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The Apprentice: The guru is gone

November 15, 2010 by Adrian Wilkinson

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

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Calling all would-be entrepreneurs

November 12, 2010 by Anna Mullinder

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

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Why passion is not enough

November 10, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

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

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The Apprentice: Bye bye Paloma

November 04, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the fifth episode? Catch up here.

The task

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.

The best bits

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.

The worst bits

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.

The losers

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.

The ones to watch

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.

Quote of the week

“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.

Summit for nothing?

November 04, 2010 by Mark Williams

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

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Set your business apart for less

November 03, 2010 by Dale Cook

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.

Firstly, you must understand your customer.

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.

Next, get online.

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.

It pays to advertise.

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.

Go direct and save a small fortune.

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.

Don’t rush out a poster, newsletter, brochure, flyer or other materials.

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.

Less really is more.

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

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