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Episode 225: A Dragon Driven by Life with Sarah Willingham


The ability to combine passion and work is a wonderful feeling. Sarah did this during her twenties when she combined her love of food, drink, and travel with her role in leading the global expansion of Pizza Express and Planet Hollywood. Now she is a proud mother and investor who inspires and motivates entrepreneurs by sharing her learnings. In this episode, Adam Stott and Sarah Willingham talk about business mindset, investment, and traveling for work.

Sarah Willingham is one of Europe’s most well-known female entrepreneurs and investors. In 2021, she launched her first IPO on Nightcap PLC with a mission to become the UK’s leading bar group and subsequently acquired 2 market-leading bar groups. Sarah is also a recognized media personality, a judge, and investor on Raymond Blanc’s The Restaurant and joined the team of Dragons on the popular BBC 2 TV Show Dragon’s Den.

Show Highlights:

  • Sarah’s motivations to becoming an entrepreneur
  • Learn how she deals with challenging situations
  • The way she approaches risk in making decisions
  • How to naturally build relationships with people; and
  • The importance of communicating confidently

Links Mentioned:

You may follow Sarah Willingham on Instagram @sarahwillingham

Join the Ultimate Three Day Business Event and learn more Business Growth Secrets and be part of our Facebook Group Big Business Events Members Network

Connect with me on Instagram @adamstottcoach

Transcript:

Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.

Adam Stott:

Hello, everybody and welcome to Business Growth secrets. I’m really, really, really pleased to be bringing on Sarah Willingham, the ex-Dragon Den star and multiple business builder, somebody that attended our last event and blew everybody away. She was absolutely phenomenal. So, much so that we’ve asked her to come back because she’s incredible what she does, the way she’s able to see an entrepreneur, the journey, their app, pinpoint where they’re at, and give them the direct advice to grow is, you know, something that everybody needs to see and be a part of. And of course, you should get to our next event to come and see because it’d be incredible.

Going to bring Sarah on to tell a bit about her story, a little bit of background, she got so much to share. We’re not going to get it all across in a podcast, but I’m sure we’re gonna get some great stuff. So thanks for coming on, Sarah, really appreciate it. How are we doing?

Sarah Willingham:

Oh, thank you for the introduction. I mean, this is like the best way to start a day, isn’t it?

Adam Stott:

Compliments get up, but yeah, absolutely. And really, you know, thank you for what you did at the last event, your incredible feedback was massive. So, you know…

Sarah Willingham:

It was such a pleasure. Actually, I had so many people follow up with me afterwards that were in the room, it was really, really lovely. And it was great to be actually just a little part of this journey. There were some fantastic people in the room, really motivated. And I think, you know what, what I really felt that they took away more than anything was just just a little bit of empowerment, that they felt like, you know what I can do this, obviously gave them lots of little tips and stuff. But just then, it was that feedback of I left feeling empowered, that really sat with me afterwards. And I loved that they’re great people. So I’m so grateful that you had me on, I loved it for them. 

Adam Stott:

And they were exactly what they said they felt empowered, a lot of the things that you talked about really resonated with them. You know, you talked a lot about having a life path versus a career path was something that I think has become a part of our group, something that a lot of people are talking about, we have a WhatsApp group for our gold circle clients. And a lot of them are talking about how that really inspired them, as well as many other things. And, you know, the way that you talked about marketing and explained marketing to them, was really, really, really good for them.

Something that they’ve kind of heard but you said it in a different way. And I think as well being that with your background and the things that you’ve done for someone to come in and tell them actually you’re on the right path, you’re doing the right things. You might not be there yet, but you are on the right journey, I think it was certainly empowering to them. 100% and reinforcement. 

So you know, brilliant stuff, I want to for the audience, the podcast, maybe you didn’t come to the last event, you’re listening now, you’re probably going to come to the next event, because you’re listening now. And you’re probably going to get super pumped after this. I’ve got no doubt. But I wanted to kind of go a little bit back, Sarah and just talk about where you came from. You’ve obviously gone on to have this massively successful career in starting businesses, buying businesses, growing businesses, listing businesses, so much so that you invited on to Dragon’s Den and did series there and invested in businesses and really successful, but with every success that starts from somewhere. So let’s go all the way back and kind of talk about how you kind of started out, what was the beginning like for you? 

Sarah Willingham:

Yes. So it’s a funny thing, really, because I often get asked like, what was the moment when I decided to be an entrepreneur, and it just didn’t really happen like that. For me, I do believe that some people are kind of born-going, I want to be an entrepreneur and I need to have my own business. And I was never driven like that. Like I don’t believe in career paths. I’ve never tried to carve out a career path myself, I believe in a life path.

