There’s a temptation when you start a company that you put everybody before yourself – that is exactly what I did. Up to a point, there’s nothing wrong with that, because it shows that you’re selfless, that you really want the business to work and you are prepared to invest in your team before yourself.
Looking back I think that was misguided from a personal development perspective. You’ve got to stand back and say, ‘My personal development is really important’, because if you don’t do that I think it can slow down the growth of your company and slow down your ability to deal with stuff. What happens if you don’t focus on your personal development is that you end up learning slowly by making mistakes. The difference when you do personal development is that you find good techniques and speak to other people about mistakes they’ve made and how they’ve avoided mistakes. It will help you get things done more efficiently, more quickly and by making fewer mistakes.
At Cake, I feel that probably for the first five or six years, I used to send other people on courses, to conferences and to user groups. It was all in the interests of the company because whenever those people came back, they’d improved themselves personally and, hopefully, that would have a knock-on to the rest of the team and the organisation as a whole. I was really willing to spend money and put effort into improving other people’s development. But I largely ignored my own personal development and, looking back, I think that was a mistake and one that probably held me back. I wish I’d done some of the things that I’m going to talk about in this blog earlier than I did, and I think if I had done that, I would have learned more quickly, made fewer mistakes and the company would have grown more quickly than it did.
This is why I always advise entrepreneurs in startups to invest in themselves. It’s really important that you don’t forget about yourself and your personal development.
It was 2007 when I eventually felt that I needed to invest in myself, six years after I started the company. This process was instigated by me attending a seminar where a colleague of mine told me about a development programme he was a member, run out of Toronto in Canada. This colleague told me it was a programme for entrepreneurs that was run by an inspirational personality, Dan Sullivan, who was a coach to many successful entrepreneurs. He also told me that there were many entrepreneurs on the programme who were building their businesses, who were already successful to a point, but who wanted Dan’s help to get them to the next level and further. He told me that he’d really enjoyed the programme and that he thought I would benefit from it too.
At that time, Dan Sullivan’s Strategic CoachⓇ programme was only available in Toronto. This colleague told me they were hosting a seminar at a local golf club and that I should go. So I went and I listened to what these guys had to say.
What I really liked about it was that it wasn’t a one-off sales seminar or a one-day event where you learn stuff and then there’s no follow-up. Strategic CoachⓇ is a program with check-ins and follow-ups which act as reminders to implement the key takeaways until they become a habit.
What I often find with seminars is that you spend a couple of weeks afterwards being energised but very quickly you go back to reality, get straight back into what you were doing and the things you learned on that seminar get deprioritised. You don’t get the benefit that you should from it.
The Strategic CoachⓇ programme revisits things. There’s a constant reminder of what you should be doing. Every three months you meet up and go through the new stuff, as well as going through some of the things you’ve done previously and it helps hold you to account, as well as acting as a reminder.
I also think that if you travel further for these types of programmes then that travel time gives you out of the office thinking time, both before you get there and about how to implement what you’ve learned on your way back.
My first steps into personal development
I went to the seminar my colleague recommended and I really liked what they had to say. It was aimed at entrepreneurs and, back in 2007, that was the first programme I’d seen that was aimed at entrepreneurs. Although it was a lot of money for us in those days when we weren’t making a huge amount, I decided to join the programme. I can say, hand on heart, the benefit was way in excess of the money I paid for it. I have been part of the program since 2007 and I continue to benefit from the continually evolving thinking that benefits all its members.
In fact, I joined the first programme they were running in London. As you probably know from my previous blogs, we were based in Manchester so it wasn’t too far to travel. I would just jump on the (in those days) Virgin train and go straight down. That train journey gave me time for thinking and this all worked really well. The programme isn’t sector-specific, which I liked, and, as I’ve said, I really liked the fact that it focused on entrepreneurs. The other benefit is that there are different levels to the Strategic CoachⓇ programme.
That means there’s the opportunity for progression. You might find that as your business develops and you’re in a position where you’ve been doing the stuff from the initial programme for the last few years that you’re ready for the next level. In 2015, that was the stage I reached and I joined what was called their 10X programme™.
The initial programme I’d done in London was run by one of the associate coaches who is great, however, the 10X programme was run by Dan Sullivan, the owner of the company. I really enjoyed it. All the content produced for the programme at that point was produced by Dan, and you heard it directly from his mouth.
Benefits of personal development
For the 10x programme™, I had to travel to Toronto. That meant it was effectively a four-day commitment for a one-day course.
However, this was actually really useful because it took me out of the business. I would say it was one of the strategic byproducts that was especially beneficial. It took me away from the business for a few days, I’d turn my mobile off, leave my email alone. That was part of the programme on the day, to make sure that your brain was free to think creatively, to focus on what was being talked about and how that could benefit your organisation. I found it incredibly useful.
It gave me confidence. It gave me tools and frameworks to deal with various things that, as an entrepreneur, you come up against on a day-to-day basis. One thing that it taught me about was time management and making sure you have enough free time. One of the aims of Strategic CoachⓇ, which sounds counterintuitive but I promise you absolutely isn’t, is that you must take enough free time. The idea being that when you are working, you can be focused, work really hard, be really creative and be really on it. You’re in a far better position to do all of that if you’ve taken some time out. If you don’t have any free time and you’re tired then your brain won’t be functioning as well as it could. I found this really useful and I still, to this day, make sure that I have at least one free day a week where I literally do not do any work. It refreshes you and gets you ready for the next week.
On the programme, you also look at strategic planning and you’re given various tools to help you with that kind of thinking. They help you process your thoughts and come out with an outcome that is actionable and helps you deal with issues, such as if you find yourself procrastinating. The programme teaches you to be aware of this, and Dan gives you a tool that really helps you get over this issue and actually use it to your advantage because it helps you make decisions and use procrastination to your advantage.
Another benefit to joining a programme like this is that you meet a lot of like-minded people, who you can speak to, run ideas by, get ideas from and just talk to about the issues you’re facing. Some people talk about the issues they’re facing, and others offer solutions. You pick up on all of this and it gives you ideas. One of my colleagues would always say that when I came back from this programme that I’d have a head full of fairy dust because I had so many ideas that I wanted to look at.
If I’m honest, probably 80% of those ended up not being anything massively worthwhile, but those 20% that were worthwhile were often gold nuggets. They’re the things that change the way you do business and can change the face of your business.
Starting your personal development
I strongly recommend joining a programme like Strategic CoachⓇ, which was the one I used, but there are now a number of other programmes out there that are offered by different organisations and that are awesome. They are a very worthwhile thing to do.
I would recommend that you look at these types of programmes and pick the one that you think is appropriate for you and invest in yourself. These programmes will help you. They will preempt some of the mistakes that you would otherwise have made. They’ll also help you frame your thoughts, refine your strategies and just do everything better and quicker than you would have done without this guidance.
Another important thing that I did from a personal development perspective, which I talked about in some of my previous blogs, is work with a non-exec. I’m not going to talk about this in detail here, because you can read that blog, but I will just say that having someone who has the badges and scars of building a business can be an invaluable part of your own personal development.
At Cake, Ian Brookes joined us in around 2010 as a non-exec director and the experience he brought was invaluable. A non-exec will use their experience to ensure you make fewer mistakes and that you do things bigger, better and quicker than you would have without their involvement. You can learn from them very quickly, they’re there to bounce ideas off and you benefit from their experience and their specialism. That was certainly the case with me. I consider a non-exec to be someone who can help you run your business better, improve personally and just get that high growth moving very quickly.