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5 min read
Thursday 13 May 21
In episode 12 of the #GoFarFastShow, Carl Reader (author of Boss It) talks all about entrepreneurship, taking back control, and how to be successful in business!
Whether you want to watch the show, read the transcript or listen to the podcast, you can access all of that right here. So grab a cuppa, and a notebook, and get ready to #GoFarFast!
Merlie: Hello and welcome back to episode 12 of the #GoFarFast show. It’s the small business talk show that aims to get you, our audience, the answers to the burning questions of these times. We've got another wonderful show lined up for you today. Don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe, and Aaron and I will get answering those burning questions. I'm so excited about this particular guest today, Aaron, and I know you are too.
Aaron: Yes certainly, thanks Merlie. The name of the show, as always, is #GoFarFast and that's exactly what we have for you today. We have an absolute cracker, the one and only Carl Reader is with us. Now I know he would much prefer to be on stage sharing his wisdom with everyone, but we are honoured to have him here virtually and answering our burning questions. He will talk to us about his new book, aptly named ‘Boss It'. We’ll also find out what makes Carl a successful business owner, what the phrase ‘H2H’ means (which I'm very intrigued about), how we can get some great customers and, more importantly, how to keep those great customers. Then we head over to my favourite part of the show, which is all about those legendary community questions. We're going to make sure that Carl faces the dreaded community questions as they come along. So Merlie, how do we get those burning questions? What's the format of the show?
Merlie: Thank you, Aaron. Don't steal my H2H question! I can't wait to ask this one. Guys, you know the formula well by now. Aaron and I will start with some gentle questions to get Carl warmed up. I don't think he's going to need much warming up, but there are some common questions and themes that you guys have been throwing at us. We're going to start with those and focus a little bit on the Boss It book, which you can see has pride of place over my shoulder. If you haven't bought and read it already, go to Amazon and grab your copy now! It is fantastic and it's written in an incredibly approachable tone. I thoroughly recommend it.
After that, as Aaron says, we're going to turn to your questions. There are lots of different scenarios from the community today for Carl to cover. I don't think I should take up any more time talking about Carl, I think we should hear Carl talk himself. Don't you agree, Aaron?
Aaron: I certainly do! I can't wait to get him on. Carl, welcome to the #GoFarFast Show. Thank you so much for your time today. We're going to throw you questions straight away if that's okay with you? We're going to start with something relatively simple, but we're going to work our way up as well and get to some of those legendary community questions.
So, there's very little that you haven't done. Your book, Boss It, is all about taking control of your time, income and life. It's a great read for anyone running or starting to run a small business. Like Merlie and me, you're also a regular on QuickBooks ‘Ask The Expert’, which is great to see. You've been on the live stream for series 2, so you’ve definitely had some questions thrown at you during your time there, as Merlie and I have. Can you briefly share with us your journey to becoming a five star rated business advisor and author on Amazon?
Carl: First of all, thank you so much for having me, it's an absolute pleasure to be here.
The journey… There's clearly a very short story and a very long story. I'm going to try and go somewhere in between, just to give you a flavour of who I am and how I've had the really wonderful opportunity to write a book. I also want to share some of the pivotal points on that journey. I have to be honest, when I started, no one would have imagined me as an author. If you had asked my old English teacher, Mr Takachu, he really hated me! I was actually really fortunate to get two Ds for English at GCSE level. I say fortunate because I left school before my GCSEs and went back to do the exams. Writing wasn't something that was always within me, it wasn't something that I always aimed to do. However, sharing my knowledge that I had gained along the way was something that I wanted to do, and that was really simple.
I fell into the world of accountancy at the age of 16, not knowing what an accountant was, who they serve, or how they do it. I had no idea what an accountant did. It's embarrassing to say this, but I didn't even know that they dealt with money. I didn't realise that it was about adding up numbers. I thought that it was a job and I took this job. What I found was that by starting in that world I got to meet business owners. I would go out and I'd start by training them and getting them to understand how to computerise their manual records - bear in mind this was back in 1997.
I then got involved in the buy-out of the business school I was in. I built up my own portfolio and started advising my clients. I started building the business and built up to a multi-million-pound turnover. In 2012 I started the process of stepping away from the business. When I say stepping away, I don't mean working on the business rather than in it, as most people would say, I mean truly stepping away. I mean trying to build a life where I could sit on a beach and have no involvement in the business whatsoever. Clearly, as I'm sat here today, it's proof that’s still a work in progress. However, along that journey, I was gifted with more free time that allowed me to speak onstage. It allowed me to write my very first book, 'The Startup Coach’, which came about by accident. It allowed me to engage with the press and so on, and that's what led me towards writing the book Boss It in 2019 and early 2020.
Merlie: It's such an amazing journey, Carl. I love that. I mean how many of us are accidental entrepreneurs and end up doing things that we really couldn't have imagined ever doing. It's a journey that I'm sure a lot of people relate to. It's also incredibly impressive that you're entirely self-made – that you took the opportunities and fate into your hands, and you went out there and made it.
