The Apprentice’s Apprentice

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Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn from Lord Sugar’s Apprentices

So, The Apprentice has started again. I do love the programme but it never fails to amaze me that these people were selected from thousands to represent the best business talent of the nation. OK that may be a little unfair but I do think that some have been placed in there so we can marvel at their extreme naivety, arrogance and, in some cases, stupidity!

I’m sure like me, many people sit there thinking ‘I could do better than that, what are they thinking’ and you can see the blunders coming back to bite them on the bum as they make them. However, in reality I’m sure that you are thrown into very difficult situations and they don’t have the benefit of seeing it play out objectively from the comfort of their sofas as we do!

So, how can ‘corporate level’ tasks apply to small businesses?

While I love it for entertainment value, and yes I admit it: being able to laugh at their ridiculous soundbites and blatant jostling for position, one of the main issues I have with the programme is that the tasks often seem to have little relationship to corporate business management. Can you honestly convince me Lord Sugar that selling soup on a market truly assesses your skills to create a multi-national corporate business strategy? Hmmm

Yes yes, I know – the principles are there: people management, planning, tactical delivery and closing sales blah blah blah so how does that translate to REAL business, and by that I mean the kind of businesses that you and I run ie small enterprises with often limited resources? Each week I will aim to blog about the lessons we can learn from The Apprentice that apply directly to the small business (and no doubt have a good laugh as the halfwits emerge and show their true colours!).

Applying the lessons to OUR businesses

Being a double episode I’ve lumped the two together, oh and I’m on holiday next week so that will have to wait until I come back but hey, it’s my blog!

So what can we take from the first two episodes? The first task was to invest a budget into buying produce, manufacture something from that produce and sell at a profit – simple, no? Melody, despite being a bit of a scary lady, did pretty well and got the girls organised. Edward’s strategy, on the other hand, seemed to be to retain power by not telling anyone what the plan was thereby making himself indispensible (if indeed there was a plan at all!). He failed to communicate with his team or assign clear roles, spoke in barely more than 3 word sentences and deliberately did not use his own accountancy skills. For small businesses, we can take the following from this:

Create a clear plan and make sure that everyone understands what the objectives are, what the strategy is and who is responsible for what. In a small business where many business functions are outsourced this is particularly important as the people responsible for delivering different elements of the plan may be from different companies and in different locations making communication both more difficult and more important.

● Use your skills! It seems obvious but apparently not for Edward. He wanted to show he was ‘more than an accountant’ and actually just demonstrated that he was ‘not even an accountant’ through a distinct lack of financial control, spending a massive proportion of their budget on one item (oranges) which they then failed to maximise because they simply didn’t factor in enough time on the production required for that product (juice). Key to the success of a small business is to understand your strengths and use them as well as recognise your weaknesses so you can either address them or outsource the tasks to those who have the skills.


Quote of the week: Edward – “I am not only the youngest, I am the shortest”. Therefore…..?!


The second episode tasked the teams with creating an app for the global market. Both teams actually did quite a good job (though it always makes me laugh when they celebrate that they made a £500 profit but it’s taken 10 senior level people 3 days to work on it – the figures would be significantly different if they had to factor man hour costs in!). The downfall of the boys’ team was in failing to appreciate the global nature of the audience: their app, a parody of local accents, made little sense outside the UK. We may think as small businesses that this doesn’t really apply to us, after all most of us are working at a very local level. However this really isn’t true, particularly when our businesses have an online element (and actually, whose doesn’t these days?). Even if we don’t necessarily trade globally, we still have a global reach through our websites, blogs, social media etc and the people that we engage with on these platforms, while not necessarily customers, can be key influencers and advocates so we would all be advised to address their needs in some way. We can therefore take from this:

● Understand your audience and be relevant. If yours is a niche audience then tailor your messages to them and don’t worry too much about mass appeal but if you have a potentially global market do your research and ensure your product crosses those cultural boundaries

● Seeing Alex get fired from this task for a completely unrelated reason to the issue highlighted above also shows us the importance of pulling your weight and being prepared to challenge – there’s nowhere to hide in a small business!


Quote of the week – Lord Sugar: “You come across as a good talker but I’m not thinking of going into the business of writing speeches.”


I’ll be back with more Apprentice inspired lessons after my holidays: the key lesson we can learn from this? Even business owners need holidays!


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