Pitching – a judge’s perspective


I’ve sat on a lot of judging panels, and so I thought it would be useful to give you some insights into what matters to the judges.

Every competition is different, but there are a few things that judges always look for.

Focus on the customer

Most importantly, you need to focus on the customer or end user, and the problem you are solving for them.

You need to explain why they need your idea.

What product or service do your potential customers use now, and why would they use yours? What makes your idea better?

What makes you qualified to deliver it? Your skills, your passion, your inspiration?

– Never say you don’t have any competition, there’s always a different option for customers.

Keep it simple

Your technology may be really great, but don’t spend too much time talking about it.

Keep it simple, explain it in a way that your non-techy friends and family understand it, use analogies that are familiar to them, if you can.

Know your numbers! 

How much money do you need? What is it for? What will your sales be in year 1, year 2, year 3? When will you make a profit?

What size is the market, more importantly, how fast is it growing?

– be realistic about your share of the market, build the numbers up from what you can make, not down from the size of the market.

Some general tips

Don’t rely on technology as it might fail.

Be prepared to talk without slides, as you might have to.  It may be a good idea to have some notes written on cards so you can refer to them if you need them.

The Q&A

Will the judges be able to ask you questions at the end? If so, you can save some of the details for the Q&A.

You can learn a lot from the questions the judges ask you – you may not agree with them but respond thoughtfully.  Be honest if you don’t know the answer.  You can explain your assumptions, but judges can always tell if you are making things up!


It’s OK to be nervous, but it’s not OK to be underprepared, so practice, practice, practice.

Don’t worry if you hesitate or forget something.

You are human and the judges are too. Just stay calm and move on.

Good luck!!

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Today was a really tough day

Would you buy a Big Issue from this woman?

Would you buy a Big Issue from this woman?

Today I sold the Big Issue for an hour. I was a little bit worried about it, but not too bothered. After all, I have spent years in sales, and many hours on exhibition stands, so I’m not worried about getting people’s attention. I had realistic expectations; I knew a lot of people would ignore me but I still expected to sell about 20 newspapers.

My pitch was in Sauchiehall Street, a busy shopping area in the middle of Glasgow. It was 3pm on on a Wednesday afternoon, plenty of people around. It was cold, but it was dry. I wasn’t sure what to wear, but I thought it best to wear my normal work day clothes. After all, I’m not a real vendor, and didn’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. I thought that if people stopped to talk, I could tell them about Vendor Week and why I was supporting it, then that would be a good result. (Vendor Week is an international programme of events, activities and social media action that celebrates street paper vendors and challenges perceptions of poverty and homelessness.)

There were five of us in my time slot; myself, two men representing other third sector organisations and two members of the cast of Burnistoun, and we got a briefing from Robert, a regular vendor, before we started selling in pitches along the street. I didn’t know what a typical Big Issue buyer might look like, but I smiled and tried to catch the eye of anyone that came reasonably close to me.  “Would you like to buy a Big Issue?” Most people gently shook their head, some said a quiet ‘no thanks’ as they walked by.

It took about 5 minutes to get my first sale, from a young smartly dressed guy who was with a female friend.  He later tweeted about it, thank you very much @sppbest

That was it for about twenty minutes.  Then:

  • an middle aged man bought a paper from me  (yippee)
  • and another gave me some change
  • another middle aged man came up and talked to me, saying I didn’t look like a real vendor but he had read about Vendor Week in the paper and appreciated what I was doing. He didn’t buy a paper though, but he said he’d already bought one and I believed him
  • a young woman who had passed by earlier ran back to give me £5, said she didn’t want a paper but I should use it to ‘go and buy a cup of tea or something’,  then rushed off again to join her friends before I could talk to her
  • a woman brushed me off, saying she couldn’t read
  • a wee wifey asked if I was a star (she had come from the direction of the Burnistoun people)
  • a well dressed man stopped when I asked him to buy a Big Issue, told me he gave to charity, and that he used to be homeless (but he wouldn’t buy a paper)

So I spent an hour in the street, selling a good product I believe in, and I sold two papers. One of the other ‘anonymous’ volunteers sold three, but the Burnistoun guys sold 33 between them, and the Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry apparently had people queuing to buy one from her!

