Watching the BBC's hugely entertaining The Apprentice I cannot help shouting at the television. If these are the best young entrepreneurs in the country then lord help us all. Deluded and often verging on the sociopathic this lot scare the living daylights out of me. The Dragons Den occasionally throws up a gem but many of those that face Bannatyne and Co. are only marginally less deranged.
But this is made for television entrepreneurship. Would any real entrepreneur with a great idea really put themselves up for ridicule in this way? I think probably not, but that's not to say we can't learn a great deal from watching their struggle.
The contestants on both shows talk a lot about passion, and I think on the whole they generally mean it. It's of fundamental importance to anyone thinking of starting up on their own. Unless you are fortunate to have someone very rich bailing you out at every turn, then it's pretty likely that for the first few years of your entrepreneurial life you will be living in near abject poverty. Stripped of all normal luxuries, devoid of a social life and any meaningful time off it is really quite important that you do have a real passion for what you plan to do.
But passion can also be a drawback. It's just as easy to be passionate about an awful idea as it is a good one, especially if it's your own. Your passion is worthless if it's not shared by people in a position to buy or use whatever it is you plan to create. Before you commit you need to step away and look at what you're planning to do in a totally dispassionate way. Ask yourself if the product you have lovingly slaved over for years of your life is really going to be better than, or cheaper than, or really different to the best product out there. Or will it do something completely new that fills a genuine gap in people's lives? Be ruthlessly honest. If it doesn't or wont, then you shouldn't do it.
The Dragons, Lord Sugar and almost anyone else who might be thinking of putting money into your venture make great sway about the importance of a business plan, two words which strike fear in the heart of many potential entrepreneurs. A business plan is vital, without one your business may just meander aimlessly, but it certainly does not have to be complicated. In reality the process of creating one is remarkably straightforward; simply imagine the business you want to create and write down in clear detailed steps how you're going to make it happen (and what it's all going to cost you). That's it. The simpler and more understandably plain speaking, the better.
Then all you have to do is get on with it. Find the money (the less you need the easier this will be; the simplest ideas can often been started on a shoestring), and put your plan into motion. As a young entrepreneur your one great advantage is that you will almost certainly have the energy and vitality needed for what can be a massively draining undertaking. You will work very long hours (think 70-100 per week) and spend far more time dealing with cock-ups and problems than dealing with the nicer sides of business. You need to be resilient to keep plugging away, day after day, at the tedious, tiring and mundane aspects of running any sort of company. But with a good idea, passion, and a bit of a plan you might well find a way of earning a crust that is infinitely more satisfying, and possibly financially rewarding, than going out and working for the man.
Patrick Grant is on the judging panel for Amway's Britain's Top Real Role Model, the search for Britain's most inspiring entrepreneur. To enter the competition visit www.britainstoprealrolemodel.co.uk/