“Don’t underestimate the importance of recruiting the right people and choosing the right people to partner with in business” – Mark Esho MBE

Meet Mark Esho MBE the disabled entrepreneur, motivational speaker and best-selling author of his autobiography – I can I will – a story of struggle, hard work, hope and success.

After catching Polio at the age of five Mark was left paralyzed from the neck down and given a 10% chance of living. This didn’t stop Mark as he came back fighting and is now an extremely successful businessman and founder of two businesses – Easy Internet and Access Rating CIC.

He is now sharing his story with others and inspiring the next generation of disabled entrepreneurs and spreading wisdom on how people can be more inclusive.  

Mark recently joined forces with this year’s Great British Entrepreneur Awards charity partner, Purple Sock Day, the annual charity day that celebrates The International Day of Persons with Disabilities. He’s joining the team to help shout about the work they’re doing to support disabled entrepreneurs, and invite everyone to celebrate their mission. 

We recently caught up with Mark to discuss his entrepreneurial journey, the importance of supporting disabled entrepreneurs and why he’s become an ambassador for Purple Sock Day. 

Firstly, can you tell us more about yourself and your businesses and let us know of anything exciting you’re up to at the moment? 

At the age of five, I contracted polio, leaving me paralysed from the neck down. I was originally given a 10% chance of survival but I was eventually able to regain limited mobility.

Due to the late effects of polio (post-polio syndrome) in 1999, I was forced to quit my full-time job. My first business was essentially a website like RightMove, but it was before its time and it failed. At this point, I was living off credit cards and in a desperate situation. Unable to work and with a young family, I started my second venture, 123Ranking which provided SEO services to businesses. This venture was a success as at the time, SEO was a new offering and I was strategic in my offering. I offered to do the service for free at the start, based entirely on achieving certain results for my clients and only then they would start paying me. It was a risk but it paid off and it was the start of a successful career in business.

Since then, I have won a number of business awards and in 2013 was invited to meet Prime Minister David Cameron at the launch of the government’s Disability Confident initiative. In 2018, my autobiography I Can I Will became a No.1 bestseller on Amazon.

Last year I stepped down as the Managing Director of my businesses to focus on The Circle Foundation, which gives 365 support to aspiring disabled entrepreneurs through funding and mentorship. It is my hope to provide support to as many aspiring disabled entrepreneurs as possible as we are a group of people who are all too often overlooked.

This year I have been busy with establishing The Circle Foundation as well as acquiring an exciting new role as a Health & Disability Policy Champion for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). I’m excited to bring my knowledge and expertise to help the FSB to create robust disability policies that really do benefit disabled entrepreneurs.

I was also recently awarded an MBE for services to the business community in Leicestershire, which was a real honour!

So, what initially drew you to Purple Sock Day, and what made you want to get involved with the charity?

I wanted to get involved with Purple Sock Day as I believe their beliefs and messaging align with both my personal views and those of The Circle Foundation, which also aims to give back to the disabled community. 

Supporting disabled entrepreneurs is a cause that’s very close to my heart due to the significant barriers that disabled people face in business. So if I can do something, no matter how small, to lessen those barriers in my lifetime, then I will be happy. 

That includes supporting organisations and initiatives that share my vision of a more inclusive world for disabled people, just like Purple Sock Day does.

As a disabled entrepreneur, you’ve seen huge success, but as you’ve been vocal about, it has come with its own challenges. 

Can you let us know some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a disabled entrepreneur? 

One of the biggest challenges I have faced as both a disabled and black entrepreneur is being able to get my foot in the door and be taken seriously. There is still a lot of racial and disability discrimination around and although companies claim to care about things like equality and diversity, often these policies are simply performative and lack any real-world value.

There have been so many situations where people have treated me badly and dismissed me. I could have easily allowed these situations to define me but I didn’t. For example, when I applied for a bank loan for my first business, I was basically laughed out the door. But I had faith in myself to know that if I just kept on trying, success would eventually come. 

Entrepreneurs have a built-in fighting spirit – and hearing about your story it is clear that you have it in abundance! 

How have you managed to overcome those challenges you’ve faced and stayed positive throughout your entrepreneurial journey? 

One of the best things you can learn as an entrepreneur is to embrace adversity. 

When things aren’t going to plan, don’t get down and try to resist what is happening. Take everything that comes your way with acceptance, even if it isn’t the outcome you had hoped for. I can’t take credit for this, as in itself it is a stoic mindset, but learning to apply this in all areas of your life can be utterly life-changing!

Even when my first business failed, I knew I had to try again. When things go wrong in your life, it’s easy to wallow and let them consume you. It’s hard to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. But you must use these moments as building blocks – they will make you stronger and more tenacious in the future. Without adversity, you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of.

If you had one piece of advice or word of wisdom for someone looking to start their own business, what would it be? 

Don’t underestimate the importance of recruiting the right people and choosing the right people to partner with in business. 

In the early stages of my business, there was a time when my employees created a very toxic work environment and would thrive off of one another’s bad attitudes. I was devastated because everything I had worked so hard for felt like it was crumbling down around me. Thankfully, I managed to recruit a new team and the problem eventually resolved itself. 

But I learned that if someone has the right attitude and outlook, everything else can be taught. Even if someone doesn’t have the exact skills you need, a genuine willingness to learn and a positive outlook are traits that we value above all else. 

Find out more about Mark and his inspiring work here. 

This year’s exclusive Purple Sock Day sock is out now, find out more about their mission and purchase your socks here to get involved.