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Chris and Sam are joined by entrepreneur and multi ultra-marathon runner, Nick Bradley. We discuss the importance of your own personal brand and how that can scale up your business. Hear the funny story of Nick quitting his job on the spot and never looking back . And we reflect on how life changing events, sometimes tragic can have a big impact on work. 

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Episode 60
Nick Bradley Interview.  Burning the boat and self reinvention

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  • Scale yourself up, as well as your business

  • Becoming an entrepreneur and burning the boat

  • The conflict of having your own brand and being an employee.

  • Stress can break your teeth

  • The rollercoaster ride of Nick’s dad re-entering his life after 34 years

Transcripts:

 

Nick Bradley

Interview

Burning the boat and self reinvention


 

CHRIS: 

Welcome to Across the Pond. My name is Chris Lawson and I'm joined from across the pond by Samuel Monnie, say hello, Sam.

 

SAM:

Hey Chris.

 

CHRIS

How you doing? You alright? 

 

SAM:

I'm doing alright. I'm always excited in and ahead of every episode. So this week's another corker, right?

 

SAM:

Absolutely. We're joined by another very special guest, a good friend of mine, actually full disclosure, a guy called Nick Bradley. I won't go into it, but we've known each other for years now, since we were a marketing director in an organization called EMAP now called Bauer, which was a global magazine publisher, now a digital publisher as well. Nick's gone on to be a business growth expert working across the globe, actually. He works with entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors and aims to transform good companies into great ones. You'll learn from his accent originally from Australia. He's, also rather depressingly, done 67 marathons and  24 ultra marathons. So yeah, he's pretty fit. Let's say that anyway. So Hey, Nick.

 

NICK:

Do you know what I was sitting there listening to and I'm thinking, it's funny when you hear your profile, read back to you because we can get into all of that today. You know, you called it out, Chris, you know, we've been mates for 20 odd years, I've been in the UK where I live now since 2003 and we met around that time. I'm pretty sure. It's been interesting to see our collective journeys as we've navigated different things that have happened, and it's great to meet you, Samuel, you know, really great to be on your show and hopefully I can offer some help, some guidance, some insights to all your listeners.


 

Don’t get too comfortable

CHRIS:

You focus your efforts on that startup and scale up sector. Why is that? Why is that sector such an interest to you and what have you really seen over the last a few years that made you think, ‘wow, this is just a sector I need to be a part of’?

 

NICK:

It was a relatively deep question that I asked myself to be able to make that choice. It wasn't that I looked at it from the perspective of, Hey, there's an opportunity here to create businesses off the back of that particular part of the entrepreneurial journey. What it came down to, and this is quite interesting, having the conversation with you, Chris, cause you, you know, you saw me a number of years ago and you now see what I'm doing now. What I did is I realized what I was achieving within the world of corporate. Some of those quite senior positions, it wasn't really what I wanted to do longer term, and partly that was because I felt contained. I didn't feel like I could really kind of grow with too many constraints around me. I thought that I could do some bigger things and what it came down to was I thought the reason that I'm doing this, the reason that I've got a six-figure job and all that, is I'm scared to really try and do anything else. Then I thought, ‘well, if I live my whole life like that, at what point am I going to regret that?’ So the reason I focus now on startup and scale-up is I actually looked back over my career. I was going to spend a lot of time really asking these questions and say, what have I really done? What have I really done? What am I good at? What have I achieved? What's my experience? It wasn't practical things, like, we share a background in marketing. It was more that I was being brought into situations that weren't working. That could be for multiple reasons. It could be the wrong people in the wrong seats. It could be processes, it could be the culture and I would have to come into those situations and fix them. So I wasn't myself, what I would call classically entrepreneurial, I wasn't the creative that would come up with the startup idea, like a new magazine or something like that, but I could go in there and make something that someone else had started significantly better by knowing that I thought, ‘okay, well now how can I create a business and a series of businesses of that expertise?’ That's what I've done since. The headline is that people who start businesses are not necessarily the best at scaling them. And the reason for that is it takes a very different skillset and mindset. Where I come in is usually at that phase of business where they've run out of ideas and they need an injection  of my expertise to be able  to grow again and then have their business performing at the level that they would like it to.

