Confidence – The Stuff Entrepreneurs Are Made Of

This article was originally written for and published on Upmarket – the US-based online business magazine at

Over the past three years I’ve worked with thousands of start-ups across the UK, and have come to the conclusion that confidence is the number one ingredient that entrepreneurs need if they are to succeed in business.

Although funding (or the lack of it) is regularly cited as a barrier to starting a business, it’s really the mindset and attitude of the founder that is more important than anything else. Let me qualify this statement.

Working for one of the UK’s longest running youth enterprise programmes means I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many hundreds of entrepreneurs at various stages in their career including some of the most successful business people in the country. They all share a common trait with each other which is an unshakeable self-belief in what they are doing and the path they have chosen.

There’s a long-running argument in the business world about whether entrepreneurs are born or made but I’m now a firm believer in the latter. Confidence is born out of experience and so the more varied experiences you are exposed to the more confident you will become. In particular, it appears that if someone experiences a positive outcome to their entrepreneurial activities early on in life (no matter how small), they are highly likely to repeat this behaviour again. It’s almost like a switch in their brain is flicked and they start to see things differently to everyone else around them.

It sounds like a cliché, but I’ve lost count of the number of entrepreneurs who talk fondly about their time washing cars as a kid or selling sweets in the playground which gave them an early taste for business and set them on the entrepreneurial path. Lord Sugar (the UK equivalent of Donald Trump on our version of The Apprentice) caused controversy recently by saying that ‘If parents don’t send their kids out to make money by the age of 13, they’ll become lazy dreamers!’ He may have a point but I don’t think it’s ever too late to train yourself to think in a more entrepreneurial way.

In my own life, my main focus at school and university was always on ‘getting good grades’ (whilst having fun along the way) which would eventually lead to ‘a good job’ with ‘a good company’. I’ve been fortunate to work for some fantastic companies over the years but I’ve also had some setbacks too – including being made redundant and out of work for almost a year in 2001 which took a long while for my career (and finances) to recover from. However, I actually see this as a positive period as it allowed me to spend more time at home with my family, reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life and pursue a career in the music industry for the next few years before pivoting again into the not-for-profit sector where I have been ever since.

Each new role and the experiences they brought have made me stronger and more confident in my own abilities to learn new skills and adapt to previously unknown situations. It’s given me a much broader perspective on life and in work which means I am always eager to learn and quick to adopt new ideas. My personal motto is ‘Stay Curious’ as I feel you can never stop learning and growing as a person which is what Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha mean by living your life in ‘Permanent Beta’ in their new book The Start-Up Of You. This attitude and confidence, plus the fact I am working with start-ups every day means I have become more entrepreneurial in my role and can see opportunities for new projects and collaboration everywhere I look.

But what if you didn’t catch the entrepreneurial bug as a kid or jour job doesn’t inspire you to think like an entrepreneur? What can you do to build up your confidence and train yourself to be an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur)?

Some ideas you could try:

  • Read widely – the fact you are here suggests you are curious about personal and professional development but there are many great websites and blogs out there as well as Upmarket. I recommend not just reading online though. It’s still good to get away from your device and I still get a lot of inspiration from reading a physical newspaper, magazine or book. If you want to open your mind, I recommend reading any of The Domino Project books, preferably starting with Poke The Box by Seth Godin.
  • Talk to people – although we’re living an increasingly virtual world, you must never stop meeting and talking to people face to face. Too many problems at work are caused by poor communication within teams so perhaps you could try a No Email Day so you can build up greater rapport with your colleagues, even if it’s just getting away from your desk for a coffee in another part of the office. Human beings are inherently social and real conversations ebb and flow and meander into all kinds of interesting directions which can result in fantastic innovation if you let them.
  • Network – people always talk about the importance of networking but not many people do it right. There are so many ways to network these days, both online and offline but it’s important to try and do it with a goal in mind. Remember though, networking without a purpose is just socialising!
  • Create opportunities – why not start your own informal networking events for similar, like-minded people with a shared interest to gather? The trick here is to keep the agenda loose rather than define a structured event and let the events evolve and form around the people who attend. For example, in June 2011 I started hosting informal, after work events for local developers, designers and start-ups in my city which now attract 50 people each week. The events are free to attend and the format is simply to have one or two speakers on a theme, followed by relaxed drinks in the bar next door (where the really interesting conversations happen)!
  • Enter Awards / Competitions – I’ve seen first-hand how even just a small amount of money or just the kudos of winning an award for their work can be a real boost to an entrepreneur. Time and again the feedback we receive for the start-up awards we give out is that although the (small) amount of cash was what attracted them to the competition in the first place, it was the confidence and validation that winning gave them that was the biggest benefit. More than money, awards can generate fantastic PR for your business and open doors to more opportunities down the line.
  • Scare yourself – the only way to grow and develop both personally and professionally is to try things that you previously couldn’t do. Fear is a completely normal and natural feeling to have if you are in a dangerous environment but is usually irrational and without substance. Even if things go wrong, the negative outcome of doing something is rarely as bad as you think it will be and unless you try you’ll never know if you can do it. A good example of this is public speaking. Most people are afraid of speaking in public but the more you do it the easier it gets. If this sounds like you, why not put yourself forward to speak at an event on a topic you are passionate about? The fear and nerves will make you try harder and once you’ve done it the fear will be gone forever. Follow the fear. If you’re afraid of something, that’s where you should go next!

