Walking through the Science Museum a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of all the exhibits around me. I had completely forgotten how much fun museums' were - I kept looking around in wonder with very big eyes. As much as I could have wandered around the 'Exploring Space' exhibit all day, I wasn't there for pleasure; I was attending an SME Summit, the first event held jointly by Santander and The Times, as part of their new partnership for growing SME's.
After an interesting forward by Ana Botin, Chief Executive of Santander UK, I was particularly excited to hear from Nick Wheeler of Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts, who spoke candidly of his experiences in business over the last 10 years or so. He spoke of how he lost £70,000 in his first year in business and went bust twice in those 10 years before starting again. It was also a surprise to hear that he made the same mistake twice trying to diversify into children and womenswear - I know we are all tempted to lose focus at some point, but it was comforting to hear how this can happen to someone as successful as Nick. It was interesting to hear how he had no formal training and had no mentors throughout his career, but did agree that having access to a mentor would have been something he would have really benefited from. His advice was to not concentrate on cost price as the most important issue and also that the cheapest manufacturer isn't always the best option. This entrepreneur, who incredibly, has anything up to 1million shirts in stock at any one time, spoke about being 'Honest about your journey going wrong and still carrying forward whatever happens'.
A recurring theme in the rest of the talks was 'Taking Action' - stop talking and just do! Shaa Wasmund, founder of Smarta, explained that 'running a business is like a rollercoaster' and that she believes 2014 will be the year of video, where You Tube could drive your sales and create 'action'.
James Caan, who needs no introduction, spoke of taking risks, recruiting people with passion and an ability to diversify and innovate. He was also extremely optimistic about 2014 being 'a perfect opportunity to invest and grow'. Ella's Kitchen founder, Paul Lindley, spoke of 'values becoming the bedrock of decision making'. Financing growth, exploiting overseas markets and identifying talent are some of the main issues also discussed on the day.
It was an inspirational line-up of guests and speakers and I was delighted to have been invited. The day was wrapped up by Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Skills & Enterprise, who promised that the 'future of our economy will be secured by unleashing the innovative and enthusiastic talents of people who have an idea and can turn it into a profit making enterprise'. This may be true, and I completely agree, but I do think we also need to work harder to support those existing entrepreneurs, who run successful business and have the desire and the potential to grow their businesses further.
I can only close with a quote from John Williams, Head of Breakthrough at Santander UK: 'the single most important factor about being an entrepreneur is persistence'. This is so true; we have to persist to make our companies greater and persist to ensure our success. The future is indeed bright!