What a joke! - Start up lessons from stand up comedians

Andy Grey
Marketing Executive | Business West
6th August 2015

Starting a business is a funny old game. Go to a business show and you’ll meet the most creative and crazy people behind the most innovative ideas. That got me thinking. Who are the other people in society with the confidence and drive to take a wacky concept and take it to market? - Stand up comedians.

The West Country has produced some of the best British comics: Bill Bailey, Stephen Merchant and Russell Howard to name a few. So in a region known for creativity in both offices and comedy clubs, can the two learn from each other?

Now, I’m not saying you should change your entrepreneurial idol from Richard Branson to Peter Kay, but here are some tips that you can pull out of the laughter...

Don’t be afraid to run with a unique idea

Can you think of a stand up comedy routine that wouldn’t have sounded a bit strange when it first came to mind? No. Comedians have the innovative edge over their audience by beating them to the punch line, and it is the same principal with a new product or service. Sean Lock once mocked the person whose idea it was to pitch selling castles in goldfish bowls. ‘What have goldfish got to do with castles?’ he said jokingly – but in reality they sold well and you probably have one sitting in the tank at home right now.

Tip – Being novel sells, explore how your idea could potentially be made profitable

Take the stage despite the nerves

Putting all your energy into a new idea can be daunting, especially when it comes to presenting it to investors and potential customers. But even the cream of the comedy crop gets nervous. Take Peter Kay for example, known across the globe for his famous northern gags. Behind the scenes he still admits to butterflies before gigs and describes it as ‘someone else doing it’. The same feelings apply to starting a new business but the rewards can be great. Imagine if Peter walked away from the stage whenever he got nervous... he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Tip – Preparation is the key to calming nerves and delivering a compelling presentation

Expect the unexpected

Comedians get heckled; you will too. No matter how funny the joke or profitable the business, there will be naysayers and doubters that can knock you off balance. The best comedians shrug off hecklers with one liners - and it’s the same in defending your product.

Tip - have the short, punchy lines in the bank to justify your selling point to the critics – in effect your ‘elevator pitch’

Keep your sense of humour

It is important to enjoy what you do. Starting and growing a business isn’t all laughs, but it could be the best thing you ever do. Richard Branson, the entrepreneurial idol for many, is known for his funny side. From dressing up as an air stewardess in his adverts to admitting he likes to chop off people’s ties, he likes to keep it light, showing that you can grow your business whilst demonstrating a playful side.

Tip – Use appropriate opportunities to show your business has a human side

It’s all about timing

Want to know a trade secret of a stand up comic? Timing is everything. You could tell the funniest joke ever written but if you told it at a funeral it would be met with silence. The same applies to launching a business. You could have the most profitable pumpkin business in the world, but if you launched it two days after Halloween you would be destined to fail.

Tip – It’s not a race, don’t rush it, research the best time and place to launch your product

Test, test and test some more!

Some of the best comedians make it seem so natural, like it is just another conversation. But behind this casual approach are hours and hours of testing and tweaking. Even the best comedians hold countless warm up-gigs to smaller audiences to play around with the material and their body language. The jokes that we eventually get to hear is just the tip of the iceberg, and this should be the same with your merchandise. Don’t be afraid to let your initial concept evolve after testing, just like the jokes we love.

Tip – Use a combination of focus groups and desk based research to understand your market

Talk to your audience

Most comedians talk to their audience at some point in the show, adding quick fire laughs at the expense of the lucky person chosen in the front row. They don’t stop there either. Northern funny man Jason Manford is well known for interacting with fans on social media to get some extra laughs off stage. This is a technique company’s use everyday, responding to social media mentions with quirky replies and engaging with their audience. Just take a look at Facebook and Twitter to see which companies do it best.

Tip – Social media is a goldmine for consumer feedback and engagement, don’t be afraid to interact

Fancy some stand up?...

Alright, maybe not, let’s leave the jokes to Peter Kay and the gang. But starting a business might be for you.

Take a look at our advice on starting a business to find success stories, loans and workshops that can help you start and grow your business idea.

We can’t promise funny jokes, but we can help…

Do you want to join the conversation?

Sign up here
  • Take your business to the next level

    Book your place on our business planning and finance workshop today to access all the advice and support you need to succeed.

  • We've helped 400 businesses access start-up loans worth over £2.8million.

    Best of all, the support given by our start-up experts is FREE.