Running Elevator in the north-east of Scotland brings me into contact with around 2000 start-ups and 500 growing businesses every year. These tend to be set up by energetic people but, as well as enthusiasm for their product, they must also have talent if they are to be successful. They must also develop a wide spectrum of skills and this is something they rarely present in the early stages of starting up.
I have been asked many times how we identify those most likely to become successful entrepreneurs. There is no easy answer, but when I have someone who understands how to sell, it gives me some comfort that they have one of the necessary key skills.
Many, however, present themselves like the 17-year-old yet to have their first kiss; frightened of selling, scared of possibly getting it wrong and being rejected and having no desire to be perceived as a stereotypical ‘salesman’, those door-stepper types who simply open their bag and hope you like what’s inside.
It is difficult for one person to build a business. With so much to do and so many skills needed, the chances of them continuing for any length of time as one person is slim. Whether at the start-up stage or very soon thereafter, a team must form if the business is to progress.
In the US, entrepreneurial supporters suggest that any successful business requires a ‘hacker’ and a ‘hustler’, the former being a technical expert who knows the product/service inside out, while the latter knows how to sell.
More recently, the ‘hipster’ has emerged as the third person in the dream team, someone who understands how important design has become, not only in how build a product but in how we package it, promote and market it to the world.
A recent business trip to the Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and Babson College was very enlightening. When asked to give their impressions of Scottish business, I heard a lot about our intellect, creativity, research and innovation, but I also heard loud and clear that they think we cannot sell. Business development is seen as a sophisticated skillset and a valued commodity.
Do Scottish businesses have a crisis of confidence in their ability to develop business through selling? Are we really a nation of 17-year-old kids who have no idea how to kiss with confidence?
Perhaps it is time for us to pucker up a bit more! Whether we have a problem or not, there is nothing wrong with sharpening up our business development skills and so for two days this week I attended an extremely enlightening and informative training course run by, you guessed it, a company called Kissing with Confidence.
Professor Gary McEwan is chief executive of Elevator, which provides Business Gateway support in Aberdeen.