Liz McAreavey: Never be afraid to seek out experience

Liz McAreavey, 'Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce chief executive
Liz McAreavey, 'Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce chief executive
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As we kick off the year, we are all energised by the prospect of a fresh start, a clean slate that inspires us to higher ambitions, greater success and increased vigour for our businesses. I suspect quite a number of us will cross our fingers and hope for some good luck or some mystical intervention to make life just that little bit easier and the opportunities that little bit more fruitful.

But we can’t rely on hope for good fortune to favour us. The truth is we are masters of our own destinies 365 days of the year. The decisions we make, good or bad, determine the kind of year we have and the prosperity we gain. One of my favourite quotes is from Aristotle who said: ‘Excellence is a result of wise decisions, taken from many options. It is choice, not chance that shapes our destiny’.

So rather than just take our chances, how do we ensure we make these wise decisions, or at least some wiser ones over the coming year?

Successful business people aren’t born with some secret power of foresight. Success almost always follows hard graft and many mistakes, honing decision-making based on experience rather than “gut”. If you don’t have experience, the smart way to get it is to ask someone who does. This can help eliminate a heap of pain and a myriad of costly decisions.

At the Chamber we run a free mentoring programme matching eligible businesses to volunteer mentors. It can have a huge impact on growth and productivity and aspirations. Our networking events provide access to people in business who face the same issues and can share experiences. Being part of a community enhances our knowledge.

We all need a mentor: a grown-up and experienced voice who asks helpful questions, encourages, warns and explains. Even better is a guide who looks into the future and imagines what might be coming next. Yet so few new entrepreneurs ask for help. We don’t ask as we don’t want to look stupid. It can be a lottery whether we stumble on the right course of action or not. I once rang Buckingham Palace and asked to speak to the Clerk of the Royal Household for advice on how I might create an authentic concept for catering on the Royal Yacht Britannia, when my business was tendering for the first ever catering contract. He took the call and we met and we won the contract. It’s ok to ask stupid questions.

I took on board two very good pieces of advice last year – you need 10,000 hours to become an expert, there are no short cuts. And be authentic – never be afraid to ask for help, collaborative working can be very effective. When faced with an unexpected or new challenge just remember, great artists borrow, geniuses steal and there is a lot of experience out there to pinch.

Liz McAreavey is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce