The world of ecommerce is extremely lucrative and its growth is showing no sign of slowing. In fact, online shopping is set to double in value over the next three years alone. And it's not just the large retailers that can cash in on its popularity, there's huge potential for small businesses, too.
However, there are still many small firms that are yet to venture online, finding the prospect of entering a new space too daunting, or lacking the resources to launch their own ecommerce enterprise. But with competition rife in the retail market, sitting back is no longer an option and small businesses must start taking their first steps or risk losing further revenue as more consumers go digital.
There are many aspects to launching an ecommerce business – it's not just a case of setting up a website, adding some products and going live. If SMEs want to better secure the success of their online efforts, a clear business plan must be in place right from the start.
Creating this solid structure will enable you to refine your strategy for launching to a digital audience – many of whom will be very different to typical in-store shoppers. For example, online customers are not limited to the local area, they can come from anywhere in the country (or even overseas). Once this is finalised, you can then get started on the exciting bit – producing the website.
The great thing about launching a website is the almost unlimited number of features and functions that can be added. However, be warned. Experimenting with too much too soon could mean you can't maintain a high level of customer service.
Start simple, to get it right. Outline what your website needs to do right now and implement that to begin with, you can always add more features later.
Don't forget to think how the site will look on a mobile device. This is extremely important to today's consumer, so consider a mobile optimised or responsive design.
It can be very tempting to take a do-it-yourself approach to building a website. It can be cheaper and offers total control. However, it's important to consider how time-consuming it will be, along with the extra strain it can put on resources.
Partnering with a professional design agency will likely provide a slicker look and finish, while allowing small firms to draw on external expertise and have ongoing support when required.
So, just as consumer behaviour changes, so must small retailers, as they seek to provide shoppers with the means to browse and buy however they choose.
The ubiquity, democracy and power of the internet has enabled millions of people across the globe to enter the ecommerce marketplace, either as a consumer or a retailer. However, accessibility doesn't guarantee success and competition has never been so tough, so here are five top tips to give your ecommerce site the best possible chance of success.
Consumers are smart; consumers are savvy. More so every day. The average customer is capable of comparing prices online in very little time and stats show there is very little brand loyalty. The products you have listed on your site must be competitively priced in order to compete with other ecommerce sites. Unless you are selling a unique product, this should be a priority.
People expect an easy-to-navigate, mobile-friendly site in order to purchase their products. The key word here is expect. Online customers are presented with a plethora of consumer engaging sites that utilise call-to-action buttons, SEO-friendly content and tactically placed advertisements, none of which take away from the overall usability of the site. Quick, convenient and aesthetically pleasing should be your principle boxes to tick.
This is an obvious priority, but an interesting insight. Most products on the high street are priced between 70-80% above their production or purchase costs. This varies between product and marketplace, but ecommerce, as a general rule, is no different. Without the need to store products or pay for distribution (unless you do intend to do this), your costs are automatically lower. Understanding exactly what your costs are, your margins and thus your profit (creating a proper business plan helps crystalise this) is maximised. Every penny counts.
Unlike a shop, where the customer's experience is determined by the store aesthetics and shop staff, convenience and neutrality win the day in ecommerce. An essential aspect of this is quick loading times and engaging call-to-action buttons. A customer will lose interest quickly in your site if the page loading times are long. Customers expect a speedy website that isn't slowed down by dated tech. Time is money.
The customer is always right and engaging with them, either with complaints or requests for further information, is absolutely crucial. Don't leave them hanging on. Angry customers can easily spread bad reviews and negative comments online that dissuade potential customers. Remaining professional and friendly in the public's eye will control those negative reviews. Even bad can be spun positively if you deal with it quickly, efficiently and solve their problem or answer their query.
1 “It’s natural to see your competitors as the enemy. In reality, they’re not (ignorance and blindness-to-change are what you should really be watching out for). We’ve found that building relationships with our competitors has been invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing, while being fun, too.”
From The benefits of making friends with your competitors by Cartridgesave.co.uk
2 “If you believe that your target market is struggling and has no money to spend, you’ll easily be able to prove that to be correct. If you were to say to yourself that your target market is making more focused buying decisions, you’ll take a different approach to your next sales conversation. Whatever is true doesn’t matter. It’s the attitude and energy you take to it that will make the difference.”
From Are your beliefs holding your business back? by Sarah Lane.
3 “Look at companies such as Comet, Blockbusters and Jessops. I'm sure their business plans didn't include going into administration! Had they had a Success Plan, perhaps their futures may have been different.”
From Are start-up business plans a total waste of time? by Mark Williams.
4 “To run a successful team, a leader needs to be creative, logical, passionate and able to be compelling and articulate. However, you also need to recognise that you can’t do everything on your own, so you must get the right people around you.”
5 “I like to think that I am an ethical consumer. I shop locally (on foot or by public transport), I purchase Fairtrade goods and my mortgage and savings are with an ethical bank. I am not alone. Research has shown that demand for ethical goods and services grew 12% during the recent economic crisis, against mainstream growth of just 0.2%.”
From New research on SME and microbusiness ethical behaviour by Fiona Prior
6 “Remember: the ‘bitterness of low quality lasts longer than the sweetness of low price’. If you put up your prices, you will always lose some customers, but only those who have bought solely on price.”
From Should your business increase its prices? by Robert Moore.
7 “Entrepreneurs see things differently. They’re happy to stick to their guns when everyone else tells them they’re wrong. They’re prepared to go it alone. Often they can spot a gap in the market that others don’t see. They’re also prepared to put in a lot of extremely hard work and cope with failure, however hard that might be.”
From Are entrepreneurs born or made? by Marc Duke.
8 “Most businesses hit a ceiling because the way they began means further improvement and growth is too complex for them to handle and pursue. The business becomes trapped in the ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ – around 3% each year – just enough to keep pace with inflation. To break through this ceiling, new systems need to be employed. What allowed many entrepreneurs to run a successful small business simply cannot support larger, more complex teams and issues.”
From Three reasons why you don't have a million pound business by Shweta Jhajharia.
9 “With just a £20,000 loan to start his first business, Sir Philip Green went on to take over the Arcadia Group and is now worth a staggering £3.88bn. Similarly, Mike Ashley used a £10,000 loan to start Sports Direct and is now worth £3.75bn, while Sir Richard Branson’s startup capital was a mere £300, which he used to start building an empire now worth £3.6bn.”
10 “A new report commissioned by the Information Economy Council argues that resources should be focused on helping ‘scale-ups’, because this could ‘contribute a million new jobs and an additional £1 trillion to UK economic growth by 2034.’”
From Should the focus be on ‘scale-ups’ rather than start-ups? by Mark Williams.
1 “Devise a simple ‘unexpected circumstances’ plan. Detail who does what, when and where, should things go awry. Prepare a temporary office in advance if there’s a risk you can’t get to your usual one. Make sure employees can work from home if necessary. Send your people home early if conditions worsen and be flexible if travelling is dangerous.”
From What to do if your business is affected by bad weather by Hannah Tonge.
2 “Sell something people want; make sure the difference between what you buy it for and what you sell it for is big enough; find a way to get people to buy from you. And, of course, make sure you collect all the money you are owed.”
From How to keep your business's head above water by Robert Craven.
3 “A well-engaged workforce will deliver increased productivity and performance. Remember that even the smallest gesture can make a big impact, such as enabling staff to leave early once targets have been met or even treating them to lunch. It’s up to you to motivate your workforce and prevent a dip in staff morale.”
From Top tips for boosting staff morale this winter by Helen Pedder.
4 “The right time for growth is when your business is in the middle of a successful period, with a few strong months just gone and a couple more forecast to follow. Be aware that expansion will eventually require additional resources, including labour, equipment, finances and more micro-management.”
From Why it pays to fund your own new business by John Bee.
5 “Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a fact of life and with a bit of thought they can be easily managed. Accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.’”
From What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes? by Heather Foley.
6 “New businesses are a prime target for predatory salespeople. If you’re in the online space you can expect companies that host business directories, sell email data, run pay-per-click ad campaigns, etc, to contact you. Most of them will press really hard and rattle off impressive-sounding numbers, but these direct sales services rarely convert to sales.”
From Five key insights gained by a six-month-old online start-up by Pete McAllister.
7 “Over-thinking something often means that the ideas you come up with are forced and unrealistic. Watching an unchallenging film or TV show can allow your mind to switch down a gear and come up with something much less forced.”
From How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment by Paul Lees.
8 “Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. Taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.”
From The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups by Bryony Thomas.
9 “One in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while 54% of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break. People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.”
From Has Britain become a nation of workaholics? by Helen Pedder.
10 “Factually, right now, about 60% of the people in your sector are only doing OK and 20% are struggling. This means that by stepping up and standing out, you could be in the 15% that are doing very well and if you really excel – you could be in the 5% that are exceptionally successful.”
From How to be an exceptionally successful business by Anne Mulliner.
Thank you to our site sponsors for their support in 2014. Many thanks also to the experts who shared their knowledge to ensure this blog remains a popular source of information, advice and inspiration. A massive ‘Thank You’ to all our readers, of course. Whether you were thinking of starting up and wanted inspiration or started your own business in 2014 and needed advice, we hope you found what you were looking for. Happy Christmas – here's to a fantastic 2015…
Overtrading is where a business takes on a lot orders without having sufficient capital to fulfil them. This often happens when suppliers or deliveries are delayed, which can create serious cashflow problems. It can be easy to fall into the trap of taking on more orders than you can fulfil. In balance sheet terms, your liabilities outweigh your assets (ie debt outweighs cash in your business).
The business will likely be viable, with lots of interest in services or products, but without sufficient working capital, the business experiences a serious problem. Working capital is actual cash or funding you have in the business, minus whatever you owe to suppliers, bank, etc.
The idea is that if you’re selling more, you’re making more money. But are you actually receiving payments from customers? You must get your invoices out on time and keeps tabs on late payers. Always ask yourself if there is enough working capital within your business.
Overtrading tends to affect start-ups in particular, because finance can be very tight in the beginning. Businesses wishing to expand can also face problems if too many orders are taken without sufficient funding being in place.
If cashflow is a problem, look at ways to cut costs in the business. If you’re experiencing VAT or PAYE problems, agreeing a Time to Pay deal with HMRC is worth considering, because it can enable you to spread payments.
If your business needs restructuring and is running up too much debt, a company voluntary arrangement between the company and creditors could be the best solution. It’s a great option for viable businesses that need additional finance or just some extra help to restructure. Always seek legal or insolvency advice before going ahead with a restructure or insolvency procedure.
Copyright © 2014 Keith Steven. Keith Steven of KSA Group Ltd has been rescuing and turning around companies since 1994. He is the author of insolvency and turnaround website www.companyrescue.co.uk and has been nominated as Turnaround Practitioner of the Year at the Insolvency and Rescue Awards 2014.
Sacré bleu. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages has asked all political parties to include a new “framework for national recovery in language learning” in their 2015 general election manifestos.
That framework should include pledges to “transform the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists, reluctant to value languages other than English” and “actively encourage business and employers to get involved in tackling the crisis”. The good news for businesses is the group also suggested that employers might be offered tax incentives to “recruit or train homegrown linguists”.
Our less than impressive reputation for linguistic prowess is well earned it seems, with the UK lagging way behind other EU countries when it comes to speaking foreign languages. According to European Commission (EC) research, only 39% of UK adults can hold a conversation in a foreign language, compared to the EU average of 54%.
“So what?” you might say, after all, “English is the international language of business”, n’est pas? Well, to an extent, oui, I mean, yes, but English isn’t always widely spoken in many markets and lack of foreign language skills is holding back many UK businesses – and that could include yours.
UK employers frequently bemoan the shortage of foreign language-speaking British workers. A UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey in 2013 found that where vacancies were not filled because of a lack of skills, in almost a fifth of cases that meant lack of foreign language skills. According to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014, 65% of firms require foreign language skills.
Au contraire, you counter, as you sit there all smug, armed with your conversational French, Spanish or Italian. Yet many Brits who can speak a foreign language don’t put that key skill to good commercial use, and perhaps too many of us are guilty of not looking beyond our own shores as much as we should. According to the CBI, only a fifth of UK SMEs export, despite businesses being 11% more likely to survive if they do.
Readers of a Euro-sceptic disposition might want to look away now, but UK exports to EU countries alone support 4.2m UK jobs and are worth £211bn to the national economy (source: FT.com), while total UK exports to non-EU countries are worth almost £150bn a year (source: Gov.uk). The US remains the most important single market to the UK economy, accounting for £41bn or 13.4% of all exports (source: Santander UK).
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) recently published its International Trade Survey for Q1 2014 and it found that while 90% of UK firms have ambitions to grow domestically, only 43% are looking beyond the UK for sales, despite 55% of current exporters reporting a positive impact on their bottom line within just 12 months of expanding into new markets abroad.
John Longworth, BCC director general, says: “We need to do more as a nation to take the fear out of exporting. I speak to businesses that have full order books here in the UK and don't see why they would need to take their goods and services overseas. To transform businesses’ mindset, we need to create an environment that makes it worthwhile for them to export.
“We must invest even more in supporting and promoting international trade. The UK should be matching the resourcing dedicated to export support provided by our major international competitors. And government intervention must be more focused in areas that can really make a difference, such as providing greater access to finance to growing firms – particularly when a quarter of non-exporters say that increased funding would encourage them to export. Only a concerted national campaign and sustained investment will get more UK firms to look beyond our shores for growth opportunities.”
Even simple steps, such as creating pages in select foreign languages could attract many more overseas visitors to your website and give your sales a serious boost. More of us finally committing to learning to speak a foreign language well would also greatly help, of course.
• Visit the BCC Export Britain website for more information about how to start selling to customers overseas.
Blog written by Mark Williams, freelance content writer and editor of Start Up Donut.
Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?
It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.
It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.
Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.
If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”
It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.
When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.
Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.
Market research and competitor analysis can be a start-up’s Achilles’ heel. Incorrect conclusions pulled from incomplete or inaccurate research often lead to dire consequences for start-ups that pursue a market segment that was inappropriately analysed.
So why do so many start-ups continue to get caught in this trap? Well, the answer is actually pretty obvious.
Thorough market research drains the two resources that are most precious to start-ups – time and money. Therefore, if you aren’t a research guru but still need thorough research, you can choose either to spend substantial cash on expensive services and tools to perform the research or to spend hours using conventional methods if you are trying to bootstrap.
So how do you produce compelling market research, but preserve your precious time and money? Well, the answer is pretty simple, just maybe not as obvious.
Primary research can be accomplished by using a variety of free online surveys such as SurveyMonkey. Another great option is to embed user polls directly onto your website. Fair warning, though, the majority of people who participate in these polls are usually the ones who are most dissatisfied.
