Simon Dell: So, it’s not often that I meet other people called Simon. There’s not many of us out there in the world, and it’s even rarer to meet somebody with a surname that’s almost identical to myself. But I met this gentleman several years ago. I can’t remember how long ago now. I think he’s got a fascinating story, so welcome Simon Bell.
Simon Bell: Thank you Simon Dell. Thanks for having me.
Simon Dell: How are you doing?
Simon Bell: Great, mate. Great to be here.
Simon Dell: We’ll get right into it because I just want to get you to give us a little bit of your background, how you got to where you are today, just top line stuff so people can understand what you’ve been doing.
Simon Bell: It’s been a journey. It’s been 10 years in business. I started off selling cars, believe it or not. Don’t hold that against me. I started out as one of the youngest licenced car dealers in Queensland. I started as a backyarder. I knew nothing about business in the early days, absolutely diddly squat. I knew you had to sell, and so I just… Cars seemed like an obvious progression or obvious starting point, and I just bought and sold, and bought and sold. I turned three cars into about 30 cars in 12 months, and that started the business journey. I started a finance company which attached itself to the car yard called CarBucks which is a bit of a play on words with Starbucks when Starbucks first hit the scene.
Simon Dell: You never managed to get a cease and desist letter?
Simon Bell: That was my mission but never achieved that objective. It wasn’t big enough.
Simon Dell: Just didn’t quite make the notoriety that you wanted.
Simon Bell: Exactly. And a clothing shop in the early days, just to mix things up a little bit.
Simon Dell: We’ll come back to the clothing shop in a minute because I know there’s quite a good story about that.
Simon Bell: I did some coaching. I’ve been coaching small business owners for the last eight years as well as building a business. I just exited from a startup that I launched with a business partner three years ago called StaffBerry. That’s been the journey in a nutshell.
Simon Dell: And here you are now. I just want to quickly go back to the car yard story because I think the car industry is one that’s been relatively immune to the changes, the innovation and the changes that have been happening in the last 10 to 15 years. I perceive that it’s been fairly immune to it and you might think differently, but I think it’s going to undergo quite a radical change within the next 5 to 10 years. What are your thoughts around that?
Simon Bell: I think it will. I think it’s starting to. The days of big car yards are numbered, although they seem to be investing a lot of money into dealerships still. Maybe people a lot smarter than me know more than I do about the future of that industry. But I just think with the locations of these dealerships and with the price of property, I don’t see it too far in the future where it transitions into somewhere like Tokyo. If you ever go to Tokyo or anywhere in Japan, the dealerships are more like showrooms where there are interactive screens, and you book a test drive and a track somewhere, dealership runs so to speak.
But who knows? There’s been some transition in the way people are marketing, dealers are marketing. They’re using a lot more social. When I say a lot more, they’re probably still 10 years behind the average industry, but yeah. I think it’s time. I don’t think their immunity is going to last forever.
Simon Dell: No. It feels like… And I spoke last week about magazine publishing and about print media and how that was a very, very slow car crash. No pun intended, but perhaps the same things can happen with the dealerships, is all of a sudden they’re going to find themselves, like with a lot of retailers, with huge square meters of car yard that they simply can’t afford to keep paying for.
Simon Bell: That’s right, and don’t necessarily need, I don’t think.
Simon Dell: No. It’s funny how it’s still a thing out there, and I think car dealers and service stations as well, if we all start moving to electric cars or self-driving cars, we’re going to need service stations less and parking as well.
Simon Bell: Yeah. I mean, you see it. I was walking through Garden City the other day and there’s one in Carindale. There’s all those little car dealerships, little showrooms inside of Westfield. I think that’s going to be the trend.
Simon Dell: So, clothing… What on earth took you into the clothing business?
Simon Bell: And skateboards, I know.
Simon Dell: Can you skate?
Simon Bell: Not at all, no. Never.
Simon Dell: So, there’s obviously a passion for not being able to skate that took you into skateboard clothing.
Simon Bell: Opportunity. I had an entrepreneurial seizure as what everyone said. It was a good friend of mine, one of my best mates, his idea. He was living down south. He was living in Gosford at the time, Central Coast, New South Wales, and he had this idea of starting a skate shop in the Redlands. There was no skate shops there at the time and business was good. Car yard was good, finance was good. I was young, and naive, and ego-driven, and cashed up.
Simon Dell: All terrible things to start a business.
Simon Bell: Absolutely. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.
Simon Dell: It’s the only exact science as my father used to say.
Simon Bell: That’s right. He pitched this idea to me over the phone. He said, “You guys, I’m moving back to Brisbane.” I think it was in September. So, I flew to Newcastle and drove back to Brisbane with this panel van packed full of his gear, and we put a business plan in the car, overnight, on the drive home. Two weeks later, we rented a place and opened a shop called Against the Grain. As all, there’s a particular theme of my businesses, they’re all bootstrapped.
Simon Dell: All good small businesses are.
