2010 was a strange year for the printing world. At time of writing we are 11 months into the year, and while the market has grown and there have been enhancements in printer technology that benefit small offices, there has been no real advance that’s blown the market open.
So what benefits emerged in 2010, and what can you look forward to in the next year?
USB... Ethernet... Pictbridge...Card readers... Wireless support... Internet-ready... The connectivity of printers has gone through the roof, with most of these features now expected as standard for the printer to even sit in our offices.
Full access to the printer’s settings is now available on LCD screens (some of which are now detachable like a tablet PC). With huge attention being paid to usability and functionality of these menus, soon you won’t need anything other than your printer for your entire image and document printing demands.
Start-ups can rejoice. You are no longer trapped between choosing a low-volume laser printer or medium-volume inkjet machine, both with equally high costs-per-page.
A fantastic range of higher volume ink cartridges and inkjet printers hit the market throughout 2010, providing competitive choice for those who print around 500 pages a month. With some ink cartridges printing up to 1,000 pages a pop, for a much lower start-up cost than similar-sized laser printers, the market is well set for even bigger ink cartridges in 2011.
Whether induced by the recession, or manufacturers hiring less inspirational folk, 2010 was a bit of a disappointment.
In the home printing market manufacturers continue to push model after model of identical specifications, with only a few printers being worthy of increasingly demanding consumers. Not particularly inspiring stuff. But the laser printer market was the real disappointment.
“New smallest machine”, “New even smaller laser printer”, “New tiniest-ever colour laser”. Manufacturers seem obsessed with ergonomics and aesthetics, when the market is crying out for a financially viable, low-to-medium volume laser printer. If the printer is good enough, the office will make it fit. Ignore the size and appearance and put some work into performance boys, 2010 was not good enough.
But what of 2011 for the small and medium office environment?
Be prepared for value-per-page to increase as competition and market saturation pushes costs down. Expect a complete redesign of the appearance of small business printers, making them visually appealing and less of an eye sore in the home office. Look out for the rise and evolution of internet-ready printers, opening up your office to a whole host of printing features and possibilities that are simply too numerous to talk about here. With huge implications – not just for internal documents but also how you communicate and present yourself to customers – I would definitely advise you to do your research and watch this space.
My jewellery-making business, Mama Jewels, is nearing the end of its first sixth month of trading, so I thought I’d share an update on our progress so far.
This week my youngest son had his first birthday and I had my first day off Twitter, Facebook and my laptop for as long as I can remember. It felt good to leave my iPhone in the drawer and go out for the day. He was three-months-old when I decided to start Mama Jewels and both my sons are very much part of the journey. I’m hoping to have them trained in jewellery-making very soon!
Very good things are happening all the time, but I am finding myself in a constant juggling act, having to work some very late nights and early mornings to keep up. Sales are increasing, but they’re still not at the levels I wanted at this stage. I keep hoping this will eventually improve.
Visits and online sales are rising steadily after the launch of our new website, which took three (very long) months to develop and even then it didn’t launch on the date planned or the revised date. If you’re planning to launch a new website, build in plenty of spare time, especially for setting up payment accounts, which took longer than I’d expected.
Mama Jewels is currently stocking in 11 online boutiques, which is steadily increasing as we follow up new leads each day. We also have three independent baby shops stocking our products offline. This number is still low, because my ability to make visits is very limited because of my childcare commitments. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve temporarily arranged some extra childcare so I can make more sales visits.
We’ve plenty of events planned coming up to Christmas, including home parties, markets and fairs in targeted areas. We’re starting to get approached by mum and toddler groups to exhibit directly, so word is getting out there, which is great.
I am currently working on improving my Ebay shop, too, which has proved very successful so far and I have approached a friend who is an expert on selling via Amazon.
Progress is good, with daily glimpses of new opportunities. Generally, consumers are feeling the pinch and they’re more cautious than ever. Hopefully, the upcoming season will give us that extra little boost and encourage shop owners to trial my products in a few more retail outlets before Christmas. We’ll see.
Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels
You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Missed the eighth episode? Catch up here.
