Tag: business

On staying humble amidst success

Humility is one of those characteristics that seems to divide people. In some ways, traditional business seems to train us to be boisterous and proud. At the risk of conforming to stereotypes, the image of a successful business person tends to be a city-dwelling male with a flash car, the latest gadgets, and – lets face it – a bit of an abrasive personality.

We’re all grown up enough to realise that this, as with all stereotypes, is misleading. And yet the image prevails. Even the heroes of literature can on occasion scorn humility as a trait. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to take one example, famously held a distaste for modesty, saying: “to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers”.

Humility is seen as a character flaw, not a trait, and so being humble doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. Even the word ‘humility’ sounds like a bad thing. It sounds weak, and who wants to be seen as weak in business?

So before I offer suggestions as to how to stay humble, I suppose it might first be prudent to explain why humility is even a good thing.

Firstly, it is important to define humility, or being humble, in the right way. Much of the negative connotation of the word comes from is near-homophone ‘humiliation’. But despite the similarity of the words, humility and humiliation are not the same thing. True, they do both share the same root – the Latin ‘humilis’ which roughly translates as ‘from the earth’ or, as we might say now, ‘grounded’. But while the root word is the same, ‘humiliation’ as we use it is a verb – to put someone down – compared with the noun ‘humble’, which is to be down to earth. The latter is a character trait, whilst the former is a derogative action.

So with that mini lesson out of the way, what is so good about being humble?

Well while Sherlock Holmes is one example of a fiction character scorning humility, literature also has its fair share of humble heroes and accounts of humility as an aspiration. Even the ancient Greeks, who are seen by many experts as pretty clever, recognised its importance. The Iliad – Homer’s epic poem, widely regarded as one of the oldest surviving works of Western literature, recounts the final weeks of the Trojan War. The entire account is a warning against Pride – the antithesis of Humility. And that was a message strong enough to warrant a film starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

So humility is a good thing. But how do you stay humble? It’s the easiest, most natural thing in the world to want to share your success with others – and you should be proud! But there are a few things to bear in mind. Here are just a few:

Don’t take criticism personally.

As far as being humble goes, this is pretty early on in the rulebook – and it doesn’t just apply when you’re working your way up to success. Once you’re at the top, you’ll still receive your fair share of criticism. Whether its people who are genuinely trying to help, or if its people who are bitter and just trying to knock you down, you need to be mindful of how you react.

Don’t constantly name drop, or otherwise show off.

Of course, if the reference is relevant, or you are bringing the name up for a legitimate reason, then that’s fine. But doing it for the sake of it is definitely not in the spirit of humility.

You’ll have noticed that in this article, I’ve referenced a famous author, a classic Greek poem, and given a micro-lesson in Latin. Now on the surface this could just be to give as full an account of the idea of humility as possible. But the cynical amongst you will question whether all of that was necessary – why not just give a simple dictionary definition and move on? Was I perhaps just trying to show off how clever I am? It’s a fine line – and if you tread the wrong side of it you’ll go from being that helpful guy with good connections and knowledge, to that smarmy guy who is just trying to show up everyone who hasn’t read The Iliad.

Know that your success is rarely down to you alone.

However successful you are, in whatever field you’re in, nobody can make it to the top alone. And when you get there, you’d do well to thank the people whose shoulders you’re stood on. From the massive cash injection your business received from a sponsor, right down to those little words of encouragement from a friend at 3am from when it looked like it was all going to fall apart, so many people have an impact on what you do. Make sure you thank as many of them as possible – they will appreciate that you’ve remembered them in your time of glory.

Talk about your route to success, not the success itself.

Its easy to be caught up in the hype of being awesome – and at first people will be happy for you and may even allow to you brag a little. But if you keep talking just about the present – how rich you are, how well respected you are in your circle, whatever it might be – your listeners will quickly get bored and may even start to resent you.

Instead, talk about how you got there. People love a success story – so make sure its the whole story, not just the last chapter, that you talk about. You may even act as an inspiration to others, as you prove success is achievable. (Really, that’s a win-win – you still get to talk about yourself, and you get to inspire others!)

Don’t forget why you went into business in the first place.

Every business has the aim of making money – and there is no shame in that. But simply making money isn’t the be all and end all of what you’re company should be about (unless you work for the Royal Mint…).

Even Apple – a company famously richer than the United States of America – admit that money isn’t everything. Jonathan Ive, has said that: “[Apple’s] goal isn’t to make money… Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products.” He goes on to say that if they make great products, they will be a success. Because business success is so often measured by its bottom line, its easy to become obsessed by the money. Remembering why your business exists in the first place can help keep you grounded.

And as we learned from our little Latin lesson earlier, being grounded is what being humble is all about.

See – I wasn’t just showing off.


On recessions, and why they aren’t all bad

It was recently reported that the UK is in a period of deflation. This isn’t anything to be overly concerned with yet, but in light of the various issues that might befall our economy in the wake of instability, I thought it worth revisiting the notion that recessions don’t always mean you have to abandon your ideas.  (I have not, it seems, revisited the idea that my run-on sentences get a little excessive…) While its easy to see media showcasing doom and gloom and decide you aren’t going to pursue your business venture until the economy picks up, studies by organisations like and Social Enterprise UK show that SMEs usually have the flexibility and resilience to withstand the knocks of recession better than some larger companies.