Simon Bell: That’s right. It makes you resourceful. We experienced some great growth in the first two to three years. But unfortunately, and I think I’ve shared this story with you, Simon. We had a particular demographic that preferred not to pay for stock. They didn’t pay for it. We actually got broken into six times in 12 months in 2008.
Simon Dell: What happens after you’ve been broken into the third time? Did you just sort of resign yourself to the fact that people were going to break in, or were you buying more sophisticated security systems? What goes through your head at that point?
Simon Bell: A lot. Dreading a private phone call in the evening, that was always a challenge. But look, every time we got broken into, we upped the ante but there’s only so much you can take mentally in that period of time to start to get resigned. I definitely wasn’t as mentally tough as I am today, so I hadn’t done any work on myself at that stage. I think this was probably the catalyst for me to go and do a bit of a deep dive on Simon Bell as an individual and as an entrepreneur.
I think it was a blessing in disguise. It didn’t occur like that at the time, I can assure, but it was challenging because the money that we’d accrued, that I’d accrued in the other businesses was very quickly getting sucked up in that venture.
Simon Dell: What was the sort of straw that broke the camel’s back that you just went, “Forget this. I’m out of this.”
Simon Bell: I think it was a combination. I did a personal development program in September of 2008 and it really shifted the way in which I viewed the world and myself. I got to fess up as to how much of an arrogant jerk I’d been. It gave me the courage then to get in communication. I think the only thing that was keeping us there was the lease or just surviving the last six months. And so, I got inspired to have a conversation with the landlord and he was great. He was really great, actually.
So, what we did is we negotiated an early release from the lease. It was it. We managed to sell all of our stock. Interestingly enough, it was kind of the Gallipoli Retreat. It was the most successful part of the entire operation, was getting out of it. We sold our stock. We had a few exclusive brands that we imported into the country which we’re able to sell the rights to, and it was almost a breakeven for me after all that. It wasn’t quite, but it almost came through.
Simon Dell: There wasn’t a point in that exit where you were sort of going, “Actually, perhaps this could work.” There wasn’t the temptation to sort of turn around and keep going in?
Simon Bell: No. I’m mentally checked out. My business partner who is a great friend, it had a major impact on him. He was the operations. He was on the floor, on the ground, day-to-day. And so, coming into the shop, especially post-breaking and that sort of thing, had a big mental impact on him. And so, it was time for him to move on and rebuild himself. We wanted the greener pastures as well.
Simon Dell: There was a point you just mentioned there about you had exclusive rights to some imported brands. That’s one of the things I often say to people when you build a marketing strategy for people. Is that if you can get something in your business that only you have and nobody else, no competitors, that really sort of stands you out and gives you that sort of competitive edge in certain areas. Was that something you did deliberately at that time, or it just sort of happened that you’d found these brands and you weren’t really thinking in that kind of way at the time?
Simon Bell: I’d like to say that it was strategic but it wasn’t. Look, it may have been. My business partner, he organized that. It may have actually been. It definitely didn’t come across that way, but I’d like to say that it was all my entrepreneurial genius.
Simon Dell: So, from the clothing store, you went into business coaching.
Simon Bell: Yeah.
Simon Dell: Was that direct line, or you kind of umm’d and aargh’d for a bit, or you just went, “You know what? I’ve got something to teach people.”
Simon Bell: I think that’s usually what business coaches do. After a failure, they go and tell people what not to do.
Simon Dell: Don’t do as I do, do as I say.
Simon Bell: Exactly. I think, once again, doing that work on myself kind of had me… And I kind of say that with jest but I don’t. I actually do mean it. I got present to how much ego was running the show in business and how much… It was all about looking good and building something that… There wasn’t really a passion for me. I mean, I had this moment where I woke up and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m a car dealer.” And no offense to the car dealers listening potentially, obviously, but it wasn’t the game plan when I was growing up, obviously. I just got how much I wanted to contribute to other people and that’s where I found true happiness and fulfilment, is in contribution.
I actually did a business course and I was talking to my coach. I said to her, “Look, I’m kind of in this transition period where we’re selling the shop, we’re selling the stock, closing that down. I don’t want to be a car dealer anymore. I don’t necessarily want to be in the finance game. I want to give back. I want to contribute.” And it was her recommendation. She said, “You know, I think you’ve got an amazing story. You’ve been through some amazing challenges. Have you ever thought about coaching?”
That was March 2009, and I haven’t looked back. I went through all of those phases. We all do in any business I think. “I don’t think I can do this. Who am I to say? I feel like a fraud.” But you know, we had some amazing successes in the car yard. We had some amazing initial successes in the clothing shop as well. I think having both the peaks and troughs allowed me to be real with people and empathize when people that are dealing with the challenges that they’re dealing with. I haven’t looked back. I love contributing especially to small business owners. That’s a passion of mine.
Simon Dell: On that note, you went into the business coaching. How long did you do that for?
Simon Bell: I’ve been coaching for nine years now.
Simon Dell: Oh, you’re still doing it.
