2016 winner of The Apprentice, Alana Spencer, explains why last night’s final was the closest one she had ever seen
Even up to the last moments in the boardroom I wasn’t sure who would win. Sian and Camilla have completely proven themselves throughout the series and their business plans were nearly just as good, as Lord Sugar said himself. However, last night shows that even if a candidate’s business will face tougher challenges and a fiercer market than the other finalist, Lord Sugar cares more their ability to deal with the hurdles than the hurdles themselves.
To prove that, Sian and Camilla had one last chance to revamp and pitch their businesses to Lord Sugar based on his advice. Camilla was told to move her nut milk business away from the kind of sexy marketing she used as project manager of the Christmas chocolates task. I follow her on social media and her raunchy brand outside The Apprentice is actually spot on and works well. But last night, she went so far away from that image that it wasn’t really her brand anymore. That’s because candidates are so easily influenced by what they think people want to see. Even when I was in there, Lord Sugar said “I want to see how you can scale this up” before my final business pitch, so that was constantly in the back of my mind and I decided to redo my brand. I’m not very good at branding to be honest, so I relied on one of my team members and it was awful. But the next day I came up with what I actually wanted to go for and it was one of those “you’ve got two hours to make a logo – quick, quick” situations.
That’s also what happened to Sian and her swimwear company. Similarly, her branding didn’t capture her business at all in another one of those moments where it’s all a rush and you forget exactly what you’re trying to do. Again, looking at social media outside the show, Sian uses her own name in her brand title which is actually what a lot of big designers do and definitely gives the impression she sells luxury items. But when she had the chance to incorporate that last night she panicked and instead called her business SYO. It was terrible and doesn’t do her business justice. But again, you’re given these expectations on the final task and a lot of candidates do things out of character to meet them. Having said that, their turnarounds were actually quite impressive, even if they didn’t resemble their original plans.
Fortunately, the marketing can all be changed if Lord Sugar doesn’t like it. The products and their USPs, however, less so. Camilla, for instance, decided to have a high 15% nut content in her products to stand out, which the experts at her presentation said massively increased costs and lowered margins. But really, that kind of expensive decision depends how delicious the product is. If it’s going to blow minds like 100% of those surveyed said it did, then it’s definitely a sensible thing to do. However, you have to know exactly how much better that makes it and gain a clear concept to pitch, which can be really hard. When I went in there I was making my cakes for about 14 years, so I knew every single ingredient and how much they cost. It’s only when I won and went to a bakery that everything changed and got even more expensive. Camilla, on the other hand, did the reverse.
It definitely risks putting buyers off and Lord Sugar stressed Camilla had to entice retailers more than anything. However, considering she made her products with a nine-month expiry date, she was definitely on the right track. That’s because shelf life is everything to retailers. Supermarkets want stock to last about a year without throwing anything out and the closest you can get to that year the better. But it’s hard and sometimes means you need to sacrifice what makes the product special.
Sian had even more of a challenge by trying to prove she can stand in such a saturated swimwear market. But although she was criticised for saying she will go from 400 products a year to 17,000 in a really competitive industry, it’s actually highly achievable. After all, you’ve got to be ambitious in business, especially if you're in that show. Although, Sian’s hopes are probably a bit unrealistic if you’re coming at it as someone without Lord Sugar’s guidance and £250,000 investment.
Above all, Sian needed to convince Lord Sugar she’d get the orders in with her USP of customisable swimwear with interchangeable patterns. Personally, I find USPs as quite hard to come up with, because you can’t claim you’re going to change the world. Instead, you just have to be the best at what you do a lot of the time and I think Sian is. From watching her create that swimming costume design in about an hour, I really think she’s going to be one of the best. It was pretty amazing to watch her just grab a bit of paper and draw it so quickly.
Watching this series as a viewer, I think that was the closest final I’ve ever seen. Camilla’s nut milk market is definitely emerging and easier to get into than swimwear, so it would have been a sensible choice. But really, Sian was incredibly level-headed throughout the show and proved she knows exactly what she wants from her business with answers at her fingertips. Ultimately, that makes her the right winner. That’s not to say Camilla isn’t level-headed, she’s just so young and doesn’t have the complete picture of where she wants to take her three-month young business yet.
Really, either of them would have been a completely worthy winner. If Lord Sugar could do another double investment like he did in 2017, this would have been the year to do it. Although, I’m not sure if the BBC would have allowed that. But ultimately, Lord Sugar’s investing in someone who’s going to be really successful and has something very exciting in the pipeline. Now, if Sian ever needs advice from fellow The Apprentice winners to grow her brand, we’re always happy to give some.