Nick Bradley is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and investor. His background is in growing and scaling VC and Private Equity backed businesses.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE:
Good morning. This is Steve Sims with another episode of The Art Of Making Things Happen and I’m going to be introducing you to Nick Bradley. Nick Bradley, interesting cat. He’s going to tell you where he came from in a second so I wouldn’t be doing that, but he focuses on scaling your business and the associated mindset you have with that. He’s got some great tips at the moment during this a time of mass confusion on what you should exploit, what you should take charge of. And quite simply very informative episode on how you can create more impact both in your mind, your business and your bank account. So there’s no fluff in this one. Thrilled about that. So listen to Nick Bradley, enjoy the show. Hey Nick, welcome to the show.
Hey Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here, mate. Thanks for having me on.
Now it’s eight o’clock in the morning here in Los Angeles and I’ve got my coffee with me because it’s very, very early, but it’s not so early for you. So what time is it and where are you?
Okay. It’s 4:00 PM. I’ve got my coffee, which means I’m going to be up all night. I’m in the UK. I am two hours North of London in a tiny little village, which was built in Roman times. How’s that?
Well that’s most of England for a start. But your accent, everyone’s going to get straight off the bat, that just like me being in LA, you being in London, it’s not your hometown. So where do you come from?
Okay. I come from a little place called Adelaide, South Australia, which is famous for churches, sharks and serial killers. And I’m not lying. All those three things… We’ve got more serial killers I think per head of population than any other city in the world or something ridiculous.
I know. I know. So a long way away from where I am now, sort of totally different hemispheres pretty much.
And what was your first job?
First job is I started a business. I started a personal training business back in… Was about ’91, Steve, when no one knew what personal training was, everyone thought it was a bit weird, that someone would actually yell at you on a treadmill or lift some weights for you and wipe sweat off your brow. Not that I did any of that. So started that when I was around 18, 19 years of age and ran there for a few years and then sold that when I was about 22.
Now we’re going to fast forward. If anyone wants to read up on the bio of Nick you can. I will say a couple of times when I started researching you, I found that it was a golfer that shared the same name as you, which is funny because there’s a soccer player that has got the same name as me. I don’t have the legs, but I’m probably still as athletic. But you are very well known for two major achievements and very well known and respected in your field. One is in your incredible podcast, great reach, very well respected, very well regarded. And also, I don’t know if there’s a connection here, but in your ability to scale a business. So what led you into the idea that, “Hang on, we want to scale it.” Because some people build a business, some people learn how to market business, but your focus was on, “Okay, I’m going to get into X and scale it.” Why was scaling the objective within a business?
It was a bit of a sort of deep reflection piece because even though I just said I started a business when I was young and I sold it and everyone’s probably thinking, “Oh, here’s another entrepreneur guy on the show.” I didn’t find that with my superpower mate. I found the startup bit more challenging. I’m not the most creative guy. I’m not the sort of person who comes up with an idea every second, writes it down in a book and then is going to launch a business and has 50 of these startups going at once. I was the guy who would like see the opportunities and things that weren’t quite optimized. And the way I tell that story, Steve is like some kids when they play with Lego were the ones who would just like literally get any brick and just make something that looks beautifully artistic, but just had no functional form, just looked cool.
And then there were the guys like me that would come and get the instructions out. And the level of precision that I would make this piece of art out of Lego. And that’s the difference between someone who does startup and scale up. I go into businesses that are good businesses, they’re solving a problem for someone, they’ve got some revenue coming in, but they’re just not performing to the point where they’re really growing well, they’re becoming empires or something more significant and impactful. And I can go in there and I just have this ability to see where the cracks are, where the things are that can be fixed, where they can be optimized. And getting those businesses to a level as that, I’ll use the word again, precision, so they run like machines and they run with predictability and then they become highly valuable. God’s gift, if you want to call it that, that’s what I do.
I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there, and these are going to be all loaded questions, I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that go, “Oh my God, my business should be scaled by 20 fold,” And stuff like that. What are the three common mistakes you see in people when you walk in and you get to see what they can’t? What are the three things that they’re doing wrong or basically hindering their scalability?
