweb researches, publishes and continually updates a range of practical publications and information services for small and micro business owners, business advisers and enterprise practitioners and small business funders.

9. StartupBritain

Organisation that seeks to unite entrepreneurs behind a single cause. Information about local events and provision of supplier offers tailored to the entrepreneur’s point on the journey makes this portal stand out and thus achieve top 10 status.

10. Stanford Technology Ventures Program

Perhaps the best global source of on-line information for educators. The ‘Entrepreneur’s Corner’ provides archive content from the STVP which includes a vast array of film content on just about every subject linked to entrepreneurship.

 

Final thoughts… 

Hopefully you can ‘hitchhike’ virtually around the recommended sites and use as well as share new-found information with the people with whom you work and support.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this simple survey; if the resultant information has brightened your day or made your life a little easier, then please let me know or leave a post below!

As I suggested earlier in the article, since there are so many websites providing information in this field, it’s really important to continually work to cut through the fog so the best stuff can be discovered and shared. So may be this is an annual task…

If you’re going to screw up a pitch, here’s how…

As part of Global Enterprise Week 2012, I was invited to talk to students at Oaklands College about the art of pitching.

Rather than provide environmentally unfriendly handouts on the day (paper that inevitably finds its way into the ’round-file’) I suggested to the tutor (Paul Kirikal) that I offer the 10 top tips within this Blog.

But given the fact I wanted my audience to think differently, I felt it hypocritical to blandly copy my original script into this post. No one likes to read dull stuff, so here’s the gist but with a twist. It’s what I presented but this time how to screw it all up…

1. Ignore the brief

Don’t waste time reading the boring stuff that says ‘essential reading’ in large print at the top of the page. Believe in your gut and your ability to wing it. No one will notice the fact you’ve missed the fundamental detail or point of the exercise. You can always excuse your cock-up and say it was just a misunderstanding. Put the unused paper to good use – think fuel, aeroplane or possibly hat…

2. Plan & Prepare in minutes

Do it without any real thinking, research or rehearsal. Because here’s the thing: The market is everyone, your product is unique because no-one’s ever had such a brilliant idea before; and as such no competitors exist. Bish, bash, bosh – dead simple and bound to impress. Celebrate with a drink. Next…

3. Assume your role in the team

If you know what you’re doing, do no more. Assume everyone can read your mind and are as good as you at spouting or saying nothing. Convince yourself that no one you’re pitching to will have any idea about teamwork or communication. If necessary, lead all talking or hope everyone else will bail you out.

4. Demonstrate emotional unintelligence

Throw as many random ideas at the panel as you can and expect some to stick. If people you’re talking at appear confused by your word-endowed 154 slide PowerPoint presentation, confront them about their lack of knowledge and/or understanding. Where possible shame or patronise. You’re top dog, people need to know that.

5. Forget any focus

No need for any specific message. Think style over substance. Random ideas that leave your mouth a micro-second after being thought about will win through. The panel will fall in love with your sparky personality and the genius of your mind.

6. Be a Negative Influence

Spend hours in front of mirrors practising drab monotonic drawl and babble until you are brilliant at it. Phase out any intonation, passion and non-verbal signs of enthusiasm. On arrival shun all pleasantries. Be openly disdainful and distrustful to the panel. Don’t listen to any question or instruction. Loud random burping and wind-breaking is always a bonus.

7. Never justify what you are saying 

Market research as well as background information is over-rated. If anyone on the panel asks you the ‘why?’ question during the pitch, just raise your eyes to the ceiling and tut loudly. Then move on and forget the question was ever asked. Remind yourself that classy presentation waffle should never be derailed by seemingly irrelevant queries that only seek clarity and worthwhile information.

8. Be unrealistic

Promise the world, get the deal and get the hell out. Who cares if what you’re selling does not work at the price offered? It’s only about winning or just getting it over and done with. The panel is full of mugs anyway and business is all about short-term victories.

9. Make a vague offer

Do your best to camouflage the special features of your offer. General ‘guff’ will win through. Feel the joy of being safe in the crowd and following what others do rather than standing out and risk being chosen. You never wanted to do the deal anyway. Close with the killer line: “You can take it or leave it, I couldn’t give a monkeys.”

