Piers Linney is an entrepreneur known for his appearance on BBC's Dragons’ Den. In person, he is sharp, driven and focused. His wealth of knowledge and experience pours out of him as he presents a talk to small business owners at this year’s Festival of Enterprise in Birmingham. When I speak with him later, he is personable, generous of his time and super fired-up to discover new ideas and openings.
"What an entrepreneur does is take risks. Growth means risk." he says. "If you take on risk, you are an entrepreneur. If you don't take on risk, you're a business owner." Piers is deeply supportive of those who step into the arena of starting and then scaling up, their own business. It is clear that the passion within him has strong outreach to others. "Every day, for years, I have been asked by people for my top tips," he continues, "so now I've put it all together in a video training series online.”
He is speaking of his new venture to help expand the knowledge and skills of all those venturing into starting their own business. Offering over 76 lessons of know-how, his training course for start-ups is infused with insightful content that will support any new or existing small business owner.
The entrepreneurial process includes failure
I ask him about failing and what he has learned from it. "It happens every day," he says, smiling. "Business success is about resilience, you just don't give up." The look of hard-earned experience is clear in his eyes. "There are things you have to do, in order to get to do what you want to do. The entrepreneurial process includes failure. Do not be afraid to be an entrepreneur. If it doesn't work, you can move on." It's clear to me that he has learned a considerable amount of lessons over the years and therefore his insight will be invaluable to many.
Piers’ experience includes the financial sector, working with large investment banks. "Nobody starts a business to just be a start up," he says. "It takes hard work to progress these things." It is good to feel the positivity that emanates from this successful businessman. He has strong belief in his abilities, and that strengthens the words and wisdoms that he shares. "As a lawyer, as an investment banker, as an entrepreneur, I'm a 'sheet in the head' kind of guy," he says. "Give me a spreadsheet as a model and I can pull it apart and put it back together again. I am trained to do the numbers." He also recognises that his strengths are predominantly in the infrastructure of setting up a business, and not necessarily continuing it once it starts its own flow of success. "I'm good at the idea, the vision, the architecture, the design, getting it launched and making it all work. I'm not necessarily the person to continue it."
Piers comes across as a 'sprinter' and a 'fighter' as he recalls, "I went to a comprehensive school. I had to struggle to get into the City, and then had to struggle again to get into investment banking." He has managed to find that acceptable balance between the aggression of ambition, and companionability with people. His liveliness makes him intriguing and I suspect a great many people will gain the benefit from finally having access to this knowledgeable man directly online.
Piers Linney - 5 Growth factors
Find out what Piers has to say about starting your business:
Many people don't have a plan. You must write down your plan, and not keep it in our head. Share the plan with others and get feedback. If you keep a plan in your head because you're afraid for others to be aware of it, things will go wrong. Get feedback from people who can offer support and suggestions.
Your team need a copy of your plan, otherwise they won't know where they're going, "how to steer the ship". The plan needs to show how you get from Point A to Point B. You have to know where you are (Point A) and you need to know where you want to go (Point B). Without a plan, you don't know where 'B' is. Ask yourself, do you know what 'B' looks like? Then you will make decisions and allocate resources correctly. If you intend to take an action that doesn’t get you any nearer to Point B, don't do it. It's very easy to get distracted. Stay focused on Point B and always move towards it. Your plan gives you direction and minimises your risks.
Business operations, the systems, processes, regulations, security, legal - for most entrepreneurs, it bores them. But you have to get things right. The operations of your business machine are the cogs and oil that makes it more efficient. Things will move more easily. Your team will learn and know how to get things done. If you don't have processes and systems, no-one will know how. You don't want disconnection between your teams. Make sure good systems are in place before you start to grow. If you don't, it will cost you money, or failure.
When you start a business, you're in a rush, you want to get things done. You realise what you need - a marketing guy, a software developer, and you employ people you 'know' or have heard of. They may not be the best people to employ. Start recruiting from day one as if you really mean it. If you are scaling up, take a hard look at your team. Existing people may not be capable of rising up into the next job level. At some point in your business growth you may have to look in the mirror and assess yourself, asking “am I the best person to continue to run this business?”. Explore diversity, don't just hire ‘yourself’, because you will do your business a disadvantage. You need a pool of diverse people with different backgrounds. The people within your business are one of your most expensive assets. Inform all your staff of your plans and objectives, people like to know and need to know. And they need to know what you expect of them, and what success looks like.
My specialist subject. You start out using your own finances, and loans or gifts from parents and family. In Dragons Den, we make a decision there and then on the spot, but what we are really investing in is the person. When you take money from family and friends, they are investing in you.
Beyond that level, you get to 'Angels', the angel investment funds, small venture capital. They will start looking past you, and be looking at the business plan, your capabilities, can you execute, are your operations in place. They will look at debt, assets, and cash flow, if you want to borrow money. The contract you agree is important, make sure you understand the small print, make sure you can make the payments, ask yourself “can I service this debt”. The opportunities to raise finance are enormous, there is so much cash out there.
Technology affects all of us - access to markets, social media, content marketing, connection to customers. There is no point trying to set up a business to sell an average product, at an average price, to the average consumer. Think 5-10 years forward, because the world is changing very quickly. We have to create real value, because so much will become automated. Automate as much as you can in your operations. Technology means you can save time and focus on the business of running your business. Use technology to bring your customers in, and learn from online content. Use it to reach out and connect with people.
You can find Piers’ online training course at: https://www.pierslinney.com/startup-course