What often happens is you go into a business and the first thing people say is, “I’m not selling enough. I’m not getting enough revenue in, I don’t have enough leads, therefore I can’t generate revenue to make profit or make cash.” That’s what they say, but to answer your question, the number one reason, the number one thing is normally the individual running the bloody thing. And what happens, and this is not me sort of saying that all of a sudden they’re hopeless and they can’t do the job, it’s just that they when businesses hit a plateau and they’re not growing, you see a lot of the person in terms of who they really are. And the insight that I often get across is that people who can start businesses are not necessarily the best at scaling them, because it just takes a different skillset and mindset.
And when someone gets into their head too much and they start to lose focus, they start to lose clarity about why they started the business, they start to perform less well as a leader. They start to just kind of doubt themselves, they lose confidence. So the number one reason is normally the bottleneck becomes the entrepreneur is the leader of the business. So that’s the first thing. Therefore, in relation to that, they start doing what they shouldn’t be doing, is they start working so much in the business that they just piss everyone off. Anyone that they’ve got on the team who’s any good goes, “Well, hold on. Now I’m being micromanaged.” And instead of the whole thing, running like a machine, like well oiled cogs working together, you’ve got this one person literally juggling plates. You know, that old picture of someone spinning plates in a circus, and they’re just wondering which one’s going to fall.
So, you get that starting to happen. And then the third thing, because of all these things is they start… Because they’re so focused internally, they forget to look externally. And then the markets are changing. The product that they thought could solve a solution for a customer is no longer relevant because things have moved on, then all these other issues start to fall. So it’s a little bit like a game of Jenga where the blocks, the little pieces of the Jenga game, they start to fall apart. And then if too many get sort of taken out from the foundations, the whole thing crashes. So it’s a mixture as opposed to saying it’s three separate distinct issues.
Yeah. I think number one is hugely valid. Well, they’re all valid. But number one is hugely valid because when I’ve noticed people, they do tend to not realize that you’re correct. The skillset it takes to envisage a vision, something to kick it off and the passion to do that is not the same passion that’s going to be operating an Excel spreadsheet and focusing on scalability, diversity, employment, it’s a different skillset. But the downside with entrepreneurs is we don’t recognize quite often how we’re growing and sadly how distant we’re getting away from actual unicorn that started the business. How do you communicate that to people, because let’s be blunt, entrepreneurs, we have a little bit of an ego sometimes. So how do you get into match that?
Yeah. Well, sometimes you’ve got to have a little bit of ego hits ego. I’ve sat in front of some-
Is that where the serial killer comes in? Is that where that helps you?
I have no affiliation with serial killers. I have seen some sharks in my surfing days, but that’s another story. Listen, I mean, there’s a piece here where you can’t lean in with mindset. My podcast Scale Up Your Business, if I call that Get Your Mindset Sorted To Grow Your Business or something like that, no one would listen to the bloody thing. And the reason is that people don’t either identify with that, they certainly don’t want to say that actually they’ve got a problem in terms of themselves, how they’re showing up, or they just don’t have any awareness of it. So what I’ll often do is I’ll go in there and we’ll just kick the tires on the business. So I normally assess a business against six different characteristics and they’re pretty much ubiquitous against any type of business.
It doesn’t about what industry, what sector and they’re things like cashflow, they’re things like the vision that the founder has and therefore how they have a strategic plan. And then obviously we get into sales, marketing, people, which is crucial, operations, process. So we normally start assessing that. And then from that, we can start to see where there are some cracks, but as you start to ask questions, one of the most important questions, which I know you’re very much an advocate of is why. And so I will often ask why a number of times, and when you start asking why enough, particularly around things like vision and strategic plans, you get to a level beneath the surface with that entrepreneur, that business leader, where the real truth comes out. And that’s where fear starts to surface, it’s where inadequacies about… Perhaps I’m unrewarded, I’ve been working… This brittleness comes out. And when that starts to surface that they admit it, that’s when you can start to approach it and start to unpack that and start to get real about it.
Is that why you actually launched the podcast, to get people to start questioning themselves?
