This week’s small business superstar is Dwain Reid, a start-up business coach who runs an entrepreneur programme at Kingston University. We got to grips with late payments; discussed why his students are looking up to the Kardashian family and discovered why even the most experienced business owner needs a mentor.
Tell me more about your involvement with small businesses and how you’re helping aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’ve been supporting small businesses for over ten years now. My support is mainly delivered through workshops and one-to-one mentoring/coaching. I also lead on student and graduate entrepreneurship programmes at Kingston University, the number one university in the UK for graduate start-ups in four of the last five years.
At Kingston I try to support and develop the enterprise skills of our students. Our programmes encourage our aspiring entrepreneurs to try things out, develop ideas and to learn from experienced business owners and professionals.
What sort of things do you teach your students?
The main thing we instil into our students is to take action and to learn from their failures. My sessions are very wide-ranging and involve developing business models, using social media effectively and how to protect intellectual property.
But sitting in a room learning about these things doesn’t grow your business – taking action does.
Do many of your students harbour ambitions to become the next Richard Branson?
I don’t think Richard Branson has the same appeal as he did say five or so years ago.
Nowadays students are more exposed to TV entrepreneurs like Lord Alan Sugar or the Dragons from Dragons Den. Even ‘brands’ like the Kardashian family or fast growing tech companies have more appeal nowadays than Branson, but ultimately my students just want to be successful in the field.
What inspired you to become a motivational speaker to SME owners?
I like the sound of my own voice!
No seriously, I noticed that many speakers say the same things, ‘‘Write a business plan’’, ‘‘Work Really Hard and you will be successful,’’ but hardly any speakers give exact tips on what you can do if you’re starting up. The feedback from my first workshop was extremely positive so I guess it just grew from there.
Thousands of SMEs are currently being affected by late payments, with large companies failing to pay their small suppliers on time. In your opinion, what do you think should be done to combat this issue?
Late payments are a massive issue for SMEs and it’s great that there is some focus on it from government.
I think we’re going in the right direction by naming and shaming companies that “refuse” to pay within 30 days. Perhaps making it easier for SMEs to enforce late payment fees could help the issue further but it’s difficult because sometimes the problem occurs with their biggest customers.
My knowledge of the issue is that a lot of the time its systems and processes that are stopping these payments from being made, so the larger companies need to look at how they pay their suppliers and simplify that process.
You’ve mentored thousands of entrepreneurs – who was your favourite person to coach?
I’ve got to say I don’t have favourites! Anyone that is able to start a business that can sustain their lifestyle is a favourite of mine.
One person that comes to mind is a nursing student who after winning an ideas competition has gone on to appear on Dragons Den and now sells her product internationally.
Another entrepreneur I mentored managed to raise £250,000 investment in a property company which was solely based on a simple idea and a lot of research. Any entrepreneur that is willing to listen and take constructive criticism is great to mentor.
And who was your least favourite and why?
Any entrepreneur that struggles to make sales and comes to you for advice but doesn’t do anything you suggest is always a challenge.
There are many people that are stubborn to their own way of doing things and sometimes this inflexibility can be the biggest problem. I can quickly spot an entrepreneur that is stuck in their own way of doing things or afraid to take the necessary actions to get themselves out of a rut.
When you’re not mentoring business owners, you’re running your own childcare service in London. What advice do you have for SME owners who are struggling to find the best care for their children?
Finding the best care for your child is a challenge for any parent, but it can be much harder for those who are trying to run a business.
We need more services that offer the combination of flexible office space and childcare. The solution at the moment for small business owners is being well prepared and creating a support network around you, including resources like MumsNet and Mumspreneur.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for small business owners today?
I think the biggest challenge for small business owners has always been the same – working out how to prioritise.
I see a lot of business owners getting wrapped up in the vanity stuff like having a great looking website, having the best business cards and looking the part – with less attention paid to the critical stuff like making sales. It’s good for your business to look good but it’s better for it to be making sales.
How do you relax when you’re not at work?
Play hard, work harder! It’s important that you find time to relax when running a business. I spend time with friends and family which gives me a break from thinking about the business. I’ve noticed that when I take some time out, I always come back with fresh ideas, so I advise every entrepreneur to take a break every now and again.
If you could choose anyone to be your mentor, who would it be and why?
I would love to have taken advice from Steve Jobs, just to learn what it was like to grow a brand like Apple.
The way Apple customers are happy to queue for hours for the latest iPhone, the high margins its products are able to make and how the company have continued to innovate is a huge inspiration to me.
Throughout your time as a business owner you will need advice and support from different people, so for start-ups it’s important that they build their network from as early as possible and not be afraid to ask and get the support they need.