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An interview with Margaret Heffernan

I recently had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneur, CEO and writer (Huffington Post & BNET) Margaret Heffernan, when she visited Bath to mentor groups as part of X Media Lab 2012.

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Margaret has featured on television in Channel 4’s ‘The Secret Millionaire’ and on BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Changing the Rules’.

I spoke to Margaret about her work, her experiences as an entrepreneur, and her opinions on mentoring. Here are just some of the insightful comments she made on the subject:

DK: Hi Margaret! A quick one to start. Have you always been an entrepreneur?

MH: No. For 13 years I worked for the BBC. I reckon they paid me to develop the skills I’d need to be an entrepreneur: a good deal for all of us.

DK: How important do you think the role of a mentor is in the initial start-up period of a business? Did you have someone to fit this role?

MH: I did not have a mentor and I wish I had. I did have some friends and colleagues who were wise and patient – that certainly helped (especially the one who hinted that I might be the problem)!

DK: Do you find it difficult to maintain a work/home life balance?

MH: I define work/life balance differently perhaps from others. I think that there has been balance across my life, insofar as there have been prolonged periods of intensive, manic work and then prolonged periods that were slow, reflective and restorative. Doreen Marks, an outstanding entrepreneur, summed it up for me when she said “when you’re an entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter which 80 hours you work.” You have freedom and flexibility – that’s tremendous. You also have responsibility that never stops – that’s hard. What is essential, I think, is that your partner is entirely supportive; without that, jealousy and resentment can grow and make both the business and the relationship painful.

DK: When does an idea become a business?

MH: An idea becomes a business when you have a customer. Revenue helps too of course but sometimes that has to come later.

DK: For anyone sitting at home with an amazing business idea, what one piece of advise would you give them?

MH: Tell people about it. Many people worry about their idea being ‘stolen’. That is much less of a risk than that it will never become a reality. Tell people so you become practiced defining it and so that they can offer ideas, people, and resources that will speed you along your way. They may also have very valid criticisms that are cheaper to absorb early.

DK:  What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the recovery of our economy?

MH: Well it’s interesting to me the lipservice that’s paid in the UK to entrepreneurship. Does anyone believe it? If so, why aren’t there better finance and tax schemes? Why, as a society, are we horrid to successful people and punishing to those who fail? This government still clearly believes that our future belongs in financial services and the investment of rich foreigners. They pay lipservice to entrepreneurs because they can’t think of anything else that might work. Politicians, of course, are rarely entrepreneurial themselves.

Having said that, of course entrepreneurs will play a part in our recovery – because they always have and always will. But no real entrepreneur waits for government encouragement.

DK: Thanks Margaret! How can our readers contact you with questions?

MH: They can email me at margaret@mheffernan.com but need to be aware that I’m not investing in anything further until my kids have finished their education (which could be some time…)

About David Kelly

Dave is Co-Founder and Managing Director at Storm. He's winner of Young Business Person of the Year at the Bath Business awards, and sits on the organising teams of BathSPARK, Creative Bath and the Bath Digital Festival. You can follow Dave on twitter: @dhkelly

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