So at the end of November I had the amazing opportunity to spend a few hours in the company of Deborah Meaden… you know, the firm, fair, brilliantly focused and only slightly terrifying one from Dragon’s Den.
When I heard this inspiring businesswoman was in the area, I knew I had to get along to try to grab some of her time, first-hand.
I have always liked Deborah and admired her ‘shoot from the hip’ style – it’s a method and a mode of business I’ve tried to harness myself, although not quite with the level of success she has, obviously, as at the last count her estimated wealth is £40million and mine, well… isn’t.
The 60-year-old has never taken her foot off the pedal, and counts everything she has done in life as a marker, right the way back to finding herself working as a bingo caller at Butlins in Minehead.
Perhaps it’s that inspiring, down-to-earth, factory floor ethos that has got her to where she is now.
Certainly, experience has enabled her to master the power of really paying attention to customers.
With that in mind, she implores businesspeople to spend their energy on the elements that will take them forward, and to not get drained or distracted by the little things.
Scan the horizon and be flexible to adapting your plan, she said, rather than fixating on and feeling trapped by the smallprint in front of you (although, by all means, don’t ignore the smallprint completely!).
Deborah also made a big thing of pointing out the fact you don’t have to get everything right, as good customers are very often forgiving customers.
Proofing business works is as much to yourself as it is anyone else, and with that in mind, an organisation behaves how the owner behaves – how does your personality, language and trust contribute to how you are perceived as a business owner?
What surprised me most was probably the point the Den’s joint longest-serving Dragon made about planning.
I’ve watched many an episode of the BBC show where a pitch has been poorly planned or the numbers don’t stack up. And yet Deborah would rather we didn’t over-rehearse in constructing a way forward – ultimately, if you love and are passionate about what you do, you understand your business and its marketplace, and you believe in your product or service and why it is needed by others, people will invest in you and what you are offering. Authenticity is critical, bluster isn’t!
In summing up, we’ve all heard that phrase “never meet your heroes” – the experience can often be a let-down and you can feel forlorn for having invested so much time and faith in someone who doesn’t meet your expectations. And while I wouldn’t have ever classed Debs as a “hero” of mine, I can safely say she fulfilled all my expectations. I’ll also never look on the bingo hall in quite the same way ever again!