Emotional Technology

Below are the slides from my Techmesh / CIM presentation at The Rose Bowl, Leeds Met University on Thursday 8th March 2012.

The theme was ‘Emotional Technology + How Ideas Spread‘ as I was trying to convey the fact that no matter how amazing the technology is, it’s only when it taps into real life human emotion, needs and desires that it will truly succeed. The slides contain links to two of my personal favourite YouTube clips (from Little Riot and Mad Men) which demonstrate the power of storytelling when getting others to buy into your ideas.

Techmesh is the B2B network for Yorkshire and Humber’s IT & Telecommunications sector and part of Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. This was my first, but hopefully not my last event with them as I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with them. Visit to find out more about the great work they are doing for the sector.

Plan Digital Street Team

Since January 2011 I’ve been a member of Seth Godin’s ‘Domino Project Street Team’, a global group of around 70 people helping to raise awareness of all the great work and books published through The Domino Project.

This has been such a fantastic experience for me that I’m now looking to build my own ‘Street Team’ of people interested in finding out about (and promoting) latest trends and ideas in business, technology, music, publishing, film, art, personal development + more.

So, if you’re a blogger, thought-leader, DJ, tastemaker or simply someone with a genuine interest and curiosity in the world and making a difference please do the following.

Email me at with:

  • a short paragraph about yourself & why you want to be part of the ‘Plan Digital Street Team’
  • links to your Twitter & LinkedIn profiles
  • links to any other relevant blogs/websites you run or write for

This is an unpaid gig but just like The Domino Project there will be benefits to Street Team members and it’ll look good on your CV too!

Paul Lancaster @plandigitaluk | @lordlancaster

Recommended Reading

Here’s a list of some of the most useful and inspiring books I’ve read in recent years.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

“Seth Godin is on a mission to change the face of publishing with ‘The Domino Project’ and I think he’s onto a winner with this book that encourages you to Go Go Go! Instead of waiting for someone else to pick you to do something great, this book will help you realise that it’s time to pick yourself.”

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? How to Drive Your Career and Create a Remarkable Future
by Seth Godin

Working 5 to 9: How to Start a Successful Business in Your Spare Time
by Emma Jones (Enterprise Nation)

“Easily one of best guides to starting a business from home that I’ve come across so far! Written in a fun and informal style, I think this is essential reading for anyone thinking of, or already running a business in their spare time whilst still holding down a day job – something that lots of people do, but few other books or enterprise schemes seem to acknowledge. The first part of the book is devoted to inspiring case studies of real life ‘5 to 9ers’ whilst the rest is full of useful and up-to-date tools, tips and resources. Highly recommended!”

The Start Up Kit: Everything you need to start a business by Emma Jones (Enterprise Nation)

“Another fantastic resource from one of my favourite business start-up authors Emma Jones. Not only does this include a 200 page book full of bang up to date advice and resources, but also £400 of offers from leading brands including Google, Barclays, BlackBerry and Well worth a look.”

Get Off Your Arse by Brad Burton

Get Off Your Arsealt by Brad Burton

“Brad Burton’s awesome book ‘Get Off Your Arse’ is essential reading for anyone starting a business or at a crossroads in life!

Working for Shell LiveWIRE (the UK’s biggest online community for young entrepreneurs), I read A LOT of business, management, marketing and self-help books, but this is one of the most enjoyable, funny, practical and useful ones I’ve come across. Unlike many ‘business gurus’ Brad’s no-nonsense approach to telling you EXACTLY how it is and calling a spade a spade is really quite refreshing.