Simon Bell: Yeah, still doing all the coaching, yeah.
Simon Dell: With nine years of business coaching, you must’ve seen some interesting business, some interesting people, and both challenging people and challenging situations. Give us a couple that really have stood out for you. There might be ones that have been successful and ones that have been failures, but ones that you’ve learned from as well as the owner of the business learning from.
Simon Bell: There’s one that stands out off the top of my head. There’s a lady down the Gold Coast who owns a company that services children with disabilities. It was a challenge in the early stages because she had this beautiful message and this beautiful commitment. She had a child with a disability, and you could see that this was a very personal business. What was challenging was that, at the time, there was very little support on a personal level, and also that combined with, I suppose, a lack of confidence in her own ability as an entrepreneur, as a business owner.
It’s interesting, because it started off as a challenge but probably ended up as one of the greatest success stories that I’d seen in coaching. She started in the front room of her house selling stuff at the back of a truck. She now owns two commercial properties, a bus, does amazing things with charity, and is an absolute success story. Challenging-wise, they needed the coaching, the biggest challenge is dealing with people’s identity, and ego, and working with them around giving up some limiting beliefs for themselves.
Simon Dell: When you first met her, was there a vision for success for her? Did she go, “Here’s where I want to get to” or was she just learning that day by day, and every step was taking her forward but she wasn’t sure where she wanted to get to?
Simon Bell: I think it rapidly evolved as she started to see some success. It’s an interesting point, this vision for a company. You have people traditionally talking about vision for a company as far as size of company, or growth of company, growth rate. I took very strategically, very much from the management perspective. There was never any doubt in her mind about the commitment that she had and the impact that she wanted to have on the world.
I think the rest follows suit. You’re talking about having that vision. I think people collapse vision for a company with its strategic objectives as opposed to that core purpose. So, that never changed. I think just as she grew and learned more about business and what was possible, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together.
Simon Dell: You also talked about limiting behaviours just then. That’s something that I find myself very familiar with in the last couple of years as you start to take an objective look at yourself. What are some of the common limiting behaviours that you’ve seen in that sort of small business space, those owners and those startups or people that have been in business for a long time that still have those behaviours?
Simon Bell: That’s a good question. It’s case by case. If you wanted to talk themes of limiting behaviours, because obviously everybody’s individual beliefs are different, but anything where you can say, “I’m not good at X” or “I suck at X”, whatever that might be. A common one is, “I’m not good with money. I’m not good with finances,” and therefore abdicate their understanding of financial management. And not delegate. They just abdicate as far as, “This is for someone else to manage.”
Because I’m not good with numbers, or money, or dollars, or whatever it is, or math, which is basically just some belief or opinion they’ve formulated about themselves from school, or high school, or whatever it might be. That just manifests, and they find more evidence for it, and it just becomes their truth. Marketing is a good one, too. “I’m not good with marketing.”
Simon Dell: I hear that a lot. As soon as they say it, they have immediately abdicated any responsibility for marketing. It’s down the bottom of the pile, and everything else suddenly becomes more important than marketing, when the reality is that that’s the only thing that’s going to bring new people into the business.
They don’t have to be good at it. They don’t have to enjoy it but they have to understand it. Either get someone else to help them or those kind of things.
Simon Bell: Totally. And then there’s the more personal limiting beliefs around success, and personal wellness, and being worth it. For the average person that has never done any reflection or work on themselves, it’s fundamentally just their inner five-year-olds running the show. That’s not to diminish anybody, but that’s the reality of the situation.
Simon Dell: I think one of the things I wanted to touch on around limiting behaviour is there was something you and I have spoken about in the past, is the tendency that I certainly have. I think you’ve acknowledged that you have the same, perhaps a little more control than mine. That kind of, “Oh look, there’s a new shiny idea thing.”
I don’t know how we actually refer to that, but I’ve met lots of people in the past. We’ve got friends in common who’ve had the same traits and those kind of things. I think they would be the first to acknowledge that, or that they may have been like that in the past but they’ve learned to control it. That shiny new object is a limiting behaviour.
Last time we spoke, you kind of spoke about how you control that or at least how you’ve dealt with that issue. Was it an issue? And again, how did you deal with it?
Simon Bell: Absolutely. I think it is a challenge. I think focus is one of the most important factors of building any successful business. I refer to it as entrepreneurial ADD. As a coach and as someone whose brain is constantly in that entrepreneurial space, you see opportunities as you do, it’s very easy to come up with ideas and come up with amazing ideas.
There’s always that internal battle of, “This could actually be the next idea. This could be an amazing idea. This could be the greatest idea ever.” You know, ‘the Uber of’. But I think if you’re working on a project, and if you’re listening to this and you kind of experience that entrepreneurial ADD where you’re bouncing from or you’re always looking for the next thing, have a look at the thing that you’re doing and see where you’re actually getting fulfilment from that. I think that’s probably the biggest question.
