In this exceptional episode, Phil Fraser, Business Sounding Board at philfraser.co.uk, shares how he took his zero-funded start up into the growth phases and stresses & strains, blood, sweat and tears and sold it successfully giving him financial and time freedom for the rest of his life.
You will discover:
– How to overcome imposter syndrome
– What to do if you don’t love your business
– Why being a founder, owner, or CEO doesn’t have to be lonely
Hello, hello and welcome. Welcome once again to the secrets of the high demand coach podcast and I am here with yet another high demand coach and that is Phil Fraser. Bill went from a kitchen table startup with zero investment all the way to a multimillion pound sale to a publicly traded company. 18 years later, as part of that journey, he was a regular keynote speaker, he was an industry conference chairman, and a creator of his sectors industry awards. Well, today, Phil works with ambitious small and medium enterprise owners as a business sounding board, I hope to unpack that a little bit with you will hear from Phil, but he helps leaders to discover that it does not have to be lonely at the top. So Phil, again, I’m so excited to have you here. Before we got on, I told Phil that his smile has already warmed up my day. So if you’re listening to this, go back and watch the video because it’s It’s infectious. You’ll find yourself smiling very quickly. Now, but Phil, I want to talk about this business sounding board and what you’re doing to help your clients. But before we get there, I’d love to just kind of unpack this story a little bit. Tell us what you were doing before becoming a business sounding board before coaching? And how did that ultimately lead to what you do now?
Yeah, hi. Thanks for the big build up there. Oh, we don’t let people down. So yeah, so I launched accidentally, and it’s just a very long story about the accident. But we accidentally launched what became the world’s leading comparison website for online bingo. We compared and listed all the online bigger sites initially in the US than in the UK. And I went through all the stuff that every business owner goes through from launch to growth to all the problems that are along the way, all the hiccups, you know, problems with suppliers, probably with advertising problem with marketing problems with staff, all those sorts of things, until 18 years later. And again, there’s a long story to that. But 18 years later, somebody came along and said, Here’s a bag of money. And I said here’s the keys. That’s the that’s the quick version of it.
Awesome, awesome. So you’ve had this tremendous success story as a as a co founder yourself? How does that end up translating into the work that you do now?
Yeah, so um, you read all these business books, and they all about you know, law of growth, sale, exit, you know, all that sort of thing. But nobody writes the next chapter, which is, what do you do next? You know, I’m too young to go play golf, and just retire to Miami or something like that. So I came out the other end, and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. And somebody said to me, Hey, you should be you should be a business mentor. And my first response to that was, well, who the hell is going to listen to me, I was just making your point I was going along which, you know, business owners will recognize. And then over over time, I had friends and contacts who had businesses and they were coming to me and saying, Hey, Phil, can you just help me with this idea? Can you help me with that idea? Or I’m thinking of selling? What does that look like? And they’ll seem to get some benefit out of it. And I’m not, I think I know what I’m talking about here. And it’s that classic thing of, you know, you don’t understand your learning stuff until you say to somebody, oh, you know, everybody knows that. I didn’t know that. So I decided, okay, well, people seem to be getting some benefit out of this advice. So hey, why don’t I try and start charging people for it. And, you know, that sort of, impostor syndrome, part of me sort of didn’t want to be call myself, a mentor. And I always think a coach. You know, the difference in coach and mentor is think a coach is somebody who helps you do a skill better. So like a sales coach, or presentation skills coach, or you think of sports coaches, your make you run faster, hit the ball further, that sort of thing. So what I but what I realized was I was being a business sounding board. I wasn’t, I was asking questions I wasn’t giving answers. And you know, from what I’ve done, that whole, it’s lonely at the top, which is when your own run your own business, you don’t have somebody to go, Hey, Scott, I’ve got this, I’ve got this idea. Does this sound really stupid? Or I’ve got this problem. I don’t know how to solve it, or I’ve got this opportunity. I don’t know how to maximize it, or I’ve got this problem with a member of staff are all in shit that comes with running a business. You don’t sometimes a lot of the time. You haven’t got somebody to discuss that with. So that’s what I offer. And that’s how it came about.
