Thursday, 27 December 2007
The penny must have finally dropped with the BBC that what started out as a credible business show is now regarded as something of a joke.
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
And shame on Chris Huhne for descending into backstabbing in the contest. I suspect that's what won it for Clegg. I see it all around at the moment - people are moving away from conflict and competition - there is a new spirit of harmony and collaboration dawning.
Put our new man Nick alongside the gorgeous David Cameron and suddenly Gordon Brown is looking like an tired old windbag...
Roll on the next General Election!
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Yesterday's Press Conference was a farce - it left one wondering how the whole deal had been negotiated. And also, whether Fabio actually understands what job he's just taken on.
It would not have taken much for Fabio to have learned a few carefully crafted statements in English for the conference; I am amazed that the FA board allowed him to appear so unprepared.
If there are to be any further sackings at the FA it should not be of the Manager!
Monday, 10 December 2007
But when I opened my inbox tonight I was delighted to receive a deluge of really nice, positive emails as a result of yesterday's Sunday Times Business article.
I've replied to a few (mainly those offering dinner or deals!) but am unlikely to respond to them all right now - so I thought I should just write a post to say Thank You, and apologise for not responding to you as quickly as I'd have liked.
I went down the road of recruiting a PA a few months back but decided against it, mainly as I wanted to keep everything really personal (and it's amazing how many emails start off saying "I'm sure you don't read your emails but...") - so, YES I DO read them all, but I'm getting to the point now where I simply can't respond to them all individually.
I watched the 'Monarchy' series last week and think that what I now need is a 'lady-in waiting' - so if you know anyone suitable please let me know!
Meantime, keep the mail coming...
Sunday, 9 December 2007
First, a negative email received this morning (what is it about being on TV that de-humanises you to the point people think they have the right to send you whatever nasty messages they feel like writing?)
Have just read your piece in the ST...
Glad to hear you are getting back on your feet instead of your bike so to speak.
I was an avid viewer of the Dragons Den...I say in the past tense for a very good reason.
The main protagonists in this series...always appeared to be the most arrogant , conceited bunch of individuals.( including your good self)
My question to you is the following;
Was I being duped by a TV drama or was in fact the behavior of the so called judges on the program true to life ?
If the behavior pattern was true to life...( As I suspect it was) then you have learnt a lesson that should stand, somebody of your intelligence in good stead for a long time to come.
The second, a really nice supportive message received later today:
"I just read Rachel Bridge’s article in today’s Sunday Times. Thanks for sharing with us again the emotion you felt during your battle to save Red Letter Days. I don’t doubt that anyone one of us would have done anything else in the circumstances.
I hope that your experience will eventually reverse the view that people have about business ‘failure’ (whatever that means). I hope in some way that as we develop as a nation of enterprise, we will all learn that the path is not as straight as some would have us believe and when we take the wrong turn because of our errors of judgment that it’s all part of our walk down that path. I hope that we will all learn that real failure only happens when we refuse to bounce back and try again because we have been so scarred by our experience fear has taken over.
I’ve struggled with the word failure particularly in the context of Rachel Elnaugh and Red Letter Days. To me the success has been the rise and development of your company, the fact that you pioneered a whole sector and the fact that you run the company successfully for 16 years. You didn’t fail Rachel – you took a wrong turn, you made the wrong decision (and even that is debatable). The real failures are the people who refuse to see the success of your achievement and the legacy that will remain with us for a long long time. I don’t think we need to wait for your obituary before we appreciate that.
As for things happening for a reason – you are absolutely right and as you say you are seeing a lot of value in what you are doing now. Somewhere in your epitaph the words ‘successful entrepreneur’ ‘legacy’ and ‘altruistic’ should appear. You name will always be engraved in business history Rachel and I’m sure you’ll be remembered for turning the tide not simply the so called failure of Red Letter Days."
One of the things I have learned post RLD (apart from those business lessons mentioned in the article) is that people's reaction is usually a mirror of the person who has written it. Nasty people feel the need to say nasty things; positive people always look for it in everything they say and do.
Thank God for the positive people!
Enjoy your Sunday.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Alphapreneur (very assertive, highly ambitious and ruthless)
Bosspreneur (short term deal driven)
Dadpreneur (have built a lifestyle businesses out of a previous corporate existence where they were highly successful)
Passionpreneur (high energy, able to attract the right people and support to help them push through problems)
Sociopreneur (refuse to give up on their mission)
And the types who are LESS LIKELY to survive the first 3 year 'start up' phase:
Execpreneur (used to the corporate support system; build in way too much overhead early on instead of focussing on sales)
Mumpreneur (realise business takes a lot more time and committment than they first thought)
Safepreneur (give up when the going gets tough)
The above is not to say that these types cannot achieve business success - I'm simply highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Two thirds of all UK business start ups fail; we need to try to find ways to reduce the failure rate.
Self understanding is a good start.
And I just received the following lovely letter from the Headmaster:
Thank you so much for coming to Repton today to inspire us with such a magnificent talk! The buzz amongst the boys and the girls this evening has been terrific - you certainly got through to many hearts and minds and persuaded your audience even more effectively through your message about the importance of giving rather than simply making money.
This has really made us all think and ties in so neatly with all we are doing at Repton. Thank you too for taking such a personal interest in the aspirations of the pupils whom you were kind enough to meet afterwards in The Hall. I am sure that you will have influenced all those who spoke to you in a very positive way and, who knows, maybe sown the seeds that will create an entrepreneur of the future!
Very many thanks once again for coming to speak to us, especially at such a busy time for you both personally and professionally.
It just occurred to me that this is the first time a Headteacher has had anything positive to say about me in my lifetime!
And it has taken me 43 years to achieve it.
Enjoy your day!
Friday, 30 November 2007
Alphapreneur (money driven) 6%
Bosspreneur (control freaks) 4%
Dadpreneur (lifestyle orientated) 24%
Execpreneur (corporate animals) 33%
Mumpreneur (family comes first) 20%
Passionpreneur (driven by doing what they love) 2%
Safepreneur (risk averse) 6%
Sociopreneur (want to change the world for the positive) 4%
Ultrapreneur (ultra high achieving philanthropists) less than 1%
For more info on how the test works click here
Thursday, 29 November 2007
Meanwhile, the true Ultrapreneurs (think Branson, Gates, Gore and Buffet) are busy fighting climate change, re-distributing their wealth to fight third world disease and famine - as well as rescuing beleaguered British banks.
In fact, the results of my Entrepreneurial Profiling Test show that only 4% of the 2000+ people who have taken the test since September, profile as 'Alphapreneurs' like Jones and Paphitis i.e. people who are prepared to put their desire for money and the trappings of material wealth above all else, in their desire to achieve 'success'.
The remaining 96% would of course like to be rich, but are not prepared to sacrifice everything - for example time spent with family and friends, or risking everything they possess including their health - in the relentless pursuit of money.
So my question to you this Thursday morning is: which of the two groups in your opinion is the most 'successful' ?
Thursday, 22 November 2007
And just to check to see whether anyone actually reads my blog, I have 10 signed sets of the two DVDs to give away FREE to the first 10 people who email me at email@example.com with their address to claim them (only one set per person please!!!)
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Rather than just sending their glossy 2008 brochure with the usual bland 'one size fits all' covering letter, the manager of the Regent Street branch had written a personal letter, reminding my husband that last year he had bought me a pair of gold and diamond earrings for Christmas (including a picture of said earrings alongside the text), then suggesting that this year he might consider buying me the matching pendant (again including a photo).
I await in eager anticipation to see if the mailing actually worked, but in the meantime thought I'd write this post to say that I thought it was a brilliant piece of personalised direct mail - in a world of marketing where so much is automated and de-personalised.
In business the simplest, most personal approaches are always the best.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The last two episodes I watched have both been brilliant - restaurants run by entrepreneurs in complete denial about the state of their businesses, with Gordon arriving to give them a much needed (and often abusive) wake-up call.
It all echoes a theme which I talk about in my business talks which is about the true meaning of 'persistence' in business. It is not about relentlessly trying to flog products or services which no one wants, it is about being super self-critical and constantly assessing everything through the eyes of the customer - and then honing and refining the business offering until everything starts to work.