For secondary research, you can use tools such as FindTheCompany. The database recently became available to the public for free and provides information on more than 30 million private and public companies.
For industry research, a great (and often overlooked) resource is public companies’ annual reports, which are often filled with hidden gems. They provide insight on an industry’s size and growth rate, as well as predictions on where the industry is heading in the near future. Public companies pay expert consultants lots of money to research and develop these reports. Essentially, they are paying for the data you need. And the best part – you don’t even need to be an investor to get these reports.
Finally, be a customer of your competitors. Look at their advertisements. From this, you can infer who their target market is, and which demographics they are trying to expand into. If your competition has stores in your area, pay them a visit. This sounds obvious, but many people don’t realize how much information they can gather simply by getting in their car and driving around town. This doesn’t mean you need to be deceptive, just be inquisitive.
Nowadays, start-ups cannot perform efficient and effective market research by sticking to outdated methods. They must innovate and make use of the new methods and free tools that emerge every day. Be smart about your research, it might save you more than just time and money – it might save your start-up.
Blog by David Schmidt, head of audience development at FindTheCompany.com
Happy people sell, according to Neville Wilshire, star of The Call Centre, BBC 3’s new fly-on-the-wall documentary. Wilshire may be a little unorthodox in the way he handles his staff, but he makes a very valid point. Happy staff are more productive. Practical jokes, X-Factor style competitions and in-office speed-dating are not necessarily right for every business, but fully engaging staff is the best way to ensure they generate results.
There are many ways to engage employees and boost productivity. These do not have to be outlandish and neither do they have to be a financial burden on the business. Offering rewards or benefits schemes, such as high street discounts, reduced-cost gym membership or free cinema tickets are a surprisingly cost-effective way to make a real difference to your employees’ attitude and your bottom line.
Consulting with staff about what sort of rewards would suit them is the ideal way to get them working at their best. There is no need to get as personal as Big Nev, but (providing your business can afford it) it’s worth finding out what incentives will help to bring the best out of your employees.
Once the most appropriate incentives have been decided, rewards and benefits can be easily and effectively put into place that will really make staff feel appreciated and give them something to strive for.
Enthusiastic and energised staff will have a better attitude to work, a greater sense of achievement and produce better results for their employers.
While many people like to think of themselves as good negotiators, many do not understand some of the simple rules, which can quickly label you as inexperienced, which of course is not a position you wish to be in, especially when pitting yourself against a skilled and seasoned negotiator. By steering clear of the following five pitfalls, you should be able to navigate your way through any negotiation with ease.
1. Don’t negotiate blindly
Before beginning any negotiation, you must determine two things: your desired outcome and your bottom-line tolerance level. If not, you will have no direction and will likely be dissatisfied with the outcome of the negotiation.
2. Don’t start the negotiations
If at all possible, have the other person put the first number on the table. The reason for this is simple, as illustrated through a hypothetical example. X is willing to sell his widget for £100. X asks Y what he is willing to pay for the widget and he says £150. By Y bidding first, X earned an extra £50 even before the negotiations were underway.
3. Don’t avoid the process
Negotiating is a back and forth process that takes time. Many people who are uncomfortable negotiating try to avoid the process by being upfront with their real bottom-line number. This causes negotiations to break down, because the other side simply will not believe you. The expectation is that your opening number will be high/low and move from there. In fact, if you are responding to an opening bid, it is assumed that your target number is the number exactly between the two currently on the table. If you step up to the negotiation table, be prepared to play the game.
4. Don’t bid against yourself
A skilled negotiator will try to get you to bid against yourself and a rookie negotiator will fall for it. This happens when the skilled negotiator gets the rookie negotiator to increase his bid without moving himself. To gain respect, say: “I’m not going to bid against myself. I’ve put a number on the table. It’s your move.”
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away
When people are negotiating, they can easily become caught up in the moment. When this happens, there is a very real possibility of committing to a position one later regrets. The way to avoid this trap is to be prepared to walk away when you reach your predetermined tolerance. It is important to do this for another reason. The other side may be bluffing. By walking away, you clearly indicate your position to the opposing party. Understand that many negotiations are completed after several sessions. This will allow you to walk away with the confidence of knowing that if the deal happens, it will be on your terms.
Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here
Zoe hates Melody. Melody hates Zoe. Actually, I suspect Melody hates everyone, but this week was all about the battle between two strong personalities. It was like Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks all over again (Zoe is Giant Haystacks, naturally – hair all over the place). And, like those theatrical tussles, there was only going to be one winner: Melody, bloated by ambition, won’t allow anything to knock her down.
The task should have been fun – invent an original idea for a biscuit, make it, brand it and flog it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. Sweet. Lord Sugar divvies up the seven survivors: serial winner Helen is on Venture, along with Jim and Natasha. Zoe and Melody find themselves side by side on Logic; the seeds are sown. Oh, Tom and ‘little’ Susan are in there somewhere, too.
