Who needs a business degree? Richard Branson proves mammoth business success is open to everyone, founding global brand Virgin back at the tender age 20, in 1970, and since then launching 8 billion-dollar businesses in 8 different industries across the decades – all without going to business school!
In fact, Branson has gone so far as saying it was his lack of conventional business education at the start of his career which led him to where he is today. In his latest book, Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School, he reveals just how much knowledge he’s gained first-hand through the trials and tribulations of building his own business empire, without a degree.
Now you can learn how he did it with the 18 success tips he’s exploited over the years:
Creating a business requires incredible tenacity and drive; there will be days when you think about nothing else but your company and what you need to do next to succeed. That’s why it’s so crucial you’re working on a business which brings you joy.
Branson launched Virgin from his London basement. At that point he didn’t have a big plan or meticulous business strategy, just a desire to create something he would take pride in, something which would improve people’s lives.
The ‘Virgin’ name is a huge part of the brand's success, and Branson puts this down to its effective representation of the brand – fresh yet sexy. Speaking of the story behind the name, he explains that the term was thrown around by friends over drinks, because he was ‘new to business’. It spoke of being fresh and pure while also slightly risqué – and so he ran with it.
All business involves risk; whatever your sector, whatever your product - there are no guarantees, even if you have been around for years… but Branson believes there’s no such thing as total failure. When things don’t go according to plan, it’s all about picking yourself up and being prepared to be knocked right back down again! Success comes to those who aren’t afraid to get things wrong. Every stumble, every obstacle, provides a lesson to be learned.
First impressions are important; the first time you interact with a customer is often the moment you secure or lose a sale. Yet, first impressions aren’t the only impressions you need to get right – second impressions are equally as significant.
Branson explains: the next time your customer gets in touch is often when they are facing a problem with their purchase. How you portray yourself next is crucial to whether they stay doing business with you, or you lose their custom forever.
Think carefully about the way your business is presenting themselves when closing sales and when dealing with existing customers, it will play a huge part in your long-term profitability.
No matter how perfect something looks, giving a product or service a 100% review is a dangerous practice. Branson believes doing so allows people start getting complacent. Whether it’s on the shop floor or in product development, there’s always room to improve.
Plus, a perfect product does not sell as well as a product which invites customers and employees to feedback and develop it further. Being imperfect, showing your vulnerabilities, and allowing customers to be part of the development of your brand is a brilliant way to build community – crucial to everything from having your first successful crowdfunding campaign to creating die-hard fans.
You’ve probably heard the adage ‘the customer’s always right’, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. We’re all human, and while customer opinion should be highly prized, people are going to have conflicting opinion on things.
Your customer experience should not be built around the premise you cannot question the quirks of your customers. Be respectful of your employees and brand values too. While putting the customer first can strengthen reputation and build trust, be careful not to jeopardise your staff in favour of whatever-the-customer-wants customer service procedures.
Branson learned through trial-and-error not to spread yourself thin when you first start out in business. Be specific when you define your company/product/services and what makes you different.
While Virgin are now known for branching out into various different trades, the brand actually focuses on one mission: finding innovative ways to help others have a great time.
Define your business in such a way you are able to over-deliver (rather than under-promise).
Branson is an avid explorer, both on the map and in the marketplace! To experience the levels of success your business is really capable of, you need to be willing to go to new territories and try new things. Experimentation, and the willingness to break away from your fail-safe strategies and products is the only way to spark bigger and better ideas.
Just because you’re the founder doesn’t mean you need to be the CEO too. Not everyone is suited to the role, and that’s OK. You might know what you want from your business but as CEO you need to be able to bring out the best in people and help employees learn from their mistakes rather than immediately criticising them. For some, this is easier said than done.
Be prepared to hand the role to someone else when the time comes to push your business further.
Starting out in business, the focus is largely placed on building customer relationships and securing sales. Yet real business success depends hugely on how you treat the people who make it all possible, beneath you. Whether you’re working with employees or contractors, work hard to get rid of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality which lingers between management and other personnel in many organisations.
A great way to tell whether your company is dealing with tensions and discrepancies between employees and management is to listen out for ‘we’. If workers aren’t referring to their company using ‘we’, you can take it as a sign there are communication issues along the chain. A truly successful business relies on everyone involved being proud to be part of the structure.
