Neil Elliot | From a 20-year career in advertising to starting his own business
This week’s #selfstarterstory features Neil Elliot, Founder of Sir Gordon Bennett Ltd.
Pick Yourself UK caught up with Neil to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey…
What was your last job?: Before I took the plunge into entrepreneurship I was an Executive Creative Director of an International advertising agency. Creatively running parts of P&G and Webber Grills.
What motivated you to start your own business?: I had been working in advertising for 20 years. Creating campaigns and developing brands both locally and internationally. But I felt I was in a bit of a rut. And have always had new businesses ideas, this is a by-product of working with many brands. In fact, I started my first business when I was around 13 or 14 years old, drawing and framing 'portraits' of people's American cars.
I was also a record producer and ran my own record label in the early 1990's. But the real motivation was that I was moving up the corporate ladder nicely but was also thinking, was this going to be me forever now? Deep down I knew I wanted to try one more thing. It is often said that you have three careers, not that I thought of making music as a career, it was fun. It took me 3 years of deciding what I wanted to do.
I interrogated many of the ideas I had had. Some were sheer folly, some were not achievable and other had merit. I chose the one that I thought would fulfil both my brand-building skills I had learned, and excited me with something I was really into, namely British brands. I took the big step in 2018, leaving a large salary behind but money isn't a driver in my life, although it has become more important now I am running my own business.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Re-configuring my brain. I have dived into a business I knew pretty much nothing about; retail. But I do love a challenge. Luckily, I had a small nest egg I have been using, but finances are always the hardest. You run out of money quicker than you think, even if you run a lean-operation.
What is your favourite business book and why?: There are so many. There are two I really love although one isn't a business book per se. The E Myth, by Michael E Greber is great. It's all about systems. And Creative Mischief by Dave Trott. It is great to just delve in and can make you think differently about business problems.
How do you market your business?: As a new and small business we are trying to use all of the tools at our disposal that are cost-effective. We use online tools as much as possible. We are of course using PPC through Google as it is a great tool to drive those in- market to our site. We use our Social Media channels to build the brand and inform our potential customers.
Instagram is our main tool at present, but time-permitting we also tweet. Our aim is to be a content-driven website, so our blog and newsletter Gordon'sBUGLE will become more and more important. PR is often cost-prohibitive to new businesses. So, we have identified some online tools and use them as much as possible.
JournoLink.com is where we tell news about SirGordonBennett, the brand, and give our industry opinion. PressLoft.com is a great site for getting the products we stock into magazines/blogs/newspapers. They also have an Influencer collaboration area which we are just testing the water with. And we check the JournoRequests email every day. We are also testing an affiliate program at the moment but it is early days, so the verdict is out on that.
How did you get your first paying customers?: We told all of our friends that we were about to go live and asked very politely if they would share the news on their social media. Most of our friends loved the idea and the products, so were pleased to do so. The first names we didn't know who bought something probably came from friends of friends of friends.
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: Apart from what I have mentioned, we have been slowly A/B testing many different ways at driving quality traffic to SirGordonBennett. We had a PPC Google drive before Christmas but our testing wasn't robust enough, so didn't do a great job, but learnt a lot. Especially when it came to landing page designs. We have tried Taboola too, which spreads content that brands have created, through different websites. The CPC was great for this and gained a lot of traffic, but the conversion rate was low.
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: If you think your idea is viable and you believe you can make it a success, then you should go for it. Be prepared to be self-motivated, nobody will do anything for you, it is all down to you.
Saying that, you can prepare all you want, but nothing prepares you for the first day of trading, but don't let that put you off. You will have great days and bad days, it's all part of the learning.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is put systems in place and to stick to them. They will save you time and money. And you should only work on things that will either make you money, or save you time.
This is tough as an entrepreneur but if it is cost-effective then pay someone to do the stuff you are not good at or don't like doing. The relief will be a revelation.
Why would you like to win Pick Yourself UK's Small Business Entrepreneur of the year 2019?: Any new, small business needs exposure to reach its next goals and milestones. I am 48 and took a decision that some see as brave, and others see as stupid; giving up a 6 figure salary in a safe job to test myself again.
Hopefully I can be, at least a small inspiration to others, that it never is too late. I have at least 20 years of working life left, which is a long time.