Breaking the Mould

Here the author, strategist and FT columnist Ian Sanders explains why sometimes it’s better to go your own way

Breaking the Mould

  Two years ago my co-author David Sloly and I stood in a convention centre in Austin, Texas and suggested to the audience of entrepreneurs that business plans were a waste of time. We were speaking at the South By Southwest Interactive festival unveiling ‘Unplan Your Business’, arguing that in a world of such flux it is pointless trying to guess the future. Whilst the room of entrepreneurs agreed with our thinking, others were less kind. Some people said on Twitter our thinking was dangerous, that we were crazy. And, to be honest, that’s when we realised we were onto something – when the naysayers came out of the woodwork.

  The problem with entrepreneurship is that there are established ways of doing things: you *must* have a five-year plan; you *must* have an exit strategy; you must only focus on one idea at a time; you need a proper office. I guess I never liked playing by the rules. Not just for the sake of it, but because you often getter better results by thinking about business differently. The problem with a rigid set of rules is that it may not fit with how YOU want to do business. The rules may not reflect you, your personality and the way you like to do business. So – do you ‘sell out’, don a suit and brush up on PowerPoint or do you say “F*** it – this is how I do things!”?

  My answer is the latter. I’ve met, spoken to and followed a bunch of successful entrepreneurs who don’t play by the rules. People like David Heinemeier Hansson, partner in the software company 37signals who encourages employees to work from anywhere on the planet; Tina Roth Eisenberg, the entrepreneur who started multiple businesses as side projects, some by accident; Dave Stewart, founder of the Eurythmics who runs a multiple-discipline business built on ideas; Jack Dorsey a parallel entrepreneur who holds down senior roles in two businesses – Twitter and Square – at the same time.

  And what I’ve learnt is that you CAN adapt business to your style, your way of doing things. Indeed, you should put your DNA at the very heart of your business. For instance, rather than hide away your personality, you need to compete on it: tell your story on your website, be the real you on Twitter, trade on your ideas. So as you proceed on your own entrepreneurial journey please be authentic to your own goals, style and personality.

  Here’s my own ten point manifesto to get you thinking:

  Do business *your* way

 Every product or business needs a point of difference. Being authentic to your own way of doing things can make you and your products stand out from the crowd.

  Compete on your story

  Put your personality at the heart of the business, tell customers why you started the business, what your backstory is, why you are so passionate.

  Ditch the fixed office

  If you don’t have lots of employees, consider the merits of working wherever and however makes you productive.

  Be multi-dimensional

  Let your business activities reflect your multi-dimensional talents, embrace a mashed-up working life.

  Go with your gut

  Forget focus groups, instinct should be your most important decision making tool.

  Develop a side project

  A side project can be your entrepreneurial playground, giving you the space to experiment and innovate. A side project could even become bigger than your core business.

  Seek inspiration in interesting places

  Don’t just hang out at conferences and networking events, take inspiration from whatever and wherever makes you tick, whether cafes, art galleries or even a walk along the beach.

  Sell your ideas not your products Don’t just sell customers your product benefits, tell them about the thinking behind the product, talk to them about your ideas.

  Unplan your business

  Don’t have a fixed linear plan for your business; instead have goals, but remain open minded about how you might reach them.

  Communicate YOUR way

  Don’t use long winded copy if it’s not how you’d speak yourself; don’t do a PowerPoint presentation if you hate public speaking – find the currency that best works for you.

Ian Sanders
Ian Sanders

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