When my Paul Sullivan called me to say he was auditioning for The Apprentice, I was taken aback. He’d been working really hard to transition his business, Modedaweb, from website design to a digital marketing agency, focusing on the growing Fintech industry in London and abroad. Initially I couldn’t understand why Paul would want to take the best part of 3 months away from his business, to go on a TV reality show where he’d have limited control over how he is portrayed in the media.
You only have to look at two recent articles to understand exactly what I mean – The 16 Daftest Apprentice Candidates Of All Time and Watching The Hapless Candidates On The Apprentice Is A Sadistic Joy. And these are just two recent headlines from The Telegraph, a respected broadsheet newspaper here in the UK.
But as Paul explained his rationale to me, I could see why he was prepared to take the gamble that appearing on The Apprentice might be the vehicle that will enable him to catapult his business to the next level. Here are four business reasons for appearing on the show.
1. Risk Taking Is An Essential Entrepreneurial Strength
The Entrepreneurial Profile10™ is a popular assessment tool developed by the American research based global performance management consulting company, Gallup. Following a scientific approach to studying success, Gallup discovered that top performing entrepreneurs exhibit similar talents – recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour – that naturally equip them to excel in a role. Gallup researchers discovered that highly successful entrepreneurs possess these 10 innate talents: Confidence, Delegator, Determination, Disruptor, Independence, Knowledge, Profitability, Relationship, Risk Taking and Selling.
Taking risks in business can mean great rewards, but typically, we think of risk taking as being reckless. It’s a common perception that risk takers bet it all on one roll of the dice. If they fail, they do so spectacularly, going out in a blaze of attempted glory. But in the context of entrepreneurship, the ability to take calculated risks is a real strength. Taking calculated risks is what the very best entrepreneurs do. The most successful entrepreneurs are actually very risk adverse, figuring out a way to reduce risk at every step they take. They follow the Act. Learn. Build. Repeat model where you:
- Determine your goal;
- Take a small step towards achieving your goal;
- Learn from taking that small step;
- Build from that learning and take another small step. Then learn from that step and so on.
By appearing on The Apprentice, Paul Sullivan took a calculated risk. We’ll find out how that risk pays off for him as the weeks unfold.
2. The Opportunity For Financial Investment
The prize for winning The Apprentice is a £250,000 investment in your business, and a partnership with one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. For those that don’t win, but are able to present themselves effectively, there’s the possibility of other sources of investment e.g. business angels. These are compelling reasons to appear on The Apprentice as the level of investment necessary to both start your own business and/ or catapult your business to the next level can be hard to come by.
While many businesses have a sound business plan in place and are able to grow organically, few people have a bucketful of spare cash to invest in its growth. (Check out my article about how Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company, bootstrapped her business with a £6,000 legacy from her grandmother and a small government loan). A brilliant product, excellent customer service and canny marketing combined with drive and determination will get you a long way. But unless you can build up adequate cash reserves or find an alternative source of funding, it’s a challenge to make a big step change in your business such as opening another outlet or expanding your workforce.
The reality in the UK (and the stats are similar in the US, Canada and Australia) is that 95% of our 5.5 million businesses employ less than 10 employees. And 75% of that 95% are solopreneurs. That’s 71.25% of all businesses! I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics startling. There are a number of reasons why businesses struggle to scale, one of which is access to investment. Appearing on The Apprentice offers the opportunity for investment, even if it may seem like a long shot.
3. Paul Had To Up-level His Business Plan
A shocking number of businesses start – and continue – without a business plan – around 50%. I regularly hear the view espoused that a true entrepreneur has no need for a business plan. They’re a waste of time because they’re put aside to gather dust, and in any event, things never work out according to your plan. An estimated 25% of business owners believe that a business plan is not important. While a further 35% of business owners believe that a business plan is important, but clearly not so important that they actually write one.
Preparing a business plan is an essential tool and discipline for every business owner. The process of business planning forces you to think, in a structured way about all the key elements of your business. From your product and target customers, to your brand, marketing and sales through to the financial plan and operations. The planning process helps entrepreneurs focus on what they need to achieve and how exactly they plan to get there.
All candidates for The Apprentice have to prepare a comprehensive business plan. For those who get through to the semi-finals, they’re grilled by Lord Sugar’s right hand man, Claude Littner at the ‘interview stage.’ Contestants know that if they haven’t prepared a robust business plan, they can expect to leave straight away. In the 2014 series, Littner branded Soloman Akhtar’s business plan ‘a bloody disgrace’ and told him he was ‘taking the piss, please leave.’ Or as Lord Sugar put it on Twitter, ‘there’s no such thing as Santa Claude.’ A wise candidate has put together a comprehensive business plan, and is prepped to discuss it with The Apprentice interview team.
4. Paul Is Signalling Willingness
When I first meet potential clients, one of the attitudes I’m looking for is their willingness to do whatever it takes to build a successful business. First off, let’s be clear; I’m not talking about unethical business practices or taking unnecessary or unwise risks. Building a business is relentless, hard work, combined with sacrifice and set-backs. This is a journey you’ve got to be prepared to undergo.
This may mean working 12-15 hour days, month in, month out. Or missing nights out with friends to complete a project. Or fore-going holidays for the first few years. Or taking a significant drop in income in order to invest in your business.
Willingness is a state of mind. It’s being prepared to do whatever is necessary to make your business goals a reality. When I look at business owners who are struggling, I see some who simply aren’t willing to do what it takes to make their business a success. This isn’t about working hard. Many are working incredibly hard. It’s about an attitude of willingness to do whatever it takes, no matter what. Ironically cultivating an attitude of being willing opens up opportunities and doors that hitherto may have been closed.
The Apprentice is a business bootcamp and not for the faint of heart. Whilst contestants live in a luxury house, they’re confined together over an extended period of time. Days are long, sometimes starting as early as 3am. There is little down time and contact with the outside world is severely restricted. I wouldn’t put myself through this. But I believe that contestants, like Paul Sullivan who do, are deserving of our respect. Because they’ve signalled that they’re willing to knuckle down, and do whatever it takes to give their business an advantage in the marketplace. Whether strategically this was the best choice is an entirely different question.
Join The Conversation
Question: Would you consider going on a reality TV show such as The Apprentice or Dragons Den like Paul Sullivan has done, and if so why? I love receiving your feedback so please do share your thoughts in the comments box below.
Explore These Additional Resources
Did you miss?
- Why Taking Risks In Business Can Mean Great Rewards
- 7 Business Lessons From The White Company
- Are You Willing?
Work With Me
I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. It’s this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.
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