Disability and Business: Top Tips for Disabled Entrepreneurs and Employees

Feb 18, 2013   //   Spread the word

By Jonathan Wade, Founder, Smiling Cat Ventures, www.smilingcatventures.org

When thinking about the world of business, I tend to mull over my own experiences as a disabled employee and entrepreneur. After 25 years of senior management in some of the country’s most challenging health and social care environments, and being the creator of several successful companies, I am keen to pass my knowledge on to the next generation.

For those with a disability, it’s vitally important you make sure those around you see you for what you can offer and not for the disability, for your contribution and not for your wheelchair, for your positive problem solving skills and not for your white stick.

I pride myself that within a few minutes of meeting me people have forgotten the hunk of tubular metal with wheels fixed to my bottom, because I am always positive about business, always positive about other people’s ideas and especially about finding solutions. It’s too easy to be morose, especially in today’s environment. But whether an employee or employer, disabled or not, be positive as it carries you far further than negativity ever will.

So here are my Top Ten Tips, based on my own experiences or those of people I admire. They are all important in business, disabled or not.

1. Make it clear what your needs are

If you have a disability make it clear what equipment you need, what services you need and what these provisions can help resolve. All too often people with a disability are trying to do a job, whether employee or employer, without communicating what they need support with. But your colleagues can’t read your mind, so be open and you will be impressed with how they rally round to help create an environment that lives the social model of disability.

Then engage with the statutory services, such as Access to Work, who can supply equipment or support workers to ensure you can do your job and build your business. Be open, be honest, and engage with those around you. Stick stubbornness and the stupidity of doing it alone in a tightly shut and double locked drawer.

2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes

In business, whether disabled or not, we all do it, and with the right attitude you will learn something from the experience and your knowledge will increase. Often in business you realise that the destination is only 10% of the gain. It is all the experiences along the creative and innovative road that matter. All the pit stops you make and the number of spin-offs you have can be quite remarkable.

Whilst developing a project with a university professor, we ended up forming three new companies from our discoveries. The original idea ended up being a bust, but I would still do it again, even with the same result. So don’t be afraid of mistakes, be honest about them and about what you have gained.

3. Enjoy your work

Enjoy what you do in your job and you will too in your life. As an employee you need to have enthusiasm. What do you gain from being morose?

In your own business, if you are not passionate about what you are doing, if you are not obsessively ranting in jubilation, then it will be seen a mile off and you will not win service users or customers. Enjoy what you do for goodness sake; it will make your whole life better.

4. Quality is everything

This is important whether you’re an employee or an employer, and regardless of disability. Your customers don’t want excuses, they want quality. Poor quality is just not acceptable and is a sure way of destroying your own reputation, company reputation and future sales.

5. Keep things simple

Life is complicated enough, so try to look for simple processes, solutions and plans. I have read business plans with this target, that outcome, multiple quality statements, and umpteen aims. Keep it simple so the people you are working with can keep up and so they know what you want from them. Nice and simple is nearly always best.

6. Be face to face

Face to face is always best, even in this technological era of instant communication and faceless social media. Emails, messaging, texting, tweeting, is all well and good. For business it has revolutionised the way we work, it keeps changing, and yes for the better.

However, if I am employing someone, convincing someone, selling to someone, I want to see them face to face. I want to understand the look on their face.

Although it can also work through systems like Skype which means I can communicate face to face with anyone anywhere in the world. I can have meetings and need never leave my home, which is invaluable with my disability as there are days I am not well enough. But now I can still be in the office with my people via Skype and high speed broadband.

7. Listen to the voices

I like the old saying – that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, to listen twice as much as we talk. In business this is a definite top tip, listen to your colleagues, your clients your peers, your family and your friends.

Do not pretend to know all the answers, much better to ask the right questions and then listen. Go out and find your customers and listen to what they have to say. Use this information to improve the business generally. You should also be just as keen to listen to your employees and colleagues too for the very same reason, to improve their experience as this will improve every aspect of your business and staff morale.

8. All in it together

This is an important strategy for a growing business. When one of my companies needed more space I chose a big open-plan office. I absolutely believe in managers, directors and managing directors sitting with their teams. Management must be part of every process, supporting their staff, delivering their part of the process with quality at its heart.

9. Adapt, diversify and survive

Any organisation that does not change as the market changes is destined to fail. Hundreds of businesses go bust every year because they were turning out the same old offering. These businesses didn’t look around to see what was actually happening, to identify the customers’ needs.

So it pays to be on your toes and not looking down at them, but constantly monitoring and  adapting your products and services as our society changes. Ignore this tip at your own peril.

10. Watch your cash flow!

Cash flow is everything, so make sure you look after it. When you spend a huge amount of money it can take some time to start flowing back in. In these times especially keep stocks and overheads to an absolute minimum and put aside 20% of any profit for the lean times ahead.

I believe all the above tips are relevant regardless of disability; in business disability just shouldn’t be a factor. I hope you have found them of benefit – there are so many things to change for the better for those who find just getting to work means they have faced challenges. My regards to you and hoping for a brighter future for you all.

Follow more of Jonathan’s ideas on his blog Disability in Business at disabilityinbusiness.wordpress.com or on Twitter @AbleNotDisabled

Or visit his company website at www.smilingcatventures.org