I guess my question for you is very much on that theme. My copy of your book is very dog eared and has lots of Post-it Notes. I folded them all over folks so you can't actually see them behind me on the shelf! I've tried to make it look as respectable as possible, but I've got notes all over your book and there are so many points that stood out to me. I think one of my favourite bits is where you talk about what it takes to build a successful business, and what I particularly loved is your discussion about how that starts and how you really need to focus on being a successful business owner. It takes it very much back to the individual and what the individual is capable of. I wonder if you could just share some thoughts on that with our viewers.
Carl: I think the first thing I would say is that it's very kind of you to say I'm self-made, but I don't actually think that anybody is self-made because we are all a combination of the experiences and learnings that we've had along the way. Although I didn't stick it out at senior school, I was very fortunate to be given a grammar school education, just through the postcode lottery and having a few grammar schools in my area. I now know what a benefit that was – it gave me the opportunity for social mobility. Had my postcode had different letters at the start I wouldn't have had that opportunity. I think what we need to do as potential business owners, or even as existing business owners rethinking what we do, is to understand very realistically getting into the game what skills and experiences we can bring to the table. We also need to know where our blind spots are.
The challenge for business ownership, certainly in the early days and for the mass market – when I say the mass market, I mean the roughly 70% of us who want to be business owners but aren't necessarily at the moment – it's actually only one in seven of us who are. For the 70% of us that want to be business owners, according to the World Option Survey, the thing that holds us back is ultimately a lack of confidence in running the business. What will people think if it goes wrong? Have I got the money, the skills, or the time to do it? It's a fear of taking that leap. The reality is that one in seven of us have done it. To put that one in seven into context, if you open your door and look left, right and across the road, you will see a business owner – even though you might not know they’re a business owner. There are so many of them in the country. The reality is that the one in seven didn't have a perfect road map that lined up, regardless of whether they are the stereotypical self-made or, on the flip side, if they had a trust fund. There would have been some things on their mind that would have prevented them from doing it were not for the blind confidence or naivety that we all need to have to make that leap.
I guess the one thing that we can take away from this and the learning that I'd like to share with everybody is that, whilst there needs to be a bit of control over that risk and a bit of bravery to do this, we can also stack the odds in our favour by making sure that we prepare the right way. We can make sure that our idea is the right kind of idea. That's why when discussing the dream part of the dream plan you need to do a review. We need to be very realistic about our own personal situation, plus the situation that the business will be in going forwards. Provided that we take that approach of a healthy amount of planning, alongside visualising what the business looks like, then we can set the business up in the best possible way.
Aaron: I love that idea. You talked about the fear factor, I think that's a huge element, isn't it? That's the one in seven you were talking about versus the other six in seven – having that opportunity to take the fear factor and run with it and everything else. I think it's important for people to remember the benefits that they get from making that leap when they have got the opportunity to have their own business and the benefits it brings with it. I think some people just need to know that fear factor and know that there is a worthwhile outcome at the end of it.
You said yourself that you've had to go through that momentum, you've had to take that leap, you've had to push the fear aside and go for it. I would love to know if you could give us a few of those little secrets, those little niblets that are going to help inspire other people. The question we have next is: how can you control your time, income, and your life when you're running a business? What is that secret? What's the thing that gets you motivated Carl?
Carl: There are two questions there – the first one is about overcoming that fear and how you make that jump. I think that as a potential business owner, or even as an existing business owner, you need to think about the reality that most business owners find themselves in. Whilst it is scary to start with, once you've made that jump and you've started the business, how many business owners then go back into employment? There's not many that do that through choice. It is tough, it is scary, and you do have to really put your neck on the line, but on the flip side, it's great to have that control and have the ownership of your own destiny – rather than leaving it in someone else’s hands.
I think that segues us very nicely into how we control our time, income, and life? Business ownership is the phrase I prefer to use – I don't tend to use entrepreneurship or any of these other words – I just think of myself as a multiple business owner. Business ownership gives me the ability to choose which 18 hours per day I work. It allows me to decide whether I'm taking money out of a business or not. However, the reality is that when we drill down into those choices in the early days of business ownership, those choices are made for us by external circumstances. They’re made for us by the amount of work that we can do ourselves, the amount of money that we can get in from the bank, and the number of customers we can find and so on.
By going through the process of not only starting their business but then scaling it to become a true business rather than a self-employed job, that's when we get the real spirit of control. For me, the biggest learning that I took for this, and not wanting to recommend too many other books apart from my own, was from a book called ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad 2: Cash Flow Quadrant’ by Robert Kiyosaki. Kiyosaki talks about the cash flow quadrant where you have employment, self-employment, business ownership, and investment. The reality for most people is that they stick with employment or self-employment because it's deemed to be safer, you don't have to take so many risks. The reality is that when you sit on that side of a quadrant you are the business and the business is you, or indeed you are an employee. If you get run over by a bus, then your income stream is cut. You're also limited from a personal flexibility perspective by your client’s needs – if you're a self-employed professional you go from having one boss to having 100 bosses. The moment you move to business ownership, which means having a business that can work without you and having systems, processes, operations manuals, management tiers, then you really are in the position where you can start control how much income comes in, what profitability that is and also your level of involvement in the business. It's not actually starting the business that gives you the control, it's about scaling it in the right way and making sure that you as the business owner aren't the bottleneck in the business. That's the key to getting control.
