It was lovely to receive a letter from my old school, Stowe. Now, you may know that I left Stowe in fairly unconventional fashion to pursue my business ambitions, but I learned a lot there and know it is an organisation led by smart people who (today) encourage entrepreneurial instincts.
With that in mind, I am delighted to share some top tips for school leavers who might be thinking about pursuing entrepreneurship as a career path. The world of work is changing rapidly, but the essence of entrepreneurship is the same as when I started out more than five decades ago. Is there a problem that you can fix to make people’s lives better? If the answer is yes, then you already have a good shot at success and I urge you to give it a go. Here is some advice that would have helped me as a young entrepreneur.
1 Do what you love and love what you do
It was nearly impossible for me to keep up in school due to my dyslexia; I struggled with subjects like maths and science, but I was passionate about topics like pop culture, music and current affairs (especially the Biafran and Vietnam Wars). So I started Student magazine, which focused on the subject areas I liked the most. My passion for what I was doing sometimes kept me working all night and certainly helped me to focus during the day. It also helped me to stay positive during stressful times, and tackle challenges head on.
2 Don’t be shy to ask for help
No one is good at everything. When I started Student, I tried my hand at every part of the business. You name it, I did it: writing, editing, advertising, marketing, accounting. I soon realised that I just wasn’t suited for some particular roles – namely those that involved working with numbers. So, I reached out to people who possessed the skills I lacked and asked them for help, and then I quickly learned to hand over responsibilities to those who did them better than me. So, ask yourself: which areas of the business interest you the most? Sales? Design? Marketing? Distribution? And if you’re not in the position to hire people, get out to local networking events and seek out a mentor, or other entrepreneurs who have advice to share. Talking to people is not only a great way to help you overcome challenges, it can also help you refocus.
3 Take a notebook with you wherever you go
I firmly believe that anyone who aspires to lead a company must develop a habit of taking notes. I carry a notebook everywhere, and am an avid note-taker and list-maker. This helps me to focus on what I need to get done and encourages me to be productive – and discourages me from procrastinating! Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments; if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.
I doubt I need to encourage young people to travel – everyone seems to be going everywhere these days – but it’s one of the best ways to learn about the world, discover what you love and the things you want to change. I didn’t get where I am today by sitting at a desk. I’ve never had an office, and always lived on the move. It’s a wonderful way to meet people, have fun and discover new ideas. Get out there and see what you can find.
5 Most importantly… Don’t ever let other people use your age as an excuse not to take you seriously
Young entrepreneurs look at the world with fresh eyes and such lively determination. Some of the modern world’s greatest ideas and innovations came from people in their 20s or younger. You could be next.
Sir Richard Branson (Cobham/Lyttelton 68)