He’s been there, done that, worn the t-shirt and is still doing it not only for himself but for the many people he helps support through his motivational speaking gigs and 4Networking Business Breakfast events.

Online he can come across as outspoken, brash and controversial but I love that about him. He’s 100% true to himself. Having had the pleasure of meeting him and experiencing the ‘Brad Grenade’ first hand – a whirlwind of excitement and energy when he walks in the room, I wish more people in business and life were like him.

Highly recommended! Also, check out the excellent sequel Get Off Your Arse Too!”

Get Off Your Arse Too

Get Off Your Arse TooGet Off Your Arse Too by Brad Burton

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-line Dispatches from the Advertising War by Jerry Della Femina

“Awesome book from advertising legend Jerry Della Femina in the 1970s. Inspiration for the show Mad Men which Della Femina worked as a consultant / adviser on in series one.”

Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life (Quick Read) by Richard Branson

50 Ways to Make Google Love Your Website by Steve Johnston & Liam McGee

“Essential reading for anyone building or managing a website. The best I’ve seen so far. Easy to read, yet packed full of practical tips and advice to make your site truly great. Awesome stuff!”

Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business""
by Larry Weber

Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web by Brian Solis

Free: The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business by Chris Anderson

The Domino Project: Start. Now!

Slides from my 5min Ignite presentation first delivered at the Codeworks Connect ‘Think and a Drink’ event at the Vermont Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne on Thursday 29th September 2011.

Barriers to 'Great Work'

‘Barriers’ stopping people from producing ‘Great Work’ and achieving their dreams in Newcastle. (I got people to write them down on a piece of paper, scrunch them up into a ball, and throw them at a target on stage during my ‘Ignite’ presentation at the Codeworks Connect ‘Think and a Drink’ on 29th September 2011.

Contact me via @plandigitaluk, @lordlancaster, or call +44(0)7734 722 716 if you’d like to know more or get me to deliver this presentation again for you.

‘End Malaria Day’ – help save lives by helping yourself

If you’re a fan of Seth Godin and other motivational, inspirational writers then you will find the new book from The Domino Project ‘End Malaria‘ a real treat.

Packed full of short essays, tips and insights from over 60 of the world’s leading thinkers and business brains, the purpose of this book is not only to inspire and engage the reader to bigger and better things in their own life but to actually participate in a much higher purpose by saving the lives of others.

Released on 7th September 2011 as part of ‘End Malaria Day‘ – $20 dollars (around £12 GBP) from each physical copy sold (and the full amount of each Kindle version) will be donated to ‘Malaria No More‘, an international advocacy organisation on a mission to end malaria-related deaths by 2015.

The money raised will be used to pay for mosquito nets which are proven to be one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce deaths and increase life expectancy in malaria-ridden countries. (Watch Bill Gates’ legendary TED talk from 2009 below in which he announced his campaign to end malaria).

Please buy this book and play your part in saving lives today. To find out more about the project and people behind ‘End Malaria Day’ watch the video below and visit:

‘Read This Before Our Next Meeting’ by Al Pittampalli

How many meetings do you have at work where you leave thinking ‘what a complete waste of time and effort’?

If the answer is ‘a lot’ or ‘most of them’ then you really must read Al Pittampalli’s excellent new book ‘Read This Before Our Next Meeting‘.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting

The latest title from The Domino Project, Al’s book highlights all that is wrong with the ‘traditional meeting’ and suggests a better, more productive way to do business through the ‘Modern Meeting‘.

Describing Microsoft Office email Appointments as ‘weapons of mass interruption’, Al hits the nail on the head when he says that it’s far too easy for people to call team meetings with little care or thought for the impact they might have on the recipients that have to sit through ‘another bad meeting’.

Furthermore, he points out how meetings have become stalling tactics and havens for complacency and collective indecision in too many organisations around the world. Too many meetings with too many people (or the wrong ones) leads to inaction, compromise and mediocrity. ‘Less talk, more action’ should be the new mantra.

