It’s here most people might assume that the TV talent show dream comes to an end. Surely, once the cameras stop rolling, Lord Sugar simply packs up his Amstrad phone and walks away?
However, surprisingly, that might not be the case here. At least, not according to some past winners of The Apprentice – 2017 winner Sarah Lynn and 2016’s Alana Spencer – who both revealed what happens after the “You’re Hired” moment.
Lord Sugar will be heavily involved in setting up your new business (yes, really)
Considering he’s a busy billionaire, media star and actual Baron, the fact that Lord Sugar finds time for contact with the new Apprentice winner seems an unexpected treat. Well, it was for Sarah Lynn, anyway.
“I’ve been so pleasantly surprised with how it’s all been. He’s so hands-on!” she says about Sugar’s involvement with confectionery company Sweets in the City. “He’s really helpful. Anything you need, he’s there.”
Sarah also says this contact not only includes monthly board meetings but regular conversations over email and phone: “He’s really engaged with the business.”
Before being bought out in September 2019, Sugar also worked closely with winners like Alana Spencer, who set up Ridiculously Rich By Alana with Lord Sugar following her win in 2016.
“I get asked, ‘Have you finished with Lord Sugar now?’ a lot. But that’s a common misconception, that you win the prize and he’s not involved anymore,” she told us before the buyout. “Every step of the way he’s there.”
Like Sarah, Alana also worked closely with Lord Sugar, speaking to him every couple of days during product launches.
“Usually it’s around once a week, though,” she said. “He lets us crack on with the day-to-day stuff, but anything in terms of pricing or the greater overall business plan, he has a say.”
Lord Sugar is a lot nicer after The Apprentice ends
“He’s definitely not as harsh as he appears on The Apprentice,” said Alana. “The boardroom meetings aren’t like the ones you see on the show. We’re very much sharing ideas.
“On [The Apprentice] he has to ask questions and get to the bottom of what’s going on; you never really get much of an opinion from him. But the biggest thing I’ve seen [since winning] is how insightful he is with any business. It’s always good to have a few hours to sit with him and go through everything.”
However, don’t expect to kick off boardroom meetings with a cheery catch-up about his weekend or a chinwag about the weather. Lord Sugar’s business manner can be best described in one word: direct.
“To be honest, it took me a while to get used to his character,” Alana admitted. “He’s very to-the-point. But everything he says is always right. I now really like that I can send him an email and ask him five questions and he’ll come back within five minutes with an answer for each. Now I’ve adapted to that it’s so great to have that sounding board.”
“I think my top tip for working with Sugar is: be honest and open,” Sarah Lynn says. “And not to mince your words too much because [his] time is precious!”
You’ll never stop being at least slightly scared of your new business partner
Yes, there’s still a good chance you’ll find Lord Sugar – a man who could have easily fired you on national TV – a tad intimidating after you go into business with him.
And that might still be the case even if you managed to achieve sales of over half a million pounds in the last financial year, as Alana did with Ridiculously Rich.
“I still find the boardroom meetings quite terrifying to be honest!” Alana admitted. “If we have a month we’ve not done as quite as well I’d hope, I massively overthink how the meeting is going to go.
“He’ll never have a go, but it’s always like, ‘How can we improve on this and take it to the next level?’ He will put pressure on because I think he knows if he does we’ll keep moving forward.”
As you might expect, when Lord Sugar (always Lord Sugar – you never call him ‘Alan’, according to Alana) sees something he’s not happy about, he won’t waste time telling you.
“He’s always very quick and clear to air that,” says Sarah Lynn. “But there’s not too many disagreements really. I think it’s more of a guidance than anything else. It’s more keeping me seeing things in the bigger picture.”
Alana agreed: “He doesn’t outright say no. But often he’ll say, ‘I’m opposing you’ to check your argument and then he goes, ‘OK, do it!'”
You’ll have the most stressful December after winning
Some might see it as an early Christmas present, but sadly winning the show will probably crush your festive cheer. From the moment you’re announced as the show’s winner in December, the next few weeks are likely to get very very busy.
“After I found out I won, I had a conversation with Sugar straight away and then we had 10 minutes to be introduced to the PR and finance team,” says Sarah-Lynn. “They all said to me, ‘Get everything tied up with your business and get everything switched over and then in the New Year we’ll regroup.’”
As you might have guessed, this is easier than it sounds – especially with the TV exposure you’ve just received. Not only do you have to go through a shareholder agreement for your new company, but the chances are your current business will have just received a record number of orders.
“The publicity you get from the show is crazy!” said Alana. “Our website went into overdrive the night of the final. If we could have web sales like we did on the final every day then the business would be in another league!”
And that’s where the problem lies: without the business investment fully implemented you’ve still got to honour those orders. Which, in Alana’s case, meant working alongside her team of three until the early hours each day until Christmas (a task made even harder after she contracted norovirus after her win).
If you somehow manage to get through that, next comes a lot of chats and tweaks to the business plan you pitched on the show. Lord Sugar lends a hand here, but, as in Alana’s case, Claude Littner might be involved in some of these discussions too.
And once that’s finally all out the way? You’re ready to roll: two months after Christmas you start implementing your plan. “One day Sugar just says, ‘OK, let’s get on with it.” said Alana.
You’ll be under a lot of media scrutiny
Winning The Apprentice will, naturally, do wonders for your business. Not only do you receive a huge cash injection from a committed business partner, but you also get 12 weeks’ worth of priceless BBC1 exposure.
“Clients have an understanding instantly about what your business is and what it’s about from The Apprentice,” Sarah Lynn explains. “It’s really nice when you get a call somebody and they’ll say, ‘I thought you were really good on the show.’ It gives you an instant connection.”
But be warned: your company is now – and probably forever will be – under the microscope. Any slight screw-up is easy pickings for the papers, such as when Food Standards Agency officials ordered Alana to recall products over labelling inaccuracies.
“That was very much a case where everyone was watching and we had to get things sorted as soon as possible,” she remembered. “Ultimately, it was a mistake. I took all the responsibility and made sure it wouldn’t happen again.”
Fortunately, nothing like that has happened since and the company is still growing, but Alana’s experience hasn’t halted all anxieties. “To be honest, I feel very much like I’m being watched,” she said.
“It just feels like if I were to do something bad or go bust it would very much be a story. But if I were to succeed, it wouldn’t be. It feels like there’s a lot at stake.”
Fortunately, if the worst happens, Lord Sugar won’t be calling up to fire a few boardroom-style zingers your way. Turns out that despite witnessing hundreds of candidates turn on their project manager in The Apprentice boardroom, he’s not one to point the blame (or a firing finger) at anyone when things go wrong in real life.
“Don’t worry, he’s very understanding,” said Alana. “He just says, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ and, ‘How are we going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?’.
“That’s all he wants in his winners: to know that we take things very seriously.”
The Apprentice 2019 final is on BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesday 18th December