This week we catch up with Brad Burton, managing director of 4Networking, the UK’s largest joined up business network.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
Brad Burton – managing director of membership organisation 4Networking, the UK’s largest joined up business network – we now run over 5,000 events across the UK. We help our members make business easier by providing ‘real-world’ groups where they can meet up, and at each of these events have three real business appointments with other members who they want to.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I was working 60 hours weeks for a company and I recall thinking: ‘I could work 80-100hours a week and still never be able to provide for my family the life I had dreamed of’. This was literally the moment everything changed, the next day I told my employer to shove his job up his arse and went off to start a marketing company, £25,000 in debt. No income. A mortgage. A new born son. Oh yeah and a whinging wife that wanted me to go “get a proper job”. I think it’s fair to say hardly ideal conditions! I’d been to other networking events and they all seemed a bit contrived, over engineered, formal and “American” – where was the British way of Business Networking? It really didn’t exist, till we came along and blew the bloody doors off.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Having tough enough skin. Most business are played out in private and what I mean by that is if most normal businesses have a problem, its them and the customer who know about it. In my world the entire network of 1000’s of members do. At times I’ve been like the head of a political party. Just under four years ago I unravelled, the pressure got to me and I had a nervous breakdown, which in old money means you’ve gone temporarily mad. I had made some not-so-great personal choices and, twinned with the pressure from the finances of the business and rivals, it created the perfect storm. I/we are well through those dark days now but we could have quite easily fallen over with only a few more tiny body blows. But I had no Plan B. I had to make this work. Even at the price.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
It’s easy making money on spreadsheets, I’ve done it loads of times. It’s going to take four times longer, however, than your business plan states. But as long as you never lose sight of your destination, you will always get there. And this is a cornerstone of 4Networking – never underestimate anyone, never overestimate anyone, treat everyone the same…with respect. There is no downside.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
With hindsight I’d know how to avoid all the pitfalls. But as I say in my latest book, a mistake is only a mistake after the event, up until that point it’s the correct decision. No-one, including me, wakes up and says “you know what, I’m gonna f*** up today”! But experience is what you win when you lose, when things don’t go your way. And that experience allows you then to make better, more informed decisions. It’s the scars that harden you, if I’d not got them in last 10 years, I would in the next. So as long as you learn from things it actually makes sense.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your own business?
We’ll soon find out! 10 years to the day that I founded the Company, in fact, as I’m relinquishing the reins of 4Networking. The truth is, I’ve not been handling the day to day for the last year, having brought in a Director of Strategy with a heavyweight corporate background to run the business. And if it didn’t work out, I could step back in without any upheaval. 12 months on and the news is not good – for me anyway – because the Company is 21% up! I know… devastating!
Remember I said at times it’s felt like a political party? Well that stands true now, as it’s time for new leadership and new ideas in order to take it on for the next 10 years. So I’m stepping aside to be “founder” whilst new boy Jason Dutton steps up as MD. Me? I’ll continue to fly the 4Networking flag using my reputation to open doors. But I’ll also be focussed more on motivational speaking (www.BradBurton.Biz), writing my fourth book and growing my one-day BradCamps – an intensive one day workshop with me – launched last year, which are flying. Oh, and my intent is to spend more of the next 10 years with my family. My mission to get www.4Networking.biz as a national brand – accomplished!