Yeah. And it’s so true. I remember I had this kind of unique experience where I co founded and kind of sat in the CEO role for a company for several years and then moved up to the CEO role and the CEO stepped out of active daily business. And so like Sitting in both seats, I didn’t expect it to be a big change. Because, you know, you have a good CEO, oh, they’re typically kind of acting in that CEO capacity, you know, before you actually recognize it. So what I did from a day to day basis didn’t change. But that feeling of loneliness was was night and day difference. It’s so surprised me and it shows up in in really little subtle ways, you know, people who used to be my fellow, you know, executive team members, were now my executive team members, you know, and, and you’re right, like, there’s, there’s just something different about it. You know, a lot of what founders face is what leaders face, right? A lot of what founders face is what business people face. But there’s an element to it that is very, very unique, that when you’re sitting at the top of the org chart, and you’re also in that owner seat, right, and most small, medium enterprises don’t have an active board of any sort. And, and it is that it’s just structurally, it can be a very, very lonely place. And I would looking back on my time, I would say that’s probably the biggest lie out of all of them that I believed for a very long time that to be on top was to be alone. And so I love this idea of coming alongside business owners as a business sounding board. And you kind of tease that out a little bit. But tell us what does that actually mean? What is a business sounding board?
Okay, so the simplest, and you can come at this sort of from one end to the other end, but But often, clients will come to me because they’re stuck. And they might be stuck for different reasons, they might be strategically stuck, they might have a big problem. Or they may want to get to the next level, but don’t have to do it. You know, a lot of a lot of what I talk about sometimes is, you know, what, got you here won’t get you there. So yeah, we’ve got to a million dollars turnover, how do we get to two? How do we get to 300 to 510, or whatever it might be. And, you know, one of the beauties, one of the sort of key aspects of being a business owner is usually you’ve got a bit of ego, because conceptually, you’ve said, hey, I can do it better. Up here, I’ll do a better version of it. But that then clashes with having to hold your hand up and go, I need some help. So, you know, the, the business owner, or the leader has to get to the point where, as you said, it feels like it has to be lonely at the top. And but it’s not a sign of weakness to say, I need some help. It’s actually a sign of strength. Yeah, none of us have all the answers. So when I speak to somebody who’s been there and done it, and got the battle scars, and can help me and you know, the beauty of my role is pretty much the same things come along all the time. So when you’re sat there, when you Scott, you’re sat there as CEO, you think, Oh, my God, I’m the only CEO, who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Yeah, all the other CEOs don’t know what they’re doing as well. But they’ve got a problem with their staff, they’ve got a problem with their strategy, it all is the same sort of things. So and I’ve had it as well, a lot of what I do is I talk to people about things that I’ve done as well. So I’ve been in that chair, where I’ve thought, I don’t know what I’m doing here, you know, I’m gonna have to get somebody in and sort of looking back on my career, I had at least four different external people who came into the business to help me. So it’s not a sign of weakness to say, I need some help. It’s just it’s so right, we’re gonna get better.
Yeah. And I’m want to tease that out a little bit as well. Because you’re right, there’s this. There’s this basic requirement for entrepreneurs of going out and doing something that you shouldn’t do, right? Like, the odds are against you, who actually thinks that they can do it better, right? Like, there’s, there’s a little bit of a like, yeah, I got this figured out that that’s necessary to succeed, but then it can get in the way as well. So how do you how do you discern that? Like, this is the magic of an entrepreneur to go out and do things that your quote unquote, shouldn’t be done or shouldn’t be possible? And what is the narcissism of the entrepreneur, right, that needs to be kept in check? How do you draw that line?
I think, from my point of view, in my business, I think that they, they, my clients have cell filtered in that they wouldn’t come to me until they’ve decided right, I don’t know everything. I’ve got to put my ego in the box a little bit of God and drop the narcissism I need some help. So become self selecting. I think it hits people in the face when they get to that point where they say I I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m stuck. It’s usually stuck stuck in lots of different ways. But it’s it’s often simple things that cause that trigger. So I’ve had clients who’ve come to me and said, I’ve just fallen out of love in my business. It’s such a pain in the ass. I need some help. Or people who’ve said, you know, I want to grow the business. I don’t know how to do it. or even, you know, I’m thinking I want to put a plan in place to exit the business, you’ve done it, what do I need to put in place. But what I always do with all my clients, whatever they come to me with is I start with something that is sort of borrowed from Stephen Covey seven habits, which is one of his habit, and it’s a brilliant business book, if you haven’t read it, everybody should read it. Anybody who’s listening to this watching this read Stephen Covey, seven habits, one of them is start with the end in mind. So I start with clients say, Okay, what does perfect look like? In a year’s time? That’s a really simple question. And he’ll know, you know, what would be perfect? And they go out, no $5 million sales are going, Okay, let’s put a plan in place to deliver that. What do you need to do to do that? You know, well, on the, you know, more products, I’ll need more production capacity, I need a new sales director, whatever it might be, Okay, if that’s the case, what do you need to do to pull that in place, and you just drill down, it’s, I have a five step plan that I use, which I call the phrase a five step. So very childishly, when I write it, I can write FFS doesn’t work verbally, it works written. And it just it just waterfalls down to minutiae. And you go, right, you flip the whole plan upside down, and you start at the bottom, and it leads to where your target is. And, again, a lot of what I do feels very simplistic, it’s just me looking from the outside in and the business owner, as many of us are, as business owners, he’s too close to the business to see the problem. Or the person that they’re getting advice from. How’s this usually a subconscious bias that using another phrase is, nobody will tell you your baby’s ugly, from upon a business perspective. So you know, that’s just a really shit idea. That’s a ship problem. I don’t say that. But I, this is where I don’t think I’m a coach or a mentor, because I ask questions and bounce it back to the client and the client comes up the ideas and the client comes over the client goes, No, you’re right. Is it? Whatever it is? Should I do? Yeah. Karma? Well, the question was did I answer?
