T.T.T. (Disability & In Business)
10 tips for Entrepreneurs & Employees
(who have barriers to work from disabilities)
When thinking about this my mind turns to the words of wisdom from people like Richard Branson for example, and then mull them over with my own experience as a disabled Entrepreneur and having been an Employee too at times. After 25 years of senior management in some of the country’s most challenging health and social care environments, being the creator of several successful companies, all of which have made a considerable positive difference to others, including the spending power of two teenage daughters of mine, I sometimes feel like a wallet on wheels for them!
I guess there is a lot to offer with my experience and background (https://disabilityinbusiness.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/an-ageing-entrepreneur), I believe one has a duty and perhaps a given right to pass experience over, hence why I do a lot of work with Universities, with two main items on my agenda with them; to support students with disabilities get the most out their experience in these hallowed halls and also be prepared for employment post University. To work with the next generation of companies and organisational Managers and future Entrepreneurs, who will be employers themselves. It’s unbelievable how energised they can be, and in every group there are one or two rough diamonds that you can see will create global companies if mentored, guided, supported, fashioned into brilliant gems of commerce.
When lecturing I tend to base the first lectures on key themes, key messages, top tips if you will, and this is where I have drawn the following from, all based on experience, all based on commonality of experiences from people I admire in commerce, some of which apply whether disabled or not, these are not ranked in order of importance, as they all are:
- 1) If you have a disability, make it clear what your needs are, what equipment you need, what services you need and what these provisions and resources can help resolve. All too often people with a disability are trying to do a job, whether employee or employer, and don’t communicate what they need support with, but your colleagues and those around you can’t read your mind, so be open and you will be impressed with how they rally round to help you create an environment that lives the Social Model of Disability. Then engage with the statutory services such as Access to Work, who can supply equipment and support workers to ensure you can do your job, build your business. Yes you will need to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist of your choosing, but so what if it means your business can grow due to your productivity increasing, or your functionality for your employer increases, it’s all good. Be open, be honest, engage those around you, and engage with Access to Work. Stick stubbornness and stupidity of doing it alone in a tightly shut and double locked draw.
- 2) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes in business, whether disabled or not, we all do it, and if you have the right attitude you will have learnt something from these experiences – your knowledge will have increased. Often in business you realise that the destination is only 10% of the gain, it is all the experiences along the creative and innovative road, all the pit stops of new experiences you make, the number of spin-offs you have can be quite remarkable. I was working on a new project with a University Professor, and during the development we ended up forming 3 new companies from what we discovered, but the original idea ended up being a bust, and I would do it over and over again if the results were the same. So don’t be afraid of mistakes, be honest about them, be honest about what you have learnt and gained from that original mistake and try not to repeat the same mistake, that’s just dumb.
- 3) Enjoy your work, enjoy what you do, life is so incredibly short in the grand scheme of things. For pity’s sake enjoy what you do, especially in business. As an employee to have enthusiasm is needed, what do you gain from being morose? In your own business if you are not passionate about what you are doing, if you are not near obsessively ranting in jubilation about what you have to offer or what you have to sell, then this will be seen a mile off and you will not win service users or customers. Enjoy what you do for goodness sake; it will make your whole life better.
- 4) Quality is everything, whether as an employee or as an employer and regardless of disability. Customers, service users, the public don’t want excuses; they want quality of product, of service, of support, of provision and so on. Poor quality is just not acceptable and is a sure way of destroying your own reputation, company reputation and future sales.
- 5) Keep things simple, life is complicated enough, so try to look for simple processes, simple ways of doing things, simple solutions, simple plans and targets. I have read business plans with this target, that outcome, multiple quality statements, and umpteen aims. Keep it simple so people that are working with you can keep up, or if working for you they can know what you want of them. Nice and simple is nearly always best.
- 6) Face to face is best even in this era of instant communication and faceless social media engagement. Emails, instant messaging, texting, tweeting, LinkedIn (and the list goes on), is all well and good. For business it has revolutionised the way we work, and it keeps changing, and yes for the better. However, if I am investing in someone, employing someone, convincing someone, selling to someone, I want to see them face to face, I want to understand the look on their face and in this respect technology has helped enormously as thanks to systems such as Skype I can work with and communicate face to face with anyone anywhere in the world. I can have board meetings, supervision, financial meetings and never leave my home, which is invaluable with my disability and condition, as some days I am not well enough to leave home, but now I can still be in the office with my people via Skype and high speed broadband.
