James Caan: Dragons’ Den star talks business as he gives away e-book

We may be living through an unprecedented crisis – but entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star James Caan says people shouldn’t be afraid to try for their dream job or dream business idea.

James has teamed up with BusinessLive publisher Reach to make his bestselling book “Get The Job You Really Want” free for digital download in audio and print form.

BusinessLive spoke to James about his book – and his views on what job hunters and potential entrepreneurs could do to get through the coronavirus crisis.

Despite this uncertain time with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, James is optimistic for both job hunters and entrepreneurs.

He said: “I’ve experienced myself that people who are prepared, who have researched, who have targeted their opportunities, can still find work.

“I’ve found that good people with good ideas are still getting investment.

“And therefore you’re right, I’m an optimist, because in my 35 years of business I’ve experienced the markets going up and the markets going down.”

James started his career in recruitment after leaving school and went on to form agency Alexander Mann.

He sold that successful firm in 2002 and in 2004 founded private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw, where he is still CEO. It specialises in recruitment and property.

He joined BBC show Dragons’ Den in 2007 and was a “dragon” for five years, making many investments.

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And in 2012 he became founder and chairman of Start Up Loans, the Government-backed scheme to support businesses.

James said he was optimistic that as Covid-19 vaccines start coming into use, people will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

He said: “I think employers will start to become more confident, banks will start to release capital more readily, and I think in 2021 we will come out of this. What we want to do is make sure that we are pre-planned for that eventuality, because it will come.

“Even after wars, pandemics, financial crises, the human race is incredibly resilient, and we always come through.

“The thing we can never quite understand is when. And for me, planning and preparation have always been the key most fundamental things I can do to ensure that when the market does recover I’m absolutely ready for it.”

You can find out more about James’s free book offer here

Message to jobseekers – do your research

The jobs market right now is unusual, given the turbulence caused by the pandemic, and competition is tough.

That, James says, means people need to put the work in to get themselves noticed. A CV on its own isn’t enough.

He said: “The amount of research that needs to be done today is significantly more than ever before.

“In the past typically people just sprayed CVs across the internet and hoped that one of them would get people interested. That approach today is going to be unlikely to succeed.

“The advice I would give somebody is to look at your background, look at your experience, and look at the sector you come from – and identify companies specifically within that target environment.

“Look at the handful of companies that you feel you have experience that is relevant and attractive to, and try and understand what is it specifically that you feel you could do for that employer that would add value.

“The one thing employers are very open-minded about is where can somebody add value to their current proposition? Is that in finance, is it in operations, is it in sales, is it in strategy, is it in marketing, is it in digital transformation? I think you have to go to employers with a proposal.”

And James has practised what he preached recently by hiring someone who had put in the work.

He said: “I’ve hired somebody myself recently that I wasn’t looking for. Somebody approached me with a very clear proposal that had researched exactly what our business does and they had anticipated some of the challenges that we would probably be facing.

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“They had sent me a note that said this is what I do, this is my background, this is my experience, this is where I think I can add value, this is what my contact base looks like, and I feel that with my experience I could get up and running very quickly.

“That was enough for me to engage in at least a conversation. I then introduced them to a couple of people in my senior management team who were really impressed.

“That was all about their research – and again the thing that I found quite interesting is it wasn’t a particularly senior job either.

“So what that demonstrates to me is yes I think it’s going to be tough out there but you’ve got to think outside the box in order to make it happen.”

James Caan’s tips for Zoom interviews

Job interviews are scary affairs at the best of times. And during the pandemic there’s another challenge – most interviews have had to be done online.

Whether by Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams, we’ve all got used to peering at each other on our computer screens. If you’re being interviewed for a job, the pressure is an even more nerve-racking experience.

James accepts it’s always going to be tough – but says that based on his experience leading Zoom interviews, there are things candidates can do even at home to improve your chances of success.

He said: “They’re basic things. You look at the screen and you’ll find you’ve got somebody’s bedroom or clothes hanging on a door, and people just don’t think about that.

James Caan is supporting Britain on the road to recovery
James Caan is supporting Britain on the road to recovery

“When you are in an interview situation, first impressions do matter and they do count.

“And it’s very simple on Zoom just to create a virtual background if you’re working out of your bedroom or your kitchen or whatever the case is.”

James says jobseekers should also make sure they check the dress code of the company they’re speaking to.

He said: “If you are going to be in an interview situation I think you should dress accordingly.

“I see lots of people in sweatshirts or T-shirts, whatever, and I understand that people are working from home. But you get one opportunity to make that first impression.”

James also suggested people should use a teleprompter app to help them speak fluently.

And he added: “If you are going to give an interview on video, think roleplay – rehearse that interview, rehearse where your eyes should be, how you should be looking at the camera, how you come across in a very positive way.”

Could ‘lifestyle businesses’ see a resurgence?

In the past, some entrepreneurs have looked down on so-called “lifestyle businesses” – ones that are designed to provide income for their founders, rather than to be scalable.

But times have changed, the employment market is more flexible, and more people are learning to work for themselves. James said snobbery about lifestyle firms needs to be set aside.

“This situation today that we are in could be the emergence of lifestyle businesses,” he said.

“Somebody recently approached me who had been made redundant from their job as a credit controller – a really smart guy who was unfortunately let go.

“But what he did is he went back to his employer and said look, I understand there’s not enough work for me right now and you want to let me go, but there is some work here that I could still do? If I was prepared to take two days a week, are you able to afford me?”

