Opinion

Failing to plan is planning to fail? Not for entrepreneurs

5 min read

30 October 2012

Research and planning are often deemed fundamental to business success. Self-made entrepreneur Jo Haigh disagrees, arguing that research "bores the life out of me".

Do true entrepreneurs calculate risks?

Having run my own business for nearly 25 years I have taken my fair share of risks. A well know business saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. In reality, though, I often have so many ideas I don’t know where to start, and whether I have a fully laid out and formulated plan is another matter.

That could of course be why, although I consider myself fairly successful (I have four bestselling books and am writing my fifth, sit on six boards as a non-executive director, have three companies and had made my first million by the time I was 30), I would say that one per cent of my successes are represented by 99 per cent of failures.

Saying I don’t have a detailed plan suggests I have risked the family silver. But although I have had to give the obligatory PG, I have done so only after careful thought and having explored every other possible option.

What I don’t do – largely, if I’m honest, because it bores the life out of me – is loads of research and posturing. I have a “let’s have a go and deal with the consequences” attitude.

This does mean that my staff sometimes have to do a bit of sweeping up after me; but I guess that’s part of the role of working for an entrepreneur.

If you’re like me, the frustrating politics of large corporations will not be for you. My mantra has always been, it’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission and that would have got me into a lot of trouble in such institutions.

When I have ventured into these businesses it’s always been a disaster. I can’t, don’t and won’t fit the model in all sorts of ways; from my attitude to making quick decisions to the way I dress. I am my own, unplanned person.

The question for the budding entrepreneur is, if I had planned would I have been more successful? That’s not one I can answer.

What I can say is that it wouldn’t have been half the fun or the wild ride it’s been at times. Detail is something I’m not interested in; I get bored quite quickly and need to be permanently stretched and challenged. I decided a long time ago to surround myself with great people, have a mentor, formal or otherwise, and to give back to young and aspirational people as much as I can. I call it “sending the lift back down” and it’s brought me more rewards than anything I have ever done.

Proud as I am to be from Yorkshire, where we are renowned for our straight speaking, what I don’t tolerate is bad manners. Being kind and saying thank you are a huge part of who I am. I do not believe if something is not right you need to publically expose the business or person; well, certainly not before trying more appropriate and subtle methods.

Why make enemies when it’s so much easier and much more pleasant to make friends? I am no softy, rather I hope I am a genuine, caring person who is grateful for the chances she has had, for not blowing it all on red and for having a family and staff that love and like me and for whom I feel the same.

I would like my epithet to say, “Well, she did the best she could and it wasn’t half bad.”

Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance services and the author of “The Financial Times Guide to Finance for Non Financial Managers”.