Brilliant entertainment Gordon - as well as a serious education for entrepreneurs everywhere who are currently struggling to make things work.
And now the penny has finally dropped why my publisher is so insistent on calling my forthcoming book (all about lessons entrepreneurs learned the hard way) 'Business Nightmares'...!!!
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Another last minute gig (this time it was Levi Roots who pulled out), but it was great to be asked to step in and to have the opportunity to hopefully inspire some of the students to follow an entrepreneurial path once they have completed their vocational training.
If I think back to when I was young the words 'Entrepreneur' and 'Enterprise' weren't even on the agenda in the careers discussions so it is brilliant that we now have so many initiatives in this country to encourage budding entrepreneurial talent.
I hope more youngsters will start to believe that they too have what it takes to become an entrepreneur and take the plunge to start their own business.
Friday, 9 November 2007
And it has reminded me just how energising it is to get out there amongst entrepreneurs and back on the events circuit again!
We entrepreneurs are all so busy being reactive and doing the day to day tasks (ie being in 'output' mode) that we often don't invest time on being on 'input' - which is essential to give us new ideas and inspiration.
There was a time (when I was running Red Letter Days) when I just used to swoop in to an event, do my bit and then leave immediately afterwards; I now make the effort to attend the entire event - as I find I learn so much from both my fellow speakers as well as engaging and networking with other entrepreneurs on the day.
Yesterday I heard Michelle Mone (creator of Ultimo bras) speak for the first time; I had met her once before at a women's networking event, but not really spoken to her at length - and she was absolutely brilliant. So entertaining, honest and funny with a brilliantly infectious positive energy that lifted everyone's spirits in the room. If you get the chance, go see her speak if you can.
And remember to give yourself the gift of planning room in your diary to be on 'input' at least a few times every month - the positive energy boost will be more than worth it.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Recent high profile examples have of course included Bernard Matthews (whose 'friendly Uncle' image was shattered when we saw what was going on being the facade of his Norfolk stately home), Northern Rock (whose brand was destroyed in a matter of days when consumer panic set in that their money was unsafe), as well as the classic example of Gerald Ratner (who announced his jewellery was 'crap' and lost his company Ratners as a result).
The discussion was mainly based on mass media and I know from personal experience that once the Press have decided they have it in for you it is very difficult to attract any positive coverage (just look at what they are still doing to Heather Mills if you need an example).
But one of the points I made during the evening was how powerful the online communication channel has been in trying to change the perceptions the mass media have created about me.
It was Steve Clayton at Microsoft who suggested I create a Blog and start getting active in online community forums to put forward my point of view - which actually goes a lot against traditional PR advice, which is to stay silent and adopt a 'no comment' status.
Since I created this Blog in June I've tried to post at least once a week, and I've also got Google Alerts going on a number of key business topics which lead me to post comments on other people's sites where I have a strong view.
And I've found it hugely effective in trying to turn the tide of opinion which back in 2005 (when my company Red Letter Days very publicly crashed) was incredibly negative - proven when I search Technorati for comments about me.
By the same token it has been an incredibly powerful tool to promote some of the projects I am now working on as well as traffic to my own website. In fact I would go as far as to say it is far easier and MORE powerful way for a business to promote its brand and its products than trying to get mainsteam media coverage.
Yet most of the media and business 'heavyweights' at the evening still seemed totally oblivious to the power of the web.
I think they all have a wake up call coming.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
And the thought of public speaking again terrified me! All the old nerves and fears which I thought I had well and truly conquered, seemed to have returned.
The material for my 'Are You An Entrepreneur?' seminar at Business StartUp was all new and untested on an audience (which always adds to the nerves); it was based mainly on the research and learnings from my Entrepreneurial Profiling Test since its launch in April this year.
In my seminar, firstly I talked about the three key qualities of the successful entrepreneur - which in my view are Self Belief, Determination and Drive.
I then talked about how my Entrepreneurial Profiling Test works and the nine different entrepreneur types which result, and the ways they can ALL be successful in business.
I then ended by talking about my favourite three business books of all time, which are:
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis, and
- Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Interestingly many of the emails I've had since the Show thanking me for my seminar also said that I was the ONLY speaker who talked about the other rewards of business (freedom, fulfillment, adventure) rather than being solely obsessed with monetary rewards - which is actually the underlying point of both Napoleon Hill and Felix Dennis's books.
Anyway, having faced my fears, I came away from the seminar feeling really inspired and energised myself, and it also reinforced my belief that I am in an incredibly priveliged position to be able to help entrepreneurs starting out in their journey in some way.
So thank you to everyone who came to the Show, and to my stand to see me afterwards (I'm sorry I couldn't spend time with you all) - as well as to everyone who has sent me such wonderful emails since Saturday. Your positivity has given me such a boost, I am no longer a 'nervous back to work mum' any more!
Next stop is the Entrepreneurs Forum Annual Conference in Newcastle this Thursday, where I will be talking about the highs and lows of my own entrepreneurial journey.
Hope to see you there!
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
However, just to let you know I will be both speaking and exhibiting at the Business Start Up Show at London's Olympia this Friday 2 and Saturday 3 November - my stand is number 298 so please do pop by and see me if you are coming.
Entrance to the Show is completely free and there are lots of brilliant speakers lined up - including Stelios and my good friend Peter Jones (this could prove interesting!)
See you there.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Glad also to see that Ms Meaden has at last invested a little of her wealth in a personal stylist and image makeover (miaow!). Her stone suit and tailored blonder haircut were so much more flattering and up to date than her previous navy pinstripe 'John Lewis Shop Assistant' ensemble.
But the highlight of the Show has to be Peter Jones' arrogant retort to the pair who were planning to launch a dating agency, and dared to invite him to use their service.
'I don't need a dating agency because I'm seriously good looking and wealthy' came Jones' reply.
Not because he already has a long suffering other half by whom he has had two children then...?
Good looking? Maybe. Wealthy? For the moment perhaps, yes. Attractive? Definitely no.
Saturday, 13 October 2007
Which I did this morning.
Just in case you haven't seen the trailer, it features the line up of 5 Dragons, arms folded looking down their noses at a miniature man on the floor beneath them doing his pitch, after which Deborah Meaden crushes him underfoot with her red soled stiletto shoe.
And quite frankly I think it's pretty shocking.
Shocking firstly that the BBC production team are so badly out of touch with what is going on in the UK Small Business Sector that they can even have thought to put together something which is so derisory and unsupportive of new entrepreneurial talent in this country.
Shocking secondly that the 'Dragons' actually agreed to allow themselves to be featured in this way.
Whatever shreds of credibility Dragons' Den may have had left as a 'business show' have now finally evaporated. The trailer finally portrays the show for what it really is - Coliseum TV created exclusively for the torture of those who manage to get featured on the show, and entertainment for the masses.
Not to mention an ego massage for the 'Dragons' - who all seem to be stuck in the oh-so-outdated '80's 'greed is good' alpha business stereotype. An image which is completely out of touch with the majority of the UK's successful entrepreneurs, who are generally hugely supportive of those just starting out on their business journey.
What a real shame for a show that started out with so much promise to be a great role model for British Business.
In my view it's time for the BBC to recognise that it exists for more than just to produce shows which can achieve good audience ratings - and seriously review the show's creative direction.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
I make no secret of the fact that I am a Conservative through and through. As a young career girl working in the City during the '80s the excitement of the Thatcher years was palpable. I also think David Cameron is the greatest thing to happen to the Tories since they lost Thatcher (hugely charismatic, very handsome and I also think he has great integrity). And appearing on stage in a Dragons' Den style policy review panel at last year's Conservative Party Conference with Oliver Letwin, Anne Widdecombe and Michael Brown has to be one of the biggest honours of my career to date.
By contrast to the newly emerging fresher, younger and much more dashing Conservative Party, Gordon Brown looks like a tired old windbag. Nervous and jittery in front of the cameras and always awkward in the presence of the media. None more so than appearing in the desert with the troops in a hot and uncomfortable looking navy suit and blue tie, totally inappropriate for the occasion.