It was a real eye opener to me. I was smartly dressed, I smiled a lot, I asked a lot of people to buy from me, very politely. I sold 2 papers in an hour which, if I had bought them to resell, would made me a profit of £2.50 in one hour. Its not exactly a living wage and if I had to that regularly, for hours everyday, it would be very hard indeed to keep myself motivated.

Robert, my vendor mentor, said that he would expect to sell around 2-3 papers an hour himself, in his good pitch by Central  Station (Gordon Street exit, say hello and buy a paper from him). He said that anyone can find themselves homeless, and that it was just as important for people to talk to the vendors and get to know about them and how they ended up on the streets. He is a lovely, friendly Mancunian, in Glasgow to be closer to his family. I’d like to have known more about him but we mainly spoke about selling the Big Issue. I’ll stop by his pitch and talk to him again soon.

So what did I learn from this experience? 

  • far fewer people bought a paper from me than I expected
  • (I am very naive)
  • being outside in the cold weather wasn’t too bad, but the lack of sales was soul-destroying
  • people saw the tabard, not the person 
  • people did acknowledge me when I caught their eye, they were polite but disengaged
  • celebrities get attention (and sales!)
  • the girl that gave me the £5 really warmed my heart (but I wished she had taken a paper to read)
  • I’m very proud of my home city of Glasgow for having so many more Vendor Week volunteers than any other participating UK city 
  • you cannot make a good living selling the Big Issue but if you stick it out, you have an amazing work ethic
  • I am very fortunate indeed to have a comfortable life

In conclusion, if you buy a Big Issue, you will not solve homelessness. If you read it, however, you will learn much more about the issues that homeless people face, and you may become more compassionate towards the homeless. You will also read some fantastic articles about important social issues that many mainstream newspapers barely touch, as well as celebrity interviews and film and music reviews.

So please start buying the Big Issue now! Don’t walk on by

and (pretty please??) sponsor me to help the INSP continue their great job of supporting the homeless to get a ‘hand up, not a hand out’  

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A Hard Sell!

Cute picture of a dog to get your attention.

Cute picture of a dog to get your attention.

Next week I’m going to be selling The Big Issue on the streets of Glasgow. When I was asked to do it, I accepted without a thought. After all, I’m a big fan of what the Big Issue Foundation does, and I buy the magazine regularly as I really enjoy the articles.

Of course, like everyone else, I do walk past a lot of vendors, usually uttering a polite ‘no thanks, I’ve already got one.’ I didn’t think I would find it hard to stand in the street and sell them myself though. After all, I was in sales myself for 10 years and so I know how to do it.

One thing I don’t like doing, however, is asking for sponsorship. I have done a few 10k runs for the personal challenge, but I do nominate a medical charity and I post up the details on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m always touched by people’s generosity.

This time seems to be different. This time I am asking for sponsorship to help charities that help the homeless, to give them a chance to get back into society. This time people, with very few exceptions, seem unwilling to give.

Why is that? Why will people help others affected by a disease, or by floods, droughts, wars in far off lands, but they don’t want to help people on the streets in their own towns? Doesn’t charity begin at home? People are on the streets through no fault of their own. They are struggling from addiction, from mental disorders, from chaotic homes and violence. You can be pretty sure that if they ‘choose’ to be homeless then any alternative options they had to choose from must be pretty bad.

I am very lucky – I have no direct experience of the desperate situations so many in our society face, and neither do my friends and colleagues. Homelessness is not like cancer; although it can affect people from different social backgrounds, it’s really rather rare that it affects those from educated, middle class backgrounds. Maybe that’s why people are less willing to give. We don’t have a personal connection, and we assume that there’s a safety net for those that want to be helped. But it’s not that simple. This blog from a council housing officer might give you some idea of the circumstances in which people can find themselves.

I know my network is full of thoughtful, caring people. I know they are generous. Its impossible to support every good cause, and you have to make choices. I know I do.

However, if you do have a bit of money to spare after the Christmas bills are paid, please consider sponsoring me via this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/FionaGodsman1

If you want to help the homeless, but you don’t want to give them money, take a look at this great local charity The Invisibles. They collected nearly 1,000 sleeping bags from T in the Park festival goers and recycled them to the homeless. Awesome!

And/or buy a Big Issue the next time you see a vendor. It costs £2.50, the vendor will give you change if you don’t have the right amount, and its a much better read than Hello magazine.