I did it because I went through a journey myself. I mean, I started off this conversation today saying I started this business, but actually what happened after that when I sold it at 22, I went into the world of corporate. And I spent the last 10 years of that let’s call it employed world if you like, working for private equity firms. And I started the podcast because I wanted to help people, because I saw that on one side of the coin with private equity, is that a lot of the entrepreneurs and business leaders, these founders were getting, I’m going to say screwed, but they were being led astray sometimes by these smart guys with MBAs and spreadsheets. And so I did it for that reason. Now what’s interesting is, maybe what you’ve done too, when you start a podcast, it becomes a little bit of self reflection in its own right, becomes cathartic.
So I started to realize that the mindset transition that I went through, particularly through those 10 years of private equity, then back into doing more entrepreneurial things, the thing that was holding me back was mindset. I just didn’t have the belief systems for various reasons that I have when I was younger. So I thread that into my podcast and it’s almost like a bit of a gift because people go there thinking they’re going to learn how to sell better, drive more revenue. It’s all in there. I cover all that. But what they really get is who you need to become, how your identity needs to change, to be the person who can create a business that’s worthy of scale up and creating value in that way.
The first thing we failed to do was actually name the podcast. So what is the podcast called?
I think you sort of named it, because it’s just such an amazing name. It’s Scale Up Your Business. So I think it does what it says on the tin.
That’s a good one. Have you always done this in the UK or was it started in Australia?
No, I started here. I moved over to the UK in 2003. So I’ve been here 17 years and I started the podcast about two years ago. And I started, I suppose, working for myself, doing what I do now for about three years ago, three and a half years. So yeah, launched it here, went to number one here in the UK within three months. And I think it got number 17 in the US business charts on iTunes around the same time.
Yeah. It’s obviously got a good reputation, it came to me from Dave Meltzer. That’s how we got introduced and Dave doesn’t piss around with wasters and flakes. So, you have obviously some quality there. So the podcast is out there to help people come in under the concept of listening to other experts on scaling their business and mindset, but it truthfully is trying to get them to ask themselves why and get that mindset corrected when they’re trying to grow their business. Do you actually do this in any other platform, like YouTube channels? Are there other ways of getting hold of you?
Yeah, I do put stuff out across a range of different channels. I mean, we’re starting to do more stuff on YouTube now and Instagram, all the social media channels. I haven’t done Tik Tok yet. I can’t bring myself to doing a 15 second dance with a spreadsheet. It’s kind of not…
You should try that.
It’d be great, wouldn’t it? The loaded question is that you’re out there on different platforms, helping people scale their business, analyze themselves, correct that mindset. The big thing that I hear a lot and I’m looking for your response on is, “Yeah, that’s great. But not today. Not in COVID. Now’s the wrong time.” So do you agree with that? Now’s the wrong time to look at your business for scaling?
Oh God, no. No way. I mean, I hear that a lot, so you’re not misplaced in seeing that and hearing it, but that comes back to… Not to make the whole thing about mindset, but it’s a bit of a scarcity play by a lot of people. So I noticed at the beginning of COVID, two things. I noticed some people that went and hibernated. Literally they couldn’t deal with what was about to potentially happen. Some things were real and some things were imagined, as fear can be. And then I saw some people just step it up to a level that I’ve never seen before. And you’ve got to ask yourself the question, what’s the difference there? What’s happened? And it’s partly about how people respond to change. It’s about, again, how people think about themselves and how confident they are.
But this is my advice. If you are going to really make a massive difference and scale up is about making something extraordinary. scale up is not a journey for everyone. A lot of people can create a great living, a great income out of making a lifestyle business, or even a performance business, which is a few hundred thousand dollars a year in salary or whatever you want to call it. When you’re scaling up to create an empire, we’re talking about businesses that sell for in the nine figure range, certainly the eight figure range. You’re making a massive difference. If you are really serious about that, doing it at any time… Any time is the right time. But when there’s transitions going on, like COVID, you’ve got to be able to see the opportunities that have been presented. I’ll give you a live example of this.
