How to get started in business

18/09/2011 by Philip Jones

Luke Johnson, one of Britain's best-known businessmen, has some advice for new entrepreneurs with his latest book Start It Up
 

Luke Johnson has his own version of the favourite tea-towel slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On". In Johnson's language, the phrase becomes: "I survived all the balls-ups and I'm still plugging away".

One might raise an eyebrow, since one of Johnson's businesses was the ill-fated books and music chain Borders, which closed in the UK two years ago this Christmas. Johnson is phlegmatic - all business is a risk: "I've been involved in at least 50 businesses, and I've had some hits and misses, but that's the nature of the game. If you don't think there will be setbacks, then best not get into it in the first place."

Johnson is still better known for his business hits than his misses. He ran Pizza Express and was chairman of Channel 4; and through his company Risk Capital Partners he now owns chain eateries Giraffe and Patisserie Valerie. He is also a non-executive director of art book publisher Phaidon, and writes a regular column for the Financial Times, having previously written a Sunday Telegraph column called "The Maverick".

This month he continues his literary adventures with Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You Think, and he believes his return to the longer format is timely. "I had a number of points I wanted to make in book form, rather than [in] an article. There is a sense of entrepreneurship abroad, and I'm slightly different from most people who write these books, because I have been in the trenches, and I do actually run businesses as well as write about them." He also enjoys writing: "One of the wonderful things about writing is that you do it on your own and you can do it till you drop."

Despite his recent history with the book industry, Johnson remains a fan. "Books are portable, they do endure, which is important. I love books, and to a degree it's got me into trouble in the past."

Start It Up begins in typically honest fashion with his failures - or "setbacks" as he says he prefers to call them.  "You've just got to overcome them, learn from it, and move on - and don't bet the house," he says. "Unless your home is on fire, and you've lost a limb, they are inconveniences." Some are more painful than others, he admits. "There is financial pain, the ego obviously suffers, but also there is reputational pain. Having said that, the world is surprisingly forgiving."

Johnson says the book is more than just a self-help guide, and thanks to his robust writing style, it is also a homage to capitalism. "There is something very creative about starting a business - or in the case of Amazon, almost starting an industry." He imagines that entrepreneurs will dip in and out of the book as is necessary, or perhaps pick it up when they need a pep-talk. Chapter headings include "Time to go on the offensive" and "There will always be blood". There is also a chapter on why journalists are so gloomy.

Johnson himself appears indefatigable: "You should get wiser, but of course there are a million and one things that can go wrong, and no one can predict the future: but the key is to not let it deter you. The freedom and independence to be had from building a business and the satisfaction is hard to beat, and that's what the book is about."

 

Start it Up: Why Running Your Own Business Is Easier Than You Think by Luke Johnson is published by Viking.

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