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Julie Tucker
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Martin Lewis: The accidental entrepreneur

Martin Lewis has a reputation for being one of the hardest-working financial experts in the industry.

Since founding his MoneySavingExpert.com website in 2003, he has built up a multi-million-pound empire – featuring in the Sunday Times Rich List 2019, with an estimated net worth of £128 million.

He emails his newsletter, Money Saving Expert’s Money Tips, to a staggering 13 million subscribers. That’s five million more followers than Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop newsletter and 11 million more than the prestigious New York Times’ Morning Briefing.

Despite his fame and fortune, the financial journalist turned consumer champion describes himself as an “accidental entrepreneur” and says he doesn’t place himself in the same category as the multi-millionaire stars of Dragons’ Den.

In a recent interview, he described a “true entrepreneur” as someone whose aim was setting up a business to make money – citing “Dragon” Peter Jones as an example. Lewis said that in his head, he was a campaigning journalist, who had built up a successful and ethical empire as a “lucky by-product” of spreading the word of money-saving.

He says this usually prevents him from giving interviews about starting a business and entrepreneurship, as it risks sending a “confusing mixed message” from someone who has a pro-consumer focus. However, he occasionally passes on some useful tips, mainly for the young people who ask him for advice.

Early career
Born in Manchester in 1972, Lewis, now 47, spent his early life in Didsbury. He read law and government at the London School of Economics, before becoming a postgraduate student in broadcast journalism at Cardiff University in 1997.

After graduating, he became a producer for the BBC Business Unit on Radio Five Live and then editor of the business slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He moved to the satellite channel, Simply Money, after leaving the BBC on 31st December 1999. This was where he developed his “Money Saving Expert” reputation.

However, the channel closed down in 2001, after losing its backer, Invest TV. Lewis returned to journalism, writing the Deal of the Week column in the Sunday Express and presenting Money Saving Expert segments on Gloria Hunniford’s daytime Channel 5 show, Open House.

Money Saving Expert
Lewis began appearing on the live show, Save Yourself a Fortune, on ITV Meridian, in October 2002, as their official Money Saving Expert. The show won the Campaigns and Seasons category in the 2002 Royal Television Society Educational Awards.

At a cost of just £100, he launched MoneySavingExpert.com in February 2003 from his living room. He focused on giving advice to consumers on how to reduce bills. It took off in a big way and became the UK’s biggest consumer site.

Now, with more than 16 million monthly users, 13 million subscribers have signed up for his money tips email. Lewis’s advice is provided in a “no frills” way, with plenty of simple text, few images and no ads. It offers money-saving tips on just about everything – whether you want cheaper meals at Nando’s, great deals on broadband, the best savings accounts, codes for discounts at airport lounges and special offers galore, this is where to look.

Television work
In 2012, Lewis sold the website to Moneysupermarket.com for an estimated £87 million, although he remained editor-in-chief. He announced his intention to donate £10 million to charity, including £1 million to Citizens’ Advice.

In 2015, he donated £500,000 each to The Trussell Trust for its anti-poverty work and the Personal Finance Education Group to fund financial education work. Focusing on content quality, ethics and strategies, he became MSE’s executive chair in 2016.

Currently in its ninth series, The Martin Lewis Money Show is the most popular current affairs programme in the UK, averaging around four million viewers. He’s the resident consumer expert on ITV’s This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live, with columns in the Financial Times, the Sunday Mirror and the Telegraph. His syndicated column is published by more than 50 newspapers and magazines.

Entrepreneurial tips
Lewis rarely offers business tips, but on the odd occasion when he does, he passes on plenty of useful information. Before starting out, would-be entrepreneurs are urged not to confuse a good idea with good business.

While a good business is something that will make a profit, either right away, or in the future, a good idea is not worth anything unless you’ve worked out a business plan including expenditure, revenue and how long it will take to start making money.

Too many people get carried away with their idea – without working out whether it will actually work and what will be required to boost its success. Lewis urges: “If you’re going to run a business, do the numbers!”

Living costs
The other considerations he highlights are what you’re going to live off and whether you have the skills needed. Some new business owners brag that they’ve given up their job to put everything into their new company. Although he admires their “conviction”, he says taking risks like this can make the venture less successful -unless you have backers, or a lot of savings, you may find yourself running out of money fast if you give up your regular salaried job to throw all your eggs in one basket.

If you come up with a great idea, do you necessarily have the skills to make it a reality? Think what it will take to get your business working – including the marketing side to bring in clients. If you don’t have the required skillset, can you afford the time and money to train yourself, or to take someone on who knows what they’re doing?

Building up trust
Arguably THE most important factor when it comes to business success is building up trust among consumers – failure to do so will seriously impact on its chances of success.

In the run-up to the Brexit referendum in June 2016, Lewis gained a reputation as the most trusted voice in debates on leaving the EU, according to a poll. The survey about which celebrities were the most trusted saw Lewis win a massive 71% of the vote. His guide, How to Vote in the EU Referendum, was read more than one million times.

If you want to start your own business, give yourself the best start by renting a flexible workspace or coworking office from Headspace. For details, give us a call on 020 3691 7500.

 

Image © Denise Maxwell / Alamy Stock Photo

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