10. Panic and Freeze

Symptoms including shakes, dry-mouth syndrome, mind emptiness and/or dizziness should be treated as follows: Step 1. Visualise a big red button that says ‘Panic’. Step 2. Push it. Step 3. Don’t say a word and glow red then purple. Step 4. Perspire bucket-loads. Step 5.  Laugh or cry uncontrollably. Step  6. Think about that button again and repeat. Note, if this joyful experience happens to another member of your team do not intervene or support; much better to pull up a chair, watch and rejoice it’s not you standing there (taking pictures is perhaps pushing it).

Alternatively, you can do the exact opposite of all the above and discover the joy of working in a team and persuading others that what you have to offer is really worthwhile and hugely rewarding for all concerned. To learn more from one of the world’s leading experts on this subject, read Jon Steel’s superb ‘Perfect Pitch‘.

Key Learning Points: Highly effective pitches require research, practice and lots of preparation. If all the background work is done well you can discover true brilliance and achieve much higher levels of self-confidence & self-esteem. You’ll also earn more.

 

 

Crap meetings & how to avoid them

Once upon a business life I self-published a ‘book’ for the caravanning market. Knowing little about these boxes on wheels and kidding myself the product was half-decent, I led a telesales department (me) and phoned UK caravan outlets in search of volume purchases.

Remarkably, a Bristol-based company took interest. Excited by the response from the other end of the line I immediately suggested a meeting and simultaneously moved the prospect to the top of my sales planning chart. Please note, I didn’t own a car back then, yet the opportunity to hire one, drive the 500+ mile return journey from York and ‘have a meeting’ (all in one day) felt like true entrepreneurial progress.

CaravanPlannerFour long hours on the road was followed by 27 quick minutes of chat with chain-smoking ‘Dave’. And whilst I endured the tasteless and tiered liquid that the machine had dared to label ‘coffee’, Dave flicked through the entire book.

Uncertain how best to present & progress the meeting I offered random ideas for working together. Being so green in 1990, I took the phrase ‘we’ll get back to you’ as a positive sign.

Of course there was to be no fairytale ending. After waiting several days, I got on the phone. Dave was busy. His PA passed on the inevitable news.

 

Hitchhiking influence

Hitchhiking repeatedly put me in situations where I had to develop rapport with people at very short notice. Without realising, it taught me much about questioning, listening and the rhythms of conversation.

However, in terms of business meetings, the experience of jumping in and out of cars also served to encourage impulsive behaviour and probably created over-confidence. And to be completely honest, the Bristol ‘incident’ was not isolated; I wince at how much money and time I wasted in meetings that I screwed up or should never have gone to in the first place.

Unfortunately, it was another 3 years before I learnt how to handle business meetings properly. By chance, I found myself on an excellent training course that revealed how to make the most of time with other people. What I discovered stays with me to this day.

Prepare

Any meeting needs a context and purpose that all parties understand beforehand. If the point of the meeting is unclear or unknown, then you’re likely to be wasting time.

Being objective also helps with wider planning and preparation. Depending on the nature of your meeting, it’s essential that you complete some research so you know something about the people and the organisation; this fact-finding will also help shape questions that you will inevitably ask and ultimately demonstrate you care about those you are meeting.

It goes without saying that you’ll want to turn up on time, take something for notes, look the part and be courteous. But the really important stuff starts with the next bit…

Control and Confidence

My Bristol experience was a disaster because I was out of control throughout the meeting. Lack of preparation and understanding of how to achieve anything worthwhile meant everything ‘happened to me’.

Control is achieved in part through good preparation. But control at the meeting comes from having a flexible structure that also meets the needs of the people you are seeing. Regardless of the type or length of meeting you have, here is a structure that has worked for me for many years:

  • Open
  • Agenda
  • Ask questions
  • Establish needs
  • Propose Solutions
  • Commitment to Action/Close

The ‘Open’ allows you to talk about neutral issues that are nothing to do with the meeting. It relaxes people when they first meet and helps build rapport. Going straight into ‘business’ is insensitive; unless of course you only have 5 minutes together.

The ‘Agenda’ is the point at which you talk about the purpose of the meeting and give it direction. Occasionally the other person might do this for you. Without an agenda, meetings can ramble. Here is an example of a simple agenda statement which you can adapt:

“Many thanks for the meeting today. As you know, I run ABC Ltd and I’m interested to know whether there may be opportunities to work together. Would it be ok if I first asked you some questions to better understand what you do?”