Wow, its been a while since I’ve blogged, really need to do it more often! Thanks for reading my wee rant. 


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Brief introduction to social media

I was asked, at short notice, to give a brief presentation on social media at a bootcamp for students who had business ideas that they wanted to develop. That was a bit of a challenge, as I could easily talk for hours on social media, but I only had half an hour!

There are plenty of good guides on social media and how to use it effectively. Its a very fast changing field, and I am definitely not an expert, so my talk was based on my own experience. 


This may seem like a random photo, but this little gathering was outside the window of the meeting room!

What is social media?

There are so many answers to that question, but I would say that it is an ever growing range of on-line platforms that allow people to communicate with each other.

Common Platforms and who uses them

It took about a minute for the students to come up with a much longer list!! However the ones listed below are the most commonly used.

The important thing to remember when using social media in a business context is that you should not just think about what you use, but think about where your customers are, and where they are going to be (its an always changing environment).

Take a look at what your competitors are doing, and what other companies in your sector (or who target similar markets) are doing.

You should develop a social media strategy and plan which platforms you will use, how you will use them and how frequently you will use them and post to them. When planning a specific campaign, its a good idea to draw up a grid listing platforms to be used, timeline and content to be written.

  • LinkedIn (business to business) – everyone should have a good, professional profile in LinkedIn- my intro to LinkedIn
  • Twitter (business (B2B, B2C), consumers, everyone, social) – if you are not using Twitter, you really should be. Don’t wait until you think you are ready to use if for your business, just jump in and start using it right now! Its very easy to create and run separate twitter accounts, so start with a personal one.  Twitter tipsmore tips
  • Facebook (business (B2C), consumers, everyone, social)
  • Pinterest (some business (B2C), social, everyone, focus on images)
  • Tumblr (social)
  • Blogs – WordPress, Blogger etc (widely used by business and for social use, emphasis on text)
  • Snapchat (teenagers, social)
  • Instagram (mostly social, images)
  • YouTube (everyone, video, owned by Google)
  • Flickr (images, owned by Yahoo)
  • Google+ (google fans, not nearly as big a platform as Facebook & Twitter, but  there are a lot of users)
  • Vimeo (everyone, academic, small business, charities)
  • User forums (special interest, eg health issues, cars, gaming, geek/tech stuff

What can you do with social media?

Network – customers, partners, employees, everyone!
Market research

General principles of using social media for business

  • Remember it’s two directional; its not about just pushing your message out, but about having a proper dialogue with customers.
  • Its usually very polite and courteous (trolls* excepted!!) *trolls are people who look for  arguments and try to upset people – don’t rise to the bait!
  • It’s 24/7
  • People expect a very rapid response
  • Bad news can travel very fast
  • Openness, sharing, collaboration are key
  • Hard to keep things private, so might as well share on your terms
  • Opportunity to delight your customer, champions on your behalf
  • Be a human being, don’t hide behind the company
  • Sense of humour very subjective – use with extreme caution (be human, know your customer)
  • Know when to take a discussion offline (Re: trolls and handling bad news)


Things move very fast, and its very easy to find examples of good, bad and positively disastrous examples of social media use; just Google ‘social media disasters. Here’s a round-up from Mashable of their top 11 Social Media disasters of 2012

Found this great infographic on what content to use on each channel

Take a look at what is happening at Wimbledon just now (Jun 2013) how they are using SM, twitter camera behind the scenes. Fatbuzz has written a great blog about it.

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What are the vital tasks that young businesses need to undertake in order to succeed?

I was one of the judges at the Scottish heat of the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards today., and was really impressed with the standard of the entries. Everyone gave such impressive, confident pitches. 

I was also asked to give a short talk on this topic  I wrote this in preparation but ended up ‘winging it’ as usual, despite the butterflies in my stomach. Apologies to people in the audience if I rambled on; clearly I had not put as much work into my preparation as the finalists who were pitching.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts, please let me know if you agree, and do add your own ‘vital tasks’ too. 

Find out what you really care about

What does success look like to you? Is it about making lots of money, is it about responding to a social issue? If you don’t care about your business, why should anyone else?


I’m not talking about writing a 64 page business plan that goes into minute detail and quotes endless market research statistics here. But you do need a guide for where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. At SIE, we favour the Business Model Canvas which is a very simple tool for mapping out the essential elements you need to consider.

