Saira Khan: what I wish I’d known when I started

Former star of The Apprentice and TV personality Saira Khan gave up the corporate world to start baby skincare company Miamoo three years ago.

Here she tells what she has learned on the way.

Having met Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and Simon Woodroffe, they’ve all said they made huge mistakes at certain points. So I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for being an entrepreneur.

I had to go through the corporate journey in order to realise that I needed to learn from my own mistakes; I’m glad I did it that way and didn’t start off as an entrepreneur to begin with. It made me realise that you need the freedom that running your own business gives you in order to learn and develop. I couldn’t cope with the bureaucracy of a corporation.

Don’t be hasty

Because I was working in the media I was quite cash rich when we started the company. At the time I was convinced that people would buy our products to give as gifts. So we had lots of bespoke boxes made for that purpose. I ordered about 5,000 and was certain they would just fly off the shelves straight away – that was one of my biggest business mistakes.

The total cost came to around £7,000, which is a lot of money when you’re starting out. When they arrived, they weren’t flat-packed and came on 72 pallets. So in addition we had to pay storage costs. Although I negotiated the price down to £250 per month, in the last three years we hardly sold any so the storage came to a lot of money.

Recently I had them all destroyed, which cost a further £300. And I just hated to see these beautiful boxes being wasted. This really taught me to test the market first and to ask the right questions before agreeing to something. I should have just ordered a couple of hundred to see how they would sell. When you’re starting out, it can be easy to get carried away. But you shouldn’t spend too much on stock.

Friends and business

Because I was doing so much TV work I wasn’t able to keep up with all the admin, so I hired a friend to take some of the workload off me. This girl had done some PR work for me before and I didn’t bother with a formal interview. Back then she was great – very proactive and had all the skills I was looking for. However, once she started she wasn’t able to do the work properly and wasn’t getting the results.

I employed her for seven to eight months, which was just money down the drain. And it was even harder because she was a friend. I made it easier by not making it personal. I had outlined the targets I was expecting from her, and when she didn’t meet them, I told her that was why I was letting her go.

It’s really important when measuring people that you make it about their performance and not about them personally. I realise now I should have done formal interviews with several different people, or just organised my time better and done the work myself. The lesson was that, although it’s really easy to get friends on board, when it comes to business, it’s best to avoid mixing it with friendships.

Online sales

We designed our Miamoo products to sit well online. However, once we started to do more research, the message coming back was that most people want to smell and touch the kind of products we were selling before buying them. So we got some of them into a retail environment too.

The problem was that the packaging wasn’t communicating information about the ingredients or which celebrities used the products, because on the website that’s just something you can click through. After a year, having spent a lot of money packaging our products for online sales, we then had to repackage them again for retail.

I really believe now that with new brands it’s hard to get going purely online. Retail still has a big part to play in gaining visibility for the product.

See also: Saira Khan – nobody’s apprentice

Related Topics

Starting a business

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