Zoe instantly mows down Susan in her pitch for leadership, citing her experience in the food and drink industry. She delivers the first blow to Melody by packing her off to Wales with inventor Tom to make biscuits. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Zoe drawls contemptuously, “but I’m probably happier working with Susie.”
They have only the fuzziest of ideas about their biscuit and none at all about their target market. But they do have a name (BixMix), a strapline (“Snap and share”) and an inventor on their team (Tom). It’s the inventor I’d worry about.
Logic, led by Helen (also from the food industry) and capably supported by Jim (ingratiating) and Natasha (anonymous) is harmonious by comparison. Helen is oppressively efficient and seems more like an android by the week. They go for “Special Stars” – a biscuity treat for kids when they get home from school. Mmm, special. The tagline is contradictory: “The after school treat for any time”. Errmmm.
Tom making biscuits. In his element, the inventor showers his team with one crazy idea after another: first there’s the “Mermunchie” (“The emergency biscuit to be eaten in emergencies”), then the “biscuit-within-a-biscuit”. He tinkers and fiddles happily as Melody twitters girlishly about hearts and sharing.
But Melody, whose intellect is hardly her strong suit, suddenly lets slip a shard of wisdom: “I think big and then try to work out the details,” she smirks. “He works out the little, little details and then tries to fit them into the bigger picture.” She quickly kills her insight with the idea of biscuits as popcorn – “Popscuits”, obviously. That “big picture” thing – it’s tougher than it looks.
In the end, they compromise on a biscuit-within-a-biscuit that you can “snap and share” with your loved ones, family, friends, the bus driver, whatever. “Why didn’t you make it snap that way?” demands Sugar. If you have to ask a technical question about a biscuit, it’s not a good biscuit.
The sniping and general bitchiness between Zoe and Melody is actually the best bit. Only it’s the worst bit. But it’s the best bit. It’s riveting. They even argue in the middle of a supermarket as a team of buyers waits for them to start their pitch.
“Melody is a nightmare to work with,” spits Zoe. Melody is sniffily superior. “I’m not used to that sort of behaviour in a public place,” she exclaims. “Oh please!” cries Zoe, in chorus with several million Brits.
Melody wins the battle, but is scarred – Sugar and his management team noting that, despite her “sense” (eh? She did a roleplay as a sales pitch), she seems to generate a lot of ill-feeling. Zoe’s gone; she may be assertive, but she can’t make a good decision for toffee. It’s a farrago – decent name, decent strapline, terrible product and no idea who to sell it to.
Helen wins. Again. That’s nine weeks in a row. How does she do it? The marketing strategy is confused and Jim makes an astonishing pitch to Asda in which he promises a movie tie-in with Harry Potter. Amazingly, Asda places an order for 800,000 units. “It’s a mega-product” stutters a stunned Sugar.
Helen. And, yes ok, Melody. Despite her lack of irony, self-awareness, relationship-building skills, sound ideas, accountability and maturity, Sugar seems to like her. There's no accounting for taste.
Helen evades scrutiny once again. She’s smart, efficient, quick on her feet. But at some point, somebody is going to notice that she makes decisions too quickly in the name of efficiency and ends up backing undeveloped ideas.
Just the one, from Lord Sugar himself. “At the end of the day, marketing is all superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish. The most important thing is to make sure that what you’ve got in the box is good value for money.” I’d second that.
The Welsh biscuit-maker: “You can do anything you want. Never say never in the biscuit industry.” I love this show.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.
Missed the eleventh episode? Catch up here:
It’s the interview stage. The previous tasks look like a walk in the park compared to a day facing Lord Sugar’s inner circle of business heavies — Margaret Mountford, Viglen CEO Borden Tkachuk, former Amstrad CEO Claude Littner and lawyer Alan Watts.
The candidates put on brave faces but the masks slip pretty fast after the first bruising encounters. To begin with they try to convince their fellow candidates that they have done well as they wait between interviews but as the day wears on, the toughness of the task is written on their faces in sweat and Stuart sums it up by saying, “I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson”.
Jamie’s attempt at joking on his CV — saying he has a third nipple and then revealing it’s a lie — is derided as “puerile” by Margaret Mountford. His Cyprus-based property business also comes under scrutiny in the interviews. He is accused of playing the blame game — blaming his parents for his poor qualifications and his Cyprus partner for his business failings. He tells Margaret Mountford, “I’m a key cog in a wheel.” She says, “Any wheel?” and he replies, “I am a cog”.
Stuart greets Margaret Mountford like an old friend and gets a frosty reception. He tries to convince all the interviewers that he isn’t dishonest even though he has written on his CV that he once told the media a whopping lie — that a rival had gone bust. Worse, he has claimed to have a full telecoms license when in fact he only holds an easy-to-get, inexpensive ISP license.
Claude Littner really goes to town on him. He says, “’I am Stuart Baggs the brand’ — what on earth are you talking about? Don’t tell me what a brand is. You are not a brand.” Later Stuart says he is a big fish in a small pond. Claude responds, “You are not a big fish. You are not even a fish.”
