"I started the year unsure what would happen to our membership as the recession took hold. We’re a discretionary spend so I wondered how many members we might have by spring. Any concerns were misplaced – the few members we did lose have been quickly replaced and growth is greater than ever. In fact, like many of our members, the recession has forced us to make necessary changes faster than we might otherwise have done.
A wise head at one of our recent dinner events said ‘you are a fool if you believe your customers are the same as the ones you had a year ago’. The same applies to us: many of the names may be the same but what’s a priority to them now is very different from a year ago. Members are after bespoke tips on cost cutting, so we’re garnering all the insights and experiences from face-to-face meetings with members and sharing them with other members to whom the tip is relevant. Discussions now tend to centre around how to capitalise on the recession: how to grow market share, acquire distressed assets and so on.
We’ve launched new services such as a hand-picked advisory board of experts and a business concierge service. We’ve also introduced a shadowing scheme where entrepreneurs join another member in their business for a day. They then swap over. Add a dose of inspiration from our more successful honorary members like Charles Dunstone (Carphone Warehouse), Jonathan Porritt (Forum for the Future), Jon Moulton (former boss of Alchemy), Mike Clare (Dreams), Ed Wray (Betfair) and Tim Richards (Vue Entertainment) and we seem to be hitting the right note.
Business in BarbadosI recently teamed up with Petra Roach at Visit Barbados to take a team of well-networked entrepreneurs to Barbados. I proposed a mix of entrepreneurs who twitter, write, host events or otherwise reach large followings.
Petra and her counterparts from Invest Barbados showed us the compelling merits of Bajan life and work. Apart from the obvious drawcards such as the weather, Barbados has remarkably friendly people. When we toured the island, people from village after village waved a warm hand of welcome. An interesting highlight was meeting Rihanna’s father in a bar: she’s a mega star in Barbados on a par with Sir Garfield Sobers.
One of our members set up an outbound call centre there last year and has grown to 74 staff in a year, with huge cost savings. He chose Barbados because of the combined lower costs and ability to access an educated, English-speaking workforce – and corporation tax starts at 2.5 per cent and falls as profits grow! To say I am a convert is an understatement – I loved the island. (If you are going there on holiday make sure you take your other half to the Cliff – now my favourite restaurant – you’ll thank me for the tip.)
Back in BlightyIn contrast it has been depressing to witness in the UK the increasing tax and red-tape burden in recent years. This government started well with a variety of effective tax incentives to stimulate enterprise (lower band corporation tax rates for start ups, EIS, CGT taper relief, R&D tax credits). But since then, it has been gradually increasing its assault on entrepreneurs. It’s a shame that it’s the country’s entrepreneurs, who create new jobs and new wealth, that get penalised with higher tax rates and more red tape, while having to bail out the banks and some larger corporations. It’s like a reverse Robin Hood. It just adds insult to injury that banks have closed up shop to SMEs.
My solution would be to send in seasoned entrepreneurs with carte blanche to drive efficiency in the public sector and to address the public-sector pension time bomb.
I think much of the criticism Alan Sugar has received is misplaced. He may have a brash management style but experience tells us celebrities can give voice to issues in a way well-meaning politicians can’t. Think school food and Jamie Oliver or Gurkhas and Joanna Lumley. Lord Sugar also avoids any bulls••t which, I suspect, is what most people would prefer.
My new ventureLate last year, Ben Caulfield and I started scoping the ThanksTo project. Ben is now busy launching his own venture, BornTalented but Jane Gomez joined me at the start of the year (having exited i-vu) to launch a website that will change the world through simple ‘Thanks To’ messages. It’s a way of giving public recognition to those that deserve it, be it that inspiring teacher at school or that mentor who was pivotal in getting you to where you are now. Check it out here."
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