Merlie: That's brilliant. We have one more question from Aaron and myself and I can see the community questions banking up. Our producers are going to get very cross if we don't get to them very quickly! Carl, in the book you talk about how business has moved from being B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) and now we're very much in what you call H2H territory – human to human territory. Can you give us a very quick glimpse into your thoughts on that and then we will turn to the community questions.
Carl: Yes of course! We're living in the world of the personal brand now, so I think it's magnified. A book that was an inspiration of mine was ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ by Michael Gerber. However, that book is now 20 years out of date. It talked about a business being successful if you had extraordinary systems but ordinary people. Nowadays I don't think that stands, I think you need both extraordinary systems and extraordinary people. The reason being is that extraordinary systems are no longer a differentiator. 20 or 30 years ago when that book was written, extraordinary systems either took a lot of effort or a lot of cash, now you can get these off the shelf. Combine that with the fact that we're up against automation and there is always somebody who can automate something to be cheaper, faster, or quicker than you can do it. The reality is that to stand out we need to focus on one of two areas, either interpersonal skills or specialist skills. When I say specialist skills that's something that an algorithm combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence can't do – and actually there's not much of that stuff left. If we're in business and we're focusing on systemising but losing the human touch, the challenge that we're going to face is that Tesco's or another big corporate will come along and do it quicker and cheaper just to grab the data.
So, what does H2H mean? I'm saying that businesses are no longer B2B or B2C, it's H2H, humans to human. That's based on my theory that, even if you've got two massive corporates dealing with each other for example Tesco's and Sainsbury's, and they’re going into merger discussions, the reality is that those discussions regardless of the level are between two individuals. They might be two junior individuals or they might be two CEOs, but it's a human relationship. In business, I've noticed an improvement over the last five also years, but we've allowed those human relationships to evolve. We tell people to book a link on Calendly rather than chatting to them. We dismiss things through a message rather than picking up the phone and it's combined with the shift towards the stay-at-home economy that we're all going through. Lockdown was an enforced stay-at-home economy, but before lockdown we were getting to a point where the Internet of Things would automate a lot of processes for us. There was conceivably a situation where we would jump into a self-driving car to a pod in an office, jump back into the self-driving car to go home, have a Deliveroo or UberEATS waiting outside for us and then watch Netflix. This is instead of being in an open-plan office, walking with somebody or speaking to the driver, going to the restaurant and then going to the cinema. it was a real shift in society that was happening pre-COVID let alone during COVID.
If we look at what the bigger brands are doing, they are adopting this human-to-human approach as well. Take Starbucks for example – when you go into Starbucks and you order your coffee, they don't ask your name because they want to misspell it and have a bit of banter on social media about the mistake. It's because they realise that they might be the only person that actually speaks to you that day. It's actually an uncomfortable shift that as a society we've gone through. I think that brands are starting to adopt a human tone in their communications and I think that for small business owners the real takeaway is don't be afraid to be human. You might feel that you need to call your business ‘XYZ Corporation Limited Plc’ but actually the real asset as a small business that you bring to the table (by the way when I say small I mean up to the size of the likes of Tesco – I don't mean small as in a one-person business) is that personal touch flowing through your business. That's what people are attracted to.
To leave one last thought with everybody, if you think about your own social media, do you follow brands or do you follow people? Most people follow other people, they don't tend to follow brands unless the brand has got something that really stands out with a human touch. The likes of Specsavers have done this really well by putting some personality in their communications. However, most brands have a corporate tone of voice and, guess what, as consumers we switch off.
Aaron: I couldn't agree more there, Carl. I think also when you talk about that human-to-human element that's also why we get into business in the 1st place. That's what we enjoy. You said yourself you started in accountancy – the only reason I'm in accountancy is that I like talking to people, helping them, solving problems, and having that human-to-human touch. If we lose that then we lose our whole essence for being in business in the first place, don't we? I think that's really important, that's a great piece of advice. I know that we're being told to go straight into those community questions so I'm going to force us over there. Brace yourself Carl we've got some absolute crackers for you.
The first question we've got is dear to my heart: Hello Carl, I'd love your advice. I've seen you on QuickBooks ‘Ask The expert’ and I've got an idea to change my business a bit following some things we tried last year during lockdown. What's the best way to test ideas in your view? I'm really nervous about telling too many people about it because I've got quite a few competitors. I think we've all been there, haven't we? We've all had this wonderful idea and we can't wait to get it to market but we're a bit worried about someone else stealing it. What are your thoughts on that one Carl?
Carl: It's a really interesting one and I don't want to upset the questioner, but I'm just going to dive in and give my honest advice. Your idea probably isn't that special. I've had a couple of ideas that I didn't act on – and we've all had these ideas that we don’t act on and then we see them happen – and our reaction is ‘I was the one who thought of that!’.
For me, the first idea was ‘Recipe MP3’. This was back when MP3 players were big – I was trying to cook something from a cookbook and my hands were getting messy. I thought wouldn't it be great if I could plug in my iPod while I'm cooking, listen to the recipe I get the instructions as I needed them. Now you have the likes of YouTube and BBC good food who have just nailed this.
