What the Apprentice can teach us about running a business

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What the Apprentice can teach us about running a business

It’s that time of year again. The ridiculously early build up to Christmas has started, marked by, amongst other things, reality television shows rearing their heads; the X Factor, Strictly, and now the Apprentice. Although not a TV fanatic, like the rest of the nation I’m always intrigued by the Apprentice. The grand unveiling of the weird and wonderful wannabe-entrepreneurs that have been hand-picked for us this year brings curiosity. Which of Britain’s finest talents will this year be showcased across our screens to become the next Lord Sugar?

As the title suggests, we don’t expect these candidates to be the finished article, but shouldn’t they exude charm, be hungry for success, and show skills in the workplace? Having tuned in last night for the second episode, I found that only 48 hours into the series, they filled me, an entrepreneurial millennial, with shame and embarrassment. Is our generation so inept that our top 18 budding entrepreneurs don’t realise that a vegan cafe doesn’t sell fish? Are they so desperate for cash that they’ll throw all their morals (and intelligent thought) out the window and try to sell a few salad leaves and a piece of tuna dressed up in a cheap plastic container for £9? Just because you might be selling to someone in a suit, doesn’t mean they’ll throw money at your overpriced, ill-thought out product.

Of course, those who run a small-business realise that the show isn’t based on many real business principles; whilst there are frequent tasks of buying, adding value and selling, there’s no longevity to the challenges. No need to consider repeat custom, no brand recognition, no trading standards men after you – just cold, hard one-time selling. Whilst the format keeps the show entertaining, it is also in danger of creating a misconception of business. As with relationships, jobs and holidays, it’s easy to stay energetic and interested when something’s new.

And business is no different. Creating a product is easy. Deciding how you’ll sell it and to whom is simple. Learning about marketing and advertising for the first time, it’s all new and exciting, and for a generation as creative as our own, it should be a piece of cake. It’s two years in to running a business that things become tough. When the numbers aren’t exactly as you’d anticipated and you’re selling the same product over and over, as if you’re a wind up toy, it’s not quite as fun anymore. Yet that’s the reality for many small-business owners. That’s not to say that running a small business doesn’t bring some of the most positive and promising experiences you can have in life. New challenges, control over your own success, and the freedom to follow your own path beats anything a 9-5 job can offer.

But none of the Apprentice candidates need to worry about that just yet; for them, every day is a new challenge. Granted, the challenge is designed to test them, but it shouldn’t be chewing them up and spitting them out quite this badly, should it? Why are Britain’s hottest young wannabe-entrepreneurs (all Millennials bar one) unable to make more than £1.87 between 9 of them over a whole day in London? Maybe if they’d read up on some small-business rules, they might have fared slightly better.

Firstly, always add value. If you’re not adding value to a product, you’re insulting the consumer, and you’re just another faceless company amongst the masses. If you’re offering something the consumer can easily make themselves, why would they pay you to make it for them? Equally, not every product has to be all singing and all dancing to be successful. In Britain’s free market, there are very few complete monopolies. Rather than working out how to invent a groundbreaking product that costs millions to prototype and test, think about what’s successful, work out why, and improve it. Simple is often better.

Growing up in a generation with so much access to education, to creative experiences, and to opportunity, success should be second nature to us Millennials. Open Instagram; Mandela and Ghandi posts are everywhere, inspiring us to change the world. Launch Facebook and you’re one of the billion people connected to each other. Never before have we had access to such far reaching connections at the tips of our fingers. When an Apprentice candidate who (we are told) is one of Britain’s ‘budding entrepreneurs’, manages to get himself sat in front of Lord Sugar, with £250,000 on the table only to inform the camera afterwards that “I can’t sell, and I can’t cook, I deserved to leave the process”, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The no-can-do attitude of British Millennials needs to change if we are to become the future of business. Let’s go beyond reality TV, as if it reflects our true abilities. It might be comedy, but it is not reality. We need to start engaging in small-business and in the truths of the entrepreneurial world. It’s not always glamorous, but the freedom and sense of achievement in building up your own creation is rewarding. With the world’s largest share of wealth soon coming to us, it won’t be long before many of us are placed with our own financial prize of £250,000 sitting in our laps. And when it comes, we need to make sure we’re ready.


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