The early to mid-90s sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is beloved of a generation on both sides of the Atlantic. It re-launched the multi-faceted career of Will Smith, at the time rebounding from the career low of squandering his early fortune following a Grammy award with Jazzy Jeff.
But the series wasn’t just a career launchpad for its lead. Behind the laughter and family commentary, there can be found a lot of lessons to be learned about setting up and running a business. While they might not initially be the most obvious, once you’ve read this article, you’ll never watch an episode in the same way again.
Have a story — and tell it
The theme tune for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is one of the best known of its generation. If you don’t believe me, check out this audience sing a long on Graham Norton from back in 2012. But it’s not just catchy — it tells Will’s backstory. It tells you everything you need to know about the character, where he comes from, what his character is like, why he finds himself in Bel Air. In the space of two minutes we know Will is more interested in chilling out and playing basketball than fighting, and when the time comes, he does what his mother tells him. Moreover, it prefaces every episode, so you never forget who he is, even as the seasons and years roll on.
As a business founder, you will have a story too. What inspired you as a young entrepreneur? Why did you set up your company? What are you hoping to achieve? This is your story and it’s a vital element of who you are a business. It helps you to differentiate from your competitors, too.
Be different, and use it
Which brings me to my next point. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a business is how to differentiate yourself from your competition. In The Fresh Prince, Will is by default different from his familial hosts having been born and raised in West Philadelphia.
But it is this difference, his being a ‘fish out of water’, which makes the show. Not only that, but through his differences to those around him, Will is able to influence their way of thinking, living, even talking, challenging and disrupting the existing status quo. Your business needs to be and do the same.
Pick your partners carefully
When Will relocates from Philly to Bel Air he doesn’t come alone. Jazzy Jeff, his best friend comes too, frequently calling in on him, only to be summarily tossed out by an angry Uncle Phil. It’s one of the running jokes of the series, but it also illustrates an important point. Despite being evicted on numerous occasions, Jeff returns, never swayed or cowed by his rejection.
The old adage says to keep your friends close but enemies closer. While this may be of use in the Machiavellian hallways of power, when you’re starting out with a new business enterprise you could do a lot worse than having someone you trust beside you, especially if they are as resilient and persistent as Jazzy Jeff. After all, business can be a bruising experience.
Legal advice is about more than just legislation
Uncle Phil is an esteemed lawyer, who then becomes a judge in the fourth season. Throughout the running of the show, on countless occasions his status and knowledge are called upon to rescue Will, Jeff and on occasion even Carlton from sticky situations they have found themselves in. His legal counsel is invaluable to the young men growing up on the show. Yet his influence extends beyond that. Despite an admittedly short temper, Uncle Phil also provides many of the show’s most profound moments, providing moral guidance to those in his charge. It’s worth remembering that issues of law don’t always align with morals — tax evasion is a prime example — and you should be wary of veering too far from your principles in search of success.
Employees should be more than paid staff
Geoffrey, the house butler, is often an invaluable source of comedic relief, not least due to his traditionally stiff upper lip. However, as the family grow, a theme revisited time and again is of his value to the family, not only as a paid member of staff, but as someone who given the opportunity will generally (albeit begrudgingly) have their best interests at heart.
However, Geoffrey’s ongoing pay dispute with Uncle Phil is one of the main negatives about the latter’s character, and serves to illustrate to any entrepreneur why valuing your staff is vital to a positive working environment — and business success.
Any entrepreneur keeping these points in mind as they make their way in business could find the show could be as much a springboard for their career as it was for Will Smith in the early 90s. Because although the show may be showing its age, the ideas behind it are undoubtedly still Fresh.
[This blog post was also featured in Total Business Magazine]
We're celebrating our fourth anniversary this month!
What a time to be alive! Four years of supporting small charities, social enterprises, SMEs and startups with their PR and external comms. We've been lucky enough to work with some amazing organisations and even more amazing people. Thank you to everyone who has helped us keep helping others - especially the micro charities we're able to help for free!
To mark our fourth anniversary, we answered a couple of quick questions reflecting on our time with JGC:
The benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and charitable initiatives are well documented, from advantages in recruitment and employee engagement, to improved positioning in the marketplace, with over half of British adults more inclined to buy a product or use a service from a company that donates to charitable causes. But how do you choose which charity is right for you?
There are over 160,000 registered charities in the UK, with roughly 97% of them having an income of less than £1m a year. Yet when it comes time to pick a charity to support, businesses all-too-often opt for the biggest, best-known organisations. It’s a problem over 50% of small charities believe is their main obstacle to raising funds – and it’s not just a matter of perception, either. Household names such as the RSPCA, NSPCC, Cancer Research UK account for almost half of the total £37bn raised ever year by the charity sector.
The reasons are obvious. Brand visibility and exposure help to cement their place in the public’s consciousness, and tackling universal issues like cancer or child abuse gives them widespread appeal. But if you look beyond the big names you’ll find small charities have a lot more going for them than you might expect, and present a great opportunity for any company looking to change or introduce an approach to CSR. Here’s why.
You’d be surprised what they can achieve
More and more small charities are broadening their areas of operations. Between 1999 and 2014 there was over a 250% increase in the number of UK charities working overseas, a great example being Music as Therapy International. Despite a modest budget last year their music projects reached over 17,000 vulnerable people in eight countries worldwide, including several communities within the UK.
Just because a charity is small, doesn’t mean it can’t have impressive reach and impact.
It could be the start of a beautiful relationship
The bigger the charity name, the more likely it is to already receive support from other companies. Choosing a lesser known, smaller cause can help to differentiate you from your competitors, and build a genuine connection between your organisations.
This is significant because a strong relationship between a charity and sponsor can be the gift that keeps on giving – for both parties. They might not have the biggest turnover or profile today, but a well-run small charity has bags of potential to grow in size, stature and influence. If you can play a major part in their story, their success will be yours to share.
Your donation really will make a difference
The purpose of charitable giving is to make a difference, but is your contribution a game-changer, or just another drop in the ocean to finance large salaries, marketing and admin budgets?
One 2015 report found over 1,000 large charities spent less than 50% of their income on charitable activities, which should be a cause for concern for anyone serious about CSR.
By comparison, many small charities are run by dedicated trustees and willing volunteers with no wage bill to speak of. This is the case with dog rescue and re-homing charity Finding Furever Homes, who in their first three years have re-homed almost 500 dogs, and donated over £100,000 to cover the vet and food bills of dogs in rescues throughout the UK. Organisations like these are run on a shoestring; so if you want to know your support is really going to make a difference, think small charity for a big impact.
Where to start?
Picking a charity can be a very personal choice, but once a decision is made on the type of cause, there really is no substitute for doing your homework. A charity’s recent accounts can be found through the Charity Commission, or you could simple call or pay them a visit to discuss their needs and how you could help. But remember, regardless of whom you choose to support, it’s doing it that counts.
[You can also find this post on CEO Today]