Bernard Ginns: Small firms should always look on the bright side of life

Put down your smartphone, or your tablet, or whatever it is that you use to consume information these days and take a step back from the planet that we inhabit in late September 2011.

Europe is in crisis, seemingly just weeks away from a Greek default and the grave risk that this will trigger a banking collapse that wreaks havoc, domino-style, throughout the Western world.

America, the world’s biggest economy, is in the last chance saloon, lumbering under gross debts of $15 trillion, its childish politicians squabbling while the proverbial Rome burns.

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Now forget all that for a moment.

Most of it probably won’t affect you that much. So instead of worrying about all those terrible things that might never happen, concentrate instead on what you can do to make your business better.

Doom and gloom will always be there, lurking in the background. It’s just a question of how much attention you pay to it.

Luke Johnson, the former chairman of Pizza Express and author of a new book, Start It Up, shared the following with me before his appearance at the opening night of this year’s MADE festival for entrepreneurs in Sheffield.

“You should not let the world’s troubles focus you too much. Each small and medium-sized business actually occupies its own micro-economy and eurozone interest rates and exchange rates don’t tend to affect local neighbourhood companies very much in my experience,” he said.

“It ain’t easy being in business and things could be better, but it’s been my experience over the decades that individuals, through their perseverance and their talents, are what makes the difference and external circumstances are not the most important factor.”

It’s a good message and a sense of perspective worth keeping in dizzying times like these.

n Everything in life that we create comes ultimately from a feeling.

The best business plans, the best strategies, the best acquisitions, the best disposals, the best hires and the best fires; they can all be tracked back to some kind of feeling.

Last week in Sheffield, there was plenty of a certain kind of feeling. You can call it inspiration.

If you can gather enough talented people together in one place and set them off against one another you are going to create lots of feeling and lots of energy to propel it.

The organisers claim that around 3,000 people will have attended MADE festival events from September 21-24. Many of those were students from further education colleges, the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I wonder what ideas and ambitions they will have taken from listening to the stories of those who have achieved their dreams and established multi-million pound businesses? I wonder.

It wasn’t all head-in-the-clouds stuff though, as those successful entrepreneurs kept on reminding the delegates. It takes an awful lot of hard work to create a company and an almost superhuman effort to sustain it. Many ideas don’t even get off the ground.

Peter Jones, the telecoms entrepreneur, told the audience: “The reality is that although you want to start a business, only five per cent do.” He spoke about creating a British Dream to rival the American Dream, the famous idea that anyone from any background can make it, so long as they have a good idea and are prepared for a lot of hard work.

“There’s a real difference in attitude,” he said, in reference to the transatlantic divide. “It’s a cultural issue.”

Doug Richard, a UK-based American entrepreneur, also spoke about this need for cultural change. He said: “When you start a business in California, everyone wants you to win.”

Mr Richard added: “We should be promoting young businesses. We need a lot more young businesses. A lot of those will fail. The ones that survive will create all the jobs. There is a lot to be optimistic about.”

n Government ministers showed up for the Sheffield festival, but they didn’t have anything important to announce.

Business Secretary Vince Cable and Business Minister Mark Prisk did speak well of the second annual event though, with both emphasising the importance of enterprise in the private sector to the future of this country.

Mr Prisk said: “It does not matter where you come from, if you have the ambition, ability and determination you can make something of your life. You can literally make your own fortune.”

Fine words, but you don’t really need a minister to tell you that.

I’m sure that you would much rather Mr Prisk and his colleagues got on with the serious business of reducing red tape in a meaningful way that would at least give some of those inspired people at MADE a fighting chance of success.