Much excitement this week as the contestants find out they are going abroad. Destination: Hamburg. The mission: to sell new flavours of crisps to the Germans. Germany’s snack market is worth millions of Euros and is dominated by strong flavours like paprika. The two teams have to work with crisp makers in the UK to come up with new flavours that will tempt the German palette. Synergy is lead by Chris Bates, who has something to prove, having been in the losing team too many times to count. He has Liz, Jamie and Chris Farrell to help him. Meanwhile Apollo is lead by steady Stella and she’s working with Stuart, Laura and Joanna.
Stuart reveals a creditable knowledge of German that he’s keen to show off. Absolutely everything is “wunderbar” according to Stuart. It’s pretty hilarious but actually his spirited attempts to speak German pay off big time. It breaks the ice with prospective customers and earns him respect. His approach is in stark contrast to Synergy’s Chris Farrell who says “I hate the Germans” at the start of the task.
The product development part of the challenge sees both teams looking for interesting new flavours. Nick Hewer’s eyes look skywards as Joanna suggests “:curry pie”. In the end, Apollo goes for beef & chilli and stilton & paprika, while Synergy chooses curry wurst and goulash. Yum yum!
Synergy makes two classic mistakes. Firstly, when setting up a sales appointment, Jamie and Chris Farrell are offered the choice of a 9am slot or a 1pm slot. Chris goes for the early appointment but Jamie, looking at the diary, suggests they change it to the later time. It soon transpires that there’s nothing actually in the diary at 9am. Perhaps Jamie wants a lie-in. It gets worse. Apollo gets the early appointment and wins a big order. Synergy gets diddly-squat.
At another prospective business, the manager is out and Jamie and Chris waste time talking to someone who does not have any buying authority. Apollo turns up later, the manager is in and he places an order. Kerching.
The task is won by Apollo even though Synergy do get a cracking £14,289 order from one customer. But Apollo gets more appointments and more orders at the end of the day. And so this week’s loser is — Chris Farrell. Lord Sugar doesn’t think he has the entrepreneurial spark he is looking for, based, it seems, on his performance throughout the series. Team leader Chris Bates breathes a massive sigh of relief.
Joanna is suddenly looking very impressive. So much so that hard-to-please Nick Hewer singles her out in the boardroom and praises her for her perseverance. “You were really firing on all 12 cylinders”. It looks like she could give Stella a run for her money.
“You did try hard. You tried really hard. So hard, in fact, that you annoyed the guy. He found you quite unprofessional. I think he could smell your desperation.” Karren Brady.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Most of us realise that great design can win us more business. And many of us invest in professional graphic design for our brochures, leaflets and website.
But what about the rest? What about that PowerPoint presentation you send to clients? How about leaflets you take to networking events? What about the checklist for businesses you’ve uploaded to your website?
If we accept that great design will engage, inspire and build trust with your customers (existing and prospective), what effect do you think bad design will have? You probably don’t need me to spell it out…
Many businesses design things in house. Even marketing executives at big blue chips design some pieces of collateral. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It can save time and money. But it’s those bits of collateral – your leaflet, your PowerPoint, your case studies or your self-designed blog – that can undermine your professionalism.
The bad news is that usually people don’t realise there is anything wrong with their designs. Oversized logos compete with standard colours and standard fonts to create a look that jars with all your well-produced work. The result? Your clients are confused and lack conviction in you.
It’s unrealistic to expect you to use a graphic designer for every piece of communication you produce, but you can learn some simple graphic design rules that you can apply to everything you do. And you can reduce the gap between the professionally produced stuff and your own stuff.
Do a bit of research into what makes design work. Read magazines, books (Robyn Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book is excellent) and learn important from designs that inspire you. You can also find advice here on the Donut sites, too, of course.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Many regular Start Up Donut blog visitors enjoyed following the story of Marcela Flores-Newburn of Rico Mexican Kitchen, Nottingham-based maker of salsas, beans and cooking sauces, as told on the inafishbowl business reality website.
