Review: The Apprentice Series 12 Episodes 4 & 5

Candidates from BBC TV's The Apprentice
JD chills while Sofiane pitches and Trishna sticks to her price

The Apprentice: Episode 4

After last week’s boring task and unfair result, this week’s The Apprentice got back on track with an episode about crowdfunding.

I really must stop taking Lord Sugar’s search so seriously. I keep thinking it’s a business programme when really it’s simply popular entertainment. Even so, there are business lessons to be learned.

Last week we were reminded that superior resources usually win in business as in war. Once Aleksandra dropped out, instead of evening up the teams, there was on team of 8 and one of 6. It was no surprise that the larger team won a sales task. If the producers had wanted to be fair, they could have judged the result by using average sales per person. Unless of course she didn’t really walk out at the beginning of the task and there was some clever editing going on.

We also learned that you have to listen to your customers to succeed in business. So, if you’re going to be a personal shopper, ask about your customer’s budget, their size, their taste and what in particular they’re shopping for.

The Apprentice: Episode 5

This week, we were introduced to the world of crowdfunding. The lesson was, they don’t need Lord Sugar’s money. If their idea is good enough, they can get backing from the public. Of course, you would be mad to offer rewards that cost more than the investment but, if you’re working on a task for The Apprentice, it doesn’t matter what you offer because you’re never going to raise the money you need in a day.

The pitches to retailers were interesting. As someone who once had a small retail business, I was sympathetic to the idea of giving the small independents the same discount as the big retailers. Karren Brady was right to say that you should give a better discount to someone buying 10 times as many units but Trishna may have unwittingly struck upon a fact of life for suppliers- if you want to deal with the big name retailers, they will screw you not only on price but on payment terms. You will probably stay in business longer if you only sell to independents.

So it’s Goodbye JD, a Project Manager so laid back he was horizontal, a leader more chilled than frappuccino, characteristics that allowed his team to run wild while he had an early night.

He could learn from Sun Tzu, author of The Art Of War: “Regard your soldiers as your children and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look upon them as your own beloved sons and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent but unable to make your authority felt, kindhearted but unable to enforce your commands, and incapable of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children. They are useless for any practical purpose.”

This article is written by Paul Lewis. A version has appeared on the Hampshire Workspace website. Paul owns the Winchester-based marketing consultancy firm Seven Experience. His clients include Hampshire Workspace and Theatre Royal Winchester.

Should You Comment On Your Colleague’s Appearance?

Charlotte Proudman's LinkedIn profile
Charlotte Proudman’s LinkedIn profile

So, is it sexist to describe someone’s photo on a business website as ‘stunning’? That was what barrister Charlotte Proudman thought when solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk made the comment to her on LinkedIn.

Before addressing that question, I should straightaway say that whatever one’s view, it’s wrong to send her abusive and offensive messages and a prominent newspaper shouldn’t inflame the situation by referring to her as a ‘feminazi’. She has an opinion. It should be respected.

And respect seems to me to be the key. Any sensible person will know that commenting on a colleague’s appearance is to step onto dangerous ground. Some men believe women like to be complimented on their appearance. Perhaps this is understandable, given the amount of time and money many women spend on their appearance. In male-female relationships, more men are likely to be familiar with the phrase ‘How do I look?’ than women. But of course that doesn’t apply to all women and even less so in the workplace.

You must respect what your colleagues find acceptable. Just as some people might be intimidated by suggestive jokes, others might enjoy sharing a laugh. My advice is to tread very carefully and err on the side of caution. In the workplace or when you are dealing with someone professionally, a person’s appearance is not relevant to business. Then again, if someone likes to be complimented, it seems almost rude not to say something pleasant. There are no hard and fast rules.

