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Leadership > Project Grow

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.
Ray Tamarra | Getty Images
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

Related: Richard Branson on the Importance of Taking Meaningful Risks

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

A is for Attitude

A good attitude can set you apart from the crowd, Branson said. When you have a good attitude, people want to spend time with you and help you be successful.

Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or the CEO of an established company -- attitude will always play an important role.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

B is for Bravery

“No business ever begins, yet alone becomes a success, without an entrepreneur being brave,” Branson said.

From climbing mountains to standing up for what you believe in -- bravery takes many forms. For entrepreneurs, that could be risking everything to launch a business.

Whatever shape it takes for you, you will gain something in the end. “Without being brave, you are not going to achieve anything,” Branson said.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

C is for Confidence

Often, people refrain from pursuing their dreams because they are afraid of failing. Although if you never try, you’ll never know. That’s where confidence comes into play.

Confidence “is what sets change-makers apart from dreamers,” Branson said.

In his blog post, Branson recalls a time when he called up companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi to ask if they would like to purchase advertising in his school’s magazine. Although he was nervous before making the calls, he found that, “with each call I gained more confidence to make the next.

This experience led Branson to have the confidence to approach and recruit major artists for Virgin Records.

“Don’t spend too long fretting about what you are going to do next, just get out there and start," he said. "Once you’ve had one or two breakthroughs your confidence will increase, and you will get bolder and bolder.”

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

D is for Delegation

As an entrepreneur, you’ll likely wear a lot of hats, from marketer to publicist to business developer. Although these tasks will help you develop a diverse skill set, you’ll also need to learn to delegate, Branson said.

Related: What Richard Branson Learned From His 7 Biggest Failures

As Branson struggled with dyslexia as a child, he explains that by surrounding himself with people who complemented his weaknesses, he found he could be more successful.

“Surround yourself with people who complement you, aid your self-development and most importantly give you the freedom to look after yourself and your family and scale to move forward into new areas,” Branson said.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

E is for Excitement

Throughout his life as an entrepreneur, Branson has always held one core philosophy: “If a new project or business opportunity doesn’t excite me, and get my entrepreneurial and innovative juices flowing, then I’d rather pass on it,” he writes in a blog post.

Branson believes that there’s no point in doing things in life if they don’t excite you, or in his words, “light your fire.” Without being excited about the work you’re doing and who you’re working with, you’re holding yourself back from finding your true passions.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

F is for Forgiveness

Richard Branson believes that second chances have helped his employees grow and develop. “It’s amazing how much people lift their game when you put trust and hope in them," he said.

In a blog post, Branson shares stories from his life where forgiveness was the best solution. In his college days, when Branson was the publisher and editor of Student magazine, he discovered his business partner’s plan to kick him out of his position. Years after parting ways, Branson reached out to his old friend and invited him to join the Virgin team. “Forgiveness brought us both peace and success,” he said.

Early on at Virgin Records, after finding out an employee was stealing from the company, instead of firing the employee, Branson gave him another chance. That individual ended up signing major artists such as Phil Collins and Culture Club.

Branson pulled in other examples such as Nelson Mandela’s story of forgiving the people who imprisoned him for 27 years. He also shared statistics about ex-convicts who struggle finding employment because companies aren’t willing to give them second chances. Branson’s company Virgin Trains seeks to employ ex-offenders -- currently employing more than 25 in different parts of the company, he shared.

The Virgin Group founder urges others to forgive and move forward. “Life’s too short to hold grudges," he said. "Everyone deserves freedom to move forward -- and forgiveness is the fastest route to peace and happiness.”

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

G is for Giving

To Richard Branson, giving is an integral part of living a meaningful life. “When you see first-hand the impact it can have, it becomes the best feeling in the world,” he said in a blog post.

And to give back, Branson created Virgin Unite, a foundation that brings people together and uses its resources to help create positive change in the world.

Branson lives by the traditional Chinese saying, “The heart that gives, gathers,” and encourages others to do the same.

From offering support to lending a helping hand, giving takes many forms.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

H is for Holidays

Whether you’re an entry-level employee or an established entrepreneur -- everyone is susceptible to burnout. To keep your stress levels low, taking holidays (British for vacation) is a great solution, Branson said.

“Having a busy career doesn't mean that you can't live your life to the fullest. It’s important to prepare for the demands of the everyday, but it’s equally as crucial to enjoy life,” Branson explained.