That person got their wish – and then approached fellow recruitment professional James to see if he had any work. That led to work not only with James’s business but also with another firm in the sector.

James said: “You could almost argue this chap has actually set up his own business. He’s now got three clients, he does five days a week, and he’s actually making more than he was making working for one company five days a week.

“I spoke to him recently and he’s quite happy, he’s quite motivated because he;s got a bit more diversity, he’s got three different projects he’s working on.

“So to me this could be the emergence of lifestyle businesses where people take this initiative.”

Those “lifestyle businesses” could, he said, help people to develop portfolio careers.

“If you are under threat of losing your position, try and see whether you can at least maintain one, two, three days a week and then talk to other businesses in the same sector… and effectively set up your own business in a lifestyle environment.

“There is an idea that when people think of starting a business they think ‘I need thousands of pounds and I need premises and people’. With technology as we’ve experienced it, the truth is you can start a business with very little money today.”

The future of offices

When James first set up recruitment business Alexander Mann in the 1980s, he decided he needed a prestigious address. So he got a tiny office in London’s Pall Mall – one he’s since described as a “broom cupboard” – that was too small to meet people in but that gave him that prestige location from where he could strike out to meet clients.

One of the most striking effects of the pandemic has been the UK’s rapid transition to home working. Offices have shut down in towns and cities across the country – and it remains to be seen whether they will reopen.

James laughed when reminded about his first office – and said that if he were starting a business today, he would not make the same decision.

The essential guide to Lockdown 2.0

“The same principle does not apply any more,” he said. “I think you could certainly set up a business virtually.

“What I would do is go to one of those business centres for a hotdesking opportunity. I would rent a desk, maybe two days a week, so that I could meet clients, people, employees, meet staff, and have some kind of base – a central London location where I can meet clients and people I need to interact with.

“But effectively I’d say I’d be working from home on Zoom, simply because we have proved over the last six months we are just as productive being able to do that.

“Therefore this whole concept of ‘I’m starting a business, I need thousands of pounds of infrastructure’ – I don’t think you need it any more.”

Dragons’ Den star gives tips on getting investment

To most people, James Caan is best known for his stint as a “dragon” on BBC show Dragon’s Den, assessing candidates looking for cash to get their businesses going.

James has years of experience in all areas of the investment world, from securing support for his own companies through to his role as founder and chairman of the Government-backed Start Up Loans scheme that has supported tens of thousands of businesses.

The investment world is much more diverse today than it was in the 80s when James was starting out. He said: “At the time I set up there was virtually nothing available. Today you’ve got organisations like start-up loans that will loan you money as a start-up business. There’s angel investment groups, there’s crowdfunding, there’s banks, there’s a whole raft of different situations where you will be able to attract capital.”

The Dragons James Caan, Duncan Bannatyne, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis. Photo: BBC/Rolf Marriott

That may sound bewildering – but James’s message is again one of optimism.

He said: “The one lesson I’ve learnt in my entire business career is – if you have a genuinely good idea that is compelling, you will always raise money. There is always capital to back a good idea.

“I’ve recently invested in a tech idea myself. And – tech is not something I’m particularly experienced with, but somebody approached me this year in the middle of coronavirus and with a tech idea that I thought was absolutely incredible. And even though I swore at the beginning of this year that in the pandemic in 2020 I would not invest, but I still ended up putting money into an idea.”

The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have resulted in a freeze in many investment decisions across the business world. But, James said, that doesn’t mean people with good ideas should worry.

He said: “Funny enough I spoke to a private equity firm this morning and they were telling me that right now there is a huge wall of capital that is available because the private equity sector and venture capital market for the whole of 2020 have deployed no capital.

“So I think good ideas will attract capital.”

People can be entrepreneurs without realising it

A message James is keen to share is that anyone can be an entrepreneur. They don’t necessarily need to be a salesperson, or have to invent things – there are lots of different ways to set up in business.

He said: “I just think it’s a misconception because people don’t understand what (entrepreneurial) means. So – if you’re someone who sells products on eBay and you work from home, you are an entrepreneur.

“If you’re got more than one employer and you have a variety of different sources of income, where you can influence your income on a monthly basis, you have the characteristics of being an entrepreneur and being a business person.

“Today, because of technology, because of what we do, because of what we’ve experienced in 2020, there are more people who recognise that they have entrepreneurial skills.”

Great ideas can come out of tough times

Despite the turmoil in the world, James is confident that the right business ideas could still be a success.

He said: “What I’ve found in my 35-year business career is that most businesses typically generally start when there’s a challenging business environment.

“People come onto the market that otherwise probably would never have been available. And some people desperately have always thought about it, wanted to do it, but have never had that kick or the opportunity because they were always risk averse.

“But now people’s perception could be well, maybe now is the right opportunity to do something.”

To get your free download of Get The Job You Really Want, all you have to do is enter your details into the jotform below, and once you’ve submitted these you will find the links to download the PDF or audio file of the book.

Terms and conditions

  1. This promotion is open to anyone who is a resident of the United Kingdom except employees of Reach plc,their group companies and immediate families.

  2. This promotion entitles you to the free eBook or audio book file of ‘ Get The Job You Really Want’ by James Caan CBE.

  3. To claim the free eBook, we recommend you download the file over a strong WiFi connection.

  4. This offer will expire at 4pm on Thursday December 17, 2020 so please ensure you have downloaded to your device before this date.

  5. You are only permitted to apply once. Duplicate entries with the same email address on multiple occasions will not be accepted.

  6. No purchase is necessary in order to claim your free eBooks.

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Business Live – West Midlands