Tim Campbell, winner of The Apprentice

Tim Campbell left his position as one of the highest paid middle managers at London Underground to appear on the BBC TV series The Apprentice in 2005, winning a place at Amstrad under Sir Alan Sugar, before going on to create two new ventures.

SmallBusiness.co.uk asked him for his insights.

So, where are you now?
I enjoyed my two-year tenure with Sir Alan, but now I’m focusing on my own projects – a male grooming company for the upwardly mobile man, which I expect to launch later this year, and The Bright Ideas Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to give advice and marry venture capitalists and business angels to people who have workable business ideas but have difficulty getting access to funding.

What did you learn along the way that you can share?
Having started a business and been exposed to a lot of people in the know, you realise that business is shrouded by this mystique when it needn’t be. There are a lot of young people out there with good ideas, but no clue how to begin financing a start-up. Banks are so risk averse that young start-ups often find it very hard to get off the ground. You need to realise that banks are there to serve their own interests first and yours second. That’s not a criticism – they’re not charities, so it’s foolish to assume that they’re going to give you handouts.

So how can you improve your chances of getting funding?
The best advice that I can give is to follow a few simple rules, which I call the four Ps. Firstly, planning. You need to research your ideas thoroughly, look at market trends and work out the size of the market you’re entering to decide whether your idea fills any gaps. Is it viable? It can be boring and laborious but having a properly laid out business plan from the offset can be a real help. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get very far if you turn up in front of your bank manager with your ideas on the back of a fag packet.

It’s something that I wish I’d done from the early stages rather than retrospectively; it would have short cut a lot of work for me. Having a professional-looking, robust business plan with all the bases covered will also help to allay your bank manager’s fears, but remember that it doesn’t have to be set in stone. Most businesses veer wildly off their original plan, but it is useful as a benchmark and can give you a sanity check about your ideas. There are lots of resources out there that can help you write a plan, like the British Library in London, which has a free business planning service and access to market data.

After sound planning, what’s the next most important piece of advice?
The next thing to remember is to persevere with your idea. Don’t give up as soon as you run into problems, which is likely to happen. If you fall over, and scrape your knee, get up, dust yourself off and try again.

After that, an important thing to remember is that you don’t have to go it alone. Partnerships, including those with the people who work for you, can be a valuable resource when you’re starting up. When I started I thought I could do everything myself, but there are only 24 hours in a day. The best investment I made early on was the administrative team I have behind me, it can really help to free up some of your time.

Also, the idea of the sole entrepreneur making his millions without any help is a great story, but very rare. You’re much more likely to succeed if you have a strong management team around you.

Any other tips?
Lastly, I think a little luck can go a long way, so the final P is ‘planetary assistance’. It’s not just about being in the right place at the right time though, you can make your own luck if you are vigilant. Try to spot opportunities or identify where they’re likely to arise and make the most of them.

Related Topics

The Apprentice