The Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

biz-planThe Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

And so we arrive at the semi-final of this year’s competition, where the final five candidates are cross examined about their business plan, personal life and their pets. This amounts to an hour of brilliant TV (think; an urban “I’m a Celebrity…”) for us and the job interview from hell for them.

It is worth re-visiting my blog for the semi-final of The Apprentice 2015, because I think many of the points I raised there are relevant again. Don’t worry if you can’t be bothered, I’ll summarise them here;

  • This week the business plans get the main focus
  • However, the 4 interviewers also test the resilience of the candidates in the most brutal way
  • If the audience and Lord Sugar saw these plans in Week 1, most of the final 5 would not get to week 2; their plans are over ambitious and poorly thought through

Here is a summary of the performance of the final 5 candidates in the semi final

Grainne McCoy

Make-up studio owner Grainne had possibly the most ambitious business plan – wanting to develop a major brand in Northern Ireland incorporating an Academy, Recruitment Agency and products. This proved to be Grainne’s downfall; way too much ambition, with very little analysis to say how this is possible. Grainne is a great example of the successful sole trader (no employees) who is looking to make the next step but has no idea how to do it. The lack of focus was highlighted and Grainne was reduced to pitching for a mentor to show her the way. A simple test of how well she understands make up products and marketing resulted in an epic fail. The net result was the Grainne was the first of the five to be FIRED.

Jessica Cunningham

Online fashion company owner Jessica wanted to develop her business through celebrity endorsement, something that got thoroughly dissected by the interview panel. In particular, the high monthly costs of paying celebrity’s was highlighted, as was Jessica’s lack of knowledge about the process and costs of upscaling the business. One of the panel, Linda Plant, has specific expertise in this arena and tore Jessica apart. In the boardroom, Jessica was praised for her personal charisma, and the way she has managed to get control of her emotional state as the series has progressed (check out Weeks 2-3 of this year’s competition). In the end this was not enough and Jessica was also FIRED.

Alana Spencer

Cake company owner Alana has grown through the series. Repeatedly overlooked and even dis-respected, in the end for me, of the final five, Alana has impressed the most. Her business plan was thought out and costed and built on expanding her already successful cake company. Again, the biggest concern was around the challenges of distribution as the business expands, but she did have a plan to address this and was looking for Lord Sugar to  provide experience in this area. Alana also withstood the personal attacks and, in particular criticism about not reinvesting in the business (as she wanted to buy a house) as a proxy measure of her lack of commitment. However, her trick of taking each interviewer samples of her product (brownie) was an example of her marketing in action, and it was no surprise that she has QUALIFIED for Sunday’s final.

Frances Bishop

Children’s clothing company owner, Frances, comes with the best established business. There are 4 employees, and the business has progressed well to this level. Frances wants to expand this business into a national brand, and believes there is a niche in the market to do this through out-of-season stock. Unfortunately, the plan that Frances presented lacked detail and even some pages were missing from the Appendix. You can rely on Mike Souter to find this. Although the plan convinced the panel that the business is scalable, Frances struggled to convince Lord Sugar that it was not a risky business. Remember, Sugar likes traditional products, and he is reluctant to invest in something too risky. Frances is also something of a risk, having lost 8/10 tasks in the series. That said, she has always impressed. Last year, Sugar chose an eco-friendly plumbing business (Joseph Valente) over the riskier dating app (Vanya Koutsomitis), so given the alternatives on offer, it was no surprise that Frances was FIRED.

Courtney Wood

Novelty gift company owner Courtney is the least charismatic or engaging of the candidates, and this was repeatedly tested in the interviews. His epic fail on a variation of the “elevator pitch” with Claudine Collins was a reminder that this lad cannot sell, not even when his business life depends upon it. However, in his favour, Courtney has developed a successful business and reinvested his profits into the business (he apparently lives off £8000 p.a so doesn’t even pay tax) and lives in his parent’s house. You could say that his parents are supporting his business, but that’s an argument for another day. Courtney was seen to sneer when Alana was challenged about taking money form the business to help buy a house. That Courtney succeeded was down to him playing the “I’m like you card”. Courtney successfully described his business model in terms that Sugar could identify with (he practically described Amstrad but in the novelty toy market) and he has the development and distribution processes covered, as his brands are already in some high street stores. Mike Souter seemed genuinely tickled by the creativity Courtney showed with the “[Lord] Sugar Dispenser” when asked to come up wit ha product in the interview. Courtney also QUALIFIED for the final.

