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Being KiN Awesome At Marketing With Neil Simpson & James Crawley

On today’s episode of The Engaging Marketeer, Darren talks to Neil Simpson and James Crawley, the powerhouses behind the KiN Awesome brand.

Neil, a man of many talents, has enjoyed careers in seemingly every aspect of the creative industry. A published author, award-winning filmmaker and once-professional dancer, Neil has since retired from performing, and now brings his decades of experience to help business owners thrive. James’s background is equally varied – once helping to run a successful burger business alongside ex-convicts in Canary Wharf, he went on to work inside prisons across the North of England. Now, James uses his empathetic approach to business by helping install a glowing confidence in others.

Neil and James first met at MMU in Manchester. Their differing talents, unique backgrounds and shared love of puns allowed them to combine their skills and form the successful business coaching company, KiN Awesome. They now help business owners across the nation to build up self-belief with tailored workshops, coaching and a bit of borrowed confidence. See what they had to say below:

Darren: I’ve got to start with your brand name – it’s the obvious place to begin. What prompted you to come up with that, and did you have any reservations that some people weren’t going to like it?

Neil: The KiN Awesome thing started off as a joke that got a bit out of hand. Our company’s called KiN, because we believe good business is about a series of relationships – the relationship you have with your products and services, the relationship with your customers, your suppliers, the wider world and, most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. We’re also located close to Bolton, so we picked the URL as a kind of joke to work with the accent.

James: People either love it, which is brilliant, or they think it’s a bit naughty. So, if they think that’s a bit naughty, they’re probably not going to like the rest of our content, so it’s a good kind of prude detector.

Neil: Yeah, it’s good marketing because it weeds out the people we don’t want to work with – the prudes, as James puts it. It kind of filters people so that we only attract the people who get us and our values, because we’re not for everybody, nor should we be.

Darren: And as you say, if you p*ss people off, then they’re not your tribe anyway. So, what prompted you to start this business? You both come from very different and weird backgrounds!

Neil: His is weirder than mine!

James: So, I worked with people who had been in prison – we sold burgers to bankers. They were always lovely to me, these kids, because I was trying to help them – although they were probably stealing scooters and things when I wasn’t looking. My mate tricked out this burger van, and we went and sold £10 burgers on Canary Wharf. This was about 15 years ago, so we were making a pretty decent markup. The bankers loved it, too, because they felt like they were helping the kids out. From there, I went to actually working in prisons. Some of the stories I have from working there are bonkers, but it was really good fun. It was kind of about trying help these guys see starting a business as a way of getting out of that revolving door of unemployment, thievery and prison.

Darren: Do you have any success stories with that, did anyone come out and become (legally) successful?

James: In terms of businesses, yes – loads! We had a guy set up a successful business called H.M. Pasties (of course, H.M. being a play on His Majesty’s Prison). They make really amazing sausage rolls and pastries and things like that, so it’s great to see. It’s all about getting ex-offenders back on the straight and narrow after prison, and putting their skills to good use.

Darren: That’s brilliant. At the same time Neil, you were a performer and comedian, and a filmmaker I believe?

Neil: Arguably still am! I’ve had many attempts at being professionally funny (I can still be accidentally funny). Then, believe it or not, I was a professional dancer for quite some time, but I got injured, so had to come out of that. The only other skill I had was being able to get people to turn up to shows, so I kind of became a marketer for it. That’s a heck of a skill, especially for contemporary dance, where the global audience is about six people. If you can sell contemporary dance to people, you can sell anything to anybody. So, like all marketers, I kind of fell into marketing. This spun into helping other people in marketing, which spun into some interesting projects around the Northwest, helping creative and digital people to understand the marketing side of their business.

Darren: Do you miss the purity of performing in dance?

Neil: I’m a very physical presenter – that’s the best way to describe it. James and I have the same principle that if you can entertain people as well as inform them, then they tend to pay more attention. The last thing you need is somebody standing at the front of a room with a PowerPoint presentation that has nothing but bullet points. We have a kind of a much more collaborative and conversational approach. Most of what we do is help people by pointing out the obvious in marketing terms. We always start off with what works on you as an individual. Most businesses are chasing people from their own is demographic, so when they say things like, “how do I get the best out of Facebook ads?”, we’ll kind of go, “well, what kind of Facebook ads work on you?” If the answer is that they don’t even click on them, then they shouldn’t be doing them. If that’s the kind of thing that you avoid, why are you expecting everybody else to be different?

If it wouldn’t work on you, then why should you expect it to work on others?

Darren: I like that – quite often, I’ll look at our own Facebook ads or social media posts, and I think “would I click on that?”. If not, then it’s not right, because when you’re putting an ad together, it’s very easy to get lost in your own process. Sometimes, it’s only really when you see it on your own feed that you get a good idea of whether it’s going to work or not.

Neil: What we need to be talking about as business owners is our customers. We need to be talking about what they find important, what their problems are, and how they see themselves in the language of their own lives. Marketing is almost like dating. If me and James took you on a date, and started talking endless about how great WE were, it wouldn’t take very long for you to get bored. Marketing is the same – you need to be asking the right questions to your customers, rather than talking about yourself.

Darren: Yeah, it’s pretty basic stuff but easy to forget. If you talk about yourself, nobody’s interested. Make it about the other person, and they’re going to like talking to you. So, how did the two of you actually start doing what you’re doing now?

