Journetman Jones: Turn oven chips into your empire

I CONSIDER myself something of an ideas man. How else could I turn this column into something which is enjoyed by millions every week without a sizeable font of creativity? What I do not have, and what I suspect I d have been better off with, is a busines

I CONSIDER myself something of an ideas man.

How else could I turn this column into something which is enjoyed by millions every week without a sizeable font of creativity?

What I do not have, and what I suspect I'd have been better off with, is a business brain. I don't have the first clue about business.

I failed GCSE commerce horribly. Since then, I realised that I was more oven chip than blue chip.

But what every business needs, apart from attention to detail and a sound head to understand the figures, is an idea. An acorn from which a mighty oak tree may grow.

Barrie Hawkins spends his working days helping people to generate ideas. He has produced a book, How To Generate Great Ideas, which isn't just a clever title.

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It's been translated into Chinese, and I would offer you a brief precis of the that version here, but I don't want you to get bored.

Barrie and his wife Dorothy have travelled the country for more than 10 years providing courses for those who need to generate business ideas.

Now they are settled in Cambridgeshire and have veered away from the endless nights in hotels and the neon glow of service stations.

Like most good ideas, Barrie's rebirth as a training guru was born out of a misfortune. He was made redundant. It is important to make a distinction here. Barrie will not tell you how to run your business - after all, there is no one set formula for a successful enterprise - but he will help you come up with ideas to start off.

I'm at a gathering of 30 or so people who are all looking to start up in business. Kristen is one such person. She took time off to have children, but now wants to work with nursery-age youngsters.

"Having kids stretches you mentally and physically," she tells me. "But this course has motivated me and drives me on to do more."

Kristen is enjoying her last lunch of the two-day course, before an intensive final session in the afternoon. Each delegate (How I hate that word) has been given a ring-binder which takes them through the course.

In the file, among other things, is a list of quotes from famous business people. Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the man I have most to thank for my commitment to dietary excellence, started his business aged 65.

Please don't tell the Government. They'll raise retirement age to 102.

Barrie's talk is colourful and illuminating. He tells us about a man who discovered a useful sideline in 12ft knickers, and about a number of successful businesses which have started as a result of one of his courses. Taking the jargon out of what he's saying, he delivers his talk in a witty, straightforward manner.

This is not some horrendous office-based team bonding exercise. As much as anything, it's a forum for ideas which people of all ages can take something from.

East Cambridgeshire District Council sponsor the course, and they have clearly remembered Rule Number One: if you're going to host a course, make sure you do it somewhere where there's an all-singing vending machine.

In summary, the best way to launch a new product is to modify an existing one. Take, for example, portable toilets. You can now hire, should you be so inclined, the most luxurious portable toilets in the world.

It'll cost you £1,200 per day, but they come with wooden seats, brass taps, antique light fittings, fluffy towels, soft paper, newspapers for the men, mending kits for the ladies, not to mention the vigilant attendant.

Entrepreneur Richard Ferrand found a gap in the market. It could have been anyone's idea, it just so happened to be his. This is Barrie and Dorothy's point. While £1,200 per day seems like a lot of money, people prefer the feeling of luxury to the conventional grimy toilets at the village fete.

So, nothing is impossible. It's all down to a strong amount of self-belief and a decent-sized dollop of luck.

INFO: For more information on future courses in the area, ring Sally Bonnett, regeneration officer at the district council, on 01353 616381.