Soft skills are a game changer for career development and business growth and it's time for employers, government, educators, parents - everyone - to take action to recognise, promote and improve them. Part of the success in my journey wasn't about my qualifications or experience, but it was the value I gave to soft skills that helped me get to where I am today.
One of the most flattering things in the professional world is getting headhunted on behalf of a renowned company. If someone rings you out of the blue and takes an interest in you, it is a sure sign that you are doing all the right things in your current job. When I started my first headhunting firm many years ago, almost every time I approached a candidate on behalf of a prestigious company their self-esteem would instantly be boosted. It would be a very risky approach to sit back and purely wait to be headhunted but when great opportunities do present themselves over the course over a career it is always important to grasp them.
Once you've made it through the development phase and hired your team - you certainly feel you're ready to get out there and sell your product or service. But how exactly do you get the word out? I've found that many entrepreneurs struggle with this. It's important to remember that marketing and PR is not an afterthought to your business plan. Marketing and good PR is essential for the success of any business. It may not matter how great the product or service you are offering is if nobody knows about it.
There are many important decisions SME owners have to take in the early stages of their business, and one of the most important is making that first hire. Depending on the individual company, this could be done immediately, within a few months, or even a year after starting up. There is no singular approach, but it must be the right decision at the right time. The key question to ask yourself is whether you can justify making a new hire, in terms of cost and workload. I experienced this when I started my first recruitment business - it was four months before I had enough money in the bank to be able to take someone on.
The best businesses are the ones which really stay in tune with their customers' needs. These days there are so many tools to analyse results, and so many ways to interact with the people who buy your products or services, that there really is no excuse for failing to grasp what they are thinking. The needs and behaviour patterns of your customers can constantly change - and your business should adapt accordingly.
Nowadays I invest primarily in people who want to do what I did - become their own boss. I'm a firm believer that if you are prepared to put the effort in, there is no reason why you can't successfully run your own business... Technology has since come on leaps and bounds, which means you can access data and generate leads like never before. And the advent of social media means that building a brand and marketing yourself has become that little bit easier.
Eisenhower captured it best when he said: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because they want to do it." Some people are lucky enough to be born with the kind of qualities that make a great leader but it is also possible to pick up these skills through practice, hard work and application. So, what, in my experience, makes a great leader?
Almost half a million businesses have been set up in the UK so far this year. That proves there is a huge amount of entrepreneurial spirit in this country. I was delighted to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) with the announcement of the 10,000th loan awarded by the government-funded Start-Up Loans, of which I am chairman.We've lent £51million to entrepreneurs in under 18 months, ensuring people who are passionate about business can play their part in reviving the economy and creating jobs. But GEW has also reminded me why I want to challenge Britons to do even better.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, James Caan, the Government's new Social Mobility Tsar says that parents should not help their children to get a job. Instead they should encourage kids to make their own way. The reason he gives is that when parents hold back they help their children to develop. I agree, but for a different reason.