This week’s small business superstar is James Caan CBE, who is without doubt one of the most hardworking men in British business. We talk to the former Dragons Den star about alternative finance, who he wants to go into business with and the most common mistakes people make on LinkedIn.
Since leaving Dragon’s Den you have been incredibly busy with a number of business ventures. What are you working on right now?
As an investor, I’m always busy looking for passionate entrepreneurs to back.
My latest (and proudest) investment is Recruitment Entrepreneur which seeks to find talented entrepreneurs who are looking to start a recruitment business. We’ve helped crystallise the dreams of over 20 entrepreneurs and are dedicated to utilising innovation and creativity to change the face of recruitment.
As well as investing in entrepreneurs, I’m always advocating the importance of training and will be launching the world’s first recruitment training app in 2016.
What did your time on the show teach you about British entrepreneurship?
I met thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs on the show and each one of them made me proud to be a British entrepreneur.
Every person who walked through that door had three things in common; they were passionate, innovative and driven to succeed. Even if their idea didn’t work, they all had something special.
My time on the show reconfirmed what I already knew – that business is about people, not products. I invested in some strange businesses because I believed in the owner.
It also taught me that we’re a nation of entrepreneurs and we have some great ideas that just need sharing!
You’re an ‘Influencer’ on LinkedIn. What are the most common mistakes that business owners make on the networking platform?
I’d say the biggest mistake I see time and time again is lack of communication. Many business owners use LinkedIn to promote their business without taking the time to communicate with other people in the market.
What’s your favourite quote?
It has to be ‘Observe the masses and do the opposite’.
When everyone is charging in the same direction, do something different and don’t just follow the crowd. It’s something my dad told me when I was young and it’s been my life motto ever since.
You’re a big supporter of Small Business Saturday. How do you think this event can help SMEs?
Small Business Saturday encourages the nation to support their local businesses. By creating this community small businesses are able to engage, collaborate and support one another.
As for the rest of us, we have a day to support small businesses and give them the recognition they deserve – what’s not to like!?
SME’s fuel our economy and it is vital we support and respect their hard work. Britain wouldn’t be the same without our abundance of independent businesses; they epitomise British culture.
How well do you think small businesses use social media to promote themselves?
There are many small businesses out there that use social media to its fullest potential and understand that embracing tech and innovation can help them grow and prosper. However, there are many others who underestimate its power.
I think we’re seeing the emergence of savvy small business owners who understand the importance of a digital brand and I hope their success illustrates this.
How do you relax when you’re not at work?
I’m always in work mode, my children are always telling me I’m a workaholic but I think all entrepreneurs are the same. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas and meeting inspiring people who I want to invest in.
I’m most relaxed when I’m in the South of France on my yacht. It’s the most extravagant thing I’ve ever bought and I love it! There’s nothing better than soaking up the sun in the sea breeze.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My dad was my mentor and biggest inspiration. He sold leather jackets on Brick Lane market and taught me everything I know about business.
I used to love helping him out on the stall and speaking to the other traders. He worked extremely hard to build a life for our family and I’ll always be eternally grateful for that. Without him I don’t know where I’d be!
What are the best funding sources for SMEs?
Alternative funding is huge at the moment.
I think this is such a great time to start up because of the opportunities that exist. There are so many different forms of alternative finance, including an angel investor who can provide experience as well as capital, or crowdfunding and the many doors it can open for you.
You may decide that traditional bank investment is your best option, but there is something out there for everyone. Just make sure you do your research. Choose the one that’s right for you.
You’ve worked with some incredible people throughout your career – who was the best person to work with?
I spent three amazing years as chairman of Start Up Loans and my team there were incredible. When we launched, the government wanted to start 1000 businesses and everyone thought this was ambitious.
By the time I stepped down we had changed the lives of 27,000 aspiring entrepreneurs by helping them start their own business with Government backed funding.
Every person within our team enabled this amazing outcome and I will always be proud of our achievement!
If you could go into business with any celebrity, who would it be and why?
I think it would have to be Jamie Oliver. I think he’s a great celebrity personality and has done a great job of establishing his brand. We could open up a restaurant specialising in Pakistani food – I’m sure I could teach him a thing or two!