The term entrepreneur is used quite frequently these days but is there a true meaning to the word? The Cambridge dictionary has a number of definitions:
English: someone who starts their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity.
American English: a person who attempts to make a profit by starting a company or by operating alone in the business world, esp. when it involves taking risks.
British English: someone who makes money by starting their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity and taking risks.
The characteristics of an entrepreneur have been considered and generally defined as Passion, Innovative, Persistent, Resourceful, Risk-taker and Discipline.
While there is some commonality between all of the above, I wonder if the real question is in understanding what it is that drives a person to start a business. Is it always about making money and profits or is there something more pivotal at play?
I spoke recently with Garden and Landscape designer and entrepreneur Karen McClure about the journey she has been on with her business. One thing that was clear is that McClure’s entrepreneurial journey was not planned or inspired while at school.
There may be good reason for this as she believes she is dyslexic, it just wasn’t recognised in her day. Her son though is severely dyslexic and she sees him struggling with the education system daily. It can be damaging if a school’s approach is to label children a failure if they don’t get the right grades so there is an extremely important point to be made on the difference in the motivation for scholastic learning and the excitement of learning to educate yourself for your true passion in life and business.
I went to school but I didn’t like it. I wasn’t very good at school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time. I went on and studied travel and tourism which my husband finds quite hilarious now because my relationship with my satnav isn’t great! I looked at various different jobs and drifted into the city because it was something that paid the bills.
From there, I then realised what my passion was and where I wanted to take things. Since then my continuing professional development has become really important to me. I now love going on courses or learning something new and I’m continually absorbing myself in the industry. So, now, I actually spend a lot of time working on my education within the industry whether that’s on planting workshops or design/construction on the specification and business side of things. There is so much to learn and sometimes that can be overwhelming as every single project you work on has so much to learn. I now really enjoy it whereas when I was at school, I wasn’t at all interested or particularly successful.
There is a lot to be said for learning skills within a business. It can sometimes engage certain individuals in a way educational establishments can’t, putting into perspective how a range of skills can be used within the context of employment. It highlights immediately how the development of skills and attitude can improve employment opportunities. The fact that schools are partly measured on the number of students going on to university and the number of ‘A’ grade students they produce does nothing to stop making apprenticeships feel second-class. The reality is that a degree can be done through the apprenticeship system. Perhaps it’s time to change the name from apprenticeship to work-based education because, at the end of the day, we all learn differently.
Well I was an Executive Assistant at Goldman Sachs and I loved working with my boss, I had a really good relationship with her and I do miss that. However the skillset that I got, that professionalism you get at a company like that, has stood me in really good stead.
For me it’s not only really important that we are creating really beautiful gardens but that we have a business mindset and that we provide excellent service to clients as well as running the business efficiently and professionally. Obviously the skills that I gained from working in the city massively come into play in running the business; the way we communicate with clients, being efficient at organising things and overseeing deliveries, arranging meetings and how we conduct ourselves be that over the phone, over email or whatever it is. It is all really important to me.
While McClure realised her passion for garden design after she left school, that passion was not the sole driving force for her in starting her business. Whilst it’s clear she has entrepreneurial characteristics, McClure identifies her father’s death as the pivotal moment in her life which lit the fuse of her passion to start her own business. She recalls his advice that you only live once so you should make the most of your opportunities, doing what you love. McClure’s passion aside, it takes more than just this to create and build a business – once an entrepreneur realises that they may have a business, they still need to put their head above the parapet and make it happen. And so this is where the risk taking and persistence characteristics associated with entrepreneurship come to the fore.
I did a lot of favours! I would get a lot of ‘will you just come round and look at the garden…’ It was almost like an apprenticeship really. I was more than happy to do it as it was an opportunity and often provided a blank canvas where I could practise building my craft. At the time it was ok but then you realise that you are investing a lot of yourself and your time – going to museum of garden history, studying for horticultural exams in between. I realised that I needed to start valuing myself and what I have invested in and then to put a price on that. Then when I started to employ people and have a team, I realised that I needed to value myself a bit more. And so taking risks continues to where we are now, having done a lot of work to develop a good infrastructure. We are at a point now that as we grow, and get busier, that we have a robust practice to work from.
We’ve done an awful lot of traipsing round trade shows and going to network events within the industry to build a good network of reputable companies with shared values, whether that’s a supplier of stone, decking or plants. There is a lot of problems with plant disease now and lots of plants that are being imported that could wipe out or create a lot of issues with native plants. So we only use the best growers and plants and trees that have passports. It comes down to me educating our clients as to our supplier network with regards quality and professionalism.
McClure has come a long way since that pivotal moment which changed her life in so many ways but she has not lost the passion that helped start her journey and provides her with a point of difference to her peers.
I have a huge, huge passion for jungly and architectural plants which is something we want to develop as a USP for the business. However, saying that, I like all kinds of planting styles but that is something which is probably my strongest love in terms of planting themes and styles. There are a couple of suppliers that I use that specialise in those kinds of plants and trees which I hope to be able to develop even further.
Karen is now looking to the future as she plans the next phase of her business, drawing on other entrepreneurial characteristics such as innovation, discipline and resourcefulness as she gets to grips with developing robust processes that ensure a consistent product and the marketing of her business as she builds sustainability.
As I move the business forward my focus will be on ensuring our processes are water-tight. We’ve have some really exciting projects coming up in 2019 so we need to continue to do what we are doing and to do it really well.
My goal is for us to be the ‘go-to’ garden designer in the south east. At the moment all of our work is based on recommendation but as we grow I will be developing a marketing strategy and I believe that’s when your business turns into a completely different beast. You’re then the conductor and managing so much more than just ‘doing’. It’s really exciting and as long as I’m still in touch and oversee the design and I work on the client facing side of things, then I have confidence that my team can implement everything.
You can only imagine the emotional journey that McClure has been on, her father’s death inspiring her to start a business to do something she is passionate about while raising twins. The characteristics of an entrepreneur may be well defined but the catalyst that drives entrepreneurs may be less so and is often personal to them. As a role model to her son McClure tries to teach him, perseverance, resilience and manners so that once he leaves school he too can then fly.
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