GUEST BLOG: Dickie Wilkinson gets down to business

I had, I believed, prepared for boot camp most thoroughly. Shirts pressed, suits steamed and bowtie primped to perfection. Oh you may groan at one's foppish frivolities but such an image is not entirely without strategy.

In a roomful of creative people striving to catch the attention of the distinguished Doug Richard and network with the great and good, I ask: Whom are you going to remember, the dandy or the drab?

Indeed 'telling a story' or having a 'brand image' is a fundamental business strategy in this day and age as everyone tries to follow in Ms Gaga's wake. At S4CS we discussed this a lot in terms of 'the proposition' or 'what do you do that your customers need or want'?

I certainly knew what I needed as reached once more for the coffee pot, regretting that my hip flask remained at home on the campaign desk.

There were a huge variety of business propositions, which I will write about over the coming weeks. However, the overarching similarity was our fear, as 'creative types',  of being boxed in, being committed to projects that would limit our artistic temperament. This fear had led to us all espousing free-flowing, world-changing but ultimately unfocussed ideas. Once again the cold sobriety of real business made my dreams of languid luncheons and effortless success seem all too unrealistic.

At least many of those attendees who were looking at fashion/design-based businesses were in the same boat as myself: a sample collection; an unknown brand; needing orders to pay for production; looking to develop relationships with manufacturers.

Mr Richard emphasised how vital it was that a business must do one thing well and to focus on that one thing. He used a military analogy, explaining how an army must first seize and hold one territory before attempting to venture into others.

Fleetingly I imagined an army of well-tailored Dickies led by General Doug, brandishing our cufflinks while we fended off hordes of cheap, novelty imports, exhorted on to better and greater things by our lion-hearted leader.

It may surprise you to learn that I am actually a frugal man. Whilst my tastes may appear extravagant I am rather risk averse, preferring the comfortable intimacy of my tailor over the faddish impersonality of the fashion store. Therefore I have long held the belief that allowing shops to have one's products on a sale or return/consignment basis is a bad thing. Lots of money spent at the outset and the potential for that stock to be returned at the end of a season - in the case of cufflinks, unsold and unpolished.

Doug Richard put it another way. All start-ups need visibility. A start-up needs to understand its customer. Lastly, a start-up needs channels in which to do that. A small investment in stock and agreeable terms for retailers would give someone like myself an opportunity to 'get out there', allow me to observe the customer and help me develop further marketing strategies.

But Doug pointed out, this strategy becomes less risky and more like money well spent if you think about it in terms of fulfilling marketing, advertising and research all in one.

I lurched from my seat, dropping my pen from my quivering hand. An irregular bumpity bump banged against my chest as a heart filled with caffeine raced towards a destiny for which I was sure I was not ready. The light behind Doug brightened and my eyes were blinded by the fuzzy blur that now surrounded him. Then I realised, this was no rush of caffeine or exploding of my heart. The light was not the glow of the screen, nor splashes of sunlight reflecting from gadget-laden tables. The light was Doug himself, Doug Richard, Patron Saint of Spreadsheets, and light of my conversion.

It is now seven days since I attended the S4CS inaugural boot camp and it was my intention to impart my experiences and newfound knowledge sooner rather than later before the caffeine-high ended, but the effects of the experience have not yet fully worn off. There is much this new apostle has to tell you. Suffice it to say, I am in love with the School for Creative Start-ups, with Doug Richard, and with the possibilities of business. It is time I stopped waging this war on business and put away my tin soldiers.

Dickie.

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