From the top · 24 February 2017

Lessons in business from Richard Branson you can’t ignore

Richard Branson
Richard Branson has built a reputation as one of the UK’s most iconic entrepreneurs

Richard Branson is arguably the UK’s most ubiquitous entrepreneur. He is a main-stay in world rich lists, and with a stake in around 250 different companies his Virgin brand has become one of the most recognisable in the world.

However, not all of Branson’s enterprises have been successful. After an initial buzz in the late 1990s, Virgin Cola failed to rival Coca-Cola – eventually folding in 2012. Then there’s Virgin Vodka, which very few will remember.

Business Advice took a look at Branson’s career to draw out the entrepreneurial lessons that should inspire every ambitious owner.

Be ready to adapt

Before founding Virgin Megastores in 1972, Richard Branson spent his youth applying himself to several entrepreneurial ventures. He set up the Student magazine when he was 16 years-old.

“When I started the magazine, I tried my hand at every part of the business. You name it, I did it – writing, editing, advertising, marketing, accounting,” Branson wrote in a blog post.

When starting a business, it is inevitable you will have to step outside of your comfort zone to make decisions. Take on unfamiliar tasks with willingness and enthusiasm, and expect to get stuck in.

Branding is everything

In his Like a Virgin book, Richard Branson told the story of how he came to name his record store. He was brainstorming with a group of teenagers when one title stood out.

“A bunch of ideas were bounced around, then, as we were all new to business, someone suggested Virgin. It smacked of new and fresh and at the time the word was still slightly risqué, so, thinking it would be an attention-grabber, we went with it.”

Branson at a launch of a new fleet of Virgin Trains

If you are starting out, take his entrepreneurial advice – put the brand at the centre of the business. Make sure that the name represents your outlook as an entrepreneur.

Risks can make or a break a business

Throughout his career, Richard Branson has displayed no aversion to risk taking. In 1993, he capitalised on the privatisation of Britain’s railways by founding Virgin Trains, which many considered a failure in waiting. Virgin Trains currently employs 3,400 staff members.

“Taking risks is meant to feel scary, but overcoming this fear is your only ticket to experiencing new and exciting things. We should all learn to embrace risk rather than fear it. It is one of our greatest learning tools,” he has previously said.

As well as being a valuable life skill, the willingness to take risks is crucial for any entrepreneur.

However, equally important is knowing when to cut losses and fold. His Virgin Clothing brand was the shortest-lived of his ventures, winding up after just two years of trading in 2000.

Perfection does not exist

Richard Branson has written of the “inherent danger” in letting people think that they have achieved perfection.

Whether this is applied to employees within a small business, or as a personal mantra, the idea that everything can be improved is a valuable one that has driven the trailblazer to move from one venture to the next. Learn from each experience, pick out the shortcomings and apply every lesson to the next task.

Have a look at page two and discover how Richard Branson got nationwide coverage for a new launch without having to spend thousands of pounds.

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.