The Lancashire footballer who fell in love with digital marketing and dedicated himself to helping businesses during Covid

Like plenty of other kids, Niall Ratcliffe grew up dreaming of a career as a professional footballer.

Niall Ratcliffe in his Coker Cobras shirt whilst studying in South Carolina
Niall Ratcliffe in his Coker Cobras shirt whilst studying in South Carolina

Born in Foulridge in Pendle, he displayed no shortage of talent as a youngster, 'flip-flopping' (in his words) in and out of football academies from a young age until he secured a scholarship with Stockport County at the age of 16. After two years with The Hatters, he was offered a scholarship in the US and took it up.

And it was in North Carolina that he encountered another passion for which he displayed a particular talent: digital marketing.

"I'd always been into football," says Niall, 20. "When I got the chance to go to the US to play football and study, I jumped at it and, while I was there, I had a few interactions with different brands who'd send me free boots and grip socks. I built up a network and had a class in marketing, so I started to really enjoy that side of things.

Niall founded Pronoia at the age of just 18

"I ended up making a YouTube video for one company and it did really well, so I did a few more bits and I soon realised the potential," he adds. "I'd grown up with social media, so I understood that and, at the same time, I was studying corporate marketing at university. It came to the point where I was enjoying the marketing more than the football."

At 18, he founded Pronoia Media, a digital marketing and social media management company back in the UK and was just finding his feet as a budding business owner and director of a fledgling marketing company when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Already working remotely alongside two other people - Head of Content Ash Marcus and Branding Expert Jordan Parker - at Pronoia, Niall found that, while his own day-to-day had been largely unaffected by the various lockdowns, countless small and medium-sized businesses were in turmoil.

"Helping little brick-and-mortar businesses during the pandemic has been such a driving force for me," he explains. "When Covid hit, I just knew I had to do something for those who desperately needed a hand because, if a business fails, it's not just the business, it's the three or four people who work there who now have no income.

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Niall has dedicated himself to helping smaller business during Covid

"So I started jumping on Zoom chats free of charge to offer whatever advice and help I could," he adds. "One company was on the verge before I came on and brought them onto new platforms like TikTok and that's just completely revolutionised things - they get about a million views a month."

Dedicating himself to working with local businesses to ensure that they will not only get through the pandemic but come out of it thriving whilst also doing his day job, Niall has been offering advice and marketing tips and tricks for free, often spending four to five hours each evening after work on Zoom calls with business owners.

Proud of his Pendle roots, he has been struck by business owners' passion and love for their companies, which most of the time are organically-grown, family businesses.

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"There's an awful lot of pride in helping people," he says. "Often all people need is a little bit of help, so I've been showing people how a transition enforced by the pandemic could be the opportunity of a lifetime, especially with things like e-commerce. It's been brutal, but some businesses needed it so they could expand for the future.

"What gets me up in the morning and gets me through long days is the personal connection with people and knowing they're genuine," he continues. "I could be making 'x' revenue with bigger corporations, but would that be as good for me personally given how much I love working with small and medium-sized businesses? Probably not.

"That's why I'm so grateful to be doing what I'm doing."

Niall also has a free marketing strategy newsletter for small businesses. Sign up at https://growingviral.substack.com/welcome