But what does that mean for you? What can you, hypothetical budding entrepreneur, do to help your business weather the storm? Of course recessions are scary, and there are those who suffer majorly because of them. But what better way to ease your worries than with – yup you guessed it – a listicle!

1. You can make use of freed spaces

A few years ago – still very much in the economic turmoils of the recession – group of artists in Chester took over a boarded up shop in their town centre and used it as a showroom.

Even though the worst seems to be behind us – or rather the media seems less concerned with it – boarded up shops are still a common sight on many high streets. But here’s a little secret for you – the councils don’t actually want to see the shops close. Anything that they can do to generate footfall in a precinct they should jump at. If you need a space to display your ideas, or you need some publicity, have a talk with whoever runs your centre. You might be able to get a ‘pop-up’ shop for relatively cheap (or even, depending on the nature of your endeavour, for free!).

In addition to doing it yourself, there are a number of organisations – such as 3Space – who repurpose old retail spaces into co-working areas for charities and small social enterprises.

2. Remember that the Economy can be seen as a closed system…

…which means that someone has to gain when people lose. Why shouldn’t that be you? Pop quiz: What do Disney, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft have in common? Answer: They were all founded during recessions. You don’t need to check the FTSE100 to know that these are three companies that don’t seem overly fazed by anything.

Sometimes when the chips are down, it’s worth remembering that even huge corporations all had to start somewhere. Recessions can bring out the best innovators and, as the cliche goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

One of the reasons for this is that during a recession prices for certain things tend to go down. This means that the money you have can go further, so take advantage of that. Now of course, being a recession, it might mean that you actually don’t have that much money. But that leads me nicely onto my final point.

3. Austerity shows you the things you really need

When I graduated from University I didn’t really have much in the way of a plan. With no grad scheme lined up I was somewhat unceremoniously ejected into the real world with nothing in the way of a career path laid out in front of me. In the grand scheme of things though, this wasn’t overly concerning. I still had a roof over my head, and I could still eat, drink, and most importantly, check Twitter. But one thing that my situation helped me to do was reassess a lot of my expenditures, which I firstly did by checking my bank account to see where my money was disappearing. I ended up saving nearly £40 a month by cancelling a number of direct debits – everything from gadget insurance that I didn’t need, to magazines I’d subscribed to as a student to “broaden my knowledge” but that really I’d rarely read. I didn’t even need to outright cancel everything; at a time where companies are desperate for customers in any way, in some instances I’ve managed to still have a lot of the same services, just a discounted rate.

Whether its on a personal level, or for your business, having a ‘spring clean’ of your finances might leave you surprised as to how much you can save

And if none of that convinces you that recessions aren’t always the end of the world, here’s a little fact for you: Did you know that over the course of the 20th Century, the Stock Market gained on average 10% every year? This, in a century with 2 World Worlds, the Great Depression, and a great deal of political unrest across the world. In other words, despite all the knocks that the economy suffers, so far it’s still done pretty well. And that can be of some comfort to budding entrepreneurs.


On the power of crowdsourcing

Sometimes it seems like there is no way that your business can take off in such an over-populated world, where we can only seem to focus on something for about 30 seconds at a time. Just as we use tools to distract us though, modern life has also provided us with the means to break into markets and resources that, 10 years ago, we could never have dreamed of. Crowdsourcing is just one of those ways.

Crowdsourcing – “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people” (Wikipedia) – is perhaps one of the most powerful tools young entrepreneurs have at there disposal. Whether you need ideas, information, market research, or even money, there are more and more tools out there to help you get a foothold in the market.

So what steps could you take to launch your idea? That’s right, get ready for another listicle…!

1. MARKET RESEARCH – is there a need for my business?

Before we move onto to the newer, shinier, more innovative ways of tapping into crowdsourcing, its worth remembering the basics. Even something as seemingly mundane as SurveyMonkey, coupled with the right attitude to its distribution, can be a powerful (and free!) market research tool.

Be aware of those short attention spans though – make sure that the questions you ask are concise and leave no room for interpretation. Also think about exactly what it is you need from the survey. Really put thought into every question, and if it won’t add value, take it out.

2. FINANCE – how do I get funding?

Crowd-funding is a growing, though still relatively new, concept. Kickstarter is perhaps the most famous example of a crowd-funding platform, particularly since its recent jump across the pond from its native US, and I’ve long been a great fan of the concept.

For those unfamiliar, its essentially a way for projects to be crowd-funded rather than backed by an individual. From the developer’s point of view, they get the money they need without the bureaucratic strings attached to a single backer. And from the consumer’s point of view, they donate a small amount of money and get an ‘untainted’ product – they give money because they trust the developer, and so they are (hopefully) happy with the result. The great thing from a consumer’s point of view is that there is no risk. If the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t reach a pre-determined target, no one pays any money.

