In March 2016 I received a call from a researcher at the BBC. Had I ever considered Dragon’s Den? She was delightful (as every BBC employee I subsequently met was – warm, intelligent, humane) and was researching her own wedding and came across our speech writing services. Perhaps I could do a pitch in rhyme?
I had many reservations at first, but after talking to friends and previous participants it became clear that this was an experience not to be missed and nobody regretted taking part in it, whatever the outcome. Did I want the money? Not really. Did I want a dragon? YES!
I started to think about what I could use the investment for. Overseas expansion, cheaper but ethical manufacture, increased brand awareness, creating a saleable business that could function without me - these are the goals I kept coming back to.
Valuing the business proved to be a conundrum. Do we multiply the last years' turnover by two? Result: Nice big figure. Do we factor in the fact that a small creative business based on one person's creative output might be hard to sell? Result: Not very big figure. I went for something in between. Too low according to many people watched the show and know my business.
I began researching good pitches, wrote a rhyming one in two hours and was soon winging my way to an audition at BBC Centre. The result was an invitation to pitch to the Dragons in Manchester in June 2016.
Then the real work began. Completing huge amounts of paperwork as Due Diligence (legal proof of your claims) was required before the shoot. Watching back episodes and logging previous questions. Reading books on The Den and by the Dragons. Brushing up on my legal knowledge with the help of ACID (Anti-Copying In Design.) Designing Den-inspired rhyming gifts for the Dragons – mugs, coasters and other products I thought they would like, in a bag specially made for us by Sparks Clothing.
All this whilst trying to drop two dress sizes and find the right outfit (within the rules) plus threading, waxing, plucking, dying, straightening and shellacking (a revelation, incidentally.)
My husband built a replica of our exhibition stand in our studio which we photographed, disassembled and transported in a hire van to Manchester. That night we enjoyed our first night away for four years, thanks to the army of friends that stepped in to help. Before I knew it, we were being met in the hotel lobby at 7am (camera ready) and escorted to the studio.
All through that period I was memorising the rhyming pitch. Over and over and over, until the kids knew it off by heart too. I think it is embedded in my brain forever. Just before I walked in to face the Dragons (who are kept well away from contestants), for a fleeting moment I thought that I was going to vomit. Then the red light went green... and there was no going back!
My top 10 tips for preparing for Dragons' Den:
- Know your numbers. I memorised them back to front and still slipped up on one.
- Know your terminology – you might know the answer but not the way they’ve worded it. I googled and read up on business phraseology, but I still came across wording I wasn’t familiar with.
- Know your legal stuff. I researched and revised Copyright law with the help of my ACID-appointed solicitor.
- Research each Dragon’s interests and backgrounds. Prepare a gift or sample that they might enjoy. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your researcher.
- Watch every back episode with your Dragons in. Write down all questions asked of similar businesses to you and prepare the answer.
- Ensure you can justify your valuation.
- Be able to list in detail what you would use the investment for.
- Prepare an exit strategy. A very revealing process!
- Ask businesses who’ve been there for advice. Do a few mock pitches (no notes!) to fake Dragons asking you about all of the above.
- Be comfortable with your outfit and appearance – the last thing you want to be worrying about is how you look. Keep smiling no matter what.