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Charlie Mullins: As Benefits Street’s Smoggy has shown, surround yourself with the right people

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Welcome to 2015! A year of new possibilities and opportunities. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to start your own business and harness some entrepreneurial spirit, then all the best to you; however, make sure you surround yourself with the right people. 

The saying goes, “No man is an island”, which as an entrepreneur can be a tough one to agree with, but there’s a massive difference between being a self-motivator with a vision and a lone wolf who thinks doing it alone will prove successful.

A good entrepreneur should always have good people around them. Even before taking on their first employee, a new business owner should have a strong support group that will help get the enterprise off the ground, not just financially, but through invaluable advice and guidance.

Of course, family is important, but their support is often rose-tinted, so it’s essential to have the backing of others who have the battle scars from the world of business and have basically been there and done it. 

When I started my business in 1979 you could count the number of business organisations and government schemes on one hand. We have the polar opposite now with all manner of business groups, government-backed programmes and mentoring schemes to call upon.

These are great, but I’d always recommend being able to call on some first-hand experience. Not only can you bounce ideas of them, but also receive frank and honest advice about how to deal with the challenges and obstacles that face new businesses.

It is very easy, however, to listen to people with none or very limited business experience who do not understand the “long-game” of running a new enterprise.

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Last year I offered support to a bloke called Stephen Smith from Birmingham, who is better known as “Smoggy” or “50p man” after he appeared on Channel 4’s Benefits Street.

His innovative, back to basics entrepreneurial style caught my eye amongst the misery and dross of the programme. He was selling things door to door for 50p each and had an ambition to open a store in Birmingham that would undercut people like Poundland.

As well as offering to mentor Smoggy, I’d also committed to investing some money and was going to help him find some premises. Unfortunately he got in with the wrong people who started demanding money for his services before we had things up and running.

It was a real case of not understanding the money isn’t there until you actually do some hard graft. I think Smoggy understood, but as I said, there were too many voices and they were telling him to put the cart before the horse.

Having the entrepreneurial spark is a real gift, but without the right people around them to kindle the flame, a new business idea will be extinguished.

Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who has offered me their best wishes after I was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours. I was incredibly honoured, particularly as it was for services to plumbing. 

I am so proud to be part of the industry and I hope that I can be an inspiration for young people starting an apprenticeship in the sector and also to those small business owners who can build their businesses into something special that creates and employment and puts something back into the economy.

Image: Shutterstock

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