If you get a crowd big enough, the scope is huge. There are countless extreme examples, such as the ‘Exploding Kittens’ card game which ultimately raised nearly $90k over the course of the giving, or the Pebble Time watch which hit its (not inconsiderable) $1 million in the first 49 minutes. Some of these have more of a cult following than others, and some have more marketing muscle than you might have access to. But the principle is the same – if you have a project and you can get people to believe in it, then the sky’s the limit.

3. ADVERTISING – how should I spread the word?

So you’ve done the research, you’ve got the funding, and you’re pretty much ready to go. But how do you announce your big launch to the world?

Well we’ve already been through how crowd-sourcing and social media can help with research and money. Advertising doesn’t seem too much of a stretch, surely? I was recently introduced to Thunderclap – a great way of sharing a message across social media. You set a deadline and ask people to support your cause. If enough people have supported it by that time, then everyone involved automatically posts on their Facebook and/or Twitter page at the exact same time, creating a ‘Thunderclap’ of whatever message you like.

Its a great little gimmick to get people talking – and the best part isn’t even the Thunderclap at the end. If you’re clever about the target you set – ambitious but not out of reach – then in recruiting people to join the campaign you’re also marketing at the same time. Its a win-win!

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you can get away with using the internet as your sole aide in starting a business. You will need to also do some work ‘offline’ – customer surveys face to face, talks with professional advertising companies. The degree to which you do this will depend on the type and scale of your business. But the internet, and crowdsourcing, is a pretty exciting way to get started!


On believing in your project or business

Entrepreneurship is a tricky thing, and success is a coveted reward. As a result, no matter how much you believe in your idea, there will be plenty of people who want to see you fail. That isn’t meant to sound melodramatic, it’s just that  while people enjoy a good success story, they also like to see people crash and burn. The former inspires them to feel like they can do anything, whereas the latter reminds them that its ok to be a mere mortal.

Of course, not everyone is going to be on a personal mission to sabotage your every move, but equally in life there aren’t that many handouts. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you do have to make your own luck. (And with that, I’ve just exhausted my quota of cliches)

You will (hopefully) have the support of friends and family in your venture – and you will need them to succeed, but this won’t always be enough. You may also need investment from third-parties, or advice from other professionals. The phrase “people buy from people” is a well used one in many circles. How many of you have heard of (or even witnessed) someone with a great idea, but they didn’t get investment because they weren’t a nice person – they just didn’t feel right?

Hold on a second. Why is that even a measure? They don’t ‘feel’ right, or they ‘lacked passion’, or ‘the product was good, but I didn’t believe in the person’. These things should have no bearing on whether or not your product should appeal to investors. What matters is the hundred of hours of market research you’ve done, the countless prototypes you’ve made, the minute attention to detail you’ve put into your product. These are things that determine success, surely? Who cares what you’re like as a person, or how much passion you have?

Well, it turns out pretty much everybody – including those investors. When you think about it, it’s not that hard to understand why. A lot of investors don’t just put their money into your idea, they also put in their time. If you’ve ever seen Dragons Den, you’ll know that the Dragons put a lot of stock in the characteristics of the individual, and on more than one occasion they have put offers on not only the product in the room, but for a number of – at the time hypothetical – subsequent products. They do this not just because they have faith in the showcased item, but because they believe that the individual trying to sell it will be a good business partner.

Sticking with Dragons Den for a moment, you may have heard of Reggae Reggae Sauce, a caribbean inspired condiment that received an investment from the programme. If you haven’t seen the pitch, I urge you to check it out. In short, what Levi Roots did was deliver his pitch as a song, with a guitar accompanyment, that he’d written. It was obvious from the get-go that he loved his product, and his confident and assured approach to selling it told us that he believed in himself. He got the funding, and the rest, as they say, is history (oh look, I had one more cliche left in me afterall).

So you’re a likable and trustworthy person, and you are passionate about what you are doing. Great! You’re well on your way to becoming fantastically wealthy. Success, though, still isn’t guaranteed. We all know famous examples of people who, at the start of their careers, couldn’t seem to catch a break. From The Beatles to JK Rowling, history will always be littered with examples that, in retrospect, have made fools of the first people they went to. This wasn’t because what they were trying to sell was bad, but because it was believed that ‘guitar groups are on the way out’, or ‘people won’t want to read books about wizards’.

It’s in this scenarios where believing in yourself couldn’t be more important. You’ve done your homework, you’ve created something that you love, and you’re damn good at what you do. Make sure you remember that, even while other people apparently fail to see it. People will reject your idea, and it will sometimes be an incredibly demoralising ordeal, but by believing in yourself, in your product, and in your team you’ll be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and try again until you succeed.

To take a slightly different angle from this, you might want to check out this TED talk by Simon Sinek about why people buy products. The angle is different, but the message is the same – you need to believe in yourself and know why you are taking on this challenge. Whether it’s a project, a campaign, a business, or something else entirely, you need to first be able to sell the why. And for that you need to believe.

And if you need more convincing to stay the course, just think what would have happened to the music world if the Beatles had listened to the people that rejected them.