Lucy-Rose Walker, the chief entrepreneuring officer at Entrepreneurial Spark, the world’s largest free business incubator service, explains why entrepreneurs need to use the ‘H’ word.
Since when did asking for help become a taboo subject? My role involves championing the work of entrepreneurs across the UK every day and one thing I’ve noticed is that a big barrier to business progression can be a reluctance to ask for help. Earlier this week, I was asked if, now that I’m chief entrepreneuring officer of a successful business, I have all the answers. Of course I don’t – how could I? Anyone who thinks they know all the answers hasn’t been asked the right questions, and isn’t surrounding themselves with people who challenge their personal and business growth.
So, do I feel under pressure to know everything? In a word, no. Part of growing and running a business is exploring new things; expanding into new markets, discovering different elements of the entrepreneurial journey and reacting to customer wants and needs.
If you’re not willing to seek assistance, or gain insight from someone with experience of your problem, then you’ll struggle. I’ve seen many of our entrepreneurs battle with a problem for up to 72 hours or longer before caving in and admitting they need a hand, whereas if they’d just asked in the first instance it could have been solved much more quickly.
Regardless of where you sit within an organisation you shouldn’t be scared to ask for help. No one gets to the top without a hand to help them along the way, and I know from experience that I’d rather my team ask a question and get on with the task at hand than spend significant time pondering what to do.
It’s counterproductive to isolate yourself and stick with the mentality of “I can do it on my own, I don’t need anyone”, because as much as you might be able to do most of it yourself, no single person has every skill needed in business.
I know I don’t – that’s why I’ve looked at my strengths and weaknesses and built a team around me that fills these gaps, and does so in a way that enhances the organisation. Part of being an entrepreneur or business leader is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can’t disrupt the marketplace and make an impact if you keep it safe.
And you’ll never build your skillset by doing the same thing day in and day out; you need to get out of your comfort zone and face the unknown territories ahead. Don’t be scared of what’s out there, break down the barriers and find out for yourself.
The one thing all entrepreneurs need to remember is that they aren’t the only ones facing this journey. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the fear of going it alone and channelling your vision and ideas into a start-up that may or may not succeed. But so many other people are doing the exact same thing and travelling the same rollercoaster ride.
This is why the community we have built at Entrepreneurial Spark is so important. In each of our hatcheries – or incubation centres – there are up to 80 entrepreneurs working in the same space. While they’re focused on their individual business, they’re also there to speak to each other and find out how they could help one another. I’ve seen so many instances of one person struggling with something, for example navigating the export journey, but then speaking to another entrepreneur and realising they have travelled that path and can provide them with the skills, contacts and confidence they need to take the next step.
At Entrepreneurial Spark, we’re breeding a culture of entrepreneurs devoted to helping each other and giving back, and that’s what is going to help them build a successful business. Powered by Royal Bank of Scotland and with our partners KPMG, Dell EMC, and Harper Macleod, we build on this community by providing a wealth of expert knowledge and support to our entrepreneurs free of charge.
Now, we need to build this on a greater scale and develop a wider community of entrepreneurs across the country who can offer first hand advice, support and experience to each other. Not only is it invaluable to have this help, but it will also make many entrepreneurs realise they’re not alone and that there is a support network out there ready for them to tap into. Mentors are also a great source of support for early stage businesses, offering expertise and advice across a variety of fields. I have three mentors who help me with different elements of my journey, so know only too well the value they bring.
So, if you’re scared of taking that step and, gasp, asking someone for help, how do you change this? Well, the first step is recognising this is an inevitable part of business, without which you’ll likely not grow as quickly or as successfully. Then, you need to consider the reasons why. Are you stubborn and determined you can make it alone? Or is it that you’re too nervous of looking unprepared, or you don’t know your business? Figure out the ‘why’ and then you can tackle the ‘how’.
When you know why, that is the time to make a change; develop your mindset and embrace the constantly curious behaviours of an entrepreneurial leader. Build your confidence by networking and speaking to people you don’t know. Begin to ask your contacts for advice and support, with the aim of taking this one step further and having the ability to ask those further up the chain for a helping hand.
Many of the entrepreneurs I speak to on a daily basis say they’re surprised by how willing people are to offer their help and gratified by the number of those who are happy to provide it free of charge.
I truly believe that the best way to build a business is by building yourself and your team, and so much of this is developing your skills, mindset and behaviours.
As a nation, we like to help and see our advice being heeded – so what’s stopping you?
Take a risk and use the ‘H’ word. You never know what you could achieve with that little bit of help.