So, I’ve been so driven by what I want out of my life at that time. And as far as I’m concerned, my career has to fall into line. It has to help me get what I want to be where I want to be at that moment in my life. So, I was very driven early on by actually loving business. You know, in my teenage years. I remember always asking those questions of why are we all Singing a finger forges just enough and why we were wearing Nike trainers and the same brands and buying the same sort of cheese. And what did that mean? And how did that happen? So, I was really interested not really knowing nobody was in business not really knowing what that really meant. 

But I thought I you know what, I’ll go off to university and study business, what I wanted to do, but really wanted to travel, my dad would not let me take a gap year working class, northern families, like you need to go and Sarah going get a job, and then you’ll never come back. Anyway, that sits with you, right? This desire, like I really wanted to travel.

So in my 20s, I was very lucky and managed to combine my passion for eating and drinking and going out and having a nice time with my friends with my passion for business and my interest in business. Also my passion for travel, which was fantastic. I ended up opening restaurants for Planet Hollywood and Pizza Express all over the world. And it was great, what I absolutely loved. It literally ticks all my boxes in my 20s, living my best life, and at this point, I was not thinking, I need to be an entrepreneur at all, you know, I was very happy, my life is great. But as I got towards my late 20s.

Adam Stott:

So, your philosophy almost sounds like we know what we want from life. And really, then you’re looking at those opportunities and trying to spot those opportunities as whoever they’re going to fit in your life as to whether you’re going to do it, right. So actually having a massive focus, right?

Sarah Willingham:

I mean, it’s literally driven, every single, let’s call it business or career decision that I have made, my life has been driven by a life event.

Adam Stott:

Unusual, by the way, you will clearly see it’s unusual, you know, which is, and I think that’s really good advice for people with it, like get really clear on what you want out of life. And then you’re going to make much better decisions. But a lot of people, not a lot of people, let life take them on a journey, rather than the other way. You understand what I mean?

Sarah Willingham:

Completely, and I just, I don’t believe in it, I because you’ve got, well, first we’ve all got one shot at it right? And you want to hold the pen and write your story. You want to be the lead role in your story. And if you allow a career, let’s say, your career path to dictate your life, it’s like half the story is not even half the story. It’s just cool to be a story. I mean, what’s happening in the rest of it, but you’ve got this thing that’s driving you, and it’s pushing you, but what about all the other stuff that really matters.

So that’s why I’m so driven by my life, and what I want out of my life and how I want to live my life at that time. And that absolutely punctuates so many decisions that I made. So for example, when I decided to become an entrepreneur, it was very much driven by the fact that I want a family, I want loads of kids, I cannot continue to live. 

Yeah, as I am at the moment where I’m in Geneva on a Monday, Moscow on a Wednesday, Italy on a Friday, living out of a suitcase, which was great in my twin cities, honestly, living my best life loved it. But I thought that’s not going to work if I want to have a family. That was the point at which I thought actually, if I want to control my diary, I need to be the boss, I need to be in charge, which means I need to do this on my own.

I was also driven, I wanted to make some money as well, not to be too clinical about it. But the reality was, I knew that having some, you know, a significant amount of cash in the bank would allow me to give me some freedom. And I think it’s really important.

So, I was very driven. To make that decision where right I’m going to go, I wanted to have the largest chain of Indian restaurants in the UK, having just learned from the absolute best there was at Pizza Express, how to create shareholder value, how to roll out a simple, replicable business model, and how to simplify a business model to be able to roll it out. 

And I totally understood what they did. Once I learned that I asked all the questions sponge, take it all in. It’s like, you know what, I can do this. That’s when I decided to go and do it in Indian restaurants. Again, that was a life decision. Then my next significant decision was actually to sell it. And that was three, four years later, where I started to have more children. Actually, this isn’t working. I thought this was gonna be a great path. And it was a great path. But actually I needed an event one I needed an event to make some money so I did actually need to sell it to make some money, but also 1500 staff and lots of children were reliant on me getting up in the morning and it just didn’t work. 

Adam Stott:

How do you handle that pressure? I think that’s and I know that was because we spent so much time on the event. We went a lot deeper when we were talking about you actually getting the proximity and Early being around very successful people and learning from them, you then don’t want to take on a lot of pressure. I mean, even when you were young, you took on a lot of pressure, didn’t you? So when you’re in your 20s, you start going around the world opening restaurants and meeting new people. It’s not something that a lot of 20 year olds do. Right? Is it to be fair? So, what do you think your qualities are? That you’re able to go and do that?

