Is Britishness hampering our business prospects?

British startups
Lucy-Rose Walker
Chief entrepreneuring officer
Entrepreneurial Spark
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Here in the UK we are often perceived as people pleasers. We care about other people’s opinions and always feel the need to say yes when asked a question, regardless of whether we want to or not. But is this mindset of always saying ‘yes’ and not wanting to offend people actually hampering our ability to succeed in business?

Recently one of my colleagues named me “the silent assassin”. He said this was because of my innate ability to say ‘no’ with a smile on my face. I took this as a compliment. I am ruthless in my focus because as I work to scale Entrepreneurial Spark I’m all too aware of time, the one thing you can never get back.

Whether you’re starting, growing or running a business you need to carefully consider how you’re spending your time. Too often we find ourselves being invited to meetings or to join calls which we’re really not interested in taking part in, so how do you manage this?

Too often our Britishness comes out and we agree, all the while shouting ‘no’ in our heads. And, the worst bit about it all is that if we do say ‘no’ we feel obliged to give an elaborate reason.

But why? Why can’t we be selfish with our time? After all, it is ours to do what we want with.

In order to succeed in business, you need to master the art of taking control of your time, learning to prioritise and saying ‘no’ in a positive way.

The 80/20 rule is a fantastic way of doing this. The rule states that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. For me, this means I know that 80% of the advances or opportunities for our company will come from 20% of our interactions. If you can eradicate some of the other 80% of redundant interactions you’ll have much more time to focus on productive activities.

This will help you to assess every opportunity or task which comes your way in order to decide what value it will add to your business. Then have a think about how much time or resource you will need to allocate to it, depending on its value, all the while making sure that it will help you to achieve your business goals.

What happens if the opportunity you’re approached with doesn’t add value to your business?

Nine times out of ten if you ask someone with a wishy washy idea to send you a short document which explains the value they will add you’ll never hear from them again. 

Well, then you need to learn to embrace the culture of saying no politely and meaning it. People will respect you more if you don’t waste their time by continuing down a road that isn’t going anywhere.

Nine times out of ten if you ask someone with a wishy washy idea to send you a short document which explains the value they will add you’ll never hear from them again. That alone will help you identify who is really keen to work with you versus who is just wasting your time

I also truly believe that we rely far too much on hour-long meetings. Why not arrange a short call with someone instead? Figure out what you both want from the meeting and discuss that over the phone.

And, remember, while it’s important to be polite and friendly you don’t have to spend ages chit chatting about how you are, the weather and where you’re going on your summer holiday. Stick to the key points and keep it succinct. You’ll still achieve your desired outcome, but you won’t have to give up so much time out of your already busy diary.

Starting your own business is a rollercoaster journey and time will fly by faster than you ever imagined. You need to juggle working on your business with having a personal life - and I can tell you from experience that it’s no mean feat. That’s why it’s so important to shake off the instinct to always say ‘yes’ and focus more on pleasing yourself than other people.

So prioritise. Think about things strategically – will they help your business? Are they going to add value to your startup? Be disciplined with your time and energy, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if the opportunity isn’t right for you.

Go on, try it – say ‘no’ to the next thing you feel like you have to say yes to (even though you really don’t want to!) and see how it feels. It’s amazing how much more time you’ll have to work on your business.

Walker delves into gender balance and the entrepreneurial mindset

Listen to our recent podcast with the author below.

About Lucy-Rose Walker

About Lucy-Rose Walker

Lucy-Rose Walker is co-founder and chief entrepreneuring officer at Entrepreneurial Spark. 

Walker works to help entrepreneurs see how to turn the big picture into reality. Her specialties include coaching, marketing, innovative thinking and ideas, supporting and mentoring people.


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16th May 2016 10:34

Fair point Lucy, the reality of saying "yes" instead of a polite "no" is definitely a British trait. However, time management is a myth. No-one or nothing manages time. It is impossible. The best we can do is manage our activities in as efficient manor as possible. Make a list of what you need to do - and "GODO" : )

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to Oliver Foley
18th May 2016 16:01

Hi Oliver, I know many entrepreneurs (myself included!) often wish they could clone themselves in order to deal with their never ending to-do list, but a lot of time-management actually comes down to managing yourself. As the old saying goes ‘nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible’, so next time you’re facing a mammoth list of actions against the clock, take a few minutes to really hone down on what you need to do now, what could be done later, and what doesn’t need to be done at all.

All too often I speak to entrepreneurs who say they’re too busy, when in actual fact they’re just too busy procrastinating and filling their time with low-level activity. One of our Enablers in the Glasgow Hatchery wrote a blog post focused on how to make your time count, which can be viewed here: What do you think? Try some of her tips for a week and then come back and let me know if you still feel that time management is a myth. Good luck and #GoDo!

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