The agenda sets up the opportunity to ask questions which is so important if you are in a meeting to identify as well as resolve a problem. Without asking questions (even if it is to get the other party to confirm the situation for the sake of all round the table) it is all too easy to make assumptions or try and solve the wrong problem. Tips! Open questions reveal more information. Show listening by recording what is being said. A good first question – ‘How much time do you have?’ 

The questions you ask help to ‘establish needs’. Needs are not just related to the specific problem in hand. The ‘needs’ you are seeking to identify concern other peoples’ behaviour and thus help you to decide how best to approach work. For example, if you meet Alan Sugar, you will pick up a completely different set of needs compared to meeting someone who is relaxed and laid back.

Once you understand the problem through asking questions and establishing needs, you are in a better position to propose solutions.  The solution may be a further meeting or it may be time to sell the benefits of your idea/service/product. If you want to persuade others of the value of what you have to offer, make the benefits of your solution tangible, appealing and transparent.

Finally, don’t leave a meeting unless it is clear what is happening next. Gain commitment to action so that the process with which you are involved moves forward. If it’s not clear what’s happening next take responsibility and seek clarity, otherwise the meeting will end up being a complete waste of time.

The structure highlighted above is flexible and appropriate for meetings that last 10 minutes or 3 hours. You can use the structure to control meetings without people feeling controlled and the experience will give you confidence too. Of course, if you are the one having to go to meetings that ramble on inanely, copy the above and send it to the person who is in charge. And if all else fails, just don’t go.

Key Learning Points: Wasting time in meetings is frustrating and costly. Look to make the most of meeting time through planning, preparation and use of a flexible structure that gives you both control and confidence. Practice and learn from experience. 

How to find new ideas to start & grow a business

If you read last month’s ‘How to Profit from the Alternative Rhythms of Time‘, you’ll be aware I recommended the ‘Springwise‘ website. It’s the place to get your daily fix of innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

It’s a brilliant site. You can sign up to receive daily news, browse thousands of new ideas (all carefully split into distinct sectors) and even submit your own proposal as a business start-up. Just a few hours of research should pay real dividends and will also connect you with a new community of like-minded people.

The power of Social Media

Like many new finds, I discovered Springwise through Twitter. This now famous social media channel is a rich source of new ideas and information. For me, Twitter is great for promotion, but it’s even better for discovering things because you quickly find yourself in places you never even knew existed.

For the record, other websites providing ideas, inspiration and advice include smarta.com and coolbusinessideas.com. One of the things I liked about Smarta is the advice on the Home page which emphasises the need to be market focused when starting a new business.

Why didn’t I think of that?

When reviewing the recommended ‘idea sources’ don’t be put off by the apparent brilliance of others or believe that you don’t have the skills to think in such an innovative way.

By the time any of us leave full time education, we’ve typically grown accustomed to a linear/vertical way of thinking. This is because we learn subjects in silos. As such, thinking across subjects (horizontal), making new connections and seeing new ideas does not necessarily come easy. However, things can improve if this thinking flaw is understood and you’re prepared to look for inspiration or undertake basic research in less familiar places.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is perhaps one of the greatest ‘idea minds’ that has ever lived. Whilst he dropped out of Reed College as a teenager, he hung around the campus in Portland. He then chose to drop into lessons that appealed to him and his way of thinking. In the highly readable official biography and address to Stanford University he talks about this part of his life and in particular his attendance at a Calligraphy course – just because it fascinated him. Years later, what he learnt about Calligraphy and fonts became a cornerstone of the Apple Mac revolution.

By looking around and seeing links between subjects, Steve Jobs saw opportunities, new ideas and thus gaps in the market. Jobs looked for the ‘intersection’ of subjects. For example, when PCs were mass produced in ugly metal boxes he recognised the need for something different. He saw the opportunity to intertwine technology and the liberal arts and beautiful computers resulted. Later, with iTunes, he fused music with technology.

Ideas through people

Meeting and networking with people is often a great way to source/nurture new ideas. A group of individuals (with different talents) that works well together is able to look at an issue from more than one perspective and can then harvest and refine ideas more quickly. It’s of little surprise that many new team-based businesses are seeded in university or college life.

In fact education is like hitchhiking in that it provides an opportunity to meet new people from all kinds of different backgrounds. For me, travelling for over 10 years as a hitchhiker made it possible to learn from so many different perspectives. Critically, it helped me to understand that my take on an issue or way of seeing the world was often only shared by a minority.