 

CHRIS:

What changes have you seen in the sector? 

 

NICK:

I think more people are understanding that entrepreneurship, if we keep it as broad as possible, is a viable place to play. What we're seeing in the last 12 months with everything that's happened with COVID and all that sort of stuff is job security that we may have thought existed 10, 20 years ago. It doesn't really exist in the same way. Therefore, you have to take some responsibility for generating your own income, as opposed to just existing with a massive salary. That personally hit me a couple of times, I was fired from some of my corporate gigs and when that happens, it was extremely painful. Every time it happens, there is the fear of how am I going to pay a mortgage? All that sort of thing. So the big change I'm seeing is more and more people are starting to become self-employed, are starting to create businesses where they are the owner, the CEO, the business leader, and therefore more and more people are coming into my world now going, how the hell do you do this, Nick? You know, what do I need to have in place to increase the chances that this is going to work? 

 

CHRIS:

Yeah, I think that's fascinating. I mean, all three of us are in that category, I think. The tech industry was there maybe five, 10 years ago. So I think it's not just about thinking about it from an entrepreneur perspective, it's also functional expertise.


 

“Would you quit your job today?”

NICK:

A lot of people struggle and I get this cause I went through this initially and I had to get some coaching and mentoring on it because I didn't know how to do it myself, to some extent, but the, the biggest fear that people have when they go out by themselves and they try and do something, which is without the parachute of employment, that safety net is, they don't know how they're gonna win business.  They're worried that they're not going to get clients. I totally get that by the way, a lot of people kind of have that fear all the time because they haven't built a system and they haven't really built a process or a strategy around how to do that effectively. So it becomes predictable. Now I was in that position a while back, I got, as I say, coached by some pretty outstanding individuals. Then I built a whole ecosystem around that, to the point now where it's just not even a concern anymore  and is now even so predictable that we can forecast probably for the next 18 months what's going to happen. I think that's one of the reasons. Once you can get past that fear, if I said to someone, “if you didn't have to worry about winning business, if I said to you, you're going to have, you know, triple your salary for the next couple of years, would you quit your job today?” I would bet more than most people would. Not everyone, but I think a lot of people would make that decision. 

 

SAM:

You said something there, which obviously causes a bit of conflict or dissonance in terms of quitting something today, that fear that, that barrier to doing must be must be huge. So have you seen that change in people? Or have you seen that change in yourself?

 

NICK:

Yeah. I mean what I did, and again, I'm very transparent with these sort of conversations because I think people can learn  from the journey is when I decided to build what I've built now, and I've got seven separate companies now, and there's going to be three new companies brought into our group within the next year. I can explain what they all are, but it's more the point of having them and how I created it, which is the interesting piece. So I was employed by a private equity firm a few years back. I was making good money, a good six figures, bonuses, the idea of selling the business. I would have had a decent chunk of equity from that, but I wasn't comfortable with the level of control that was over me. I wanted freedom. Right? That was probably my highest value. I just didn't agree with some of the decisions, but because I needed the income, I was forced to say yes to things. So this is what I did. I went away and I went to an event. Chris knows about this. I went and put myself in the Tony Robbins event, four days in Chicago on the advice of a very good friend. He said, you've just got to go and work on your mindset. So when I came back, I hired a coach. I started my podcast, underneath that podcast I created a number of income streams where I didn't have to do anything realistically, but I had other people doing stuff for me. So therefore I was taking like a semi-passive income. The podcast got more and more popular and that's a story on its own. Then about nine months after launching the podcast and it was starting to heat up, I got called into the private equity firm's office and the chairman of the business that I was the CEO of, I was running, called me in and said, “this is it, Nick enough is enough. Right. You now have to quit the podcast.” Here's the punchline...  in my bag, I had a little white envelope that I'd written six months before. I said, “that's it. I was waiting for this day. I'm done.” Now the way to describe this, and then I'll shut up, is it's a little bit, if you've ever done a house extension where you kind of put on a loft, a loft room or something out of the back. And the builders build that before they knock through. So the thing's built and then they knock through, and then all of a sudden you've got like this, you know, more space in your house. I effectively was building the extension or the outbuilding and the knock through, if you like was the day that I handed in my notice.  