Not to say that even if you did have fulfilment that you wouldn’t look around, but I think it’s important… This really comes back to a couple of things. FOMO, the old fear of missing out, that’s a fundamental fear, so it is a limiting belief.
Simon Dell: And anyone who says that it’s just a Gen Y thing or a Millennial thing, it goes with you throughout the whole of your life irrespective of whether you’re 18 or you’re 43. It maybe changes into not going to festivals versus missing out on a business opportunity, but it still exists.
Simon Bell: You talk about people say it’s Gen Y or it didn’t show up as much in the previous generations, that’s because they were just resigned to the fact that they had one job and that was it for the rest of their life. There wasn’t as much opportunity there. And so now, we’re at an environment where we’ve got these amazing opportunities and they’ve never had… There’s never been a better time to be in business, to start a business, to launch a business because of technology.
My background in offshore human resources, the ability to be able to outsource, your barrier to entry to building a great team these days is so much smaller. I think there’s that. So, there’s a fear of missing out. But I think when you’ve found something that genuinely fulfills you, you’ve got a purpose that fulfills you, it’s a lot easier to control. I’m not saying it’s not going to be there, but it’s a lot easier to say, “No. This is my focus. This is my passion. This is what I’m working on, working towards.”
You and I have had this conversation. And as much as it’s challenging and hard to say no, it rewards on the other side of that. If you’re suffering from entrepreneurial ADD, it is a learned skill to resist. It takes discipline.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting, because after the conversation you and I had a few weeks back, I’ve started reading a book by a guy called Cal Newport called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I don’t know if you’ve read that, but one of the things he actually says is that the ‘follow your passion’ belief is actually a fallacy and you shouldn’t do that. It’s actually incredibly challenging to do that, and what you should be doing is, in essence, to summarize the whole book in a paragraph here, is that the craftsmanship approach is the better approach to take: to get really good at what you do, and then as you get good at what you do, you’ll become more passionate about it and you’ll enjoy it more.
It’s the craftsmanship comes first, the passion comes after. Whereas a lot of what people talk about is to say follow your passion. He uses some great examples where people have quit their six-figure jobs, and started a yoga school, and then gone bust within 12 months because they don’t have the experience and the capital in themselves in a yoga school that they did in the previous role. It’s interesting, that there’s those different viewpoints. The danger is that if you’ve got that entrepreneurial ADD, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re staying within a particular sector that you already have experience in, if that makes sense.
Simon Bell: That’s an interesting point that he makes there around craftsmanship first and then passion follows. I think it’s interesting. I’ve never actually subscribed to it and I don’t know whether I actually… I think passion is an overused word in this context. Because I think for the average person thinking about what is passion, it’s a very conceptual word. They relate to passion not necessarily in a business context.
It’s interesting. I think if you actually go and do the work on yourself to find out what truly fulfills you and what your values are, and craft a commitment around that… For example, for the last nine years, and to this day, and I don’t see it changing any time in the future, I do have a genuine commitment to contributing. And contributing to entrepreneurs and small business owners, that was the core of why StaffBerry launched.
Because for me, the number one challenge that I saw in the coaching space for small business owners was time, people having the time to do the things that truly mattered to them, whether that was to continue to grow their business, scale their business, or to spend time with their family. Once you find that core purpose, the vehicle then… I tend to agree with your author there as far as you then can build a level of skill and expertise around the technical components of the vehicle, because the vehicle then doesn’t really matter.
As long as it’s fulfilling your values and fulfilling your purpose, at the risk of sounding all airy-fairy, as long as it’s fulfilling that, you’ll find happiness and in turn you’ll go the extra mile. You’ll do the things that most people want to do. To sum all that up, I think you’re right. I think the term passion has been overused and it’s lost its meaning. As long as people start businesses based on ego and identity, or things that they think society, or their parents, or their teachers, or whatever it might be, social pressures, say that they’re really good at it, they should go and do this, so they go and start these business. When in actual fact, it’s not fulfilling their purpose in life. They’re not fulfilled, but they’re going for the emotions, and they wonder why it occurs as hard work.
Simon Dell: You mentioned StaffBerry there. You launched that just over three years ago. You launched it in what I perceived at the time as to be a very crowded marketplace, a lot of people doing similar types of things, or almost exactly the same sort of thing. Talk about some of the challenges that you faced there and about how you made yourself stand out in that marketplace.
Simon Bell: It’s interesting you say that. I’m an action first, think later kind of guy, which sometimes works and sometimes is my downfall. It came out of an opportunity, although I think I had an unfair advantage in that I had immersed myself in my market for so long, in that small business space. And intimately, I worked with over 1,000 businesses in the last eight years. I heard the worse in all stories.
And so, I’d had a virtual assistant for a couple of years before that off and on, prior to that three or four years. I just happened to be sharing with one of the groups I was leading about DJ. Some of you probably listening have heard DJ if you’ve got an assistant through StaffBerry. Anyway, the feedback was, “How do we get a DJ?” It was just a great opportunity. We got DJ to find some friends. It was really that beginner. I remember walking out of the class and saying to Jess, my business partner, who wasn’t my business partner at the time, “Look, there’s a business in this.”