You did you did? Yeah. And I think that’s, yeah, I think that’s helpful. There’s, there’s another element that kind of keeps popping up. And I know, it was part of my story, and I hear it kind of an undertone to what you’re sharing is, I thought that to have a good team around me was enough. Right? And what I found both with my team and and, you know, with working with others is, even if you have a great team, there tend to be these two kind of equal but opposite, you know, follies in the team, right? That show up not not all the time, not systemically, but you kind of get this, this roller coaster, if you will. One is the no one will tell you your baby’s ugly, right? It’s like you got a bunch of people who think that you’re amazing, right? Like they, they might say no, every once in a while, but fundamentally, they think you’re right, you know, he’s, he’s had all this success, he’s had more success than I have, he must be right, you know, and there’s just a limit to their ability to challenge and there’s also the agency of if I push back too hard, like my job might be on the line, right? Like, that’s just there, whether we want it to be there or not, it is the other side of it is you’ll find folks who go out and they try and solve the the lonely problem or the the Insight problem by bringing in someone you know, who’s maybe been there, done that, or from a bigger organization come in, and you get this person who’s almost too big for the roll, right? And they say no to everything. And with both of those, though, the yes, everything that no to everything, it’s very difficult to discern the truth, again, from the inside of the organization. So again, I love this idea of coming in being that sounding board from outside the organization, right, who’s you’re not enamored by the prowess of your clients, right. Like you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it all you’re not you’re also not put off by the the difficulties of that role, and their, you know, their shortcomings as leaders. So I love that you’re able to do that. I think that’s fantastic. Now, I want to shift gears a little bit as a question. I like to ask everybody, and it’s this what’s the biggest secret that you wish wasn’t a secret at all? What’s that one thing that you wish every single founder leader listening today knew?
There’s, there’s two actually is one piece. I always tell everybody about this and something when you ask the question to me, I thought my first is go with your gut. In all your businesses, I mean, obviously do the research, find the data and then your gut saying go over there, go over there for two reasons. Number one, if you go over there and it works fantastic. If you go over there, it doesn’t work. Okay, hold your hands up. I was wrong, but you got some learning. But if you don’t do it, you’ll just spend the rest of your life going. What would have happened if I’d done that? And it’s interesting. I’ve been to a networking event this morning and somebody said exactly Same thing, volume fully recover. The other thing is something somebody wants told me because I, either I suffer with imposter syndrome. And, you know, oh my god who might have be here in lots of lots of issues? And actually is nobody’s thinking about you that much. Because you think, oh my god, what am I wearing? What they’re going to say? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I do the wrong thing? People aren’t bothered? Yeah, it was just, you know, get over yourself. No, I’m not saying everybody has a big head and a big I am, it’s just, we worry so much about what people think what people say and what most people are not bothered, because they’ve got because they’re thinking about what’s what people are thinking about me what I do, and they’ve got 100 Other things, you know, what’s going to, you know, I’ve got to pick my daughter up from school and what’s for dinner, and I’ve got my got of seeing the accountant tomorrow, and the car’s broken, and you’re sitting thinking, do I have a nice shirt? It looks a bit shit. They’re just not bothered.
