Small Business Advice

It’s Apprentice time again

19 Aug 2017

We don't know about you (and maybe it's because we're accountants) but unlike the X Factor and Strictly, somehow the allure of The Apprentice never seems to fade. There's something fascinating about the cut and thrust of business and naked ambition that resonates in every workplace. Then there's Lord Sugar and his watchful assistants, Claude and Karen.

Having watched all the previous seasons of the show, there seem to be some common themes which reflect modern business and from which we can all learn. Here's a few we've noticed but we'd love to hear from you with any others :-


1. Planning is essential

With most tasks the contestants do sit and brainstorm and to a degree they plan. What they often don't do is stick to the plan they've agreed or assess how it's working out at key points.

2. Basic business rules

This can also be termed "using your common sense". Looking at the list of candidates again this year reflects the change in the digital age. Most of the candidates are in the services sector. Each season Lord Sugar sets some of his typical trading tasks and often candidates struggle more with these than other tasks. Business can be a lot more complicated but the starting point is often "buy or create something for the best price and sell it for the most you can get". Common sense and general trading skills are still really important in making a profit.

3. Personality matters

f you think of the last few series of the show, the winners tend to be very likeable characters. Especially when it comes to services, people buy people. being likeable and a good team player are essential business skills. The ruthless, backstabbing arrogant candidates rarely win in the end but may use those skills to get through the early rounds.

4. Adapatability

In modern business, adaptability is key. This applies even to very traditional businesses such as professional services. As accountants, our skill set now goes way beyond accounting skills. We need to understand and utilise software in the best ways for clients and for our own business and to be constantly alert to technology developments and improvements. The best Apprentice candidates are highly adaptable and have an open mind to tasks outside their experience and comfort zone. The classic examples of this are often the marketing and advertising tasks.

5. Be ready to listen and learn

In the social media age, everyone seems to need to have an opinion and to have a say. The Apprentice candidates typically have plenty of confidence and lots to say about their business acumen at the outset. However, listening skills are also important and a willingness to learn from those with more experience. The candidates "swagger" often melts away in the boardroom and never more so than with those who make it through to the final business plan grillings. Those business plans are invariably full of holes and demonstrate a lack of understanding of financials - but that's a subject for a whole separate post!