James: It took us about three and a half years. We worked together for quite a long time, and for the first six months, we didn’t really speak to each other. It was only really after about three years that we realised that both of us were just waiting for the other person to do something. So, we were both just sort of endlessly circling each other, like two sausage dogs, until finally we started working together after a project we were both on. We realised that we both had a pretty dark sense of humour. We started working on a European contract together doing business support, and just started to experiment with the relationship stuff, and got really good results. The program was essentially personal growth disguised as a business course, and we got to know everybody really well. We were seeing some ridiculously good results, with people just kind of making massive changes in their lives. We ended up thinking, “let’s try and do this for ourselves”, and that’s how we started the business.

Neil: I think the thing that we’ve kind of realised overtly that many businesses don’t is that business is an intensely personal thing. This is going to become ever more important with the advent of AI – I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I can ever really bond with a machine. You need to connect with your own products and services, with your own team, with your suppliers, your customers and yourself. I think the saying, “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, is the most inaccurate sentence you can possibly say. The more we can make business about humanity the better.

Business is personal – and this is where people are going wrong

Darren: You’ mentioned a few already, but what are the main mistakes you think businesses are making?

Neil: They listen to idiots, and they don’t listen to themselves. That is fundamentally the thing we kind of started this conversation off with. Business training is not really transferable – what is useful for your business, at the stage you are, with the person you are, with the market you have, is probably not going to transpire to any other business. Everyone’s different. I’ve been listening to an interesting series of recordings by LeBron James (because I love his voice, it’s like velvet), and he says that talent is never enough, and desire is never enough – it’s not what your idea is, it’s about what you build. Buildings happen over time – it’s about habit, and consistent effort. We run a program called KiNsiders (because we love a pun), where we work with business owners to help build confidence and momentum. We enable people to kind of get out of their own way, and do more of what they know and feel great doing. We give these people accountability calls too, and help them focus on what they need to do. James is generally nicer than I am at this.

Darren: So, you’re the bad cop.

Neil: Yes, I bring the challenge and the difficult questions. James seems to have more of a spider sense of being able to of spot when people are struggling with something. We just try to support people, with most of the advice being to trust their own judgment. Back to my original point about listening to idiots, there are no simple answers in business. You don’t need any more information, you just need more sensitivity.

James: One of the big areas that we see a lot is people who are constantly seeking validation. They always want to go and get that next certificate – there’s always another bit of paper that’s going to make them feel much better. They seem to think that this next bit of paper is going to give them that feeling of satisfaction. So, we do a lot of work on self-criticism, negative self-talk and confidence. We just help people feel more capable in the short term – they kind of borrow confidence from us until they can build it for themselves.

Darren: That’s interesting, as I actually know a female business owner who calls herself a “course addict”. She will go for these qualifications over and over again – is it inherently a bad thing if someone does that, if they genuinely love courses and learning?

James: It’s not a problem to do that, but you just need to be honest about yourself and why you’re doing it. You get the people who will go to four or five networking events a week, but don’t get any business out of it – so you’re not really networking, you’re socialising with people who aren’t your friends. As long as you’re honest about what’s driving it, then there’s no issue – if it gets you out the house and makes you feel good about yourself, do what you need to do. I think your friend is probably a course addict because she hasn’t found the one that’s actually giving her what she needs. That’s fundamentally what that is she’s looking for – something external.

Neil: I think most people think that having more knowledge will improve things for them. We kind of learn this in school – all we need is more information, so we can get better at exams, and then we’ll have a better life. This is often why people who are not the best students at school do the best in business, because they’re not that invested in learning – they’ve just gone out and done the hustling. It’s like the ex-offenders that James used to work with – they’ve got the “know how”, they’re just getting the “do how” wrong. People in business have often internalised a super negative voice in their head, and they think that what they know isn’t right, because they have doubts about it. Just get out and experiment. What that lady’s doing is learning, and not doing. This is kind of where we put the traction – in helping people have a bit more faith in themselves. They borrow our belief in them, because we know everyone can get whatever they want out of the program, if they just get out of their own way.

James: They’re often so scared of making mistakes and looking silly. They’re terrified of going online and letting people see them with their new business, worrying that people will look down on them. It’s all in their own heads – no one cares, no one’s looking at you because we’re all so wrapped up in our own things. You’re going to be crap when you start something new anyway, so just keep moving in the right direction One foot in front of the other, consistently, and you’ll get there.

Neil: I think this notion of mistakes is a really important one, and I think you have to go through the quantity to get to the quality, whatever you’re doing.

Darren: I don’t think I’ve done a podcast that has had quite so many quotable moments. It’s almost like you say this stuff in front of a room full of people! Sadly, we’re out of time, but if there are people out there thinking “wow, these guys could change my life”, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Neil: Our website is full of information and further details about our workshops, and you can see some very attractive pictures of James. You can also get us on LinkedIn.

Darren: Thanks, guys. This has been brilliant.


About KiN:

Neil and James first met at MMU in Manchester. Their differing talents, unique backgrounds and shared love of puns allowed them to combine their skills and form the successful business coaching company, KiN Awesome. They now help business owners across the nation to build self-belief with tailored workshops, coaching and a bit of borrowed confidence.

You can connect with Neil and James here:


About your host:

Darren has worked within digital marketing since the last century, and was the first in-house web designer for video games retailer GAME in the UK, known as Electronics Boutique in the States. After co-founding his own agency, Engage Web, in 2009, Darren has worked with clients around the world, including Australia, Canada and the USA.

Engaging Marketeer:
Engage Web:

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