Beyond effective communication, employees need to feel fulfilled and content in the workplace. This means making your company a great place to work! Branson believes it takes a motivated, dedicated workforce to provide first-class products and services and to sustain enterprise success – so think about how you can improve working conditions and benefits to get your teams even more excited about working for you.
Not sure what will make your employees feel good? Ask them. Getting regular feedback on employee experience as just as important as all the feedback requests you make to customers.
To succeed you need to be fantastic at listening, and be patient. Get ready to bounce ideas off numerous different people before you make big decisions; be deliberate with your choices. Branson believes asking for other opinions is a brilliant way to save time expenses, but make sure you hear what people have to say before sharing other suggestions. Be open minded, yet remember it’s still possible to have the best solution yourself and need to stick with that.
Seeking out opinions is especially key in the start-up phase as you start raising money and developing your products/services to specifically suit customer & client needs.
Not all business ventures work out the way we want them to. And when we’ve built ties with other peoples through our company, relationships can get complicated. If things end on bad terms with a business partner or investor, try to cut ties respectfully without burning your bridges. A successful business leader will know when the time is right to disassociate with another individual or company, and how to do it gracefully.
Handle problems as swiftly and as politely as possible; avoiding apparent tensions is a recipe for further resentment down the line, and who knows what one unhappy connection can do to your reputation.
Tech is wonderful. But how often do we throw out a quick email or text together when a call is the form of connection we really need to make?
Branson warns that business communications have become weaker over recent years. More people are avoiding telephone calls and meeting face-to-face, perhaps in a misguided quest to be more efficient.
Problems are much harder to solve through drawn-out message threads and back-and-forth, however. Be brave and make a call or meet in person to communicate most effectively.
No business is future-proof, however well things are going. Prepare to manage the change which will inevitably come your way throughout your company journey. Be ready to adjust, and resist the temptation to be nostalgic about where your business has been so far.
Branson recognises there are times when you have to take your company in new directions because situations and opportunities change and the future success of your business relies on being open-minded and flexible.
The decisions you make in business won’t always be right, no matter how lengthily your deliberations. We all makes mistakes. So instead of letting unexpected ‘failures’ send you into a panic, use these as stepping stones to greater success. Ask yourself what you can learn from your business flops, and always be honest. When you uncover problems, acknowledge them and work to find a resolution.
Being ‘bossy’ is never a desirable attribute. Yes, it’s a characteristic associated with ensuring others ‘get the job done’ but long-term business success requires the head of the company to be more than an overbearing delegator. A boss needs to inspire and lead.
Branson confesses, one of the things that drive him crazy in business is when someone takes action simply because ‘he’s the boss’. If someone says to him: “Ok, you are the boss…” He hears: “Ok, I don’t agree, but I’ll do it because you’re telling me too – I take no responsibility”.
For a business to be successful everyone needs to take responsibility, and Branson works hard to make sure all his teams want to be responsible – through leading rather than ‘bossing’.
A great leader doesn’t just insist people only execute their philosophies, but also encourages others to suggest ideas and go forth with them too.
The sad truth is; you can have the most revolutionary product on the planet and be trying to use all these other tips and tricks but, without ‘visibility’ your business will never fulfil its potential. Visibility means exposing your company to those who may be interested in you, whether that’s potential customers, media outlets, or investors.
Sir Freddie Laker, a British air tycoon, told Branson:
“You are going to have to get out there and sell yourself. Make a fool of yourself, whatever it takes. Otherwise, you won’t survive”.
Branson makes it his duty to get as much positive attention as he can for his business, whether it’s through company PR stunts or travelling and meeting as many people as he can face-to-face.
Not only is being visible key to marketing success, Branson credits many of his best ideas and strategies to those he has met through getting himself noticed. Networking is a key part of his business strategy.
There’s no one thing which will guarantee the business success you desire. But by applying some of these tips, you can greatly increase your chances of achieving everything you wish to while making the journey more enjoyable too.
Leave a comment and share with us which Branson approved strategies you’ll be using next, or launch your crowdfunding campaign today and start making your product known!