|24 Feb 2021|
|Business & Finance|
Building my brand. Seeing failures as steppingstones. Building follower numbers.
At just 24, Ben Jeffries has won several entrepreneurial accolades, including being named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 listing for 2020. So when Ben spoke to an online Tonbridge audience in December, it was interesting to hear that his entrepreneurial journey began with a clothing business he started whilst at school, aged 15.
‘Breeze’ was a catch phrase that Ben and his school mates used to throw around. “We joked that we should put it on a t-shirt, which I decided to do,” Ben explained. “I wanted to turn Breeze into the next big clothing brand.”
He didn’t know any celebrities to endorse his products, but being a big Chelsea fan, Ben reached out to Chelsea’s reserve team players with the offer of free clothing in return for tweets showing them wearing it. As he explained: “These footballers were recognisable names to anyone following Chelsea and they had 10,000 – 15,000 social media followers each. They really helped me build my brand.”
Ben realised that if he could use the success of these relatively small-scale influencers to reach potential customers, then he could help established brands do the same thing. He developed this idea into Influencer, a business which Ben has built into one of the UK’s largest influencer marketing companies, with 60 employees, working with brands such as Ocado, McDonalds and Uber.
Sporting metaphors were plentiful as Tonbridge Director of Sport, Chris Morgan, posed questions during the talk, about how Ben went about building his business.
Ben spent his gap year selling classified ads which built up his confidence and selling skills. Rather than go travelling afterwards, Ben saved his earnings for start-up capital.
Initially, Ben embarked on a Business Administration degree at Bath University, to learn the tricks of the trade for entrepreneurship. But in his second year, after a short industrial placement at Shell, Ben used his remaining placement time to develop his own business. After three months he had built up momentum and found it impossible to focus on full time studies, so he quit university to continue full-time with Influencer.
“I learnt a lot of lessons from University and it’s the right path for many people,” Ben explained. “But for me, it was a fantastic to just throw myself into my business at that time.”
Ben explained what social media influencers do, how they make money, and how brands use his company to connect with the right influencers to reach their target market. Giving advice to anyone interested in becoming an influencer Ben recommended developing content based on true passions and interests, “because it’s a long, rough journey to build follower numbers”.
Ben also discussed challenges facing the tech industry, in particular mental health and addiction highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’. He pointed to actions tech companies like Facebook are taking, by hiding ‘likes’ and follower numbers, and remains positive they will find ways to self-regulate, to stop users leaving platforms and prevent government regulation.
Describing his proudest moment in business yet, Ben talked about raising £3 million in venture capital investment which felt like “a defining moment” for Influencer after nine months of tough due diligence.
It’s not all been plain sailing, however. “There have been multiple times I have wanted to give up, but I’ve learnt to see failures as stepping stones,” explained Ben. “It’s just about making sure you don’t make the same mistakes twice.”
Ben encouraged Tonbridge alumni to connect on LinkedIn to ask further questions about the industry or to share ideas. As he concluded: “It’s great to be able to give something back to the Tonbridge community which has been so great to me.”
Listen to Ben’s talk, and other events by OT speakers in the Tonbridge Spotlights series: https://www.tonbridgeconnect.org/pages/tonbridge-talks
Ben Jeffries (SH 09-14)