It has never been more important – whether you’re self-employed or part of a company – to be an enterprising self-starter. Alix O Neill gets down to business
Meg Haggar knew from a young age that she wanted to be her own boss. ‘Any time my parents had friends over, my sister and I would set up a table in the garden and try to charm them into parting with their cash for random objects we’d found around the house,’ she says. These days, 30-year-old Haggar sits at the helm of Raw Halo, the artisan chocolate company she founded in 2014, and now runs with her fiancé Jonathan Chapman. From humble beginnings, experimenting with cacao and coconut sugar in her London flat, Haggar has gone global – the brand is now stocked in major supermarkets, department stores and health-food shops around the world.
She credits her success to a combination of factors: passion, great timing and hard work. The business was born after she cut out refined sugar from her diet and struggled to find a healthier chocolate that tasted as good as the real thing. It also came at the start of the ‘free-from’ boom, so she was able to capitalise on the growing interest in natural foods. But it was Haggar’s grit and determination to make it work that transformed Raw Halo from a kitchen-table business to a global brand. ‘Jonathan and I were saving up to get married,’ she says. ‘But I persuaded him to use our wedding fund to buy a tempering machine. I was so desperate to make it happen.’
From retail behemoth Jeff Bezos to media goddess Oprah Winfrey, the world has been shaped and shaken by the ideas of entrepreneurs – big-thinking self-starters, unafraid to take risks. With social-media platforms to test and research our ideas, build communities and reach new potential clients, there’s never been a better time to join their ranks. Across the UK, the number of new companies registered in 2016 rose from 608,000 in 2015 to over 660,000, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs – a record high.* While the landscape continues to be dominated by men (infuriatingly, only one in ten of the fastest growing start-ups in the UK have female founders**), things are changing. Encouraged by the rise of the side hustle – which, according to Henley Business School, generates a staggering £72 billion of UK GDP – a new wave of young, ambitious women are following their passions and changing the world around them. The question is, how do we join them?
Think big, take risks
Good news – there’s no biological determinant of success in business. In other words, entrepreneurialism isn’t in your genes. However, career experts agree that environmental factors and attitude do count. Take family. ‘Research shows that, on average, entrepreneurs are more likely to have parents who are or were in business,’ explains Professor Carole Howorth, chair of entrepreneurship at the University of York. ‘This is because they will have grown up in a context where business was talked about, will have a deeper understanding of how to start and run a business, and see it as normal to start one up.’
And yet there are plenty of self-starters who didn’t have anyone at home to look up to. For instance, Spanx founder and self-made billionaire Sara Blakely. Her mother was an artist and father a lawyer. Or Kanya King, who was born to immigrant parents and was forced to drop out of school aged 16 when she became pregnant. She went on to found the MOBO Awards and has been named one of Britain’s Most Entrepreneurial Women. What Blakely and King share, says Fern Mandelbaum, a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business and managing partner at investment firm Vista Venture Partners, is a ‘growth mindset’. ‘This state of mind is the opposite of the “fixed mindset”, where an individual thinks they need to be a natural to succeed. Those who possess a growth mindset think, “I’m not an entrepreneur yet”, believing their existing abilities are malleable. They are committed to self-improvement and hungry to learn – this is key.’
Prepare to fail
There’s no shortage of manuals to teach you the skills required to perfect your hustle and get ahead. Last year saw the release of a slew of books on the subject, written by women, for women, including Emma Gannon’s The Multi-Hyphen Method, Farrah Storr’s The Discomfort Zone and Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené’s Slay In Your Lane. There’s also a host of business courses designed to take you to the top of your entrepreneurial game – see reed.co.uk/courses/entrepreneurship and shortcoursesportal.com. Across the pond, Mandelbaum, who has worked with CEOs for the past 20 years to help them develop their leadership style, teaches the COOGLE method: courage, opportunity, optimism, grit, leadership and execution. ‘Courage is critical – if you can take action in the absence of certainty, there’s at least a chance you’ll succeed. But if you don’t take action, you’ll never know. We need courage to fail. The key then is to get back up and move forward. This process will build your confidence and push you when you’re surrounded by doubt,’ she says.
‘Smart failure’ has come to define our era of #careergoals. ‘Fail fast, fail often’ is the mantra in Silicon Valley, where starting a business that fails is seen as a badge of honour. At FailCon, an annual conference about ‘embracing failure’, entrepreneurs give speeches about their misfires. The brains behind LinkedIn and Twitter are among the start-up founders who flunked out before hitting the big time. It’s why podcasts, such as How To Fail by journalist Elizabeth Day, are topping the charts. Day has quizzed big names such as Alastair Campbell and Lily Allen on the failures that made them. Instead of viewing our mistakes as a source of shame, there’s a greater emphasis on reframing them and learning from them. Take media mogul Ariana Huffington, who founded one of the world’s largest digital news outlets. Before launching The Huffington Post, her second book was reportedly rejected by 36 publishers. Respinning failure is a vital cognitive tool, given that Bloomberg estimates eight out of ten entrepreneurs who start businesses will fail within the first 18 months.
Identify your tribe
According to Professor Howorth, not all entrepreneurs are the same. Understanding your motivations will help you realise where you fit in the bigger picture. ‘Some people just want to be in business. They are opportunity seekers who value the independence of being in business. Some [like Haggar], see a problem and recognise the opportunity it represents. Others have a passion for a specific idea, a product or an industry in which they want to immerse themselves,’ says Professor Howorth. ‘If they just want to be in business, franchising might be the way in, whereby an entrepreneur buys into a tried-and-tested model and runs their own business under a franchisor, who controls how it’s operated. This works for inexperienced and/or less confident budding entrepreneurs, but it doesn’t give the independence that some seek and it can be expensive.’
Work around the gender gap
A greater desire for flexibility and the failure of the corporate model to accommodate working mothers is believed to be the reason behind the female entrepreneurship boom. Yet, too few women are taking the plunge in the start-up world. There are half a million more women in the UK than men, but twice as many male entrepreneurs as female ones. The Entrepreneurs Network says men are 86 per cent more likely than women to secure venture capital funding. Women receive fewer and smaller bank loans for their businesses. New Entrepreneurs Foundation CEO Neeta Patel believes a lack of confidence is also at play. ‘Women are less likely to exaggerate the qualities of their businesses or oversell the growth potential. Most men I know don’t have those qualms. We need to develop self-belief.’
And if you can’t quit the day job…
The upside is that you learn to be more entrepreneurial without sacrificing the security of a regular pay cheque, says Professor Howorth. She advises brainstorming to ‘allow the crazy ideas to flow’ and getting out of your comfort zone by engaging with people who aren’t like you. If you’re not ready to build up your side hustle, Mandelbaum suggests seizing every opportunity in your current role, no matter how scary. ‘As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the things which you think you cannot do’’.’ Ultimately, be prepared to make sacrifices. Four years on, Haggar still hasn’t said ‘I do’. ‘Working evenings and weekends is how we got Raw Halo off the ground,’ she says. ‘We’re still putting some of our personal plans on hold, but we’ve built a business that we’re proud of.’