And you’re right. As the business evolved, we then discovered that there was a lot more competition to it. To answer your question, they’re all the same. You made the point there that we’re all the same. And to be quite honest, they’re boring. When we were creating the brand, and this is something that I’m sure we’ll dig a little bit deeper on, but when we were creating the branding, I made it very clear that if I saw a Filipino with a headset on giving a thumbs up looking at the camera, in any of the marketing collateral, someone’s head was going to roll.
If you see the brand, it’s colourful, it’s bright, it’s fun and I wanted to make sure that we did it different. At the core of what we did was to contribute and allow business owners to buy back the time to focus on the things that truly matter. I know I’ve said that before. It sounds like a party line, but that’s truly what the company believes in and what I still believe in, even post-exit.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting because looking at it from a casual observer from the outside, it felt very… I mean, your personality really carried it to a degree. Because I think you were there in front of the camera talking about it and all those kind of things, and I think that really helped. I’ll be completely honest with you, I was pessimistic at the start. I kind of went, “I can’t see that.”
Simon Bell: I saw your Facebook post.
Simon Dell: It’s because on LinkedIn, I get approached by outsourcing companies on a weekly basis. It seemed a strange thing to do at the time because of the competition in the marketplace. But when you take a step back and talk about that craftsmanship approach that we just spoke about in the previous question, it fits really well.
Because what you did was simply an extension of what you’d learned in the previous six years, seven years. You were applying all your knowledge from that point to launching something that wasn’t… Whilst it might’ve been a different model for what you were doing before, it wasn’t radically different. I think that’s where now I look back on it and go, “Actually, that was a pretty sensible decision at the time.” How did you scale it so quickly and effectively? It did sort of go from zero to hero quite quickly.
Simon Bell: I think it was a combination of the previous years of coaching as well as on the court with StaffBerry doing a reflection on the process. I caught the growth paradox and I created this concept called a growth paradox, which is: The thing that most business owners strive to achieve is the very thing that holds them back. There’s this hero culture, this kind of rocks our culture around fast growth. Fast growth, fundamentally.
I’m sure you see it too, Simon, when it comes from a marketing perspective. Business owners are like, what’s going to solve all their problems is more leads, more enquiries, it’s going to solve all their problems. Except the business isn’t ready for that. It’s not ready to scale. The product delivery systems aren’t in place. There’s no sales process in place. And so, this growth paradox model is kind of a process of scaling a business smoothly. I’ve got this personal mission to shift the focus of this rockstar status from fast, massive growth to smooth, massive growth.
It might take a little longer, you’ll experience more of an S curve, but it’ll be sustainable. And so, to answer your question, everything that we did at StaffBerry, everything was, “Can this scale globally? Is it world-class?” That’s pretty much the two questions. What I mean by world-class was more so the branding, and can it scale globally was more of the systems. When I say branding, I mean culture, as I’m sure you profess, there needs to be alignment with the internal culture with the external branding.
Simon Dell: When you talk about that branding, one of the things you said earlier on was fun. You wanted it to be fun. Just literally, as I was driving this morning, listening to Richard Branson talk about the launch of Virgin Atlantic all those years ago, when he took on British Airways from the London to New York group, and he said, “I wanted it to be fun.” Obviously, airlines and airline safety are serious things, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t have fun and there can’t be humour in there as well.
Simon Bell: 100%. One of the best books I’ve ever read, and it’s interesting because I don’t profess to be a marketer. I do enjoy marketing. I love the psychology of marketing, that’s why I love listening to this podcast, was the hero and the outlaw, which are [INAUDIBLE 00:53:02] archetypes. I did a little bit of work with a company in Brisbane through another company I was associated with, and they did some archetyping for their rebrand.
It spoke to me that an organization has personality. We built StaffBerry around the jester archetype that was just something that we lived and breathe. Both Jess and I have fun. We enjoy having fun and we’re like, “You know what? That’s going to be an expression of that.” That’s what’s going to have us stand out. We are still professionals, still smooth, but we’re going to make sure that it’s different.
And no offense to accountants and lawyers that have set up offshore teams or outsourcing companies over there, but you could just tell that every other company was set up by an accountant or a lawyer that thought this was a great idea and they just applied the same structure, and the same brand type, greys, and blues, and boring.
Simon Dell: I hear you. You’ve talked a little bit about the brand, but was there some specific marketing that you did that you found gave you better results than other channels?
Simon Bell: Strategic alliances. I know that’s not a digital kind of space.
Simon Dell: I always talk about partnerships and building partners with business owners and saying that that’s always a great opportunity. Give me an example of one of those of how that works and how it benefited you.
Simon Bell: One of the things we decided was, and this was a reflection of our process up until this point. We launched the company based on my existing clients through the coaching space. It was a very easy transition for them, almost like a, “Here’s another tool or resource to help you achieve your objectives.” The transaction was smooth because there was so much trust, and credibility, and relatedness, and intimacy there with the business owner.
Because I was a trusted advisor, when I made the recommendation of, “Hey, look, take it or leave it, but where I see, this is going to make a massive difference, it was a smooth transaction.” And so, that got us thinking about, “Well, other business coaches and other coaching firms, we…” I created a strategy around connecting with, and we launched this in the States as well as in Australia about building relationships digitally.
So, not just on LinkedIn with the connection that you mention that you get two or three a week from, “Hey, I noticed your profile, and I’ve been reading it, and I think…” None of that, but more so engagement. We set up a platform and we created a team in the Philippines to really start to engage in and just get noticed with these strategic partners.
We had a top 30 and we’d always target those. We’d always have 30 on the go, wouldn’t have any more, any less, and it was a matter of, “How are we going to build engagement or get noticed by these particular influencers?” And genuine engagement, not like ‘Nice post!’ or random kind of no-brainer engagements, I mean genuine engagements. So, we spent a lot of time training. I did some of the engagement myself on my phone if I had the spare time. I’d sit there and we used a platform called Hootsuite to manage our streams, and based on certain hashtags and based on…
And certain pages, we’d create a deck of all of our strategic partners, their Facebook pages, their Instagram pages. Every day, we would engage in their posts until we got noticed. It was a matter of taking the transitioning from that digital space into the real world and making the connection. So, I literally pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I’m the CEO of a company called StaffBerry you made have heard of it.” And they’re like, “Yes, we have. Love your stuff. We love your brand.” “Look, we thought it’d be interesting catching up for a coffee, or Skype chat” depending on where they were. That just worked exceptionally well.
Simon Dell: You’ve said something there that really resonated, those four words, ‘pick up the phone.’ I had a conversation with a small business owner probably eight weeks ago, and I said to her at the time, “You need to call people, introduce yourself, send them information. You can send them emails but send them emails after you’ve called them and build a relationship with these people.” Because she was looking for people to potentially sell her product, distributors, those kind of things.
And I said, “They need an emotional connection with you. They need to know who you are. They need to understand they’ll be able to trust you.” And so on and so forth. The easiest way of doing that is calling them. You can post 1,000 times on LinkedIn but it’s not going to get anywhere close to actually having a conversation with them.
And someone else, actually yesterday on LinkedIn, a recruiter said the same thing. He said he gets a hundred pitch emails a day and he gets one phone call a day. He takes the phone call.
Simon Bell: 100%. People are afraid of the phone. People are afraid of the rejection. I think selling cars, especially used cars, which probably I think it should be like conscription for small business owners. I think everyone should do 12 months of selling used cars.
Simon Dell: You’re right. Everybody should learn to sell. I mean, I sold beer which someone would argue is the easiest thing to sell in the world. A lot of the time, it was. But there was also a lot of time where you were walking into a suburban pub where there was three guys sitting in there and you thought, “I’m going to be lucky to get out of here alive.” You were a fresh-faced 23-year-old and going, “This guy’s been in the pub business for 30 years and he’s got love and hate tattooed on his knuckles. I’ve got to convince him to change one of the taps that all his regulars like for one of my taps.”
Honestly, that’s a sharp learning curve about how to sell. You learn in five minutes there because he has to like you in five minutes, and you got a shirt and tie on and he’s got tattoos in the singular. And every business owner should go and do that.
Simon Bell: It thickens the skin. It makes you resilient. Resilience is the key. It’s that ability to be able to get a metaphorical punch to the face and just go, “You know what? Okay, cool. What did I learn from that? Let’s get up. Let’s go again.”
Simon Dell: And I said to the business owner, “You’re probably going to get rejected 19 times, and then the 20th time you might get somebody that’s interested. But my god, it’s going to take some fortitude for you to get through those 19 phone calls, and be rejected, or not even get through to the person you want to talk to.”
Simon Bell: Totally. And for those that are listening that are like, “That sounds great. I’m prepared to do it. But how?” Just be yourself. Be authentic. I know I’m guilty of in the past writing sales scripts, and phone scripts, and things like that. One of the things I’ll always say there but I’m going to drive it even more now is… I’m going to say be yourself. There’s a caveat to it because if you need to sell to someone that’s not like you, then you obviously need to relate at some level. But be authentic, be real. You don’t have to have it all polished. Have an idea of what you want to say but just get on the phone and be you.
Simon Dell: On that note, for people listening, starting a business or they’ve been running a business for a long time, what are the three top things that you say to people, “Here’s what you should be doing” or those kind of behaviours that you think that’s important for people to actually work on themselves?