 

The pre-story is I changed my LinkedIn profile and I was talking about the podcast, at this stage the podcast had reached number one in the UK business charts, number 17 in the US and had about a hundred thousand downloads. So, you know, it had some good success. I had fans, if you want to call it that.The first conversation, which was about a month before I actually resigned, they said, well, listen, you know, you've changed your LinkedIn profile, it doesn't say anything about the company that you're working for, which is a fair point. And you have to change it. I was like, well, it's my social media, right? So I'll just do what I want. So that was a nice conversation. So then when they pulled me in, on this day, I resigned. There was like three of them, their chairman, and a couple of the kinds of private equity partners. They tried to do the kind of strong arm tactic, you know, pacing, frame control,you will do this, you are ours, sort of thing. I just sat there and I remember I was just smiling. I was actually sitting back in my chair looking like an absolute Dick. Cause I was like, yeah, whatever. That annoyed them even more. I kind of let it go on a bit. And they had all these different terms where they were going to change my remuneration  structure. They were going to do all these threats, so it was really quite fun. I just let them go and let them go. They expected me at the end to kind of like literally bend over and say, “please, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry guys.” Then I just stood up and said, “that's really interesting fellows. Really cool. Here you go. I'm out.” That was it. I just walked out the room. What's funny is I didn't actually have another conversation. This is true with my chairman ever again. They put me on garden leave. I had a six month notice. They were very clear that I couldn't work. I could do the podcast, but I couldn't work. So I just had other people employed in my various business interests, doing stuff for me over that time. 

 

SAM:

Wow. I like the fact that you could still podcast though. So they didn't take away the bit you like, it's like did you not realize that that's the thing that was actually good?

 

CHRIS:

Did they  not listen to the podcast?

 

SAM:

Actually  that would be brilliant. If you did a couple of episodes dedicated to certain individuals, just to see if they were listening.

 

NICK:

Do you know what I probably have, I probably have Samuel. But they're kind of interwoven with other stories. I do share, I think the reason the podcast has been successful is because I share all of this. I don't throw anyone under the bus, but I talk about the transition.

 

SAM:

I love the stories that you're sharing there. I know this LinkedIn thing is really a trigger for a lot of people, a lot of organizations, lots of companies in terms of getting above your station. You're not the first podcaster to tell me that there came to be a moment with a senior leader saying. “Hey, What's all this podcasting stuff you're doing, you're getting too big for your, your boots.” So for our audience out there,don't be dissuaded from creating and doing your thing because it does really have an impact, and clearly people notice.


 

Stress can break your teeth 

SAM:

We'd love to hear a bit more about  your journey when you were told to work on your mindset. Do you mind sharing a bit more about that? 

 

NICK:
It came from, one of the things that I probably didn't appreciate as much as I do now, is people tend to make decisions usually from points of,  severe pain or severe pleasure. So what I mean by that is if you, if you're kind of in the middle, if it's kind of not that great, but it's not that bad, you're kind of in the zone of mediocrity. A lot of people live within that zone. It can often be called a comfort zone because there's not enough impetus to make change. That's the best example I can give of that for people listening is when people are in a job, they know they hate the job. They're getting paid. It's not great. It's not bad, it's safe. So they do that. All of a sudden, 20 years of their life is gone. Right? That's a very common thing. So what happened to me? I'll give you the story: I was doing a number of different deals with private equity firms. This was leading up probably over about a three or four year period. I was getting increasingly frustrated, angry, with the decisions that I was making, I just hated it. I couldn't stand it.  If I really go back, it was probably happening for longer than that. But I was the guy who was stuck in this situation and then something full-on happened. My father came back into my life and he left our family when I was two. He came back when I was, let's say 35, 36. So I hadn't seen him or even had any real memory of him for like 34 years.  He came back in and of course I'd heard all the stories, the character assassination stories, and he  was nothing like that. He was a very successful entrepreneur. He was a millionaire in his late thirties. He lost everything in his early forties because he was involved, his business was actually next to the Turkish consulate bombing in Australia, which was in Collins street in Melbourne and no insurance when there's a terrorist attack, this is obviously these crazy lost everything. Then he had to work for his mate as a sales director, and then he had an idea that he  found and he started another business and he became a millionaire again in his fifties. 

