From the top · 28 August 2015

Former Dragons’ Den investor Kelly Hoppen: “You to have that belief – that’s hard to teach”

Hoppen has frequently been referred to as the "Queen of Taupe" referencing her interior design empire
Hoppen has frequently been referred to as the “Queen of Taupe” referencing her interior design empire

Interior design magnate and former Dragon Kelly Hoppen spoke to Business Advice about the repeat mistakes she sees businesses make,  and the importance of establishing a reliable support network.

Having started her career at the age of 16 designing a family friend’s kitchen, Kelly Hoppen went onto establish an interior design empire, also writing eight books and creating an ecommerce store.

Hoppen’s visibility as one of the UK’s most recognisable businesswomen then saw her join the BBC’s Dragons’ Den as an investor in 2013 for three series. She has recently leant her business brains to Britain’s Top Real Model, joining the initiative as an ambassador. The competition looks for a promising entrepreneur to receive a £5,000 cash injection for their business.

While becoming a business owner can be incredibly exciting with no two days the same, Hoppen warned that too many excellent ideas – “the life-blood of any business” – can be compromised when other people don’t necessarily share the same vision and belief. Her top tip for overcoming such a scenario is simply being tenacious. She feels that having tenacity “is the difference between having a great idea and making it happen”.

It’s not about blinkering out constructive criticism, but rather shutting out negativity. “When other people don’t support you, you have to find the determination, persistence and sheer obstinacy to hand on in there”.

For micro businesses, family, friends and any other contacts are paramount to success – particularly keeping all cogs turning during those early stages. If you don’t have that foundation in place, Hoppen still feels there are other options out there. “Networking groups are one route,” she told Business Advice. “It’s a great way to get advice and learn from others.”

Similarly, looking for a mentor can be another way to get support. Hoppen said old-fashioned word of mouth and recommendations from those you trust are tried and tested routes to finding a reliable mentor. These are the types of people you should be able to ask the “specific questions you really can’t find answers to on social media”, and they’ll be able to “stretch your thinking so that you look at your business and projects from different angles”.

You can also look more remotely for role models – those you don’t have to have a personal connection to but perhaps identify a kinship in how they operate. Hoppen for example, “hugely admired” Ralph Lauren, “both for his style and business acumen”. Then a mentor alongside this can provide insight into where you might adjust your own management style to better reflect how you’d like to be perceived.

One of Hoppen's more memorable investments on Dragons' Den was Skinny Tan
One of Hoppen’s more memorable investments on Dragons’ Den was Skinny Tan

Do you think potential clients or partners see you as confident, knowledgable and reliable? If you’re unsure and you see such qualities in your mentor, think about what they demonstrate that makes you feel this way about them and take inspiration for your own approach.

Much of Hoppen’s fundamental advice centres around establishing support that will be reliable to you as a business owner when you need to share out responsibilities, but also surrounding yourself with those who you will be able to learn from, or may have skills you lack. “I’m a firm believer in continually evolving and learning from people in your business community and your own team,” she explained.

You may be the business founder and head of the firm, but Hoppen feels part of this ongoing commitment to “grow and evolve is recognising one’s own weaknesses and blind spots”.

It can be easy in the midst of working on all areas of the business to neglect your own development. Hoppen believes this is a mistake and anything you can do to progress yourself, whether it be signing up to courses, free networking events or listening to industry podcasts, should be undertaken as a matter of priority. “Inspiration is out there – you just have to learn how to listen to it,” she said.

This also extends to your own wellbeing. Too many times we see entrepreneurs running on empty and not spotting it, and Hoppen thinks this needs to change. “It’s critical to know your own behaviour and manage it.”

Having spent several series as an investor on Dragons’ Den, has Hoppen noticed frequent mistakes firms keep making? There are, it seems, a couple of crucial missteps that just keep occurring.

“Lack of research into the market place and not listening to experts’ advice,” she listed. “We saw this often on Dragons’ Den – people would be investing their life savings into an idea that would never work.”

Getting ahead of yourself as a small business is also a mistake she has seen one too many times. “Another pitfall is trying to run before you can walk. It is important to scale the business when you know you can handle the demand,” Hoppen said.

As someone who hasn’t just created a successful business, but established the longevity many entrepreneurs dream of, what does Hoppen feel is key to staying on top?

“Remaining true to your core values at all times and constantly think of the next big idea. A successful business never stays still and you cannot afford to either,” she said. While there are a variety of ways to develop yourself as a business owner, and set up better prospects for your firm, Hoppen does though think being entrepreneurial in itself is something innate.

“Some people have that ‘thing’ – an X-factor that makes them tenacious. You have to have that hunger and belief and that’s hard to teach someone.”

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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