Branson takes off from work to spend time with his friends and family -- which is a key component to keeping him healthy and happy, he said. For the purpose of your well-being, it’s important to strike a balance between work and life.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

I is for Innovation

Innovation often accompanies entrepreneurship. That’s because in order to survive and be successful, entrepreneurs must come up with unique ideas and create products and services that help them stand out from the rest.

Related: Richard Branson: To Be Successful, Take the Stairs

To Richard Branson, “Innovation is a restless pursuit -- an endless quest,” he shared. Entrepreneurs and businesses should constantly think of new ideas and creative ways to move their businesses forward. However, innovation isn’t just for creative people or leaders -- it’s for anyone who’s willing to work hard and come up with effective solutions and improvements.

“Be curious, be willing, embrace risk, innovate,” Branson said.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

J is for Jokes

Even when it comes to business, it’s important to have a good laugh. “Having fun can bring out the best in people and can be a great bonding tool too,” Branson said.

Branson himself is known for playing pranks on colleagues and friends. “Play, joke, laugh," Branson said. "Some people may call it being childish, but in my opinion there's nothing wrong with being a kid at heart.”

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

K is for Keepers

No one reaches success without a little -- or a lot -- of help from others. That’s why it’s incredibly important to surround yourself with positive, uplifting and helpful people, and keep these people close to you. Branson advises to find people whose strengths balance your weaknesses, people who will help lift you up when you’re down and people who share your same vision. He calls these people “keepers.”

“Every entrepreneur and business leader should surround themselves with keepers: people that share their vision and make collaboration easy and effective -- if you don’t, you will never see the bigger picture,” Branson wrote in a blog post.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

L is for Learning

Life is all about learning. In fact, if you’re like Richard Branson, you’re constantly curious and trying to learn something new every day. There are a number of ways to do this too.

To Branson, one of the best ways to learn is by doing. And that means putting yourself out in the world, being willing to make mistakes and then learn from the experience. Another great way is by listening.

“The best piece of advice my father gave me was: listen more than you talk,” Branson shared in a blog post. “Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” A tip from Branson? Carry around a pen and notebook so you can jot down things you’ve learned and your thoughts and questions. “I am endlessly surprised by what new and useful information I can gather just by keeping my ears open.”

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

M is for Motivation

To be a successful entrepreneur, motivation is one of the key components to help get you there. From long nights to early mornings, starting a company is not easy, especially when you’re first starting out. “You have to be able to give the job everything you’ve got, or it will easily get the better of you,” Branson wrote in a blog post.

And how exactly can you get and stay motivated during your entrepreneurial journey? Understanding what your goals are, having a routine and showing support for your team are a few ways that Branson does it. Another tip from Branson: “Picture yourself at 90 years old, sitting in a comfortable chair, asking yourself: ‘What have I done in my life?’ We should all aim to look back at life with no what-ifs, and be proud of what we’ve achieved.”

One thing you should never let be your motivator is money. According to the billionaire serial entrepreneur, if you’re only in it for money, then you probably shouldn’t launch a business at all.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

N is for Naivety

While some people might think as naivety as being a bad quality to have in business, Richard Branson thinks the opposite. In fact, a bit of naivety is actually good for entrepreneurs because it makes them more curious, willing to take risks, make up their own roles and ultimately, pave their own paths. “It’s those that go off the beaten track -- making discoveries unnoticed by those too busy following the rules -- that truly shake things up,” Branson wrote in a post.

Related: Richard Branson Explains Why He's Different From Elon Musk, and What He Looks For When Investing in Startups

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

O is for Organization

Generally, organization means a group of people working towards a common goal. However, everyone has their own approach, and to Richard Branson, Virgin is a “disorganized organized organization.”

“Being organized doesn’t necessarily mean running to a strict set of mandated rules, where everything is pedantically in order and predictable,” Branson explained in a blog post. “Virgin’s success as an organization has come about as a result of balance.”

From some creative minds to analytical minds, having a balance of different types of people have helped keep the Virgin functioning, fun and successful.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

P is for Presentations

As an entrepreneur, preparation is incredibly important. What if you’re stuck in an elevator ride with a prospective investor you’ve had your eye on? That could be your big break, but you’ll only be successful if you’re prepared. However, that doesn’t mean memorizing some robotic elevator pitch. “Preparation prevents poor performance -- but I’ve also learned that nobody likes a stiff conversation or presentation,” Branson wrote in a blog post.