Don’t be afraid to change your plan as you go. Sometimes, as you gain knowledge of what your customers and market really want, you need to change direction. But don’t keep changing direction. If you have to change too often, perhaps you need a complete rethink. Pivot, don’t spin!

Get Customers

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business! Your product or service may not be ready yet, but the sooner you start to look for customers, the sooner you will know if your business idea has traction. But they have to be the right sort of customers, the sort that pay you money and appreciate you. Successful businesses want to get repeat business and referrals.


Do your potential customers/market know what you are selling? Is your message (and your product) simple to understand? Are you listening to what they are saying? Communication is a two way process, and listening to what customers want is a vital part of becoming a successful business (unless you are Ryanair!).

Get some Money

Of course you need money to succeed, and the best money to get is from paying customers. However that may take a while, so what do you do to keep going in the meantime?

For those of you who have not been successful in this competition, don’t give up. Your businesses have great potential and there is plenty you can do without a lot of money. You don’t always need as much as you think. Think about what else you have, skills that you can share in order to get something in return. What help and resources you can you get? Maybe you can partner with someone? Don’t be afraid to ask – you need to become a ‘master asker’ (my favourite definition of an entrepreneur).


Staying still is not an option. You may be perfectly happy in your little niche, but If you don’t plan to grow, eventually someone will come along and take your business away. The world is a big place, but its accessible, so don’t be afraid to go beyond borders. Keep challenging yourself to take the next step, and the next, and the step after that. Be prepared to move outside your comfort zone – its only uncomfortable for a while.

Be the best

You probably already are an expert in something, whether that is whisky, wedding dresses or computational linguistics. But you need to be the best you can be in your business. Customers (yes, them again) need you to solve their problems and want to believe they are getting the best solution. What’s your USP, or ‘unique selling point’? What can you offer that no-one else can?

Find advisors you can trust

Its great that there are plenty of people who will give you help and advice, It could be a bank manager, someone from a support organisation such as SIE, even a friend or a family member. They may have a vested interest, they may be completely impartial. Listen to what they say, but also trust your own judgement. They may be highly recommended, but they need to be right for you. Take time to reflect. Sometimes the advice you get is wrong – you need to be able to believe in yourself and trust yourself above all.

Finally, just do it!

You won’t get everything right, every time, but you will always learn and do better the next time.

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A new year begins with a snapshot, friends and memories

I took this photo with my phone on 1st January, 2013.


It’s not a great photo, but I’d just discovered that there was a panorama option and I wanted to play with it.

New Year is a time to reflect on times past, and my enthusiasm with this newly discovered tool reminded me of some of the first photos that I took with my very first ‘good’ camera – a Vivitar with a fixed 50mm lens. I wanted to capture some of the glory of the Scottish scenery and took lots of photos of the hills. It took 2 weeks before the enormity of my inexperience
became apparent. I sent away my film to be developed, but my excitement soon turned to disappointment when I looked through the prints. All I had managed to capture was a few disappointing images of a bare slice of hill.
I soon learned how to compose better photographs, and I really enjoy taking photos. I also know my limitations, and that even the amazing new technology in my pocket, I can still take terrible pictures. But I appreciate the time and effort that professional photographers have to put in to take really good photos. In the meantime, I the snap above has value to me as a reminder of a lovely walk with family and friends, like many other New Year’s Days in the past, with many more to come.

I took a few more snaps yesterday, and messed around with software on my phone to make them look a bit better. Technology and experience has vastly improved my photographs compared to the first pictures I took as a 12 yr old with a new camera. Most it my photos are still terrible, but every so often I manage to take a photo I’m really proud of. Fortunately digital photography means I can keep trying, without the limitations of an expensive roll of film!



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Entrepreneurial students are where will Scotland’s economic growth will come from.

This is the talk that I gave at ACCA Scotland’s business debate in June 2012. ACCA is the global body for professional accountants. Let me know what you think, join in the debate using the comments below.

“I know where our economic growth will come from – it will come from our students; the enterprising, socially aware, tech savvy, globally connected, young people that fill our university campuses.

I am by nature an optimistic person. And why wouldn’t I be? I lead an organisation that helps students to become entrepreneurs. Every day, I see bright, enthusiastic young people who are full of ideas. Some are supremely confident, others are more reticent. All, however, are smart, hard working and forward looking. These smart, well-educated young people are not enough, however; they need to be nurtured and supported.

