Building the Entrepreneurial Team

Successful entrepreneurs build successful teams. They build successful management teams and they also build personal partnerships with great coaches, mentors and technical advisors who help them to make the most of their own potential and to develop their business ideas.

Building the Entrepreneurial Team

Great entrepreneurs recognise that they need to play to their strengths and recruit others who can do the things that they can’t do well themselves.

Yet very few enterprise/business support services recognise this fact. Many (unwittingly) even go as far as stopping their clients from even considering it! Very few actively challenge entrepreneurs to consider the importance of building the right team with complimentary strengths covering the three key domains of enterprise:

  1. Product/service – the ability to provide a great product or service at the right price
  2. Marketing/sales – the ability to create interest in the product or service and to consistently convert that interest into sales
  3. Financial management and controls – the ability to keep the books and pay taxes as well as to provide accurate and timely financial forecasts and to secure finance at the right time at the right price.

Instead we work with individuals and then lament the fact that they don’t seem to be equally proficient in all three domains of enterprise.

We should help the entrepreneur to recognise their strengths and then to seriously consider the need to build a team to cover the enterprise domains that they are not strong in.

This may need us to confront entrepreneurs with their own limitations, which takes a strong relationship and a lot of honesty and courage. We also need to offer them ways to build their team quickly at low or no cost. This is a much more effective intervention than simply identifying their weaknesses and then packing them off to a training session on something that they are just not ‘cut out’ for. Unfortunately this IS the stock response for most enterprise service providers. While this may help to keep the training providers in business it usually does very little for the would be entrepreneur.

Business Planning as a Solo Sport

Many enterprise service providers also work as if business planning is a solo sport.

Lone entrepreneurs are encouraged to start working on their business plans almost immediately. We can argue till the cows come home about the value of business plans that are written on the basis of hypothesis and guesswork. And even the best researched business plans contain a large element of both. What I believe is above contention is that a high quality business plan can not be developed by any one individual. As Jim Collins suggests we should:

  • first build the team (get the right people on the bus) and only then
  • encourage the team to develop the business plan (work out where the bus is going to go and how it is going to get there).

This is because business planning requires different personality types and skill sets to provide high quality planning that is integrated across the three enterprise domains. I don’t believe that anyone has the passion and skill in all three domains to be able to write a well balanced business plan on their own.

And even if they could, their chances of implementing it all effectively are close to zero.

So one of the most effective interventions that we can do for entrepreneurs is to help them recognise that their first priority is building a strong management team.

This does not necessarily mean employing people. Nor does it mean giving away equity in the business (although sometimes this is EXACTLY the right thing to do).

It may be possible to find people who will contribute their talent and skills to the business on a voluntary basis. It is certainly possible to find people who will sell your product on a commission only basis.  If this proves difficult you really do need to ask yourself whether there is a market for what you do, at the quality and price that you do it!

In addition to building the team to work in the business I also think that entrepreneurs should consider getting further support signed up.   They should find mentors, coaches and technical advisors.

Choosing and Using a Mentor

The mentor should be someone that the entrepreneur chooses who has had experience in similar fields to the one that they are pursuing who is kind enough to pass on some of their wisdom, knowledge and experience. A mentor is not involved in the day to day development of the entrepreneurs idea or their business but instead focusses on helping them with their long term professional development and goals. They can also act as an excellent source of introductions and referals providing the entrepreneur with much needed credibility.

Choosing and using a mentor is not an easy or straightforward process. It requires planning, care and commitment to find the right mentor and make the relationship work. Yet I see business support services offering to provide clients with a mentor that seems to take little account of either personal chemistry or business need. Often the mentors are also looking to build their own experience through mentoring or want to mentor as part of their own professional development or corporate social responsibility programme. While these motivations may be great they do sometimes get in the way of the entrepreneur actively seeking the right mentor for them.

Frequently the resulting relationship breaks down with little value being created for either party.

