Tony Robinson OBE has lots of things to be excited about at the moment; his new book, ‘Freedom From Bosses Forever’, numerous speaking events and business ‘gigs’ plus 2013 welcomes the first birthday of his baby, Enterprise Rockers, an initiative to support the hundreds of micro businesses that need it. Telling us of his many hats, his love of working with women, and what it takes to be an entrepreneur, Tony even reveals some companies he thinks are breaking the mould.
So, Tony what have you been up to this year?
We celebrated one year of the Enterprise Rockers at the beginning of January and it has been all celebrating since. We seem to have many thousands of foodie micro-biz in the Rockers so we’re eating and drinking well too. It’s one, totally manic but fun round of speaking gigs, media stuff and twisting famous folk’s arms to be Head Roadies and Band Leaders.
The Enterprise Rockers seems to be your main point of focus. Tell us what you are aiming to achieve.
It goes back nearly 4 years ago to when I met the fab and glam Tina Boden at a conference we were both speaking at. We realised that we were wasting too much time trying to make Government and Big Companies enterprise friendly and that, anyway, the best people to help micro businesses to succeed were other micro business owners. Tina is young but I’m running out of time to make a difference and thankfully she decided to found the Rockers.
Tina and I worked out, with a large group of business owners, that the fastest way to improve survival rates was to create a massive global, free-to-join-in, self-help community. We’re a Community Interest Company and a network of networks making micro-business
owners lives better, wherever they are. We call it ‘The Power of Plenty’ and we Rock!
How can businesses get involved?
We’re informal. You don’t have to give us your contact details unless you want to inter-trade, free, with other Rockers or, say, want to go to gigs or receive newsletters or use any of the unique Rockers’ offers like Barter place, Speed Mentoring, WinWeb app or the free, Cost Reduction service.
Many start by just following us on Twitter @EnterpriseRocks or participating in our Enterprise Rockers’ Facebook and LinkedIn groups. UK micro business owners can find out all the ways to get involved at EnterpriseRockers.co.uk. You can join in to do a little or a lot but everyone is in the Rockers’ Band to help each other keep going.
Can you tell SYB about your own business background?
I did post graduate qualifications in HR management. I worked for two US multinationals, finishing as a Managing Director of the UK subsidiary of one. I’d wanted to start my own business by 30 but I was 33 in the end because I enjoyed being wealthy. It’s been downhill in wealth since but I wouldn’t swap it for the world and I’m unemployable now. Clare Francis was my first business partner and still is to this day and she’s become my very best friend too. The secret of us still getting on in business, after 25 years, is that we live 200 miles apart.
We’ve mainly specialised in training media development, publishing, direct marketing consultancy and executive negotiating training but we’ve had many business ventures along the way. We’ve been lucky enough to have had famous and dynamic entrepreneurs as clients and we’ve also had some real disasters – I remember a cosmetics company called Sudden Change – it was Sudden Death to us – we lost all of our investment. I also did a piece of work for Lord Sugar many years ago that didn’t achieve what he wanted but he still paid the bill. I think he’s fabulous and his people are really loyal to him – I was chuffed when he won the tribunal case recently. He reminds me of my dad who had his own very successful business – although my dad was clean-shaven, fair, from Yorkshire, supported Hull City and a Methodist.
Clare runs her family’s Commercial Property Business and I have some other business interests too – non exec directorships and I part own a Government funded body called SFEDI which I founded 18 years ago, with FSB, FPB, BBA, CBI, ACCA, BCC, IAB, IoD and others to improve the quality of business support and training for start-ups.
What’s the most interesting aspect of your business life so far?
I just admire and enjoy meeting and promoting people that make something out of nothing to earn their own living – or as Tim Campbell MBE’s Mum and mine called it – ‘to make ends meet’. As a right show off, I’ve enjoyed speaking to 10,000 business owners at the NEC, organising and hosting enterprise awards at the Bank of England, HMS Belfast, BAFTA, Magic Circle and Kensington Roof Gardens. I’ve had the opportunity of working with lots of my entrepreneur heroes, all over the world, but I enjoy working with the stars, and never to be stars, of tomorrow too.
What do you think the future holds for UK entrepreneurs?
You’ll probably think I’m crazy but I don’t think it’s a good idea to think in terms of any boundary like a region of the UK. The Rockers are all
business owners and they’re not confined by any boundaries – location, background, education, faith … whatever. The future is always great for new business owners because we make our own future and sometimes we have to move to wherever we can do the biz.