It can work both ways. While I’ve never been described as ‘stunning’, women occasionally compliment me on my appearance (very occasionally). They might say they like my haircut or my new jacket. I am quite pleased when this happens. It’s not saying they find me sexy, which I admit is unlikely at my age. That also opens up the possibility of returning the compliment in a non-sexist way. On the other hand, when I was quite a bit younger, a female colleague once squeezed my bottom. I regarded that as crossing the line. I would suggest one should never touch a colleague or business acquaintance except to shake hands. A reassuring touch on the arm, a hug of congratulations, a reassuring arm round the shoulder might all seem innocent but many find it an invasion of space or patronising.

To an extent, sexism is in the eye of the beholder but also in the intention of the perpetrator. Or to put it another way, context is everything. I agree with Ms Proudman that LinkedIn is not the place for comments on appearance. As she said, ‘I am on linked-in for business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance.’ There are plenty of social contexts where such comments would be appropriate but for too many people the line between business and social is blurred.

I think Ms Proudman is also right that ‘the eroticisation of women’s physical appearance is a way of exercising power over women. It silences women’s professional attributes as their physical appearance becomes the subject’. I have been appalled that the female Labour leadership candidates have been asked so many questions and received so many comments about their clothes, hairstyles and general appearance that the media wouldn’t dream of directing to the male candidates.

Any of us can fall foul of a charge of prejudice. Even Ms Proudman. In responding to Mr Carter-Silk’s comment, she said, ‘Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.’ Which some of us might regard as ageist, given the implication that it might have been all right if he had been nearer her age.
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I am aware that this blog may have offended some people. I have generalised about men and women. I have talked only about heterosexuals. None of us can hope to avoid all prejudice in our behaviour but we must try, if we are to get the best out of our professional- and personal- relationships.

This blog is the personal opinion of Paul Lewis of Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version of this blog has appeared on the Hampshire Workspace and Daily Echo websites.


Why You Shouldn’t Charge What People Will Pay

Bendict Cumberbatch as Hamlet
Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at The Barbican. Photo credit: Johann Persson

Why shouldn’t we price at the maximum your audience will pay? Here’s an extract from Seth Godin’s latest blog, proposing that long term is more important than the short when it comes to pricing:

Thirty years ago, I asked the fabled rock promoter Bill Graham a question that I thought was brilliant, but he owned me in his response. “Bill, given how fast a Bruce Springsteen concert sells out, why don’t you charge $100 a seat and keep all the upside?” (In those days, $100 was considered a ridiculous sum for a concert ticket).

“Well, I could do that, but the thing is, I’m here all year round, and my kids only have a limited budget to spend on concerts. If I charged that much for one concert, they wouldn’t be able to come to the other shows I book…”

It’s a big question that has been answered one way by the commercial theatres of the West End and Broadway, as well as some regional and subsidised theatres, who seem only concerned with extracting the maximum profit from their immediate audience. Others, mainly subsidised and regional theatres are more concerned about building a long term audience.

The Guardian recently ran a feature (Theatre Tickets: When Did They Become So Expensive?) looking at the way some theatres are charging huge amounts for premium seats and ‘added value’ packages. Last year I myself got tangled up with the mad rush to get tickets for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at The Barbican. Having found myself 29,000th in the queue, I became fired up. Refusing to be thwarted, I went to an agency and, in the excitement of the chase, ended up paying over £20 a ticket more than the official price.

I was so shocked that I had paid so much that I didn’t buy another ticket for anything for over a month. And that’s the point that Seth is making. Do you grab the money now without any concern for the future of yours or anybody else’s audience or do see yourself as part of a network of providers and long term customers?

Read the full blog here

Buying Online- Who’s Doing The Favour?

John Singer Sargent
Self Portrait by John Singer Sargent

When your customer buys online, who benefits most, you or them? The question occurred to me after two contrasting experiences I had recently. One was with an arts organisation, the other was a commercial business.

First, the National Portrait Gallery. I read the reviews of the John Singer Sargent exhibition and thought I must see this. So, striking while the iron was hot, I bought tickets online. You might think that they NPG would be grateful to me for buying in advance. They have my money as opposed to leaving it open to the possibility that the excitement I was feeling might have dimmed by the time the day arrived. Do they thank me for this? No, they charge me an extra £1.65 booking fee.

