As ITV's The X Factor returns for another series, Gina Dyer unlocks the secrets to the business success of the show's creator Simon Cowell and examines what entrepreneurs can learn.
It was with baited breath that we greeted this year’s crop of losers, loonies and wannabe Leonas as The X Factor returned to our screens at the weekend. Although the contestants may not always come out of the experience singing 'Hallelujah', one man who always wins is Simon Cowell. His production company and television work netted him some £36m last year and he is worth, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, an estimated £112m. Not bad for a man who started his career in music as a post boy at EMI. So what can we learn from his success?
"From my first day on the job I began planning and scheming my way to the top of the business", wrote Cowell in his memoir. While you might have to start small in business, it pays to think big. Creating a plan of where you want to be in five years time will help you map out the steps you need to take to get there. It might not be world domination, but having realistic growth ambitions can help keep your business on course.
Use your contacts
Simon secured his first break at record label EMI (albeit of the letter sorting variety) via his father's contacts. While you can’t always rely on people you know to do favours for you, it doesn’t hurt to cultivate good contacts. Joining a networking group and attending industry events can help you meet others in your field and find out what’s going on in your market. Using social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn can also be a good way to connect with relevant industry figures. You should also be prepared to help out other people where possible – you never know when they might be able to return the favour.
Find a mentor
While you might already know exactly what you want to do, it doesn’t hurt to seek feedback from someone more experienced than yourself. A mentor is someone with relevant business experience who can offer guidance and support. It’s important to find someone you trust and whose opinions you value.
Even Simon had a mentor at the start: "I learned so much over the years, from people like Pete Waterman", Cowell has admitted. "He once said to me: 'You don't know what you're talking about. You're bloody useless. Come back when you've got a hit'. I took it as a challenge!"
After leaving EMI, Cowell started his own record label, Fanfare, which launched a number of hit records before going into administration in 1989. Simon lost everything and, heavily in debt, was forced to move back in with his parents. Despite the setback, he didn’t give up and went on to work as an A&R consultant for BMG, later setting up another label, Syco Records, which has since signed many successful artists including Leona Lewis and Il Divo. "In hindsight, it was the best thing that happened in my life because I learned the value of money: not to borrow money and not live beyond my means", Simon later said.
As a new start up business owner, it's likely that you’ll come across obstacles. View every problem that needs to be solved as an opportunity to learn something new and you’ll equip yourself to deal with it positively and decisively. "Getting there is more fun than being there", according to Cowell.
Despite the huge success of the X Factor over the last five years, Simon decided to change the format this year, setting the auditions in front of a live audience. "We started filming this year's show in the old fashioned way, but after two hours I thought, I can’t do this anymore", admitted Simon recently. He's also adamant that no expense will be spared in staging this series. "If I want a 100-strong choir one week but ITV haven't got the budget, I’ll stump up the cash myself", he insisted.
While many might advise you to stick to the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' style of working, trying new things can be beneficial to the business and create new opportunities. Trust your instincts and if don't be afraid to give innovative ideas a chance.
We’ll end with some words of advice from the man himself. When recently asked what he considered essential for becoming a successful entrepreneur, Cowell advised: "Work hard, be patient, and be a sponge while learning your business. Learn how to take criticism. Follow your gut instincts and don’t compromise." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.