I was advising lots of people to get whatever capital they could get. Even some of the loans that were offered out by the government, which were around to help people transition and survive. And I said, “Invest that in product development in marketing,” Now has never been a better time to go, and if you’re in a consumer business, to go and buy Facebook ads, like you’ve never seen. Because the cost of those ads is something like a third of what they were 10 years ago. So where the big businesses can’t compete, and because they’ve got too much infrastructure and they’re too slow to move, smaller businesses going through scale up to become big, the best time to do it is via disruption.
Wow. Okay. You’ve said that Facebook ads are cheaper now. §What else should they be analyzing? So let’s say for argument’s sake you’ve given them the wake up call and people… You’re right, COVID, most of the fear is the fear itself. So they’re sitting there and they go, “Well, hang on, I’ve got a business, but it’s not doing very well at the moment. Then how can they possibly look into scaling up a business when maybe they’re not getting the revenues? Let’s say for argument’s sake they were left [inaudible 00:15:57] perfectly, a wedding florist. They were doing brilliant business all over Beverly Hills and Montecito and everything was great, and of course now public gatherings have stopped they can’t be doing any floral design anymore. How do they look as scaling their business during this downtime? What should they be focusing on during this pause?
I mean, the first thing I say to people is if you’ve got two weeks of cash in the bank and you can’t pay the mortgage, it’s very, very hard, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, to be able to change that thought in your head, because it’s a painful thought. So I often say the first thing you’ve got to do is get a cash runway. Now you can get a cash runway from different places, which I can talk through, but I say the minimum you need is around three months of cash. A lot of people were around about the four weeks. Certainly the ones that I spoke to at the very beginning. So they’re trying to find an extra two months. Where do you get that from? Well, I’ve got seven different companies, Steve, and I went and took every single possible loan I could from the government, every single one.
And people were like, “Well, hold on, but you’ve got cash in these businesses.” And I said, “Yeah, but these loans are like six years. And the amount that you pay back might be 800 quid a month for six years. If I can’t make that in these businesses, I might as well not have a business.”
So the first thing is get the cash. Even if you choose not to spend it, get it in your bank account. Just by looking at it there will give you a degree of certainty in terms of what you should do. So going to your example of the wedding florist. Now the first thing… And I know a few people who launched new businesses through COVID and I got one guy, he launched three businesses in COVID, in each of those businesses generating six figures. Now that’s in four months.
You think how did he do it? Well he did a couple of things I’ll advise now. First and foremost, he said, “Okay, my core business is delivering this.” Could be flowers. Who else in the bloody world is buying flowers right now? Is there anyone? Has the need for flowers in any way, shape or form stopped in the next few months? Now you could be very morbid here. You could say there’s one thing that happens a lot where you could leave lots of flowers for it. Not great, but it’s a pivot to say somewhere in the world, it may not be weddings or weddings in the same way, but there’s going to be someone who has a need for that. So that’s the first piece.
The second piece is, okay, what else? What are the adjacencies around what I was offering before that I could provide a service for? So lots of wedding florists, again to use that example, they’re quite good at planning things. So what other things can I plan around? Where’s my competency, my skillset that I could launch something new? Give you a live example. My wife has got a travel business. Travel stopped, has stopped going back a little bit, but what else? She launched an Amazon business through COVID, which is now doing pretty well. What did she do?
She realized that Amazon was one of the people paying her through travel, through affiliates. So she just looked at Amazon’s ecosystem and thought, “How can I adjust to that?” And then the third piece I’ll give you is it’s very hard sometimes to market yourself by traditional means, in terms, I mentioned Facebook ads and all that sort of stuff. That’s great. But the quickest way to get yourself in somewhere is to go to where the audience already is. And that’s often through partnerships. So again, the wedding florist. I would be looking at people who have got audiences that I could provide flowers to and start to do some JVs with them. I may not make as much money as what I was doing beforehand, but I’m still making some money. And again, that’s going to get you on the trajectory to being successful in a time when it could be challenging,
You’ve got some great points there, really fantastic points. And thank you but I’m going to openly and not trying to blow smoke on it, but thank you very much, Nick, because I think it’s very valuable for people regardless where you are in the planet. I want to hit on the first and the third. The first thing you said was to take all the loans out you possibly can. And I had this conversation because my accountant phoned me up and he went, “Oh, we’ve got these payroll protection plans and we’ve got these SPA emergency subsidies.” And he said, “Should we apply for them?”