In every Party Political Broadcast and interview he spouts about 'change' and 'building a stronger Britain' - almost as if he hasn't been around for the past decade and had nothing to do with the state the country now finds itself in. The attempt to distance himself from the Blair Government simply isn't working.
The speculation over a possible November Election should have been nipped in the bud as soon as it was aired - not allowed to carry on while Gordon assessed how the polls were unfolding only to back out scared at the last possible moment. It seems to the passive onlooker that 'Being PM' is more important to Brown than any consideration for this country or the opinions of its electorate.
And then to the Inheritance Tax debacle.
Gloriously trumped by George Osborne's announcement last week that the Tories would raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1million, yesterday's announcement by Alistair Darling that the threshold would rise to £600k looked like a feeble copycat response, never mind the fact it was probably decided well before the Tory Party Conference. And why wasn't the decision made years before by Brown himself, while he was Chancellor?
In short, during just one week the Labour Party has descended into a shambles, quite simply due to indecisive leadership on the part of their woolly new leader Gordon Brown.
All Cameron & Co have to do now is play the waiting game until they win in 2009.
Friday, 5 October 2007
Definitely my last - especially given it was a very fast and traumatic birth!
I would like to thank Caroline the midwife at Darley Birth Centre for putting up with my screams of agony, as well as Newborn Nannies who eventually found me a brilliant maternity nurse (see my earlier Blog about nanny problems), who has been a wonderful support since she arrived with us and a luxury I would recommend all new mums to invest in for the first few weeks of new baby at home.
[And, no, 'Sweeting' I'm not earning any kick-back from giving these recommendations!!!]
Tuesday, 2 October 2007
It seems that for some franchising is still a dirty word in business - and that it is somehow a 'fake' alternative to going into business proper.
The other side of the coin is of course the emails I receive from people, typically 12 to 18 months in to their business journey, who have tried to start a business completely from scratch and who are beginning to realise just how difficult (and expensive) that is.
Creating a brand identity alone, along with all the brand collateral needed for certain businesses (signage, brochures, websites etc) for just one business location/outlet can cost tens of thousands of pounds. More often than not it's an area where many businesses skimp - and end up looking unprofessional and amateurish.
That's before you even begin to consider all the costs of setting up operational systems, bespoke software, supply chains and processes/know how - as well as the cost of the kind of 'trial and error' mistakes you inevitably make when you decide to go it alone.
Franchising gives you a ready made solution usually for an all in one fee - which allows you to focus on revenue generation practically from Day One - as well as fantastic training and ongoing support.
The results of my Profile Test show that over 80% of people thinking of going into business really should consider looking at the franchise sector as their first venture into business. The failure rate is less than 5% (compared to something like 67% in the start up sector); it's much easier to finance your start up costs, and with most franchises you can actually sell them on for more than they cost you once you have momentum going. Alternatively put a manager in to run them and use the money generated for your completely new business a couple of years down the line - once you have experience in business.
This week is the National Franchise Exhibition at the NEC - and I would normally be there speaking if I weren't currently 9 months' pregnant! If you are thinking of going into business I would suggest it's well worth a visit - and particularly if you Profile under my free Test as a Safepreneur/Execpreneur/Dadpreneur or Mumpreneur.
Alternatively visit the UK Franchise Directory Site which gives you a complete listing on every franchise currently available in the UK.
As with any business opportunity, you still need to be very careful which franchise you go for - and indeed some of the more established ones have very strict criteria on who they will allow to run one of their franchises - but it's an avenue well worth exploring.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
In just the past week, I've received a highly detailed 10 page executive spec put together by a prefessional recruitment agency asking me to consider becoming the non-exec Chairman of a (not very high profile) Charity (minimum 3 days per month committment) for no fee; several requests to travel the length and breadth of the country to speak to various small 'non-profit making groups' about entrepreneurship - again no fee; not to mention the increasing number of emails every day and unsolicited packages through the post containing full 30 page Business Plans and product prototypes, requesting my opinion on their business idea. Oh, but no, they don't want to pay for the advice either.
Then, there are the bashed-out-in-60-seconds emails, usually sent from hotmail addresses, which go like this:
I have an idea for a web site but i havent got a clue what to do with it. where do i start. please could you give me some advice of where to go first. I know you are very busy but please could you give me a clue on the first steps.
Now, maybe I have the word 'Mug' tattooed on my forehead, or maybe people genuinely think I sit here with enough time and inclination to wipe their entrepreneurial arses for them, but I would estimate that 90% of this mail I receive is from people who haven't got the first hope in hell of making it in business.
Because they are either:
- So busy looking for a 'tick in the Box' from some magic authority that their idea will be a success, that they forget to run it by the people whose opinion really is the only one that counts in business ie THE CUSTOMER
- So frantically looking at ways of 'making money' and getting 'freebies' that they forget that real success in business comes from GIVING rather than TAKING
- Too lazy to bother to even put together a few decent ideas on how they could make their business work, and want someone else to lay it out on a plate for them
Now, I really don't wish to sound ungrateful, and it is always nice to feel wanted and appreciated. And this is not to say that I am not happy to help - and indeed helping, inspiring and motivating entrepreneurs is now my business.
But if you want anything more than a quick line of advice or to be pointed in the right business direction, please respect the fact that I am not a registered Charity.
If you want me to take you seriously and you would genuinely like my input and advice, all the details are on my website - just pay me the courtesy and respect of offering at least something in return for my time.
Friday, 21 September 2007
I took your interesting test to see what kind of 'entrepreneur' I am and was labelled a 'Dadpreneur' (ouch!).
Although I'm not entirely sure whether this is perjorative, it is probably a fair reflection of my answers to the questions you posed. Clearly this is a very crude form of personality testing, or psychological profiling which is quite a good game but that is all it should be - harmless fun.
However, I sometimes feel that this type of profiling, like horoscopes, can be a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Sensitive types might actually believe that they are an 'ultrapreneur' just as they might believe what they read in the Sun newspaper daily horoscope. We are a race of believers. A lot of bullshit is talked about the 'choices' that people make in life dictating their circumstances. This is like the government banging on about that they want to provide 'choice' in schools, hospitals etc - it's pure baloney. There aren't any 'choices' in schools, hospital, government, job or any other thing you care to name.
It is mainly circumstance and luck that dictates how your life turns out. Most 'entrepreneurs' of all flavours take the only path that is immediately in front of them. Okay I grant you it is only those who have 'something about them' that succeed but that is true in all walks of life. There can only be one Pope, one David Beckham , one Alan Sugar. Speaking of Alan Sugar, from his words and attitudes on the Apprentice programme it seems to me that he is the most cautious, risk averse non-entrepreneurial person you could imagine.
I really don't think that we should be encouraging people to become 'entrepreneurs'. I am all for creating better businesses and better business people. More entrepreneurs does not mean a better economy or better businesses. Most businesses run by aspiring entrepreneurs (also known as crooks in my neck of the woods) are a total shambles!
Anyway, rant over!
Best wishes and good luck to you and all your entrepreneurial ventures.
Chris the Dadpreneur"
To which I have just replied:
Words which could only have been put together by a true 'Dadpreneur' I am afraid!
I agree some people float through life, rudderless, letting the tides take them wherever; others set our sails with direction and ambition, and despite stormy waters (provided we persevere) usually end up at our chosen destination.
That is why so few people actually end up making it - with everyone else looking on in envy, simply putting their success down to 'good luck'.
Your life, your choice!
I am actually quite glad there are so many people like Chris about - the 'I'll-never-be-successful-so-I-just-won't-bovver' brigade.
It so increases the chances of success for everyone who CAN be bothered to make the effort don't you think?
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Just hearing the customers talking on the news last night brought it home that actually most were acting quite irrationally - driven by fear of losing their life savings or their retirement money. And all the assurances in the world - even from the Bank of England and the Government - that their money was safe were having no effect.
It just brought it home to me how true the old marketing adage is that 'Customer perception is the only reality'. And it is a real double edged sword.
If customers believe that they are going to lose their money then that is the only reality that you can deal with. Facts are irrelevant.