For the next six months, on this blog, you’ll be able to follow the trials and tribulations of another start up, Mama Jewels, another Nottingham-based business.
The business was the brainchild of Amanda Waring. Following a successful career in quantity surveying and construction project management, recent mother of two, Amanda is taking on a whole new challenge.
For the past 10 years she’s been designing jewellery as a hobby. But following the birth of her first child she realised there was no fashionable baby and childproof jewellery for mums.
Keen to change this, she has created an impressive range which is available to buy online and in a select number of independent retailers. Mama Jewels was a Bronze Winner for Most Unique Product at the 2010 Mumpreneur Awards.
Amanda’s ambition is to see her products in large retailers throughout the UK. To achieve this she’ll have to juggle the role of being a young mum with the demands of growing a new business on a budget. How will she get on? You’ll be able to read updates each month, but for now, you cab find out more about Amanda’s business by watching this short video.
Because this is Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and because I was intrigued to see the interior of Coutts Bank in the Strand in London, I went to a panel debate on Wednesday organised by the Sunday Telegraph.
Titled ‘The time is now for entrepreneurs’, the debate featured a line up of the great and the good in UK enterprise – Brent Hoberman, Julie Meyer, Sara Murray, Joe Cohen and the man behind GEW, Tom Bewick.
These are influential people. Many are direct advisers to Government on enterprise and entrepreneurship. They are genuinely keen to help the powers that be develop an enterprise culture in the UK and to turn entrepreneurship into an aspiration for many of our young people. Some would like to see enterprise introduced to the curriculum as a formal element, alongside science, English and maths.
There was talk of rapid growth, high turnover, capital investment, economic output, and so on – all good stuff and the panellists seemed to mostly agree on everything. There wasn’t much in the way of debate going on. I was lucky enough to be picked to ask a question. To paraphrase, I said:
“We’re all talking about entrepreneurialism and high-growth business here, and all the political lobbying and Government policy and media conversation seems to be geared towards these firms. But the majority of people running small businesses in the UK don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They’re small-business owners. What are we doing for them?”
The panel was perplexed. You could almost see them thinking “NOT high-growth? I don’t understand the question.” And it’s true, perhaps I didn’t make my point as well as I might. But I was surprised none of the panel took up the opportunity I gave them to explore the distinction between an ‘entrepreneur’ and a ‘small-business owner’ and think about the needs of a range of different kinds of business owner.
Instead they talked about the need to generate and support high growth businesses. Julie Meyer was somewhat withering about ‘slow growth’ firms (as she had been earlier about ‘lifestyle’ businesses); Sara Murray pointed out that the “majority of those businesses are corner shops” and that the Government wants to help create the next Tesco. “Tesco,” she said, paraphrasing Vince Cable, “is a bigger driver of economic output.”
This, I suppose, was the salient point. To be fair, Sara Murray also observed that Tesco had actually ruined hundreds of small businesses, so she didn’t necessarily agree with Vince Cable. But the panel as a whole seemed to find the idea of anything other than rapid growth alien and undesirable.
This is a shame. Let’s be realistic about this: the vast majority of the UK’s 4.5 million small businesses are not high-growth and will not become the next Tesco. What’s more, their owners don’t want to be the next Richard Branson, either. But they continue to employ people, pay their taxes and provide essential goods and services, year after year; they, too, provide ‘economic output’.
So why focus all of our attention on the tiny proportion of firms that will grow rapidly and make mega-millions? Why encourage all of our young people that it’s a realistic aspiration. It’s not – and X-Factor provides a salutary lesson here: for every Will Young or Alexandra Burke, there are innumerable other aspirants who now make a small living crooning on cruise ships or in pubs, or who have gone back to whatever they were doing before. Sure, they’re not as glamorous or as eye-catching, and they’re not making as much money for other people, but they are still valuable.
There seems to be something in our culture at the moment, where we consider only the spectacular and the highly lucrative to be deserving of attention. But tradespeople, enthusiasts who have turned their passion into a livelihood – yes, even corner shop owners – they are the meat and drink of our economy, and they all need a little thought from lobbyists and policymakers.
