Three years after he moved ActionCOACH to Las Vegas, Australia’s favourite entrepreneur Brad Sugars says Australians are some of the best businesspeople in the world. He shares his advice for SME owners with editor Jen Bishop as he prepares to step down as CEO.
Brad Sugars is something of a celebrity in the Australian small business community. His international business coaching franchise, which moved its headquarters to the USA three years ago, is a multimillion-dollar success story.
But Sugars is known as much for his flashy lifestyle, love of fast cars and captivating charisma as he is for his business acumen. ActionCOACH is, he admits, built on the foundations of Brand Brad. He’s also a bestselling author of several books, including Billionaire in Training, and a sought-after speaker.
Back down under
Last month he was back in Oz, entertaining his many fans during a five-cities-in-five-days Business Is Booming tour. “It was great to be back in Australia,” says Sugars. “The energy from the Australian businesspeople was really invigorating. I hadn’t done any speaking in Australia for almost three years so I was keen to do it. Because of the state of the economy, I also really wanted to tell people what I think is going on. All they hear from the media is the negative side of things and there’s a lot of misrepresentation. I asked people to put their hands up if their business was actually doing better in the last year and I’d say more than half of them did.”
So, are small-to-medium businesses in a better position to survive the downturn? “They should be,” Sugars says, “because of their flexibility and ability to change, but most of them aren’t well educated enough in business to take advantage of the negative situation.”
He adds: “SMEs should definitely be better placed to take advantage of a negative cycle than big businesses. The problem is, there are a lot of small business owners out there who spent all their money when times were good.”
SMEs need to wise up
Sugars also says most small business owners in Australia today have never experienced a recession, or any kind of downturn, before. “Those of us who have been around longer know these negative cycles come around and, when they do, you get your cows in the shed and get ready for winter. It doesn’t take a genius to know you have to change your marketing as well. Those who don’t are going to be in trouble.”
He adds: “Too many small business owners cut costs in the wrong areas, like staffing. That’s the worst thing you can do. You spend years training and developing these people so getting rid of them should be the last resort. Maybe don’t replace people who do leave, but don’t get rid of staff unless you really have to.”
Australia riding the downturn
Not surprisingly, he says business in Australia is in a far better place than the USA, which is now starting to feel like home to him and his family. “America’s the epicentre of the negativity,” he says. “But it’s also the epicentre of opportunity.”
And business is good for ActionCOACH, with coaches’ average earnings up 40 percent on last year, and enquiries up 150 percent. The biggest problem is recruiting enough coaches to service the demand.
The business coaching sector is certainly one profiting from the GFC. As Sugars says: “It’s times like these that people realise they need help. When times are good you can hide a lot of things, but right now you have to take the help and advice and do better to stay in business.”
Why he loves the USA
His move to Las Vegas was largely for geographical reasons as ActionCOACH is now present in 26 countries and Australia is nowhere near the middle of them. He now does close to 40 percent of his business in Europe and a nine-hour flight to London is much preferable to a 24-hour, two-part trip. He’s been welcomed with open arms in the USA, where he was recently named in the top five CEOs in the country. Not bad for a 38 year old from Brisbane who landed there just three years ago.
While he hasn’t ruled out coming back to Australia one day (“My mum keeps asking me that!”), and still has a house in Hamilton Island, Sugars says there are some things he doesn’t miss. “You can keep your tall poppy syndrome,” he says.
This perhaps isn’t surprising from someone who has suffered his fair share of negative press and rumour-mongering from people who weren’t happy to share in his success. “What I really like about the US is it’s a country that congratulates success rather than beating people up about doing well,” he adds. “I enjoy that part of life. It’s different to Australia.”
He does, however, have a lot of good things to say about his home country. “I firmly believe that Australia has some of the best entrepreneurs and businesspeople in the world and they often underrate themselves. They should be attacking the market on a global scale.