Some of the key themes and ideas I took from the book which I will be trying to implement in future include;

  • Thinking really, really carefully before calling a meeting and who you should invite. (Sounds obvious but is a very important point to make).
  • Taking your time to circulate reading materials before the meeting and INSISTING that all attendees read them beforehand. If they turn up for the meeting without reading, then you are perfectly within your rights to ask them to leave. Time is precious and you certainly don’t have time to go through the background info at the beginning. These types of ‘informaional meetings’ are a big waste of your and everyone else’s time.
  • Simply turning up for a meeting isn’t enough. All attendees should be expected to ‘turn up’ in mind and spirit and contribute something to the meeting. Make it clear that they must add some value to proceedings (asking questions, sharing insight, offering to take on tasks) otherwise they aren’t welcome or necessary and won’t be invited to future meetings.
  • Make sure that all meetings have a clear purpose, clear objective(s) and end on time. Put a big visual countdown timer on display so people know that you mean business.
  • Ensure that someone makes good and proper notes from the meeting which are circulated soon after with clear action points for all attendees. I would actually suggest that if it’s important, the person calling the meeting should also take their own notes and follow things up personally. Ideally, all attendees should be making their own notes too and taking responsibility for actions in the actual meeting (far too many do neither and then can’t remember what was agreed to).

Like all Domino Project titles, this highly useful book is deliberately fast-paced and designed to be read in around 1hr (I read mine via Kindle App on my Windows Phone on the bus journey home from work).

So, if you’re sick of feeling like your time is being wasted by pointless meetings or are simply looking for ways to improve your professional capacity and productivity at work, then I highly recommend you grab hold of a copy. Even better if you can share it with your colleagues too so they can understand where you are coming from.

Perhaps you could even hold a ‘Modern Meeting’ to discuss how to roll them out across the organisation?

Buy it from Amazon
Kindle version here or
Hardcover version here

‘Pick Four’ by Zig Ziglar – great to read, even better to share

The latest Domino Project book ‘Pick Four’ by legendary US salesman Zig Ziglar is out today

Coming as a 4-pack of spiral bound books which are designed to be written in and shared, Pick Four is an updated version of Zig Ziglar’s legendary goal-setting program, The Performance Planner.

A handy way to follow Twitter discussions about this book is via the excellent Book#Hashtags website at:

Pick Four (4 Pack – Designed to Share)

Updated, simplified and introduced by Seth Godin, Pick Four, is designed to help anyone achieve his or her goals. This edition includes four copies of Pick Four, ideal for sharing with friends or stretching your goals out over the year. Using Ziglar’s philosophy that the key to success is directed action, this book challenges the reader to reach outside his or her comfort zone and take the necessary steps to achieve success. Known for his genuine and authentic approach, Ziglar imparts decade’s worth of strategies. Pick Four is an important tool for anyone looking to create positive change; guaranteed to put you on your path to success.

7 little videos you will love [by Derek Sivers]

Received this email from Derek Sivers this morning about some cool animated videos he did to promote ‘Anything You Want’. Brilliant stuff and well worth a look 🙂

Paul –

If you haven’t seen these already, they are definitely worth a few minutes of your time. An animator made a little 1-to-3-minute animation for some of my articles.  They’re really well-done.

A Real Person, a Lot Like You

Obvious to You. Amazing to Others

Hell Yeah or No

If it’s not a hit, switch

I Miss the Mob

Don’t punish everyone for one person’s mistake

Start now. No funding needed

Feel free to download, copy, share, edit, alter, broadcast, or anything else.


Why are you in business?

My personal review of ‘Anything You Want (40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur)’ by Derek Sivers.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Another fantastic book from Seth Godin’s The Domino Project, ‘Anything You Want‘ tells how Derek Sivers (Founder of CD Baby) almost accidentally turned a hobby into a hugely successful business (deliberately slowly) over 10yrs which he then sold for $22 Million when it outgrew him and stopped being fun.

However, it’s much more than that. It’s an insight into the mindset and philosophy of a truly enlightened entrepreneur who instead of seeking to make his business as big as possible, tried to keep it as small as possible with a total focus on customer service and ‘making dreams come true for others and for himself’.

Full of great anecdotes and mottos like using ‘Hell Yeah, or No‘ to decide whether to proceed with an idea, reading this book will inspire you and help you think completely differently about your motivation and purpose in both business and life.

Here’s a flavour of Derek’s wonderfully refreshing way of thinking about business;

  • Business is not about money, it’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself.
  • Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.
  • When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.
  • Never do anything just for the money.
  • Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help.
  • Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working.
  • Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.
  • Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.
  • You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people.
  • Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your business (if you’re the founder).
  • The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so do only what makes you happy.

Whether you’re thinking of starting a new business, already up and running or just looking for more meaning to your life I highly recommend you get it here!

Also, read more about The Domino Project and Derek Sivers.