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Secret Millionaire

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                                                        No. 167 - June 2009

Secret Millionaire
Channel 4's Secret Millionaire Gill Fielding on
why the recession is a great opportunity for
small firms to win a slice of the action from
the big boys.

Why small firms should embrace
the new flexible working rules

Why you and your staff
are your business brand

Is something holding you back?

Motivate the staff who survive the cuts

Secret Millionaire shares
her formula for success
       here has never been a better time to                   Gill Fielding is one of Channel 4’s Secret
T      start a business, according to Gill
       Fielding, one of Channel 4’s Secret
                                                              Millionaires, and what she doesn’t know
                                                              about running a business isn’t worth
   And she should know. This self-made                        knowing. Richard Reed caught up with her.
businesswoman left school at 16, where her teachers
thought she was “hopeless”.
   Some 40 years later, Gill is a self-made millionaire
many times over, with multiple businesses and homes,
and need never work again.
   But business is in her blood and for the past 12
years she has run The Wealth Company, offering
mentoring and advice to entrepreneurs and business
   Gill says that tough start was just what she needed.
   “I was born in the East End of London with
absolutely nothing – no money, no support, no
education – but what that gave me was the freedom to
love money,” she says.
   “It’s something I think every child starts with in life,
but most get it knocked out of them through education
and social pressure – our whole education system
seems to be determined to stop children being

First house at 19
Gill even used to save money in a sock, and that habit
of looking after her pennies was to stand her in good
stead. When she was 18 she started investing in shares,
and she eventually saved enough to buy her first house
when she was 19.
    “I decided I wanted to get myself educated, and
having no money I had to work very hard doing three
or four jobs and managed to buy a house so I could go
to university.”
    She bought the house in 1977 for £7,490, and when
she left university three years later she sold it for
£30,000. It was effectively her first property
    Gill went on to qualify as a chartered accountant
with Price Waterhouse in London, and many high-
profile positions followed in the City, including a spell
as chief executive of a financial services group.
    She married, then in 1997 she had her first baby and
decided a lifestyle change was in order.
    “Once I had got a bit of sleep and got a nanny on
board, I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I looked at a
spreadsheet and realised I didn’t ever need to work           I had knowledge that could be of service to people.
again. I was flabbergasted I was a millionaire. So I’ve           “I think one of the things about being an entrepreneur is having a
spent my time from then to now showing other people           winning idea. It was in my head. All I had to do was get it out of my
how to do it.                                                 head into books, into courses, and everybody could have it.
    “I realised that if I could do it, everybody could do         “I think all entrepreneurs get that ‘lightbulb’ moment when they
it. When you realise your product or your service is          think, ‘I’ve got a fantastic product here and it’s a winner and I believe
good, you think, ‘I can sell this to everybody’. I realised   in it.’

Better Business No 167                                   % 0191 461 8000                                 11

   “I had a friend who had a magazine           to go and talk about it. I’m passionate        write a business plan. She will also offer
called the Achiever and I started to write      about the mission of what I’m doing.”          advice on “where you go when you get
articles saying, ‘This is what I do with my        As well as her mentoring service, Gill      29 rejections for money”.
money’. In starting to do that I realised I     also offers weekend courses at £199 a              But despite the recession – or rather,
was unusual. I’m not afraid of money, I         day, and there are plenty of free              precisely because of it – Gill thinks this is
love money – I think it’s funny, I think it’s   resources on her website.                      the perfect time to start a business.
sexy, I think it’s powerful. I don’t have          When we spoke, Gill was preparing               “I’ve been sitting here today thinking
any hang-ups about it.                          for a course in business basics, aiming to     of all the fantastic business ideas there
   “Because I had this accountancy and          show people how to take their gem of an        are when the economy is at rock bottom.
business background, it was a natural fit       idea, create a business structure and          It’s very exciting,” she says.