So, the final of The Apprentice 2016 will be between Alana and Courtney. Of the 2, Alana is the more charismatic, but Courtney has an approach that is built upon Sugar’s own. In terms of business sectors, both are new areas for Sugar, but I expect Courtney to win. I hope I’m wrong, because is performance thought the series hasn’t warranted it. If he is to win, he will have to pitch himself and his ideas in a way we have not seen yet. In this respect, Alana has the edge and I hope she wins.

The Dragon’s guide to writing a Business Plan

The Dragon’s guide to writing a Business Plan

Six simple steps from the Dragons Den.

There is an old saying in business;

“Fail to Plan or Plan to Fail”

This week, The BBC broadcast the Dragon’s Den guide to writing a Business Plan. This 6 point guide offers some top tips to getting investment for your business idea. Here they are;

1. Set Realisitc Targets

Don’t just pick a number at random as your sales or turnover target. There needs to be some evidence of the financial targets you are suggesting. Do your research, and look at the trend over the last year, 3 years, 5 years, both for the market you operate in and your own company. This should give some indication of future opportunites in your market.  In the programme the 2 guys behind The Wand Company (a remote control shaped as a magic wand) presented solid evidence of future orders as well as their current success, and were able to negotiate a great deal with Duncan Bannatyne. The pitch was spot on, as they were able to present targets with confidence and backed by evidence. In fact, their research was so good that they were able to choose not to take up Duncan’s offer.

2. You make it happen

Commercial acumen is important, but your self belief is key

“Once they like you the Dragon’s will view everything you say positively”

If you don’t believe in your product, why would the Dragon’s? The example given – Masque-Erade showed that confidence and belief, coupled to good forecasting (see 1 above) can be a recipe for success.

3. Get the numbers right

An extension of point 1.

“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”

Know your business essentials. These figures need to be at hand, and delivered confidently. Deborah Meaden is particularly hot on this, and has torn apart many an entrant to the den. Any decent bank manager would do the same.

You need to understand the Balance sheet, and Profit & Loss as these are the fundamentals of the business, or no one will want to invest in you.

The example of the camper duvet company showed that not knowing your numbers can cost you. They secured a Dragon (Hilary), but they had to give up 26% equity, rather than the 10% they wanted. Had they been better prepared they could have got a better deal.

4. Price it right

This is the opposite problem to that above- over estimating the value of their business, so you look deluded. The example given was Applied Language online translation services. Success came because they had got the value of their organisation spot on.

5. Timing is everything

“The right idea, the right product at the right time”

Obvious really, but hard to get right. The example in the show – online antiques valuation site “Value my Stuff” secured investment from Theo and Deborah because they reasoned that in a recession, people will want to sell their antiques. One year on this proved to be shrewd. The timing was right. The explosion of good quality camers on phones made uploading photos to the internet easier than it was even 5 years ago.

6. Know when to give up

Back to being realistic. A dud is a dud, recognise it and move on. It is good to have self belief, but not to delude yourself. Look at the evidence objectively, and know when to move away. Example of the Zigo baby cycle – massive previous investment of over a million and losing massive amounts. Dead in the water. One year on, they still have the businesss, but one of the partners, Steven,  now has an online price comparison site for funerals.

So there you have it, the Dragon’s guide to Business Planning.

The best example of a Business Plan from Dragon’s Den is Imran’s ITeddy. Imran knew his margins, and had a sustainable business model with opportunities to innovate. He secured a deal with Peter and Theo and is now busy developing new ideas for his ITeddy company. That is the final lesson;

“Don’t stand still – innovate or die”