Entrepreneurs share what they've learnt in 2016

This year has been a challenging year for business owners, wrong footed by the surprise Brexit vote, facing great uncertainty, and in many cases, forced to rethink their plans and their growth strategies. But it has also provided them with some key takeaways that can only make their businesses stronger and better positioned to give something back in 2017.

This year Sarah McVitte, co-founder of fashion tech start-up Dressipi was one of 14 female entrepreneurs chosen to represent British female entrepreneurs on trade missions to Silicon Valley and New York with Go To Grow London.

She says: "One of the biggest things I learned in 2016 was the importance of finding your tribe. During the Female Founders trip to Silicon Valley, travelling with 13 impressive women all running technology scale-ups, our British cynicism quickly gave way to all of us thinking bigger in all aspects for our businesses. The camaraderie built between us whilst on this trip was extraordinary.

“There was a lot of talk about ‘finding your tribe’, a new concept for us, but we do now have, and call ourselves, a tribe. It's more than just a network; these are people you trust and genuinely have your back. We have a WhatsApp group and use it daily, helping each other hire people as well as avoid costly fundraising mistakes.”

Another takeaway from the Silicon Valley trip was the importance of paying it forward. McVitte adds: “I look to make a more conscious effort to do so regularly in 2017, making meaningful intros to other female entrepreneurs."

While the uncertain economic outlook will curb growth for many businesses, some have forged ahead with their expansion plans, and used the learning curves that come with fast growth to work out what to give back.

Red’s True Barbecue is an American-style smokehouse restaurant chain founded by entrepreneurs James Douglas and Scott Munro in 2012. The business has already experienced strong growth and their vision is to expand their current eight sites to between 15 and 20 very quickly.

“One of the big takeaways for us this year has been that growth can come at the expense of the culture that your business was founded on,” says Douglas. “We are growing quickly so our focus is on ensuring that our people really understand and engage with our start-up culture, and love it so much that they want to stay with it. So we are putting something back by investing in programmes and initiatives, such as our new Pitmaster Academy, that will engage our people, and create our own talent pool that grows with the company and continues to be the heartbeat of the business.”

Read more: The psychology of giving back

Some businesses have been created as a result of their owners wanting to give back. Cheryl Latham recently launched her own energy company with the goal of helping to tackle the global energy crisis. Brighter World Energy not only aims to stop loyal Brits from paying too much for their energy, but has also committed to installing solar power grids in remote Africa for every 2000 customers that switch.

She says: “My biggest learning is, no matter how much effort or energy you imagine you have to give to reach your goals, multiply it by 10, and you’ll immediately be closer to a more realistic plan. Brighter World is built on the core ethos of giving back, and next year we will continue on our mission to help UK energy customers give back without giving a penny more. We'll keep our prices as low as we can and our service world class, and we’ll give a life-changing source of sustainable energy to communities in Africa.

“And I personally, want to give back to make sure Brighter World is always a great place to work, because I can't do this without my amazing team, who never fail to surprise me with their energy and tenacity that drives us towards our goals.”

New businesses arguably have faced a steeper learning curve than most in 2016, but this hasn’t deterred their owners from wanting to give something back next year.

Trunkaroo, which delivers art and STEM-inspired (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) hands-on projects for three to eight year olds, was launched in April this year. Founder and CEO Sahar Meghani says: “At the end of the day there is no blueprint or a right way to run a business, so for me, constantly asking customers for feedback, improving our products and offering, and ultimately trusting my gut have been my biggest takeaways.

“Next year our mission will be to make STEM learning accessible to children everywhere, and we hope to work more with schools and teachers to empower them to inspire a curiosity and love for learning in their students through out content and products.”

Pushing a business forward while on maternity leave made 2016 something of a reality check for Nadine Sandcroft, founder of Just Entrepreneurs a platform for start-ups and small business owners. 

She says: “As a mum of three, I juggled a lot and very quickly realised that the biggest obstacle for me is time, which is also my greatest asset. In business, no matter how far you've gotten, the number one thing you have at your disposal is time. This year I’ve also taken away just how powerful it is to give value to my audience by creating content they will find useful for free. In 2017 I hope to give back more of my time and even more value, and I plan on teaming with other brands with the same belief, to create and provide quality that our audience will love.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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