Simon Bell: Start a journey of self-discovery. Do the work. Immerse yourself in books that are going to make you a better human being. What I mean by that is: Have a look at one of the limiting beliefs that you have about yourself. It kind of goes back to what we talked about before earlier in the podcast. Be self-aware. I know that Gary V talks about it a lot, and I’m not sure where people get access to it just by saying it over and over again, but start to have a look at…
Just get first and foremost that every opinion that you formulate about yourself was at some point made up. You didn’t come out. You weren’t born with these preconceived notions about yourself, and we start to formulate those once you get language, and you get told certain things, and they become the truth. I think for a business owner, it’s as much of a personal game as you know and we both know. It’s that personal strength, that internal strength that will set you through. Ego and identity will only get you so far. So, the first thing would be to really immerse yourself in discovering who you are and learning more about yourself.
Learn how to be great with people. I think what people find is that the more they do the work on themselves as far as discovering who they really are, there’s a direct correlation then with others. I think the more people remove ego, and identity, and what shows up then is a natural expression to contribute, and make a difference, and it’s a natural love for people. It makes being great with people a lot easier if you’ve done the work on yourself. If you’ve got self-love, love for others comes naturally. I think that would be the next point.
And you’re going to love this, but learn marketing. I’m not saying this to piss in your pocket, but actually get that. And I suppose it ties in there, too. When you have a love for others, especially your team internally, you’ll start to build and create a culture internally that is real, that has substance to it. You’re not going to build a business successfully, you’re not going to scale a business as much as you might be to…
I think this would be one of the biggest reality checks that the driven, like I was back in the day, like this driven ego, “Give it to me. Get out of the way. Let me do it. Let me show you how good I am. Let’s push. Let’s drive out a result.” The biggest reality check that I got, and I see it in coaching clients, is that they can’t do it all themselves. There’s going to come a time where the amount of hours you have in the day and the amount of the energy you have in the day is going to be limited, so you’re going to need to empower other people, and build a team, and build a culture.
I think if you can get the concept that it’s not words on a wall, it’s not a mission statement or a vision statement, it’s who you’re being, who you actually are as the CEO, as the founder, if you can get that and you can work with a marketing agency, or whatever it might be, where you can then transition that core belief or that core set of values into a brand so that there’s alignment then externally as well as internally, the sky’s the limit. You’ll scale smoothly. Obviously, there are systems in place to back it up, but you’ve got that culture up.
Simon Dell: Fantastic three piece. And you sound like you were going to struggle there, but they were three awesome pieces of advice. Last few questions. These are hopefully a little bit more easier. Books that you’d recommend or a book that you’ve read that you would go, “You know what? If I’m in business, you should be reading this.”
Simon Bell: It depends on where you’re at in your business journey. I think if you’re starting out, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I know I referenced that before. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and I think there’s a lot more sexy books out there these days. But as far as the crux of starting a business and the E doesn’t stand for… I felt was like a digital kind of… It’s E stands for Entrepreneurial. So, the entrepreneurial myth is what it refers to.
It’s a great, fantastic, core, small business book, and it talks about the process of systemizing a business and taking an idea. And it’s told in parable format as well, parts of it anyway, so it’s kind of this beautiful swing between parable and then textbook. That would be that. If you’re a bit further on, I would say if you haven’t read Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, you need to. It’s a textbook for big or small businesses to medium-sized companies. I mean a textbook, it’s something that you want to — that I do and still do and did with StaffBerry.
We built StaffBerry based on The E-Myth. We used that as our reference. It’s a great all-around book. That’s probably two. Other than that, anything from Jim Collins, Good to Great, Built to Last, any of that. Just immerse yourself in books. I read an average of two books a month, more at the moment. Audiobooks, if you’re not a big reader or you fall asleep, just constantly have something on.
Simon Dell: I forgot where I read this, but it was saying that in terms of your personal growth, your personal investment because the stock market is so flat at the moment, and finding a decent return on investing your money is a struggle, they said that buying a $20 book or a $10 book is perhaps, to help you and then develop you, is one of the best financial investments that you can make at the moment. For $20 and a few days of your life to start developing yourself using that money, that’s better or as good as investing in stocks and shares.
Simon Bell: Especially in business. It could be just that one thing. And you’ll read books that you don’t relate to, and you’ll find authors that you do. I think if I could actually add a fourth point to those three points before, the love of learning is probably one of the keys to success in business because you don’t have the answers. I don’t profess to have the answers. I’m constantly taking new things on. Just immerse yourself in learning.
I’m going to say one point: Don’t use that as an excuse to not take action. Don’t use that as an excuse to say, “I don’t have all the answers” or “I’m not quite ready yet.” That’s BS. It’s an on the court as lived kind of type of learning.
Simon Dell: Last couple of questions: brands that you like. And you can’t say StaffBerry and you can’t say your clothing company. What draws you to brands? What draws you to products and something that you buy all the time?
Simon Bell: Jester brands. I mean, you know this about me. I like satire. I like things that take the piss out of themselves and out of industries. One of the brands I liked a little while ago, it could be last year, the year before, was iSelect. I like the brand. I like the marketing behind it, the message. I didn’t necessarily use them, but it was something that was memorable. There was a small finance company as well. I can’t remember what their name was, which is probably a good sign for their brand.
Simon Dell: Obviously had a huge impact there.
Simon Bell: Obviously didn’t stick. A massive impact. And then Virgin is a brand that I admire. I think it’s a great example of taking someone’s personality, Richard Branson’s personality, and infusing it across so many different channels. I don’t know whether they studied at marketing school, but it’s consistent. That is a brand that I do use. It’s consistent across my customer experience as well for the most part.
Simon Dell: What’s next for Simon Bell? Where does he go from here?
Simon Bell: Good question. I’m going to take some time. I’m going to take some time off, I think, and just spend it with the family. So, since the exit, there’s been an opportunity to catch up, reflect, and plan my next move. I don’t have anything set in stone yet.
Simon Dell: I’m going to have to go back here because what we didn’t cover is a quick how and why you exited. I think that’s important for people to understand, is that you’ve done that for three years and the catalyst for you to exit was… Give us a quick explanation of that.
Simon Bell: The business was always designed, from the very day we launched it, was designed to be sold. It was always going to be a five-year plan which was June ’19 and then look at opportunity. My business partner and some colleagues of hers presented an opportunity to me. They wanted to invest some more capital into the business and really amp it up. There was an opportunity for me to sell my shit, fundamentally. It was a great experience to support Jess in the transition and the opportunity to exit was there. And so I thought, carpe diem.
Simon Dell: This was the whole thing that fascinates me about that story, was that it was built to sell, which I don’t think a lot of people think about. People don’t go, “You know what? Let’s build something to sell it.” That was one thing. I think the second thing was that it was done within three years. I’ve seen startups that I’ve known for five years, seven years, longer than that, and they still seem to me to be no further forward than they were when they started. It seems to be this kind of monumental struggle for a lot of startups, where you’ve very much turned that on its head and gone day one, three years, bang, sold, out.
You may now, you’ve got that experience, go, “I might do that again.” It’s that three-year story that I think is fascinating and I think people should think about that as a goal and go, “Where is the exit?” I’m sure you say that with when you coach from a business perspective, that people should know how to get out.
Simon Bell: Definitely. Begin with the end in mind. I mean, it’s an oldie but a goody. It’s just interesting. And I know it did for me in the early stages, not at all now and hasn’t probably since we launched StaffBerry, it does seem paradoxical to think about selling a business before you even start one. And especially in Australian culture, too. There’s almost that, “Let’s not put the horse before the card” or “Let’s not think too big.”
I relate to business as an ability to express who I am and more of an artform so to speak than a science, although there’s a balance of that science and art, but express who I am to… But then also, there’s that element of the investment aspect of it, no different to buying a house and doing it up and then selling it. There is that ability. Or build a house and sell it.
The beautiful part about business as opposed to real estate is that, yes, there’s some capital investiture, but you get to make this from nothing. You have the opportunity to build something from nothing.
Simon Dell: I think if you keep that in mind, I think if people keep that in mind that the business is going to be sold or it’s being built with an intention of being sold… And even if you don’t sell it, even if you sit there and go, “I’m going to be here for 10 to 20 years”, but if you consistently think about it as a product that you’re going to sell, you can’t help but go, “Right, well, it needs to be profitable. It needs to be cash flow-positive. It needs to have a good cauldron, a good brand” and all those kind of things.
If you’re constantly thinking that next week you might sell it, you have to make sure those things are alright because that’s what inevitably drives the value in the business. People buy businesses because they’re profitable or because the cash flow is good, because the brand’s good, because there’s an opportunity to scale it, all those kind of things. So, I think if people keep that in mind, then they’re going to perform a lot better. There’s no kind of end goal in mind.
Simon Bell: 100% agree.
Simon Dell: Last question: Where can people find you and get in contact with you? Let’s say someone wants to offer you a fantastic job. Do you think you could go and work for someone now?
Simon Bell: No. I don’t know.
Simon Dell: Nobody email Simon and offer him a job. Don’t do that. Offer him investment in his next project, absolutely, but don’t email him and offer him.
Simon Bell: Totally.
Simon Dell: Where can they find you?
Simon Bell: LinkedIn is probably the best place to find me at the moment.
Simon Dell: Are there many Simon Bells out there? There’s not many Simon Dells, but are there many Simon Bells?
Simon Bell: I don’t actually know. I can’t get the simonbell.com.au because it’s owned by somebody, so there’s at least one Simon Bell out there that’s making life a little bit more challenging for me.
Simon Dell: That bastard.
Simon Bell: I know. But yeah, LinkedIn. I’m more than happy to connect with anybody on LinkedIn.
Simon Dell: Awesome. Mate, it’s been… I don’t think we’ve ever had a boring conversation. I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation that I haven’t enjoyed, this one included. I just want to thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate that. I know you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, but thank you very much. You’re actually the second person I’ve interviewed that’s out of a job at the moment.
Simon Bell: Funemployed.
Simon Dell: Maybe it’s a common theme with people coming on this podcast. So, thank you very much once again.
Simon Bell: You’re welcome, Simon. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
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