Scratching that entrepreneurial itch
Nigel Botterill’s entrepreneurial journey began in much the same way as many others. The Founder and CEO of The Entrepreneurs Circle, a company whose mantra is to educate, motivate, help and inspire business owners to achieve more than they ever thought possible, was following a classic corporate path and had forged a very successful career with Barclays, who he joined at 16.
Then, in 2003, Botterill had what he described as, “an entrepreneurial itch”, stating: “The thought of getting old without having run my own business meant that it got to the stage where I had to do something about it.”
Do something about it Botterill duly did. However, not without a real leap of faith that included re-mortgaging the house in order to raise some cash. “I was blissfully ignorant in those days,” he continued. “I had a successful corporate career earning a six-figure salary and I just thought that if I could achieve that working for someone else, why couldn’t I do it working for myself?
“My wife was understandably nervous about me leaving what was perceived to be a very secure job. Likewise, my family and friends all thought I was bonkers. I was quite successful so they were asking why I would throw that all away – I was seen as being quite irresponsible, particularly as we had a very young family at the time.”
‘The Best Of’
From the beginnings as a marketing consultant for local businesses, following his departure from Barclays, Botterill progressed to set up his own small community magazine, and then onto the online platform ‘The Best Of’, where people were given a stage from which they could champion the best of local businesses. Botterill added that this idea seems quite primitive now, but this was the early noughties, the internet was still quite embryonic, and Google Ads had only just launched.
Despite this ‘The Best Of’ quickly became the fastest growing franchise in the UK. It was then however, that the recession hit in around 2008/09. “I thought I had better do something as a responsible franchisor to help my franchisees,” Botterill added.
Botterill essentially ran recession training where his franchisees were invited to attend over various dates to learn more about the pitfalls of steering a small business through a period of austerity. “The response was tremendous,” he continued, “and for the second event I set up a video camera so that we could ask the attendees what they would say to their fellow franchisees who didn’t attend.”
Sometimes our biggest mistakes give us our greatest reward
It was then that chance played a hand. From that edited video Botterill planned to send it to the franchisees who hadn’t attended the training. However, it was accidentally sent to the customers of the franchisees – so rather than going out to 70 or so franchisees it got sent to around 10,000 business owners.
Despite realising the mistake and sending an apologetic email, Botterill and his team came in the following week to find their inboxes inundated with requests from business owners who still watched the video and were asking how to get on the training course.
“Never one to miss an opportunity,” he added, “I had a meeting with my team that morning where we decided to also run the training for the customers of our franchisees. That’s essentially how Entrepreneurs Circle began – as the result of an email that should never have been sent in the first place!”
Botterill explained that as far as marketing a new business is concerned, most owners are very good at what they do (whatever that field may be) but are not so good at the one factor that will determine their business’s success – i.e. how effective they are at acquiring and retaining customers.
For around 70 years after the Second World War, all that was needed to achieve this was to take out an advert in the Yellow Pages and rely on word of mouth. In the last 20 years however, all that has been completely turned on its head. “Now, social media is 21st Century word of mouth,” Botterill continued. “The things you can do now with Google Ads, Facebook and data is incredible. We live in an amazing time to start a business due to the potential to reach a global audience, literally from your bedroom.”
Botterill explained that this is essentially why Entrepreneurs Circle exists today, because so many people are passionate about what they do, but the success of their business is defined by how good they are at getting customers and keeping them. And that’s often where they fall short.
He added: “Entrepreneurs Circle is ten years old this year and we exist to educate, motivate, help and inspire business owners to achieve more than they ever thought possible. And that’s the really fulfilling thing about what we do, because people don’t realise that it is possible to exponentially transform your business when you get the marketing right.
“Everything else matters of course, but really it’s all about getting and keeping customers and in any sector or industry, the companies who are best at getting the phone to ring or the lead flow to become rhythmic, consistent and predictable, are the ones that win. So, everything we do is around those fundamentals.”
“This is why we have set up the ‘Getting and Keeping Customers Convention’, because it’s the single most important thing for any business. Whatever business challenge or problem you have, if you have the right rhythmic flow of new customers coming onboard, you can solve any other problem, because you can write the cheques and make things work.
“On the other side of the coin, if you haven’t got that flow of customers then you ultimately spend your life having to solve all the other problems because there’s never enough cash. So, you become a professional mover of money.”
The Entrepreneurs Circle
There are primarily three parts to The Entrepreneurs Circle, with the biggest division focused on coaching. “Startups need guidance,” Botterill added, “so we’ve developed something called the Entrepreneurs Marketing and Sales System, which helps crack the rhythmic acquisition of customers. It’s here where we’ll work out where you are now, where you want to be (so we can work out how big the gap is), and there’s then a system which prescribes the steps to be taken to fill that gap.” Businesses are then assigned a coach who will work with the client (typically one-on-one), to help implement the systems needed in the business.”
Several years ago, the company introduced an agency section of the business after discovering that some companies simply wanted the marketing done for them. “We actually do the marketing for around 70-80 businesses and act as their marketing department,” added Botterill.
The third part of the business focuses on events, typically around four per year. However, the ‘Getting and Keeping Customers Convention’ in March will be on a scale not seen before. The event will take place at the ICC in Birmingham and will welcome around 1,500 people from all over the world.
Commenting on the ethos behind the event Botterill commented: “The business owners will come to the event to discover, learn and then how to deploy that knowledge. The convention enables them to get into a bubble for a few days where they are able to think about their business in a way that they can’t when they’re at home, immersed in the day-to-day running of a company – where you have to deal with all the challenges and decisions that have to be made on a daily basis in every business.
“So, actually coming out of that to be stimulated, inspired, motivated and educated; while also being surrounded by other like-minded ambitious, driven entrepreneurs, who want to create something bigger than themselves, and getting around 1,500 of those types of people in a room, makes for quite a heady cocktail.”
Running over three days the event will feature some high-profile guest speakers including Peter Jones from BBC’s Dragons’ Den. “We’ll also have David Walliams at the show on the Monday,” added Botterill. “David has sold over £100m worth of books over the last three years, making him the most successful British author during that time period. In the evening of the second day we’ll be holding what will be the seventh annual National Entrepreneur Awards and David will be hosting those.”
One of the key attributes of getting and retaining customers is being able to stand out from the crowd. There’s no money in the middle as the saying goes. And, when Botterill was looking for an individual to demonstrate those attributes, he felt there were few better placed than Piers Morgan. He added: “Piers is clearly a very divisive character but what you can’t argue with is what he’s achieved both on Fleet Street and now on television on both sides of the Atlantic. So, I’m fascinated to have him with us for an afternoon as he’s anything but bland and banal.
“We’ve also got Helena Langdon from Innocent Smoothies. She drives all their social media which of course is a brilliant method to get customers in the 21st century – in all sectors of business. We have Andrew McMillan who headed up customer service at John Lewis for 20 years – so we’ll have some great nuggets from him around the keeping customer side of things. And we’ve got Rory Sutherland who is the creative director at Ogilvy – he’ll be the takeaway that everyone will be talking about I’m sure.”
The event will take place on 22nd-24th March at the ICC in Birmingham.