So while we’re blowing the trumpet for enterprise during Global Entrepreneurship Week, let’s remember that even though ‘now’ may well be the time for entrepreneurs, it is ‘always’ the time for small-business owners.
Missed the seventh episode? Catch up here:
The cars are coming to take the candidates to Pinewood Studios. Joanna has vaguely heard of the world-famous film studios where Harry Potter and the James Bond movies are made and hazards a guess, “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe, Lord Sugar explains that the two teams have to create and sell virtual experience DVDs to shoppers at Westfield Shopping centre. This involves making a background action movie, buying props, filming people in front of a screen and flogging the DVDs.
It was the Stuart Baggs show last night. Project leader for Apollo, Stuart was so bad, he was good. There were definite shades of David Brent. The team selected motor-racing for the backdrop which allowed Stuart to race around Brands Hatch and utter the immortal line, “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task.” Stuart’s leadership style was horrendous. He talked over everyone, made quick bad decisions, took a dramatic u-turn when he realized his mistake and then took the credit for the new strategy. At one point he says, “I think we made good decisions under quite a lot of pressure.” Guess who provided the pressure? Best of all, he kept trying to score points against Stella in a game of “how many different ways are there to say, ‘I’m brilliant and you’re useless.’” Stella simply batted him away like an annoying fly.
Synergy, meanwhile, was lead by Sandeesh, who was trying to assert herself and shake off Lord Sugar’s accusation that she does “naff all”. She did try, bless her, but was undermined by Jamie, who was unhappy with his role as errand boy.
Both teams displayed a very cavalier attitude to pricing. Apollo started selling the DVDs for £10 but as sales took off they decided to up the price to £15, leaving customers distinctly unamused. Over on Synergy, the team dropped the price early on and sold the DVDs too cheaply.
Neither team did brilliantly but Apollo scraped a win. It’s worth watching Stuart Baggs’ hilarious reaction to winning, puffing himself up and only just stopping himself from punching the air and shouting “come on”. Ooh the masculinity! And so Synergy lost and it was left to Sandeesh to bring two team members back into the boardroom. To say she doesn’t have the killer instinct is putting it mildly. She has been the sacrificial lamb enough times, but for some reason she lets Jamie off the hook and selects the two strongest members of her team, Chris and Liz. Why, Sandeesh, why? It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to point the finger. Sandeesh, you’re fired.
Stella continues to shine like the star that she is. I’m ready to put money on her to win. But let’s hope Stuart Baggs hangs on for a few more weeks to keep us entertained and to make the saner contestants look good.
“Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation. Who does he think he is.” Nick Hewer.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Are you prepared to work hard? And not just hard, harder than you have ever worked before in your life?
Are you prepared to experience and savour the intense highs of business success?
If yes, then read on...
Your first 18 months of business life will be a roller coaster ride. Being your own boss brings you true freedom to do what YOU want with YOUR business and take it to where YOU want to take it. Being your own boss is addictive and compelling, and after six months you will know for certain whether you ever want to go back to corporate life.
As your own boss you are not just plotting a course and steering the ship, but deciding what ship to steer and the reason why you need to steer it in this destination. Sometimes luck plays a part in business success, but more often than not any luck is underpinned by a lot of hard work and dedication. Your role as boss is to provide the drive, vision and motivation to take your business through the storm into the next port.
However, when it is just you in your business, with potentially a mortgage to pay, you need to be very focused and disciplined. This means motivating yourself to get up each morning and get to work – even if this is your kitchen table or study. It also means being able to finish what you have started, and focus on the strategy and plans which will build your business. Only your energy will take your business forward, no-one else will.
Discipline is more than focusing on a strategy or plan until you get the required results, it’s also about making sure the tasks that you don’t enjoy get done, and they get done on time. To survive the first two years in business, which 70% of businesses don’t, you need to keep an iron fist on your finances, and regularly monitor your incomings, outgoings and your cash flow.
