Paying it forward and helping others to benefit from your experience is one of the best bits of being an entrepreneur, says Nicola Barron
This month, we’re feeling really positive at Homemade London; we’re about to open a second venue, exciting new projects are in the pipeline and we’ve had a recent flurry of feedback from happy clients. The things I’m perhaps most proud of are my team of designers, who are also achieving things in their own right, and one of our favourite customers, who has just launched her interiors business partly developed through the skills and contacts she gained with us.
All this new success has made me feel like sharing the love, so this week I’ve signed up to a mentorship programme for creatives. I don’t claim to have the answers (if you’ve read any of my previous columns this will be pretty self-evident), but I do recognise the importance of business support – and I’ve been lucky enough to have had lots of help along the way. But lately, as my role at Homemade London has developed from one where I do absolutely everything to more of a managerial one, it’s one of my most terrible bosses to date who has been an unlikely source of inspiration.
When I left university in 1995, during a period of recession, I ended up taking the first job I was offered. This happened to be at the recruitment agency I visited to find the job in the first place – they were impressed by my enthusiasm (or perhaps desperation), and I was flattered.
Alarm bells rang from the start – although the business had been going for more than 15 years, I would be the sole employee and my experience of recruitment to date had been limited to interviewing flatmates. I wasn’t to be on my own for long though, as the first few weeks were spent looking for a team of graduate trainees to join me and I had great fun devising a convoluted interview process that even Alan Sugar would have considered extreme. By the time my first month had passed, I hadn’t picked up the phone to a client once (it never rang and I wasn’t asked to), but I thought this was OK because the owner was busy tucked away in his office ‘doing business’.
Six weeks into the job and we became a team of three bright young recruiters – without an ounce of industry experience between us and, unfortunately, as it turned out, no clients and no leads. But we were definitely keen and we picked up our phones with gusto and started to call HR departments all over London; and a few other cities largely by mistake. Some took pity on us and sent us their job descriptions but the only candidates on our books were the desperate ones who couldn’t get placed with the proper agencies. Three months into the job and the team finally celebrated our first success: I managed to place a part-time book-keeper in a small shoe firm.
But we knew this triumph was tainted – largely due to the fact that the candidate was massively overqualified for the job as the former financial director of a major oil firm – so, all for one and one for all, we decided to turn our talents to finding new jobs of our own.
There’s nothing worse than working for a failing business and I put myself in the position of my poor boss who had to watch his firm disintegrate before his eyes – what was he thinking shutting himself away in his office when he must have realised that he wasn’t going to be able to rely upon his team to make his millions for him?
Luckily, the inspiration I’ve taken from this source has been ‘what not to do’. And, while I hope Homemade London bears little resemblance to that particular ailing company, both businesses are service-driven and rely upon effective and engaging staff. So, the experience of being a rubbish employee does tap into my fear of possibly also being a rubbish boss.
The key thing this has taught me is that your team is an extension of you – and you need to find the best way for them to represent you appropriately. Even if you don’t have all the answers, mentoring and talking to your team will help you as much as it helps them.