So it’s so true. And I think, especially for those in our industry and our profession, it’s such a big deal, right? And, and the, like, impostor syndrome is just there. I mean, 100% of the time, it’s there, it’s either lurking in the background, or it’s right in the front and center. But you’re right, like, so much of what we you know, waste energy and emotion on is just completely irrelevant. So, I know that hit home for some folks, and I appreciate you sharing, it’s a vulnerable thing to share in a setting like this, and but it’s powerful. And it needed to be said, so thank you for doing that. One other question, I’m actually going to have you shift gears one more time here. And I’m gonna have you take off your, your sounding board hat, if you will put on your CEO hat and talk to us a little bit at this stage in your career, what, what’s the next stage of growth look like for you, both your business and you as a leader? I think from from me, I’m in, I’m in a strange position in the you know, I’ve sold the business, the money drive is not there for me anymore, it doesn’t need to be. So I will, I want to do this because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the I just I like business, I enjoy business, I enjoy talking to me about business, I love listening to people about their businesses. So the driver for me is, is on one hand, I love what I’m doing. And I want to be successful doing it. On the other hand, because that, and I’m like, a lot of people are not I wasn’t money driven. But it’s, it’s strange not having that shit, I gotta go to work on Monday morning feeling, which is sometimes as a negative, but it’s also sometimes a positive. Yeah, if I like never have another client, again, it’s not an issue. But it is because I want to be I want to be successful, I want to do what I’m gonna do. So my, that’s sort of one half of it, the other half of it is, you know, coaching is a very personal thing, you know, this way better than I do. And it’s about connecting with the right person. And you know, there’s no point having a coach or sounding board or a mentor, whatever you wanna call it, unless you connect, and you understand, and they’re the right people. And the difficulty I’ve got is getting myself out there as awareness of me as a brand, which were the reasons I’m on here. And that’s the difficulties I’ve got the difficulty of obviously building, build the brand. But I don’t need too much work, don’t want to overdo it, but I haven’t got that underlying I have to drive it. So all those I’ve got all these things sort of moving around at the same time. I think what’s surprising to folks along the journey is how how big the challenges are that are brought on by success. Right? There’s inside of a business, there’s the complexity of I’ve got 50 People that now rely on me to put food on the table, right like that. That’s a big deal. And, and even in the stage where you’re stepping away, right, you’re stepping out of called becoming the visionary founder again, right of moving out of you know, you’re you’re building your thing, you’re running your thing, you’re selling your thing to how do I actually go and build for others? What do you do when you don’t need to do anything? Right? It’s it’s really challenging. It’s, you know, How fast would you drive if there were no speed limits? And the cops didn’t, you know, didn’t watch it, you know, it’s getting to the place where it’s like, oh, no, I actually have to be fully responsible for my own actions, right? The freedom of having the choice to do whatever comes with the responsibility to manage that choice. Well, and, and it’s, yeah, you’re striking on just a really, really big issue that I think a lot of people don’t anticipate, and a lot of people don’t really have a whole lot of grace for either. They’re like, Oh, why is that a problem? You know, you haven’t so good and it goes back to that whole like, you can end up being lonely all over again in such a very different way. So, Phil, just fantastic luck. I love what you do love how you do it love just the heart and desire behind all of it as well. I know that’s coming through for folks who are watching listening, how can they find more out about your work and what you do?
Okay, the easiest way to find me to go to my website, which is philfraser.co.uk. Don’t go to.com Because philfraser.com is a medieval costume company. So if you see like, Robin Hood, or that sort of stuff that’s not me. You’re on the wrong place. It’s philfraser.co.uk or search me out on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn most days. And you know if there’s anybody out there who wants to talk out, he’s happy to talk to anybody whenever they want, or search out my newsletter. You’ll get five great free articles about running a business and all sorts of stuff. So sign up to the newsletter as well. And you did you’ll see me writing nonsense now and again.
That’s awesome. And so for those of us enamored by your accent on this side of the pond, that’s Fraser with an S So philfraser.co.uk, right? Did I get that right. co.uk Not com, we don’t need medieval garb. So, Phil, just a tremendous, tremendous time. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for sharing and for those of you listening you know your time and attention mean the world to us. I thank you so much for being here as well. I hope you got as much out of this conversation as I did, and I cannot wait to see you next time. Take care.
Contact Phil Fraser
Phil went from a kitchen table start up, with no investment, all the way to multi-million pound sale to a PLC 18 years later. As part of that journey he was a regular keynote speaker, industry conference chairman and creator of his sector’s industry awards. Phil now works with ambitious SME-owners as a Business Sounding Board (think somewhere between Business Coach and Business Mentor). Over the last 18 months Phil has appeared on over 50 podcasts, webinars and interviews. Phil’s mantra is It doesn’t need to be ‘lonely at the top’.
Want to learn more about Phil Fraser’s work at philfraser.co.uk? Check out his website at https://philfraser.co.uk/
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