From the top 22 February 2016

The best and worst business advice I’ve had as an entrepreneur

For Owen O'Neill, it has been about determining which advice is worth acting on
For Owen O’Neill, it has been about determining which advice is worth acting on

Owen O’Neill, founder of University Compare, looks back on the last four years to draw out the business advice he believes is worth noting, and ignoring, to make a business decision a positive one.

I feel like I have learnt a lot in my few short years of entrepreneurship – building University Compare up to become one of the UK’s leading socially lead university comparison site started off with a few false starts.

Being a successful entrepreneur frequently involves a series of mistakes before finally nailing the right idea and business. No entrepreneur has ever hit it big with their first idea, but it’s the mistakes that they learn from that will help pave the way for your next bright idea.

Over the years, I’ve read many books, thousands of articles and a lot of funds on learning what I shouldn’t be doing. After listening to my investors, speaking to FTSE 500 CEO’s and experts and having experiencing the ups with the downs, only now do I know how to correctly make a business decision a positive one.

After my first round of investment back in late 2012, the first meeting I had with my new board of directors was a marketing meeting on how to establish the brand, universitycompare.com, what do we represent, what do we want to achieve and what service do we wish to provide? Out of this meeting came business goals, sales aspiration and a brand identity, so my business advice to new aspiring entrepreneurs is ensure that you have clear goals and a clear vision. So many entrepreneurs, with or without cash, get distracted by doing the tasks that they like to do, rather than the tasks that they should be doing. Stay focused.

Once University Compare was up and running for a year, our reputation began to settle and we now had a viable business with a reputable brand. Once established, it was time to scale. In early 2014, after my second major round of investment, I had to ensure that the funds that I had received were spent effectively.

The best business advice I ever received was, stay lean, stay mean. The origin behind staying lean is to test your marketing channels first with small spends, drip-feed your funds into the correct channels and test which of your marketing channels works most effectively, and then run most of your allocated spend into the best test-proven channel.

The origin behind stay mean isn’t that you should be aggressive in your tactics or bully your way into a market, it’s to stay vigilant, as any business in any market can be a ruthless – and if you do not stay vigilant, someone, somewhere will beat you at your own game.

As the business developed, so have I as an individual, and I would say some of the worst business advice I received off of a fellow entrepreneur was to enjoy it, embrace it and live the lifestyle of a true entrepreneur. His views were extremely arrogant and something that I never embraced. One of my investors has constantly said the same line every time we see a bit of success, and that is “don’t pop the champagne until the party’s over”. I believe in staying humble, making sure you’re always one step back will give you room to breathe and room to assess any situation. Stay true to yourself and true to your mission.

Just remember, if you’re celebrating for reaching your goals, your goals weren’t hard enough, so put the champagne back on the shelf.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing about O’Neil’s false starts and bad advice, then hop on over to our feature on Saltrock – the business that went from administration to retail success.

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