SME Insider recently caught up with Mark Wright, founder of digital marketing firm Climb Online and the 2014 winner of BBC show, The Apprentice.
Mark’s natural enthusiasm and excitement was immediately noticeable – perhaps due to the fact he had just finalised plans to build a second office for his marketing company Climb Online, which is committed to helping SMEs. He broke the news of the expansion to us first, instead of Lord Sugar, which hopefully doesn’t get him into too much trouble.
Mark’s passion for small businesses became clear as we discussed his experience with The Apprentice, how his childhood revolved around SMEs and what advice he has for businesses that want to remain sustainable.
You have extensive experience and a great history with SMEs. What naturally attracted you to working with small business?
I solely think it’s because my family run small businesses. My parents both owned SMEs, so I associate with small business owners because like my mum and Dad, I know the pains that they suffer.
The public first met you while you were a contestant on The Apprentice, a platform which allows people of all ages to make their business dreams a reality. Do you think there are enough opportunities for people who want to start their own business?
I think there are, particularly in the UK. I have worked all around the world and the UK is a land of opportunity which encourages people with an entrepreneurial streak to be successful. If you have a good idea and you have even a small amount of finance behind you, there is an opportunity to be successful.
One of the most difficult stages of The Apprentice for you was when your business plan was analysed by industry experts. What advice do you have for small business owners who want to create the perfect business plan?
I used to think that business plans weren’t important. I was like most people who didn’t want to put the time into creating one. The Apprentice really forced my hand into making a business plan because I had to sit across from Claude Littner and prove that I could handle my business and be tight with my numbers.
I think small business owners make too many fundamental mistakes – they go into something too quickly or they go into an industry that they don’t know. My current business is ten times more successful than the previous businesses that I’ve owned and that is solely down to having a structure and a plan. The key to having a successful business is creating a plan that is doable, and then sticking to that plan.
HSBC recently announced an £8bn lending platform for small businesses. Do you think that this is enough, or should major lenders be doing more for small businesses?
I think it’s a good start. For someone who has started three businesses, finance is the hardest thing to get a hold of – it’s also the thing that separates you from being successful or not. I think £8bn is a really good start but major lenders should always do more to help small businesses.
Half of UK start-ups fail within the first five years. How do SME owners create a business that can stand the test of time?
You have to adapt to change in order to be sustainable, as the internet and the online space changes so quickly with rapid updates. If your business doesn’t adapt to change and you can’t take your products from offline to online, then you’re not going to be successful. If you’re prepared to fail and give it your best then you will have a chance at success.
Your company Climb Online helps market a number of small businesses. What are the key ideas that SMEs should consider when trying to implement a successful marketing campaign?
Keep it simple. I think a lot of small businesses try to market themselves as big businesses and that’s where some fail. My business isn’t a large one, so we don’t pretend that we’re Nike, or Coca Cola, we try to be Climb Online. You have to make your company easy to understand from the outside and you have to keep your costs as low as possible.
What does the future hold for yourself and Climb Online?
I am personally really focused on Climb Online. I want to make the company as big as possible. We have started to detach ourselves from The Apprentice which isn’t a good or a bad thing, but we’ve become reputable within the industry and not leveraged off The Apprentice or Lord Sugar.