How to build a successful business – the skills you need

Deborah Meadon's book 'Common Sense Rules shows businesses the skills they need to grow Read on to understand which of Meaden’s key business skills can help you to build a successful business.

How to build a successful business – the skills you need.

Well-acknowledged entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den investor on the popular BBC  programme, Deborah Meaden, has a wealth of experience in what it takes to build a successful business.

Meaden puts her love of business ownership down to “the cut and thrust … the deals and the intricacies”, noting that the addictive nature of these aspects of business are what keeps entrepreneurs going back for more – even after they’ve made their millions.

Everything she says and does – in both her business work and Dragon’s Den – aligns with Kinetic’s core belief:  every decent business deserves to be trusted.

In her latest book, Common Sense Rules, she shares the secrets of her success – offering straight-talking and candid advice to budding business owners, giving them the skills they need to grow their business.

Read on to understand which of Meaden’s key business skills can help you to build a successful business.

Building a competitive edge

Your competitive advantage underpins everything – it’s your organisation’s ‘DNA’, what makes you unique – it’s your culture. Building a strong company culture is essential to business success. After all, as rightly identified by Marketing Guru, Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Without a strong difference which makes you stand out, there’s not much point trying to compete.

The point she’s making here is that it doesn’t matter how busy a market or sector is, you don’t need to be cautious of tackling it – as long as you’ve got that difference that positively sets you aside from everyone else.

As evidence, Meaden cites how:

  • Slicing bread made such a compelling step-change that it’s gone down in history with , ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, becoming common parlance.
  • MP3 players didn’t take off until Apple created the iPod.
  • easyJet led the revolution in low-cost flying.

Meaden suggests asking yourself :

What makes you (or your product/services) different?
Is your idea designed for the mass market or does it have a niche focus?


At Kinetic, to help you to better understand how you’re standing out, we ask three questions:

Why are you in business?
What makes you different?
How do you do things your way?


Understanding the potential of ‘newsjacking’

Identify a new story as it breaks and ride the news ‘wave’. News-jacking is all about identifying key news stories that are pertinent to your sector and taking advantage in such a way to share your expertise with others. By ‘taking advantage’, we mean generating comment or content around these key issues and amplifying this throughout the media – speaking to key journalists, securing radio interviews, releasing blogs onto your website etc.

To do this effectively, you need to:

  • Keep on top of the news – nobody wants to read all about yesterday’s news. You need to be prompt.
  • Your comment needs to be relevant – make sure you use the opportunity to share expertise with others, not sell your brand.
  • Do your research – don’t rush out with a comment for the sake of being first – the quality of what you’re saying is far more important. Don’t risk damaging your reputation with poorly thought-out content.

Being seen or heard to be talking about topical news events in a constructive way builds credibility – it shows you’re up to speed with your industry and you know what you’re talking about.

Meaden demonstrated how well newsjacking can work back in the early ‘90s when the Hoover promotional flights scandal hit. In 1992, to sell surplus stocks of washing machines and vacuum cleaners, the Hoover Company launched a marketing promotion which promised free airline tickets to those customers who purchased more than £100 worth of products. As very few customers were using the vouchers in the first instance, Hoover enhanced the offer to include flights to destinations in the United States. Demand then rapidly increased.

But  flights costed more than the £100 investment from customers that Hoover was receiving. This meant by the end of the campaign, despite facing £30m increased sales, Hoover was facing £50m costs – excluding the cost of legal claims made by customers who didn’t receive their airline vouchers.

As this came to fruition, Meaden’s British caravan park company, Westar, was prepared:

“Within days of the first bit of bad press going to print, Weststar had a campaign up and running that turned the whole problem on its head. Piggybacking the huge media exposure and public interest, we ran a campaign saying: ‘Book a Weststar holiday within a specified period and get a free Hoover’. The results were phenomenal.”

Managing reputation

It’s important to remember that not all publicity is good publicity.

Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway says: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Meaden agrees, as she claims: “I would avoid at all costs trusting in that old favourite ‘any publicity is good publicity mantra. It is simply not true.”

To ensure she’s getting the right kind of visibility and enhancing her business reputation, before any press interview, Meaden asks herself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What is my message?
  • How does this interview help my investments or my community?
  • What are my three messages?
  • How do I control this situation?
  • What would my customer want to know?
  • How can I entice people to find out more?

Getting a strategy into place – and sticking to it

One of the most important rules Meaden holds is that you should never purchase a last minute ad:

“Never respond to a cold call selling a last-minute [advertising] slot. A business should make its own decisions about the timing of an ad campaign based on the carefully thought-out marketing plan. A company that blindly buys into these advertising cold calls is dancing to the media company’s tune. A business should always be composing its own tune and be in complete control of what it does and doesn’t need.”

Tackling specialist issues with specialist help 

No matter how hard you try, how disciplined you are or how many hours you put in – once your business begins to scale, you can’t do everything alone.

It’s important you have help from people you trust – understand your limitations, develop partnerships, employ a team you can rely on.

Meaden underpins this by saying:

“I have gained a reputation for being good at sales and marketing. I am a business generalist but I know my limitations. One of my strengths is being able to spot what can be done for a business and that sometimes means bringing in a specialist. I have enlisted the services of [a specialist marketing house] for the simple reason I could spend forever trying to make the contacts [they already have].

“Too many companies rely on the fact that they have a sales and marketing department and think that that department can deal with any topic that comes under the heading sales and marketing. It can’t. There are many, many specialist topics within sales and marketing and sometimes you should not be afraid to call in the experts.”

Build an effective online presence

In today’s technological era, a lack of an online presence says a lot about your business.

The first thing we do when we want to find out more about a company is Google it. What services do they offer, how could they help me, how can I get in touch – if these questions are left unanswered, people will begin to look elsewhere.

Meaden highlights the importance of a strong website presence as she says:

“Too many websites are badly designed.  New businesses should put themselves in their potential customers’ shoes.  What would they expect to land on and see?  What is it that they are looking for?  And, above all, how are they going to buy?

There are so many different skills you need to  build your business but these are just a key few which Deborah Meaden highlights in her book: Common Sense Rules – what you need to know about business.

For real-life examples of Deborah Meaden’s business thinking in communications practice, take two minutes to study our case studies


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