Forget the nostalgia

If you think doing business is difficult today, spare a thought for the entrepreneur of 30 years ago.

If you think doing business is difficult today, spare a thought for the entrepreneur of 30 years ago.

If you think doing business is difficult today, spare a thought for the entrepreneur of 30 years ago.

I started my first business about that time and, whatever anyone says, it is far easier now than it was then. For a start, access to venture or early-stage capital was virtually non-existent. The banks were as tough then as they are now: personal guarantees are not a new invention (which made it pretty tough for me, as I had no assets back then).

Today, there is a plethora of funds offering venture capital, as opposed to poor old 3i treading a solitary path. Individuals wanting to invest in early-stage businesses can take advantage of government initiatives that offer income tax relief when you invest (now 30 per cent), no capital gains tax if you are successful and loss relief against your income tax if you should fail.

Spreading the world

But even more important than this is the ability to market your products or services to a broad audience at a sensible price using the web. For a start, your website is a phenomenally powerful advertising brochure. Search engine optimisation has replaced the Yellow Pages, where unless you were AAA-rated in the listings you were lost.

I am also amazed at how powerful things like Groupon are. This is the “discount” listings business recently criticised in the press, unfairly in my view. A friend of mine joined their scheme, and her business message and ‘price offer’ was sent to more than 300,000 named email accounts in her target area, south- west London. Such a thing would have been unimaginable 30 years ago.

So now you are thinking: there must be some downsides of modern business. Admittedly, there are so many petty regulations, from health and safety to tax, that small businesses are being stifled.

But look at it this way: 30 years ago you would have had to go to your accountant to do your VAT return, but now you do it online. Thirty years ago, if you wanted information on things, people or places outside the very mundane, you would have to have a degree in advanced library techniques to get the basic information now available easily, quickly and for free on the web.

Just think of how much more productive this makes you, both in targeting your potential customers and saving a considerable amount of time in pre-qualifying your prospects. Another key change to businesses today is the ability for people to work from almost anywhere.

In the bad old days, if you went away on holiday, for example, your point of contact would be a very expensive landline call and a fax machine if you were lucky. Nowadays, as we all know, you can conduct business from anywhere, and many people are now working from home. This avoids the need for expensive offices and time spent travelling to work.

I also think that there has been a fundamental shift in the attitude towards young people in the workplace. Thirty years ago it was very much the view that promotion was based on time spent with your employer rather than pure ability.

The advent of new technology has fundamentally changed this view, as most young people are more familiar with computers, social networking and the like.

It is also easier to go global today. I have a company that has no sales rep in the US whatsoever, yet set up a substantial part of its business there based on WebEx demonstrations. Email and the web have made international expansion far more attainable to growing companies than would ever have been possible in the past.

So I wouldn’t go back to how things were – although I do sometimes miss the boozy lunches.

Related Topics