Your time does now really equate to money. If you are focusing on something that is not directly linked to running or building the business, this is costing you money. Discipline is needed from you to work to your business plan, and make sure that you give yourself re-charge, reflection and planning time. This time is just as important as time working ‘in the business’.
Does the thought of building something from scratch for yourself appeal? Or are you scared at the thought of having to put in your own processes, systems, plans in place and constantly use your own initiative? If you are not ‘turned on’ by the thought of building it all from scratch you may benefit from buying a franchise – i.e. getting a ready-made business in a box.
Rejection is part and parcel of life as a business owner. To succeed as a business owner you have to connect with your inner tigger. I can guarantee that as your own boss, you will ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Your inner tigger will help you bounce back and re-motivate the troops when your business has hit a setback. Because, if you don’t inspire people to get back up and going again, no-one else will.
So to summarise, you will need drive, passion, enthusiasm, vision and bucket loads of discipline and focus.
Are you up for the challenge?
Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach
This week’s Apprentice saw the two teams rudely awakened by Lord Sugar who arrived early at the candidates’ house. So early, in fact, that some of them were still in bed, and appeared downstairs before a Peer of the Realm, still in their night attire!
The task this week was to promote, through advertising, a new brand of household cleaning liquid, by producing new packaging, as well as a TV and radio ad.
Step up to the plate this week’s Project Managers – the battle of the northern giants! In the blue corner from Cheshire, Chris Farrell, selected because he was the only team member not to have been a PM up until now. Good selection criterion!
And in the red corner, from Manchester, the marketing guru that is Alex Epstein. Hot-foot from his roaring success in the fashion-selling project in the Trafford Centre, the previous week, Alex, whose quote of last week was “Be different. When everyone is zigging, you should zag”, saw this as his opportunity to shine! (Get it? Cleaning liquid – shine!)
Given support from one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Chris’s team produced a nice pastel-shaded bottle, a passing reference to an octopus, and an advert that came straight out of the fifties. Talk about cheesy.
Meanwhile, Alex — “if I were an apple pie, it would have oranges inside” — brainstormed with his team, and finally selected a name and concept that he said wouldn’t work, and which he didn’t believe in!
The final product came in a black bottle with a red top and was called ‘Germ-n-ator’. Judging by the design, it should have been called “engine oil”.
So now to the exciting bit – making the advert. Why is it that every year when this task is set, it seems to bring out yet two more budding Arthur J. Rank characters, who on this occasion were Chris & Chris – a bit like Saatchi & Saatchi!
After scripting and filming, each team had to pitch the new product to a selected audience of advertising industry gurus – you know, mates of Alex “I am a guru” Epstein.
The ads were shown and the teams departed to allow the audience to tell Lord Sugar what they thought of them. Which was, it turned out, “not a lot”!
Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar announced that Chris’s team had triumphed – but it was not so much that they had won, but that the others had lost. This is known as the “best of a bad bunch syndrome”.
The final showdown saw Alex pitted against the rest of his team. And so it was that Alex “yes Lord Sugar, no Lord Sugar, three bags full Lord Sugar Epstein, brought Chris and Sandeesh into the boardroom with him. Yes, Sandeesh, making her second appearance in two weeks, even though she was credited with having done a good performance at the industry pitch.
Lord Sugar soon dispatched Sandeesh back to the house, because he, along with millions watching the programme, couldn’t believe what Alex had done.
After further deliberation with Karren Brady and Nick, who really ought to have his own show sometime — The Many Faces of Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar pointed the finger. Alex, you’re fired!
And Alex’s parting words? “Thank you Lord Sugar, it has been a pleasure to meet you, and likewise Nick and Karen.”
The guru is gone!
Adrian Wilkinson is the owner of marketing consultancy Image and Profile
At the National Enterprise Academy (NEA), we are passionate about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We exist to do something that has never been achieved inside the education system before.
And that’s to demonstrate that you can develop the entrepreneurial skills of our young people. We developed the first ever qualification, based on a curriculum written personally by Peter Jones — in enterprise and entrepreneurship — starting with 16 to 19 year-olds.
You may well ask why we don’t have enterprise education already. And it would be a good question.
