Steven Bartlett — entrepreneur, author, BBC Dragon, and host of “The Diary of a CEO” podcast — is among Britain’s most celebrated business leaders. Here, he shares some of the secrets of his success.
Great leaders let their people flourish. They know when to step out and, most importantly, recognise when their egos are taking control. Give your people room to grow, and success will follow.
But there’s more to success than effective leadership. Whether you are the head of a multinational or have just got your foot in the door, these tips have stood me in good stead for professional and personal growth.
1. Your time is an irreplaceable currency — invest it wisely
One factor that determines your future circumstances more than any other is how you decide to spend your time.
That’s not to say every hour needs to be planned or mapped out. I have never got up at 5.30am and done the whole gym, cold shower, read a book routine. I don’t even set an alarm.
It’s important to invest your time wisely, but — in a world obsessed with creating the “perfect routine” — never forget the importance of living in the moment, being present and spontaneous, and taking risks.
And — even if you are tight on time — work on carving out moments to continuously grow and upskill, whether that’s on the bus or when having your hair cut.
2. Success is 5% brains, 95% consistency — and a bucketload of resilience
Incremental adjustments can have a huge impact on the success of a business or team. I believe that success is built on 5% brains and 95% consistency. If you are consistent with the way your brand and messaging shows up in the world, it will always give you an edge.
Good work is also a culmination of hundreds of tiny details. It pays to be detail-oriented. That can be in the day to day or for your next marketing campaign — the most successful people I know all sweat the small stuff.
You need tremendous resilience in business. In any company, the day will come when everything goes wrong — because that day always comes — and quitting will feel like the right thing to do.
Remember, people who aren’t as involved in your business as you are will not be as close to it or as dedicated as you are. Some might expect you to fail. You will need an enormous amount of resilience to overcome that.
3. Move from the conventional to new and progressive ways
The tempting thing to do when you’re faced with a challenge like building a business is to accept the conventional ways of doing things.
Convention says the day starts at 9am, you’re in trouble if you’re 10 minutes late, and everyone gets 25 days’ holiday.
But the world has fundamentally changed, and expectations around work have shifted with it, largely due to social media.
It’s critical to find the fundamental truth in any situation. Things have changed and people need to find new and progressive solutions to continue to grow.
For example, if people value their work, they’ll fight harder to protect their job. If I hire trustworthy people and give them flexibility, they’ll be happier. Happier employees will work harder and serve our clients more. And if they serve our clients more, our business will succeed.
4. Understanding what audiences want isn’t as difficult as you think
People overcomplicate audience research. You can either ask people, directly or through surveys and focus groups, or you can test and experiment. We do both. With data-led experiments, you’ll soon find out what’s resonating and what’s not.
For creativity and inspiration, you should seek silence and solitude, not pressure and collaboration.
And let your values guide you, not passing trends. The cultural landscape is constantly evolving, driven by new platforms, algorithm shifts, and trends. You can’t let fads guide your decision-making. What’s important is that you stick to your values and be guided by data.
When thinking about new social networks, for example, I try to understand exactly what the platform is doing for the user. It’s fun, virtuous stories that work — crafty, viral mechanics that pull you in and provide a well-timed message for a generation who haven’t already seen a particular concept come and go.
5. Good ideas need time to grow
My best ideas have come to me while I’m in the gym, out walking, or in the shower — not brainstorming, in an office, or in a group setting.
For creativity and inspiration, you should seek silence, solitude, and a clear mind, not pressure, noise, and collaboration.
And if you want to master anything that matters to you, you have to build in your mind what I call the “someday shelf”. When that good idea comes, don't try to squeeze it in with other plans. Put it on the someday shelf and see if it still nags you in six months or a year. If it’s screaming at you, pull it forward and give it the sprint it deserves.
6. Sometimes the best campaigns don’t cost anything
The most memorable marketing campaign, for me, has to be Starbucks and the way they put a customer’s name on their cups. It is a genius example of free marketing.
People don’t see it as a top campaign, but it feeds into the consumer’s ego and encourages them to share on their social media. It’s free content and it stands out in paving the way for user-generated campaigns and marketing strategies that achieve big results for next to no budget.
Discover more inspirational advice from Steven Bartlett in Skills To Go — bitesize digital skills training designed to help Brits gain valuable skills to further their careers and grow their businesses.