Why it’s a great time for business
Why is Gill Fielding so excited about                                                              “What the M&S food store has done
business opportunities when there are
so many doom mongers around?
                                                ‘You can come in                               is react to the market psyche – the fear
                                                                                               of a swine flu pandemic – and come up
    She likens the business cycle to a
bicycle. “The front wheel is about
                                                from underneath                                with a 99p bottle of hand gel the size of
                                                                                               a thimble, and everyone was buying one
understanding the market you’re in,” she
says. “The other wheel is your individual
                                                and take market                                at the checkout instead of a KitKat or
                                                                                               something. That’s brilliant market
business – your ideas and how you               share from the big                             positioning – it’s just extraordinary.”
create it. The two wheels have to go
round for the business to go forward.”          companies’                                     Escapism and making do
    She says business opportunities come                                                       Gill says another opportunity thrown up
when the wheels are in different                                                               by the recession is cashing in on the
positions.                                      dictated to by head office, or carrying        nostalgia boom.
    “For example, at the moment the             overheads such as personnel or                     “We know that when times are
wheel on the macro economy is at the            centralised order functions.                   tough, people buy a lipstick and a new
bottom, and generally industry is going             “When you are in a contraction phase       hat. There is no reduction in sales of
through a contraction phase. What that          in the economy people don’t want the           electronic games, and cinema attendance
means is that big companies are cutting         bells and whistles, they want the basic        is up.
their overheads like topsy.                     option, the cheap version. And, of                 “You can’t afford a holiday, you can’t
    “That tends to impact customer care.        course, it’s much easier for a small           afford a new house, so you get a lipstick.
Whereas in the past you have not been           company to provide the basic option            People do something to cheer
able to compete against a big company,          than ever it is for a big company to take      themselves up. So any business that can
now you can because you offer much              the bells and whistles off, because by         turn its basic product range into
better customer care, you offer a much          doing that you are immediately denting         something that hits one of those buttons
more competitive price, because you’re          your customer care perception.”                will succeed.
not carrying a big overhead, and thirdly                                                           “Again, we know that shoe repairs
the customers are aware of all the              Product diversification                        have gone through the roof, clothes
media talk about the recession and they         Product diversification is the next part of    repairs, computer repairs.
are specifically looking for cheaper            Gill’s mantra for success. “In times like          “People aren’t having a new website
alternatives.                                   these the customer will buy the cheapest       design, they are getting someone in to
    “You can come in from underneath            version,” she says.                            tweak their old system. So if you’re a
and take market share from the big                  “For instance if you are a cake-maker      web design business, stop trying to flog
companies.”                                     and you make wedding cakes and                 new sites to people, because that’s going
    Gill cites the example of the biggest       birthday cakes, the customer may not be        to be tough at the moment, and offer to
retail casualty of the recession so far,        able to afford the wedding cake – but          add an extra page and a make-do-and-
Woolworth’s – and how the manager of            you can sell them the recipe. They will        mend option.”
one former branch in Dorchester,                still come back to you in six months’              Gill quotes research by Saga which
Dorset has used her entrepreneurial flair       time when people realise we’re OK, but         shows that 54% of people are currently
to reopen the shop as Wellworth’s,              in the meantime you have been able to          buying reduced price food, 71% are using
selling similar products, but more in tune      sell them something extra.”                    leftovers, 50% are mending their own
with local needs.                                   Gill says it’s also important to be able   clothes and 29% are growing their own
    It’s something she is going to use on       to respond quickly to events, and              veg. She says it’s a typical consumer
her business course. “I’m going to look         changing public perceptions.                   psyche reaction to what people are being
at Woolworth’s and Wellworth’s and                  Perhaps surprisingly, Gill says she saw    told about the economy.
what the differences are, and how,              a perfect example at Marks & Spencer’s             “If you know that, you immediately
because Woolworth’s created a void,             recently. “I came into Gatwick and             bring out a recipe for using leftover food,
another business can come in where the          popped into M&S to get something for           you immediately bring out a container
vacuum is.                                      my daughter’s tea, and at the checkout,        for storing leftover food. You react to
    “Wellworth’s can react to the specific      instead of sweets, there were little pots      the market panic,” she says.
location they are in. They are not              of antibacterial hand gel and tissues.             “People feel the pressure of the

12                                     % 0191 461 8000                                   Better Business No 167

