Web design a big issue for The Apprentice

Web design a big issue for The Apprentice

This year’s series of The Apprentice, more than any other, showed the importance of websites and online marketing in the business world. The BBC series, now in its twelfth year, is known for weeding out contestants who can’t hack it in the corporate world each week, before selecting an eventual winner to be Lord Sugar’s apprentice (or business partner, as it became a few years ago).

Leading businessmen and women, accompanied by some people who seem to just want a bit of publicity for their own brand of idiocy, are whittled down over each episode before five remain to face the grilling interview process. During these interviews, the candidates’ business plans are pored over in fine detail, and any mistake they’ve ever made in the process, or during their entire lives, is exposed for the excited viewing audience to sneer at and for the candidate to defend.

During these interviews, the subject of websites was an important one. Joint winner Sarah Lynn received some scathing criticism from Lord Sugar’s aides due to her online presence not being effective, and Final Five contestant Michaela Wain’s whole business plan revolved around an online service delivered by a website.

Sarah’s business plan was to expand her existing sweet gifting service, where she sourced retro sweets wholesale and packaged them up as gifts to be purchased via the website. She explained in the interviews how she wanted to be seen as the ‘go to’ brand for sweet gifts, in much the same manner as Interflora is for flowers and Thorntons is for chocolates.

However, the subject of her existing website proved a sticking point. Despite being in business already for several years, Sarah explained how she had held off investing in a suitable ecommerce system because she was waiting, presumably, for the time to be right. Perhaps she meant for Lord Sugar’s investment. Perhaps she meant only when her turnover reached a certain point. Whatever the reason, her website was described as being very poor, and even unusable in places. Claude Littner, Lord Sugar’s chief griller, stated the website simply “didn’t work” when he tried to use it.

This oversight from Sarah, ultimately, didn’t cost her the investment as she was selected as the first ever joint-winner of The Apprentice along with James White. It could, and probably should, have been costlier for her however – especially with rival Michaela appearing such a strong candidate.

Sarah’s new brand, Sweets in the City, is a change to the one she ‘launched’ on The Apprentice final on Sunday night. The website for Sweets in the City is a WooCommerce one on a WordPress platform, which doesn’t represent a huge investment for a business purporting to turnover in excess of £400,000. So why didn’t Sarah have a decent website before applying for The Apprentice? The lack of a proper website almost cost her the investment, and it’s such a simple thing to correct.

Michaela appeared to be Sarah’s main rival throughout the process, and looked favourite to reach the final, yet fell at the last hurdle as Lord Sugar reduced his candidates down to the final three. Michaela was labelled a ‘serial entrepreneur’ even though, by her own admission, she didn’t know what that meant. Michaela’s business plan revolved around creating a website where tradesman, such as builders, plumbers, electricians etc., could register and receive updates on tenders for large building projects. Michaela explained how she had two main competitors and, through her other businesses (turning over upwards for £4m), she had used both competitors herself and knew of their strengths and weaknesses.

Michaela’s knowledge of the industry, what the clients were looking for and how the offering could be improved upon meant she had her USP (unique selling point) and thus knew how to differentiate her business from her competitors. The potential for her business was far greater in terms of turnover than any of her rivals in the boardroom, and her track record for success meant she knew how to follow through with her idea.

When you compared Michaela with James and Sarah, it seems a total mystery that she not only didn’t win the competition, but failed to even make the final. James, the other joint winner, was a recruitment consultant who wanted to set up his own recruitment business – in much the same way as previous winner Ricky Martin. There was nothing unique about his business offering, but it was something Lord Sugar knew very well having already invested in a successful business with a previous winner. Sarah’s business, meanwhile, had already been running several years and had only reached a turnover of £400,000.

The Spurs-supporting business mogul has received a swath of comments from angry Apprentice fans on Twitter, following his decision to fire Michaela in favour of her two less-experienced rivals. With his decision then to invest in both finalists, a first for the series, he received even more ‘feedback’ for his decision making.

One thing is for certain, Michaela’s website for her new business, once launched, will need to be a very impressive one indeed.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.

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