 

SAM:

Wow. 

 

NICK:

I knew nothing. I knew none of this and so he came back into my life for about three years and I realized all of a sudden that the frustration that I was feeling in these employee jobs, these corporate jobs, where I was making decisions were really repressing the fact that I had this kind of more entrepreneurial streak in me. It made sense all of a sudden. And then, this is the full-on bit... He came into my life and then he died very quickly of cancer, like super quick, like within four months of diagnosis. About three weeks before I went to the Tony Robbins gig, I went to bed one night and I cracked all the teeth and the right side of my jaw. There's  two or three big molars  at the back, I like clenched down through my sleep. Literally, I woke up with like shards of teeth in my mouth. So I took some painkillers. Didn't really get back to sleep, went to the doctor the next day. Then I saw the dentist in the late morning, and they just said, listen, you've, you've literally gone to bed, and with whatever stress is going through your body right now, you have broken your teeth. This is the best thing that could ever happen to me in essence, because  basically I wasn't going to change what was going on. I wasn't strong enough to do it. I needed a physical event to force me into action. That's what I meant by the pain and pleasure. 

 

SAM:

That's quite shocking but also seems to have been renewing.

 

NICK:

Listen, it was the best thing that could ever have happened. I wasn't going to take the required action by myself for various reasons. I needed a number of events to line up. All of those things had to happen in sequence. I think for me to then change trajectory and that's how I explain it. But since I've done that and what I've done since in the space of a few years, I would never have ever imagined beforehand. 

 

CHRIS:

I think the fascinating thing there is about what events it takes in order for people to move on with their lives in a more positive outlook or direction. Also this point about self-expression as well. The fact that you've set yourself up and are a prolific  podcaster now. I mean, you've got two, maybe three podcasts a week. 


 

What is your Personal Brand?

CHRIS:

I'm interested to explore that point about storytelling, it's something Sam and I come back to time and time again, and about how that weaves into a personal brand and the fact that that personal brand has to be part about work and part about how you are. It would be really interesting just to hear your thoughts on that. 

 

NICK:

There are some interesting lessons here, I think in terms of how marketing is changing as well and how I think it is fundamentally changed in various ways. What I realized is I needed to step into something that I was afraid of for so long.  I needed to take control of what I wanted to be and have more purpose and intent around my life. Right? Because that was the thing that was calling me. But I had no idea how to do it. So I thought, well, first and foremost, I'll work out where I can add value. So I look back over my career and worked out what I really could help with, which is, you know, going into complex situations, usually businesses or situations within businesses that need an injection of different thinking, energy, pace, grit, resilience, all those different things. Then I thought, ‘well, okay, what really is that?’ For me, it's, it's the part of business growth, which is the scaling up phase. I really play in the area where a startup goes into a scale-up and that's normally defined by two things. It's defined by the ability to build teams and to lead people effectively. 

 

So I thought, well, that's what I'm going to play. Then I thought, well, how the hell am I going to get that out there? So I found a mentor and I got in touch with him and said, this is what I want to do. I didn't really overthink podcasting at all. It kind of was just what I wanted to do. I don't really like writing. I can speak forever as you can probably tell from this podcast. And I thought, you know what? I'm going to try and share my story through my voice. I'm going to teach people everything I've learned from 25 years of solving complex problems, growing, scaling, everything.  And I thought, well, I can, I'm going to get that out there. So I created a brand. The brand I created first was 'Scale up your Business', and in terms of my personal brands, I did two separate things. This is quite interesting for people who want to sort of venture into this world. I was coached to sort of say, when you create your personal brand, you've got to be very clear, like any brand, what you stand for and against. That's not always saying what everyone expects you to say, right? So that's the first bit, second bit is you've got to be consistent. You've got to be consistent with your message because like all brands, you know, one of the best definitions I've ever heard is that there is a promise of consistency. When they're inconsistent, that's when people start to mistrust them and all that. And then the third part was when you create a personal brand, it needs to be 70% who you are today; your values, your standards, where you are in life. 20% who you're going to be in three years time; so it's about understanding what direction you're going. Then 10%, what your audience expects.  Whoever your ideal avatar client brand archetype is. Those three points are probably not that dissimilar when you think about business brands, but when you relate it to yourself, you've got to ask some deeper questions to get to that. So that's how I did it. I went away and  built my brand off, off those, those various questions.

