'Business is Booming' for Brad Sugars at least – London seminar review

October 13th, 2010 by Chris St Cartmail

Sitting amongst a capacity crowd in the Kensington Town Hall last night waiting for the international ‘business coaching’ star, head of ActionCOACH and author Brad Sugars to step up to the lecturn, I was hoping I wasn’t going to be as disappointed as I thought I’d be.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that research earlier in the day and discovered a swathe of disaffected ex-coaches, complaints on online ‘ripoff report’ sites and accusations on Amazon of concerted, fake 5-star book reviews.

But still, I turned up. My ticket to the London ‘Business is Booming’ event was free, as was, I guess, everyone else’s. There lay some of my scepticism – press passes aside, the only times I’ve been given free tickets to business guru lectures have been when I’ve been considered a prospect for a big-ticket sale. After a hard day at the office I wasn’t too keen on the prospect of being on the receiving end of a pitch.

Wondering how much I might be worth to ActionCOACH, I struck up conversation with the middle-aged lady sitting next to me and asked her what she knew. Turns out she’d just signed up a few weeks earlier to their FreedomCOACH programme and was understandably keen to get the goods direct from her mentor’s teacher. How much was she paying ActionCOACH? She pointed to a green order form on the ground that I’d moved off my seat and there it was, plain as day: £2,500 a month or £18,000 per annum.

I’ve paid more in the past for business consultants, though it has to be said they were McKinsey alumni working for PwC. The lady agreed that her main concern was that at this early stage in the programme she hadn’t yet tested the breadth of knowledge and experience of her ActionCOACH. Referring to the programme, “It’s only as good as your coach", she confided.

From what I could gather in my earlier research, there are between 120 and 150 ActionCOACHES in the UK, each having paid circa £75,000 for their franchise with ongoing royalty fees of £1,500 a month (5 year contract). There are no education qualifications required, nor do franchisees need any previous consulting or coaching experience. However, according to the franchise promotional literature, only people with passion should become an ActionCOACH. ‘That’s because Business Coaching is a very passionate business’. Oh, and if you have had a background in sales, or owned or managed a business before, then ‘this is the business for you’.

I can understand my neighbour’s concern. There was a reasonable chance she already had more business experience than her mentor. In my experience, and a couple of senior business consultants I know agree with me here, the coach is key, not the organisation.

[Just a thought for anyone suitably qualified as a business coach thinking of committing in excess of £160,000 over the next 5 years: you can buy a damn good little business for this, complete with goodwill, customers and staff.]

However, no doubt all ActionCOACHES go through their own advanced training programme and I was there to hopefully pick up some of the tips and nuggets from their master.

Yes, I wanted to know how it’s so easy to grow a business in a recession and get a little closer to being like Brad – the international multi-business owner (he claims he’s bought and sold beauty parlours, hair salons, insurance companies, a dog food business and property companies), investor and entrepreneur.

And you know what, he is a smart guy. He is also, as you’d expect from someone who has perfected his patter in front of hundreds of audiences across the globe, a polished and entertaining speaker.

Much of his content is common business sense, and in the style a lot of success gurus, you are challenged to revisit your priorities.

Just like Robert Kiyosaki’s conceptual tool, the cash flow quadrant, Sugars talks about a ladder that’s required to move up from employed to employed with an extra job; employed with two then three extra jobs; managing your own business; owning your business (without managing), before becoming an investor and finally a true entrepreneur. The move from active earner to passive earner.

Sugars says individual economies are always moving through a seven year seasonal cycle, that’s now ‘Spring’ in the UK, except for the property sector, still laid low in ‘Winter’. It will be ‘Summer’ again in 2013, that’s going to be a good time to sell. Go international like him, everybody, because these seven-year cycles are not in sync between countries i.e. you can arbitrage your business activities.

In the UK, it’s not a good time for selling a business, he says, but.. it’s the perfect time to buy a business. He confides that he likes to continually buy and sell businesses, though never holding onto to them for more than a year. Buying struggling companies to expand is a very good strategy. He likes undervalued businesses best, but then so do most business buyers I meet. Always be prepared to exploit an opportunity. And if you’re the owner of the business, get out of the kitchen and look for those opportunities. Fair point.
Don’t give away any cash, always add value and go hire your competitors' best sales people.

Build a great team that builds you a great business. He defines a great business as a ‘commercial, profitable enterprise that works without me’.

‘Hands up everyone who wants to increase their turnover by 10 per cent, starting tomorrow!’
OK, sure, why not?
‘Simple. First thing you do tomorrow is to put your prices up by 10 per cent’.
So if I want my turnover to double, I just need to double my prices? Not sure that in a recession my market is that price-inelastic, somehow. Does he really think that nobody has done any price testing whatsoever?

Flippancy masquerading as serious business advice is a little irritating.
As is his fair sprinkling of Kiwi jibes. Why he keeps knocking us Kiwis I don’t know. ‘A country of 64 million sheep, 4 million of which think they are people’. Yawn.

Funnier though is Sugars’ order for everyone present to stop doing any housework whatsoever, as it’s a total waste of valuable time. “A bloke came up to me after my seminar in Scotland and said, ‘you know what? I actually like mowing the lawns!’ I said, ‘only because you haven’t got any real toys! Like a superyacht!’”

Show gratitude to your customers. Show gratitude for referrals, for paying on time, for everything. Thank them as soon as they’ve ordered. True to his word, I received an email this morning thanking me for my attendance last night. Nice touch. ‘Celebrate your staff, your customers and yourself’. 'Doesn't matter if you run a funeral parlour, send a thank you message to other members of the deceased family. They're all going to die too!'. I think he was serious.

Then comes the formulae:

[1] Dream x Goal (time frame) x Plan x Action (doing the ‘right’ work). Give your business a score for each of these out of 10, and work with your coach to improve each by 1 or 2 points a year. Tip: At the end of each day, you and your staff each write down what you’re going to be doing tomorrow. According to Sugars, this alone will give you a 30 per cent increase in staff productivity.

[2] Be x Do = Have. Not rocket science. Work smarter and harder to achieve your business objectives. Sugars’ repeats the phrase, ‘learn before you earn’.

[3] Lifetime value of a customer. Brad brings up his dog food business to illustrate the point. He promised all his regular customers that when their dog died, he'd buy them another. Free. Any size they wanted!

As expected of course, there were numerous pleas for attendees not to leave without buying at least one of the 14 or so books in Sugars’ stable, all amply represented in the stacks behind him. Plus a couple of plugs for his 3-day Entrepreneur’s MasterCLASS – cost: £3,820.

But what a neat little sales trick he pulled, talking about the shortage of ActionCOACHES in this country (read: anyone in the hall interested in the franchise opportunity?) and how busy these coaches were, which meant that only a small number of new clients could be accepted (read: get in quick as an ActionCOACH client or miss out).

That’s the little gem I was looking for.