Stella’s corporate background is still being cited as a drawback. At one point she is accused of being a “glorified PA”. Borden Tkachuk calls her the “admin queen”. But Nick Hewer leaps to her defence calling her “entirely decent” and Karren Brady says, with feeling, “She’s ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious woman.”
Chris is not that long out of university, so he bigs up his academic achievements. This does not go down well at all and you get the impression that Stella’s “I left school at 15 with no qualifications and look where I am today” is impressing the panel far more than a first class honours degree.
Chris also has to deal with accusations that he’s a quitter having dropped out of a law degree to do politics and having left his investment bank job after just nine months.
Poor Joanna is like a rabbit in headlights when Borden Tkachuk asks her to tell him about Lord Sugar’s companies. She doesn’t know how to pronounce them, let alone what they do.
Praised for starting a business, she is then criticised for not trying to grow the business. Joanna says “I don’t want to be known as Joanna the Cleaner”. But the panel suggests she should focus on being Joanna, owner of a successful cleaning business.
Lord Sugar wastes little time in sacking Stuart. He tells him, “I don’t believe a word you say.” And he berates himself for allowing Stuart to come this far.
Jamie, meanwhile, is let down a little more gently — he has “come to the end of the road”.
Finally, Joanna gets high praise from Lord Sugar as he, regretfully, points the finger at her. He says, “You leave here with your head high, You’ve done very very well.”
So two bankers — Stella and Chris — have made it to the final. My money is still on Stella.
“My four advisors, they have said to me you’re full of s**t basically.” Lord Sugar, as he fires Stuart.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Missed the tenth episode? Catch up here.
And then there were five. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel — characters keep getting bumped off left, right and centre. But before we get to this week’s boardroom firing, the remaining six have to set up tours around London and sell tickets to tourists. Stella and Liz are in team Apollo with Stuart at the helm while Synergy’s Jamie and Chris are lead by Joanna.
Apollo chooses to run a cockney tour while Synergy plumps for a ghouls and ghosts experience. Both team get the chance to pitch to the London Visitors Centre who are willing to sell tickets on behalf of one team – for the right deal.
This task allows Stuart Baggs to say lots of disturbing things like — “Tourists are just juicy money bags. I’m going to dip my hands into their pockets.”
No-one handles the negotiation with the London Visitors Centre well. They don’t have a plan and their negotiation skills are poor. Stuart pitches his prices far too high. But the manager of the Centre is rubbing his hands in glee when Chris inadvertently offers the Centre 20 per cent of the entire takings — rather than just a cut of the Centre’s ticket sales. Synergy even has to hand over 20 per cent of Jamie’s hard-earned tips! Collected in his very own hat!
But it turns out that this deal is, in fact, a stroke of genius. The partnership with the Centre ensures they sell way more tickets than Apollo.
The tours are terrible. It’s amazing that the passengers don’t simply get off the bus when it stops at traffic lights. Jamie’s commentary is endearing but wildly inaccurate — “The Thames is the second biggest river in London”. Nick Hewer is on board and his face is a picture.
Stella’s tour includes a lot of time spent wandering around the East End looking for a jellied eels stall (and never finding it) and having a lovely sing-song on the top deck of the bus. Karren Brady also looks less than impressed.
It’s getting pretty tense too as the competition reaches its final stages. Chris and Stuart have a turf war in Trafalgar Square and after a good deal of swearing, Stuart challenges Chris to an actual flight. It reminds us that Stuart is young enough to behave as if he’s still back in the playground.
So Synergy wins and Liz, Stella and Stuart are left in the boardroom. Stuart quickly takes the offensive, making crazy financial promises and pleading for another chance. The substance of what he says does not impress Lord Sugar. “One day you’ll look back and cringe,” he tells Stuart. Lord Sugar also highlights Stuart’s childishness and wonders if it’s time for “beddybyes”. But Stuart’s spirit has made an impact and, amazingly, Lord Sugar points his finger at Liz.
Stella, Joanna and Chris still look strong but after this week’s bombshell, who knows?
“I’m not a one trick pony, I’m not a ten trick pony. I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this.” Part of Stuart’s impassioned speech that persuaded Lord Sugar to keep him in the contest.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here.
Another pre-dawn start and this time they are meeting in Tower 42 in the city of London. As the sun comes up over the London skyline, Lord Sugar rises up to meet them in a great glass elevator. So what has he got in store for them this week? It’s a treasure hunt — the treasure being an eclectic list of hard-to-find items — including Indian gold, chickens’ feet, white truffles, a four-foot length of kitchen worktop (rarer than you might think), a special length of tartan, an antique sewing machine and the Bluebook (a set of four handbooks teaching London cabbies “the knowledge”).
There are ten items in all. But the critical thing is not just to source the items but to buy them at the lowest price possible. Failure to buy incurs a fine of £50 plus the list price. This task has got Lord Sugar’s name all over it — it’s all about wheeling and dealing. He chops and changes the teams once more and this time, all the girls are in team Apollo while the three remaining boys are in Synergy. This week’s team leaders are Liz and Jamie.
