By Matt Ayres, Fresh Business Thinking
Interview with Brad Burton, Motivational Speaker and Founder of 4Networking
For most people starting out in business, the recommended route is to ease into self-employment, gradually making lucrative connections until they have enough stability to amicably leave the day job and work on their dreams full time. Brad Burton took a rather different approach.
“I arrived home one day and the wife said to me “You’re early today, are you here to look after Baby Ben while I go shopping?’” recalls Brad. “I said ‘That’s one way to look at it Kerry. The other way is that I told my employer to shove the job up their arse.
“My wife was delighted about that as you can probably appreciate – we had 25 grand in debt, a newborn baby boy and it was five days before Christmas. She said ‘Why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut for five days and get your Christmas pay?’ She had a point.”
Brad’s tough financial situation meant failure was not an option, but he quickly discovered that starting a business wouldn’t be easy. When promises of work from previous clients failed to materialise, he realised what he’d let himself in for. The only way to stay afloat was by delivering pizzas on weekends to supplement the family income.
“It wasn’t a good look,” Brad admits. “It went horribly wrong one day when I rang a doorbell and one of my clients answered. I’m there with a pizza bag. He says ‘What are you doing here Brad?’ I had to think on my feet and told him that I was working on a direct marketing campaign for Domino’s, that I thought I’d get a feel for the organisation by delivering pizza. It was bullshit.”
This was a turning point for Brad, and a moment that made him realise he’d need to step up his business efforts. His lightbulb moment arrived while attending networking sessions to make new contacts for his company. Dissatisfied with the often unproductive atmosphere of these events, he vowed to create a new business offering networkers something better.
“In political terms, you had the leaning left of networking,” Brad explains. “All very nice – chardonnay and vol-au-vents – but no connections being made. Then there’s the hardcore right of networking, where you’ve got to be there, you’ve got to speak in a certain manner and conform to all these rules.
“I was thinking, where’s the mainstream of networking? It never existed, so I started 4Networking, my networking organisation, nine years ago.”
The concept of 4networking is simple – members who pay to sign up gain access to any of the 5000 events being held in different cities around the UK every year. Each event culminates in three targeted one-to-one meetings, in order for those in attendance to discuss potential business prospects with real focus. Brad believes the events have succeeded because nobody else was offering the same model. “If you’re not fundamentally different to your competitors, it’s going to come down to price or personality every single time”, he says.
Through hard graft and the innovative nature of his business, Brad reached a point where he could successfully support his family through 4Networking. But he hasn’t stopped there – he is also one of the UK’s best-known motivational speakers and the published author of three popular business books. Using brutal honesty and compelling anecdotes as his weapons of choice, Brad has inspired thousands of potential entrepreneurs, daring them to take the leap and make their dreams a reality.
“Deep down, all anyone wants is to be happy,” says Brad. “But if you think that buying a Lamborghini is going to solve all your problems, you’re mistaken. The entrepreneurs I teach and mentor, I tell them we need to find out the point of this whole journey that you’re on. Are you working your bollocks off and risking your health and relationships for a Lamborghini?
“For me, happiness is not the amount of money you have in the bank. It’s the freedom that your success allows you.”
The other key to happiness in business, according to Brad, is remaining true to yourself, regardless of the situation. He speaks proudly of attending his public speaking gigs in a t-shirt and jeans, and going against the advice of his critics by naming his first book Get Off Your Arse. He also embraces his failures, stating emphatically that without them he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“I’m living proof that you can be anything you want,” says Brad. “A lad brought up on a council estate in Salford, with no qualifications, four years on the dole, being told I wouldn’t amount to anything. Up until about four years ago, those people were right. But I changed. I gained direction, and that’s the point that I like to make at any event that I speak at.
“It’s never too late to change. In business, you can be anything you want.”