A few days ago I was able to kick off our RARE Business interview series with ‘Is your marketing sticky enough? – An interview with Grant Leboff’. Today, I want to share with another interview that I have just done with Rachel Bridge, author of 4 books on starting and running your own business and entrepreneurship as well as being the Enterprise Editor of The Sunday Times. She writes the How I Made It column each week for the paper as well as regular features about entrepreneurs and small and growing businesses.
Enjoy the best bits from the interview below. It’s quite long but definitely worth it, Rachel has met interviewed and written about 100s, if not 1,000s, of entrepreneurs so has a lot of wisdom to share.
She’s been a journalist for over 20 years, ‘forever’ in her own words, and has always written about business. Her first job was as a companies reporter on the Investors Chronicle and she went on to become a business reporter first for the Evening Standard and then The Times. In 1995 she moved to Sydney to become Australian correspondent for The Times for three years and followed that with two years as a French correspondent for The Times based in Bordeaux. On her return to the UK in 2002 Rachel became the small business writer for the Mail on Sunday before joining The Sunday Times in 2003. As well as writing features and case studies on a wide range of small businesses for the paper, she also writes a weekly column for The Sunday Times called ‘How I Made It’, which is ostensibly a set of interviews with successful entrepreneurs to find out what makes them ‘tick’ and to answer the question ‘Can anyone do it?’.
It was her experience whilst traveling and working in Australia and France where she met lots of people who have done or are doing their own thing, have escaped the 9 to 5 and have started their own business and are now following their dream that really ignited her interest in entrepreneurship and what makes them tick.
This lead her to writing and she has now written four books:
When I asked Rachel about the before lunch title she was quick to say that what she is emphasizing is how to give yourself the best chance of success and to achieve that as quickly as possible by not getting ‘lost’ in doing the wrong things. However, she did say that she had met many entrepreneurs that had achieved success by working on their ideas and businesses on a part-time basis. In the book she aims to explode a few myths about entrepreneurial success ie. that you have to give everything up, remortgage your house or give up your job to get started. In this day and age, she believes that things can be done differently and can be combined.
The book is aimed at people who want to start a business but don’t quite know where to start or how to take the first step. However, what Rachel has found is that it also has a huge resonance with those that have already started their business and they use it as a sort of checklist.
Following one of the central ideas in the doing: that of doing something differently. Rachel took the book on the ‘road’ to the Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world which includes theatre, comedy, music, musicals, dance and children’s shows.
I put it to Rachel that a show about entrepreneurship is not a natural ‘fit’ for the Fringe. She explained that the idea came about from the fact that interest in entrepreneurship has become so wide in the general public consciousness on the back of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice etc in the UK and that it would be really interesting to reach out to an audience that would not normally pick up a business book or read the business papers.
However, in the face of people telling that her that she couldn’t do it she embraced that entrepreneurial spirit that she had picked up from all of the people that she had interviewed and then went off and did it and got The Pleasance, a famous Fringe venue, to buy into her vision of what she was trying to create.
The show ran for 2 weeks and was sold out. Rachel did 13 shows over 13 days, just before lunch (obviously), and found the whole experience terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. However, she found that the show really touched a nerve….one that was not just about making money but about following a dream.
The show was so successful and so well received that she has now taken it all round the country to a diverse set of audiences from after dinner speaking to 16 year olds studying at school. World domination beckons as she prepares to take the show to Las Vegas in July and on from there.
Wanting to plumb Rachel for as much insight and info as possible in the time that we had I asked her, based on all of the entrepreneurs that she had met and written about, what would be the top 3 traits of successful entrepreneurs that she had seen. These are the traits that she highlighted:
Given her position as Enterprise Editor of The Sunday Times and moving onto more general stuff I asked Rachel about the economic situation we are now facing and what she has learnt from her interviews and writing. I asked her: We might be technically out of the recession here in the UK but are we out of the woods yet?
