Touker Suleyman 7 tips for starting your own business

Touker Suleyman, star of TV’s Dragons' Den, shares his top tips for starting your own business

#1 – Be passionate about what you do

If you’ve got a dream, then you need to follow it and you need to imbue your team with that passion. Dig deep to find out what your passion is. What’s different about what you’re doing and how is it going to disrupt the market? On Dragons’ Den, what Suleyman looks for is passion, people who are really going for it.

#2 – You’ve got to have a story

Everything starts with you. Why are you passionate about what you’re doing? What’s different about your product or service? You need something that sets you apart.

#3 – Know your competition

Can you do what they’re doing better and more cheaply? Then you’re onto a winner.

>See also: Sara Davies of Dragons’ Den 7 tips for small business

#4 – You’ve got to work every day

Or, as Suleyman puts it, “The rent needs to be paid every day.” He freely admits that he’s a workaholic who hates holidays.

#5 – Don’t raise money too early

If you do need to raise money to bootstrap your new business, raise it from your family. Too many pitches come to the Dragons’ Den studio having given away too much equity already. Don’t dilute your equity too early. You want to be in control of your business by the time you need to raise money.

If you do need to raise external investment, then raise it from people who can add value to your business, which is what he calls “smart money”.

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#6 – Be open with your bank if you’re having problems

It’s better to be honest with your bank if you’re having a tough time of it. Don’t let the bank chase you, tell them what’s going on. Believe it or not, the bank is there to help – and Suleyman speaks as someone who lost their house to Lloyds Bank when he used it as a personal guarantee which went bad. He stayed on with Lloyds though as a customer.

And even if things do go spectacularly wrong, it’s only one misadventure and only part of the journey. We all chase dreams that don’t come true and there’s nothing to stop you from changing direction.

>See also: Tej Lalvani: ‘Nearly everything is possible’

#7 – Be careful about cash flow

“Cash is king” is Suleyman’s favourite phrase on Dragons’ Den and cash is the bloodline of every business. And be especially careful about spending money on digital marketing, which can eat up cash quickly.

Suleyman, who was speaking at this year’s The Business Show 2021, admitted he’d had his share of ups and downs.

He only got into the fashion business by happenstance, making clothes for now-defunct high street chain C&A, then allowed himself to be talked into turning a shell company public, which eventually cost him his home.

Suleyman began again, first buying stricken Jermyn Street shirt maker Hawes & Curtis in 2001 and turning it into a high-street chain with 30 stores and then hip women’s fashion label Ghost. Of course, he has gone to make 30 private investments through his involvement in the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den.

He remains upbeat about the future of the high street for fashion, as people still like to try clothes on, and predicts M&S and Next will come roaring back, stocking independent brands as well as their own.

The Dragons’ Den judge was scathing about the Government, which he said “should be shot” for the way it’s mishandled business rates reform.

Suleyman said: “They’re not brave enough to make a decision about business rates and all they do is kick the can down the road. Business rates are very unfair for retailers.

“Small businesses are the future of the UK and the Government doesn’t realise there needs to be more help for young entrepreneurs.”

Nevertheless, Suleyman believes there’s never been a better time to start a business, given the low barrier to entry, with access to Amazon as a marketplace, the ubiquity of mobile phones, and how much angel investment is available.

The world is about to rebegin, said Suleyman, and opportunities always come out of any difficult time.

Further reading

Who were the Dragons’ Den Dragons and where are they now?

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...