I go into No1 Currency to buy some euros and am surprised to find the rate is lower than I’d seen online. The woman behind the counter explains that, to get the better rate, I need to use their online Click & Collect service. I can see why they do this. For the sacrifice of a few pennies profit, No1 Currency get all my personal details.

The short term thinking of the National Portrait Gallery- and sadly so many other arts institutions- means that they not only fail to secure ticket sales, they lose out on valuable customer data. Worse than that, by making their customers pay for the privilege of buying online, they actually damage their relationship with them. It seems as if they are still thinking that online purchasing is an optional extra that they are offering as a favour to their customers. Whereas customers believe online is a standard way to buy and that an electronic sale should if anything cost less than one over the counter.

Accountants may want to squeeze extra income from every transaction but Marketing and Sales people can’t afford to think this way. Short term gain must always be weighed against long term loss.

By the way, the John Singer Sargent exhibition lived up to the rave reviews. He had a rare ability to understand his sitters and his flawless technique enabled him to show the personality beneath their skin.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn

7 Criteria For Attracting Business Investors

Lord Sugar of The ApprenticeNeither of the two finalists in The Apprentice would have attracted business investment in the real world. Here’s what investors with £250,000 really look for in a start up.

1. You need a unique product– not just unique in the sense of filling a gap in the market but also something that others will not be able to imitate. This means you need intellectual property, patents or an exclusive commercial arrangement in place.

That’s where poor Roisin went wrong. Her idea for a diet product to fill a gap as well as stomachs might have been a good one that could have been patented except there was no gap- an identical product already existed. Which leads me to a second point.

2. Don’t launch your idea too early. Research and test. Oh, and asking six friends doesn’t constitute research. Testing means making sure your product is ready to go to market. Investors don’t want to put their precious money into further R&D.

3. Take a good look at the market for your product or service. Investors prefer a growing market, that’s why they love software and technology, especially medical technology. They are also looking for scalability, in other words a product or service that will work at a bigger even global level. So a business that relies on you carving wooden Topsy dolls is not scalable whereas an app inspired by Topsy could just grow and grow.

4. And fast. There’s no such thing as long term investment and slow growth for investors. They want to get their money back and a profit within three or at worse five years. They would like to see that you have a plan for launching an IPO (Initial Public Offering) or maybe a buy out.

5. Keep it simple. You need one idea that can you can explain to non-experts. Don’t complicate it with two products. That can come later. Bianca almost messed up by talking about to distinct product offerings.

6. An authoritative, fully costed business plan is essential. Six pages with three pages of pretty pictures won’t cut it, Solomon. The plan must show how the business is going to make money. Claude wasn’t happy that Roisin’s business plan showed she was going to run out of money in the second year.

7. It’s about you. Investors need to have confidence in you. Your experience, your confidence, the sense that you know what you’re talking about, these are all important factors. If you put in some of your own money, that helps too. Also, if you are early in your business career, bring on board at least one experienced businessperson because even a really good idea will fail if investors have no confidence in the management team. They are attracted to a project that involves someone with experience of launching and selling companies.

One other point. Think about offering Liquidation Preferential Multiples. This means investors will get more of their money back than other shareholders if things go wrong. This could make a difference to the attraction of your proposal but be careful not to go too high.

So what about the finalists? Mark may well be the best salesperson in the country at selling Search Engine Optimisation and therefore his business could be successful on a small scale. However it is a crowded market so the service is not unique and it is not scalable because it relies on his talent. So a sensible investor would be highly unlikely to have anything to do with it.

Bianca does have a good track record- her current company is a top 100 start up- and her idea is a good one. However, as far as I can see, there is nothing to stop other bigger companies from imitating the idea of manufacturing hosiery to match the colour of people with darker or lighter skin than the most common types.

I don’t see a genuine investor choosing either of these startups. Fortunately this is only TV entertainment. Difficult decision, Lord Sugar.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn