Chris Haycock is a digital entrepreneur who has gone from homelessness to multiple-business owner from scratch. As Managing Director of CliqTo Media, Chris has been responsible for building a number of successful online brands from Britevents, the UK’s premiere event listing website to Traffic Update, a site dedicated to bringing UK motorists the latest traffic conditions on our roads and motorways, plus many more. In an adventure resembling the tale of Dick Whittington, Chris took off to the big smoke to seek his fortune, but ended up homeless on the cold streets.
Chris took that leap of faith and set up his own company in 2011. He continues to build innovative websites and today his portfolio consists of 30-40 profitable websites that have been built from scratch. Today, he shares his knowledge of digital marketing through a series of courses, seminars and books, and offers mentoring services for those looking to start or grow their business.
As well as building and helping businesses, Chris can also be found 3,000ft in the sky, having passed his pilots licence in 2017.
This is my journey
The early years
For as long as I can remember I've been shy. But that meant I learned from an early age how to 'wear' a mask of confidence.
That really helped as I was packed off to a military boarding school where I was subsequently abused. I soon begged my mum to allow me to go home and continue my education at a 'normal' comprehensive school. But that's another story for another time.
Then came the Royal Navy. It was inevitable, I guess; my mum, dad, and grandfather were all in the Navy, so it was something that I felt needed to happen, if only to see what I was likely to miss by not giving it a go. And boy, did I have fun - even while seeing active service in the Gulf War of '91.
But my true calling was elsewhere. I wanted to become successful by building something (I always did love making things).
So I left the Navy and made London my home. But because I was unprepared for 'civvy life' I soon became homeless; not once but several times in the course of the next 7 or 8 years.
I was down to my last £ I had to make it count.
So I did. I went to a shop bought a toy for 67p, and went door-to-door until I sold it for £3. I was hungry, so I bought some chips, but then headed back to the shop and bought three more toys - and went back out to sell those too.
I repeated this time and time again for weeks until I was making enough to get myself into a backpacker's hostel in Earls Court, where I eventually landed the position of Night Manager.
From then on, I progressed through the 'ranks' of hospitality with a multitude of jobs: waiter, barman, duty manager, hotel manager, restaurant manager and pub landlord.
But my heart was in computers.
As restaurant manager I had the task of getting people through the doors and onto tables. That was tough in Torquay where restaurants are two-a-penny. But I came up with some creating marketing - and found that I was rather good at it.
That - combined with my love of computers - was my making. I'd found my calling.
But I was skint, and couldn't afford a Pentium Computer that cost in excess of £800. So I begged my ex-girlfriend to buy one on credit (thank you, Angel), and began to learn web development.
This was way back in 1997 when the internet - as we know it - was in its infancy. Web applications were using a MS Access database back then! Development was hardcore - just Notepad and a keyboard. None of this Wordpress stuff that makes it so easy today.
I began building static websites for several businesses, including one that needed a database-driven website. I hadn't built a website that relied on a database before, so it was a steep learning curve with no manuals or instructions available.
And that REALLY opened my eyes to the possibilities of the internet. I was hooked.
Crucially, I already knew the basics of how to code. When I was 14 my parents bought me a ZX Spectrum+ for Christmas. I'd wanted a computer since getting involved with the BBC Computer at school, and I loved the way you could get it to do what you wanted it to do.
In 1999 I was snapped up by a top-ten law firm in the City of London as their first ever "webmaster", and went on to work in a similar capacity at various multinational companies and dot-coms around the country.
At the same time I was tinkering around with my own little project - a local portal for Southend on Sea in Essex, aptly named 'Southend Central', which really allowed me to cut my teeth on internet technologies. I built many different features, including bulletin/discussion boards, classified ad sections, news, features, reviews - the lot. I couldn't believe that businesses wanted to pay me for advertising their businesses on it - and I was delighted with the extra £100 or so that it brought in each month.
It wasn't until I began working at a start-up in Liverpool when I truly got to grips with the power of internet marketing - in particular the sheer potential of persuasive marketing, and I spent at least a year studying a new methodology called Persuasion Architecture (a framework that I still use to this day to generate sales, leads, revenue and conversions).
Thanks to this new knowledge I increased the start-up's lead generation KPI by more than 400%, helping the company to expand rapidly. It was also my job to attract organic visitors to the site - and oh boy did I do that! We had a tonne of traffic, thanks to some very clever SEO tactics of my own making.
Anyway, at this time I began to realise that I was making others wealthy, and I wanted a slice of the pie too.
So I set about building my first website (my first real 'baby'), www.britevents.com, an events listings guide which became one of the largest and most popular in the UK. I saw the niche and went for it! It got a huge amount of traffic and generated a fantastic revenue for me - sometimes hitting £3k in commission per day from concert ticket sales (thanks to Take That Reunion Tour). All this whilst working full time. Shame it doesn't generate anywhere near that much today - big brands with bottomless pockets eventually pushed me aside. It's still alive!
However, by this time I'd already launched my second website, www.traffic-update.co.uk, a service that allows people to see what traffic jams could affect their journey. To this day, the site continues to do well, and revenue is good.
It was at this point I decided to incorporate my sideline into a Limited Company, and CliqTo Ltd was born.
