Simon Dolan - entrepreneur extraordinaire
PUBLISHED: 12:58 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:01 20 February 2013
He's one of the UK's top businessmen, but how did this Essex entrepreneur go from working on a cheese stall to running a £70m commercial empire? Simon Dolan lets Nicky Adams in on the secrets of his success...
Simon Dolans classmates were probably the first to realise that here was an entrepreneur in the making. At the age of 13, Simon spent his break times flogging scratch cards to fellow pupils at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford. But Simons early spark of commercial genius was not appreciated by his teachers and at 16 he was asked to leave the school for being too inquisitive.
Although he had developed a taste for business and what he describes as, a great work ethic by helping to run a cheese and egg stall in the local market, the young Simon decided that rock stardom would be the quickest way to fame and fortune. The record companies he hounded for work experience didnt agree, however, and to placate his anxious father he applied for a proper job with an accountancy firm and began to learn the ways of the accountancy profession. The pay though was not to his liking and after asking for a rise and being refused, he quit.
Finding himself unemployed and out of money again, Simon decided to go it alone and put an ad in the back of the local newspaper offering accountancy services to small businesses for a fixed fee. His first client paid him enough to put another ad in the paper and before he knew it he had built up a small practice, doing the end-of-year accounts of local tradesmen and builders. Thanks to, hard work and employing the right people says Simon, 20 years on SJD Accountancy is the 52nd largest accountancy firm in the UK and placed 26th in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list, thanks to its low-stress environment.
So how did success spring from such an unprepossessing start? I am constantly pushing myself to be the best I can and the same goes for the businesses, says Simon. The key to everything I do is sales ability and a relentless insistence on impeccable customer service.
Simon has gone on to lend his business know-how to other businesspeople who are just starting out. He has earnt himself the nickname of the Twitter Dragon thanks to his practice of inviting budding entrepreneurs to pitch him their initial business ideas in 140 characters, through the social networking site Twitter.
Simon has dipped into his 5m investment pot to support 17 companies so far, all of which are thriving. Even in these tough economic times, he is convinced that it is still possible for small businesses to flourish. Whatever the commercial climate, businesspeople should constantly ask themselves, is what I am doing right now the thing that could earn the business the most amount of money? Simon advises. If it isnt, then stop doing it!
Essex Life profiles some of the small businesses Simon Dolan is supporting
Jota Aviation is a specialist airline based at London Southend Airport, with a 24-hour operations centre carrying cargo and passengers across the UK and Europe. When I invested in Jota Aviation it had just one, little plane it now has six, says Simon.
The company offers a service that allows customers to charter a private plane and be airborne just an hour later and offers the opportunity to take off and land as close as possible to customers chosen locations. Urgent and oversized or heavy cargo is also catered for.
After receiving a Twitter pitch from Chelmsford businessman Bradley Walsh, Simon recently invested in Raw Business, one of the UKs fastest-growing free online business networks. Thousands of entrepreneur members post their profiles on an online database and contribute to business forums. They also have access to useful business tools, such as downloadable documents including cashflow forecasts and business planning templates, and receive the monthly Raw Business Magazine with hints and tips from established successful businesspeople. Simon offers an angel investment opportunity to registered members and invites them to pitch their business ideas to him for consideration.
The UKs first glossy mental health and wellbeing publication launched in October 2010, thanks to investment from Simon. Uncovered is designed to help its readers be pro-active in their wellbeing and offers advice on diet, nutrition, fitness and brain workouts. Its editor and publisher is Charlotte Fantelli, who founded the title after suffering panic attacks and agoraphobia herself. Simon explains: Charlotte is an incredibly talented and driven woman who wanted to make a real difference in peoples lives by promoting mental wellbeing through a unique magazine in a previously untapped market.
She Who Dares
Simon is working on a new company called She Who Dares along with entrepreneur Rachel Lowe MBE, who made her name with the Destination board game that failed to attract any investment from the dragons of TVs Dragons Den yet went on to out-sell Monopoly and Twister at Hamleys. Her latest venture is a lifestyle collection celebrating success for women who are ambitious and focused but still want to look and feel good, and this has been boosted by an injection of cash from Simon. In all my investments, the common thread is the quality of the person pitching, says Simon. They need to have the special spark of enthusiasm, passion and energy Im always looking for.