Many countries are far better than the UK at recognising and supporting micro enterprise but overall it is about individuals making their own way. Being in a supportive network of business owners with the real know-how, know-what and know-who, like the Enterprise Rockers, really helps too.
You’ve recently released your book, Freedom from Bosses Forever. What was the most enjoyable or difficult aspect?
I think I made it difficult for myself by writing a deliberately funny business book with a story to it. I wanted to make it a page-turner so that the 80 proven enterprise tips were gained by every reader. Fortunately, when it was published in two editions as ‘Stripping for Freedom’ it got fantastic reviews and an entrepreneur hero of mine, Stefan Topfer, CEO of global tech company, WinWeb, said it was the ‘Funniest hard hitting business book that’s full of business truth’.
It’s been really enjoyable updating it, improving it and providing many more useful website links and I’m very proud of this new version ‘Freedom from Bosses Forever’.
Can you summarise the concept of the book?
Freedom from Bosses Forever is funny, fast paced read for everyone interested in enterprise and a ‘must read’ for those thinking of being their own boss. It has left some people ‘snorting with laughter’ but more importantly it pulls no punches in explaining the life changes that must be made in order to successfully prepare for and start a business.
It explains the skills and support needed to succeed and where to get them. It works very well as a Kindle Book and for all e-readers because there are also links to, what I regard, as the most useful websites to help a prospective business owner.
How do you suggest aspirational entrepreneurs handle difficult confrontational situations with their bosses?
All the best entrepreneurs I’ve met are brilliant at negotiating, making deals. There’s always a win-win with your boss, just think what is high value to him and low cost to you, and do a trade. So it could be that in order for you to do what you want, he or she will be able to let you do that if you give them some contact or some extra hours of work or some leads. Do a trade so that you can do what you want to do.
You look like you had fun in your photo shoot, what’s the meaning of the red hat?
I love hats; I’ve got over sixty. We didn’t want the Rockers to be all corporate so I started wearing fedoras at Rockers gigs, everything we do at the Rockers has got a band theme, that’s why we have band leaders, head roadies, etc. Anyway on all the fedoras I put little red guitars so that they’re the ‘rockingest’ and my favourite is the red fedora.
You seem to be a lively people person, who have you enjoyed working with the most?
I’ve already mentioned people like Tim Campbell MBE, the first The Apprentice winner, Lord Sugar and Gordon Roddick are special but most of my faves are women – I so honestly believe that if women business owners were running the UK we’d all be better off – such as Sarah Anderson CBE, my business partner Clare, Tina Boden and my daughter Sinead.
So why do you enjoy helping businesses so much?
I prefer helping business owners; it’s a respect thing – anyone that risked their own money to start their own business deserves our respect and all the help that I and other people can give them to survive and thrive.
If someone has a terrible idea how do you constructively criticise and advise?
No idea is bad but most ideas can be improved. So I’ll ask questions about their idea and nine times out of ten the concerns that I have, they will identify for themselves. Trust me I’ve had many a bad idea, but what I can do now is work with them to improve what they already have and make it a winner.
What are the best and worst parts of running a micro-business?
The best is that it’s mine, which means that I am in control of what it does and the worst is exactly that, it’s all down to me and that’s always a little scary! The important thing is to retain your passion for what you’re doing because if you’re passionate about what you do you’ll be able to keep going through the scary times.
Are there any new micro-businesses that you think we should look out for?
Arrrggghhhh…you’re asking me a question that’ll ensure I upset thousands of Rockers’ micro-businesses by not mentioning them! I’ll go for three; Razzle Dazzle Vegetarian and Vegan Ices in the South West, Pixie Craft Dolls in Cambridgeshire and the fabulous Khalid Sharif’s Ummar Foods that manufacture the most divine chocolate.
We’ll look out for them! What events have you got lined up?
We’ve got many events lined up because the Head Roadies in the Rockers are always launching something or other. However, I’m really looking forward to going to an event that our Head Roadie for networks, Mel, organises every September which is a business show for Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire. It’ll be great because Tina Boden and I are both keynote speakers and there’s a ‘Meet the Rockers’ reception which will be a real party of hundreds of Rockers.
Any final advice that you’d like to share with our readers?
Most of us that are running our businesses after many years are less interested in business ideas and more interested in where we can get income from. Never be afraid if an idea doesn’t work, try it out, improve what does and get rid of what doesn’t. If I asked you now to name someone who you see as successful in business I can guarantee you they’re not working with the first idea they ever had. They’ve adapted and changed and made it work and they’re still in business now. We think enterprise rocks because everyone has a right to earn their own living and make their own noise!