On the other hand, if customers believe your product is the best thing they have ever experienced than that is a huge advantage in marketing - quite aside from the fact that there may be many other much better offerings out there.
Hence the power and value in investing your time with your business to build a really great brand.
Yes, it can still be wiped out by a major scandal virtually overnight. But those instances are extremely rare.
It's the one thing that will really help make you competitor proof while you build your business - and goes to demonstrate yet again that your customers really are your biggest marketing department.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
Well I have to say I had the same feeling when, out of curiosity, I sent for a Red Letter Days brochure last week, and it turned up in the post this morning (only a week on, but then 2nd class post IS a lot cheaper).
First strange thing is that I only ever received one mailshot from Red Letter Days post my departure - strange for a mail order company, especially as I had made many 'mystery shop' purchases under various aliases at various addresses over the years.
Someone in their marketing department being a little over-zealous with the data cleansing perhaps? Or, more likely, a bean counter swooning at the cost of each brochure mailshot -without realising that the annual brochure mailout was the engine room that ran the marketing of the business.
So the latest (flimsy, low-budget) brochure arrives this morning in a highly conspicuous bright red envelope.
Sensible choice of envelope you may think (being called Red Letter Days and all) - but not when you consider that over 70% of purchases are made by wife for husband (or vice versa), and the last thing you want when preparing a surprise gift for your nearest and dearest is something coming shouting and screaming through the letterbox.
Meanwhile, the iconic Red Letter Gift Box (created on commission by design guru and Channel 4 TV star Richard Seymour - at a cost of £100k - and consistently rated as the jewel in the crown of the company's branding collateral in all market research), barely receives a mention, let alone the honour of a photo in the brochure.
Perhaps the bean counter got rid of that too?
You can just imagine that happening at Tiffany's can't you? New FD arrives saying: 'Why do we need all these duck egg blue boxes, carrier bags and silk ribbon packaging anyway? Just think of the money we'll save...'
Then we have Peter and Theo's cheesy faces arrogantly grinning out of the intro page crowing how great they are, quite oblivious to the fact that to this day (over two years on) I STILL get emails quite out of the blue from various ex-RLD punters going on about 'how those two nicked your company' - and therefore that to a large proportion of the target customer base (white, middle England, fortysomething, female) this display of macho alpha-maleness is in marketing terms, actually a real turn-off.
And that's before we even get into the detail of the content - which rides roughshod over so many of the extensive learnings from all the market research conducted over the years it would be an absolute crying shame - if it were still my company of course.
Anyway, I hope I am not starting to sound like a bitter old witch - but I can't help identifying with Sahar over this.
Women don't create companies, they give birth to them.
And no matter how hard you try, and no matter how long after they have flown the nest, they will always in some way still be your baby.
Monday, 10 September 2007
Put simply, she was the most iconic female entrepreneur Britain has ever seen. She inspired a whole generation of women - back in the days when I was a young City career girl in the 1980's - and despite all the progress women in business have made since, no female entrepreneur has even come close to achieving the same status.
She managed to be successful without compromising her femininity, and she was one of the first entrepreneurs to base her business on her passion for her product rather than the ruthless pursuit of money. Her passion for ethical, environmentally friendly trading was decades ahead of its time - in an era where the 'greed is good' alpha male mantra pervaded business at all levels.
She had great positive energy and determination, and in her later years used her fame and fortune for hugely positive ends to fight for human rights causes.
She was a brilliant role model, not just for women but for new age entrepreneurs everywhere, and she will be sadly missed.
Saturday, 8 September 2007
Not, of course because I am poor you understand :-) I am simply interested in all things entrepreneurial. And most of the 'Get Rich Quick' books and guides which are popping up at the moment seem to be riding on the wave of interest generated by the new wave of cult business shows - like The Apprentice and Dragons' Den.
Yes, these guides do often help someone get rich - and that is usually the author.
So I was a bit disappointed when I opened the paper that my free CD was in fact called 'Overcome Emotional Spending' by Paul McKenna. Yes, my husband will certainly vouch for the fact we would be an awful lot better off if my spending could in someway be psychologically curbed, but logically, spending less is not really a way to get rich - as its effect is of course limited to what you earn in the first place.
The only way to truly get rich is to earn (or find ways to generate) a shedload of cash.
Not spending it helps you get there faster of course - but then, if you're going to go down that route, why bother going to all that effort to earn it in the first place?
Anyway, I stuck with it and read the accompanying 'How to Get Rich' article, where McKenna points out that real riches really have nothing to do with money and that most of the things that give people true joy are actually available to all of us and are also completely free (spending time with the kids, love & sex, walks in the countryside etc. etc.). So what Paul is really encouraging us to do is identify the things that we believe would truly make us happy, and then to use NLP techniques to try to 'live' the feeling we believe those things will bring us, until they actually manifest in our lives.
Visualisation techniques are of course nothing new, and everyone from Napoleon Hill in his iconic 1937 book 'Think and Grow Rich' to the cult DVD 'The Secret' has talked about harnessing the power of the mind and using the 'Law of Attraction' to manifest everything you desire.
I am actually a great believer in all this - having also had experience of the negative side! Six months after my company Red Letter Days crashed into administration I was going through old papers in my study and found a 'life plan' I had written about a year earlier stating that, by 2006, I wanted to 'Get rid of Red Letter Days; spend more time with my family, with time to be creative, to write and to be myself.'
All of which came to pass in the most dramatic and unintended way (the Universe usually dishes up its solutions in the quickest most effective way). But I have to admit the Crash - as stressful as it was - did bring about my move to Bakewell in the Peak District, which is the most beautiful, inspirational place to live; the start of a new business which is based from my home, which brings me far more happiness than running Red Letter Days ever did and which is is much more 'me' - plus a publishing deal to write my first book, on entrepreneurship.
Personally, I think McKenna is absolutely right. Far too many of us chase money thinking it is the be all and end all of happiness. Far better to focus on the things that will truly make you happy - and then simply allow the Universe to find fabulously creative ways to allow those things to manifest in your life.
True riches are actually much more about giving rather than taking anyway - which is why some of the most successful, happiest and by the way most materially wealthy entrepreneurs I have met founded their businesses on things they had a real love or passion for, which they wanted to share with others.
And most people who are truly 'rich' in this way ultimately find that they have no use for the trappings of money anyway.
So relax, and enjoy your Sunday!
Thursday, 30 August 2007
What has been interesting about all the stories, lead by an initial piece in the Times by Steve Hawkes, is that they all focus on the topline figure - yet nowhere has anyone bothered to ask the fundamental business question of how much profit has been made along the way.
It reminds me of the time Red Letter Days won a deal 'worth £2.6million' with Sainsbury's to supply them with a bespoke experiences range. We PR'd that one from the rooftops too, and yes we gained lots of great PR coverage. When the consignment (which had been supplied on sale or return) winged its way back to us less than 12 months later - and we had to issue a refund cheque for £2.3million - we were a little less mouthy in the Press.
Once all the bespoke manufacturing/fixture/design costs were totted up, we were sitting on a loss of c£250k, not to mention a skip full of unusable scrapped merchandise.
It all goes back to the old business adage 'Turnover is Vanity, Profit is Sanity'.
However, to me what is most scandalous is that here we have an apparently leading business journalist creating an article for what is still an influential, opinion forming leading business title, who didn't even ask basic screening questions in researching his piece regarding these small factors of manufacturing/supply cost, deal terms and underlying profit. I know because I directly asked him when he called me for a statement on the story - on which I was also misquoted. Here's the statement I actually issued:
"Re: Stable Table, from memory we recorded the piece back in September 2004 and Andrew was asking for something like a c£100k investment in return for a 25% stake in the business (which would have valued his business at that point at c£300k). While it is great that Andrew has persevered with his invention and just received a £1million order, in business terms over a three year period that is still not a huge amount of revenue for an angel investor to see materialising in return for £100k, especially as the figure represents turnover and not underlying profitability (after manufacturing costs and overheads)."
It may help readers to know that the journalist in question formerly worked on the business pages of The Sun (not normally known for its thoroughness or integrity of reporting); the worrying thing is that it sends the message to businesses to keep chasing splashy headline number deals without understanding that big retail deals can be very expensive to service as well as low margin, and often also come with a huge sting in the tail - if you don't look after the sell through.
