Planning is the key to success

Entrepreneur and investor Theo Paphitis shares his tips for succeeding in the current economic climate, and tells us why he's teaming up with the Bank to help UK businesses

Theo Paphitis came to most people's attention through the gladiatorial environment of the Dragons' Den. But while that is all about investing money and proving that a business can make money, this is not Paphitis' central goal in life.

"I don't get out of bed in the morning to go and make money. I can't wait to bounce out of bed and get on with the business of the day," he says.

Indeed, that passion comes across whenever he talks about business; be it his own, or wider investment opportunities. So what does he think of the state of UK business at the moment?

"It is alive and well and still kicking. Should it do better? Yes it should. So what are we going to do about it? That's the six million dollar question. We've got to be realistic about where we find ourselves and adapt our business plans to the economy. And UK business has to plan for the long-term. If it does, it will emerge much stronger," he says.

Paphitis points to export being the seed from which British business can grow, but he also thinks businesses need to adjust to changing markets.

"UK business grew from being international traders but we don't export anywhere near as much as we used to. Service has become a big part of our business, which has struggled. We do need to learn new skills. The way that we do business, how we interact, how we shop and live our lives is changing at a rapid rate. Digital technology is making the world a much smaller place; I can reach markets and customers I could have never dreamed of reaching before. But my competitors can do that also," he adds.

So what is his advice for businesses operating in this climate? "You've got to look at your cost bases. It's something I hate doing. I don't like cutting back my staff, I don't like cutting things I think encourage people to work for me, but you need to look at these things," he explains.

Paphitis' passion for business and helping others set up businesses extends beyond his TV work. He has joined forces with The Bank to launch Smarta Business Builder, a package aimed at providing businesses with the tools they need to get started.

"I get so frustrated at how many businesses fail. And the reason most of them fail is that they don't put in the infrastructure required to launch a business. People don't want to do boring things, but you have to make sure you've got your accounting, legal, and website tools in place. Because why would you want to compete on a level playing field? I don't, I want to stack the cards in my favour. The only way I'm going to do that is by making sure I've done my planning, I've got the right tools and above all I'm monitoring myself and not over-egging what I can achieve.

"Smarta Business Builder has everything a small business needs. From there you get your professional email address and transactional ecommerce website and most important of all, it has all the accountancy packaging you require to monitor your business and cash flow."

When Paphitis talks about business, be it the importance of good customer service or his experiences of turning round failing businesses he repeatedly refers to the importance of listening.

"It's not about me telling my customers what they should have; it's about listening to what they would like. We need to learn to listen to our customers and then deliver what they want. It's not always possible to give them everything, but we do need to give our customers a good experience."

Paphitis' latest business, Boux Avenue, takes him back to the familiar territory of women's lingerie (he is reported to have made £100 million selling global chain, La Senza) and he shows no embarrassment enthusing about ladies' underwear.

"I thought it would be nice to invest long term in a new lingerie chain that involves all the aspects of lingerie that I love: design, comfort, experience and the ability to interact with the customer and give them what they want."

And so it is with his distinctive mix of charm and business guile, Theo Paphitis continues on his journey, doing business for himself, as well as helping others along the way.

July 2011