Not about being the boss (for me)

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Heidi Taylor’s recent blog post titled ‘You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be the boss’, which I now see joins an increasing list of posts using the hashtag #BeTheBoss and which encourages others, like me, to share their stories.

Turns out I did need to be an entrepreneur to be the boss but for me (and I would describe myself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’), setting up on my own was really the result of a perfect storm of good timing and a compulsion to do something about the frustrations I was feeling at the time.

Firstly, the timing was right. I felt that my professional career had reached a point where my clinical and commercial strategy experience had enough depth and maturity to be taken seriously. The economic downturn also provided the right ecosystem for a young strategy advisory business to be incubated – yes, I set up a business during a downturn! Moreover, the downturn made me (and I’m sure many others) see the fault lines that were starting to show in the healthcare provider space; 4 years on, these fault lines are even more pronounced. Providers were in a ‘hunker down, cost improvement’ mode and didn’t seem to know how to reset their strategies towards growth and longer-term sustainability. Hence my frustrations; I knew that something could be done about the situation but no-one seemed to be saying ‘do you know that you can grow through this discomfort, if only you…’ So, Saffron Steer was born in November 2011. You can read the full story about how the name “Saffron Steer” came about.

Like Heidi, I never really considered myself an entrepreneur. My first proper encounter with ‘entrepreneurship’ as a concept was during my MBA @imperialbiz, which is well known for its entrepreneurship and innovation teaching and research. I shied away from any elective courses on the subject thinking ‘this isn’t for me; I don’t have what it takes’ and instead opted for the courses on customer-focused strategy and health/biopharma. Since those days, however, things have changed and I have become far more interested in what makes up the entrepreneur mindset.

I’m still learning

I don’t view my position as authoritative enough to offer any budding entrepreneurs advice on what to do and what not to do, since I’m still learning. When I do get asked for advice, however, I usually share these ‘guiding principles’ about what my company was going to be:

  1. I knew I wanted to grow a company, and a brand, and was not keen to position myself as an interim manager; the latter is a respectable choice that some people make when setting up independent advisory services but the former comes with a lot more stuff to do and presented more exciting opportunities
  2. Big is not always better; I was, and still am, determined to be excellent at what we do and remain niche and influential rather than just being ‘big’
  3. I knew I had to properly differentiate my offering if I was to sustain the business beyond a few ‘lucky’ projects; this differentiation started with the company name and continues in how we use language, how we articulate our purpose and how we go about achieving it
  4. I didn’t want to use the term ‘consultant’ (unless this referred to a medical consultant) and banned this term from the company’s narrative; management consultancy in healthcare doesn’t have particularly favourable associations and I knew I needed to differentiate away from these as much as possible and could do this by the values that I adopted for the company and via the operational processes
  5. I wanted to fully embrace a ‘trial and error/doing and learning’ philosophy in all we did and in how we enabled projects with our clients; this really works and gives you the bravery to try out new things, fail early, move and gain insights that could never come from deliberating and over thinking things

If you are planning to #BeTheBoss you may have to think about similar stuff. I hope this personal account builds on the masses written on the subject already.

Thank you for reading this. I’d be interested in any views or discussion that it might have stimulated. This has been ‘Away from the Heard’: The Saffron Steer blog.