Small Business Advice

Like Jo Malone, great entrepreneurs are a mix of graft and imagination

Christian Nellemann

What defines great entrepreneurs?

On my commute home from work yesterday I came across an article in the Evening Standard that, in my mind, summed up perfectly what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

So good, she did it twice

The article was written by the wildly successful luxury fragrance pioneer Jo Malone. Having sold her business in 1999 to Estée Lauder, she retained a position as creative director until 2006. And remarkably, in spite of all that success, she launched a completely new brand in 2011: Jo Loves. After much hard work and toil, she’s managed to create yet another global brand.

Her Evening Standard pieces document the highs and lows of starting again. And a few of her fundamental themes struck a chord with me immediately.

Never be afraid to graft

We know that all good businesses start with a good idea. Entrepreneurs are normally, by their very nature, creative, imaginative and dynamic. They’re able to spot the opportunities others have missed, and create the openings others have ignored.

But creativity is glamorous. What isn’t always appreciated is the importance of good old-fashioned graft. As Jo Malone admits herself, she’s a working class girl who’s spent much of her career at the coalface. While the products she’s created are luxury, the labour behind them is anything but.

And this point must never be missed for any aspiring entrepreneur. However good an idea is, and however well the prospects might seem, there’s no escaping the work. If you’re not prepared for that, you’re not prepared to run a successful business.

Always be ready for change

The other characteristic that stands out in Jo Malone’s career is the ability to adapt.

The business she created and then sold in 1999 was all about physical stores. Her website was an afterthought. Then, when she set up Jo Loves in 2011, she entered a retail world that began online – physical stores were now secondary. As a result, she had to re-learn most of what she knew about starting, running and growing a business.

But she adapted. She allowed social media users to guide her brand. She used print ads in combination with social media, leading to record sales. She built a website that would become the backbone of the business.

Jo Loves is growing rapidly, and Jo Malone’s ‘million dollar nose’ has struck once again.

The secret to success is no secret

People are often looking for a shortcut to success, but there isn’t one. There’s no magic to business; no secret waiting to be unlocked.

Jo Malone’s example paints an utterly accurate picture of what business success really looks like – a mix of imagination, hard work, and the ability to adapt.

And for me, the golden rule is to never betray a great idea by not working hard enough. You owe your great idea more than that.