Despite more than four million people passing through our further education system each year, no-one was teaching our young people the foundations of building a good business.
Now, I know Lord Sugar would probably disagree with Peter and I about this but we believe passionately that entrepreneurs can be made, as well as born. Yes, raw talent, commitment and that spark of a business idea is of course important and difficult to learn. But the basic ingredients of what makes a successful entrepreneur can, we believe, be taught.
I just do not accept that to get on in life and be successful in business is somehow solely the product of the bed you were born in or the genes that you inherit.
Lord Sugar is right about one thing though. We need to rewire the entrepreneurial mindset of the British people — perhaps even change our cultural DNA altogether. That’s as much about changing the attitudes of people in our society who too often ask the question: ‘Can I?’ Instead of saying, ‘I can!’.
This is borne out by the international evidence. The UK is second from top in the G7 of those — over 50 per cent of the population — who believe they have the know-how to set up successfully in business. Yet, only 5.8 per cent of our population is in the process of starting a new business right now. To put this into a global context –in the US it is 8 per cent, in Brazil 15 per cent and in China 19 per cent.
So this suggests that there is still a huge ambition gap to overcome. Converting the thinking into the doing is key. At the NEA we are trying to address this through what we call “learning by doing”. By nurturing a generation of young people that come out of the formal education system with the determination to make a job, not just take a job.
This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week – now in its third year. Over 100 countries will simultaneously celebrate the importance of building an enterprise culture. Ten million entrepreneurs around the globe will take part.
It’s based on a UK invention: an annual Enterprise Week launched in 2004. Like so many things, we’re great at generating the ideas. We can clearly export our ideas and creativity abroad. But can we really be the best and make the next decade the most entrepreneurial in our history?
A guest blog by Tom Bewick, chief executive of Enterprise UK
We often start our businesses because of a deep-seated passion for what we do. Perhaps we have a flair for something and we want to spend all of our time doing it. Maybe we want to turn a hobby into a business – perhaps we just want to do what we do best.
I have a lot of respect for people who follow their passions. When you bring a passion for what you do together with a flair for business, you have a winning formula.
The challenge is getting that flair for business into the mix.
I’ve spoken to two brand new clients recently. Both have more than 20 years’ experience in their respective fields and have a real passion for what they do, but they haven’t thought clearly about how customers fall into the mix.
Business owner number two – let’s call him Jeff – is an expert in his field. He works in a niche, scientific market but his service could be sold to anyone – domestic or commercial. He called my company for help with designing an advert for a school magazine. The trouble was, he hadn’t thought through how the parents at school would benefit from his service. He certainly hadn’t thought through why they should care about his business.
Jeff was blinded by his passion. So passionate was he that everyone should use his service, he’d failed to see it from his customers’ point of view.
You may believe in your product or service, you may have scientific evidence to back it up. But unless you can convince your customers they need or want you, you’re on a hiding to nothing. You’ve got to sell your business in a way that your customers can feel it in their gut. They need to understand exactly why they need you (ask yourself – so what? why should my customers care?) and what the cost of doing nothing is.
It’s hardly surprising that Jeff’s business is struggling. He needs to define a clear brand strategy for his business; he needs to work out who his most profitable clients are; and he needs to create a structured marketing plan that enables him to communicate effectively to them and get them to start buying. His passion alone isn’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been described as one of the most passionate business people in Surrey – on more than one occasion. I “get” the importance of running a business you’re passionate about. But passion alone isn’t enough. You’ve got to stay focused on your customers, because without them – you don’t have a business.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
Missed the fifth episode? Catch up here.
It’s another early start and this time the candidates have been asked to pack an overnight bag. They are going to Manchester to sell clothes at the Trafford Centre. But first they must select two lines of clothing made by some young up-and-coming new designers in London. All the girls’ eyes light up at the prospect of a fashion task and Liz becomes leader of Synergy while Paloma leads Apollo.
