What The Apprentice has taught us about business…

Apprentice UK 2015 contestants

So, Lord Sugar will be gracing our screens once again with a heady concoction of ego, pomp, self-worth and comedy in the form of his 18 Apprentice hopefuls vying for investment in their business idea.

The programme, which has run for ten years, has seen many an aspiring entrepreneur battered in the boardroom by fellow contestants and Lord Sugar himself.  Sadly, few have gone on to conquer the business world, even less have stayed in the coveted top job after winning the series.  Typically, most apprentice candidates – for all their bravado and salesmanship, have gone down the well-trodden route to celebrity, using their fifteen minutes to enter the Big Brother House or the Australian outback in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.  And one particular gem has made it their mission to be offensive to everyone to gain some publicity.  You know who you are.

However, as many will attest, the Apprentice is a business show, and along the way there have been some takeaways on the do’s and don’ts in the world of business.   So here are some of the key things we’ve learned from watching the Apprentice:

Don’t sacrifice sales for margins – A mistake made season after season, the last hour of selling often sees contestants flogging items at cost price in order to clear themselves of stock.  This never goes down well with the big man, as the margins shrink to nothing.  Take heed, pushy salespeople.

Understand the geo-cultural differences – an example with last series’ drink branding task in New York.  The team that won had the oddly titled ‘Big Dawg’ energy drink.  Lord Sugar loved it for its big, bold brash image, as it was perfect for the yanks, he said.  Stereotypical much?  The same applies for PR.  What might work in the UK, may not translate across Europe, so taking time to understand the nuisances of a region are key.

Get your price point right – Another example from last season, runner up Bianca Miller had the brilliant idea for tights for different skin tones.  However, her idea of luxury and premium tights meant that she excluded much of her market.  A quick backtrack in the boardroom looked flaky, and cost her the partnership with Lord Sugar.

The big ticket item is a risky purchase, but it can pay off – As displayed by the now legendary Raef Bjayou, buying one expensive item (in his case a £4k wedding dress) can be risky as it might not sell, but if it does, you’ve outsold the other team, who are busy flogging £20 cake decorations.

Pick the right man (or woman) for the job – yes it’s great to let people’s try different things, but there is also a lot to be said for sticking to your strengths… on the Apprentice, many a salesperson has turned their hand to design, and vice versa, with hilarious results.  When it comes to business, identifying key areas of expertise within your team, and utilising them appropriately is key.

Be careful with where you offer exclusivity – Another cautionary tale from last season’s Bianca.  She offered exclusivity on a board game to a small, independent retailer in Westminster, which of course meant they couldn’t sell to the flagship Waterstone’s located in the same borough.  Oopsy.  Lord Sugar constantly warns about the perils of exclusivity.  In the PR world, exclusivity can work well as you often get in-depth coverage in one publication, but the opportunity cost is multiple column inches on different platforms.

Are there any other golden nuggets you took from watching the Apprentice?  If so, please share the knowledge in the comments section below.     

Halima Khatun

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