Recently, I had the privilege of traveling throughout the United Kingdom with my wife for our anniversary.  During this excursion, I was impressed with the values and capabilities of many small businesses that we had contact with along our travels. Coming from the United States, I am keenly aware of the impact of small businesses on the economy and communities as a whole.

During our tour, we experienced smaller businesses and also spent time at bigger businesses like corporate hotels and exquisite restaurants with the best views in all of London. However, after visiting many places, I was most impressed with the small British businesses. Here is a list of the small businesses I contracted for services:

  • A small restaurant owner in Windsor
  • Uber drivers in London
  • Rental Car company (franchisee)
  • Small Pub in Oxford
  • Family estate and Bed and Breakfast in the Lake District
  • Small single-location restaurant in Bowness
  • Single hotel estate located in the Cotswolds
  • Private restaurant in Stratford
  • Tea Shop and Restaurant in Stow
  • Individual Art Dealer in Stow

In fact, the majority of our purchases on this trip were from small businesses. Because of this, I began to study these small businesses, and ask many questions of the owners. By doing so, I discovered a few important lessons to bring back with me, since I am a small business owner myself.  I would like to share my newfound knowledge.

First, what is the profile of these entrepreneurs:

  1. They wanted to do something they enjoyed.
  2. It was important they work for themselves.
  3. They all had a passion for their work and believed in their product.

These profiles raised two questions that stuck with me, “As a business do we still have that passion and drive for what we do?” and, “Do we continue to enjoy our work, or has it just become a job?”

For many, this profile list might include things like job security, the need to move up the corporate ladder, or the challenges and politics of owning a small business. Every business has challenges, but it is how they choose to overcome them that makes them successful. The minimum expectancy of time for each of these entrepreneurs with their current business is five years. However, many of these owners have been in business for over 10 to 20 years, exceeding the minimum time period expected of a small business by many years.  Very few of these entrepreneurs had outside investors and all claimed their reputation was crucial if they were to succeed.

 There were four traits these businesses had in common:

  1. Everything needed to be simple, and easy to manage, and they had to enjoy what they were doing.
  2. Customer focus was not something that was just talked about, it was acted on. Not only did the owners believe in this, but so did their employees.
  3. Margins were critical. Without margins, they were working for free.  Each owner had a passion for their business and loved what they did, but they made sure to always keep the bottom line in their view.
  4. This is my favorite. They were focused on being the best at what they did, not the best against the competition.  Be the best in our own way and in our own eyes rather than comparing ourselves to others in the same line of work.

What was missing from these businesses?

  • They were not focused on rapid growth.
  • They were not focused on selling their business to the highest bidder.
  • They were not focused on competing.

One takeaway was that no owner was driven to be something other than what they were. The three takeaways I personally received from these businesses were:

  • Keep it simple for yourself and your clients.
  • Focus and maintain margins.
  • Be the best at what you do.

I personally enjoyed each encounter. The people of England were lovely and a pleasure to engage in conversation with.  I hope all our paths cross again someday, and that I will continue to learn more lessons that help me in my life, in my business, and in my personal pursuit to understand what makes entrepreneurs love what they do.

How do you think these takeaways apply to the Learning and Talent industry?  Do we make things too complicated and miss the point?  I would enjoy hearing examples of things you have done to focus on simplicity and being the best at what you do. If you have any questions about how to apply these insights to your learning and talent development program feel free to contact us.