Intrapreneur to Entrepreneur via The Apprentice

‘The Right Man with The Wrong Plan’ shares what he has learnt about finding and planning the business that will allow you to make a successful exit from the corporate world.

Neil Clough explains why becoming your own boss takes much more than an entrepreneurial mindset:


Like many ‘secret entrepreneurs’, at the age of 33, I was managing a large team of sales staff across the North of England and, after experiencing significant success throughout my career was preparing myself for the next natural step.

Photo Credit: livelaughlovetv.com
Photo Credit: livelaughlovetv.com

Although my next step in terms of action was becoming a candidate for BBC’s The Apprentice, it was, in principle, to become an entrepreneur.

In my preparation for the process, I asked myself two key questions which were:
What do entrepreneurs need?
What skills do entrepreneurs have?

Like many, I looked to the internet for the answers to all of these questions, and whilst my research was extensive, my answers were reasonably simply. Entrepreneurs need to be determined. They needed to be focused and have lots of self-belief and confidence. They needed to be prepared for ‘the journey’ and prepared to face and overcome challenges through sacrifice and skill. Skills for entrepreneurship boiled down largely to sales and leadership, and whilst there was information around innovation and big picture thinking, the critical elements were an understanding of business, an ability to manage others, and an ability to sell.

As someone experienced in managing P&Ls, business planning and strategy development, following the business plan template I found online was fairly simple and gave me the final piece of confidence I needed.

A gap in the market for an entrepreneurial mindset

My idea came from my personal experiences of being a landlord. I recognised a gap in the market for landlords to act as the sales agents and property managers for their own lettings so that estate agents fees could be significantly reduced. I felt confident that I, and my plan, ticked all the boxes. I knew I had a mindset for entrepreneurship and was confident my skills matched what was needed. I was off.

I was committed and passionate about my idea and like I had read about all good entrepreneurs, confident and determined to make it work. My idea was then tested, questioned and criticised in the boardroom, I remained true to my vision and stuck to my plan. My biggest learning here is to listen to others and not to become defensive about your work.

When Lord Sugar regretfully fired me as the right man with the wrong plan, I went back to my corporate job at Goals Soccer Centres and realised the huge amount of information I needed before I made the jump to independence.

Corporate structures can translate to transferable skills

Sahar Hashemi OBE, founder of Coffee Republic states that ‘the entrepreneurial mindset is not just for start-ups’. Whilst I believe this to be true, I would add that ‘corporate structures are not just for the corporate world’. The structures, processes, systems and training programmes that cause many of us to roll our eyes and face palm at our desks, are often the same things that ensure not only company success, but also success for us as individuals. These established and well considered processes often force us to be objective, ensure we reflect on our decisions and analyse and maintain effective business performance. The training programmes, and sometimes slow progression, ensure we follow a beneficial career path rather than leaving everything we know and have worked for, for something we are passionate about and believe in.

Nearly a year after my apprentice experience, I am launching my own business and this time know it is the ‘right plan’. NWC Consultancy offers sales training and consultancy to both startups and corporate organisations and I will look to teach both what they can learn from the other.

In your rush to escape the corporate world and reveal your ‘secret entrepreneur’ identity, don’t forget all the value, wisdom and success the corporate world has brought to you.