By Gerard Burke, Founder and MD, Your Business Your Future

Recent research published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), shows that rising coverage of entrepreneurs in the media is persuading more people to consider becoming their own boss. Surely, this can only be a good thing, you might think.

Our country needs fresh business ideas and a thriving small business sector to help drive the recovery. So, anything that fosters entrepreneurial spirit is a positive influence. What’s more, these shows have popularised business and got people interested in the economy. Business stories now regularly appear in the main parts of the national media as well as in the business sections.

At the same time, there’s a fine line between popularising and glamourising business. And the irony of business TV shows is that that they do not always paint a realistic picture. The entrepreneurs who appear on, and have been made famous by, these shows are celebrities whose primary purpose is to entertain - The Apprentice wasn’t created because Lord Sugar was having difficulties recruiting. And any business owner who tried to emulate his abrasive style and finger wagging would soon find themselves with few staff and, possibly, in an employment tribunal. Even Lord Sugar himself complains about his television persona – he’s quoted as saying: “You don't get to see any of the light-hearted, friendly side because, as far as the TV producers are concerned, that doesn't put bums on seats.”

In other words, as we all know, media portrayals of entrepreneurs aren’t an accurate representation of what being an owner manager is really like – they’re reality skewed to make good TV.

Most real-life entrepreneurs are consumed by a passion to develop a business idea and, very often, don't seek publicity. Most are modest, hard-working people for whom the financial rewards of running a business are secondary to the challenge and satisfaction of achieving growth and looking after their people and customers. An ego can get in the way of getting the job done.

Another finding to come out of the BIS research was that media portrayals are playing an educational role, with 40% of respondents saying programmes had shown them the practical steps to start a new business.

While watching an episode of Dragons’ Den wouldn’t give any one enough knowledge to write a successful business plan, the line of questioning would-be entrepreneurs are faced with in the Den is extremely relevant. Questions like: ‘What’s the USP of your product/service?’, ‘Are your cash projections realistic?’, ‘Who would purchase your product/service?’,‘Do you have accurate cost of sales, overhead and profit calculations?’ are all ones that an ambitious business owner should be able to answer. In addition, the presentation and negotiation skills needed to pitch to the Dragons are the same skills you'd need if you were approaching a business angel or venture capitalist for investment.

On the other hand, these shows give the impression that success is all about having a flashy idea for the mass market and they almost completely overlook business to business innovations. What they fail to convey is that it takes more than having the ‘dream’ and winning a talent show to build a successful business. It’s just that hard graft doesn’t make good viewing.

Maybe there’s an opportunity for one of the broadcasting companies (or an entrepreneur!) to create a show that will both educate and entertain, because with the current offerings, it seems entertainment value is prioritised over business content every time.

The bottom line is that there may be a few gems to take away from these shows, but you have to dredge through a lot of dross and then separate the genuine pearls of wisdom from the fake!

Thanks to the members of the Ambitious Owner Managers group on LinkedIn who contributed to a discussion which formed the basis for this article.

Watch the video below featuring model/singer Caprice Bourret, founder of 'By Caprice' lingerie discussing her trials and tribulations when starting her own business.


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