The second idea was for an eBay shop – a shop where people can take this stuff in and an agency will sell it on their behalf. Well, that's not only been done but there's an international chain of them! There's also an independent one in the film ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’. I could say ‘that could have been my idea’, but the reality is that it wasn't my idea because innovation comes about through a combination of few factors. You need the ideation which is where the idea is, but you also need the implementation. The fact is without implementation it is just an idea. All too often businesses get stuck in a chicken and egg scenario – they don't want to put it out there in case it's not perfect or someone nicks it, but they want to get started. You need to overcome this and the only way you can overcome it is through the realisation that, actually if the idea was really that strong, somebody else would have done it. On that basis you should try it, test it, measure it, and refine it.
There are a few other techniques that I use when I'm looking to test things. I don't roll it out to my whole business but instead I look at pilot groups. I look at having focus group conversations to evaluate with. We have NDAs in place, but the reality is that they're probably not worth the paper they’re written on. We have focus groups to bounce around the product-market fit, will then do a pilot with focus group members so that we actually have paying customers as early as possible. We're not afraid to get things wrong and I'm a big believer that, when it comes to these things, sometimes you need to subscribe to the view of ready fire aim.
Provided the fire is limited in so far as the damage it can do – don't aim it for the wife and kids! Aim the fire roughly at where you think the target is, but then adjust your aim accordingly. What that allows you to do is to evaluate what works, what doesn't work, and then ultimately refine it into whatever pivot, new service, or product it is that you're looking to do.
Merlie: Yes, I think that test with your customers and getting that very real feedback is definitely the answer to knowing whether you've got a better idea. Perhaps it might be the same idea, but a better version of the idea that someone out there already has. Great advice Carl, I've got another one for you here, it’s a slightly different one this time. The question is: Carl, can you recommend a good starting point for creating a sales strategy? I don't know where to start and I've read loads, but nothing seems to be that relevant or detailed enough and I've got so many questions.
Carl: For me, sales is actually really simple once you've got a clear understanding of who your customer is, how you're going to reach them, and the value that you can bring to them. I think they are the three key components. First of all, who is your customer? Hopefully, I'm not teaching you how to suck eggs here, but you need to design what's called your customer avatar. What do they look like? What do they want? You need to go into more depth than perhaps you might think you need to. Rather than just thinking ‘my ideal customer is a business with 10 to 20 employees that is looking for HR support’, you need to really drill into the person who is the buyer. Who is the buyer? Well in that business with 10 to 20 employees, the buyer is either the founder, the partner or the general manager.
So, the founder is typically a 40-year-old female; she will be interested in reading Country Living, she'll be interested in holidays to Spain and Portugal, when she's on holiday she'll do this and that, she'll drive this car, she’ll have this handbag. Really go into depth about how your potential buyer conducts their day-to-day life. It might sound discriminatory, and it might sound like you're becoming laser-focused. How on earth are you going to find this lady aged 43 he goes on holiday to this hotel in this region of Spain and so on? That might sound far too detailed, but actually what you're doing is creating an avatar of the wider group that you're looking to focus on. By looking at the brands that speak to them, you will understand what messages they are receptive to, what they're not receptive to, how they make their buying decisions. Do they make them on price? Do they make them on logic? Do they buy products based on speed and efficiency? Do they buy them based on prestige? What is it that they are looking for as an individual? This allows you then to tailor every bit of messaging. When I say messaging, I don't mean marketing, I mean every single communication around. That probably is the key takeaway. From there you look at your value proposition. I can't tell you in a two-minute answer what your value proposition is, but you need to know it. If you don't, then get to know it, it is absolutely vital.
When it comes to delivery, just be out there. The problem when it comes to sales for a lot of business nowadays, and I'm certainly not accusing the questioner of this, but a lot of businesses rely on automation of a sales process. They rely on things called funnels and email marketing and all of this stuff that hopefully takes away the awkward conversations. The reality that I’ve found when it comes to sales is that the very best way of selling is wearing out the shoe leather. It's a really old fashioned saying but it means knocking on doors, it's speaking to people, it’s going to networking events, it's having those conversations. When I'm asked about the best marketing investment when I was scaling up my business, the answer is red wine. It's as simple as that. It's about sharing a glass of wine with someone and getting to know them on that human to human basis. I'd know them personally. I’d know their kids' names, I’d know where they go on holiday, I’d know what their interests were. We would become good friends and then it would just naturally happen that they would want to do business with us. We would convert it from a combination of knowing exactly who they are and also being thought leaders in the fields they are looking at. We convert it from a sales process to a buying process and then it becomes easy.
Aaron: I love that. Just from that takeaway itself, I think I'm going to have to change my whole marketing spend! I'm going to take away all the funnels that we're looking into and just get a winery. That will solve all of our issues! It's a really good point though because that human aspect is what it's all about isn't it? That's why this lockdown stage has been so difficult for us – we’ve tried to emulate that human to human contact while being remote. I think that's where a lot of businesses have either flourished or they've struggled and are still trying to find their feet. I think that's a really important takeaway there.
The next question we’ve got is really close to my heart. It's about finance and accountancy and we have been asked: I’ve found managing the finances in my business overwhelming and a lot of the time I put up doing my accounts because my days are so busy and I'm so tired at the end of them. Can you book help with that at all? Can you give me some advice on how I can make it a bit simpler and easier to do this? I'm hoping to raise some money soon for my business, so I need to get the better of this. Have you got any advice that's going to help these people out? We know how important it is to keep your finances in check, but is there anything that you can give them to make this more efficient for them?
Carl: This is going to be a fairly quick answer, outsource it. I think that as a business owner, you need to understand the basics of finance and my book can help with that. However, the problem is that it's often seen as something that the business owner needs to get stuck into you. The reality is that it's not necessarily a good use of your time. As a business owner, if you're looking to raise external funding, the basic thing you need to know is if you are making money? You need to know if you got the cash. Are you going to run out of cash? You need to know about the different types of funding. You need to know the risks that they open you up to, the cost of them and what sits best with you emotionally. You don't need to know the finer points of the different stages of venture capital funding. At this stage, you just need to know the clear direction. I would say that basic education is important. However, as finances aren't your skillset, look to outsource or employ somebody to do it. As a business owner that is what I always try to do. Whilst I am an accountant by training, I am the world's worst accountant. I'll be very honest and say I don't enjoy accountancy. I don't enjoy numbers. I actually find it quite overwhelming when I see the detail, so I always look to narrow things down to three key numbers that tell me whether things are good or bad. I look to that in every area. So, for example, with our profit and loss, I look at what is our sales? What is our margin? What is our total overhead? If one of those is out of kilter the team then look into it and fix it. When you know the key highlights that you're aiming for it becomes so much easier. To understand what it is that you need to aim for, you can either take advice or you can perform that basic education yourself. Ultimately, I think a lot of this will come down to outsourcing.
Merlie: That's brilliant. Really great advice there and I think it's quite reassuring to so many of us, myself included. Happily, I have Aaron who answers all my questions these days. But you’re right, it is a better use of your time to get somebody who knows what they're doing and who can guide you and help you to get comfortable, and also to look after it on a day-to-day basis.
So, the next question we got you, Carl, is about recruitment. Our viewer says ‘I read your book and I love the advice on how to recruit someone. I just wanted to say that it worked for me and I found some awesome people because of you’. The question continues, ‘what's your advice when you take someone on and it's not really working out? I'm really worried this will damage the way that my new joiners feel about working in my business'.
Carl: It's a really valid concern to have and a concern that needs to be addressed straight away. I've only learned through this through my own experience. I've been preaching things like you need to hire slowly, fire quickly and so on, but I wasn't necessarily implementing this in my own business. It's human nature. What happens is that we employ somebody and often the employment decisions have been made on the wrong basis – we’ve employed them through need rather than want. We've needed the capacity and we’ve needed the team members. Then, in turn, we've hired based on skills because we need them up and running quickly. We've gone for the first few candidates that have come through the door rather than waited and chosen more carefully.
The problem we have when we do that is that we allow fear to dictate the recruitment process and we don't necessarily get under the skin of who the human is. In the book, I talk about the fact that we need to look at the person. Will they do the job? Will they fit in with the team? Then and only then we assess what their skill level is and if they can do the job. This is just to determine how much training we need to give rather than determine whether they get the job. It's the complete opposite of what most businesses do. They look at can they do the job and then can we get on with them. We need to do it the other way round because most people get hired on skills but then fired on personality or attitude. You cannot train a personality or an attitude, somebody’s either got it or they haven't.
When it comes to having a team member that could upset the dynamic, it's a really big concern. Unfortunately, team members that are pulling in a slightly different direction or with a slightly different motivation or ambition can sometimes be cancer in the organisation. You can have a negative person in a team of positive people or, on the flip side, you might have a positive person in a team of negative people. Whatever way around you got it, hopefully it's the first and not the second, it will upset the team dynamic and it will cause frustration. Ultimately it will chip away from the morale of everybody. Plus, if you got people who perhaps aren't aligned to the businesses, values, goals, vision and so on, then again you have people firing in different directions. Whilst they might feel that they're doing the right thing, the reality is that everybody else feels that they are being carried. It causes a really difficult situation.
My strongest advice is that if you've got this got feeling that there is a problem, address it head-on. Don't wait for it to escalate and become a real problem. I've allowed these things to escalate and to become a real problem. We've had to dismiss an employee on the spot for punching a wall in the office. If I was to answer very honestly, openly, and being vulnerable here; we probably could have identified the problems that were leading up to that beforehand, but we didn't. That was our mistake, that was our error. We allowed it to escalate to a situation where this team member allowed his way of behaving to become an outburst in the office. We should have nipped that in the bud a month before.
I'm not suggesting that that's the situation you've got, but if there's negativity, if there's anything like that, nip it in the bud. Have a frank conversation and it might be that the outcome isn't what you want. The challenge that we have as individuals, and Merlie this is a subject I'm really passionate about, the challenge is that generally people like other people. As a small business, when you have a chat with somebody about their future, whether it's on performance or conduct, you can be tough and think you're Alan Sugar, but the reality is that you're thinking this person’s got to pay their mortgage next month. This stuff does go through your mind regardless of how hard-nosed you think you are. It really does go through your mind and what I would say to that is that you really need to have some separation in your mind between the personal aspect. You might really feel torn personally about this, but you also need to look at the business. As an individual, you need to look at the other employees as individuals and weigh up what's right for the business. It's really difficult and there's no easy way around this other than becoming more hard-nosed and ignorant, which I don't think is a great trait in any business owner. However, you need to somehow build that separation in your mind and detach the emotions of care and respect for the individual. You need to do it in a caring way and you need to do it respectfully, but you also need to be caring and respectful of the rest of the team members and the business itself.
