Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. What follows is the latest edited round of insightful responses. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.
Australians are a natural market for all things Virgin. They share the sense of fun and the entrepreneurial spirit that motivates my companies. Maybe that’s why I get a lot of questions from Down Under. Here are some recent ones.
Q: I don’t have enough confidence to give up my career in banking and follow my dream of starting a business as a personal trainer. Should I continue with banking since I am still somewhat enjoying it? ~ Leon Belobrov, Australia
A: When you decide to pursue an entrepreneurial venture, you have to confront your doubts and fears; sometimes you just have to go for it. Many times I have hesitated before launching a new venture or investment, even after my team and I have vetted it and we’re ready to go ahead. I’m lucky that I have a great network of friends and advisers to take soundings from.
If you believe that your personal training business can succeed, draw up a short plan describing how it would be different from other such businesses, how you would build it up and attract customers. Discuss this plan with trusted friends or advisers (make sure you ask people individually, and not as a group). Collecting and acting on this feedback is a crucial step before launching any business.
I can't help you make this decision without knowing more about your situation. However, I can tell you that when I have to decide whether or not to go ahead with a new venture, I have often found that intuition is my best guide. What does your intuition tell you? If you decide to go ahead, be prepared for a bumpy ride. Most entrepreneurs fail the first time they enter a market – or at the very least have to recover from a tricky scrape.
Q. Do you believe a company’s purpose – why employees do what they do – is more or less important than the way they do it? ~ Bec Kennedy, Australia
A: I have long felt that a business cannot simply work if no care and attention is paid to its staff, customers and environment. It may bring in money for a short while, but I doubt it will be sustainable. Being efficient, effective and profitable are important goals for any company. But doing business in a responsible and fair way is just as important, if not more so, in the long run. This is what will engage and motivate your employees to be more effective and deliver better service, which in turn will encourage customers to come back and spend money with you. This virtuous circle will continuously improve your business.
Q: What one piece of invaluable, golden advice could you offer a 27-year-old aspiring businessman? ~ Drue Schofield, Brisbane, Australia
A: Follow your heart; do something you are really passionate about. The Virgin businesses that have done well over the years have always been the ones where we came up with an idea that everyone in the company really cared about and was committed to. The sales figures usually proved our point later.
Q: Virgin Atlantic provides a great example of how technical operations staff in their behind-the-scenes role can work with employees on the front lines serving customers. What’s the best way to ensure alignment of such diverse roles and responsibilities? ~ Anne Wilson, Australia
A: I have always challenged the accepted wisdoms of any industry we have gone into, and we try to encourage our CEOs and staff to do so as well – especially, to see things from the customer’s perspective. You can see this in the touches that differentiate our airline – the limos to the airport, the lounge at the airport, even the ice cream we offer customers when they are watching movies. A lot of these ideas bubble up from within because we ask our senior team, marketing people, engineers and, most importantly, the cabin crew to contribute ideas and help keep our service fresh and innovative.