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10 Things We Can Learn From The Apprentice About How Not To Run A Business

The Apprentice is must-watch cringe TV. But does The Apprentice have a benefit to potential business owners? What can we learn from the contestants’ abilities to make the same mistakes year after year?

1. A large ego won’t win you any fans

Every year the candidates are introduced with slogans, sales pitches and self-aggrandisements that make most mere mortals cringe. This self-belief and shameless promotion may have gone some way to earning them a place on the show, but an ego can get in the way of a successful outcome – and has on many an occasion.

Even if you think your business idea is the best thing since the Amstrad e-mail phone, an inability to accept that another person may have a better idea, or that they could promote it in a more effective way, might contribute to your downfall. Accepting that others’ opinions are just as valid as yours is key to being able to survive in business.

2. Failing to plan is planning to fail

It’s a cliché, but although rushing into a business venture or project is tempting, if you just take the time to plan properly, you are much more likely to succeed. An effective business plan does more than just secure funding for you; it gives you targets and milestones to aim for and contingency plans for if something should go wrong. Planning properly will save you time, whether you’re planning a small-scale project or large-scale business acquisition.

3. Not listening to advice can get you into trouble

You might think you know best, but by ignoring the opinions of others, whether it’s business advisors, colleagues or your customers, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.  Sometimes you might not be able to see where things are going wrong, so just listen! Take advantage of free advice, business forums and networks. Someone out there has probably been where you are before and weathered the storm. Learn from them.

4. Not doing your market research can be your downfall

How many times have we seen the contestants ignore market research and go their own merry way, only to find that the public knew what they wanted after all? It’s absolutely essential that you know your market and where your product or service fits in it. You need to be able to explain to investors, retailers and potential clients why you believe it will be successful.

5. Miscalculating your cash flow is fatal

Some of the contestants of the past have been over-optimistic in forecasting their revenue, which has led them to fail a task and lose credibility with Lord Sugar. Another costly mistake is underestimating the costs of a venture, especially marketing and promotion.

You need to be spot-on with your financials – double check all the detail and make sure that you know the going rate for any services you pay for so that you don’t find yourself being overcharged.

6. Lack of basic business sense – or common sense – is unforgiveable

You can’t teach common sense, but sometimes we all watch from behind our hands as yet another Apprentice hopeful does something really stupid. Don’t rush into big decisions, and make sure that you’ve got a grip on basic business rules before you even start thinking of buying, franchising or setting up a business. Read a book, study a course, sign up to every business start-up website and forum you can, and do some serious research before you start.

Don’t even think of starting anything until you understand the basic principles of making money, ROI, profit margins and other basic business terms.

7. Not getting your procurement right is a disaster area

Don’t over-order stock. It’s better to under-order and create a demand for a product than it is to overestimate the amount you need and have to sell some of it back – or worse still, end up selling it cheaply to anyone who’ll take it just so that it doesn’t take up space in your premises. Any good business ensures that it only ever orders in what it needs and can sell.

8. Bad branding will confuse your customers

Sometimes, the funniest task is the one where the teams have to design and market a product. This will be where your market research is invaluable, as you can gauge the trends, get opinions from your target market and come up with branding and an advertising campaign or strategy that gets right to the point.

Trying to be too clever, ironic or ‘wacky’ usually falls flat unless your brand is already established. Make sure you know who you want to appeal to, and don’t try to market to everyone at once.

9. Taking it all too personally isn’t necessary

Don’t take all the credit when things go well – but there’s no need to assume responsibility for everything either. A business is very rarely just about one person, and it’s okay to let someone else take over.

10. Honesty is always the best policy!

It doesn’t matter what the statistics say about lying on your CV, when you get into business telling lies can only lead you into trouble. Although self-promotion and slight embellishment of your role in a project might get you somewhere with an interviewer, if you’re telling clients outright lies about when their goods will arrive or stretching the truth with your financial forecasts, it will come back to haunt you.

If you’re setting up your own business, you’ll be looking for honest advice on how to avoid the pitfalls, too. Business agents are great for advice on different industry sectors, as well as setting up and buying a ready-made business.

Michael Palmer is an Oxford based, business graduate and writer. His writing covers many subjects, including business, marketing, HR, fitness, and football. He works for Business Agents Christie + Co.

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