Carl Hopkins Interview
Carl Hopkins has mentored and invested in a variety of Yorkshire-based enterprises with his company, kloog, and his business workshops tackle a variety of topics such as creativity, sales,
advertising and marketing. He was also one of Channel 4’s Secret Millionaires. We asked him about recession busting, the road to success and the rise of business as an entertainment commodity.
What advice would you give start-up businesses during these turbulent ﬁnancial times?
For start-up businesses I would simply suggest you seek advice. There are many regional support initiatives to choose from – Enterprise Leeds and Business Link to name but two and there are many more. Be honest about your own skills and abilities when looking to ﬁnd partners, either shareholders or suppliers. Ensure you have a clear and believable proposition for your business; one that you can deliver on. Network like crazy to meet as many people as possible and share your plans, ideas and values with them – it can be amazing who they can introduce you to. Do not over-commit yourself believing that you know every nuance of your business plan; we are in a fast-changing market and you have to be able to adapt – so cancel that order for a thousand business cards or the 64 page website! And, probably the most important, talk to your customers.
Are there any business opportunities in a recession that might not otherwise exist?
I am sure there are many. Any new pressures that are put on prospects or consumers in general will undoubtedly inspire some to create new, recession-friendly businesses or at least to look at existing business models and shake them down. It’s something I am focusing on with one of my businesses, agencybods.co.uk, in the recruitment sector. I have a standard low commission fee and give half the fee back if it doesn’t work out in order to share the risk with our clients. Also I have helped launch JumbleAID.com which allows the recycling and re-use of goods at very low prices (it’s not an auction) while all the money raised goes to UK Charities who are also struggling in a recession. So it’s a way of supporting your favourite causes without giving your money away and allows you to ﬁnd second hand goods at knockdown prices!
With marketing your area of expertise, are there any ‘must-dos’ for new businesses when formulating their early marketing strategy?
Yes, the ‘must dos’ are you must do something diﬀerent to your competitors. Do this in the way you explain your proposition, ﬁnd your customers, build your brand, execute your ideas. Also, it is never too early to talk to your customers and ﬁnd out what they want to buy – don’t simply focus on what you have to sell!
“My lucky break was being oﬀered a job”
You came from an underprivileged background – at what age did you develop an interest in business?
Underprivileged is a bit strong, when there are so many people up and down the country who are really struggling. I had a strong family unit and for that I am grateful.We may have been in a council house, on a ‘notorious’ estate in a ropey part of Leeds, but I wouldn’t say we were underprivileged. I never set out to be a businessman. At seven-years-old I wanted to be an artist, at ﬁfteen I discovered at college that you could make a living from art and design. And it was while I was there that my education began and not simply in design and advertising but I started to realise I was in fact a salesman after reading the book ‘Ogilvy On Advertising’. I was 17. I have been selling ever since.
Did you have ‘lucky breaks’? How much of your success do you put down to drive and determination?
I ﬁnd if you do the right things in the right way and work hard, then‘lucky’ things happen. Funnily enough, it’s people who don’t do those things that tell me I am‘lucky’ , yet when I meet people who are much more successful than me, they acknowledge the eﬀort and work it takes. My lucky break was being oﬀered a job. After that it’s all down to you, the individual and how you choose to react to the situations you ﬁnd yourself in.
“I am opportunity obsessed, not business obsessed”
When I look back over my career I thought getting my £40/week job at JDA was a big break. Six years into my career, back in the early nineties, the management team of JDA left to create a new agency. This left a gap below the owners, John and Judith Donovan which I stepped in to ﬁll. Then there was a recession which meant the agency did not really grow but it gave me time to grow in to my wider roles, so even a recession can be seen as a ‘lucky break’ . At the end of the nineties I oﬀered to buy the business and completed in2000. In 2007 I sold the whole group.
Are you business-obsessed? Do you still have time for a personal life? Have you found the right balance?
I am opportunity obsessed, not business obsessed. It’s just that some of those opportunities turn in to businesses. I think I have a better balance than ever before in my life but when you are at your business, your home wants you and when you are at home, your business wants you. I’m lucky; I am based at home and share an oﬃce with my wife, so we see a lot of each other and we do take breaks and walk the dog together or have lunch in the garden – and no commuting is bliss.
“It’s not always about ‘the money’”
You were one of Channel 4’s ‘Secret Millionaires’ – tell us about this experience and its impact on you?
I think the inspiring thing about the programme is not the people they‘d rope in like myself, but the people that I met like Jimmy, Cyril and Scott. They are getting up every day for no personal gain or reward to help others. It should remind us all that people like that exist and that a lot of those people need help. They do not always need ﬁnancial help. They may need time, resources or simply advice. It’s not always about ‘the money’. Having been on the programme I am now more aware that there are people like that very close to us all if we take the time to look. After my experience on the programme I now spend more time with charities and schools than I ever did in the past.
Now, I’m not stupid. I know that I am fortunate that I do have control of my own time. So I am able to give that time freely. I spent two hours recently at a children’s hospice looking at ways to help them raise more money. I’ve also been into schools talking to the kids. So hopefully they know they don’t have to be a victim of their environments. On the whole I’d say it’s made me more open to giving up my time to helping those kinds of people. Hopefully, the programme will inspire others to do the same.
“These are exciting times”
Business-related TV shows are extremely popular (The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den, Secret Millionaire, Million Dollar Traders) – ever fancied becoming a Dragon?
I would love to but sadly it takes more cash than I have I’m afraid! I love the show though and learn from it all the time. I’d love to meet one of the Dragons from Dragon’s Den at some point. And in my own small way, I have acted as a Dragon for JumbleAID, Joblink-Systems, Sporting Supplements and a new business that launches in June. These are exciting times and there are lots of opportunities for private investors.
What do you think of The Apprentice?
It’s a corporate composite of X-Factor with ties meets ‘Britain’s got no business talent’! I think The Apprentice is a great programme; I never miss it and enjoy the ‘You’re Fired’ follow on show just as much. Having met several of the guys who have been on the programme in the past, I understand how the production company keeps everyone busy, hyped on sweets, and tired. This means that in the edit, it can cause us to perhaps get the wrong impression of a lot of the individuals. However, I do get the feeling a lot of them could not run a bath, never mind a business!
What are your main pleasures away from the business world?
Really simple things; I adore being at home with my wife, I enjoy our walks together and I love travelling with her. We are about to have our ﬁrst child in May and he will become my main pleasure away from work. My ﬁrst son is now 14 and I cannot wait to have a baby again.