- 7) Listen to the voices, I like that old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, to listen twice as much as we talk. In business this is a definite top tip, listen to and engage those you work with, those you work for, those you serve, those you sell to, those you buy from, your network, your colleagues, your peers, your family and your friends. Do not pretend to know all the answers, it is much better to ask the right questions and then listen, and when it comes to customers go and find them and engage with them and then listen to what they have to say; using this information to improve the product, service or business generally. You should also be just as keen to listen to your employees and colleagues and elicit their opinions too for the very same reason, to improve their experience, their environment, their hours at work, as this will only go to improve every aspect of your business and staff morale.
- 8) All in it together is an important strategy for a new or a growing business. When one of my companies reached a size where we just needed more room I chose a big open plan office, which admittedly did have several offices surrounding the large open plan space. As I showed my managers round our new home to be, they all started divvying up their offices. I had all the offices knocked into a large training room/conference room and only left 3 rooms kitted out as comfortable meeting rooms. I absolutely believe that Managers, Directors and Managing Directors sit with their teams, their staff groups, as the Staff Team are one entity whose whole is far greater than its parts. Management must be part of every process, supporting their staff, delivering their part of the process with quality at its heart. The only difference between management and other staff grades is that a Manager has been selected to take more responsibility for the part of the company or business process and the staff allocated to them. Why does this warrant an office which then separates them from the process? Doesn’t make sense to me at all.
- 9) Adapt, diversify and survive. Any company, business or organisation that does not change as their market changes, is destined to fail, remember Woolworths? Hundreds of businesses go bust every year, laying off thousands of people, because they were just turning out the same old same old. They didn’t look up and around them to see what was actually happening – the customers’ needs changed, or IT made them obsolete or their competitors over took them. So it pays to be on your toes and not looking down at them, but constantly monitoring and engaging, adapting and diversifying ones products as our society changes. Ignore this tip at your own peril, you may have a couple of good years but it will not last; if you needed an example of the best in the business at diversification then take a look at the Apple story and what they are doing, truly iconic.
- 10) Now the tenth tip is the hardest. From a business point of view I would want to talk about cashflow – cashflow is everything, cashflow is the life blood of any business, so make sure you look after it, as often you expend a huge amount of money and can wait several months to be paid in some service based industries. Even in product based businesses, you may expend many thousands in stock before your purchases start to come through in small chunks, so keep stocks and overheads to an absolute minimum and put aside 20% of any profit for the lean times ahead, as they will happen. But if this tenth tip is about people with disabilities I would say make sure those around you see you for what you can offer and not for the disability, for your contribution and not for your wheelchair, for your positive problem solving and not for your white stick. I pride myself that within few minutes of meeting me people have forgotten the hunk of tubular metal with wheels fixed to my bottom, because I am always positive about business, always positive about other people’s ideas and always positive about finding solutions – it’s too easy to be morose, especially in this environment but whether an employee or employer, disabled or not, be positive as it carries you far further than negativity.
I believe all the above tips are relevant regardless of ability and capability, in business disability just shouldn’t be a factor. I hope these are of benefit and I would go a lot further than just the above tips if I wanted to change things for the better for those that just getting to work means they have faced challenges the majority never even think about, and I would start by ensuring every disabled person wanting their own business was judged on their business idea and not on their disability, then I would transform the Two Ticks Scheme (https://disabilityinbusiness.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/getting-ticks-is-easy-so-be-careful/). I hope you have found this useful and my regards to you and hoping for a brighter future to you all.
Smiling Cat Ventures and Innovations Group
Smiling Cat Ventures Ltd (www.smilingcatventures.org)
Innovative Minds At Work Ltd (www.innovativemindsatwork.org)
Moments in Time Ltd (www.momentinmind.org)
Innovative Business Consultancy Ltd (www.ibcv.org.uk)
Systems of Equality Ltd
Passport to Care Ltd (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)
Spiritual Inclusion (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)
Disability In Business Centre (in development)
Additional Information can be found at: