Belfast Telegraph

Why you should make space for your employees' ideas

Cultivating support networks is vital when growing your own business
Cultivating support networks is vital when growing your own business

By John Ferris @foodbelfast

When it comes to being your own boss, something that holds a lot of people back is the feeling that you need to put all your eggs in one basket.

Many people think that choosing to 'be your own boss' is synonymous with 'going out on a limb' - that it requires a complete clean break with whatever it is that they've done before.

And while for some that will be the right route, for many others it can be really intimidating. But as the nature of work changes, with more companies offering flexible working policies, and fewer and fewer '9-5 jobs for life', it's a barrier that's worth tackling.

For a start, many of the most successful entrepreneurs that I've dealt with didn't jump into their new ventures.

They based their ideas and plans on the experiences that they'd had to date - developing innovations and products as a personal sideline, with friends and family market research to get an idea of what they could do and who their customers might be.

Many only took the step to go into their personal businesses full-time once they had reached a critical mass. This allowed them to dilute the risk, but also gave them time to make sure that they were passionate and happy with what they were doing.

And this needn't just be of benefit for the individuals. For businesses, there's real merit in giving your employees time for their own projects, whether that's a sideline business or charitable work. Google famously allocated employees 20% of their 'work' time to focus on personal projects, and some of the collaborations out of that free time led to the creation of one of the company's most successful products, Gmail. If you create an environment where people can feel ownership of successes, all while staying under the umbrella of your business, it's a win for all sides. This could be another tool in improving retention with young people who increasingly want to work for organisations with flexibility, values and a social purpose. Don't think of it as a perk - think of it as building out your research and development. Relationship-building is a must.

The endgame is not about climbing the employer-employee ranks, reaching the status of 'boss' and 'employer' and then sitting back to watch on as the business continues to grow and you reap the rewards. Passion is infectious and is an important element to build into the foundation of any growing business. Many budding entrepreneurs-in-the-making recognise the merit in their business ideas; how their business model could address a common pitfall in their industry - or disrupt it entirely.

For them, the first hurdle is knowing where to turn to and the first steps to take to begin the process of making their business idea a reality. Cultivating support networks is fundamental to successfully nurturing a business idea from infancy into adulthood. Surround yourself with the right people in the earliest stages.

Whether it's a like-minded business partner, a mentor, vendor, investor or brand advocate, the extended and, crucially, relevant support and advice networks orbiting an entrepreneur and their business concept is vital to scaling up that start-up.

John Ferris is entrepreneur development manager at Ulster Bank

Belfast Telegraph

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