Anyway, just to end on a positive note, I received a really sweet email from Andrew today (the inventor of the StableTable) to apologise for the negative comments in the Press and to say how he had also been misquoted...
Par for the course when it comes to mainstream media I'm afraid Andrew.
Perhaps that why sales of newspapers are declining - while the amount of news circulating via blogs and open forums (comments made by real people with real experience, and no editorial axe to grind) are mushrooming exponentially.
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
Dear ****, Thank you for contacting us with regards to possible consideration and participation for series 5 of the Dragons Den investment opportunities. Although we welcome investment, partners and growth in our business, we do not believe that this programme is the way forward for us. We are realistic, determined, passionate and committed to the Luxury, Ethics and Quality of our Natural & Organic handmade skincare company and do not want to be caricatured or seen otherwise having watched the programme on a few occasions. Thank you very much again for the invitation.
How refreshing to just 'say no' to the Show - rather than appear, and then spend the next few years whingeing to anyone who will listen about 'How I was mis-treated' or 'How the Dragons made a Big Mistake not investing in me' - in the hope of just a little bit more desperate free publicity for your business.
If you seriously need investment for your business, Dragons' Den is probably the last place you should consider.
It's a BBC primetime entertainment show - and YOU are the entertainment - in case you didn't realise that already !!!
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Elsewhere in the same paper, we read that accountants Grant Thornton have just brought out a report showing that the major supermarkets are abusing their powers to put food suppliers under.
Personally, I don't think the blame lies with Philip Green or with Tesco et al. There will always be capitalists ready to take commercial advantage of any situation.
The blame actually lies with us as consumers.
While we continue to opt for cheap cheap cheap, the 'alphapreneurs' will be more than willing to supply it.
Whatever the (human) price.
Friday, 10 August 2007
After we had recorded the show, Felix was most insistent that we all receive a free subscription to his latest mega-success title 'The Week'. He said he had no problem at all giving the subscriptions away - on the basis that the publication was 'like heroin'.
Once hooked and we would all be addicted forever.
And so, every Saturday morning, my copy arrives full of the last week's news - a kind of 'briefing-note' style round up of all the best media articles and comment on all the major stories that have unfolded. It takes an hour or so to read from cover to cover and is an absolute boon for someone like me - who gets her headline news via the internet, TV and radio, doesn't have a daily commute and only picks up a daily newspaper on plane or train trips.
And so, yes Felix, I am now hopelessly addicted! I also have a horrible feeling that my subscription is about to expire and thus dread the day when I go down to unlock the post box and find that my issue isn't there any more...
Not surprising then that The Week is one of media's great success stories of recent years - almost entirely through word of mouth and viral marketing - at a time when other publications are dwindling.
I thoroughly recommend that you get yourself hooked.
Monday, 6 August 2007
Two I've just finished (hey, I know I'm way behind the game here - both were released back in March) are Richard Branson's latest update of his Screw It, Let's Do It and The Tao of Warren Buffett , a collection of Warren Buffett's reflections on investing - which led him to become one of the world's wealthiest men.
There are now hundreds of books on wealth creation out there, all promising to reveal the magic 'Secrets of Success', but to save you a little time and money, here's my 5 minute simple guide:
1) All great fortunes are built on GIVING great value
...whether through creating companies which give customers brilliant products, fantastic services or unforgettable experiences (like Branson), or investing in them (like Buffett).
The judge in this process is always The Customer - whose perception is your only reality - so if what you're offering isn't turning them on (or enough of them on), then you need to change what you're offering until it does.
[There are virtually no exceptions to this rule, apart from a few dotcom millionaires. Then again, if you think about it, the commodity the dotcoms were selling which made them rich was actually the SHARES in their companies, which their 'customers' (the investors) held the perception would make them very rich. The promise of quick wealth is, in itself, a very seductive product... even if totally illusory.]
2) Most fortunes are built on 'One Big Thing'
Branson = Virgin, Gates = Software, Sugar = Electronics, Murdoch = Media. Even Buffett admits the majority of his vast fortune was built on major investments in just 10 great US companies. The moment most entrepreneurs start to diversify is the moment they tend to run into trouble. The problem most entrepreneurs have is that they throw off an idea a minute and consequently spread themselves far too thin. You're far better to choose the one thing that really turns you on - and then focus, focus, focus.
3) It takes time...
In Branson's case, probably at least 20 years until he really got past the point of worrying about money - according to the book even his purchase of Necker Island was highly leveraged. In Buffett's case, he always played the longer term, buying vast tranches of stock in great companies when they had fallen out of favour with the stock market and holding them often for over a decade while the market corrected itself and the underlying value continued to grow.
Take a look at The Rich List and you'll see that the vast majority of those included are 50+.
By the way, three small corollaries to the above:
- Many of those Rich List 'businessmen's' fortunes were not based on business at all - but on the underlying value of the property contained within their companies' balance sheets. Probably not such a great bet now, but over the long term, property is a great base upon which to build your wealth.
- Most of the people who you think are wealthy, aren't really wealthy at all.
- Most people who achieve great wealth see that it's all an illusion - and end up giving it away anyway.
So, to me, the more I read the more it reinforces one great fact: don't chase money; spend your time in business doing the thing that you love - and everything else will come to you naturally in the end.
Have a great day!
Friday, 3 August 2007
While I would love to think that this was a result of my all-round skills in entrepreneurship and excellent business acumen, I suspect it has more to do with THAT picture of me, dressed in rubber astride a red Ducati motorbike.
Just think, if the Dominatrix pics which were shot at the same time had ever been released, I could be rating ahead of Duncan Bannatyne :-)
Have a great day!
Monday, 30 July 2007
And he is right - for over a decade I've been a dedicated fan of the Audi - and between us we've lovingly owned an A4 estate, A6 estate, A4 cabriolet, TT Quattro as well as the Q7.
But all that has now changed - in favour of a Mercedes SL roadster (our 'posh' executive car; Mr Badger's choice not mine), a VW Touran (a 7 seater big enough for all the kids, but small enough for the nanny to drive) and my new runabout Jeep.
Which got me thinking exactly what has turned me off Audi.
And I think the problem is that Audi, perhaps in its quest for technical excellence, has become oh so BORING.
Their showrooms are now acres of safe black and silver 'executive' cars with dark grey interiors - all based on the same A4 saloon chassis (the Q7 just looks like a jacked up version of an A6 estate). Even the TT and new R8 models are displayed in boring black and gunmetal grey.
It seems your engineers are so interested in what is beneath the bonnet that they've forgotten that driving should be FUN!!!
OK, on one hand you may say that Audi has identified its core market - executive level, AB category men, who want brilliantly engineered understated class. But I think they are missing a trick.
I lost count of the number of people who came up to me on the school run or dropping off at parties to ask my opinion on the Q7 and whether they should buy one - but these weren't women - they were all MEN looking for a second car for the family, of which their wife would be the predominant driver.
And judging by the number of used Q7s currently on sale in our area (that's why I had trouble selling mine), all were obviously bought 'off-plan' and cashed in with incredibly low mileage - which must tell you, Audi, that there is a huge gap in your market for a brilliant utilitarian (not sports) car, designed especially for executive wives.
The Q7 is just too big and bulky to fit this bill.
So, if you can design a car for me with:
- The chunky, sporty fun looks of a Terios/Vitara/3 door RAV4, combined with...
- The compact size and finish of a Mercedes A Class - with 5 doors and 5 seats - that is easy to drive and park, combined with...
- An interior colourway (natural, neutral, taupe... think Armani colours) which I would be happy to see in my living room (why are all car interiors grey or black?);
- A full length sunroof as standard - I want to let the sun shine in!
- Lots of compartments for everything female - handbags, coffee to go, change, rubbish, tissue boxes, kids stuff
- Some interesting exterior 'catwalk' colours alongside all the boring ones - midnight purple, 911 Carrera yellow, metallic honey beige, Caribbean sea turquoise blue/green, urban khaki
- Permanent 4x4 (for safety), minimum 1.6 engine, as well as being envrionmentally friendly...
