How to become an entrepreneur? – The Entrepreneurial Journey
How to become an entrepreneur? – The Entrepreneurial Journey
Doing deals…losing deals and everything in between – starting a company, going bust, surviving recessions and routinely doing what ‘can’t be done.’
Always working on the next idea, while you haven’t finished the current one, questioning everything and never understanding the word “no,” – creativity, ‘disruptive thinking’ and having no concept of the word ‘work.’
Welcome to my world and the world of becoming an entrepreneur – to me at least!
I am going to go out on a limb here and state that entrepreneurs are born and not made. I have no scientific proof for this, it’s just to me entrepreneurs are an instinct-based bunch of businesspeople, although I wouldn’t confine being an entrepreneur just to the world of business.
There is the ‘entrepreneurial spirit,’ which is a mindset and defines a way of thinking. It is a mindset that seeks change and continual innovation and improvement.
I do however think that there are many entrepreneurs who simply don’t know that they have the entrepreneurial spirit and I was one of them! there steps to become one and you must understand the process. It’s a rough journey and in this guide, I want to give you inspiration and how to later on my blog.
How do you become an entrepreneur?
An Unlikely Entrepreneur
People who know me cannot understand that I was once a very shy, timid schoolboy who was afraid to answer questions in class, even the most obvious ones, simply because I was hugely lacking in self-confidence. I don’t know the reasons for this, but I am sure my parent’s divorce when I was seven, played a huge part.
Not having Father figure in my life left a huge void, so for me, any entrepreneurial spirit and tendencies were buried deep inside me and had little chance of getting out, the nearest to a Father I had, was my Grandfather, as I lived with my Mother and Grandparents after my parent’s divorce.
My Grandfather was an ex-Military man, so I had discipline instilled into me from an early age as well as the best-polished shoes in school! This is an important quality for any entrepreneur, as a strong sense of discipline, excellent communication skills, and personal presentation are important.
I was also bullied at school, which led to an obsession in learning how to defend myself and at the age of seventeen, I started to study Martial Arts and everything changed.
I was actually quite good if I may say so myself and soon I was entering and winning competitions, which did wonders for my self-confidence and that was thanks to my first Martial Arts teacher and an American who was living in the UK named Kevin Brewerton. and another instructor called Steve Brookes.
Kevin went on to be a five-time World Champion in what was termed ‘sport karate’ and Steve now owns a very successful Martial Arts school based in Croydon, South London.
The added discipline of training, learning techniques complimented the ‘Military discipline’ that my Grandfather had instilled into me from an early age, so now one part of the equation was in hand and I still speak to Kevin and Steve today.
“Three Million Unemployed And One Unemployable.”
The late 1970s were not a good period for the United Kingdom as far as the economy went and we were in the thick of endless strikes, power cuts, and economic unrest.
For me, it was a career counselor who spoke out the statement above and looked firmly at me!
Add to that and there was one member of my family who admitted to me only a few years ago that everyone in the family thought I had ‘no chance’ of succeeding at anything.
So you could hardly say that I was a ‘likely’ entrepreneur and I wouldn’t have known what the words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘spirit’ was if they jumped out at me and smacked me in the face.
I believe that the timing for my education was not right at school age – I would later on in my life amass enough books to fill a library and to this day, I still have a tremendous thirst for knowledge, which I believe every entrepreneur has deep inside them.
Armed with those extremely motivating words and thoughts, I decided that I would stay on at school and try again to get the qualifications that I didn’t at school leaving age.
It eventually took me three further years to get the qualifications that I should have got at school, so I was hardly top-grade academic material!
So far, the picture doesn’t look too good, does it?
I had a greater sense of self-confidence at college, thanks to me starting Martial Arts, but I still was not committed enough to learn and to education in general, but I used to love looking at and reading the Yellow Pages book, which was a directory for businesses and I would look at those companies who had the largest advertisements as I thought they must be the most successful!
I was a lawyer, motorcycle courier, landscape gardener and dentist all in the space of an hour!
At college, I answered an advertisement for ‘canvassers’ and to me, they were people who would go around and canvass votes, whether they were local councilors or politicians, so I thought I was going for an interview to start a political career.