Things are looking slightly more professional at last — although it’s hard to know whether the candidates are improving or it’s just that the worst of the bunch have left. Then again, it could simply be the fact that this task is a buying and selling job, pure and simple, and does not include any tricky manufacturing challenges — sausages, muffins etc — that often descend into farce. For me, the best bits are watching Nick Hewer’s constantly changing facial expressions, which register everything from amusement to horror and speak louder than words.
Apollo makes three mistakes. Like Synergy, Apollo visits the designers of some affordable glitzy party dresses that could sell themselves. While the Synergy team is in raptures over the clothes, the guys from Apollo stand there in silence. You can almost see the tumbleweed. So when the designers have to pick a team to sell their clothes, they opt for Synergy. Strike one. Compounding that mistake, Apollo then chooses a range of upcycled clothes with a hefty price tag that are very hard to sell. Strike two. Next, Alex brags that he has worked at the Trafford Centre before (doing what, one wonders) and takes charge of picking a site for Apollo’s promotional stand — miles from the team’s actual store. Strike three.
Paloma pins all the blame on Alex. She also takes Sandeesh into the boardroom — a transparently tactical decision as Sandeesh has already faced some flak from Lord Sugar. But nothing gets past Lord Sugar. He tells Alex, “I think you’ve been set up. You may be bloody useless but I’m going to give you another chance.” Paloma is out.
As the numbers dwindle to ten, the potential stars are shining a bit brighter. And this week’s stars include Stella, Liz and Chris. Meanwhile, Alex and Sandeesh may have survived another week but their long-term prospects don’t look great.
“Behind me you can see Stella wearing a very short sequined emerald green dress, waving at people from the window. Amsterdam? Maybe. But not in Manchester.” Nick Hewer.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
So the coalition government set out its stall this week by outlining measures it believes will aid the UK’s five million or so small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
Hosting the launch event – loftily entitled the Summit for Small Business – Business Minister Mark Prisk said: “I entered government with the goal of making this the most entrepreneurial decade in our history and I'm confident today's announcements will make that a reality.” Big ambition. Bold claim.
All the major parties agree on the pivotal role SMEs are likely to play in reviving the UK economy. SMEs provide 60 per cent of the nation’s jobs and half of its GDP. And with so many public sector workers likely to lose their jobs, many will hope to find gainful employment in the private sector.
The government’s three main aims, as revealed at the Summit, are to: improve access to finance; make it easier for SMEs to win public sector contracts; and allow social tenants (ie someone who rents a property from a local council or housing association) to start their own home-based businesses (currently this isn’t allowed).
Despite the taxpayer bailouts and criticism from business groups, still too many small firms are met with refusal when seeking a bank loan or overdraft extension. Business Secretary Vince Cable has certainly been a vociferous critic of the banks in this regard.
The government says it is committed to ensuring a wide range of finance options for small businesses. The Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) scheme will remain live for another four years. According to the government it will make “£2bn available to viable small companies [that lack] credit history or collateral. This will provide support to 6,000 SMEs a year.”
A further £200m will be committed to Enterprise Capital Funds, which will “support equity investments in the highest-growth potential businesses over four years.” The first of the new funds is expected to begin investing in early 2011.
The government will also work with banks in their response to the Business Finance Taskforce green paper, including the £1.5bn Business Growth Fund, mentoring and drawing up of a new lending code. Vince Cable said: “The government is doing its bit. The banks [must] play their part [by increasing] normal commercial lending to get the economy growing.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne noted: “The private sector is also taking steps to provide a diverse range of finance options for businesses – a development which is welcomed by government.”
The government also wants to make sure SMEs are awarded at least one-quarter of public sector contracts, which will be welcome news for those eager to get a slice of a multi-billion pound pie. To speed up the process a standardised ‘Pre-Qualification Questionnaire’ (developed in co-operation with the Federation of Small Businesses) will be introduced in December. Designed to ease cashflow pressures, the government has committed to pay 80% of its prime contractors within five working days and these must pay their suppliers within 30 days (more good news for many small suppliers).
Cable, Osbourne, Prisk et al are not the first politicians to make speeches underlining the huge contribution SMEs make, as they quietly go about generating wealth and providing employment. Praise is one thing. Time will tell whether these latest measures are enough to have any a quantifiable positive effect on SMEs’ fortunes in the difficult few years yet to come.
Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor
Growing a business isn’t easy, but experience has taught me that one of the keys to success is to set yourself apart from the rest. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
You want the product or service you sell to become a real hit among your target market, but do you really know who buys it? There are many factors to consider and these could change with emerging trends. It’s important you gain an understanding of who is buying and what the biggest driving forces are that make that someone choose you, your expertise, your brand, your product or service.
The internet is a low-cost billboard for you to showcase your business and perhaps sell your products and services, but the prospect of hiring a web designer can be daunting. Why not take a DIY approach? The good news is that a modern range of software is demystifying web design. There are simple, drag-and-drop visual web design programmes not a million miles away from an office word processor. Some packages boast even more potential, producing feature-rich websites without using any HTML coding. A professional-looking site can be produced and online in a matter of hours, even if you have no prior experience – and without a hefty bill for design and build.
Consider placing an advert in a targeted publication so you can be seen by the right people. Consider your budget – is radio or TV a possibility? How about adverts in mobile phone applications? If you need to keep your costs low, creating your own advert can still work wonders. Distil what you want to say and make it an attractive proposition. Decide what your brand values are and keep messages within brand guidelines. Focus on an easy-to-remember call to action.
Cut out the middle men by producing designs yourself and sending them straight to a professional printer. Some flexible design and publishing programs are ultra user-friendly. Templates offer a quick way to make polished materials and your designs can be shared in a professional, compatible format (eg PDF) for accurate printing in any pro print shop.
First, thoroughly check text for spelling and grammar mistakes. Use software to help, but remember to check for errors with the naked eye, too. There are proofing tools built into popular desktop publishing packages, design products and word processors, but they might not always pick up correctly-spelled words used in the wrong context.
When you decide to produce your own poster, advert or other marketing materials, remember that a clear message will have more impact. Don’t use graphical effects for the sake of it or use too many different fonts, sizes and weights, otherwise the design will look unprofessional. If you have a coloured area or image as a background, you might want it to go right up to the edge of your page, but headlines, text, logos and other important information should be places well inside the edge of your design. What is it you or your customers like about other advertising you consider to be effective? Bear these points in mind when you work on your own materials, whether editing a design template or creating a design from scratch.
Dale Cook, Serif
Finding a truly niche market is hard these days. With remarkably few barriers to entry, especially when considering internet retailing, there has been an exponential rise in competition.
Whether you’re selling ink cartridges (as I do) or cuddly toys, there will be companies out there offering the same products at a similar price. As such, a company’s attempts at differentiation now commonly focus on customer service and “going that extra mile”. And new printer technology can play a big role here, by creating good first impressions with your marketing literature.
As you all know, in addition to internal document printing, your business printer can be used for customer documents, ranging from invoices to promotional brochures. This is a crucial part of your service and poor quality documents with low-resolution prints or dull colours can really affect attitudes towards your business.
Historically, the options were to outsource such printing requirements to a professional printer, or to foot the bill for a (previously) very expensive colour laser.
However, many manufacturers are now following Oki and moving into LED printing technology for their colour laser machines, and start-ups with high volume printing requirements can cheer at this.
The benefits are many:
And best of all, their initial price (from £180) is accessible for any start-up. Plus, very little can go wrong with the machines, the quality is brilliant and the costs (both in consumables and maintenance) are affordable.
The only real weakness behind the technology is the limited horizontal resolution, as there are only so many LEDs you can physically fit in a row. For the vast majority of small businesses, however, this is not an issue, because it only becomes a problem where you’re doing a lot of image printing. And in that case it would be better to purchase a dedicated image printer anyway.
Perfecting the customer-facing side of your company is just one of the many factors a start-up has to get right to survive. LED printers are a great way to achieve affordable and professional quality printing, and thus immediately put your business level with the competition. And avoiding the need to outsource printing means costs can be kept to a minimum and forecast easily – a real bonus in the start-up world, where every penny counts.