Start-up tips from the Scottish ‘dragon’

Entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, who owns a casino, hotels and a health club chain, gives his top tips for start-up success.

Entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, who owns a casino, hotels and health club chain Bannatyne Fitness, is one of five dragons', or judges, in the current BBC2 series Dragons' Den, in which aspiring entrepreneurs compete for funding for their business ideas. He grew up in a poor area of Glasgow and decided early on to make his fortune.

Bannatyne's first venture involved building up a fleet of ice cream vans in a bid to become king of the 99'. He then responded to a shortage of nursing homes by building one himself and developed successful businesses in healthcare and fitness. Writing in the Sunday Times, he offers the following tips on starting and running a business. They include:

Follow the trend and you're on to a winner: You don't need to patent anything or dream up a cutting-edge idea. Just spot the latest trends making sure the idea is at the beginning of its

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life cycle so the market won't be too cluttered and jump on the bandwagon. In Bannatyne's case, care homes were an obvious idea as the Government was offering financial support for the private sector to provide care. You can still put a unique spin on your venture, but do be aware that if the sector is being widely talked about, your idea is more likely to succeed.

Be a bit controversial: Tackle something with talk value, but make sure your idea is part of a trend and not a fad.

Look locally to recruit: Prepare a tight job specification and avoid expensive recruitment consultancies. A local approach provides the most dedicated staff check their track record before reviewing their CV. Someone made redundant after ten years in the same job beats a candidate who has got through ten jobs in five years. When you are down to the final 20, conduct short interviews and work out whether candidates are self confident through indicators such as eye contact. Lastly, and crucially, ask them what they know about your firm.

Market on a shoestring: Many start-ups blow a small fortune on fashionable marketing techniques, thus crippling the business before it even gets started. Decide exactly who you are targeting, and grow your business your own way. The best marketing method is to "work your existing customers". At Bannatyne's health clubs, an effective ploy has been to reward customers for recruiting their friends, family and work colleagues.

When it comes to advertising, think locally. A wrap-around in a free local paper is far better value than a small advertisement tucked away in a national newspaper. Make sure people notice your business if they walk by; a huge banner constitutes "free advertising every day". A good general rule is to pay attention to detail, as this creates quality, which in turn generates positive comment and boosts business.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.