Helping SMEs to Succeed: Would you survive in the Dragons’ Den?

In our first blog on how to help SMEs to succeed we outlined some of the challenges of setting up a SME and pointed out that much of the support for SMEs does not recognise the massive variation in different types of SME owner, and their different emotional needs. Against this backdrop, in this second blog we focus on what DVL Smith and Excellence Tools believe are the key areas where support and advice should be provided to SMEs if they are to be successful.

We believe this advice needs to be tailored to three key aspects of the business owner: the business focus they have, the robustness of their business mindset and their business capability – more precisely how they overcome setbacks and progress.

The Dragons’ Den Test

We arrived at our view that business focus, business mindset and business capability are the key success dimensions for a SME by watching endless episodes of Dragons’ Den. It occurred to us that those who were able to survive an interrogation in the Dragons’ Den - and were the kind of business the Dragons wanted to invest in - tended to perform well on these three key dimensions.

Firstly, they had a clear business focus. Secondly, they had a business mindset that was robust enough to help them along the emotional journey we discussed in our first blog. And thirdly, they had business capability in the sense of knowing the importance of mastering the art of being able to sort things out and make things happen. Below we look at each of these key characteristics and traits in more detail.

A Clear Business Focus

Everything we know about why certain entrepreneurs and businesses are successful tells us that this is highly correlated with the ability to focus in a laser-like way on what is most important for the business – they do not get distracted by ‘nice to do’, but not ‘critical to do’, tasks.

Successful small business owners develop the ability to apply a ruthless focus to making their business a success.  They ask themselves the question ‘Is what I am about to do next going to help me achieve my business goals?’ Everything they do is based on having a clear set of business goals and a focus that means that they always act with purpose and intentionality to achieve these goals. If you watch Dragons’ Den, the Dragons will ask questions around whether the business owner has a robust business model and other related questions. But, at the heart of what they are driving at is identifying whether their potential business partner has a clear business focus or not.

A Positive Business Mindset

Successful business owners have a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset). The growth mindset is characterised by being receptive to change - constantly identifying opportunities for growth, feeling comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. This is in sharp contrast to the fixed mindset that gravitates towards staying within the comfort zone and having limiting beliefs about what is possible.

It is important for business owners to have the tenacity and resilience that enable them to withstand failure. They always learn from what has gone wrong in the past and apply this to future success. If you look at the literature on what makes for successful entrepreneurs, we learn that they do not let limiting beliefs get in the way of what they want to achieve. They also tend to be optimistic, rather than pessimistic, about the future.

Revisit some episodes of Dragons’ Den to see how they ask questions to get to the heart of whether their potential business partner has this robust positive mindset.

Can Do Business Capability

Another key trait of successful entrepreneurs and small business owners is their confidence and belief that they will be able to overcome barriers, fix issues and progress through challenges. It’s about a belief that they will be able to find a solution – not having limiting beliefs about what is possible. So, it is less about the absolute level of capability they have at any one moment and more about believing in their ability to (eventually) acquire mastery over what needs to be done to make a business succeed. It is about believing that it is possible to eventually work out how to fix things and make things happen, given sufficient time, resources and conversations with others.

Again, if you go back and look at some episodes of the Dragons' Den, you will see that the Dragons ask questions to explore whether the business owner has that pragmatic can do/ can improvise, adapt and overcome (the US Marines motto) mindset.

In the next and final blog in this series on how to be a successful SME, we look at a number of specific ways to market and promote a business in order for it to be successful. These will help provide business focus, a positive growth business mindset and enhance business capability.

If you would like more information about our Excellence Tools Programme - A Success Blueprint - Seven Excellence Tools for Small Businesses - visit our Programme page. Visit for more about DVL Smith.

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