 

SAM:

You've said a lot and  shared a lot, stories which go deep, there's loss, there's tragedy, there's renewal, there's rebirth. Throughout that, there's this energy and passion and vibrancy that you have when you're speaking. For us mentoring and nurturing talent is dear to all our hearts. You've talked a little bit about, about that in terms of what you do in coaching, but talk us through what that means to you, this whole nurturing others mentoring, coaching. 

 

NICK:

It comes back a little bit to the story about my dad, actually.  There's two parts to this. The first part, again, I'll be succinct in that first part of my career, before I started doing what I'm doing now, I had effectively a lot of success, certainly commercial success, financial success. What would be called achievement? If you were looking from the outside, in. But I wasn't overly fulfilled.  So it felt like I was  with no real connection to anything that had a greater part behind it. When I went to the Tony Robbins event, I understood exactly what was going on, but I didn't understand it beforehand. He explains it by saying that “if you have just high achievement, you will always feel this sense of loss or incompleteness. Whereas if you have a balance between achievement and fulfillment, that's where you'll start to feel like you've got a greater purpose behind what you're doing equally. If you just fulfill it, you're not gonna have enough money to do what you want anyway.” So it's the balance between all of that. The thing for me was, I need to change my mindset and my belief system around  how I can help others? 

 

There was a really famous  quote, which I love: “if you help enough people get what they want in life, you will have everything you want and need in life.” So there is an intent that if I help people get where they want, I may not get something directly back from that one individual, highly unlikely that's ever going to happen. The point is I'm putting enough value out into the world that whatever I need in different ways will come from. It's kind of like a law of reciprocity.  That is what I have found to be true. It's about making a bigger impact. That drives a lot of what I'm doing day to day, the decisions I need to make, et cetera, et cetera, because there's a greater pool towards that, which inspires me more than just say, making money.


 

Quick Fire Round

CHRIS:

We've got a quick fire round for you now, Nick. A few questions, this is just whatever comes into your head. 

 

So do you prefer marathons or ultra marathons? 

 

NICK:

Oh, ultra marathons. They're much easier. 

 

SAM:

So what's the biggest change you've seen in marketing transformation over the last few years?

 

NICK:

Absolutely the growth and the power of social media.

 

CHRIS:

And what's top of your reading list at the moment?

 

NICK:

Oh, okay. So right now I'm reading a book by a guy called Dave Asprey, which has just come out and I've got it here and it's called 'Fast This Way'. And it's all about intermittent fasting and how that can increase your energy levels and productivity.

 

SAM:

What's your biggest marketing regret? 

 

NICK:

That's a good one. I'll try and keep this quick fire. You know what it's probably, when I used to work back in the magazine days with Chris not being brave enough to make big enough decisions, I was thinking about my job. So I think about that in context, I could see the transition away from promotional activity and magazines. We were sticking. Crazy plastic things on covers of magazines. Chris knows all about this, and I could see that building communities around those brands was something that we should have been doing sooner. Now obviously that's proven to be true. I saw that much earlier than what I activated, cause I was probably too scared to really challenge what everyone else was saying.

 

CHRIS:

What's the most important element of a sales and marketing strategy, if you had to choose one?

 

NICK:

Being 100% crystal clear on the person that you want to help. 

 

CHRIS:

Absolutely. Thanks Sam. Thanks Nick. 

 

NICK:

Cool. Thanks guys. Really enjoyed it. 

 

SAM:

Well, without further ado, have a great week across the pond.