Tip! Just because you might think an idea is good, share and test it with others before you put too much energy and time into it.

The whole subject of how and where ideas are developed will continue to fascinate me. Only last week a lecturer from the University of Bristol recommended that I buy the book ‘Where good ideas come from‘ by Steven Johnson. So I did.

Whilst I’ve not yet finished it yet, it’s a great read because it examines the intersection of subjects and explores how environments influence innovation. Doubtless I will review it in full soon on this blog, but if you want a taste of what Stephen is saying, have a look at him explaining his thinking on this TED film.

Key Learning Points: Use freely available sources to nurture thinking and develop new ideas. Explore different perspectives, use lateral thinking and meet people. Look for the intersection between subjects for real business opportunities.    

Why is the most important entrepreneurial skill seldom taught?

Globally, little evidence exists that business start-up and survival rates are improving. In fact, UK data released by Experian (November 2011) showed a record 70% of start-up businesses are failing within 36 months of being launched.

Experts cite many reasons for business failure. But for me, a key factor underpinning early closure is the business owners’ inability to sell effectively and ethically and thus bring sufficient cash into the business on a sustainable basis. Why does this happen and what needs to be done to remedy the situation?

Salespeople give ‘Sales’ a bad name

Do you like people selling to you at your front door, over the phone or in the street? For that matter, do you enjoy being sold to in a retail store?

I believe most of us don’t like being sold to because so many people in sales aren’t that good at selling and/or are untrustworthy. People aren’t good at selling because they have either never been trained, or the limited/unethical training they did receive was on the scale that starts with ‘Crap’ and ends at ‘Criminal’. For reference, between 1993 and 1997, I was part of a small team that retrained over 3,000 sales professionals. Over 80% of the people I worked with (over, 1,000) were poor at their job.

As a consequence, selling has got itself a bad name. In my opinion, this has led to the subject being shunned both by people who need to learn the real skills of how to build long-term business relationships (small business owners) as well as teaching/training institutions.

Entrepreneurship in Universities

Earlier this year I was asked to speak at a HEEG Conference in Kingston. Towards the end of the day one of the delegates asked an open question – “How much time was devoted to teaching entrepreneurial students how to sell?” Not one of the 25+ universities represented that day ran courses to teach sales.

Curious, but unsurprised by this finding, I went to the interweb to seek out any university sales course. Portsmouth University does run an MA in ‘Sales Management’ and the word ‘Sales’ does get the occasional mention in the glut of marketing studies available.  I thought that was just about it…

Then I discovered the world famous and highly reputed department store ‘Harrods’ had teamed up with Anglia Ruskin University to provide a highly innovative training programme that leads to an Honours Degree in Sales. People who complete the course master the ‘Art of Selling’. This short video provides more detail about the potential of this powerful learning experience.

Is Anglia Ruskin on the right track?

Being a competent salesperson takes understanding, repeated practice as well as hard work. Just like any marketing degree, there is no quick success fix. Best practice selling has moved a long way from ‘technique driven’ hard sell methods that have us all running for the hills. Best practice is much more about understanding human behaviour and working with customers to ensure they get what they need.

By providing opportunities for repeated practice (Harrods) and backing it up with sound theory, Anglia Ruskin is in my opinion definitely taking the appropriate steps to prepare students for employment. I don’t know the exact methods used for teaching and training, but I would be surprised if video role plays and behavioural science theory are not key components of the course.

In my opinion, education and training institutions should follow Anglia Ruskin’s example. By recognising the depth and importance of the subject (and the fact that sales should not be marketing’s impoverished relation) budding entrepreneurs especially will be provided with a critical skill. And if this happens more students will be attracted to pay to learn about ‘how to sell’ because they will value the subject’s relevance in terms of future employment ambitions.

Entrepreneurs encounter sales situations daily. Most people are not at all prepared for the opportunities they face. However, if business owners have been trained to sell effectively and know how to make the buying experience enjoyable for the customer, their business will bring in the cash and thus be more likely to survive and thrive. But if nothing changes, education institutions are set to miss out and the start-up failure rate is unlikely to change.

Your thoughts and feedback on this article are very welcome.

Key Learning Points: Running a successful business means knowing how to sell effectively. To equip budding entrepreneurs properly, educational institutions need to place much more emphasis on sales training and specifically the art of selling.