As one of Lord Sugar’s trusted advisers on The Apprentice, Linda Plant has seen a fair few business plans. Known on the show as ‘the Queen of Mean’, the Leeds-born businesswoman has made a name for herself for the no-nonsense way she grills the candidates on their business proposals.
But it’s not just the ‘final five’ who can now benefit from Plant’s guidance, for she has recently launched the Linda Plant Academy to support the next generation of entrepreneurs at a time of immense national need. Plant wrote the online business blueprint course, which launches this month, during lockdown.
She says: “I had been planning to write a business course for a few years, but felt that during these times it was really needed.”
The Academy comprises four other products: feedback on your business idea, a business plan template, a critique of your CV and a critique of your business plan. There is also the Linda Plant Blueprint Business Club, where members will have access to monthly Zoom Q&A sessions with Plant, who will give talks on “all things business”, alongside guest speakers. Subscription for founder members is currently on offer for £20 a month.
Self-made Plant, who has survived three different crises, knows how hard it is to compete in such a tough job market.
“We are going to be in challenging times and I think I am a good person to help. I traded in the three-day week, which most people won’t remember. And I was trading when the dollar fell to $1.05, and then the 2008 financial crisis. I felt that I could write a business course for everybody –not people who want graphs, charts and jargon – but the true grit of business. I can speak from authentic experiences.”
Leaving school at 16 without any qualifications, Plant built her career from humble beginnings. She progressed quickly from selling fashion from a Leeds market stall to launching her international knitwear brand, Honeysuckle, when she met Lord Sugar; they would see each other in the Far East for business and have known each other for more than 25 years.
Honeysuckle later floated on the London Stock Exchange. Today, the former Northern Businesswoman of the Year runs a successful property development and interior design business.
According to official statistics, around 730,000 people have lost their jobs in the UK since lockdown began in March, in the largest quarterly slump in employment since 2009, and economists predict a wave of unemployment as the government’s job retention scheme is gradually wound down by October.
“There is no guarantee of job security in this market. Your CV and business plan need to be in the best shape possible,” she advises.
“You must start your CV strong. People lose attention. I don’t like anything too long – it’s boring. In the first chapter, get across what you are about, what your strengths are, and then always tailor it to the job you are going after.”
As for stand-out business plans, she says: “Well, there are plenty of awful ones. Someone on The Apprentice might have a current business making £20,000 – £30,000 a year, but they will write something like: ‘With Lord Sugar’s investment, I will make £1.5 million’.
“I like to say ‘dream big but be realistic’. I have seen a lot of ‘pie in the sky’ plans. The backbone of them can be good, but they need guidance.”
She adds: “A stand-out one is one that isn’t too long, captures your attention, is a good idea and has real potential. It doesn’t matter if there are a few mistakes or you get some figures wrong; if the idea has potential and the vision is realistic, you can make something of it.”
In her course, Plant says business plans should be no more than 10 pages. “I’ve had ones in The Apprentice that have been 90 pages – and 85 of them you can throw in the bin.”
Win a session with Linda!
In an exclusive Jewish News Down to Business Competition, in collaboration with Linda Plant, we are giving readers the opportunity to have their business plans critiqued by Linda via a 30-minute Zoom session. Readers (aged 21 and over) are invited to send their business plans into Jewish News. Three will be selected Send entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline: 1 October 2020
Covid prevented production this year, but it would have been Plant’s sixth Apprentice series after Lord Sugar brought her in to his inner circle of advisers alongside fellow Jewish business figures Claude Littner and Claudine Collins.
“Lord Sugar probably wants advisers who can relate to him. Although the average age of The Apprentice viewers is between 18 and 40, I guess he doesn’t want a 30-year-old advising him. He wants someone who has been on a business journey like him.”
When it comes to her persona as the ‘Queen of Mean’, she says: “My brief from Lord Sugar was he wanted someone to dig deep, expose the weaknesses and look at the business plan side.
“The show is edited so it looks like I might not give anyone a chance to answer.
“But what people have to understand is when I come across as the ‘Queen of Mean’, yes I am ‘mean’ with Lord Sugar’s money. There’s £250,000 going into an idea so we have to make sure the investment is as safe as it can be.
“I don’t like waffle and I don’t like bulls***. Let’s get to the facts and the main nitty gritty.”
My brief from Lord Sugar was he wanted someone to dig deep, expose the weaknesses and look at the business plan side.
A regular agony aunt on the BBC’s Your Money and Your Life, Plant believes the crisis could foster a new breed of entrepreneurs.
“Disney came out of the 1929 crash. In the 2008 crash, Airbnb was born. And FedEx was born out of a recession, so out of tough times, can come great things.
“People might be forced to try something, either alongside their current job, or if they are not working. If you’ve got an idea, I would say ‘have a go’, because if I wouldn’t have had a go…”
A mother to three boys, Plant feels privileged to be able to use her success to help others. “I have been lucky in my business life and want to give back.”
Active within the Jewish community, Plant is a member of St John’s Wood Synagogue. She helped found The Lion of Judah – a philanthropic sisterhood of women across the globe – supports UJIA and Chai Cancer Care, among other charities. “I am very proud to be Jewish, but also know that in these times we have to support businesses and local communities,” she explains.
Is it more about the person or the idea when it comes to a successful business? “Both. And it’s both for Lord Sugar. If the idea is great but the person isn’t, you can’t invest. But I would say that the person has to be attached to the idea; they might be a bit quirky, but that’s alright.
“If the person is fabulous, but the idea isn’t that good, you can still have a chance, but you really need the combination of both. And charisma. Charisma takes you a long way in life. It’s taken politicians everywhere.”
Win a session with Linda!
In an exclusive Jewish News Down to Business Competition, in collaboration with Linda Plant, we are giving readers the opportunity to have their business plans critiqued by Linda via a 30-minute Zoom session. Readers (aged 21 and over) are invited to send their business plans into Jewish News. Three will be selected.
Send entries to: email@example.com
Deadline: 1 October 2020