MT Expert - Entrepreneur: Build a debt-free business in five years

If you are starting a business in 2012, try and do it against no borrowing, says entrepreneur Robert Stiff.

by Robert Stiff
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

When I launched my healthcare recruitment firm Team24 back in 2005, I had a clear vision of where I wanted it to go and how quickly I wanted the business to grow and develop.

I sat down with my start-up management team and we put together the business plan for what Team24 was going to be. Most of the people in who were in that room with me as part of start-up management team are still with me today.

The key was to start as I meant to go on – I was adamant that I was going to do this my way without any financial help from elsewhere. If it did well, I would reap the rewards, I told myself. If it failed, I would only be answerable to myself.

So I started it with my own money, against no borrowing and was determined to stay debt free. Yes it was a risk, but that is the very essence of what being an entrepreneur is.
I heard a very good anecdote recently that being an entrepreneur and starting a business was akin to jumping off a cliff and having to assemble your airplane on the way down whilst reading the instructions.

That airplane portrays your revenue, profit and your learning curve. You need to build that airplane before you hit the ground.

But in more serious terms, I see an entrepreneur as someone who spots an opportunity where others don’t. It is someone who has self-belief, who works impossibly hard, and who adapts to the market along the way.

An entrepreneur has to back his judgment with personal investment at a level which will cause problems if they are wrong about the opportunity.

In August 2005, I put my life’s savings into Team24. Five years later, it was purchased by outsourcing giants Capita for £25m. An analogy that would best describe Team24’s growth is that of an English football club which begins in the fourth tier and then wins successive promotions every year to suddenly find itself in the Premier League with, by and large, the same squad of players.

Success often comes from the top, from a good leader - a good football manager. I tried through my motivational skills to adopt a winning mentality which drove the firm forward. Like any football side that is used to winning, it becomes a habit at the club- so ingrained in the players that this culture rubs off on all those around them.

Everyone at Team24 knew their roles and took responsibility for their actions. They realised that no matter how small a contribution they made, it formed part of the machine that made the wheels turn. The same goes for football. A defender knows he has to defend, a striker knows he has to attack, and that is their primary functions. If both do their jobs properly, good results will often come the team's way. But in desperate times, a striker knows he will have to tackle back and defend, as will a defender know that he may be called upon to score a key goal.

I didn’t make Team24 worth £25m on my own and fully recognise how my colleagues’ sound advice and hard work helped give the company its worth. But my role was to take on board the various pieces of advice I was given and carefully select the most useful with my reading of the marketplace.

As an entrepreneur, there is one over-arching precept that must govern everything you do: remember that your ultimate fate will always depend on the decisions that you make.

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