- Oh, and you MUST do it in automatic! For about £25k with all extras...
...I promise you I will be the first in line to buy one.
Saturday, 28 July 2007
I had three key specifications: I wanted a small 4x4 or jeep, it had to be an automatic and I had to have something which was available fairly immediately.
Other than that I was very open and receptive to all suggestions, and set off, chequebook in hand believing (wrongly) that this would be easy...
First stop, Daihatsu, whose mini 4x4 Terios fitted all the criteria. Firstly it was unbelievably difficult to find a dealer; we finally got details of one in Sheffield but drove there to find the dealer had moved and after a further drive around found that they had changed to Skoda - and also were not open on a Sunday.
So, off to the Mansfield branch, who did have a black one but the interior was very plasticky and cheap.
In the absence of any other automatic models, the saleman proceeded to try to sell me a manual (Salesman: 'It's very difficult to find automatic jeeps you know.' Me: 'But I want an automatic!') then a Subaru Jeep (Salesman: 'They're a very reliable jeep' Me: 'But I don't want a big car!') and then a Subaru Saloon (Salesman: 'They're even safer than a 4x4 you know!' Me: 'But I want a 4x4!')
So Daihatsu was abandoned and with a certain fondness for Fiat Pandas (that was my first car) I went to look at their 4x4 version.
First question to salesman: 'Does this come in automatic?' Salesman: 'Yes madam' - so we began to discuss availability and colour choices (I was ready to buy one on the spot), from which it transpired - after a 10 minute conversation - that actually the 4x4 version didn't come in automatic after all.
And so we were back to the 'Automatics-are-very-hard-to-find-why-don't-you-consider-a-manual?' conversation.
A brief trip to Toyota down the road revealed they no longer do the RAV4 in a small version, and my mind briefly turned to the idea of a Yellow Beetle Cabriolet (OK, this broke all the criteria, but I'm a woman OK - and that means I can have changes of heart - so long as it is at my whim and not that of a salesman...)
But a call to VW Chesterfield which revealed the same story: 'Automatic Beetles are like gold dust'; there were only 4 options on the entire VW network, all second-hand and none of them yellow.
I took this as a sign from the Universe that I was not destined to have a Beetle after all. Plus it wouldn't be very good in Bakewell in Winter...
A previous visit to Suzuki had discounted the Vitara (a little too big and limited colour choice) and the Jimny (not available in automatic) - but in desperation I decided to reconsider the Vitara option - and so sent for a brochure via the internet.
Amazingly, the brochure arrived by first class post next day; the separate Price List also revealed that the Jimny (perfect size and spec) WAS available in an automatic.
In excitement, I immediately called the Chesterfield dealer.
Yes madam, we have an automatic in our compound; Yes madam, you can have it immediately; Yes madam, I can have it here for you to look at it if you come in today. Oh and by the way, it's nearly end of the month so I can give it to you on special offer.
So, within 4 hours the car was viewed and purchased.
That was Thursday; and I go collect it today.
While we were doing the paperwork I noticed from the whiteboard on the office wall that my salesman (Mark) was leading salesman at Autoworld that month. No surprises there!
Which lead me to thinking about how incredibly easy it is to sell to women:
LISTEN - and then just give them what they want.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
It reminds me a little of the many emails I get from people asking for my [free] opinion on their latest new business idea, but expect me to sign a barrage of normally-not-worth-the-paper-it-is-written-on NDA documentation before they are prepared to 'open the kimono', worried I will somehow steal their idea.
The truth is that the world is full of great ideas and innovations, many of them hatched over a few pints down the pub or in flashes of inspiration after being frustrated with a product or service that doesn't meet their needs. Ideas are actually ten a penny.
But the key to bulding a successful business is probably 5% about the idea and 95% about the IMPLEMENTATION.
It took me about 60 seconds this morning (and that's a lot of time in terms of website attention span) trialling both sites, to see exactly why Facebook has worked and Connectu hasn't. Facebook is fast, simple and demands you to sign up before it reveals its content (which is a good strategy, given that you are dying to know whether you are featured on it) - whereas connectu forces you through a complex, slow search system complete with an irritating and probably unncessary popup (my computer doesn't do popups so I can't tell you what it was there for) which I actually kicked out of, it was taking so long.
The Devil is always in the detail in business - and it isn't easy to get it right. That's why the prize every time goes not to the person who came up with the idea, but to the person who is able to translate it into a customer experience which captures the imagination.
30 million users worldwide, mainly viral, is hugely impressive.
So in my view, the Boston boys should stop crying into their cornflakes and wasting time and money on pointless litigation - and spend their energy on creating a website which is quick easy fun - and actually works. Far more fulfilling I would have thought than spending the next few years in lawyers' offices.
Perhaps they could found www.coulda-shoulda.com - a site devoted to all those people who missed out on the big time - because they were too busy thinking about their great idea than actually doing anything about it.
Friday, 20 July 2007
In your world this may have been a disaster, but I've found it quite refreshing to be back in control again - in particular of all the speculative emails I receive each day.
An efficient PA will see these as intrusions to be fended off in the politest possible way (or in the case of my last PA, irritations largely to be ignored). However, as my business is now 'Inspiring, Motivating and Helping Entrepreneurs Achieve Business Success', each one is at best a customer - and at worst a small piece of market research/feedback from which, at minimum, I can learn something.
99% of these emails are pretty positive - from people telling me about their business, sometimes asking for direct help or investment or simply sending me a few lines of positive words.
But yesterday I received the following from one Fakeidee43626824@aol.com:
'losses of £4.7million and you give advice , are you sure'
In the media meltdown and hate fallout that followed the crash of Red Letter Days two years ago, I learned that the best way to deal with such messages is to use the Delete button. The cyber equivalent of a dollop of birdshit landing on the windscreen of life, these occasional 'hate mails' are almost always anonymous, sent from dodgy internet based email addresses senders and I suspect from people who have never got up off their butt to achieve anything in life - let alone experience how difficult it is to create a business from scratch and run it for 16 years.
[Alternatively it could have been Peter Jones, having a bit of fun... But I digress.]
And so the message languished in my Recycle Bin, until 40 minutes later I received the following:
I've just been leafing through your website and I think you're a star just for taking the time to put together some useful tips for people like me to take a look at -- it's comforting to think that even hugely successful business giants like you have been through the same exhausting process as the rest of us in your climb to the top. And it's encouraging to know that we all have the potential to succeed, because sometimes, despite your very best efforts, you can start to wonder if you're really up to the task.
So thank you for your words of encouragement.
Biznis Cards ::: Online Print Solutions
OK, it's a bit OTT - and I would hardly describe myself as a 'business giant' - but once my new PA is recruited, I know where I'll be getting her business cards from.
Enjoy your day!
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
That's 5.1 million new businesses coming your way soon!
While on the one hand it is brilliant that so many are now being inspired to go into business, without wishing to sound like a pariah of doom, the sad fact is that within 2 years around two thirds of those new businesses will have failed. That's c3.4 million people dealing with the fallout of business failure and all that goes with it - piles of unsold stock in the garage, boxes of unused brochures/leaflets/letterhead, and in the worst cases bankruptcy proceedings and even marriage breakdown.
I know, not just because I have been there myself, but also because I receive a lot of emails from people who are in that early stage 'Pit' - where all the initial enthusiasm has evaporated, all the money has gone, nothing is working - and they are desperate for help.
The problem with most of these businesses is that they simply have no SALES.
You can have the best business idea in the world; the smartest office; the best website; the flashiest brochures - but without SALES you do not have a business. Yet so many businesses fail to put Sales as their Number 1 daily priority above all else that may be going on - tinkering around the edges of their business instead of going out there and getting deals.
This is the big myth of business - write your business plan, raise capital, put your product or service into production, then go out there and the money will just start pouring in. Personally I think it should be done the other way round - create your product or service in the smallest most inexpensive prototype form; go out to the market and test the reaction (even if that is a last minute cheap stall at an exhibition or a couple of meetings with retail buyers), and SEE IF IT SELLS.