Once again, it’s fascinating to compare the different approaches. The girls are well-organised, taking a full two hours to phone around and source the items before they hit the road. The planning pays off and they get all the items on the list. The boys, meanwhile, are strong negotiators and get some of the items at incredibly low prices. It’s all thanks to Jamie’s inspired approach — to come up with stories to support their bargaining. A taxi driving brother, a Scottish wedding — there are no limits to the tales they can spin in a bid to get a bargain. The tall stories work — not because they are believed (they are not) but because the sellers have to offer a rock-bottom price to get shot of these strange people.
So both teams have strengths but who has the edge? Athough the girls look like a crack buying team and the boys are disorganised, the bottom line is price. While the girls enjoy the treasure hunt, the boys rightly see it as a bargain hunt and negotiate accordingly. The biggest disaster occurs when the girls go to a Knightsbridge restaurant to buy their truffles. Not only are they shopping in the worst possible place for a bargain, they get their maths all wrong and manage to pay twice the going rate.
The girls lose. Everyone is shocked, especially the boys. Talk in the boardroom is all about Trufflegate. Laura and Stella were the ones who did the deal so they come in for a lot of flak. In fact Stella is really in the spotlight this week and not in a good way. All the girls accuse her of being a poor negotiator. Karren Brady says she’s too “corporate”. Perhaps what they really mean is that she is too full of herself. Suddenly, everyone is keen to bring her down and peg or two. But Lord Sugar acknowledges her past strengths and eventually tells Laura she is fired.
Stella’s halo has well and truly slipped. Judging by the frosty atmosphere between her and Liz back at the house, the gloves are off between these two strong contenders. Joanna, though, is quietly looking like a possible winner. But the boys will have to lift their game if any of them want to stand a chance. Then again, as Stuart says, “even when we’re s**t, we win”!
“We’ve negotiated well, we’ve got every single product, we’ve come back here feeling confident, everybody’s done a good job and I can’t wait to hear the results.” Laura Moore, shortly before she is fired.
Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.
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.
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
There’s a dilemma when you are starting a company. There are lots of boring essentials like company formation, VAT, Data Protection Act, employment law and, depending on which industry you are in, a host of other legislation. Yet complying with these doesn’t help you to sell anything, build a customer base or most importantly turn a profit.
It’s incredibly difficult to find the balance between being too gung ho about regulations (with risks starting at inconvenience and ending in prison), or over egging things, with a bigger risk of business failure. Hovering around are lots of professional advisers with fees to match - that’s the accountants, lawyers and consultants. Unfortunately it’s hard for them to be entirely impartial as their business is about charging fees.
Here are my top tips for getting this balance right.
When you’re starting off, anything that isn’t directly related to making sales or pushing the business forward is an irritant. But completely neglecting other issues can cause huge frustration when you are forced to comply; it can also substantially reduce the value of your business or may even cause its demise.
It’s different if you are well capitalised and have had previous business success. But if this is your first start up, then these tips are well worth a thought.
I was up until til 2:30am cooking to fulfil orders and make samples. I am feeling hyper and excited, with that butterflies-in-stomach feeling about what lies ahead and the opportunities that I have. I am equally overwhelmed about what to do next and I'm tired. Whatever I do, it means that I’m not doing something else that is equally important.
The bookkeeper came this morning and we are getting our new system in tip-top condition. It required my attention because we are changing to a new accounting system and I need to know how it works. So I couldn’t make the follow-up sales calls I needed to do, or pay the bills, or organise tasting sessions, etc. I also teach Spanish on a Wednesday and I haven’t prepared yet.
More orders are coming through, but I'm not able to cook tomorrow because I’m at a “Meet the Buyer” event. I hope the buyers do buy! So it looks like another 2:30am bed time tomorrow, as my kids are in a local panto and I won’t miss their debut!
Wish me luck, I’ll keep the coffee flowing...
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
I think that marketing is a really important key to opening up the sales door for my yummy sauces. I regularly do food tasting sessions at the shops where they sell my products.
It's time, however, to up my game and analyse the return on investment of all of my marketing activities. This is another tricky task for a novice like me: do I know how to measure the effectiveness of a marketing event and the get figures to quantify? Er, I think you know the answer.
Take last Saturday, for example. I had discussed the idea of having a Mariachi band at the Food Halls with Selfridges . It turned into reality on Sat 31 January and we had such a good time, which is clearly a good thing. These are some benefits from this tasting session:
Two videos taken were particularly interesting:
This is where I reach my limits as I don't know how to quantify whether the event was good ROI. How do I measure this? It's not straightforward. On the day, we saw 300+ people and I will get the sales figures next week.
This is what we spent:
To summarise, I think that the event was worthwhile: we sold, created awareness, and have been/will be on other websites. However, this is only my gut feeling and I need to take the guesswork out of investing on marketing to focus my very limited resources wisely. Do leave me a comment if you have any suggestions.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.
When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.
Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk
I had always thought that the word “entrepreneur” sounded so glamorous. The truth is that you are “it”, from key decision maker and strategist to garlic peeler. When people ask me what my position is in my company I laugh - I’m the CEO and the cleaner.
If you decide to start your own business without your finances completely sorted and you can’t afford staff, you are in for a difficult time trying to do everything. Even if you have a business plan that maps out incomings and outgoings, there is always that extra marketing opportunity that you don’t want to miss, or that packaging that you had to buy etc... spend, spend spend. I left my job early on in the planning of the business to throw myself fully into the project - maybe I should’ve been more patient and kept my salary for a bit longer.
Having said that, somebody said to me at the very beginning of my business journey that I should just go for it and borrow £100k from the bank. Thank goodness I didn’t do that. Yes, life would’ve been so much easier, I'd have a budget for machinery and packaging, maybe one or two part-time staff and a salary, but I wouldn’t have known how to spend it as well as I do now. Now, I have proved a concept, I understand which things worked or didn’t work and I know exactly what I need to do next. The only small detail missing is the cash itself.
So, this week has been about focusing on raising finances and boosting my sales. I'm looking after my key customers and revising my business plan so it reflects what I know now to allow me to get to the next stage. I’m off to the bank today and, hopefully, the bank manager will like it and believe that I can make it work. Hopefully I will be able to raise the finances and afford to pay a member of staff and the machinery I need. Feeling positive. I’m not superstitious.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
If your well-crafted and targeted press release hits the spot, soon you can expect journalists to contact you for more information or an interview. Usually, for newspapers and magazines, these take place over the phone in a few minutes.
Don’t panic – tough questioning by journalists is usually reserved for politicians. Instead, journalists will simply be seeking to add a little colour to the story by way of a few well-chosen quotes or sound bites.
Here are a few basic tips to ensure you come across well.
Be prepared. Re-read your press release (or story suggestion) and make sure you have swotted up on the subject. If you have a couple of updated or additional interesting facts to throw into the conversation – all well and good – but don’t go over the top, because the journalists will only be able to write about so much.
Anticipate likely additional questions and have your responses prepared in advance. Practice your responses with someone you trust.
When doing the actual interview, use notes as a prompt. Don’t read verbatim from a script because it could be interpreted as lacking confidence or knowledge (or worse still – having something to hide). Be warm, human and friendly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest enough to say so. If necessary, offer to find out the information and forward it on to the journalist as soon as you can.
Knowing what you are talking about will help you to sound more confident, which will make you come across as more credible. Avoid jargon at all times – it only confuses people. Use simple language to explain key points.
A journalist calls to ask how long it takes to make a profit when starting out in business. ‘It depends on the business’ replies Emma Jones ‘but I’d say it’s perfectly possible to turn a profit within the week.’ Here’s the feature to discover if Emma got her facts right.
Let’s take a business
This feature will not apply to all businesses but let’s take the example of someone providing goods and services to consumers (a craft business) and someone offering professional services (a book-keeper.) This is how they each become profitable by week end.
Example 1: The craft business
Make item with cost of raw materials being £5.50.
Photograph item with family camera, ensuring professional/high quality presentation.
Upload profile and photo to 3 craft sites which levy a small charge (or free) for listing and exercise a sales commission. Sites such as:
Promote product via Twitter and Facebook. Include a link to the shop so people can click and buy.
Send an email to friends and family (personal, as opposed to group email) to announce the product and, again, with a link.
Upload pictures of your product to Flickr so the large audience there can see it too.
If you have a webcam, make a short recording of you making products and upload to YouTube.
Call local stores and boutiques to ask if they would consider selling your stock.
You’ve attracted interest and made a sale! Sales price is £25.99.
Cost of making sale:
Raw materials: £5.50
Listing fee: 20p
Sales commission: 78p
Marketing & promotion: zero cost but your time
Profit for the week: £19.51
Example 2: The book keeper
Start a blog using free blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com – with helpful posts on book-keeping technique, this will help you be seen as an expert in your field.
Promote blog via Twitter.
Produce business cards. A pack of 50 cards can be bought for £12.99 from Moo.com.
Attend local networking event.
Post in online business forums with helpful book-keeping advice.
Approach small business sites with an article for them to upload that will interest & assist readers (include a link back to your blog so people can make contact).
Call local accountancy practice to ask if they require outsourced book-keeping.
Secure first client! Contract to carry out book-keeping for local home business at rate of £50 per month.
Cost of making sale:
Business cards: £12.99
Promotion and networking: zero cost but your time
Profit in first month: £37.01
Doing the sums
The beauty of both of these examples is that all this promotion and sales generating activity can be done by ‘Working 5 to 9’ ie it’s possible to keep hold of the day job and build your business (and profit) by working nights and weekends.
The secret is in keeping costs low (by being home based and making the mot of free social media tools) and focusing on making that first sale. In which case, it’s perfectly possible to realise profit in just five days. What’s stopping you? Get that business started!
NB. This feature assumes access to a home PC/laptop therefore costs of IT equipment not included.
Emma Jones is Founder of Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010