7 key business advice for SMB entrepreneurs from Sunil Bharti Mittal

Addressing at the Amazon Smbhav Summit 2021, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairperson, Bharti Enterprises, shared key business lessons for SMB entrepreneurs from his personal life.
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Building a business requires grit, patience, perseverance, and a lot of positive energy. There are times when things in the business world don’t go as expected, and the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be so. 

During these difficult times, business lessons from established entrepreneurs and leaders, who have survived such difficult circumstances in the past, helps us thrive better.

On the first day of the four-day Amazon Smbhav Summit 2021, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairperson of Bharti Enterprises, shared some valuable lessons on building a global business that stood the test of time. 

Hailing from Ludhiana, Punjab, Sunil — who started his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 21 — survived many challenges thrown in his way. 

At present, he is an Indian billionaire entrepreneur, as well as the Founder and Chairman of Bharati Airtel — India’s second-largest integrated telecom company. 

Through his company Bharti Enterprises, Sunil has diversified his interests, ranging from insurance, real estate, education, hospitality to agriculture and food. 

“Like most of you, I have started my life as a small entrepreneur in 1976. At that time, we weren’t called SME but a small-scale industry. I am one of those examples who built a very large enterprise, emanating from a small experiment.”

Started as a bicycle parts manufacturer in Ludhiana, Sunil has come a long way. During the event, he shared seven lessons to help SMB entrepreneurs shape their careers.

Be committed each day

You need to do a test check every day. Whether you have built or inherited the business, you have to be committed to it and do a test check for that, he said. The business must excite you to go back to your desk even on Monday mornings, and if it does not do so, understand that you are not in the right business. 

“Are you at the right place? Are you doing things out of compulsion? Because then it’s very unlikely to make a huge success,” he added.

He said this test kept him moving from business to business for the first 10 years of his entrepreneurial journey. 

The magic starts when work becomes a joy 

Most of us have a choice to do what we want, and sometimes our parents, mentors, or guides have different aspirations for us, but you need to fight those. 

“Do things that you enjoy the most, and then you will see your business scale up,” he said.

There is no substitute for hard work

There could be long hours or smart hours of working, but building a business from a small entity to a large enterprise needs a lot of hard work. 

“I can tell you stories of people who worked less hard than I did and did create businesses, which were equal or bigger than mine. But those stories are far and few, so let’s not try luck to do a little work here and there and build a successful enterprise,” he shared.

One really need to put in hard work and long and smart hours to be successful in business.

Build a core team early on

Recalling an episode from 1985, during the later stage of his business when he set up an office in Nehru Place, New Delhi, Sunil said, “I can never forget when I hired my deputy who was an IIT - IIM MBA graduate. He was braver than I was. He could have got a bigger job, but I could talk to him and convince him that there’s an opportunity of a lifetime that we can create (here). He stayed with me for over 20 years.”

He added that one must start with a small team early in the business, which is aligned to your thought process and supports your weaknesses and fills those areas where you’re not strong. A businessman must create an environment where people can flourish and thrive.

Ensure fiscal discipline

Talking about building governance in the business, Sunil said, “make sure your finances are strong, and you are not extending yourself.”

“Have your ambitions greater than resources, but equally don’t extend yourself to a point where your day of giving salary becomes stress. I’m saying this because I’ve gone through that,” he added.

Recalling his early days in the business, he said that he used to scramble around and go to bank managers for an overdraft, or borrow money from some friendly space, or a place that would charge him a higher interest rate, but he ensured that the discipline of finance should never miss out.

Build your credibility

“You may not get paid on time, but you need to pay people on time to build your credibility,” he said, adding that credibility goes a long way. 

Sharing an episode, Sunil said,

“Back in 1977, I was in a desperate need of money, and I went to late Shri Brij Mohan Munjal — the grandmaster of the Indian cycle industry — and told him that I need money. He frowned at me because he was punctual and used to make payment once a week, but I appeared to him before time. Although he gave me that check, while I was leaving his cabin, he called me and said, “Sunil, aadat mat daalna” (don’t make this a habit).”

“I have never forgotten the words of that wise man, and that was the last time I ever let my monetary position take the better off me,” he added.

An entrepreneur must always have control over his finances.

Embrace technology

Technology has come to our advantage, and now, people can do a lot more than earlier. “Please use technology and embrace it earlier on,” he added. Technology will help you become more efficient, cost-effective, and improve margins. You must need to be aware of the innovations and disruptions, he concluded.

Edited by Suman Singh

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