Even if it doesn't, the feedback you will have gained will be invaluable in honing your product. Too big? Too small? Too expensive? Too cheap? Wrong Colour? Too fast? Too slow? Too sweet? Too salt? Badly packaged?
Using realtime customer feedback as your market research is the best way to protect your business from failure - so keep nimble and keep testing until you hit the magic formula.
And only then launch your business in a big way.
Saturday, 14 July 2007
The struggle to implement the 'Big Vision' when dealing with people who can't see much beyond the end of their own nose, let alone anywhere past tomorrow; the emotional highs and lows of the journey; the determination is takes to keep going in the face of huge adversity; the unfairness and bias of the media, and the constant juggle between career ambition and family demands.
All in all, a bit like building a big business really.
The most amazing part was how Tony Blair managed to put on such a charming and persuasive front throughout, when much of the time his blood must have been boiling.
Although I am a dyed in the wool Tory - and a big Cameron fan - I still have a great respect for Tony Blair. He transformed Labour at a time when they were totally unelectable; yes Iraq was probably a mistake, but it's easy to criticise the decision in hindsight. If Saddam had continued in power and committed a few atrocities we would all be complaining why no one took a stand when they had the chance.
In the way of all great leaders, like Thatcher before him, the faceless talentless ones always eventually turn and kill the goose that laid their golden egg. Does anyone seriously think that Brown would have won the election back in 1997? It was Blair who made it possible for him to take power today.
In politics (as in business) momentum, once created, is a great asset - but it's only possible for the free ride to last for so long. It will be interesting to see how long Brown can ride the wave that Blair created for him.
Saturday, 7 July 2007
Earlier that year we had been diverted off course from other re-financing options, by a rescue deal offered by a major company within in our sector - accompanied by all the usual 'you can trust us' assurances.
We had 'opened the kimono' on Day 1 regarding all aspects of the Company, its financials, its problems, its contingent liabilities etc., and yet, despite having got to absolute 11th hour - with all the legals completed and ready to sign - the other side suddenly pulled out.
The CEO of said company (who I have since found out is something of a laughing stock within his industry, and I also think fancied himself as something of a reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius/Julius Caesar) initially placed the blame on a pot of 'Rachel's Organic Forbidden Fruit' yoghurt which his wife had placed in the fridge that week, which he took to be an omen of doom (yes, really).
When we tried to get the deal back on track (on vastly revised terms - of course! - why else does anyone pull out at the last minute if not to take the piss regarding deal structure and price?), 7 July unfolded.
If the pot of yoghurt had a de-stabilising effect, you can imagine what the unfolding scenes of carnage in London did for the deal.
(Didn't stop them coming back a few weeks later to suggest mounting a 'pre-pack' deal to buy the company out of administration for peanuts, but it would be cynical of me to suggest that was the real reason for reneging at the 11th hour.)
If the administration had unfolded during the week (when said company would have been contactable), and not at the weekend, he may well have got it too. Given Red Letter Days' recently filed first year post administration trading loss of £7.1million, that would have truly served the old codger right.
It's naive for anyone to think they can gain value in a highly branded business by pushing a company through an administration process to wipe the debt before acquiring it. It simply causes too much damage to the brand. But I digress...
So, back to 7 July, and all in all it was a most terrible day on all fronts, which will always remain lodged in my memory.
Here we are, 2 years on, and life is very different in so many ways, but in other respects old patterns still continue to emerge.
If you've ever been through an administration you will know that the DTI goes through an investigation process. This was particularly the case with us given that Red Letter Days had been such a high profile crash.
In fact, the Insolvency Service at the DTI put a full time solicitor on the project - who spent 18 months trying to mount a prosecution to disqualify the directors - before finally giving up and admitting there was no case.
The thing that massively counted in our favour (apart from the fact that we were innocent of course!), was getting a top legal firm acting on our behalf.
In a Director's disqualification proceedings, while each prosecution is served on the directors as individuals, typically if one is found guilty, all are guilty - there are just different levels of culpability which affect your period of disqualification.
So it is vitally important that the Directors act collectively, rather than splintering off, blaming one another and generally trying to cover their own arses.
But despite trying to coralle my co-directors, do you think this was possible? No - because no one wanted to commit to the legal cost of fighting the case. And of course, my inept co-Director who was in charge of the company's insurance policies, had not thought to ensure we had adequate Directors' Liability insurance in place to cover us for the running off period, which would have covered the legal bill.
So, while the other directors either ignored the DTI letters altogether or sent back a flimsy 2 page response (or in the case of a certain Finance Director a response which absolved himself totally while stabbing me in the back for all that had gone on), muggins here took it all a lot more seriously (I obviously had more at stake given my profile) and brought in the brilliant insolvency lawyers Ian Grier and Nicholas Hughes at SGH http://www.sghlaw.com/ to fight her corner.
Luckily I had had the foresight to retrieve 18 archive boxes full of all my copies of every Board Meeting, consultant's report, management accounts and cashflow forecasts the company had produced during the period the troubles unfolded (it is strange how things 'disappear' once the company goes into administration and you are no longer allowed access to the building - after all it is hardly in the new owners' interests for you to come out of any of it looking squeaky clean).
All of which meant that my legal team was able to put together a several hundred page response to the DTI, which covered in detail every event of the 2 1/2 year period - every supporting document, right down to copy emails, showing (in absolute excruciating detail) the lengths we (or should I say I?) went to, to try to save the business.
At a personal cost to me of something like £20k in legal fees.
And the contribution from my co-directors? A measy four hundred quid.
I learned a lesson that day, which was once again resurrected for me this week (not just through the 7 July anniversary, but via a series of other events).
When you are running a successful business, or indeed, if you have the 'tag' of being a high profile entrepreneur, everyone wants to hitch their wagon to your star. They love the status of being a 'director', they love connecting themselves to your name, but more than anything they love the thought of 'getting rich quick'.
Yet the sad fact of business is that - whoever you are, from Branson to Sugar - business is tough, there is no 'magic formula', no 'Midas touch', no 'guarantee' of success. The people who are eventually successful get there through putting in an unmitigated amount of effort, focus, committment (both in terms of time, as well as personal cash) and sheer bloody hard work.
Anyone can be a director of a business that is spinning along nicely.
It's when the sh*t starts hitting the fan that you can usually see the true colours of the spineless, penniless ones unfolding - refusing to commit time, effort or hard cash to the cause, running for the hills and leaving you to carry the can.
My advice from all this (and I promise I will get to the point of this Post very soon!) is be very careful of who you allow to hitch their wagon to your star in the first place.
The world is full of lazy passengers looking to make a fast buck, and very few people have really got what it takes to be a real success in business. Choose the wrong business partners and they will dramatically slow you down. So, unless there are very, very good reasons for you to go into business with others - or unless you find a magic person who is the exact complement to your own skills, and is as committed as you are in all respects - you will almost always find it much easier to achieve success by 'going it alone'.
And with that off my chest, I will sign off and enjoy the rest of my Sunday!
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Scott Barlow at UKpreneur http://www.ukpreneur.co.uk/222/does-rachel-elnaugh-have-a-husband/ thinks I am hot, wonders whether I have a husband (since when did that bother most men?) and has asked me for a date, while John Crickett at eCademy http://www.ecademy.com/node.php?id=86577 has taken exception to my Blog about Peter Jones' new 'Tycoon' show, posing the question 'Jones vs Elnaugh: Who Do You Think is the Better Entrepreneur?'
That last one is an interesting one John, and tells me instantly that you are an 'Alphapreneur' - one of those ghastly males that is always comparing dick size and wanting to know who is 'the best'. Take my free entrepreneurial profiling test at my own website http://www.rachelelnaugh.com/m_17.asp and tell me if I am right!
But it's an interesting question though - who IS the best?
How do you measure?
Is Tesco a 'better' supermarket than Waitrose?
Is The Sun a 'better' newspaper than The Big Issue?
Is Easyjet a 'better' airline than Cathay Pacific?
All comments are welcome.
Saturday, 30 June 2007
When you are entrepreneur just starting out, at least you can mistakes (and there always will be mistakes!) in private, whereas we 'Celebrity Entrepreneurs' are always under the full and often embarassing glare of the media spotlight.