Aaron: Carl, if you haven't seen the start of the show, then do go back to it because there's a point where you really resonated with me. It was when you talked about writing your book and how that was the last thing on your mind with the grades you got. It was a wonderful story you gave us there. I think that it has resonated with this particular community member because their question is all: how hard was it to write the book and did you find it helped you to get more business by any chance? This person is a coach and a business advisor and they're wondering about writing a book to help get more work for themselves. Is that something you would advise them to do? Is that something that was your intention? Give us a bit of background into the book itself.
Carl: I'm probably going to upset everybody in the publishing world with my answer, but I'm going to go for it anyway because you guys want honesty. You don't want the PR veneer on this! There are a few parts I need to pick out. The first one, was it difficult? The difficult part nowadays is actually getting a traditional publishing deal, and that's for a couple of reasons. Back in 2014, when I got the contract for The Startup Coach, you had publishers and publishing was a much easier trade. I say easier because books were selling in a paper format more than in an ebook format. There wasn't too much piracy and there also wasn't the sheer flood of self-published books. It was relatively easy at that point to get a book deal. In fact, my book deal was from somebody on Facebook asking ‘is anybody writing a book on startups’? I put my hand up and I got offered a contract with an advance and all of that stuff from the world's second-biggest publisher, unheard of! That's not normal nowadays, and the hardest part about writing a book is elevating yourself above the noise. For every book published ten years ago, I would wager that there are 10 or 20 books published now. What makes it worse is, although that's across the board, it's concentrated in business books. Every single business coach, business advisor, and business consultant is trying to write a book. There are services now where you pay a few grand and, although the book is not written for you, everything is handled and they publish it for you.
If you want to go down the traditional publishing route, actually writing the book is fairly simple. It’s a case of planning and having something you're passionate enough to write about. Did the book get me any business? No, books are just expensive business cards. Did a business card ever get you any business? No. I would say that the books have worked in different ways. The Start-up Coach gave me a very strong layer of credibility when I didn't have any. I wrote it when I had about 900 social media followers and I didn't really have any traction. It gave me a level of credibility, at a time when nobody else had been published, to say ‘you can pop into Waterstones or WH Smith and you can buy my book’. That gave me a level of credibility. It didn't win me any clients but it made it easier for clients to buy from me and it made clear it easier for clients to stay with me, much like traditional PR.
If you were deemed to be the expert, and I was the business columnist for the Daily Express, it doesn't win you clients and it doesn't get you direct cold leads. However, when you're speaking to someone, it just gives them that additional reassurance that you know what you're speaking about.
The Franchising Handbook was a niche book that probably did a little bit more from a business development perspective. Unfortunately Boss It, despite being traditionally published and charting in WH Smith, is up there against a lot of other books. Every person and their dog is writing a book at the moment. The reality is that there are companies out there trying to encourage every coach and consultant to write a book. Is it a valuable use of your time? Yes, it is because the process of writing a book allows you to really distil your ideas into workable models. That's probably the most value that you get from it. It's an expensive business card but, what I would say, is that people don't tend to throw books away where is El throw business cards away. If you are going to write a book make sure it's a thick book and make sure that your name is on the spine. Don't have a book that can hide away on a bookshelf. You want to be seen, but don't expect it to bring you in shed loads of leads. If I was to look at Boss It, I highly doubt that DNT has had any leads from Boss It. In fact, DNT possibly doesn't even know that I've written Boss It. It's not been written as a lead generator and, to sum up a really long-winded answer to a simple question, you need to question why you're writing a book. If it is solely to get leads then the content of the book will demonstrate that and then you have to pay to be published rather than get chosen to be published. There's probably a better way to spend that £6K or whatever it is that you would have to pay to be self-published that would generate warmer leads for you. However, if you have got a message that you genuinely believe you need to share and something that could really positively impact the world, then absolutely do it, but you won't get a financial return on it.
Merlie: Well, that's very clear Carl, thank you. Thank you for sharing so much of your history and your experience too. I think a lot of us have had exactly that same thought – ‘should we be doing this?’ telling the reality behind the process and what to expect at the end of it is super helpful. So, you heard it here folks.
Carl: Can I just add to the last question?
Merlie: Of course!
Carl: I'm happy to give a very clear insight into the financials of writing a book because I think there is a big misconception about what you can earn as an author and the glory of it.
I would say that for each one of my books, I've worked for less than minimum wage. Bear in mind that I was paid advances, which is a luxury that many writers don't have. The proofreaders and all those things were paid for and covered by the publisher – I didn't have to cover that expense myself. I know that an average business book sells a maximum of 700 copies, I think that will be quite an eye-opener for people who might imagine that it's in the thousands and thousands. The reality is that if I sell 5000 copies of Boss It, I would be delighted, despite it being in all of the shops across the country. That's the reality of the numbers because there are simply not many people that are interested in reading business books
When it comes to what you earn from them, while the books have a price of £12 or £15 on them, I probably see about 30p per book. You don't need to be a mathematician to then work out how much I earned from that if it's an average book with average book sales. Thankfully it's done more than the average already, but it's still not going to hey for my retirement. It might pay for a takeaway!
