Thomas Cooney: You don't have to be a lone hero
"It is difficult to clap with one hand (gu zhang nan ming)" is an old Chinese saying which is very appropriate to the idea of starting a business. One of the great myths of entrepreneurship is the idea of the entrepreneur as a lone hero, battling against the storms of economic recession and government bureaucracy before achieving success. This idea of a typical entrepreneur comes from the United States, where people such as Donald Trump and Bill Gates are used to show that the American rags-to-riches dream is possible.
I need to share with you an important business lesson that will greatly help you in starting or running a business – nobody can do it alone! There are seven major functions in a business (management, finance, marketing, operations, law, information technology, and human relations) and it is not possible for any one person to be an expert in all of these areas of activity. No business person that has ever existed has been an expert in all of these functions (although many people might have thought that they were) and therefore you should never try to do it alone.
You have three choices in building a team around you. The first of these is to start the business on your own but to recognise the areas where you are weak and get help with these functions. For example, if you are poor at finance, then hire a good accountant or bookkeeper; if you are bad at operations or marketing, get a business mentor. Many local Enterprise Offices have very good mentoring schemes through which you can get help at a very reasonable cost.
A second option is to start your business in partnership with another person. There is an increasing amount of research that shows that businesses that are started by teams are more likely to achieve fast growth than firms started by just one person. This would make obvious sense as you are sharing information, knowledge, expertise, funding, and work hours. You also have someone with whom you can share the joy and pain of having your own business.
The final option is to start a co-operative. This type of business is not as popular in Ireland as it is on continental Europe but it remains a very good business option for people who do not want to start alone. There are four main types of co-operatives: (1) Worker co-op – owned and managed by its workers; (2) Consumer co-op – owned and controlled by consumer-shareholder members; (3) Housing co-op – owned by and for the benefit of a community; and (4) Secondary co-op – owned and controlled by the users of its services (these are often small businesses or co-ops). There is a very good organisation called The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) which specialises in helping people to help start their own co-operative business. Many people feel that they would like to start their own business but they do not want to do it alone. Well, can I assure you that thousands of people feel exactly the same as you, while research shows that you are more likely to be successful if you start as part of a team. If you do not know anyone that is currently interested in setting-up an enterprise, then go on a 'start your own business' course where you will meet other people who are interested in starting a business. Trust me, there are lots of opportunities out there for you to meet someone who wants to share the risk and reward of starting a business. You don't have to do it on your own.
Thomas Cooney is Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Dublin Institute of Technology and Chair of the ICSB World Entrepreneurship Conference which will take place in Dublin from June 11-14. More details on the conference can be found at www.icsb2014.org.
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