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Linda Plant is well-known for her no-nonsense business counsel on BBC’s The Apprentice, as one of Lord Sugar’s trusted advisors in the interview stage. With years of business experience under her belt after having built a successful fashion business from scratch, Linda has recently launched The Linda Plant Academy and the Business Blueprint Club to impart her knowledge and expertise to the next generation of business owners. At HW Fisher, we’re specialists in providing business support services to a wide range of clients from start-ups to established businesses, through our Business Solutions arm. We brought together Simon Michaels, one of our Partners who specialises in working with small businesses, and Linda Plant to share their best insights for businesses in 2021.
How did you begin your career, and what is one of your professional highlights?
Linda: I began my career on a market stall with my parents at ten years old. This one outdoor stall turned into fourteen stalls in indoor markets across Yorkshire that led me to set up a wholesale business which then led to an importing business, Honeysuckle Fashions. For twenty-five years this was my main business, with offices in Leeds, London and Hong Kong.
I also co-founded an electronics company and then onto my current businesses which are property and interior design solutions.
My professional highlights are that without a single qualification I went from a market stall to floating a company on the stock market and becoming Lord Sugar’s Advisor for the final 5 on BBC 1’s “The Apprentice”.
Simon: After graduating with a maths degree and not really certain of where to go or what to do, I took a job in a small accountancy practice in Brighton. I had great mentors who set me on the road of working with SME’s/owner managed businesses. After returning to London and joining PWC for a while, I then stepped out of practice into commerce. I am now firmly back in practice sharing all those things I learnt in the corporate world – both good and bad.
Professional highlights have to be starting my own businesses and being at the forefront of that success – watching not only the business grow but helping your team to flourish and be part of that success.
Covid-19 has been a big challenge for businesses across all industries. What has made the difference for businesses that have been able to weather the crisis?
Linda: The lockdown as a result of Covid 19 meant that many businesses have had to close and furlough their staff. Existing businesses have had to think outside the box and see if they can adapt to meet consumer demand and new ways of working and selling during a pandemic. Online business have been able to benefit from the closure of High St stores. Some restaurants have been able to pivot and offer take away services, allowing them to cover part of their overheads. New businesses have emerged from seeing a gap in the market and being able to get established, and then operate in innovative ways.
Simon: Each industry has faced their own challenges, but ultimately surplus cash has been a driving force across all businesses. Cash has always been king but never before has it been so important to so many. Some businesses have been able to access Government support which has enabled them to come through many months of hardship, but it’s important to understand that support is stage 1 and stage 2 and beyond is how you survive and grow post-pandemic.
Tell us about some of the top trends you have been following in the past year – is there something that business leaders should be aware of?
Linda: I have been monitoring the pharmaceutical and health care sectors and I feel that there is lots of room for expansion in this industry. I have also been closely following residential property growth, as people will continue to work from home and many will follow a hybrid system. I think that the residential market will continue to grow but fear that commercial property will decline as office space is in less demand.
Simon: I have closely watched the job market and the attitude of how people have worked in the past, currently work and will want to work in the future. The ability to work remotely can no longer be questioned – many businesses have successfully navigated this way of working. The challenge ahead for business leaders is to learn how to drive success and manage remotely – it’s the balancing act between micro-management and positive engagement.
What has been the greatest lesson you have learned working with businesses through Covid-19?
Linda: My belief is that, with or without the pandemic, the make-up of the High St would have inevitably changed due to the growth of online buying. The pandemic has meant that what would have probably happened in three to five years has now happened in nine months. It is admirable the way that some businesses have pivoted – the move to online have enabled many businesses to not only continue but also given them the opportunity to reach global markets digitally.
My personal experience during this pandemic has been in launching my online training academy. I have had to learn new skills and adapt to a new way of working but it has been extremely enjoyable.
Simon: I have seen how both people and businesses are extremely adaptable and can change far quicker than one would think – however for this to work businesses must “plan for rainy days.” The importance of cash management, flexibility and planning have been the difference in surviving through the pandemic.
What is one piece of advice you would give to businesses planning for 2021?
Linda: Be flexible, be adaptable, look at what is thriving and surviving now and see if your business can adapt to the new climate.
Simon: Be realistic and agile. Think about your fixed vs variable costs and budget not only profitability but cash flow needs as well. Be ready to downside your business in times of adversity but equally capable of growing when the opportunity arises.
What is the most common mistake you’ve seen businesses make, and how can this be avoided?
Linda: Not adapting to current trends in this ever-changing world. Look towards the future and don’t let the old way of doing things hold you back.
Simon: Expanding too quickly, with little thought given to integration of new businesses and divisions. The ‘chase’ of new business, growth and acquisitions is fun and exhilarating but management must take stock of what they have and ensure that business infrastructure and their management team can cope with the change and expansion.
Not seeing finance/back office support as an investment. Too often management see this as a cost with no return-on-investment. Early investment in this area pays for itself in the long-term, helping business owners avoid some of the pitfalls as the business grows.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Linda: I have had a few. When the going gets tough – persevere, if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the lottery and never open your own manufacturing unit, always sub-contract!
Simon: Be proud of what you have achieved. We all start at different places, so look at your journey not others and realise continued success will come from an even further destination.
Access support for your business with The Linda Plant Academy and contact Simon Michaels for a no-obligation discussion about our full range of services for businesses.