She responded by saying that she felt that people and small businesses are still very cautious but that everyone is now starting to recognise, government included, that SMEs are the key to growth, employment and getting us out of the current condition we find ourselves in. What with impending public sector job cuts, large corporates are not likely to be the job createors and people are starting to recognise that the SMEs sector is going to be the place where jobs are going to be created. So, suddenly SMEs are finding themselves in the spotlight.
But, job creation is not going to happen overnight and it will take time. She believes that there needs to be a lot less red tape around hiring people as small business don’t want to hire people when it’s so hard to fire people or let them go. She also went on to say that many small businesses are definitely facing problems getting finance, especially from the banks. However, she did say that although we’re not out of the woods yet, there are businesses out there that are doing very, very well and there are many that don’t need finance as they are getting paid up front so they don’t have bad debts or have to chase money.
She did go onto express her concern about how we will create all of the jobs that will be needed as the nature of the economy has changed, particularly when we factor in the influence of technology and that there are many one man bands that are now exporting because they have found ways to run their business without having to hire people.
Given all of that, she believes that we are in chartered territory and the government and government bodies are lagging behind developments in the business sector and what can be done. For example, she cited government supported export promotion programmes that require firms to have a certain number of staff before they can participate. That ignores a lot of what can be done and is happening in business these days and excludes many businesses because they may have a leaner or more technology enabled business model and that’s not right.
So, maybe growth is not going to come just from hiring people and that we need to take into account the one man bands who don’t want to hire people. After all, why would you if it is too unpredictable, too expensive or there is too much paperwork and it is easier to outsource your functions. The whole map of business is changing.
When asked about this, Rachel acknowledge that people are much more conscious about the need for services and customer service and customer service management is way up there on the competitive agenda where it wasn’t before. This is particularly prevalent now when customers are less tolerant with putting up with bad service. Rachel went on to say that it is those businesses that are more customer focused and focused on service that are doing well.
She believe that what is really interesting is how technology is driving a lot of this. For example, she wrote a case study for The Sunday Times recently about a company called Parcel2Go, who is using technology to help make all of its processes transparent to customers. Then, she went onto cite businesses like Mothercare, Amazon and Argos who’s websites are full of reviews from customers about their products. Great reviews and testimonials drive sales. The whole transparency thing is meaning that companies have to take customers more seriously and respond to what they are saying.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Transparency is now putting pressure on businesses that were able to charge what they wanted in the past but now because of the impact of Google and comparison sites etc, they can no longer get away with that and they have to create value for the customer and in many instances that is manifesting itself in the form of service.
We all have stories of bad customer service, particularly when you compare the UK to other countries (see recent post: Is customer service bad in the UK and is it a class thing? ), but with the rise in technology, transparency and the rise of the voice of the customer then customer service will be the area where the battle for hearts and minds will take place. But what’s funny is that it’s not that difficult to make it good, you’ve got just want to do it. And it’s smart companies that are doing this as this is where they know the value is. Finally, it is small businesses that are ideally placed to compete in this way as they have a much closer and more personal relationship with the customer.
That brought us to the end of the interview. Before I could let Rachel go, I asked her how she was able to keep up to date with all the information that is out there in newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, websites etc. She said that the thing that couldn’t do without is speaking to people. She speaks to a lot of people at conferences and business events, particularly in connection with her show, where she meets a huge number of small businesses. There is no substitute for it. Get out there and talk to people as that’s where all the real and good stuff exists.
Finally, she said that she really enjoyed the interview and said that she thinks that How to Make a Million Before Lunch is her best book yet as it has a lot of her in it and said that she would donate a copy of the book to the best comment on this article.
So, what are you waiting for? Get commenting and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Rachel Bridge is the Enterprise Editor of The Sunday Times. She writes the How I Made It column each week for the paper as well as regular features about entrepreneurs and small and growing businesses.
An experienced journalist, she formerly worked for The Times and the Evening Standard. She is also a regular conference speaker on the subject of entrepreneurs. Rachel graduated from Cambridge University with an honours degree in Economics.
Check out her website at www.rachelbridge.com, follow her on Twitter here, see a couple clips of her speaking here on Youtube and, finally, head over to Amazon (click here) to pick up one of her books.