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Entrepreneurs Panel

Richard O'Sullivan
Laura Tenison
Charlie Mullins
Jeremy Roberts
Debbie Pierce
Julie Meyer
David Pollock
Brian Hay
Tony Caldeira
Steve Purdham
Michael Oliver
Jennie Johnson

Man the barricades, we need a knowledge revolution

By Nigel Botterill, chief executive of marketing consultancy N5 and founder of the Entrepreneurs Circle Training Academy.

A record 5.3m small and medium-sized businesses are now trading in the UK. That figure might suggest the SME community is thriving. The truth is rather different.

More than half of the estimated 600,000 new businesses created this year won't survive past 2020. Of those that do, 71% will never scale-up beyond £250,000 turnover; only 16% will exceed £500,000.

So, how do we create more £1m businesses that will become the backbone of the British economy? The answer is: we need a knowledge revolution.

One in three small firms have never undertaken any training. Too many business owners buy into the myth that entrepreneurs are born, not made. Others believe that sheer hard work alone will ensure they survive. Much of the training that is undertaken tends to be focused on products or industry-specific changes - which is fine except that's not what will help you grow your business.

The reality is that none of us were born business experts. The successful entrepreneurs are the ones who work smarter, not necessarily harder. And knowing how to think and what to do to grow a business are skills that can be learned.

Asked in a recent survey what they would do differently if they could start again, almost seven out of 10 business owners said they would spend more time and money on marketing and acquiring customers.

The concept of the "knowledge economy" - that the success of industries or nation states relies on the knowledge they possess - is well understood in a global context, but it is just as relevant to small businesses.

For many years, it has been a personal crusade. I have spent hundreds of thousands of my own money learning key business skills and I don't regret a single penny - it has allowed me to build eight £1m businesses in the past eight years.

But it has to be the right training. Half-baked, recycled knowledge delivered from a textbook by failed bank managers won't cut it. The only training that counts is from those on the frontline - business education for entrepreneurs delivered by entrepreneurs.

That's why we launched the Entrepreneurs Circle Training Academy - to do just that. This year, we've run more than 400 courses, covering everything from copywriting and digital marketing to recruitment and selling, attended by more than 13,500 staff from 800 businesses. A £1,300 annual pass buys unlimited training for up to 12 employees.

One business owner, Anish Patel, has attended 70 courses! He has leant to slash costs at his tuition company, Direct Tuition, using Infusionsoft to automate his processes and Google AdWords to pursue leads more efficiently. Michelle Bridge, from software supplier Venue Directory, has increased sales by over 8% after attending three one-day sales training courses.

Those are just two examples, but the single most important lesson we teach business owners is to spend 90 minutes a day focusing on their own business. Unless you schedule that time to set clear objectives and think about how you can grow your business, you will never succeed. Getting customers needs to be systemised; it can't be haphazard - not if you're serious about taking your business to where you want it to be, and there's something magical about we call the "rhythmic acquisition of customers", I promise!

Too many business owners are trapped in a cycle of self-induced failure; they mistake energy for enterprise. Only a knowledge revolution can help them achieve their dreams.

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