The Bronte Sisters Are My Kind of Entrepreneurs

The Bronte Sisters Are My Kind of Entrepreneurs

As of today, I will be featuring guest posts on this blog, and the first is by Tony Robinson OBE, (a Micro Business Champion and professional speaker, author and broadcaster), who here has succinctly captured the original art of writing in today’s tricky business world.



Unity of purpose

Did you watch the recent and totally awesome ‘To Walk Invisible’ – BBC’s two-hours drama on the Bronte family? If you did then I’ll wager you were impressed with the three sisters’ unity and assertiveness just as much as their cumulative genius. For example, Charlotte’s riposte to her publisher’s disbelief that she could have written ‘Jane Eyre’; “What makes you doubt it, Mr. Smith? My accent? My gender? My size?”.

What delighted me the most was that readers and listeners that have bought my ‘Freedom from Bosses Forever’ or attended my conference talks on the same subject, will now understand why I suggest the Bronte sisters are role models. They are role models as great writers AND for all those that want to earn a living from their own business. Give me their kind of entrepreneurship any day of the week, especially over the ‘get rich by hearing my story’ and ‘see how much money I’ve hustled for my idea’ brigade.

Like many of us, the motivating force for their enterprise was independence rather than wealth. They had to earn a living. Their experiences as governesses and teachers had shown there was little security or happiness in those jobs, yet these were virtually the only jobs open to them. The three sisters wanted no more bosses and, as they were carers, they needed to work from home.

Doing what you know

Charlotte, Emily and Anne tried to open their own small private school and although their marketing material and pricing were good their location and credibility wasn’t. As their brother and father’s health deteriorated the urgency to make ends meet through their own enterprise increased. They agreed on a joint venture to become published authors – all for one and one for all.

Because of Emily and Anne’s early deaths, soon after their brother’s, Charlotte was the only one of the three sisters to fully taste monetary success and not for long, their father outlived them all. Yet these brilliant sisters lived long enough to see their aim, of being published authors, achieved.

What an achievement it was! Today they would have been called disruptors. Book publishers just didn’t accept manuscripts from Yorkshire women. They not only broke the mould for novels, they made a sizeable crack in the glass ceiling too.

How did they achieve their success and why are they enterprise role models?

Every authentic entrepreneur I’ve met, who start and successfully run their own business, has the Bronte sisters’ high level of self-awareness and hard work. They were bang up to date with the ‘technology’, limited though it was, of the publishing industry and what readers would buy. They were brilliant at creating and promoting their personal brand to gain entry to the market – Acton (Anne), Currer (Charlotte) and Ellis (Emily) Bell would be assumed to be three brothers, by prospective publishers, not three sisters.

They played to their strengths and passions which gave them the necessary persistence to keep going in the face of terrible, debilitating domestic circumstances and rejection of their art. Like Dickens, they were afraid of debt and the debtors’ prison, so happily did not borrow. They wanted to create something out of nothing that they could be proud of. That is true entrepreneurship.

Above all, they knew what they were doing, and what they could be remarkable doing, to capture a slice of the market for novels. They’d written hundreds of poems and little books throughout their short lifetimes. They read widely both to learn their craft and understand readers’ demand. They knew Emily’s writing was remarkable, genius even, so they needed to lead with her difference. They test traded and proved that poetry could enhance their credibility but would not earn them a living.

It had to be a novel writing joint enterprise and Emily would need to write a novel too. They swapped ideas on the novels they could write and what readers would like. They researched publishers and drew up a hit list. They expected rejection of their handwritten manuscripts – a tiresome, time-consuming business – and moved immediately to the next on the list. When eventually, of the three novels from the three Bells, two were accepted they took some pragmatic decisions without diluting their original aims.

Charlotte could have stopped the whole venture as her novel, ‘The Professor’ was the one rejected. Instead, she was encouraged by the criticism and set about writing a new novel – “Jane Eyre”. They were principled and, in the face of being ripped off, stood up for their rights immediately as demonstrated by Anne and Charlotte’s 17-hour overnight journey to confront their publisher in London.

So, here we have three great writers and three great entrepreneurs. Hard work; self-awareness; (my 4Ps) passion; persistence; promotion and partnership are all displayed in the brilliant Bronte sisters’ enterprise.

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