“If you know any small business owner over the age of 50 with no business card, give them a smack,” directs Nick Hewer, in his customary forthright fashion. “There’s no excuse.”
Lord Sugar’s cool-as-a-cucumber acolyte is as silver-tongued in person as when he takes his place on The Apprentice.
However, it’s clear he is passionate, almost furrow-browed, about the need for everyone to realise that the low interest rates we’re currently enjoying may not last forever. We must be prepared – which, according to Hewer, means working out what business we’re good at, and simply getting on with it.
Nick Hewer wanted to be unsackable by the time he was 30 - "it's not for everyone"
"Think for yourself. Don’t hang around waiting for someone to deliver something. Think, 'What can I do? What am I passionate about? Get down there, get your stuff ready and off you go."
So what are the three most important things we need to know before we start wielding our paintbrush, potting our jam, heading off on a mechanic’s course?
HAVE YOUR PASSION
“When did you last make jam? Are you any good?” asks Hewer. “You’ve got to have a passion, and you have to know what you’re doing.
FIND YOUR MARKET
“How are you going to reach it? What is your unique selling point, and where does it fit into the already crowded market? Home in the one thing that makes you different.”
GET YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS
“You’ve got no money, so you need some marketing materials. It can cost a fortune” – Hewer gestures expansively to the big, white room of the PR company where we’re currently sitting – “but it needn’t be.
“You say, to hell with it. All you need is a simple, elegant, well-produced business card. This costs very little. You design it, you get in your van. You ask, ‘Does this street need what I am offering?’ Start knocking on doors and hand out your cards.
“A basic website doesn’t cost much, either. It can be simple, but it must get the message across with pictures, testimonials.
“It’s not rocket science,” he says leaning back, arms behind head. “Approach your market, get into your market, do the work, deliver, stick a testimonial on your website, and that’s it.”
Nick Hewer with Lord Sugar and his fellow sidekick Karren Brady on the BAFTA-winning 'The Apprentice'
Nick Hewer, celebrated for his sang froid as Lord Sugar’s sidekick in The Apprentice, has had a second wind of a career on the TV, after three decades running his own PR company of between 25 to 30 people. But, without The Apprentice to watch on TV when he was starting out, where did he pick up his skills?
“Because I’m an old person and I’ve observed it over the years,” he says cheerfully. “You also see people making an absolute mess of it.”
Hewer himself wanted to be in a position where, by the age of 30, nobody could sack him by the age of 30. He agrees this isn’t for everyone…
“Some people want the framework of a big company, but that’s not for me. I had to be in charge of my own thing.
“I had clients, and when I lost a client, I thought it was the end of the world. I had Sugar (Lord, presumably) from 1983 to 2004, still got him… when he pays me…”
“I worked too much, looking back. I had clients near Hull. At the end of the working day, I’d drive to Hull, stay overnight, work with the client, drive back to London by about 10pm, go to the office. But I loved it, in a way. And you’ve got to do it.”
So what’s the biggest trap for anyone hoping to walk in his footsteps?
“Distraction,” says Hewer, emphatically. “I urge you not to think suddenly about expanding the business. Stick to what you’re good at. Later, you’ll have a different division, run by the person you took on. But, in the beginning, it’s all about focus. I see people chasing in all sorts of different directions and concentrating on nothing…
“The sadness is that, everybody thinks they can do everything. The country is sort of devastated by bodger builders, because everybody thinks they can do it.”
Hewer, who’s enjoyed a very different kind of success with The Apprentice, is kind about the candidates he monitors through the weeks of elimination.
“There is no rest, no respite. There is intolerable pressure, which is what makes them make mistakes. It’s an intense experience for them. You’ve had no sleep and it goes on and on. Could I have done it at their age? Not a prayer.
“We’re all unkind about them, but when it’s all over, they’re very good people, who have endured an extraordinary baptism of fire and come out of it decent people, having learnt a lot.”
But back in the real world, it’s less complicated, apparently.
“It’s not complicated,” Hewer emphasises. “You don’t have to start a bank or an airline. If, at the end of your working life, you end up employing four people, that’s not bad.”
Is for realistic for anyone, at any age? Apparently so, according to Hewer who describes a friend of his, who got a place to study English at Oxford, in her fifties.
“She lives in a little farm, and she makes little pies, which she sells in markets around Shrewsbury. She has cards, and her pies. That’s a business.”