Choosing and Using a Business Coach

A great business coach need not have ‘been there and done that’ in quite the same way as a mentor. Their focus is less on ‘passing on wisdom’ and ‘personal experience’ than around providing a relationship that the entrepreneur and their team can use to get honest feedback and support in structuring their goals and plans.

While the entrepreneur may only meet with their mentor once or twice a year it is likely that they will work with their coach on a monthly, weekly or even a daily basis, reviewing progress, developing goals and forging plans. The aim of the coach is to help the entrepreneur (and hopefully the whole of the entrepreneurial team) to make the most of their potential in building the new enterprise. The enteprise coach helps the client to make the most of their potential, focussing on them rather than on their business.

Technical Advice

The final part of the team that the would be entrepreneur needs to build is access to the right technical advice at the right time and price. This could be help with business planning, accessing finance or technical aspects of business development in any of the three domains of enterprise:

  • product/service,
  • marketing and sales or
  • financial management and control.

Many business advisers confuse their roles in coaching the entrepreneur and providing them with technical advice and guidance.  Eventually the desire to provide immediate help and support means that they end up giving lots of technical advice and guidance and do very little coaching.  They get sucked into helping the client to develop their business and forget about their role in coaching the entrepreneur.

So while the entrepreneur is surrounded by people offering them free technical advice and guidance they often find it very difficult to find access to high quality, person centred enterprise coaching.


  1. Muthu Ranganathan says:

    Excellent article, i agree with the comments on having the right people to do the business planning exercise and the solo sport part is brilliant



  2. Coaching is very important, but don’t neglect those below you either. Team building is a great way to bridge the gap created by job title.

  3. Am I to understand correctly that while the management team are all to be sought out as partners on spec., the business coach is a consultant hired by the hour?

  4. This is a very useful and timely article.

    As the results of the public spend on stimulating enterprise continue to reveal little or no economic impact so the attention is beginning to focus on growth businesses.Needless to say any policy work will be as flawed-actually scrub that and replace with become distorted by bureaucrats- as they move to finding more high growth businesses.

    The real issue is that there is a major difference between someone becoming self employed , someone starting a business and an entrepreneur.

    When I researched my book” Tortoise Walking for Beginners” it was to identify how people could learn to think and act like an entrepreneur.
    There were some fundamental points.

    1.Entrepreneurs get other people to do things for them-very often through the power of their personality.

    2.Entrepreneurs are excited by maximum margin and minimum effort.They are not necessarily passionate product people.Indeed they are never wedded to the product.Yes they are wedded to a sector that they enjoy-James Dyson and innovation,Richard Branson on brands and people.

    3.Entrepreneurs never do management and when they do it fails.
    They do ,however,recognise the value of the ensemble as opposed to the team.Like musicians and actors they value the interaction and create a climate for creativity.As with an ensemble everyone has a chance to shine at their solo and then move back to creating harmony and dissonance where needed.

    4.All of these things can be taught.If the aspirant entrepreneur is open so they will learn fast.If they are closed,control freaks so they will fail.

    5.The public sector funded programmes do not offer entrepreneurship but management lite for small businesses.That never ,ever produces that dramatic leap forward in profits and growth.

    6.Whitehall never ,ever takes responsibility.It is a failure free zone-that is left for politicians.(Oh and those that have a go.)

    • I agree very much with your distinction between self employed, starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur. In my view we should be supporting the development of al three. Lying behind each of them is the issue of purpose or self interest. What is the person trying to achieve? REALLY? Once this is clear (and it is never completely clear) we can then start the process of helping the person to recognise what they can and can’t yet do in pursuit of their self interest. This comes down to really helping them to know themselves and the roles that they can play and those roles that they need to find others to play on their behalf.

      In my experience entrepreneurs think in lots of different ways. Not all are maximum margin minimum effort. Some are maximum margin and maximum effort! I agree that most entrepreneurs are weak at management. Indeed most are weak at any team games and have to learn these lessons – frequently painfully!

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