Having Fun with Serious Business

If doing business with a sense of fun works for Richard Branson, that’s good enough for me

In recent weeks my partner Suzie Cheel and I have been very preoccupied with re-focusing our consulting business. Today, prompted by a four year old blog post about Sir Richard Branson’s business values, we reminded ourselves about the necessity of having a very clear, understandable, easy-to-communicate values framework for the business. And that led to a very productive discussion about our marketing.

Richard Branson with the band at San Francisco airport

Although we have had the consulting business in place for over twenty years, and our formal company structure for some sixteen of those, what we have been setting up with our all-new, all singing and dancing Social Media Powered Marketing is in many ways a new business, with some of the usual challenges attendant on such ventures.

It’s involved getting out of our comfort zones and some 4 am starts to take advantage of coaching sessions from the USA. And balancing other commitments, including family ones, some travel, my ongoing coaching commitments and so on.

We have been attending to a lot of practical details of how the business will work, getting clarity about our target market, developing marketing plans and initiatives, ensuring the supply of some outsourced services, developing product. All good, all necessary. But not much, at least explicitly, about the values framework.

Then today, in a management magazine I was scanning over breakfast, I read some comments by a top executive which reminded me of how essential it is for any business with long term prospects to define and articulate its values. I made a mental note to get around to that. “Too busy” right now, of course. Which if I heard a coaching client say I would no doubt ask, so when would be a good time to identify and document your company values?

Physician, heal thyself!

It’s not that we are working in a values-free zone, or that we don’t have shared values guiding the way we do business. Just that we had not had that specific conversation to identify our values in sufficient clarity to guide and monitor the way the business operates.

No doubt because I had been thinking briefly about these issues, my eye was caught a bit later in the morning, while fixing some photos that had somehow gone missing from older blog posts here, by a post I had written back in 2005 about the values espoused by Sir Richard Branson for his Virgin brand enterprises. One version of those values lists the following:

  • Value for money
  • Quality
  • Reliability
  • Innovation
  • Sense of fun

The first four make eminent good sense to me but I like particularly having “sense of fun” inscribed as a key company value. I suspect that, in a sea of companies offering internet marketing services, it could be easy to think we have to be and be seen to be Very Serious.

Because business is serious, right?

Well, if Richard Branson and Virgin can be so successful (and not just in monetary terms), we can hardly be said to be irresponsible about our business if we choose to be known as people who are committed to having fun, as well as to providing value for money, quality, reliability and innovation, and whatever other “serious” values we might choose to incorporate.

Incidentally, taking time out just now to have that conversation about our values and to agree definitely that Sense of Fun was going in the list, we went on to have a further, very productive conversation about our branding – which frankly until this morning had been a bit fuzzy and is now clear enough for us to have a story we are keen to tell. But you know how it is, we had spent some money on branding and would now have to change and probably spend some more money.

We took the long view, better to get it right now, even if there is a bit of extra expense, than to stick stubbornly to something just because we have paid some design costs. Specifically, we are switching from “Webarts Online Marketing” to “Social Media Powered Marketing” – if you check out the site in the next day or so, just imagine that the name has been changed :).

All in all, a fast trajectory of marketing clarification and decision-making between breakfast and lunch, triggered by the initially disconcerting and disruptive effect on my thinking from seeing “sense of fun” listed as a business value. But a process which rapidly pulled some loose threads together and which we believe gave us a better framework with which to proceed.

So what would your business look like if you incorporated a sense of fun as a key value? Or have you already done that? Or does the idea appal you?

I’d love to hear about  any other companies you know of – including your own – that have incorporated a sense of fun in their values framework. No doubt there are some obvious ones, such as clown services for children’s parties. But what “serious” businesses are there, besides Virgin, which include a sense of fun in their values, explicitly or implicitly in the way they deliver service?

[Image credit: “Branson posing with the band”, courtesy riz94107 on Flickr, Creative Commons]

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About Des Walsh

I show business owners and other professionals how to navigate the social media maze and use LinkedIn effectively. I'm an author, speaker, business coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get my weekly Social Business Bites.


  1. I think there’s definitely a certain inherent importance in having fun with your business that is aside from simply the money you earn. This has to do hopefully with the passion you have for what you do. Though I’m sure there are people who will argue this point, I think the chances for success in a business for which you have no passion are dramatically decreased. Sure, there will always be parts of your business you don’t like very much, but there also must be some part you are having fun with that keeps you willing to do it. That doesn’t mean putting on a clown nose or choosing a goofy name for your business blog…though I suppose it never hurts.

  2. Having recently started my business after being ‘released’ by my employer, the learning curve is steep and it is all to easy to forget why I am doing this. Yes, to get some money, but why do I want the money? The answer is to enjoy life.

    Okay, so what is the point of stressing myself now and not having fun? Thanks for this post, it has started me thinking.

    The other point is: would you prefer to do business with a dour grumpy individual or with someone who clearly is having fun? My guess is there are plenty of people who would say ‘Hey, that looks like fun, let’s get involved.’ I know I would.

    As for examples, I know I certainly tend to employ tradesmen who I get on with, but the best example that struck me recently was Bhutan. Okay, it’s a country but it has a Gross Domestic Happiness scale. What a great idea. Wouldn’t it be easier to run a country or a business if everyone is happy, if everyone is having fun?

  3. There are certain aspects to my business that drag. I think that any business, regardless of how much you enjoy what you do, can have elements which are not very enjoyable.

    My particular business is great because I can travel. Which is very important to me. Time freedom and the ability to do what I want when I want.

    I would not trade what I do anything.

  4. I’m kind of lucky because my business has “fun” inherently built in to it. But even so, sometimes day to day tasks can get mundane, so I always try to balance those tasks out with the fun ones.

    One area I have the most fun is meeting new people to talk to about my business. You can always find ways to show your sense of fun if you look for them.