Posted: Wed 10th Jul 2019
What is it about the story of an American selling shoes from the boot of his car in the 60s that captivates entrepreneurs? Small business owners rely on the strength of their networks to learn and it is the stories we tell each other that provide inspiration and advice.
"I think reading autobiographies from founders who have made it is a really good way to learn. When you have difficult, hard days you get the idea of looking back and thinking 'it's supposed to be hard'," she said.
It's not just hall-of-fame entrepreneurs either. There's something in the stories business owners tell each other that plays a pivotal role in success.
Learning from the best business owners out there
Wang said Enterprise Nation's recent event with Square CEO and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was really inspiring and there were practical takeaways too. Dorsey said staff motivate themselves if you give them a mission to rally around, for example.
"That got me thinking, what is the purpose of our business? We make healthy snacks. The reason is to help busy people eat healthily, so that they can maintain their energy levels and be at their best.
"During our day to day we have these long to-do lists and get sidetracked but we should get out of that every now and then and reflect on why we're doing this. It's motivational for me and the team," Wang said.
The Enterprise Nation members we spoke to for this article recommended Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio and Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Fishkin (check out this World Book Day article for more business book recommendations).
Podcasts came up often too, which can easily be fit in when you're driving, walking somewhere or another situation where you can't do any work. These included The Tim Ferriss Show, The Young Foodies Blue Plaster Podcast and Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations Podcast.
Enterprise Nation also has a podcast, the Small Business Sessions. Look out for series four which launches soon.
Meeting people in your industry
It's hard to explain the buzz you get from chatting about your business to other entrepreneurs. We know that loneliness is a big issue, with about a third of the entrepreneurs that answered Enterprise Nation's latest Small Business Barometer research saying they felt lonely often. But it isn't just about having someone to talk to, it's about sharing advice and a sense of common purpose.
The founders of The Coffee House Project used the network they built in Bristol to learn and build their business. Co-founder and Enterprise Nation member Sofia Simou said entrepreneurs can't be shy about asking for advice.
"For us, it's about talking to people. From day one, we found it was the best way to learn and get inspired. We talk to people from the industry we really respect. We recommend contacts to other people. That's how you get inspired," she said.
The process of building a network started with going into a local coffee shop and asking to speak to the manager.
Having a clear sense of what the business was trying to achieve really helped Simou and her co-founder build these relationships and the industry experts helped them further refine their vision.
"The key is to have a clear vision of you ultimate goal. That helps us a lot. We had the vision from the beginning. We knew what we wanted the end result to be. Meeting people helped us refine that and develop the right processes," Simou said.
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Building a routine around learning
All the small business owners we spoke to shared one thing in common; a relentless desire to learn. But the way they carve out time to read or network differs.
"I have this curse, or benefit, when I go to sleep at night I have a busy brain, so I always listen to something. Audio books, podcasts, the radio. I do the same while I'm driving," he said.
Learning's inspired Rayner-Langmead's commitment to continually improvement. It's not just business books either, he saw inspiration in the way Bouchon Bakery described testing and iterating it's flour dough recipe.
"I don't like to be constrained by day-to-day norms of a particular industry, people would say 'you can't do that?' and I would say 'why?' Let's find a way to make that happen. Those learnings of trying and trying and trying were really important," he said.
Enterprise Nation member Amanda FitzGerald runs a PR business. That means learning about the current affairs topics that could provide hooks for her clients is really important and she's built a routine to keep up to date.
"I watch Channel 4 News religiously. I record if every day. I follow the Today programme and Jeremy Vine when I can. I do that while I'm waking up and getting ready. I watch the news with my kids, which helps them learn about the world - I find it relaxing to watch the news, which is weird - I watch RuPaul or Love Island after that," FitzGerald said.
Why founders' stories are so important
As Joan Didion's aptly titled anthology states We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. It's the same for entrepreneurs.
The level of success achieved by famous entrepreneurs is incredible but it's following the trials and tribulations that inspiring. It's those early days of selling products out of his green Plymouth Valiant that endear Philip Knight to today's small business owners and make his memoir Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight so popular.
Whether it's the founding story of someone that would go on to become one of the 30 richest people in the world or advice from your local coffee shop owner, it's the personal stories and advice that help business owners learn.
Want to meet more people and build your network? Enterprise Nation brings entrepreneurs together through events and an online directory, Members can access listings and connect with other business owners here when they're logged in).
Learn from other small business owners
Enterprise Nation runs more 400 events per year across the UK. Members get reduced price tickets and the opportunity to connect online.