What can The Greatest Showman teach us about business?

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I gave in to my nieces begging (#pesterpowerisreal) and watched The Greatest Showman with her. From the very first beat I was hooked, I mean what's not to love, singing, dancing and the story of a start-up business. As a secret lover of musicals and a not so secret business geek it was perfect.

As the end credits rolled I got thinking about the start-up journey of PT Barnum and his circus. He went through a similar emotional rollercoaster that i’ve been through as an entrepreneur and I have supported my clients through as well. So what can we learn from his business highs and crashing lows about how to run a successful small business?

In this post i’m going to share the top 7 keys to business success we can learn from The Greatest Showman.


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Business Success Strategy #1: Be present in your business

At one point in the film PT Barnum’s time and attention is focused on his new business venture and his circus starts to make less money and suffer. His staff are missing seeing him working in the business and the audience numbers drop as there is no one to innovate and keep them coming back.

As a business owner, especially in a small start-up you have to be present in your business. Your customers are buying from you because of who you are, what you represent and the energy you bring to your mission and business. If there is no one to lead. your business fades into the noise of the market and it becomes very hard to achieve what you want to.

This goes for employees as well. If you have employees or work with freelancers, in order to get the best from them, they need to be bought into the mission of what you are doing and feel energised by the work they do. If you, as their leader, has turned their energy and focus onto other things, naturally they will feel less motivated.

So be visible and be present.


Business Success Strategy #2: Find your business family

PT Barnum employs people that society at the time had traditionally turned their backs on for being different. I am not sure his altruistic caring personality is entirely historically accurate but it makes for a good movie. He has created his business family, people who are bought into what he is trying to achieve, supports him and are loyal to him.

A supportive business tribe like this is crucial to any entrepreneur. You need people around you who understand what you are going through, who you can bounce ideas off and who know exactly what to say and do to pick you up and dust you off when needed.

So who is in your tribe? I have found some incredible business mates through Facebook Groups and local networking. Arrange virtual or real coffees with people, find out about their story. You’ll naturally find people who you get and who get you. When you do, nurture the relationship and support them as much as possible.


Business Success Strategy #3: Take calculated risks

There is an element of risk when starting and running any business. Financial, personal and emotional risk. However you need to make sure any decisions you make are based on calculated risks.

PT Barnum makes some slightly suspect business decisions, such as introducing a brand new act without even seeing them perform and taking out a huge loan without doing any market research.  I am all for following your gut but you need to look at the financials and business case for any major move in your business.

So make sure you crunch the numbers, do the market research and take calculated risks in your business.


Business Success Strategy #4: Always have solid contracts with partners and suppliers

Every entrepreneurs nightmare is not being able to deliver on the promises you have made your customers. You risk your reputation and livelihood. PT Barnum took a new singing act on the road (check out the YouTube video of her song ‘Never Enough’ it is incredible), taking America by storm. However she walks out part way through, leaving him with a queue of angry customers, a huge refund bill and in financial jeopardy.

So the moral is always have strong and legally binding contracts in place with suppliers and partners, especially the ones your product or service delivery relies on.


Business Success Strategy #5: Expand when you are ready and not before    

The temptation is too real when your business is going great guns, customers are rolling in and you are bursting with expansion ideas. However expanding too quickly and before your business is ready is one of the most common reasons for businesses to struggle.

This is exactly what PT Barnum does, he splits his time, attention and money, launching the new venture, going against all the success strategies listed above.

There usually comes a point in a business when you have more than a full time jobs worth of work coming in, but not enough to commit to your first employee and expand into new areas. This is the time to dig deep, keep going to cement your success and bring in freelancers or outsource what you can.


Business Success Strategy #6: Get insurance

This is one is pretty simple to achieve but I am always so surprised by how many people don’t have the right insurance, or even any insurance for their business. I’m sure PT Barnum was cursing the day he decided not to bother when his circus burnt down, oh how he longed for buildings and contents insurance at that point (or the equivalent in his era!!).

I have public liability which insures my interactions with the general public (e.g. if someone trips over my bag in a meeting, breaks their arm and sues me). I also have professional indemnity which insures my advice. But you may well need something different so best check with a local insurance broker, explain what you do and get quotes.


Business Success Strategy #7: Mindset is KEY

You probably hear this all the time, but your attitude really is key. Having supported hundreds of entrepreneurs and through my own experience running successful business, success is:

Success = vision + strategic consistent action + attitude

That final element, your attitude or mindset really is the thing that sets successful entrepreneurs apart. You need a mix of resilience, confidence, unwavering faith and dogged determination. Quite the heady mix.

Setting aside time to work on this and making it a priority is crucial.

PT Barnum definitely displays many of these traits, picking himself up when he gets knocked down and inspiring those around him to follow him and his dream.

However the real lesson in entrepreneurial attitude comes from the incredible song ‘This is Me’, about the employees of the circus:

“”I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I'm meant to be, this is me

Look out 'cause here I come

And I'm marching on to the beat I drum

I'm not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me”

Definitely a lesson for all of us in life and business.


So there is definitely more to the film than meets the eye. Yes it’s a lot of schmaltz dancing and white teeth, but there is an undercurrent of business graft, failure and triumph.

The biggest takeaways are that no matter who you are or what business you are running, you should dream big, always show up as yourself, stand strong for what you believe to be right and make powerful decisions based on your gut and the stats. (Oh and a catchy theme tune never hurts anyone!!)

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