With the beauty of hindsight, would you have still auditioned for BBC’s The Apprentice to launch Climb Online?
When growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be in business and that I wanted to be successful. It wasn’t until I was working for a personal training college in Australia that I realised the true power of digital marketing, as the website I built and ranked on the first page of Google for key search terminology enabled them to accelerate revenue from $2,000 to $240,000 per month within just a matter of weeks.
After I travelled to the UK, I wanted a bank loan to help launch my first business, but I wasn’t able to secure one. A friend suggested I try out for BBC’s The Apprentice as an alternative, which was something I hadn’t heard of, let alone watched before, and the rest is history. I don’t believe in regrets and certainly wouldn’t have changed how I started my business journey. The show provided me with an excellent PR and lead generation platform, and I have had the unique opportunity to meet and learn from some incredible businesspeople, including Lord Sugar, for which I am very grateful.
The X Factor winners are often lambasted by the press and not taken seriously as artists by the music industry after winning the show. Have you experienced parallel treatment from the business community after winning BBC’s The Apprentice?
I would certainly say that I experienced parallel negative treatment from the digital marketing industry when I first won BBC’s The Apprentice; where I was even booed going onto stage to speak at a trade event. However, I am always a big believer in the fact that how people treat and respond to others is more a reflection of themselves and it wasn’t something that I let impact me. The best people in business are those who can support and celebrate other people’s successes and that’s what I always strive to do, regardless of the treatment I receive in return.
Do you feel you have had to work harder to prove your credence as a business owner since winning the show?
Yes, on some level I do think I initially felt like I had to work harder to prove my credibility as an entrepreneur and a business owner. A lot of people audition and make it on to BBC’s The Apprentice out of a desire for public recognition and 5 minutes of fame, whereas I only wanted to go on the show to secure investment for my business having been rejected from a number of UK banks due to my nationality.
I still hold the record as the only Apprentice Winner to turn over in excess of £1 million during my first year in business and to actually make a profit, and this was largely due to the fact I was so focused on building a large business with strong foundations from the outset.
You celebrated 6 years of Climb Online at the beginning of January 2021. What have been your standout moments since launching the business?
I have been very fortunate in that I have had many standout moments since launching Climb Online, from being listed twice on Forbes 30 under 30 to creating and hosting my own business conference, CLIMBCON in 2019.
However, my real stand out moment is quite simple, and it happens almost daily and that is being in the office with my team, receiving positive feedback from clients and helping and mentoring other business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs with their own challenges. There is no feeling like helping someone else succeed or realise their own ambitions and I feel incredibly fortunate that I am able to support and give back to others on a regularly basis.
Have you ever just wanted to throw in the towel?
All business owners at some point will have that feeling of wanting to throw in the towel, particularly on the days when nothing is going right, and everything feels impossible. However, the true marker of success is the ability to continue to show up each day and work through every single challenge. The ones that do will come out on top, maybe not immediately, but eventually.
I am from a small town in Australia where my Dad owns the local car garage and my mum owns the local hair salon, so when we were all sitting round the table at dinner time, they would discuss the challenges of running a business and I would gain real insight into the hardships. In starting and continuing to work through my business journey I have always had this in the back of my mind. The power of persistence cannot be underestimated and even on days when I feel like it, I wouldn’t ever throw in the towel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved very challenging for Businesses UK wide. How has your business affected?
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic was the hardest period I have ever had to work through in business as like the majority, we lost clients and were forced to make challenging decisions. However, I would also say I have learnt the most about business during this time and have worked hard to implement an effective survival strategy. This not only meant we were able to continue to navigate through the first difficult three months, but in taking the time to look at our costs, our staff and our processes, have had the opportunity to make vast improvements that have enabled us to thrive beyond pre-COVID levels and really come out on top.
What do you think the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be? Will the economy bounce back quicker than predicted?
During the latter quarter of 2020 we saw signs of potential bounce back with the stats from Q3 officially pulling the UK out of recession. However, two additional lockdowns have been implemented since then with no real signs of when public facing businesses will be able to re-open their doors.
Although there haven’t been any changes to taxes as yet, I do think these will come as and when we start to see economic recovery and hope any increases don’t impact business owners too heavily, particularly as they have worked so hard to survive this unprecedented period.
How has COVID-19 changed the digital marketing industry?
At the start of the pandemic the digital marketing industry did experience an initial hit as businesses cut back on digital marketing spend as a cost-saving exercise. However, long-term I would actually say the pandemic has since played into the hands of the digital marketing industry by emphasising the importance of having a strong digital presence to sell your product or service online.
There will still be agencies who will be down on a revenue. However, this won’t be because the business and sales opportunities aren’t out there, but because they aren’t pushing hard enough and are ultimately using COVID-19 as an excuse. At Climb Online we have won many new clients recently just because we were the only agency to actually answer the phone, which is quite unbelievable and shows that many agencies operating remotely do not have the right virtual infrastructure in place.
What advice would you give for business owners struggling to drive growth?
The first thing business owners should do is to hire a salesperson who can implement a clear and consistent business development strategy. I’ve met thousands of business owners over the years and it still amazes me that the vast majority don’t have any form of sales operation to keep the pipeline full and to proactively sell. Often the business owner is hesitant to hire a salesperson due to a bad experience or because they believe no one will be able to sell the business as well as they can, and whilst the latter is likely to be true, you still need additional people on the ground generating as many leads as possible. Without a sales team, any form of sales strategy becomes inconsistent and ineffective, limiting the opportunity for growth.