Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin in 1970, at the age of 20, and, quite frankly, he’s never looked back. In fact, he’s the only entrepreneur to have built eight separate billion dollar companies in eight different industries, and he did it all without a degree in business. From his first venture running a student magazine, to chairman of the Virgin chain of companies, he’s achieved a level of success that most business owners can only dream of. And along the way he’s penned three books. He has a lot to say about running small and large businesses. Here are nine inspirational bits of advice from the man himself that you can apply to your own business.
Richard Branson is an innovator, and he’s not scared to explore unchartered territory in business. This is no more evident than with Virgin Galactic. Since seeing the live black and white pictures of astronauts travelling to the moon in 1969, Branson was determined that one day he would follow them to space. Fastforward 47 years and commercial space flight is becoming a reality with Virgin Galactic. There are many things out there that haven’t been discovered, invented or achieved. Don’t be scared to explore unchartered areas, as it can spark new ideas and innovations.
Business is about more than making money. It’s about you being passionate about what you do. As Branson says, ‘a passionate belief in your business can be the difference between success and failure. If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing, why should anybody else be?’ When you talk about your products and services, how passionate are you? Are you enthusiastic? Committed? Convincing? If not, others may feel you don’t believe in what you’re saying.
Richard Branson once said, ‘the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my career is to hire my weaknesses.’ From day one he set out to build strong andbdiverse teams by searching for talent in areas where he is not an expert. Rather than searching CVs to find more people just like you, look for the complete opposite.
You’re living in a dream world if you think you can run your business alone. Not even Branson can do this. You need to learn to delegate the things you aren’t able to do well. In Branson’s case, it was the accounts. So he hired an accountant, who he said ‘shared my vision and in some areas knew better than I did how to make it a reality.’ Delegation isn’t just about handing over work to your team. You need to find people who understand your ideas, want to build on them and can visualise ways to improve the business.
Let’s face it: nobody ever learnt anything by hearing themselves speak. In order to build the best possible business, you need to listen to your employees and respect their ideas. You never know what you might learn from simply listening to the people around you. Whether it’s an engineer beneath a Virgin aircraft, or someone in the customer services team, you can glean all sorts of new and useful ideas from the people at the sharp end of your business.
Any good CEO knows that employees are the greatest assets of any business. And as Branson has found, the key to happy employees is open, honest communicatio2. Believe in your business Business is about more than making money. It’s about you being passionate about what you do. As Branson says, ‘a passionate belief in your business can be the difference between success and failure. If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing, why should anybody else be?’ When you talk about your products and services, how passionate are you? Are you enthusiastic? Committed? Convincing? If not, others may feel you don’t believe in what you’re saying.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Richard Branson doesn’t. He’s up for anything and his employees love it. Remember when he put on a wedding dress to publicise Virgin Brides? But you don’t have to propel yourself off a building or wear a silly outfit to have fun. It works for Branson because it’s an authentic part of his personality. Be true to yourself, but don’t be afraid to let your hair down every once in a while. If you have fun, so will your employees. And they’ll do a better job for you.
Hiring friendly, positive people is the first step to building an exceptional business. And when a company hires great people, other great people want to work there too. This is evident from Virgin America, which regularly tops the ‘best travel employers’ lists. Every Virgin American employee has to have the Virgin attitude: be positive, friendly, and most importantly have a ‘glass half-full’ outlook. This attitude is critical to the success of the Virgin brand. When hiring, attitude trumps aptitude. It’s much easier to increase technical skills than modify negative attitudes.
Richard Branson once said ‘when it comes to business, complexity is your enemy.’ And he has a novel way of keeping things simple. When somebody pitches him a business idea, he asks if the idea can fit on the back of an envelope. If it’s too complex to be explained in a few words, consumers won’t understand it, and they’re even more unlikely to buy it. What services or systems can be simplified in your business?
So there you have it, nine inspirational pieces of business advice from the most successful entrepreneur of our time. Take these on board and you will reap the rewards, from your staff, customers and business peers.
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