“Australia is one of the hardest places to do business in the world; we have high taxes, wages are very high and there are a lot of public holidays and leave entitlements. For such a small marketplace, distribution costs are high because of the sheer size of the country and the fact it’s an island. If you can succeed in business in Australia, you can succeed anywhere.
“The Australians who do take their business overseas do exceptionally well. But a lot more should be doing this. Don’t be afraid of a bit of water!”
He adds: “Look at me. I’m just a boy from Brisbane. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to the biggest pond in the world—America! And I certainly don’t believe I’m the best.”
Aussies underrate themselves
“A lot of great Australian businesspeople are hiding their lights under a bushel. They bring in Americans to run Australian companies, which is just ridiculous!”
These days, the ActionCOACH brand and the name of Brad Sugars are synonymous with each other. Like many successful entrepreneurs, Sugars has worked his personal profile to his advantage. “If anything, it started as the Brad Sugars brand and ActionCOACH grew out of it,” he says. “The personal brand is very much part of my philosophy. I think if you’re working in a service industry, you simply have to create a personality around the person running it. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are very much part of the Microsoft and Apple brands, even if they didn’t really want to be. Every CEO needs to understand it is part of their role.”
Your personal brand
“A big part of your personal brand is being proactive rather than reactive, which is what I was for many years. I realised that was a mistake. If you don’t talk to the media, they’ll make things up about you anyway,” he admits. “You have to manage your brand very well.”
This is easier than ever now with the advent of social media. Sugars is a huge fan of YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, in that order, as well as being a prolific blogger.
“YouTube is vital. You must have video on your website these days,” he says. “Facebook is the best relationship-building tool. If a business doesn’t have a presence on Facebook, they’re shooting themselves in the foot. More than 250 people who came to my Australian tour came because they read about it on my personal Facebook page. You have to spend time on it, but it’s worth doing.”
He adds: “If you’re in professional services—any kind of white collar job—you should be on LinkedIn, whether you’re a business owner or an employee. And then there’s Twitter. I say Facebook is like a 60-second TV commercial and Twitter is like a five-second one. Both have their purposes. And lastly, if you don’t have a blog yet, you might as well give up!”
Back to Brand Brad again
After three years concentrating on being the CEO, Sugars the bestselling author, speaker and personality, is preparing for a foray back into the world of Brand Brad. Next year, he plans to appoint a new CEO internally—he advocates always promoting from within if possible—whom he has already chosen.
“I haven’t really done many seminars or written new books since I’ve been over here and I want to go back to that. I’m also working on a TV show.”
Meanwhile, the demand for business coaching is showing no signs of slowing down. “A coach has gone from something people thought would be nice to have, to something they now know they’d better get because if they don’t, their competitor will. The whole industry has changed and I’ve been lucky enough to lead that industry and implement high professional standards. Secondly, if anyone’s out there saying they don’t know how to do something, they need to find someone who does, rather than just work harder.
“I still totally believe in business coaching 100 percent. No football team ever succeeded without a coach standing at the sidelines.”
Sugars is happy he can still say he’s in his thirties and while he’s achieved a lot, he thinks there’s still plenty more to do.
See next page for Brad’s ActionCOACH story.
Brad’s ActionCOACH story
Brad Sugars started the ActionCOACH brand (formerly Action International) when he was in his early twenties. Today, the company is internationally recognised as the leading global business coaching firm and one of the most awarded franchises in the world.
He has always been an entrepreneur, running several small businesses while still at university. His ability to build companies from every conceivable industry led him to be known as ‘The Turnaround Kid’.
Sugars was soon asked to speak to business owners and executives, sharing his tips and advice on marketing, sales, systemisation and team-building. Audiences were wowed by his refreshing ‘pull no punches’ approach to how to grow a business.
Despite the demand for his advice, Sugars realised consulting wasn’t the answer. He wanted the business owners to implement the strategies he taught but didn’t have time to speak to all of them. It was then that he hit on coaching, and his company was born.
Later, it made sense to franchise the concept, which now operates in 26 countries with more than 1,000 offices around the world.
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