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Sunday 20 January 2019

10 secrets to business success: Inspiring stories share one common theme - courage

Sean Gallagher identifies the 10 secrets to success that unite all successful entrepreneurs and help them turn their dreams into a reality

Colette Twomey
Colette Twomey
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Entrepreneurs play an increasingly important role in our society. Whether providing local services or tackling global challenges, they create jobs, drive economic growth and are the glue that holds our communities together. While Ireland benefits greatly from the 1,200 foreign direct investment companies which have chosen to locate here, I believe that it is our indigenous entrepreneurs who hold the key to Ireland's long-term economic stability.

With growing concerns about the lack of available and affordable housing in our cities, potential threats from changes to international corporate tax regimes and the need for balanced regional development, it is now more important than ever that we support our SMEs because it is they who will create jobs in areas where multinationals never can.

It was this that motivated me to write Secrets to Success - Inspiring Stories from Leading Entrepreneurs.

Based on articles I have written for the Sunday Independent over the past five-and-a-half years, this book includes the stories of 46 of Ireland's most inspiring businesses, among them Avoca, One4All, Clonakilty Black Pudding, Done Deal, Celtic Pure, Netwatch, Harvey's Point, Kelly's Resort, The Barry Group, J J O'Toole, Realex Payments, Tayto Park and Tour America.

There are others too whose names are less well known but whose stories are equally inspiring. Representing a variety of sectors and located in different parts of the country, their stories are as diverse and as interesting as the businesses they lead.

Honest and insightful, each story is packed full of great advice and real-life insights, shared by the entrepreneurs themselves, about their experiences from startup to success.

Bill Kelly. Picture: Patrick Browne
Bill Kelly. Picture: Patrick Browne

So what are the secrets of their success and what can we learn from them that can help us achieve success in our own businesses?

1. No one ever starts a big business - But you do have to start

From profiling entrepreneurs in my weekly column, writing this book, and many years spent running, investing in, or mentoring businesses, the one over-riding truth I've learned is that no one ever starts a big business. Everyone from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to the entrepreneurs in this book all started out as small businesses and grew from there. While you don't have to be great to start a business, you do have to start if you want to be great. As with everything in life, all success comes from having the courage to simply begin.

2. Passion and hard work

Mary McKenna. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Mary McKenna. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File

There are few short cuts in business and making a quick buck seldom equates to the success of running a sustainable business. The only place where reward is guaranteed to come before work is in the dictionary. If you want to succeed, you have to be willing to invest, not just your money but your time and energy - and lots of both. And you have to be willing to work hard over the long term. The only way to sustain such a level of effort is if you love what you do.

3. Optimism

Those who succeed in business tend to be natural optimists. They expect things to work out. They focus on solutions and look for the positives in every situation. Setbacks are opportunities to learn and obstacles something to be overcome - not a reason to give up. They are too busy creating the future to worry about it.

4. Intelligence versus Psychology

In my experience, success has less to do with intelligence and more to do with psychology. While many entrepreneurs have similar skills it is often their mindset, their level of ambition and their determination to succeed, that wins out in the end. Just as skills can be learned, the right mindset can also be developed. Having inspiring role models to emulate helps that development.

5. Visionaries and Strategists

Most successful entrepreneurs have a compelling vision and a sense of clarity about what they want to achieve. Their vision usually involves creating something bigger and more enduring than themselves. It is this sense of purpose, combined with a big-picture strategy, that inspires loyalty from those who work for them or choose to do business with them.

6. Attitude to risk and failure

"A SHIP in the harbour is safe, but that is not where ships were built for." Those who achieve success have a positive attitude to risk and failure and see both as a natural part of the process of growing a business. They realise too that the degree to which they will succeed will largely depend on the degree to which they are willing to fail. In their eyes there are no failures - only valuable feedback.

7. The ability to handle Change

Successful people have not only developed an ability to handle change, they wish to position themselves as the drivers of that change. They understand the need to constantly innovate or they risk the prospect of being left behind in a dynamic and constantly evolving market. And they know full well that while this may lead to mistakes, their greatest mistake would be to stand still or to shy away from such innovation.

8. Strong Leadership

SAVVY entrepreneurs adopt a strategic leadership role. They learn to work more on their business than in their business. They realise that management is different to leadership - management is about doing things right, whereas leadership is about doing the right things. They invest in their own development, study leadership techniques and bolster this with a mix of advisers, mentors and non-executive directors.

9. Success is a team effort

Successful entrepreneurs know full well that no one ever grew or scaled a business on their own. To be successful, you have to build a team around you who have strengths and skills in areas that you do not. Developing the right culture too is key to ensuring that the activities of each team member is fully aligned to the company's overall vision and objectives. In this way staff will feel more engaged, enjoy coming to work more and as a result, will perform better. When they perform better, so too does your company.

10. Perseverance

As American author William Feather once remarked: "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." Successful business leaders have as many fears as everyone else. However, they are tenacious and often uncompromising. They possess an unwavering determination to see things through. Even in the face of obstacles that to others may seem almost insurmountable, they find the inner strength and conviction to push ahead relentlessly. It is often this resilience and determination that leads them to ultimate success.

While there are many lessons we can learn from others, becoming an entrepreneur is and will always be a giant leap of faith. In the final analysis, the decision - to step away from the security of paid employment, to invest yourself and your finances in a dream - cannot be fully rationalised. When you have done all your research, when you have examined the market and completed your projections and forecasts, in the end, what pushes you to take the final step isn't a rational decision. It is courage.

If there is one thing the stories in this book teach us, it is that irrespective of where we come from, our age, gender or educational background, we all have within us the ability to achieve whatever we set our minds to. But only if we are willing to put in the effort, take the risks and drive forward with unwavering determination.

Sean Gallagher is a champion of SMEs, a former investor on Dragon's Den, a columnist with the Sunday Independent, founder and CEO of Clyde Real Estate and president of US-based pharma company, Nutriband. 'Secrets to Success - Inspiring Stories from Leading Entrepreneurs' is published by Mercier Press, retails at €14.99 and is now available at all good book stores and online at and

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