The first thing that I wanted to do was, “Oh, no, no, no, I don’t want to borrow money. I don’t want to be in debt.” And also borrowing money is almost an admission that you’re not making money. So we had money in the account. We were making a bit of money, I didn’t want to take… And then he was turning around and going, “Hey, these are at 3%. And you’ve got 10 years to pay the bloody thing back. Sit it there. Anything you do is going to make potentially more than 3%. And if it isn’t, as you said, you shouldn’t be in business.” So it was my accountant that got me over that and now, oh hell, I’ll take money out of the government for whatever reason. If there’s a hair subsidy, I’m going to be first in line.
There you go. You’re not alone, Steve.
Well, no, I’m not alone. Maybe on the hair subsidy. I’m not alone. But how do you tell people stop looking at this as an old problem? It is a different world, it’s a different situation. How do you get people out of their own head and their own insecurities and their own triggers in not applying for these loans? Because everyone should.
I mean, listen, you’re talking that whole concept of croc brain or monkey brain, it’s there to protect us, and it’s hard for people to understand that. I’m not perfect, we all have challenges in various times where that sort of thing that’s there to protect us pops its head up. The way that I did this with a lot of people, particularly around the question around debt is if you’re taking out a loan with 50% interest, or sometimes some of these payday loans are much more than that, then the risk of that is significantly higher. Just looking at the numbers, that’s a real desperation stage. There’s a bit of first sort of saying, well, this is not a desperation stage, this is called being strategic.
It’s about leveraging the opportunities that are in front of you in a more clever way by not letting your emotions or past programming dictate how you make decisions. So the way, exactly how you described it, I said, listen, first and foremost, realize that the businesses have built on how you leverage the cost of capital. And when interest rates are low, you should be using debt to back yourself, to take the risk, because entrepreneurship is risky by sheer nature, to really back what you started. So the way I got people around this, and there’s a number of a number of people who took out six figure loans after the conversation I had with them, I said, “Take the money, put it in your bank account and your choice, I would be investing a certain percentage of it straight away, but why not just sit on it for a month or two? Just leave it there.” And then start to get comfortable with it.
So that’s the first point. So don’t not do it, because you can just pay it back and there’s no real fee or risk for doing that. But then as I said to them, you’ve got to then reignite exactly what you’re going to do, your vision for the business is, now that things have changed. And this is another point I think is important for the listeners. What you started a business to do may not be what your business is going to end up doing. The market’s changed, the customers have changed. So once you start to get clear… And clarity and focus are two really, really important superpowers here.
Once you start to get clear that you understand the market, you understand the problem that you can solve, you’ve got the solution, you’ll get more confidence again to be able to look at investment in a different way. And then if you’ve got the money in your bank account, and you’ve got the clarity of your plan back, and you can see the opportunity because you’ve started to get yourself focused again, then the chances of a really strong return from that money come back in. So it’s not a quick conversation. I’ve had a few conversations over a few weeks with people, but more often than not, when they start to get more rational versus emotional, they start to see this for what it really is.
Yeah. I find that pride… We’ve been taught as kids, as we’ve been growing up, you don’t borrow money if you don’t need it. And so that pride gets in. But in business, if the money is that cheap, get it. So, I’m glad you brought that up. Very valuable point there. Anyone out there, pause, go and fill in your applications and then come back to the rest of the podcast. The third thing I want to go into is what Jay Abraham, and we’ve had him on other podcasts and he’s a friend of the family and the speakeasy crew, he talks about OPRs, other people’s relationships. And he talks about how to go… You’re right. You’ve got a joint venture and you go and find someone who has a good sandpit, has a good following, has a good center of influence, has a good grab of credibility that you’re not in.
The daft way to look at it is to go, “Oh, well, I’m only making 50% what I would,” You should be looking at it you’re making 50% more because you’re now in that sandpit. And let’s remember the lifetime value of a client. That OPR may be with you for a six month deal or a 12 month deal, but if you’re still working with that client in two years time, you’re now getting the whole hock, depending on how the contract is. So I’m a great believer in going out there and chatting with other people, but, and here’s the caveat, but, check the credibility is valid and don’t base it on how many pretty pictures are on Instagram of them leaning up against cars they don’t own. So how do you check that credibility before you actually set into a JV?
I’m still a big believer in referral and going out. I think one of the skills of being a really successful entrepreneur is having a strong network. Be that a mentor, peer group, accountability, whatever you want to call it, but just putting yourself into those situations. And I’ve been burned a few times because I like to trust people first before walking into a situation, thinking that someone’s going to abuse that. And that has burned me a few times. But I think if I change that, that actually it’s going to be less advantageous for me in the future. So the first place I go is I do look for trusted networks. So how did we met? We met through Dave Meltzer. I spent some time with him, you spent some time with him. I’ve spent some time in his world. I’ve met a lot of other people within his world.
There’s a piece now where everything that I’ve experienced personally would say that I have trust for what Dave stands for, what he does, and the people that he introduced me to are going to be good people because they’re going to have similar sets of values and standards. And you know what? That’s my belief, that’s what I’ve found. So that’s the sort of thing I first suggest is ask people that you know, like, and trust first before jumping in. And then the other thing is you can, if you haven’t got that, I still think testimonials and case studies, and you can go deep into those if you want to, I’ve actually bought businesses where I’ve called up customers in those businesses and got direct referrals. People I don’t know, but they’re vouching for the person that I want to do business with.
So that’s the other thing, make sure that you look for credible testimonials, case studies, things that give evidence that someone can solve whatever problem is that you have or partner in whatever way. And then, this is going to sound a little bit more ethereal, I’m a really strong believer in trusting your gut a little bit. That’s the nonscientific way of doing this, is that there’s a bit where sometimes you’ve just got to take the risk and trust your gut. But the way to play that to make the point is don’t go all in too quickly. So test it out, play around the edges a little bit. It’s the whole idea about you wouldn’t get married on the first date. Not many people do. You might have a few dates first. Same in a relationship, try a campaign together, try something small, just see if it fits on a cultural standpoint, as well as a business standpoint. And then after you get a bit more certainty, you can start to go deeper into that relationship.
Yeah. Jay used to say to me, “Get in slow, get out quick.” And you’re right. So just do test the water, do flirt, do date, do what you need to do before you jump in and commit your life savings. That’s a valid point. So look, we’re coming up to the end of this show and you’ve hit on some master points down there that people should be adjusting their mindset, they should be looking at what that true skillset is because we both… You’ve mentioned it and I agree with it, someone may be good at selling travel, someone may be good at flower arranging, someone may be good at designing a studio but when you take the end product out of it, they’re good at design, they’re good at sales, they’re good at events, use that. Because believe or not that’s the unicorn and that’s pivotable. So today start focusing on that skillset. So you’ve really pulled that out, Nick, thanks a lot for bringing that up to people. Again, we’re going to shout out to an amazing podcast, Scale up with Nick Bradley. Correct?
Scale Up Your Business, that’s right. And that was a good summary, by the way. I love the idea, you’re right, the attributes and the characteristics of the thing that sometimes people miss. So very, very nicely summarized.
You said it, boy, I was just paraphrasing, so thank you very much. We’re going to put all these links down there to help people can get you. But if they’re listening in the car… We’ve already told about Scale Up Your Business, is there a website or anywhere else you’d like to send people?
Yeah, a couple of resources for people actually. I’ve got the Scale Of Your Business community, which is on Facebook. You can just search for me and that, and that’s got a few thousand people in that group now. And it’s a great resource for people who just have questions about various things, anything to do with business growth and scale up. And then I often say LinkedIn is the best way to get me. Find me on LinkedIn, search for me, basically connect, I’ll connect with everybody and if you need any help with anything, I always try and get back to people. Maybe not as quickly as I used to, but I do promise that I get back to everyone. So that’s my commitment on the show today, Steve.
Well, I appreciate you Nick. Nick, thank you very much for being on the show. We really do appreciate you, but more than anything in today’s world of confusion and distortion and a lot of noise, thanks for giving us some great clarity today, I’ve really appreciated your message.
Hey, any time Steve, it’s a pleasure being on the show. Thank you.