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Learn from the best marketeers

Top entrepreneurs discuss their tips for success and what books have helped along the way

Getting your business off the ground and keeping it there is tricky at any time, but now it is even harder. Four marketing gurus give their tips for making the most out of their businesses and advise on some of the best reading material to help do this.

Simon Calver, chief executive of Lovefilm

Lovefilm is one of Europe’s largest online entertainment businesses, providing DVDs for rental by post. The business bought Amazon’s rental arm in February. He relies on his four Ps: proposition, preserving cash, PR and passion. He says of the proposition: “It should be: ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ Think about your consumer benefits and bear in mind they may change. If you do anything that makes the proposition worse get the chief executive involved. We are about trying to improve people’s lives daily.”

Mr Calver recommends Maverick, the success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace by Ricardo Semler

Tristram Mayhew, founder of Go Ape

Go Ape is a high wire course operating in 22 forests in the UK. Founder Tristram Mayhew started it with his wife in 2001 with cash from a property sale and it now turns over more than £8 million. He recommends Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap, how to bridge the distance between business strategy and design. The book talks about how to make branding work and how to turn it into a competitive advantage.

Mr Mayhew’s two top tips on handling clients are: “Wow them – always strive for two steps better,” and “Make sure you deal with complaints brilliantly.” He adds: “Build on the relationship. Customers already like you – and you can sell them more.”

Will King, founder of King of Shaves

Will King set up his company in 1993 producing a shaving oil. It now makes razors, moisturisers and women’s razors and claims to shave ‘one million men and women a day’ and it is the number two pre-shave product in the shaving market after Gillette. But it wasn’t easy. “It took five years to go from a £100,000 loss to a £1,000 profit,” he says. And he adds that it is possible to challenge the monopoly, by doing something better, but cheaper if possible.

Mr King recommends The Pirate Inside: Building a Challenger Brand Culture Within Yourself and Your Organizations by Adam Morgan, which is about how people can challenge what their company is doing.

Ajaz Ahmed, chairman of digital advertising agency AKQA

AKQA works with clients including Sainsbury’s, Orange and Unilever. It employs 800 people worldwide. His key piece of advice is to understand your customers. “Make the chief executive experience what the customer does,” he says. He also encourages firms to be humble, with the mantra: “We still think we are zero, we still have a huge amount to achieve,” he says.

All the entrepreneurs spoke at the British Library’s business and intellectual property centre marketing maestros talk. The centre runs various talks, workshops and seminars for small businesses.

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