A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Richard Branson, and whilst we didn’t sit down for an hour or so chewing the business fat over a couple of well chosen real ales, I still count it as one of the most important “meetings” in my business life.
To set the scene for you – we were talking at a big event at the O2 in London and it had for various reasons turned into a bit of a farce, the 1000’s of tickets that were supposed to have been sold by the organisors hadn’t been and those tickets that had “left the building” had been given away for free.
Anyway I’d just seen Richard speak (I think we are on first name terms now…) and I headed upstairs to the exhibitors lounge where he would be appearing.
Needless to say it was a proper bun fight – the organisation was no-existent and the place was flooded with all and sundry hoping to somehow pitch their idea to our greatest entrepreneur – I mean there were people literally throwing pieces of paper at him with their idea scrawled on…???
Anyway as the chaos died down I asked him if I could have a photo (I was a bit awestruck) he kindly agreed and the photographer lifted his lens – only to realise his memory card was full.
Brilliant – that gave me a bit extra time with the man I had admired for so long
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really tell you what we chatted about for that minute – but I just remember being struck by his ‘aura’. This powerful sense of calm and confidence in an otherwise crazy room.
I left on a high and above all else, wanting to emulate him as a person even more than his success and spent the evening thinking about what made him – him. (And yes I do get that that is a bit weird).
Role model is too strong a phrase, but I do think that as a business owner it can be really instructive looking to others, seeing what they do and how.
But there is a problem.
Whilst Branson is an incredible beacon, I believe that his usefulness to most business owners is limited. Yes it is important to look at his story and be inspired by what he has done but in my opinion his business situation is just too far away from the reality that most of us find ourselves in day to day. And as such it is really easy to just get frustrated and disheartened trying to emulate their route.
It is far better to look closer to home to get real meaningful, “hands on” direction. I believe if you look to the ”normal” business owners around you will gather much more information that will make a real difference to your business today than you will by reading about the exploits of some of the largest businesses in the world.
Don’t get me wrong I read a lot of books and learn a huge amount from the “big guys” but I am also looking at what “Dave the accountant” is doing too. What is he doing to move his business forward that I am not? What can I learn from it?
That is why we are so excited about the launch of our latest book. Rather than just share what we believe to be right we went out and and interviewed a whole host of “normal business owners”,
We wanted to learn from them. And their responses to the questions about why they had achieved such success were both fascinating and across them all, alarmingly similar.
In hindsight it makes complete sense, but almost all the people we spoke to brought up the same things again and again. It was fascinating to hear.
So yes look at what the big guys are doing but don’t let yourself get disheartened you can’t just switch on what they do. Instead look at the guys around you see who is happiest/ earning the most (what ever is most important to you) and find out why – you could even ask them!
While I am at it I don’t like that word “normal” as the business owners we spoke to are in truth anything but normal but as a way to describe them in relation to the Branson’s of this world its all I can think of!
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