So, how can you be prepared but not sound stuffy and robotic? Be yourself, show your passion and speak from the heart. That’s what Branson does and look where it got him. Another success tip from Branson is to keep things short. “Audiences lose interest after 25 minutes or so, if not earlier.”

Use humor and creativity, show you're passionate about what you’re talking about and of course, be concise and show your expertise. It can even be helpful to pull in some numbers and stats -- just not too many or else people might lose interest, Branson wrote.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

Q is for Questioning

A great way for entrepreneurs, and anyone, to find solutions, drive change and move forward is by asking questions and debating different sides. Because, as Richard Branson wrote, “No single person has all the answers.”

Of course, it’s never good to start a debate simply to cause a ruckus or play devil’s advocate -- “It’s not just about questioning simply to stir the pot. Negativity breeds negativity, so I always find a positive slant in every question I ask.”

As an entrepreneur, be curious, ask questions and listen and learn from others.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

R is for Risk-taking

When we hear the word “entrepreneur,” one of the first words that comes to many of our minds is “risk.” And it’s no surprise, because, as Richard Branson puts it, “Entrepreneurship in its very essence is all about taking risks.”

Whether you’re just starting out or five years into your business, an entrepreneur’s journey is full of challenges where you’ll have to take calculated risks. “Business, after all, is like a giant game of chess: you have to make strategic moves, and learn quickly from your mistakes,” Branson wrote in a blog post. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs were ones who took the biggest risks. 

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

S is for Staff

The key to a successful business? People. And that starts with who you hire and how you treat them. Because if you have a great company culture and look after your staff, your customers and clients will be happy and feel treated well too.

A healthy and happy workforce not only affects the bottomline, but will help your business innovate and move forward. One of the best ways to cultivate a positive workforce is through relationships and tailoring to the individual needs of staff members -- rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach, Branson advises. “Success in business is all about people -- take care of them and they’ll take care of business. It’s that simple,” Branson wrote in a blog post

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

T is for Tenacity

From a very young age, Richard Branson was tenacious, which foreshadowed his success as an entrepreneur. According to Branson, “Tenacity is a prerequisite for entrepreneurial success.” While things such as courage and motivation helped him during his journey, it was his tenacity that really picked him up during hard times, pushed him to work through late nights and remain positive and upbeat during challenges. Branson said he believes his tenacity also made him better at thinking creatively and solving problems. “So stay hungry, be tenacious, never give up and have fun doing it.”

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

U is for Uniforms

When it comes to business uniforms, Richard Branson said he believes it’s all about what will help employees be their most productive. The billionaire entrepreneur who’s notorious for never wearing a tie does not enforce a dress code at the Virgin corporate offices. “We welcome our team members to wear clothing that they think will help them to get the most of their day,” Branson shared in a post. However, every business is different, and when it comes to Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains, "uniforms are iconic and work wonders to give our crew members a sense of team and pride.” In the end, depending on the business type and your employees will help determine the kind of uniforms, if any, to have.

Related: The Awesome Advice We Learned From Richard Branson's Former Assistant

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

V is for Virginity

Ever wonder where Richard Branson and his team came up with the name "Virgin?" As Branson shares, one of his friends suggested Virgin because they were all “virgins at business.” And that’s a lesson for many entrepreneurs who are just starting out. “Everyone is a virgin in business when they start,” Branson said in a blog post. “It’s how you learn and embrace the trials and tribulations of your journey that determines your success in the long run.” So, don’t look at this business “virginity” or your naivety as a bad thing and instead, use it to explore, learn and create your own path.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

W is for Weakness

Everyone has their own set of weaknesses, and there’s no reason to cover them up or try to ignore them. Instead, use them to your advantage. In a blog post, Richard Branson shared a personal example: “My dyslexia taught me to think differently, and solve problems in a unique way.” Not only should you learn to use your weaknesses as beneficial tools but also surround yourself with people who excel in areas where you struggle.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

Y is for Yes

At Virgin, Richard Branson’s nickname is “Doctor Yes,” he shared in a blog post. While the name doesn’t need much explaining, it’s because you’re more likely to catch Branson saying “yes” rather than “no” to an opportunity. And he thinks you should do the same. “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes -- then learn how to do it later!” And while saying yes can often come with risk, in the end it’s usually worth the reward and can lead to something amazing.

Richard Branson's ABCs of Business

Z is for ZZZ

If you want to be successful, “catch some ZZZs and get some sleep,” Branson wrote in his last A to Z series blog post. Sleep should be a priority for not only entrepreneurs but anyone who wants to be their most productive and best self.