Since incorporating in 2010 I've steadily built a portfolio of digital brands (www.cliqto.com/portfolio) which cover all types of industries - mainly niches. In total I own and manage more than 30 websites.
Not bad for someone who was once homeless.
Every one of these 30 websites was built from scratch - by myself. Where do I find the time to run all these at once? I automate them. Most of them are user-generated content driven. Others I've created systems that automate themselves. But each of them has one or more revenue streams that generate cash 24 hours a day. Some of them run lead generation activities. Others are Premium SMS activities. Others bring in affiliate revenue. Each has its own revenue model.
Thanks to my 19-year experience in web design, development and marketing, the portfolio of websites are doing well - almost 1 in 7 of the UK population visited one or more of my websites last year.
And you know what? I didn't spend a single penny on advertising. Every one of those visitors came from organic search (good old SEO) or social media. More than 95% of my revenue was profit. The only expense was hosting and tax (an inevitability).
My business has reached a point where I'm now able to devote more time towards helping others with their digital strategies. Like many early-adopters of internet marketing, I've stayed rather hidden away from sight. Sure, there are a huge amount of people using my websites but there was no need to put my head above the parapet. It was as though I - as a person - wanted to stay out of sight.
But I couldn't live like that forever. I was amassing money, but not business relationships. I missed that, so I made 2016 the year that I would begin getting away from my desk and connecting with others. It was the best decision I've ever made in business.
The beginning of 2016 was unique. Rather than identify another niche and profit from it, I teamed up with Fay Easton, an Enterprise Nation Champion, and with her help I wrote, planned and developed StartPad (www.startpad.biz) which is a free programme - a social enterprise - that shows budding entrepreneurs how to plan and launch their business idea. It looks promising, and the wealth of knowledge that I gained from writing it all was incredibly insightful from a business perspective.
In late 2017 I finally managed to fulfil a life-long dream of becoming a pilot.
It took almost two years, but it was worth every one of those 82 hours (and 7 exams). I now own and fly an EV97 Eurostar, and take every single opportunity to get myself out flying amongst the clouds.
Anyway, back to my story.
There are a lot of charlatans out there ripping people off by advising people to do such-and-such with their websites. Some of it is simply outrageous. I'm making it my goal to set the record straight and show people the best way to build a successful presence on the web. Not the easiest, or the quickest, but the best - and the most sustainable. It's not as easy as some of these people will claim to be, mark my words, but it's 100% possible. You have to be smart, patient, and willing to test and measure.
Anyway, I hope you've got a better insight into my background and what I'm all about. 2016 was a defining year where I began to understand the importance of sharing your methods of success, by helping others who are starting out, helping them onto the first rung of the ladder, and "paying it forward". Because in the end, that's what every successful entrepreneur should be doing.
Good luck to you all.
Let's have an informal chat about where your business is heading, and to see if I can help you to smash your goals.
Just one measly mackerel from a whole day's fishing.
22 things you don't know about me
- It took almost 80 hours for me to pass my private pilots licence (twice the average), and almost gave up halfway.
- I once worked in an underground bunker in London deciphering and delivering Top Secret messages to Naval officers - including Prince Andrew.
- By the time I was 21 I'd travelled half way around the globe with the Royal Navy.
- I was homeless in London and Torquay more times than I care to remember in my 20s. I came to realise that rough sleepers are often kinder than the average person.
- Pre-marketing era, my career included working nightshifts packing biscuits into piles of fives, selling bags of junk door-to-door, ‘tricking’ people into attending timeshare presentations, double glazing sales, Littlewoods catalogues, pub landlord and hotel manager.
- I'm annoyingly optimistic, which can be more troublesome than you think.
- My pet hate is being late. I guess I have the Royal Navy to thank for that one.
- My first attempt at direct mail was in 1994, where I placed an ad in the local paper selling National Lottery number generators. It did quite well, as it happened.
- Despite being a pilot, I have a fear of heights. I get the urge to throw myself off tall buildings (even though I've yet to go through with it).
- I meditate every morning to structure my day ahead and dream up new ideas - in the bath.
- I'm a chilli addict. Even the Dorset Naga isn't a big deal, and my favourite weekly curry - Chicken Tikka Naga Phall - is a breeze.
- I got held at gunpoint by a local in Karachi, Pakistan. I still don't have any clue why.
- I design and code every website in my portfolio from scratch myself, using nothing more than Notepad++ and Adobe Fireworks.
- I'm a father of twin girls. They are my everything. Even though I'm a rather flawed person, I strive to be the perfect dad to them.
- Deep down I'm painfully shy at times. I'm working on that.
- I came close to death in hospital after getting ‘the bends’ (gas embolism) in a 100ft submarine escape training tank.
- I was sent to a military boarding school at age 11 where I was abused. I've come to terms with the trauma that haunted me for years.
- My favourite ‘toy’ is my Model S Tesla. Fart Mode still makes me chuckle because I'm deep down I'm still a kid.
- I never did complete Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum. Or Chucky Egg, come to think of it.
- My right hand remained unwashed for several days after shaking Princess Diana's hand on her visit to Walsall in 1985.
- Despite being a ‘city boy’ at heart, I adore the peace and quiet that country life gives me. I love going back to the city, but quickly crave space again.
- My favourite colour has always been sky blue, but I'm rather taken by deep red over the last few years, as you can probably tell.