It was a job that involved all of the aspects of canvassing for votes, but unfortunately was for a home improvements company looking to sell their products!
“Oh well,” I thought and the money was good – it at least taught me how to develop a very thick skin and learn to hear the word “no” very often and some other very choice expressions as well!
To an entrepreneur, selling is an annoying process that gets in the way of entrepreneurial life and before everyone goes nuts and says that it is the most important part of business…
Let me explain more about how to become a successful entrepreneur:
I believe entrepreneurs are born and not made as I have previously stated and I think the worst thing you can do to any entrepreneur is to try to teach them how to sell, which is probably why I got fired from the many sales jobs I had to try to make ends meet during my entrepreneurial career and why I simply could not stand the formal sales training courses that I had to attend.
Entrepreneurs like Fernando are full of enthusiasm and cannot wait to get their ideas out to the market and by any means – this is probably why cold-calling homeowners for the home improvement company I was representing were easy to me and I didn’t need motivating to do it.
We are natural salespeople and will ‘find our way’ and develop our own sales methods and this is why I do not teach anyone how to sell and I have ‘taught’ hundreds of successful salespeople, so what am I saying here?
I believe real salesmanship is instinctive as we all have it inbuilt into our human survival mechanism – we had to be able to ‘barter’ to survive.
Children are instinctive and you can see this when they ‘take’ to certain people without hesitation and run away from others – nobody taught them this.
Also, children are creative and imaginative, fearless, relentless and will pursue the goal of getting that ice cream cone form Mom or Dad just before dinner and use every trick and emotion to do so.
Recognize those same qualities in sales?
It is a matter of uncovering and explaining those qualities as opposed to trying to teach unnatural techniques that look and sound ‘manufactured.’
Entrepreneurs don’t close deals, they ‘enthuse’ them.
My greatest successes came when I abandoned everything relating to sales and sales training and worked instinctively on what I believed in.
Belief is natural to an entrepreneur and it is that very belief that you ‘sell’ or in my terms use enthusiasm to make a very compelling value proposition to your audience or customer.
My friend Jack Spirko came up with the definition for sales and it is simply the “transfer of belief.”
When I experienced any ‘negatives’ in this process, I would think to myself that the person whom I am trying to enthuse is simply failing to understand what I am saying, so I would say it again…and again…and again, using different tactics each time until my ‘point’ was accepted.
Over the years I was able to refine this process and I never ever tried to force an outcome – believing that it was my lack of ability to explain things, rather than the customer who didn’t understand.
Another trait of a successful entrepreneur!
After the cold calling experience, I started my entrepreneurial career by forming a company to do the same canvassing job, but this time, I would be representing all and any home improvements and soon I was earning a small fortune at the age of just 19.
Unfortunately, I was also learning how to spend money and having come from a very ordinary and not rich family, having this new found wealth created this irresistible urge to spend and soon I was facing disaster as I had taken my foot off the gas work-wise and was now racking up debt at an alarming rate – I had started the business with a small bank loan that was guaranteed by my Mother and the combination of stopping work and spending money was not a good one and those banks do have a tendency to want their cash back!
I took various sales jobs to make ends meet and this is where my entrepreneurial spirit was crushed – employers don’t like know-it-alls and sales managers don’t like it when their salesman tells them they can’t sell and I have given you my opinion of the sales training courses, so I was rapidly working out that I am actually unemployable, just as my careers advisor had explained to me.
I was fired from most of those roles, but that didn’t stop me from trying once again to start a business and this time with a sales manager who I did respect and I was again, in business at the age of 22.
Unfortunately yet again, success came too easy and both of us spent more money than we earned and debt was mounting up as I still had the original bank loan to take care of the only added benefit of success this time around, was that we got to drive some nice cars during the process!
Now it was time to take a serious view as to what I am going to do with my life.
I took a job with a leading recruitment agency in London supplying Information Technology (IT) staff to leading UK companies and I was hooked!
I fell in love with the industry immediately.
There were three ladies who interviewed, trained and developed the recruiting techniques that shaped my entire career and business later on and they are Antoinette (Toni) Cocozza, who was the Sales Director and went on to start her own successful agency DP Connect, Teresa Quinlan, who was my first manager who now runs a PR company called Love PR and Debbie Wardale (who I have lost touch with), who was my second sales manager who really defined the recruiting system for me that I believe to be the best out there even to this day, so a big “thank you” to you all!
