Small business owners and entrepreneurs, check out Richard Branson's new book. If you're anything like me, you'll find a new level of inspiration at the lifestyle and think-like-an-entrepreneur ideas inside Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School.
Talk about a self-made man. From 16-year-old school dropout to billionaire CEO of a global empire, he's been living it up all the way without sacrificing a bigger mission of bringing good to the world.
Beginning with a record-delivery service in 1970, the Virgin Group mega-empire is now made up of more than 400 companies, including Virgin Records (signing bands like the Sex Pistols, Culture Club and the Rolling Stones), Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Virgin Trains, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Comics, Virgin Active health clubs and even Virgin Money banks.
The most forward-thinking ventures include Virgin Galactic, where a $20,000 deposit will reserve your seat in the first suborbital passenger flights into space, and Virgin Oceanic, dedicated to discovering the unknown depths of our seas.
You may also know his adventurous lifestyle and world record-breaking attempts. He mostly lives his private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands (a vacation there at his resort just got added to my bucket list). He's in great shape; at 62, his mornings include a swim around the island and afternoons might include a kite surfing break.
Branson is the ideal small business advisor: a self-made billionaire who has built hundreds of companies around the world that are loved by employees and customers, and who also has an incredible life of adventures.
As a role model, he's hard to beat. Here are just a few of the lessons I found in his book.
- Stay positive. One thing that makes Branson crazy is negative people who only look for the worst in others. He consistently focuses on acknowledging the positive, in situations and people. "I can't stand gossips!" he said.
- Be a leader, not a boss. When your businesses scale as quickly as Branson's, you learn how to delegate and let people perform. He wants the input of everyone involved, and is never dictatorial.
- Be on the front line. A leader has to know exactly what's going on at every level of the company, and the only way to do that is to talk to people. Branson learns more because he walks around and listens to his people, and asks them for their honesty. He'll go out of his way to personally acknowledge great employees, and he's also a fan of company social time, so people get to know each other in a more personal way.
- Put people before profits. People are the most important aspect of any company, and finding and keeping great employees means treating them well. Customers are people, too, and most Virgin companies began with the mission of creating a better experience for customers at a better cost. Financial success is a byproduct of customers who feel taken care of, and employees who feel appreciated.
- Empower your people. He shared many stories of how common sense and consideration for customers should always trump follow-the-rule-book decisions. In a competitive market, extraordinary customer service is the advantage, and that means letting your people do whatever they need to do.
- Raise the bar for customer service. When tiny Virgin Atlantic Airways wanted to compete with the dominant British Airways, they did it by offering door-to-door limo service to Business Class customers. You may not be able to compete in every way with the big companies, but you can always out-service them.
- Don't worry about being the biggest. Branson says none of the Virgin companies have been the biggest player in their space, and companies are split apart when they grow too large. Smaller companies are more nimble and better able to find a unique position in the market.
- You don't need an office and a tie to be successful. Richard Branson hates ties and doesn't keep an ivory tower office. His home is set up to accommodate his work needs, and he prefers to do his work in a hammock whenever possible (I'm with him on that one).
- Nice guys can finish first. Branson cautions against thinking he's either too nice or ruthless, and sums it up with, "I for one would far rather be a nice guy working with great people having fun with a small successful business than a miserable guy heading up a hugely profitable multinational mega-corp." Amen.
So all you small business owners looking for entrepreneur ideas and guidance, you couldn't do better than following—at least a little bit—in Richard Bransons' footsteps. Hammock office, here I come.