There is always something to learn when you are an entrepreneur.
Whether you graduated from a top 200 university or left school before sitting your junior cert, continuous education will remain a significant part of your business experience until the day you retire.
At our recent entrepreneurs’ meetup, the AIBF Managing Director Kapil Khanna hosted an interview with two All-Star accredited business leaders who have walked very different paths in their educational lives.
The main commonality between these two brilliant men is their dedication to continuous learning and a progressive mindset.
Alan Dawson owns several successful enterprises but he is best known as the founder of Sheds Direct Ireland, a wildly successful garden sheds business based in Finglas in North Dublin.
Alan left school when he was just 14-years-old and went to work in the motor trade for a vehicle repair company called Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch. After quickly rising through the ranks, he bought the business before his 18th birthday and has forged a fantastic career as one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs.
Philip O’Callaghan is the Managing Director of the Examcraft Group, a multi-brand educational publishing company. He is also a published author.
Philip has a more traditional educational background having worked as a secondary school teacher before completing a Masters Degree in Computer Applications.
After his university and teaching days, Philip worked as a technical manager for IBM before buying the naming rights for The Examcraft Group.
Under his direction, The Examcraft Group has established itself as a market leader in educational publishing and the leading provider of mock examination papers in Ireland.
We learned some priceless lessons on how to embrace continuous learning and how to better yourself as an entrepreneur and as a person.
Below are 10 key lessons Philip and Alan shared with us during the session.
1. Philip: Understand the power of building a brand
“We took over Examcraft after it had been out of business for a year.
“The top 10 customers from the old company became our top 10 customers when we took it over.”
“We had customers ringing us up to tell us they were delighted we were back.”
Philip maintained Examcrafts top customers solely on the power of the companies brand – A good brand has a clear focus – knows its target audience – has a defined mission – knows its competition and USP – can identify its key values – can tell its story – has a defined brand identity – is consistent with its voice.
2. Alan: Be open to new ideas and lessons
“I left school at 14 years of age and because I was old-school I didn’t believe in paying somebody to sit behind a computer. If they weren’t manually working they weren’t earning money.”
“My daughter Louise convinced me of the value of putting the business online. And when I looked at it I had to admit that it was the way forward. Our business is probably now 60% driven by eCommerce.”
Alan was open to his daughter’s suggestions and showed a willingness to learn and adapt the business to reach customers in a better way.
3. Philip: Be adaptable
“When schools closed initially in March 2020 there was a general view that the online delivery of classes was weak and inconsistent.”
“But when they chose to shut again in January of this year, the majority of schools were delivering classes directly into homes, to a fixed timetable.
“As a result, we are digitizing all our current offerings to schools.”
Phillip recognised the impact of the pandemic on education and quickly adapted his business, which enabled him to offer a reliable solution to schools undergoing rapid technological changes.
4. Alan: Embrace the power of collaboration
“We need to do business with each other more We need to encourage collaboration and positivity.”
“There are too many people that are afraid to raise their heads above the parapet Because they don’t want others to get ahead of them. We need to support and champion Irish business because that will benefit everyone.”
Collaboration allows you access to opportunities you might not be able to find on your own.
Your network has the potential to provide you with insight into different fields, information on what potential employers look for and advice on how you can improve professionally.
5. Alan: Find a mentor
“I was lucky enough to meet an amazing life coach. He totally changed the way I think and I have to admit that it was life-changing.”
“He taught me about the power of positivity. Now when I enter into anything I go in to win.”
Having a mentor will provide invaluable insight from someone who has walked the same path, it also gives you the opportunity to learn from their previous mistakes and successes.
6. Philip: Gain a deep understanding of your customer and develop a customer focus strategy
“Customer focus is about engaging the customer through the entire lifecycle of a product. From product conception through product development, to its eventual going to market.”
“I believe customer service is a post-sales event. For us, it’s very important to engage the customer much earlier.”
“You have to engage with the customer to discover what expectations they have from any particular product or service.”
When you understand the customer it is much easier to develop products and services that support their needs.
7. Alan: Be honest with your customers
“You need to be honest and you need to be straight, to get to keep the customers you have. Don’t sell them false promises that you can’t deliver.”
“Honesty will benefit you all, no matter what business you’re in.”
The truth always comes out in the wash – being upfront with your customers builds trust and will win you a loyal base from which you can expand.
8. Alan: Give credit where it is due
“If you’re good at your job you deserve recognition. I believe that it’s very important to let the people in your life know that they are appreciated.”
“Give credit where it’s due – it costs nothing but it goes a long way.”
The number one thing that people crave above all else is recognition. If somebody has done a good job, tell them, it will motivate them to improve.
9. Phillip: Build a strong team
“We have quite a number of employees that have been with us for more than 10 years.
“They are central to the continued success of the organisation because they live and breathe our values when they’re interacting with customers.”
Build an atmosphere and a culture of collaboration which makes your employees feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
People work for meaning rather than money.
10. Alan: Become addicted to learning
“I advocate education at every level, we learn every day no matter what our background is.”
“I never went to university but I believe in the power of practical education and learning on the job.”
Alan understands the importance of continuous learning. Education unlocks many doors but it is your responsibility to harness its power.