7 Business Lessons From 2013’s 'The Apprentice'

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So another year of squabbling, posturing and bluffing - yes, it's 'The Apprentice', and I love it.
So ahead of next week’s final, here are some of my thoughts about what we’ve learned from watching 2013’s 'The Apprentice':

1) The world is going digital

Jordan, Neil, Miles all had business plans which revolved around the digital world. Jordan’s mobile ‘gaming’ experience, Miles’ high-end digital marketing agency and Neil’s ill-fated online estate agency business are all plans which would not have existed even just ten years ago.

2) However good you are, you need a plan

As Neil ‘The right man with the wrong plan’ Clough will tell you, you can go full steam ahead towards your goal, but if you are going in the wrong direction then you are heading for a crash.

3) If you are right, you don’t have to be nice

Luisa upset countless contestants during the various tasks, and was called into the boardroom on more than one occasion and questioned about her abrasive style. The fact that she got through most of the time and won the majority of her tasks is testament to the fact that while she could upset people, she was usually right. And in business, it’s more important to do the right thing than to be nice. Jason, on the other hand, was nice - but usually wrong. And he got fired.

4) Humour goes a long way

My favourite part of the apprentice is the interviews, and particularly watching Sir Alan Sugar with his partners and advisors. When Claude, Margaret and the others come in to the boardroom the atmosphere totally changes. He drops the aggression, shows respect and breaks out the jokes! Here were some of my favourites from this year:

On the subject of Luisa’s bakery business plan: ‘I’m not spending hundreds and thousands on hundreds and thousands’

When hearing about Francesca’s plan to open a dance studio: ‘So I’d be the Lord of the Dance would I?’

When hearing Claude’s feedback on Leah’s cosmetic surgery business idea: ‘Smoothed out the wrinkles in her business plan did you?’

It’s clear that these advisors have great respect for Sir Alan, but it also comes across that they like him too, and humour is a big part of developing these important relationships.

5) Don’t make promises you can’t deliver

Jordan’s calamity of a business plan was a castle built on sand. Whether it was a good idea or not, or his strategy of shared equity was good or not (it was not, in case you are wondering), the biggest problem was that he was offering something which was not his to offer. His business plan was not his idea, and was for a company which he did not own. In business, if you are offering something which you can’t necessarily follow through on them, it’s a recipe for disaster – you’ll get found out sooner or later.

6) Know your numbers

There was a moment during the interviews episode when Sir Alan Sugar had to choose between Francesca and Luisa. Despite his concerns about Luisa’s attitude and character, he felt he could not choose Francesca and so he put Luisa through to the final. His doubts about whether Francesca could scale the business up stem partly from her lack of understanding about the numbers in her plan. She could not answer what her current business makes in terms of profit (as Claude said to her, ‘you can’t turnover profit’), and admitted her projected turnover of £5m was picked simply because ‘it seemed like a nice number’. In business, you can’t just say ‘my accountant looks after that’, you HAVE to know your numbers in order to make informed decisions.

7) Be honest

While watching The Apprentice this year, it always amazes me how often the candidates lie. They lie on their CV’s, in their business plans, and in the boardroom – and they get caught out every time! It’s as if they’ve never watched the show before. Surely they realise that Karen and Nick are watching them and will call them out if they try to cover something up or gloss over their mistakes in the boardroom? Surely they know their business plans and CVs will be scrutinised, cross checked and that they will be interrogated about them? In business, there are no hiding places and when you get something wrong or don’t know the answer, honesty is the best policy.

On a final (no pun intended) note, my prediction for Wednesday is that Leah will be the winner. I think there will be some contestants coming back that wouldn’t mind seeing Luisa fail, plus her business plan is less credible.

What do you think?


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Article by Will Williamson