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From Scruffs to Crufts, build your business pedigree to become top dog in your market

March 12, 2013

Starting your own business and being an entrepreneur, you have to get used to living the life of a stray dog. You put everything you’ve got into your business, you let go of previous securities and take the risk. You’re out in the cold, battling away. You look enviously at the pedigree dogs – well groomed, well fed and with a nice shiny collar around their neck.

You live the life a mongrel, not sure about the next meal, life revolves around ducking the council dog-catchers, fighting with other street dogs. But when you are an entrepreneur, you know like a street dog that you have freedom and can get up next morning and go anywhere you want to. You strive to be a top dog.

We’re dog lovers at our house, and spent most of last weekend watching Crufts on Channel 4, which culminated with a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen called Jilly, winning 2013 Best in Show. The four-year-old beat more than 20,000 dogs over the four-day competition to take the coveted title.

The judges watched the dogs and marked them for their overall health and condition, coat, character, temperament, movement and how close they matched up to the Kennel Club Breed Standards. We always like to think our golden retriever, Tess, would nail all the competition and walk the Best in Show, but in reality she’d only win the award for messiest eater.

Crufts was named after its founder, Charles Cruft, who worked as general manager for a dog biscuit manufacturer. Travelling to dog shows over the country, he identified the need for higher standards for dog shows, and so in 1886, Cruft’s first dog show, billed as the First Great Terrier Show, took place. It had 57 classes and 600 entries. The first show named Crufts – Cruft’s Greatest Dog Show – was held in 1891. It was the first at which all breeds were invited to compete, with around 2,000 dogs entering.

It today’s Crufts, dogs begin by competing against others of the same breed, split by gender, age and previous class wins. Each breed is awarded once for dogs and once for bitches. The dog and bitch class winners then go head-to-head to determine the Best of Breed. They then compete against the others in their Group (in the UK, there are seven Groups: Toys, Gundogs, Utility, Hounds, Working, Pastoral and Terriers) to find the Best in Group. The seven Group winners then compete to find the Best in Show. Bit tricky isn’t it?!

Another competition is the dog agility, where the dogs undergo a time trial and manoeuvre, with the guidance of their owners, through, over, and around different obstacles. Next is the obedience competition. The prizes are awarded to the most obedient dog after they have undergone various demanding activities, such as off lead heelwork at different paces, distance control, retrieve, send away, stays and scent discrimination.

Watching the dogs strut, perform, wag, parade, bark and frolic, along with the 12 years experience of my own golden retriever, I was minded by the innate qualities of our canine companions, and how, tongue in cheek, these are reflected in the traits of successful entrepreneurs:

Be fearless Dogs aren’t afraid of anything, they run full steam ahead into any situation. This of course, is a great way to tackle business challenges. You will fail, often, but the trick is to keep going. My dog rarely gets away with what she really wants to achieve, but she has no fear of trying, time and time again.

Have boundless energy You can’t imagine the bursts of energy Tess gets, non-stop, and honestly, it is infectious. She gives me energy just spending time with her. She is an affirmation of life and effort, and reminds me that in business, being energetic, working hard and putting in a shift gets rewards.

Be curious and creative No surprise here, Tess checks out everything. She finds time to run, chase things down, and has her moments when she insists on playtime. Playing tug-of-war, chasing tennis balls, biting my hands with her razor teeth, she needs to vent energy and express herself. In business, we don’t do this enough. It should take the form of curiosity and creativity, but we don’t do it. Business is way more interesting with energy and curious eyes.

Be vocal and communicative Trust me, you know when your dog wants something. Tess sounds similar to the velociraptor from Jurassic Park when she need to get my attention. But the point is, I know when she has something to say. In business, it is good to communicate to those around you. You can’t answer when you don’t say anything.

People respond to praise, support, and guidance To teach her good habits, we praise Tess endlessly, and you can tell she loves the praise. Which begs the question, why do we not praise people more often? It isn’t hard to do, and it usually gets a positive response.

When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience Sometimes it is right to practice discipline in business. It takes focus, energy and discipline to reach our goals – consistent and positive behaviour will take us where we want to go. Sometimes we just have to do it.

Take naps and always stretch before rising In my day-to-day work, it is clear that many business people have poor time management habits. They work from morning to night rarely taking a break. That habit is not conducive to being consistently on top of your game. It is critical that we take short breaks during the working day in order to refresh and recharge. Dogs have this habit off to a fine art, so take a leaf out of their book.

Eat with gusto Dogs have a great appetite, eating whatever is put in front of them, and with a fervour and enthusiasm. Nothing comes between them and their bowl. In business, approach all projects or tasks with the same driving hunger and enjoying every minute will put fire in your belly and give you a feeling of satisfaction.

Be loyal This is a great trait in dogs, their unqualified love is one of their endearing qualities. In business, be loyal to your work, to your clients, to your suppliers, to your colleagues – to yourself. This alone will allow you to stand out in the market.

Never doubt yourself Dogs are straightforward, live a simple life and just get on with it. For entrepreneurs, this is a huge mind set issue, I hear it all the time. When things aren’t going well, entrepreneurs feel that they have little to offer and question themselves. You started out in business because you had the belief and the passion to share something of value. Stay true to that – stay true to yourself. Be who you are!

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it Many entrepreneurs give up when they are close to success, persistence is an essential trait when it comes to having a successful business. Things don’t happen overnight, stay with it. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

Be enthusiastic, wag your tail We can learn from a dog here. Dogs laugh with their tails when they’re pleased. Let’s face it sometimes there is drudgery in our work but when the moment comes, enjoy it and celebrate the victories, it’s important to everyone. Make celebration part of your business culture.

There’s nothing like having man’s best friend around. They teach you so much about yourself and the world around you. I appreciate Tess’ unconditional love every time she saunters into my office for a hug and a treat, although sometimes she makes the Skype client calls a bit tricky. I give time and attention to her freely because dog days are good days. With good training, man can be a dog’s best friend.

As you build your business, moving from a stray to a pedigree to a top dog – from Scruffs to Crufts – there are many business lessons we can learn from dogs, from their energy, their loyalty, their communication skills and ability to count – you think dogs can’t count? Try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving only two of them.

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