This is a question I get asked fairly frequently as I’ve worked with a few Dragons’ Den funded entrepreneurs over the last decade. One, Ed Hollands, has just bought ‘his’ Dragon out which is amazing news and a real milestone for his business DrivenMedia.

My answer to others is always the same: “it can be as long as you think it through and approach it with the right frame of mind”.

For many applying it is all about great ‘exposure’ and ‘being on the tv’. However if you have that attitude, you probably won’t make the cut and you probably won’t get any real benefit from it or it could go horribly wrong.

It’s a slam dunk for PR coverage isn’t it?

No. In a word, it’s not.

You have to manage your expectations around what the media will be interested in. Just because you appear in a tv series doesn’t mean you’ll get any media coverage at all. And here’s why:

  • Dragons’ Den has been going for many years now and it’s quite common so ‘old news’ – just being on it isn’t enough, particularly for the national media.
  • Due to this, it’s the quirky stuff which is likely to make headlines outside of the BBC’s own media relations and coverage.
  • That quirky stuff may not always be what you want and you won’t be able to control it.
  • Your business may be ‘business worthy’ but it could be quite dull and uninteresting. The media won’t tell you this, they’ll just ignore the ‘story’ – I, however, will tell you.

With Ed, one of the reasons he got good coverage was entirely unpredictable. Peter Jones asked him if he was still at school (tongue in cheek) – his young looks and age made him stand out. This is what was picked up on by the wider media. Ed had no idea how a Dragon would react to him, Peter Jones himself would not have known how he would react to a business owner who is pitching.

These are the types of things the wider media might pick up on:

  • Criticism from the Dragons over a very poor pitch.
  • Emotional responses from the Dragons to a business with a strong back story.
  • Arguments between Dragons and/or business owners as the pitch plays out.
  • Stupid or silly mistakes made by the Dragons or the business owners ie. Thinking Nottingham is in the South West.
  • Reactions when testing out products.
  • Comments about how the business is set up, the major players and the personalities in the room.

I’ve seen entrepreneurs go on this programme very ill-prepared and they can make a total fool of themselves. That may make great entertainment however it’s not good business. Even if by some fluke, an entrepreneur gets through and gets funding, it might not always be the best thing for them.

My top tips for considering this properly are this:

*What do you want from a Dragon? These are serious business people with different skill sets, different contacts and different needs from any business they invest in. Which Dragon is the best for you? Do some decent research around this. Do you just want their money and no input? Do you want someone who is going to take over? Do you want someone who is going to empower you and then leave later? Be very clear which Dragon, or Dragons, you want and stick to that decision.

*What does a good outcome look like? Once you’ve answered the above, make a realistic valuation of your business, not a pie-in-the-sky valuation. With that, consider how much are you prepared to give away in return for a good outcome? This is very important if you are a partnership or a group of directors. Dithering in the Den will not bring you a Dragon.

*Be a person, not just a product or service. Over and over again in the Den, you hear the Dragons talk about the person running the business as much as the business itself. They will say things like ‘I like you’ or ‘I admire your passion’ – and you must allow them to see that or they may see right through you. Often Dragons’ invest in you and your passion and commitment while they also want to test the business viability. Be open and honest and show personality.

*Do not lose your temper in the Den whatever is thrown at you. You have to be professional and mindful of the fact that it’s possible millions of pairs of eyes are watching you, picking up on your words, body language and tone of voice. And that audience can be valuable or vicious – the choice is yours.

*What’s your PR plan around this? That might be where someone like me comes in – either to advise or to work with you. A successful Dragon may recommend their own PR company however you may have to pay for it and the price tag may be more than you can afford. So shop around. You want to be PR ready to make the most of any opportunity. Remember there will be several months between filming and transmission and you won’t be able to talk about it – so have a PR plan you can actually afford ready to go.

*Do your due diligence properly – There will be a due diligence process afterwards and you have to take it seriously. What are the terms with a Dragon’s organisation, is this really what you want? Be mindful of what you are agreeing to at all times. Remember you will probably be on the tv and can your business cope with that kind of exposure really quickly? This is especially true of a product-based business – do you have the capacity and the supply chain and is it robust?

If you feel this is not right for you – you can walk away and make another choice. The story will probably still be used on tv if a Dragon makes an offer, however this is still a business deal and should be treated as such, the actual deal is between you and the Dragon – not between you, the BBC and the Dragon. The deal you sign with the BBC will purely revolve around the programme itself not the business relationship with a Dragon could go on for months or even years.

If you are feeling positive after reading this, then go for it, with your eyes wide open. However remember this – all tv series come to an end eventually. A new strand would then emerge over time. The Apprentice anyone?