Would you let TV cameras into the running of your company? Business editor Shaun Lowthorpe looks at the pros and cons of broadcasting the ins and outs of your difficulties to the watching world.

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From time to time, anyone running a business may need a helping hand.

But for those running a family business, wedded to the job, working out the best way to get help might be more difficult.

And some have made a dramatic decision to try and turn around their businesses by inviting in the television cameras to help.

Norfolk businesses have been featured on programmes such as Cutting Edge, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, The Hotel Inspector, and Four in a Bed.

For the last six weeks, BBC2 has been screening The Fixer with Alex Polizzi, the latest in the genre, which has been focusing on how to help turn around family-run businesses that had got themselves into a bit of a muddle.

The hotelier, who has channel-hopped from her previous role presenting the Hotel Inspector, has been running the rule over family-run firms and last night’s final episode featured the trials and tribulations of Denver Mill, near Downham Market.

The mill is run by Lindsay Abel and her husband Mark, together with daughter Sally and her partner Duncan McGregor.

But the camera crews arrived shortly after a drama of a different kind, when one of the mill sails was sheared from its mounting last October.

“After we had lost the sails we were down and we had gone into bit of a depressive spiral,” Mrs Abel said.

“We were a working windmill. That was our USP, as Norfolk’s last commercial windmill, and we were in shock. That was another thing we were dealing with when the TV crews came in.

“Alex Polizzi came and stopped us in our tracks. She pointed out lots of other things about the business which were good and said that instead of focusing on the mill, we should focus on that.

“The shop had got into a bit of a muddle and we had old stock hanging about. We had to do quite a lot here. We had to change the shop around.”

As well as plenty of tears, viewers last night saw how the programme makers took the family to see a hamper business in London which had been transformed in the build-up to the Olympics and had also developed a successful market supplying Fortnum and Masons.

“From that we decided to put Norfolk things together such as beer and flour and as it happened we sold our first hamper today,” Mrs Abel said.

“They re-branded us and did a website, but we’ve changed that as it didn’t fit in with what we wanted, and we also did a radio ad, as well as going to a farmers market.”

Steven Scarlett (pictured left), partner at Lovewell Blake, who runs a family business club to help advise family-run firms, said an outside eye can benefit any business, whether it takes the form of the TV cameras or more conventional professional advice. I think an external view can obviously be worthwhile, whatever shape that comes in,” Mr Scarlett said.

“Whether it’s accountants like ourselves, or someone who is an external consultant with relevant experience, or even potentially a non-executive director, that can certainly help bring in some new ideas.

“If people are looking to change and they don’t know how to, it can be helpful, but you have to get the right person in. The wrong person can be damaging.

“In this instance, they are trying to create entertainment, and will only show certain bits, which might not show a business in the best light.”

But though he had been a fan of The Fixer, he warned turning to the cameras can have mixed results.

“Some come out in a very positive light, but there are others where they haven’t even started to sort out their problems and, as a potential customer, it wouldn’t leave me with a very good feeling,” he added.

However, Mrs Abel said she was convinced the show did more good than harm, helping to turn the business around.

“I think if we hadn’t done it, we couldn’t have survived this winter,” she said. “We had already identified that we wanted some business support.

“The fact is that we got one hour’s BBC ‘advertising’, even if the programme hadn’t done any good.

“It’s benefited us because we have got back on track,” she added.

“We had lots of ideas but we hadn’t actually done any of it, so it acted as a push. The hampers were something we had thought about, but it was a case of stop talking about it and get on with it.

“It’s very intrusive and you have to be prepared for that but I think it was worth it.”




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