I’ve heard a lot of negativity about Scotland’s low rate of business start-ups but, I wonder, are we too focussed on quantity rather than quality?

What we see at the Scottish Institute for Enterprise are companies started by students and recent graduates that aim high. They are not just looking to develop a lifestyle business or become self employed. Their ambition is to have companies with turnovers in the millions; and then they are going to use that money to help others. These are the companies from which Scotland’s future growth will emerge.

An example, Deer Digital in Aberdeen. The business started in 2010, when Alice, their Managing Director graduated. Its founders are still in their 20’s, but already they are employing 13 highly skilled people. They could have been just another web design agency, but they are far more ambitious. They are successfully raising investment for the technology platform they have developed; their aim is high and their horizons are global.

And then there is Lat56, founded by 2 students from Strathclyde University’s Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management. Keen outdoor sports enthusiasts, their first product was a folding surfboard, before they moved on to the luggage market. Their company was founded in 2007, and in 2010 they secured an exclusive launch with Selfridges to retail their innovative luggage designed specifically for business travellers.

Now the products are available in the US and the rest of the world thanks to an online launch, and the luxury brand has offices and logistics in Glasgow, London, San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Last night, I was at Strathclyde’s annual design show, full of students with great potential and amazing ideas. And that’s just one department in one of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, so we have more than enough raw materials to work with.

So what do we need in order to fully exploit Scotland’s emerging talents? In my experience, students need three things:

– Advice

– Routes to market

– Money!!!!!

The first, advice, is where we score very well.
The existing Scottish business community is our ‘secret sauce’. We are a small country, and our experienced business people are incredibly generous when it comes to sharing their experiences and giving advice to our students. They are candid and realistic, and their insights are incredibly valuable to our new, entrepreneurial companies.

And if they can’t help, they will know someone else who can, the networking advantage of a country where everyone seems to be, at most, just two degrees of separation away, cannot be overestimated. At one of our recent student company accelerator bootcamps, participants worked out that they knew people who know Richard Branson and Bill Clinton!

The second, routes to market, although good in part, can be problematic.We have access to global markets though organisations such as SDI, and we have Global Scots. Global Scots have infiltrated every corner of the globe. They have senior roles in companies around the world, but they still feel like part of the Scottish community. They are perfectly positioned to help Scottish companies to develop global clients.

And of course, technology brings the world to us. Every young person has grown up in an environment where information is available at the click of a button, and where contacting people on the other side of the world is easy and quick. Even I can build a website in just a few hours, and can reach a global customer base instantly via tools such as eBay. If I can do that, imagine what people who have grown up using these technologies every day can do.

However, if you need good business contacts, either as customers or as partners, there comes a time when you need to meet them face to face. I don’t need to tell you how hard that can be, when almost any journey requires at least two flights.

On a related note, manufacturing is also an issue. Our fledgling companies happily negotiate production deals with manufacturers in China. Any why not? Costs are lower, which gives them bigger sales margins. However it’s hard to get started on prototyping when relying on remote manufacturers, so many promising product ideas fail early because of the lack of local, smaller scale manufacturing and prototyping.

And finally there is access to money.
Do I need to say any more? Our new entrepreneurs are very adept at bootstrapping in the early stages, but there comes a point where significant investment is needed, and that is very hard to get. In fact, for many new businesses, they struggle even to raise £20k and so can fall at the first hurdle.

I don’t want to end on a low note, however, so I’d like to end by quoting Sir Tom Hunter when he spoke last week at the Business in Parliament event:
He said that “The beauty of Scotland is that we are small, we’re nimble. We’re a speedboat, if you like, against the large supertankers that are America, India and China. We can run rings round about them if we have the ambition, drive and determination to do so.”

And quoting Google founder Sergey Brin, who said the competitor he feared most was probably sitting in a bedsit in China or a garage in America, Sir Tom asked: “Why not a bedsit in Scotland?” He also asked that when he spoke to nearly four hundred students at SIE’s Student Enterprise Summit last year, and you can be sure that the audience took note!

So if you want to see where Scotland’s economic growth will come from, don’t take my word for it, come and meet some of these young people yourselves, I’d be pleased to introduce you.”

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