On a whirlwind tour of Australia recently, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson provided plenty of inspiration for small businesses thinking big and those looking to disrupt the status quo.
In his traditional flamboyant style, Mr Branson walked on stage at the World Business Forum and pulled out a pair of scissors, cutting off the MC’s tie, saying “not another one of these tie talks”.
This action epitomises his thoughts on entrepreneurship and building a business, by being different and approaching things differently for the benefit of your target audience.
Overall, Mr Branson has these tips for anyone seeking to grow their business:
Look after your staff: “To be a real[ly] good leader, I think you have to love people. So I get out there and really try to listen and immerse myself in with [my staff].”
Don’t take on too much: “I learned fairly early on in life that I had to learn the art of delegation. If you're a true entrepreneur and you don't delegate, you're not going to become an entrepreneur, you're going to become the manager of a company.
“Find somebody who if possible is better than themselves to run it on a day-to-day basis, maybe even retreat from the building, because people always want to deal with the top person in the building, and then they can think about the bigger picture: they can think about firefighting when something's going wrong, they can find the time to pull in those key clients maybe to make a big difference, they can find the time to take the company forward into new areas, and not get bogged down with all the minutia of running a company.”
Keep your customers front of mind – always: “the best businesses I think come out of frustration and a feeling that 'dammit, airlines do bump people, airlines do treat people badly' and just get out there and give it a try.
“That's the simple thing about business – just come up with an idea that is really going to make a positive difference to other people's lives and the figures, by and large, will add up. Sometimes they won't, but it's likely that if you're creating something really special, it's very rare that special things go bust.”
Hire people who fit your culture: “There was a celebrity, an Australian celebrity; we had a delayed flight, and he jumped the queue, he went to the front of the queue, and the girl told him to go back into the queue, and he said, quite abruptly, 'Do you know who I am?'. And she got onto the loudspeaker that broadcast over the whole airport and said 'I have a young man here who doesn't know who he is – if anyone wants to claim him, please come to the Virgin desk'.
“So he turned her and said 'f*** you', and she said "I'm sorry sir, you're going to have to get in the queue for that too'. So anyway, that's the kind of spirit we like from our staff: a sense of humour, willing to give where give is due and take where take is due.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things: “At Virgin, we are experimenting all the time with new approaches … for the last three years, we've told people 'you can have as much time off, whenever you want, paid - just get your work done. You don't have to tell us when you need time off. If you go off for a month, that's ok; if you go off for two weeks, that's ok, whatever. If there's a funeral or a birthday party, you don't have to ask.'
“What we've tried to do is experiment by just treating everybody as you'd expect at your family home, and people haven't misused or abused it, but they felt that they were being treated like adults and it seems to have worked really well. That won't work in every company … but in offices, that is something which I think can be made to work.”
Try, try and try again: “I think I tweeted the other day watching [my grandkids] walk, and fall over and pick themselves up and walk again: that's not that dissimilar to being an entrepreneur. The best way of learning something is just to get out there and do it: go for it, fall over, pick yourself up, go for it, fall over, and in the end you will end up with a successful venture.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.