economy and they go back to the fridge        get a hat-shaped business card, but we          ups, but says if you are trying to raise
and eat bangers and mash. So if you are       don’t need a hat-shaped business card to        cash, you have to approach it correctly.
a purveyor of foodstuff, start selling        flog a hat.                                         “People just don’t get the money
comfort food.                                    “The second thing they do which is a         thing. People don’t realise there are
   “People feel out of control. They          fundamental mistake is they don’t               different types of business plan. If you
worry they could be made redundant at         research their competition. What I say          are writing a business plan for the bank,
any time and they are beginning to twig       to people is this: this hat shop – fantastic    it will be different from one you write as
their pensions are not very secure.”          idea; who is your competition?                  a directional tool.
                                                 “They say, we haven’t got any. I                 “You need to be persistent and go the
Common problems                               immediately go to the web and click on          extra mile if you need to raise finance.”
So what are the common issues Gill            ‘hat shops in Surbiton’. I come up with             As a former accountant, it’s perhaps
encounters among business start-ups           53 different options, and I say, ‘What          not surprising that Gill believes cashflow
through her work as a business mentor?        about these people? Have you visited            is critical, particularly in the current
   She says most of the problems in the       them, have you tried to buy a hat from          climate.
early days are generated by “delusions of     them, have you gone to look at what                 “Cash is king, cash is queen, cash is
grandeur”. “I get people coming to me         stock they have, are you aware of their         everything. You have got to have
and they say, ‘I’ve got this fantastic idea   pricing levels, are you aware of where          cashflow,” she says.
for a business.’ I say, ‘OK, show me your     they market? Where do they sell, where
business plan.’                               do their customers come from?’                  Tips for business advisers
   “They may or may not have a business          “People get too emotionally attached         Gill has special advice for business
plan – in the main, they don’t – but they     to their idea – they can’t possibly believe     advisers. “My analogy is about taking
come at it the wrong way. Let’s say           somebody else has had the same idea.”           your clients on a journey. As an
someone comes to me and they say,                                                             accountant, people have to come to you.
‘We’ve got this idea for a hat shop; will     Identify your customers                         But first of all you have to make sure
you invest in hat shop, and will you give     Another common problem Gill                     you are in the same car as them when
us some guidance?’                            encounters is a failure to identify their       you set off and make sure they’re on
   “So I say, ‘What have you got done         typical customer – because unless you           board.
already?’ “And they say, ‘Well, we’ve         know your customer, you can’t market                “You’ve got to get the connection.
found a business card in the shape of a       to them successfully.                           You have to identify closely with the
hat, and it’s really funny. I’m going to          “I always say to them, ‘Who is your         client. Gone are the days when you can
have a red one and Sally’s going to have      customer?’ and they say ‘everybody’.            sit the other side of a great big desk and
a blue one. And when we researched on         And I say, ‘It’s going to be pretty difficult   impress the client, because the client
the internet we found a hat-shaped desk,      to market to everybody. We’ve got to            isn’t having that any more.
which we’re going to put in the corner,       bring it down a bit more than that – is it          “Show them the route, identify where
and we’ve even found some hat-shaped          a man, is it a woman, are they white, are       you can take them, show them a very
hooks to put the hats on. Isn’t that          they black, who are they?’                      specific, targeted plan, and show how
marvellous?’                                      “I get them to say exactly who the          you can get there together.
   “You can see immediately what the          customer is. I even get them to name                “There is no substitute for walking the
problem is. They don’t concentrate on         names – ‘Is it Carol Vorderman, is it           walk and talking the talk. The closer you
the business, which is getting a customer     Ruby Wax, who does it look like?’ Once          can get to your client the better.”
through the door and selling them a hat.      you know, you can immediately start
   “People sit round in the pub and have      marketing to them.”                             Future plans
this idea about being Duncan Bannatyne            Gill says she always takes a ‘Who is        When it comes to the future, this self-
and approach it from the wrong end. [It       it?’ card game when she carries out             made millionaire is still very much on a
should be] ‘Let’s see if we’ve got a          business consultancy work. “I say, ‘OK I        mission. “I want to tell everybody in the
marketplace here, let’s see if we can find    want you to show me what your                   world they can be wealthy if they choose
a customer here and then flog them a          customer looks like.’                           to,” says Gill.
hat. If we can flog a hat, maybe we can           “I did this with one woman once and            She has written a book to be
                                              she left out what looked like a random          published this autumn about why people
                                              selection of people. Normally I can spot        are financially successful – looking back
         Gill’s top tips                      a common link and then I can do a               in history to the Babylonians and the
 DO                                           marketing plan but I couldn’t see the link.     Romans, and travelling the world
 4 Look at the opportunities being                “I said, ‘Why have you left them out?’      interviewing people. She won’t reveal
 created by the recession.                    and she didn’t know. She said, ‘They are        more, so if you want to learn her secrets
 4 Be prepared to diversify and think on      the only people that I think look funky.’       you’ll have to wait! v
 your feet if orders start dropping.          Of course, once you know the word
 4 Identify your customers.                   funky, you can immediately create a
 4 Check out the competition.                 marketing plan – you know where your
 4 Look after your cash – good cashflow       positioning is in the marketplace, you                                            Infobank
 is critical to your survival.                know it’s got to be edgy, you know it’s                                          Gill Fielding
 DON’T                                        got to be off the wall.”                                                The Wealth Company
 5 Start believing your own hype.                                                                                            PO Box 4573
 5 Get distracted from the real issue –       Finance and cashflow                                                     Worthing BN11 9AP
 finding a market for your product or         Raising cash, of course, is a perennial                                   %   0845 869 9579
 service and then selling it.                 problem. She believes organic growth is                    
                                              probably the best route for most start-          

Better Business No 167                                 % 0191 461 8000                                    13

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