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The Business: Hindsight is a powerful tool. Five successful entrepreneurs tell us how they use theirs…

Critical eye: Elizabeth McKenna, who set up online florist Lizzie’s Bundles last year

NOBODY wants to make a mistake, especially in business. When all around the mantra is success, success, success, you can’t help but imagine Lord Sugar’s finger pointing at you as you realise ‘you’re fired’ for the smallest error. But while mistakes can feel catastrophic at the time, they very rarely are, and in fact they can provide valuable lessons.

An MRI study by the University of Southern California a few years ago even showed that that having the opportunity to learn from failure can be a positive experience, helping the brain to learn and avoid repeating mistakes. We asked five business owners what they got wrong… and right on their path to business enlightenment.

Elizabeth McKenna

In her own words, she’s the ‘potty, mad country girl’ best known for finishing in fourth place on The Apprentice, chasing chickens, beating up burger meat and Segway riding. She made the biggest sale of the series and was in the middle of the biggest disaster in the history of the show. Her company Lizzies Bundles was started October 2017 and is already enjoying a six figure turnover. lizziesbundles.com

I took criticism to heart and let it affect my life outside of my business. While you must always be aware of criticism — and I live my business; my name is my brand — there comes a point where you need to step back and regain perspective.

On the positive side, I listened to my harshest critics and took on board everything they said. I used this to develop my business and brand to meet the challenges of today’s marketplace and excel with Lizzies Bundles.

I have honed my USP and my offering to provide something unique within the marketplace whilst still providing excellent service and value for money.

Jane Gokgoz

Personal touch: Taking business in-house worked for Jane Gokgoz

Jane founded Personalised Gifts Shop, an online retail company that personalises almost anything and everything, in 2011. She started with just £5.50 and now sells more than 14,000 different products and has a team of over 30 employees. She’s 52 and her company, based in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, is this year expected to have a turnover of more than £4million. personalisedgiftsshop.co.uk

After a couple of years I realised I needed to make some big changes to the structure of the business. I originally had a third-party product supplier but it became clear that to have full control over how the products were designed, produced and packaged, I needed to do everything in-house. The changeover meant a lot of extra time and lots of sleepless nights. I borrowed money from friends and family and re-mortgaged the house to raise the required finance, as I needed to source wholesale suppliers, fund the machinery, get a warehouse and hire and train 15 new employees to manage design and customer support. We redesigned everything — it was pretty stressful. It took 12 months to get it all turned around, but it was definitely worth it. Within a year our turnover had doubled, so I knew I had made the right decision.

Rob Hill

Fizzbox is the latest business in Rob Hill’s collection, following on from TheStagCompany and Henheaven. Fizzbox offers group activities and experiences. Twice featured in the Virgin Fast Track 100 table, Rob Hill has been in the events industry for over 15 years, sending away millions of stag and hen groups, and says the revenue of the group is now £8million per annum. fizzbox.com

In 2009, we had a severe cash flow problem that I could feel was coming, due to the credit crunch and a downturn in bookings, but kept thinking it would be alright. As it grew worse, we were running out of cash and I had a rather anxious phone call with the bank manager.

Party time: Rob Hill (above) has been in the events industry for 15 years

As it was tense and rushed, it made the whole process a lot harder, and we only got the overdraft approved with days to spare. I can remember my bank manager saying to me: ‘Rob, whatever you do, stay on top of your cashflow forecasts and management accounts. Let’s start the overdraft process sooner.You don’t want to prepare for a hurricane once it’s hit, especially if you’ve had weather warnings.’

Rich Leigh

Just 30 and a best-selling PR author, Rich (above) founded his company Radioactive PR, a public relations agency based in Gloucestershire, three-and-a-half years ago and it is on track to turn over more than £1million this financial year. radioactivepr.com

I was initially so security driven from a financial perspective that I’d take any client on. I was almost afraid to charge industry prices, in a bid to win the work, while still working out the kind of business I wanted to run.

It’s easy to point to now, years later, but it makes a difference, and meant several headaches over the years that a bit of introspection could have avoided. As soon as I righted it, charged appropriately and began to be a bit pickier with the clients we’d work with, I felt an immediate weight lifted. It’s corny, but my business mantra is ‘a happy team doing great work with happy clients’.

As such, I spend a good chunk of my time concerned with keeping the team happy, from the workspace to team outings. As well as generous parental leave and holiday policies, I’ve recently implemented a four-day work week trial, without cutting staff pay or asking the team to work harder or for longer, to double down on that commitment. Only time — and client feedback — will tell if it becomes permanent, but I’m most proud of the team ethos we’ve built.

Ruth Sparkes

Looking ahead: Ruth Sparks with issues of her magazine, Future (below)

Ruth, 48, started Future Mag, a careers and education magazine for 14 to 18-year-olds, last June. Based in Andover and distributed through UK schools, its circulation is 80,000 and the magazine publishes five editions a year. future-mag.co.uk

If I was going to do this again I’d definitely have looked harder for a business partner. Not necessarily for the money, although that would have been a bonus, but someone who had the same drive, ambition and work ethic. Running a business by yourself is lonely and exhausting and some days are better than others — sometimes you just need an opposite number for extra support, ideas, solutions and motivation, especially in the early days when things don’t go according to the awesome plan that’s in your head.’

How to keep your staff happy

It’s smiles all round: A happy team is also a productive one

STRONG staff morale is the cornerstone of any successful business and keeping your workers happy should be at the centre of all strategy and development plans.

So just what can employers do to keep their staff happy?

Communication and consultation

It is always best to ask workers what they really want. Ed Reeves, director of Moneypenny, enlisted the help of his 500 employees when the company decided to build a new headquarters. The new premises now boasts a tree house meeting room, village pub, sun terrace and a restaurant offering free breakfast and fruit.

Research by consultants Peldon Rose also suggests that summer perks such as casual dress, summer hours or ice cream rounds can be a motivator for employees.

Flexible working

Around 65 per cent of people who work flexibly are more satisfied with their jobs, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Globally, remote workers are happier than office-based colleagues. At recruitment firm Indeed they have introduced an unlimited leave policy. ‘We trust our team to take time off when they need it,’ says UK managing director Bill Richard. ‘They return energised and able to work better.’

Health and wellbeing

Reducing stress levels so staff don’t burn out or develop mental health issues is crucial to protecting and retaining workers.Extend this to nutrition by providing nuts and fruit instead of vending machines packed with crisps and chocolate, to boost energy and brain power. And don’t forget to make work fun. Research by Warwick University concludes that allowing employees to experience moments of joy makes them 12 per cent more productive.

Reward and recognition

A little gratitude and praise can go a very long way, from a simple thank you to employee of the month, to salary scales linked to performance. Research published by the Harvard Business Review shows that top performing teams give out nearly six positive comments for every negative one. LILY CANTER