Follow the 7 Ps of entrepreneurship success

Years of military service can crush the passion out of you, but running a business can restore your enthusiasm.

The Canadian military may be best known for peacekeeping, but it’s also home to ambitious entrepreneurs who are eager to disrupt the status quo. Last month, 19 active or recently discharged Forces personnel took part in a week-long business bootcamp at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld.; this month, two more programs take place in Laval, Que., and Regina.

What kind of entrepreneurs do soldiers and sailors make? To find out, I eavesdropped on a panel of Newfoundland entrepreneurs talking shop with the attendees of the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur in St. John’s. (The program is administered and funded by the Prince’s Charities Canada, which oversees the Canadian philanthropic activity of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.)

Three panel members were Forces veterans:

Brent Beshara, a 24-year veteran who served as a Navy Bomb Disposal Diver and in the Special Forces before retiring in 2007. Today he is a custom knife-maker and master bladesman, and sells high-performance daggers through BESH Knives in Holyrood, NL. He also organizes community art events with his wife, artist Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara.

Naval lieutenant Scott Harrigan, with 20 years’ service, runs two Halifax-based businesses in his spare time: Mariner Dog Products, which makes high-end dog leashes, and Glorope Canada, which sells glow-in-the-dark products ranging from dog collars to safety vests and marine products.

Ian Dawe, a 10-year Forces veteran who retired in 2010. He has moved into real estate development, property management and home inspections.

The three civilians on the panel were Ron Ellsworth, who has worked in telecom, technology, and real estate; Andy Newman, who started St. John’s first new commercial FM radio station in 20 years; and Greg Leaman, a designer and laser engraver who owns Engravable Designs Inc.

Based on their experience on the business battlefields, the panel discussed what you might call the Seven Ps of entrepreneurship.

Partner Don’t try to take on the whole world by yourself. Partners can supply skills, experience, contacts or resources you don’t have. If you’re just starting out and don’t know the ropes, Ellsworth said, “Look for someone who has done it for 25 or 30 years.” Mesh your energy with their experience.

Protect yourself legally A partnership agreement can help you and your partners know what to do when disputes arise, or one person wants out. One entrepreneur said he and his 50-50 partner don’t have such an agreement: “If he says ‘black’ and I say ‘blue,’ we have a problem.”

“I wish I’d had more clearly written documents,” Dawe agreed. “I wish I’d dealt with problems as soon as they came up, rather than let them go.”

Orals agreement aren’t enough, Newman added: “Who can remember what was said that night after our 14th beer?”

Prioritize your mission and vision “A mission statement clarifies everything,” Beshara said. “It defines your product or service. And when things go rough, you ask yourself, ‘Is this in alignment with our mission statement?’ If not, you realign the product, or the vision.”

Product quality is paramount “Work really hard to produce the best product or service you can,” Leaman said. Beshara, whose custom knives sell for up to $1,500, offered a warning from his own experience. Recently, he said, “We sent out a product sample that wasn’t very good, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”

Newman added that your personal commitment has to be gold: “If you have a problem, or can’t meet a target, don’t wait till the last minute to tell the customer. If you promise something, you have to be able to deliver it.”

Postpone hiring employees The panel agreed that full-time employees can make a huge dent in a small company’s capital. “The last thing you want to do is hire people,” Ellsworth said. “That means you have to make a lot more money.” Contract out non-core tasks such as bookkeeping, tracking inventory, or website maintenance, the panel agreed. Know what you are best at, Beshara said, and find qualified part-timers to do the rest. Above all, keep personal control over the tasks that form the company’s lifeblood: “You don’t want to hire someone to oversee the product and the creativity.”

“Once your business starts growing, it gets easier,” Dawe noted.

Pull out when you’re feeling overwhelmed Beshara was juggling a wide range of potential opportunities when he decided to cut himself a break. “We’re getting rid of most of those projects, and just keeping the best,” he said. “There is a huge relief in saying No. It brings us happiness and joy.”

“Some of your  ideas could be sapping your energy,” Newman added. “Focus on your core.”

Passion Time and again, the entrepreneurs noted the importance of passion and personal commitment for entrepreneurs. “Take on something you enjoy doing,” Ellsworth said. “If it’s work, don’t do it. You really have to love what you do.”

One panelist noted that years of military service can crush the passion out of you, but running a business can restore your enthusiasm. “In the service, it’s sit down and shut up and get in line,” he said. “But in business you have to be creative and passionate. It opens up a whole new world.”

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