I could not believe that people actually wanted to talk to me in the recruitment world, rather than slam down the phone (it was telephone sales based) and I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I found someone a job or helped a company fill a vacancy.
Unfortunately, the company decided to centralize its operations in London and that meant a commute for me that I simply didn’t want to handle, so I left and joined a similar agency but in my hometown.
They were a double act with Kenny cracking endless jokes that had the office in stitches and Mark being the first real example of a true entrepreneur that I got to know and someone who simply couldn’t resist a ‘deal.’
Kenny was a fantastic salesperson who had a tremendous amount of talent and I learned a lot from him – Mark was the entrepreneur who was totally ruled by instinct and enthusiasm and he taught me a great deal as well.
I ended up becoming the Sales Director of the company and then bought into it with my old manager from my previous company, Teresa and another colleague named Pam Harris.
We ran the sales and Mark and Kenny ran the business and they were free to pursue other ventures – Mark bought a hotel in Brighton on the South Coast of England and Kenny set up his own headhunting firm.
Mark would eventually go on to own Crystal Palace Football club and make headlines by losing it just a year later, as did the next owner and I will say that Mark was a true fan, who followed his dream. He put everything on the line for that club and paid the ultimate price – but he is a true entrepreneur and will no doubt have many more successes in the future.
Unfortunately, we had too much debt and despite bringing in £6m of sales from a standing start in just two years, it wasn’t enough and we went bust!
Thankfully, there were two investors who came along namely Peter Flaherty and Nick Parker and bailed us out, but all that was left was myself and Mark, who were re-employed as sales managers, effectively creating two jobs for one role.
I left and a year later started the company that would shape my life as an entrepreneur.
Dataworkforce And More…
This was my venture into the world of telecommunications recruiting and it came by total accident – we were in deep recession in the early 1990s and IT recruitment was suffering badly.
I had left and joined a company owned by Peter McCarthy, a successful owner of another I.T company who took the plunge and invested in a few others and myself who joined me form my previous agency.
Peter was felling the recession just like everyone else and he had diversified into the import/export industry and was one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met.
Eventually, he could no longer support us and not surprisingly as the recession was seriously taking effect and he closed the company and we all moved on.
I now was on my own with no funding, any premises and started to trade form the living room of my two bedroomed flat in South London.
One day I answered a call from a guy asking if I had any opportunities in the telecommunications sector, which was about (unknown to me at the time) to go into a huge growth phase.
I immediately answered “yes” (I had absolutely no idea of the dynamics of the industry) and I had my first ‘candidate.’
Thanks to the teachings of my former sales manager Debbie Wardale, I was able to effectively market a candidate with great results and it is the reverse of simply calling companies and asking if they need people.
In this manner, you created opportunities and that is the entrepreneurial part – it worked like a dream and set the standard for me growing my company form in my living room from nothing to a $60m international company.
Along the way, I was enjoying all the trappings of success and with the help of an extremely capable team and one person that I hired who shaped not only my creative thinking, marketing, and sales techniques and the direction of the business was an ex-Creative Director for the famous advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, called Robert (Bob) Mayston.
Bob put together some amazing campaigns and he was instrumental in the decision to hire a PR company called The SPA Way owned by Sara Pearson and my account was operated by someone who not only get exactly what I was saying and doing in a heartbeat but who would also work amazingly hard – Niki Wheeler.
Niki would push me way out of my comfort zone and soon I was on live television, radio and had content in pretty much all of the National and International press as well as entering various entrepreneurship competitions and awards events.
It made a huge difference to the profile of both the company and myself.
I was now selling into the Boardrooms of some of the worlds leading technology companies – a far cry from knocking peoples doors to sell home improvements, but remember that without that experience I would never have got started and it toughened me a great deal.
I had, in fact, expanded a little too quickly and I was about to face another serious test of my ability to survive.
The technology industry was booming like crazy and as much as you think that it creates a huge opportunity, it also created a boatload of competition.
