6 valuable lessons all business owners can learn from Richard Branson

a person holding a magazine with Richard Branson on the cover

In 1971, a budding entrepreneur opened his first record shop on Oxford Street. With the cash generated from this retail enterprise, 1972 saw the launch of a brand – Virgin – that would become synonymous with Sir Richard Branson’s long and distinguished career.

From a media empire to an airline, and from the Now! album series to space, the British tycoon has become one of the UK’s most recognisable businesspeople, with his Virgin Group now owning more than 400 companies.

With the 73-year-old poised to receive a £650 million windfall from the sale of his Virgin Money brand to Nationwide, here are six lessons all business owners can learn from Branson’s successes – and failures.

1. There are no limits on what you can accomplish

The billionaire tycoon didn’t have an easy start. Branson went through school with undiagnosed dyslexia and has spoken at length about how his dyslexia has helped his long career after leaving school at 16.

He told Defeat Dyslexia: “On one of my last days at school, the headmaster told me that I would either end up in prison or become a millionaire.”

Branson has become a role model for both older people and those with learning disabilities – indeed he became an astronaut by flying to the edge of space at the age of 70.

The entrepreneur has provided that the only limits to your accomplishments are the ones you put on yourself or allow others to place on you.

As he says: “Not being exceptional academically does not mean that you cannot be exceptional. Do what you’re good at and perhaps delegate the rest. You will be exceptional at something… and enjoy what you’re exceptional at.” That brings us to…

2. Do something you love or are passionate about

Branson is a great believer that you shouldn’t start your business solely for financial gain.

He says: “Running a company involves long hours and hard decisions; if you don’t have a better reason than money to keep going, your business will more than likely fail, as many new businesses do.”

He advocates starting a business based on something that you are passionate about, or that will have a positive benefit on society. “If you do something you truly care about, you will be in a much better position to find customers, connect with them, and keep them coming back,” he adds.

3. Build the right team around you

“When entrepreneurial ideas are coupled with the right people, we can change the world”.

The Virgin chief is clear: having the right team around you can elevate your business to a new level. He uses the example of his own dyslexia to illustrate this point: “If you have a learning disability, you become a very good delegator. Because you know what your weaknesses are and you know what your strengths are, and you make sure that you find great people to step in and deal with your weaknesses”.

As you grow your business, finding the right people with the right personality and skills is key. Ultimately, you’re likely to want to exit your business, so you need to attract individuals who can maintain the same levels of care and service you have given to your customers.

4. Stick to your founding principles

Branson has one key piece of advice for when expanding into new territories or creating new products: “Uniting them all under one roof is one of the best advantages a business can have. Customers relate to brands and the values they stand for more than the tangible aspects of a product”.

His advice is to work out your business’s core values and principles early in your journey. You can then build your business around these values and turn them into tangible benefits your customers can engage with.

He says: “Virgin has always been about putting the customer at the heart of everything we do and innovating in industries ripe for disruption. This is what our brand stands for and is applied to every business bearing our brand name.”

5. Nurture your staff

Once you have built a strong team, Branson says that your next task is to nurture your staff – and to involve them. “My golden rule in business? Listen to your staff”.

Above all, the 73-year-old values treating all colleagues with respect — not just because it’s good business, but because it’s how a leader should behave.

“Just like a flower needs water, people flourish when they are praised. Even the finest criticism can be so damaging especially if it comes from the person running the company”, he adds.

Many of the best ideas in business come from the people working in day-to-day roles. So, ensure you have clear and open channels of communication and feedback, and encourage your team to make suggestions that could help your company to improve.

6. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes

As well as huge successes, Branson has also had his fair share of business failures. His drink brand Virgin Cola was discontinued in the UK in 2009, while the short-lived Virgin Cars retailer closed in 2005.

A key lesson Branson teaches is that you shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things and failing. He says: “I suppose the secret to bouncing back is not only to be unafraid of failures but to use them as motivational and learning tools… There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you don’t make the same ones over and over again”.

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Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

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