The Apprentice is due to return on Wednesday, and as Lord Sugar prepares to give 18 of the UK’s entrepreneurial talents a serious dressing down, we’re pleased to offer expert analysis on the series as it unfolds from the country’s best and brightest business minds in association with Nominet, the home of the UK’s web domain family.
Today we’re excited to introduce our expert pundit, last year’s runner-up Bianca Miller, who will be giving us an exclusive, inside look on every episode, including how she would have done each task, who she thought held their own during the boardroom battles, and whether Lord Sugar fired the right candidate.
Join us on Friday for Bianca’s take on the first show of the series, but before then, we sat down with the tycoon of tights for a quick chat about what she’s been up to since her time as a contender.
It’s been a pretty busy year for entrepreneur Bianca Miller. Since coming second in last year’s The Apprentice, she’s been hard at work establishing Bianca Miller London, her hosiery business that makes tights to suit a range of skin tones, and running her personal brand development business The Be Group, which boasts clients including HSBC, American Express and Google.
We caught up with Bianca to find out how life has been since the show, and she kindly offered a few pearls of wisdom for entrepreneurs stepping out into the business world for the first time.
What has life been like since The Apprentice? How did your experiences on the show shape the way you approached your new business venture?
Life has been great, really busy. The support from people I meet has been phenomenal and inspired me to continue with my venture Bianca Miller London, a range of hosiery that has been created to ‘redefine nude’ in the fashion industry. The experience has helped me to develop the brand.
Many people within the business community will know you as ‘Bianca Miller from The Apprentice’, but what was your life like before your turn on the BBC show, and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I have always wanted to be a businesswoman; growing up with entrepreneurs as parents it seemed like an almost natural progression for me.
After graduating with a degree in business management and economics, I took a job at Accenture as an HR advisor, where I realised I loved the personal development side of HR, facilitating workshops and helping individuals. It was also during this time that I tried in earnest to find the right shade of nude tights to suit the corporate image.
After a brief stint in recruitment, I started my first business, The Be Group, which specialises in personal branding, employability and image consultancy via individual consultation and workshops.
You finished second on the show, which must have been hard to swallow at the time, but it’s an incredible achievement to have got so far. Upon reflection, what lessons did you learn from the whole process?
To listen more – during the final I had a vision of my brand that reflected the business plan, which was to launch with a luxury product at a higher price point and later offer a secondary collection for the mass market.
I was conscious of not altering the offering too much as it would have changed the business plan and financials, and thus the potential business offering for Lord Sugar. But it came across as though I don’t listen/take advice, which simply isn’t true. However, even with the price change I don’t think the outcome would have changed – Lord Sugar wasn’t ready to get into tights.
What was it like trying to impress Lord Sugar every week? How different is he when the camera isn’t rolling?
Often you feel like you don’t only need to impress Lord Sugar, but also Nick [Hewer] and Karren [Brady], and sometimes your fellow team members. In every task you would work hard for your team while mentally logging what you did to make it successful so that you’re ready for ‘combat’ in the boardroom.
One of the most interesting parts of The Apprentice is when the contestants have the business plans analysed. What did you learn from that experience?
That television is heavily edited! The business plan analysis section really proved to me the importance of preparation. Whether my plan was ‘correct’ or not, it was certainly thorough, which allowed me to have good conversations with the interviewers and help me make a better plan.
There are a lot of great business ideas out there but many don’t become successful enterprises. What are the key ingredients to turn good ideas into profitable businesses?
My four main ingredients would be:
A keen understanding of your market: It is important that before starting any new business you know as much as possible about the market. That’s not to say you won’t keep learning new things.
Networking: I believe networking is key to success in business; often it is not what you know but who you know. Your network is valuable for supporting you in your personal growth, promoting your brand, and where possible developing relationships that in time may become commercial. As the saying goes, “your network is your net worth”.
Passion: It is passion that often drives the business forward and makes the entrepreneur continue to commit to the brand. Passion is also what potential companies see. I believe passion should be the driving factor in business; the money often follows the passion.
Having a mentor: I firmly believe in mentoring. Influence from a mentor can be crucial in the development of the business and also helps to increase your network, as they can introduce you to others. A mentor can also help you avoid making some mistakes.
It can be tough for new businesses to find funding and there’s a dizzying list of options to pursue, from government grants to crowdfunding. How can people figure out the best funding route for their business?
Choosing the right type of funding can be difficult, but it really comes down to a few key points: how much you need, what you need it for (start-up costs or business growth) and how soon you need it. You should know when you’d be able to pay back a loan, or when a potential investor would expect to see ROI. What is vital is understanding the various different funding options, what they mean and how they will affect your business planning.
With the huge array of marketing platforms open to businesses now, how can entrepreneurs ensure their marketing efforts stay focused?
Choose a platform that works for you, and don’t feel compelled to have every form of social media if it isn’t effective for your business. Marketing doesn’t have to be all about social media. In my opinion the best form of marketing is engaging with clients (i.e. networking), having a good website (online window) and remembering what is most effective for the business, not following the crowd. Stay true to your message.
You’ve been vocal about encouraging women and ethnic minorities to start their own business – what can the government and business leaders do to address this?
What I have been vocal about is the disparity in the number of leadership roles and entrepreneurial role models within the female and ethnic minority community.
From an entrepreneurial perspective there have been recent initiatives to encourage minority groups to consider business, some of which I find annoyingly just pay lip service to the issue instead of making a solid impact. I would like to see a real programme, which assists individuals step by step through the process of planning, funding and starting a business via mentoring, workshops and action planning. The support network of individuals going through the process would be ideal for new businessmen and women.
Don’t forget to tune in to BBC1 on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th at 9 for the first two episodes of the new series of The Apprentice, and to join us back here the following Friday for Bianca’s thoughts on the show.
Can’t wait ’til then? For more The Apprentice-themed fare, check out our interview with last year’s winner Mark Wright.