Merlie: That's really enlightening, thank you for sharing that.
So, the next question we have for you is: I've got two co-founders and we've been arguing over the direction that we want the business to take. We have a four-year-old business, but it now looks nothing like the business plan we wrote at the start – and we can't agree on what to do next. What's your advice?
Carl: Oh wow! It’s not something I've had direct experience of, but I have had the experience of different motivations, viewpoints and so on. There's a book that you absolutely must read called Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman. It talks about the partnership that needs to be at the top of every business. While it doesn't directly address your issues, it will provide you with a framework to work around them. Rocket Fuel talks about the visionary and the integrator and how they need to work together. If you take Apple, for example, Steve Jobs was a visionary and Steve Wozniak was the integrator. Walt Disney was a visionary, and he had a right-hand person who was an integrator. I don't know their name and unfortunately, that is a common trait – the integrator is the behind-the-scenes genius that makes it happen. Between yourselves, you need to agree who is the visionary and who is the integrator. Hopefully, you get that point because if you don't, and you have three visionaries or three integrators, then quite frankly the structure needs changing. If you can agree that one of you is more inclined to be a visionary and one of you is more inclined to be an integrator, then there is a model to make it work. There is a level of trust that's needed between yourselves to understand that this is the visionary role, and this is the integrator role - we have to subscribe to what each other says.
So, how does that look in principle? In my business, I am the visionary and my co-chairman, Ben, is the integrator. We had some challenges at first when we read through this book because the organisation chart showed the visionary as being above the integrator when actually they are not. Both sides of the equation have different ways of communicating. A visionary tends to be very big picture, very optimistic and so on. The integrator tends to be detail-oriented, very people orientated and so on. There are certain ways that you have to work with each other and even certain words you have to say to make the relationship productive.
What I would say is read this book. It is a really good template for how a partnership should work, regardless of whether it's for visionary/integrator relationships. It's about understanding who the individuals are and hopefully, you find that you've got a fit for their visionary / integrator relationship.
From there it will help you understand the frustrations that each side has. It would help you build some empathy and then it's much easier to build a clear path forwards. If however, you've got a team of visionaries who are all big picture and nobody wants to carry the burden of actually driving things forwards or if it's a true dispute, then you need to reach some form of mediation. This should be covered in your Shareholders Agreements, and I hope you have those in place, but hopefully, it won't get anywhere near that stage. It might just be that we need to gain an understanding of where everybody is coming from and gain agreement on who is leading the ship.
Aaron: That's really good advice and important advice as well, isn't it? Hopefully, our community members are not in that situation, but if they've not got those visionary and instigator roles defined I think it's going to be really difficult for them, isn't it? I think there are going to be some really tough conversations, so fingers crossed for them and hopefully they will be fine going forward.
I've got the next question here and I think time wise this could not be any more perfect because I think we're all going through this at the moment. I think lockdown and everything that we've been going through means it feels like we're on a treadmill at the moment. It feels like we spend all day in meetings and then finally, when the day finishes, we actually get to concentrate on our work. Time is a really valuable commodity at the moment.
Our community member here is talking about how it feels like the business has taken over their life and that's something I can definitely sympathise with at the moment: I don't have time for anything else, is this normal? I worked for a company for a long time as the HR advisor and then I was made redundant two years ago and decided to freelance. I'm finding it hard to be a mum, to be a good advisor, and to find new clients. I miss how much simpler it was being an employee. I'm not sure what to do.
Carl, you must have been in this situation yourself and you must know people who are going through this situation? I know that your book is designed to try and help people through this, Have got any insights on this particular issue?
Carl: I jokingly say in my book that the best thing about being self-employed is that you choose which 18 hours per day you work. Whilst that's a flippant joke and a flippant comment, actually, the reality is that if I look at myself I still work 18 hours a day even though I don't have to. I guess it's just in me and it's the choice that I've made. The problem is that when we start a business or even if we just start freelancing, we become so much more tied up emotionally with what we're doing and we take so much more ownership. That becomes a blurring between work and home. I've not known a business owner who can hand on heart say that they turn their phone off on a Friday at 5:00 PM and they don't think about the business until Monday at 9:00 AM. It just doesn't happen. Some people don't enjoy that and that's possibly more of an employee mindset. Some people don't actually see their work as work, they just see it as what they do. If I was to share what I do, for me I just wake up and do what I do. It's a wonderful luxury to wake up and, if the diary is clear, I just do what I want. I design my own diary. If I wanted to go away for a month without checking phones I could do it, but I couldn't actually bring myself to do this because of my emotional ties to the business.
