Will Mark Wright’s ‘Climb Online’ Succeed?

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If you haven’t watched the latest season of The Apprentice, the winner’s business proposition was an online digital marketing company.  In short, the main focus would be on SEO.  In fact SEO was the only service that was mentioned in the initial proposition.  Heads were most likely shaking and sighs released from anyone who works in the SEO industry, especially when words such as ‘outsourcing’ were briefly touched upon.  It must be said that any comments or statements made in this article are done so upon the information gleaned from the show and as such may be tainted with a lack of knowledge.  Take them with a handful of salt….but regardless there are lessons to be learnt either way.  After all we do happen to run an SEO training company here and it is our job to dispense this type of information!


Let us start with the positives.  At first we felt like we were scraping the barrel here, but it must be said that if someone who has been as successful as Lord Sugar (with all his cronies – Nick is a personal favourite of ours) chooses a brash Australian to invest £250,000 in, there must be some positives.  Some of these positives are laced with caveats and moreover some are attached to blaring negatives, but if you can find it in the kindness of your hearts to at least consider the brighter side of life I am sure that Mr Wright would greatly appreciate it.

Minimum Spend

Lord Sugar questioned Mark Wright in the board room in regards to the amount that he would expect businesses to pay for the services of Climb Online, to which Mark responded that there would be a minimum spend of £400 per month.  To some businesses this may still seem like a lot of cash to be spending every month on a campaign but it really is an industry standard, and a good one at that.  A minimum spend is crucial to avoid the classic case of overselling and under delivering, a trap that many SEO sales people tend to fall into.  As a result, although this minimum spend might not technically guarantee results, we were happy that Mark was not going to try and flog campaigns at any level of spend especially considering Lord Sugar’s tendency to side with the ‘pile it high’ crowd.

Taking the time to understand the business and tailor the campaigns accordingly

We have discussed the implications of this in relation to the dreaded mention of outsourcing below and also the fact that this is by no means a new idea.  However, with all the negativity surrounding the potential practices of Climb Online it must be said that this is by far the most positive aspect of Mark Wright’s pitch.  Mark claimed that Climb Online would take the time to understand to understand the business and the requirements whilst also arranging monthly face to face meetings with a designated account manager.  The cynics would argue that this became an industry standard years ago (which is true) but at least Mark knew enough about the industry to highlight this practice and place a large amount of emphasis upon it.

If an SEO campaign was to commence without the provider taking the time to learn about the client’s business and requirements, one could legitimately argue that either the campaign would be dead in the water from day one or that the inevitable conclusion would be an angry/lost client in the coming months.  SEO campaigns are not ‘off the shelf’ products, they have to be tailored to requirements from the very start so it is refreshing to see a new comer with this at its core.

1. For the viewers

It must also be remembered that it is a tv show and as a result some of the issues commented on by industry peers may have been as a direct result of the need to satisfy the voracious appetite of tv viewers.  Let us start with issues that have been raised by others, but that we would argue are largely down to producers/tv.

Lack of Name

Many have commented on the fact that he did not even have a name for the business (we have discussed the domain name problem in further detail below).  This seemed like one hell of an oversight, especially when he proclaimed to his team that ‘the focus of an online agency is really its brand’ or when Sanjay mentioned that he had been “preparing this for years”.  Only the producers and those in the show will have the full details of how the business idea is pitched and developed but considering that Bianca also had to come up with a name we can probably assume this was included for the show.

£3k per month sale

Let’s get one thing straight here, Mark’s team did not secure a £3k per month sale for Climb Online.  They pitched an idea, and the desired SEO processes to a hair and make up academy, to which their response was that they would certainly be interested in moving their budget.  Whether they will have closed this deal is unknown.  It has also been commented upon in other articles that it was unclear as to whether this £3k spend also encompassed their PPC spend.

2. He ‘knows’ the digital space

Information on Mark Wright is a little scarce, but initial research shows that he has worked in the arena for a number of years.

Mark Wright Linkedin Profile

Mark interestingly claimed that he understands online marketing better than anyone.  We appreciate that he is attempting to sell himself here, but this might have been a step too far.  In an article by Jim Shelley for The Daily Mail he mentioned that Mark “was not an entrepreneur, just a sales manager”.  The fact that Mark is a sales manager will not necessarily prevent him from running a successful digital marketing agency, but it is a tall order to claim that his knowledge as a sales manager would be as comprehensive to make such claims.

Others in the show appeared similarly deluded as to the extent of his real world experience.  No disrespect to sales managers, but unless they have actively worked on campaigns their knowledge will almost always be in broad strokes.  The success of Climb Online will lay heavily on Mark being able surround himself with more knowledgeable people that are able to deliver the work that he will inevitably sell.  To be fair to Mark, others commented on his ability as a team manager so he might just pull it off!

Mark’s comment that he had not heard of 4Ps Marketing (said to one of the partners of 4Ps Marketing) was described by The Mirror as Mark spinning a fairly scything question into a positive.  Maybe the journalist was watching another show, but a nervous attempt to throw egg on the face of the competition simply served to highlight Mark’s lack of market research and knowledge.

3.  Domain Name

The domain name problem has been possibly the most publicised of Mark’s mistakes.  He chose the name “Climb Online” yet www.climbonline.co.uk is in fact a rock climbing website.  They have had to settle for www.climb-online.co.uk and therefore having to use the dreaded hiphenated domain!