Although I actually feel for Peter, having been through my own very public 'media meltdown', nonetheless it did prompt me to think about what makes a great product (whether that be a TV programme, or any other creation out of which you intend to make money).
When the Dragons were first approached by the BBC and introduced to the talented producer Martyn Smith, who had been commissioned to create the concept for Dragons' Den, I think we all expected an X-Factor type show in a studio at White City.
Instead we were sent to a desolate warehouse in one of London's less safe suburbs, sat on mis-matching chairs in a bleak set and had no real instruction on what was about to unfold.
But when the first series of Dragons' Den was aired back in January 2005, it was clear just from watching episode one that the BBC had a hit on their hands. Although it was quite raw and the entrepreneurs weren't brilliant, to me that first series was by far the best - it had a great energy; the Dragon egos had not become bigger than the Show itself and the entrepreneurs were truly desperate for funding and support - not just after a free primetime TV ad.
In short, Martyn Smith threw out all conventional TV wisdom - and took the risk to create something briliantly innovative and original, which would change the way business TV programmes were conceived forever. And the BBC has been milking the formula relentlessly ever since (in fact, some would say the cow has long since run out of milk).
The reasons why Dragons' Den was such a success are exactly the same reasons why Tycoon - and many other products like it - failed.
Playing safe and following what others have done before may seem like a solid option to achieve success, but in business it is actually often the riskiest approach you can take.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
I've met several of the ladies on the list and can categorically say that they are 180 degrees opposite to the old fashioned 'Alpha Male' breed of businessmen. Yes, they are all focussed and determined - but the similarity really does end there.
Women tend to go into business through passion for what they do, not for profit. But ironically, it's that same passion - to sell great products, give fantastic services and create unforgettable experiences - that gives these 'Passionpreneurs' a formidable edge over their Alpha Male adversaries, who are typically much more interested in making money than in the customers who spend it.
Women who create businesses from the heart also create a really positive flow of energy - so vibrant that you actually feel energised in their presence - an energy which magically seems to attract the right people, as well as an abundance of opportunity. Speak to any Passionpreneur about their entrepreneurial journey and you can't fail to notice that amazing coincidences and synchronicity always seem to feature vividly in the mix.
Yes, there are still a few hard faced 'Alpha Females' out there, trying to prove they can be 'as good as the men' - in their navy pinstripe skirt suits and black stilletto uniforms.
By contrast, our Passionpreneurs are successful while still being feminine, and also run their business with tremendous ethics and integrity, realising that relentless pursuit of profit at any cost can no longer be the sole business driver in the 21st century .
Which magnetically attracts customers like bees to honey.
And given that 80% of consumer decisions are now made or influenced by women, it would seem that the time is ripe for our Passionpreneurs to show the men a thing or two about what it really means to be successful in business.
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Not only am I an avid fan of the new breed of TV business shows, but also having known Peter Jones 'before he was famous' - when we filmed series 1 of Dragons' Den back in 2003 - I was interested to see how he had developed in his role as 'celebrity entrepreneur'.
But minutes in, as we were flown over the City of London in the opening credits and then had a street level view of his shiny new Bentley arriving outside a disused warehouse-type building, it became clear that we were destined to endure a lowest common denominator formulaic pastiche of The Apprentice meets Dragons' Den.
Jones has selected 6 would-be entrepreneurs to take part in the show, each trying to build their business in a 10 week period working in an open plan office, under the scrutiny and 'guidance' of Jones.
The problem with the show is that it quickly becomes apparent that Jones hasn't a clue about brands or marketing, constantly misguiding the businesses in his charge.
Thus we see the 'Gardening Girlies' being encouraged to re-brand to something more 'attention grabbing' - and then being heaped with praise for coming up with the new identity 'Sod Women'. Personally I can't think of a brand name more likely to alienate what is predominantly a female, middle England target customer.
Similarly, vodka juice girl was given a slating by Jones for her attempts at finding a name for her product - citing 'Death' cigarettes as a great example of an attention grabbing brand (yes, those were the fags launched in 1991 by the company which was in liquidation by 1999). She finally resorted to grabbing passing joggers on the South Bank for their suggestions.
Back to the warehouse office and Jones has summoned everyone to a meeting to discuss their progress. The Gardening Girlies, sorry I mean 'Sod Women', have arrived in navy pinstripe suits wearing ties - only to receive more praise from Jones for showing so much progress under his guidance. No doubt in a future episode they will arrive having undergone a complete sex change, only for Jones to coo 'Congratulations ladyboys, the penny has finally dropped with you that only men can be successful in business'.
Finally, Jones heads down a pier for a showdown with vodka juice girl - plus the inevitable threat of a sacking - when what she really needed most at this point is some friendly guidance from one of London's big branding agencies.
This is where I think the show was so disappointing compared to, say, the brilliant Mary Queen of Shops (BBC2 Thursdays 9pm). In that series, Mary Portas not only points out where the businesses are going wrong, but then really gives brilliant hands-on guidance - by bringing some of the top fashion professionals in to help show how it should be done.
As the show progressed, while Jones' teeth got whiter, his cufflinks got bigger and the Bentley got shinier, Jones personality got thinner and thinner. By the end of the epsiode I was left feeling that this was simply another TV vehicle for his now monstrous sized alpha male ego.
The penny finally dropped when we saw the last frame and realised that the show had been created and produced by Jones' own TV production company Peter Jones TV. Like his Max Clifford co-client Simon Cowell, Jones clearly sees TV production as his latest way to make some much needed money.
A quick peek at the latest Phones International accounts shows why the diversification is needed - £4million profit on £186million sales is a nice business to have, but hardly puts Jones in the 'Tycoon' bracket of a Branson, Dyson or Sugar. Especially when up the road at Red Letter Days (the business I started, which Jones acquired out of administration in 2005 in a flourish of 'I'm-a-Dragon-and-I-know-a-Great-Business-Opportunity-When-I-see-One' publicity) has just filed a loss of £7.1 million.
While the TV route may have worked for Simon Cowell, sadly I don't see the same happening for Peter. While the idea for the show was great, the execution was lousy, and as one of Britain's supposed new breed of business leader, Jones just doesn't have the X-Factor.
Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Yesterday I interviewed Karan Bilimoria (founder of Cobra Beer) for my forthcoming book on entrepreneurship - and then went to the Big Fish entrepreneur's networking event http://www.bigfishnetwork.co.uk/sponsor.aspx in the evening to hear my old pal and co-Dragon Doug Richard talk about his entrepreneurial experiences.
Karan is the most charming man; newly appointed as a member of the House of Lords and now moving in terribly high circles. We both started our businesses back in 1989 and have both faced business meltdowns; his in 1998 when, similarly to me, the banks pulled the plug - the difference being he managed to survive! Since then, he has gone international with the Cobra Beer brand and now has the vision to take sales to £1billion - and will probably float in 2008/9.
His new book is a great read too - get it at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bottled-Business-Gassy-Guide-Entrepreneurship/dp/1841127264/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/202-8916901-1947858?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1182260901&sr=8-1
Doug was in brilliant form and actually it is the first time I had heard him speak and tell his own story. He started out building software businesses in the States before coming to the UK and becoming an Angel Investor.
I always felt that Doug was one of the best ever Dragons - certainly the cleverest, sharpest and most entertaining; the Show just isn't the same without him.
On that note, I saw at the weekend the BBC has just announced the line up for Series 5 - Richard Farleigh has gone in favour of James Caan - some much needed fresh blood, but personally I would have kept Richard Farleigh - who represented the only human face of business on the Panel.
Dragons' Den may be good ratings fodder for the BBC but as a business show has totally lost all credibility - and that is a view consistently echoed by the entrepreneurs I meet at business events up and down the country. The old pin-stripe suited 'greed is good' Alpha Male (& Alpha Female) face of business is now so dated, it's really time that the BBC woke up to the fact that there are a whole new generation of entrepreneurs out there doing business in a much more ethical, collaborative way, and with real integrity and respect for others.
And, ironically, it is exactly those types of business that are increasingly turning customers on too.