This is a longwinded way of saying that what you're feeling is (a) completely normal, and (b) I want to agree with what you alluded to, Aaron. We've all gone through some stresses over lockdown and some changes to our normal working patterns. Added to that is the fear that we've all had about our own businesses, despite the LinkedIn bravado you may see from your competitors in the HR world. The reality is that everyone has been petrified that all of their clients are going to close, the money is going to run out and the bank will turn them away. Everyone has been worried about that and I imagine this applies to even the very biggest companies. It's not an abnormal fear, but it has led to a bit of overworking across the self-employed population. I think we are now on the homestretch. We are coming back to normal so it will be easier to build our work-life balances, particularly when things open up again and you can start going out for family meals and taking your kids out shopping. That will naturally bring back some balance.
However, I do think that unfortunately as a business owner, there needs to be an acceptance there is no such thing as 9 to 5, Monday to Friday anymore.
Merlie: That's a point very well made! A final question for you, Carl, and this will take you back to your franchising expertise in your franchising book. The question is: Carl, can I ask you about franchising? I looked you up and I know that you wrote a book on it and I'm wondering whether this would be a good model for my business? I am a fitness coach and I have also been producing some nutrition products through working with another business. I can't scale my business on my own because I'm too busy to take on more clients. However, I'm getting lots of requests for training and I'm wondering whether it could be a good solution to keep the clients even if I'm not the one doing every training session. What do you think?
Carl: Well, that's a really good question. Again, there could be a really long answer to this! However, franchising very simply is a great model for some businesses but not all businesses. It consists of having an agreement, an operations manual, a culture and a way of doing things, and a strong brand. The problem that you've got as a new franchisor – and I'll be honest I love franchising as a model – is that it seems a lot easier than it is. To get to the stage where you've got a franchise that you can ethically sell to somebody else, and have the strength of the brand and the operations manual, you're going to be working two jobs to get to that stage. You're going to be doing the job of a personal trainer and you'll also be doing the job of the franchisor. It's not going to be cheap to do it and it's not going to be easy. I think the particularly challenging thing that you might also have here is that you need to understand what the hook is. What would stop the personal trainers from going off and doing it themselves? The likelihood is, and I don't know the ins and outs of your model, but it probably won't be anything too innovative when it comes to training. There might be some adaptations compared to what other trainers do, but it will probably be something down to technology in the way that you transact and relate with your customers. It might also be down to some amazing branding, however it's a really tough market to go into. Either way, it's probably going to cost you tens of thousands of pounds before you can even get into the game of franchising this. I would wait up and I'm more than happy to have a chat offline about the ins and outs and how it could work. I would also consider whether just employing a PT could be another option. It might not be your immediate choice however, in the early days, if we're just looking for overflow for one or two or three leads it will be far cheaper and a more sustainable way of doing it. For a personal training franchise to be successful, you would only really start getting payback at about franchisee number 25 or 30, based on my experience. There will be a lot of investment up to that point and it's depending on whether you want to go on that journey. Having said that, the capacity, if you do it properly, could be up to 600 in the UK, and then you could go overseas. There's a huge opportunity but it's a significantly different business from what you're running today. I guess you need to ask yourself if you want to be a personal trainer or a franchisor.
Merlie: Really, really great answer, thank you very much or that Carl.
Carl: I feel like I’ve been quite miserable with some of my answers, but I'm just trying to be honest!
Merlie: But I think you said it so well up front, people want honesty they don’t want sugar-coating or superficiality, and I think the depth of your answers and the candour of them is very important. These are important decision for the community to take, and I think what you often find in business manuals or in blogs (particularly because no one seems to read the books anymore; we just want light information) is this gloss of ‘yeah you could do this, and you could do that’ but nothing actually tells you what it means to do any of those things or whether it’s right for you. So, I don’t think you’ve been miserable I think you’ve been very pragmatic, and I think that’s what matters more than anything to anyone here. The last thing we want to do is to push people into perusing missions or models that fundamentally contort their businesses in a way that’s not going to be good.
Phenomenal Carl, thank you so much. I should add that there's lots more wisdom and guidance in Carl’s book ‘Boss It’. It contains many of the themes and much of the advice that he shared with us today. Go and log on to Amazon and grab it now if you don't have it! That was really helpful wasn't it, Aaron?
Aaron: Yes, it really was. We've had some really great guests on the #GoFarFast show and we've been really lucky. What I loved about today was just being able to look at certain things that we all take for granted and being told that sometimes we have got to look at them differently. The whole phrase H2H has completely changed the way I'm thinking about how we deal with our sales funnels and how we look at our business to business. I think it's so important, isn't it? We need people like Carl telling us that these little simple changes can have such a big impact on our business going forward. Thanks Carl, it's been absolutely brilliant!
Merlie: Aaron is now off to Tesco's to buy some wine! Can you get me some too buddy while you're up there?
Folks don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe. Let us know if there are any questions that we’re not yet getting to on the show that you want to hear the answer to. We have plenty more guests and plenty more episodes lined up. If you let us know what you want, we can prioritise those shows for you.
It just remains for me to say once again, Aaron, always a pleasure. Carl, you're a legend thank you so much for coming on today's show and sharing your wisdom with us. We’ll see you again in the next episode and don't forget to #GoFarFast.
Then simply click here, where you'll be able to listen right away on our host, Buzzsprout, or on your preferred podcast platform!
5 min read
Thursday 5 Aug 21
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