Interestingly www.climbonline.co.uk have decided to have a little bit of fun with the situation and placed this on their homepage.  Little did they know that they only had to add it to their meta description, but either way it is funny.  They have even create a page explaining that they are in fact NOT Lord Sugar’s most recent investment opportunity.

As seen on TV

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The winner of series 10 of The Apprentice and Lord Sugar’s next business partner – Mark Wright discussed climbonline on the show.

Regardless of whether the lack of a name was a tv requirement, what the domain name debacle did do was in fact highlight Mark’s lack of knowledge in the industry.  If he was as knowledgeable as he claimed in the digital marketing space this would have been one the first aspects that he would have checked!  With hindsight the episode was dripping with irony considering the fact that he shot his promotional video in a climbing centre….really tickled us.

UPDATE: Climb Online now have a landing page up on http://climb-online.co.uk/.   Whilst there was never really any doubt, this also confirms that they will not just be focussing on SEO.  PPC and Social Media Management will also be in their repertoire.

Climb Online Landing Page

4.  Outsourcing and Personalised Service are Poles apart

We were particularly amazed at the fact that Mark Wright dared to even mention outsourcing as a potential method of providing an SEO service.  Anybody who has been involved in SEO, both as a service provider or as a client will have been furiously shaking their heads at this point in the show.  Before we all get up in arms it must be noted that outsourcing was mentioned as a potential method, rather than a confirmed part of the business plan.  However, it was rather astonishing that outsourcing was even crossing his mind!  A staggering and overwhelming percentage of clients that come to us having had poor or spammy SEO work previously conducted on their site was a result of outsourcing the work.  Have a read of our article on the perils of outsourcing SEO for more information on this.  Whatever his reason for mentioning outsourcing as an option, for someone who proclaimed to have almost unrivalled knowledge in the space it came as quite the eyebrow raising shock.

The real knee slapper was that Climb Online claimed to offer a personalised SEO service.  It was one of the primary selling points for Mark – he felt that customers desired a more personalised service from their providers.  Whilst we are sure that Mark Wright the salesman would argue that having a dedicated project manager with regular meetings would create this personalised service, but unfortunately this feels like a little bit of a cop out.  Personalised service extends beyond simply communication.  The whole team that are working on the campaign should be aligned with the client’s business and requirements which we feel would be incredibly difficult to achieve if the work was being outsourced..  Who knows, maybe the project managers will be able to communicate the necessary information to these outsourcing partners and create the correct guidelines to deliver the quality of work and personalised service that is required.  It is not impossible, but considering the level of work delivered by outsourcing partners abroad it would be near enough a biblical miracle if Mr Wright pulled it off.

5.  Personalisation

One of the televised questions put to Mark Wright was how he intended on retaining this personalisation when the company grows.  With the caveat that the work would be done in house this would largely be on his management and strategic skills.  Karen seemed adamant that Mark was very good at getting the most out of his team so maybe he will be successful in creating a culture that is maintained even with aggressive growth.

There is one point that we just couldn’t let go of, the claim that this personalisation would be something that would set Climb Online apart from the competition.  Mark’s claim of “we’re different” was largely based on this personalisation.  Matt from 4Ps Marketing, a company that he explained was voted the number 1 agency in the UK last year questioned this personalisation as a selling point after Mark’s pitch, claiming that it was an idea that they pitched 6 years ago.  Others in the industry have also written about this point.  The simple fact is that whilst personalisation is an astute observation, it is not a USP. Far from it.  A personalised service is a concept that most digital marketing agencies and consultants subscribe to, including us.

6.  Biggest USP is himself

Karen mentioned in the boardroom to Lord Sugar that the biggest USP for Climb Online was Mark himself – he gets the best out of people, it is all about the service, all about the unseen.  No doubt Mark’s sales skills will be a rather large asset for the business, but we do feel that Karen’s comment of it being all about the unseen is slightly misguided.  The fact is that the SEO industry, more than many others, is all about the seen.  Clients pay large retainer fees for results.  Not only do clients expect results in return for their money, but they also expect to see how the company has gone about gaining these results.  We would argue that Mark being the biggest USP is actually a negative in the long run (in terms of growth and client retention).  The single biggest USP for an SEO company in an industry that has such an awful stigma attached to it is that they deliver results.

This might be a little harsh because if Climb Online deliver results then Mark’s interpersonal skills will pay dividends, but it should not rely on this.  The main aim/USP of the business should be to deliver results faster and cheaper than competitors.

So what does this all mean?

It is often difficult not to incessantly pick holes in another’s business plan, especially in an industry where SEOs are constantly having to defend themselves against the reputation built by those offering high quality results and delivering substandard work.  We are sure that Mark, Lord Sugar and all those involved with Climb Online will be taking the industries response to heard and adjusting their plans accordingly.  As a result it would come as no surprise if Climb Online were to grow into a major player in the UK search market.  Lord Sugar probably did not realise how poignant his comment of “let’s hope he lives up to all his promises” during The Apprentice: You’re Fired discussions was.  In an industry where so many businesses are sold SEO upon a dream, only to receive spam, it will be Mark’s responsibility to make sure that Climb Online do not add to this reputation.  Only time will tell, but we would urge those at Climb Online to take the industries response into serious consideration!

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