People were entering the market almost daily, forming companies and trying to sell through cost leadership so it was a huge growth period, but a competitive one as well.
In 2000, the tech bubble burst to send shockwaves through the industry and by 2001, most of the companies that we were recruiting for were not hiring and were laying off up to 50% of their staff.
On top of that, the financial institutions were now reigning in their lending and we had a load of debt that was way over terms.
So instead of selling to my customers, I was chasing debt and selling to my Bank and it was becoming a very serious issue – on top of that, I had just signed a lease in Dallas to the tune of $1m and re-furbished my offices in London to the tune of $500k.
Things were not looking too promising, to say the least.
With my Bank closing in fast, I had to re-structure and that meant releasing staff – around 50% just like my clients.
It was a hard time for sure and I know I wasn’t the most popular employer, but times like these really test you as an entrepreneur – you take the reward, but also the risk and it was I who was on the line!
The period was extremely tough, but remember the part about having ‘ideas’ from the opening – I actually started two new companies through this experience, as I knew that I had to diversify to make sure that if something like this happened again, I would have other options.
In the thick of this, I founded both a software and an outsourcing company and in 2005, I relocated my family which now included my one-year-old daughter, to Dallas, Texas.
The reason was simple – Europe had gone into significant debt regarding the rollout of at the time, 3G mobile technologies due to government licensing fees and the cost to actually build the networks.
The US did not have the same cost base and it was a lot easier to roll out the technology that suited my staffing, technology and outsourcing companies.
Yet again, I was to face another challenge – within a few months of being in the US, my company was hit by two class action lawsuits as were the majority of my competitors and to cut a long story short, I spent ten years fighting the battle and ultimately lost it.
Thankfully, I was not as reckless with my spending as I was during my early business years and that gave me many options. I was becoming disillusioned with the way the market was going in my industry and the increasing legislation issues that were cropping up in the US.
I had loads of ideas to disrupt the industry once again and I still do to this day, but with my visa due to expire in the US and the program being unlikely to be renewed as it was dependent initially of bringing specialists from Europe to the US to help develop the industry and the US industry was now pretty much leading the world, I decided to move to Costa Rica as the climate, schooling system and way of life looked extremely enticing and equally so, when I went to visit and explore the options.
Over my time in Dallas, I had many experiences and on the whole, it was a very enjoyable period, especially having two additions to the family, my two Sons’.
But the strain on my companies was immense and people always ask me as to why I didn’t take any outside funding to ease the burden and the answer was simple – there were no real and workable offers – many discussions, but the terms were always in favor of the investor, so I remained privately funded and supported the operations myself.
Ultimately, I had to return to the UK to take care of my Mother, who became ill and subsequently passed away and to further add to the mix, I became seriously ill myself, resulting in near death and it took me 18 months to recover.
This is why I have decided to share my knowledge and help others – during those long months of recovery, I thought long and hard about my next move and I decided that coaching, mentoring and helping others is now my focus and I offered my services to Business Wales as a volunteer mentor to begin the process and ‘give back.’
My journey, however, is far from over and retirement is never an option. I am first and foremost an entrepreneur and as I said, it is an ‘instinctive force.’
I will continue to let my entrepreneurial spirit flourish and let that be the guiding force for everything that I do and I advise you to do the same!
I hope that my journey may inspire yours and whatever you do, always remember the following:
“A quitter never wins and a winner is too stupid to quit”
“As one door closes, another one slams right in your face.”
To your entrepreneurial success!
Richard Branson: Advice for Entrepreneurs
Now you might ask yourself how can I become an entrepreneur or how long does it take to become an entrepreneur? – I have the answers for you and I would like to help you with mentoring and coaching.
I have written in-depth guide on How to start a business in the UK (Steps to starting your business) and that’s your starting point.
If you are still full time employed but want to know how to start a Side Hustle while working 9-5, read this guide on my blog.
‘Deadpool’ Actor Ryan Reynolds Discusses His Side Hustle as an Entrepreneur
Below you can see some article about me and get some inspiration to start your business or change paths to become a businessman.
- Worth a Try – Entrepreneur.com
- A different plan of attack – Forbes.com
- No time for nine till five – Independent.co.uk