Karren Brady Q&A – 6 qualities of a successful entrepreneur

SmallBusiness.co.uk meets Baroness Karren Brady to learn more about her career as a businesswoman and pick up some tips for entrepreneurs

Baroness Karren Brady – best-known as Lord Sugar’s advisor on The Apprentice – is one of the biggest names in business.

Small Business caught up with her as she addressed an audience of entrepreneurs in the VWorks co-working space at Bristol’s Village Hotel.

She was there to launch a new campaign – Village Green – which reflects and promotes the local communities it works in. The Baroness also announced the VWorks Awards (coming in the autumn), a pitch-style competition which will celebrate local businesses and inject much-needed funds and investment into winners.

Karren kicked off the hotel group’s new series of business seminars with an inspiring talk which was live-streamed to the other 29 hotels.

It’s clear that she is unwavering in her decision to go into the business world. When asked what else she would be doing given the choice, she earnestly replied that there was nothing else she’d rather be doing, pointing out that “even if you’re a rock star, you have sing the same songs over and over again”.

In among the victories, the setbacks and the lighter moments, Brady shared six attributes that she thinks make a strong business owner.


Karren Brady says that successful leadership is about knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

As a business owner and a parent, she taught her kids the ability to have independence, ambition and opinions of their own.


In business you’ve got to carry on being a success and she praises Lord Sugar highly for that. On The Apprentice, when Lord Sugar is shown as being somewhere at 4am, he really is. He’s the first in the office and the last to leave, says Brady.


A key element of determination is being able to deal with temporary failures.

“Everyone has failures – the most important thing is to keep moving forward. If there’s another route around these problems, that’s OK,” she says.


As a champion of women and young entrepreneurs, Brady stresses not to “look down on someone unless you’re helping them up”.

She’s an advocate for lifelong learning – especially first-aid training after being caught up in the Westminster terror attack and not knowing what to do: “If you think you know it all then you don’t know anything,” she says.


“Your action plan is just as important as your business plan. If you can’t explain your idea, it’s not a good idea,” she says.


Karren Brady advises entrepreneurs to find something that they love and something that they’re good at and it will propel them forward.

‘The most important thing about negotiation is to know at what point you’ll walk away’

Q&A: resilience, negotiation tips and why start-ups fail

I caught up with Karren Brady after her speech to talk more about what she’s learned over her career.

You talked a lot about resilience on stage – how do you develop a resilient mindset?

When I left school at 18, I only had myself to rely on. I had no safety net, I had nowhere to go. It was only down to me.

Resilience comes when you know that you can only rely on yourself. You know that if you’re not going to achieve it, no one’s going to do it for you.

Moving West Ham to the Olympic Stadium was a big step for the club – albeit with a couple of knockbacks. How did you approach the negotiating process?

It was a three-year negotiation – three times it was awarded to me and twice they said they were running the competition again. There were state aid complications and due process – it was a technical thing above all else.

Even still, it was like being stood up at the altar. Finding the way to go on and start all over again after a huge amount of effort is difficult. But if you really want it, you’ll have the energy and the resilience to go again.

The most important thing about negotiation is to know at what point you’ll walk away.

There are three levels of negotiation for me: to do a deal at almost any cost – and that is the worst kind of position to be put in. There are those where you’d like to do the deal and you know what you’re prepared to exchange for it. Then there are those where you’re not bothered whether you do the deal or not. They’re the ones you tend to get the best outcome from because you can walk away – and you really are prepared to walk away.

The most important thing about negotiation is listening and being able to pick up on what is the most important thing to the other person. You can then work out what you want to exchange. Negotiation is about getting what you want at a price that the other person can live with. Remember to push them harder than they push you.

Good negotiation is about research, listening, personality and getting on with people. Be clear about what’s important, be persuasive, make people feel good about the way they’re negotiating because nobody wants to be made to feel like they’re not doing a good job. It’s also important that you understand their position, sympathise with that and say “Look, we might be able to give you that if you give me this” and never giving an inch without taking a mile.

Karren Brady

You didn’t know a lot about football when you bought Birmingham City FC. As an entrepreneur, what should you know before you go into business and what can you learn on the job?

Know what the expectation is of the people who lent you money; know the deadlines of what to deliver and by when; never miss an opportunity to promote your business; and be prepared for the enormous amount of hard work.

The people I’ve met who left their job to start their own business do it because they genuinely believe they’ll have a better work-life balance. Really, the opposite happens. When you rely on yourself, it’s either feast or famine. You’re either working a lot or you’re not working at all – if you’re not working at all, there’s no safety net for you so you have to rely on yourself.

How do you set deadlines in a way that is both ambitious and realistic?

Say you’re producing a product – you have to have the prototype by this date, it’ll be in production by this date, you’ll have seen all the major stores you want to supply to by this date, you will have a package and a prototype ready by this date, the pricing point and marketing campaign ready by this date. These are the momentum-kind deadlines.

You’ve got to be realistic, but you can’t let every deadline slip. If you know it takes two weeks to get your prototype ready, do it within two weeks. Don’t put off today to tomorrow. Keep your momentum up, keep your drive up. Say “I will be sitting at my desk at this time, I won’t leave until this time”. If you can’t motivate yourself, you have to set the goals to motivate you.

When you run a business, you are responsible for all of the decisions that business makes. When you’re in a room people are looking at you to be the leader, to make the decisions about where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, what are the directions, who’s responsible for what. Those are all the serious decisions you have to make. You can’t make those decisions well unless you’ve looked at the whole picture.

Co-working spaces are great, but a lot of entrepreneurs are based in rural areas. How can they benefit from these opportunities when they have less access to them?

You don’t have to come every day. You can come one day a week, once a month, twice a month just for that sanity check. You can take mental health breaks by going to the gym, having a meal, having a drink.

You won’t be able to do those things if you don’t come out of your rural area. It’s about building up your network. It helps just to be around people and bounce off ideas. If you’re in business, you need that ability to network, to make friends.

In your 2018 TV show, Give it a Year, you say that thousands of start-ups close in that first year. Why do you think this is and what can entrepreneurs do about it?

I think the main reason is that the idea doesn’t work. It doesn’t come to fruition. Sometimes you can’t get loans from the bank, so you run out of cash. Sometimes it’s just harder than people think.

The most important thing for me is to test your business, test it and test it again before you give up the security of your job to go and run it. Only when you’ve got it to a level that you think is sustainable, do you give up your job and go and run the business full-time.

Further reading

The Apprentice: Karren Brady fighting sexism in business

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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