Case study

Entrepreneur — Neil Clough

Neil Clough, a 2013 finalist on the popular BBC show The Apprentice, tells us his story and provides some top tips for students interested in entrepreneurship

My biggest lesson from the show was to stick to what I know - not what I wanted to know

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

My journey to becoming an entrepreneur was different to most other people, as it came off the back of my appearance on The Apprentice. After reaching the final five and being dubbed the 'right man, wrong plan', I decided to learn from where I went wrong and launch my own business.

My biggest lesson from the show was to stick to what I know - not what I wanted to know - so I co-founded a business called Prime, focusing on sales, where I've spent my entire business career.

What ventures are you currently involved in?

Prime helps graduates kick-start their careers in sales and recruitment. What makes us different is that we identify skillsets and spot sales talent through our unique sales training days, which are free for graduates to attend. They get to learn more about sales as a career and, at the same time, discover some of the key skills needed to be successful in the role.

I'm a director and board member of Out There, a digital marketing business promoting the best things and places to go throughout the UK.

Alongside these businesses, I also frequently travel the country attending events as a motivational and business speaker.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

  • Partner with someone that complements your skillset - this makes you a much stronger force. One person can only do so much, and when starting a business, you have to quickly become a master of all trades.
  • Be different - you must have a clear unique selling point (USP) and know what makes you stand out from the competition. This can simply be a tweak to the normal way of doing things, but the difference is what gets you noticed and makes you memorable.
  • Have a clear vision - know where you want to get to, and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Also, set out your company values from day one. These are the foundation of your business, you have to live and breathe them every day.

What are the top three skills needed to be an entrepreneur?

You have to be able to sell your product or service every day. You also have to sell yourself to gain new clients, as without sales you have no business.

Another is market knowledge. This is where I fundamentally went wrong with my business plan for The Apprentice. I had an idea, but had never worked in that market. Stick to a market you know and enjoy; a market where you can perform at your best.

Finally, you need to believe in yourself, as if you truly believe you can, you're already halfway there.

How do you generate new business ideas?

I come up with my best ideas when running, so always write things down afterwards. It's also worth asking the people closest to you about their ideas and then bouncing yours off them. They're the people most likely to give you the honest feedback you need, as they want you to be successful.

What sacrifices have you had to make?

I put myself in front of millions of people on TV, which could've gone terribly wrong. You must leave your comfort zone if you want to learn new things and become successful. I also left my job to start a business without a salary - you must take risks, or you'll never reach your full potential.

What are the key elements for starting a successful business?

  • Launch your business in a market you know and love.
  • Take your time writing your business plan - and present it to people you know best to gain honest feedback. Also, do your market research.
  • Have a clear vision - so you know where you want to get to.
  • Set core values and live and breathe them every day - this creates your culture, and when you grow, you’re only as good as your people.