Sarah Willingham:

So, I actually do thrive under pressure, to be fair, and a lot of it comes from the fact that I, you know, we talked a lot as well, last time we met about sort of imposter syndrome and how, how do you work with that, and my way of making that work for me, when I feel the pressure, when I feel out of my depth, or I feel an imposter in a situation. My Drive is to not feel like that. I want it to become within my comfort zone,

Adam Stott:

Not using fear positively or not fear, but you’re using it positively. And a lot of people don’t. So a lot of people run from fear, don’t they? Or they ran from imposter syndrome. They don’t attack it. Yeah. What do you say? What makes you do it that way? 

Sarah Willingham:

Well, I think a lot of it, I mean, obviously, some people are born, you know, you’re born the way that you’re born to a large extent. But I really think you can work on this. And I think you can talk to yourself, you can talk yourself through it. So I think one of the things that certainly in business people do is they try and make it sound really clever. And they try to make themselves sound really clever.

And what we do, especially in our 20s, is we sit and look at all these really clever people who think “oh, you’re so clever”. I’m nowhere near as clever as you are. And I think that’s really important for people to understand is that to be honest, everyone’s kind of making it up. Everyone’s winging it to a large extent. And actually, they aren’t clever, the new they’re not, they might have a different brain, there are different types of intelligence. But they’re not cleverer than you. And I think that realization when I see other people doing it, and I think, long gone, like, surely I can get my head around this. 

You know, I mean, I think I use the example of doing live television, for example. I mean, I was utterly terrified, I hated it. I mean, honestly, I could have thrown up, I thought it was so awful. But I thought to myself, hang on. There’s lots of other people sitting in this room that don’t appear to want to throw up. And I spoke to him afterwards and said, like, were you not nervous doing that? And they’re like, well knows what we do, right? We’ve been doing it for years, with other guests that we’re on. And I was like, but you just got interviewed, like, I just got interviewed. We’re not terrified.

Well, no, why not terrified? What we’ll just do is more to do. And I thought, That’s it. When you feel yourself, enter that zone, like utterly terrified, you’ve got to do it more. Because otherwise you spend your entire life being terrified is something that lots of other people aren’t. And I’m so driven by that, like, if they can do it, I’ve learned that, you know, they’re not cleverer than me. They’re just different.

Adam Stott:

Such a good bit of advice that a lot of people don’t take on board. And a lot of people don’t, because they just don’t want to go against that fear. When it comes up, or when fear sort of raises its head, if you can push for it, you know, you’re going to gain a new skill, and that’s going to get you to a new level, isn’t it? Right, and give you a new opportunity zone?

Sarah Willingham:

If your comfort zone stays here, right? That’s it. I mean, by definition, progression means change, right? Because in order to progress, you can’t keep doing the same thing, otherwise you won’t be progressing, you’ve got to change, something different has got to happen to progress. And if your comfort zones here, you know, what if it became here, and then here and here, and that’s, I love that when I look back and go, oh, my God, you know, would never have done that five years ago, or I would never have done that even six months ago. And the fact that you then learn.

Adam Stott:

I think for the conversation we had realized how much you push that. You just continue to push it because you were opening restaurants for Pizza Express. And you were doing that as you went out to find an Indian restaurant, that you love the taco store at the event. And once you found it, you kept pushing that and pushing it and pushing it and building it. Were you ever afraid to push too far? Or did that ever come up? Or was it like, is there a chance that this one will work well, what if we open another for quite some time? Did you have any fears around that? Or was it just a determination that I’m not going to fail? Sometimes I talk about it like a frame of reference. What was your frame of reference to? To go and just keep driving that?

Sarah Willingham:

So, it’s actually a really good question. It’s very important because it’s actually surprisingly quite risk averse. And it may not seem as I am because I’m always pushing, but I am all about downside protection. Always. Every business decision I make, every life decision I make. I’m like, can I handle the downside? If the answer’s no and walk away? I’ll never do it. I’ve never taken a risk where I couldn’t handle the downside. And that’s really important in business as well, not just in life, but also in business.

So you go, what is the worst thing that can happen here? The worst thing that could happen is, I say you start a business that makes glasses that say, and you go all in, so you’ve put your hands in, you’ve put your kids future in everything. What’s the worst thing? What’s the worst thing that can happen in that scenario? Because everything, I lose everything, not to do it. I’m not, I’d still walk away. I’d rather not start the business, or structure it differently, do something differently, find a way of starting that business where, of course I’ll risk something. But can I handle the risk? Yes, I can. And that’s really, really important. I think when you make decisions where you don’t just drive blindly through, you don’t just face fear blindly. Yeah, go, you know, it’s the same. 

Let’s go back to the live TV example. And it’s not particularly helpful because it’s not actually business. But it’s the same mindset. You know, what’s the absolute worst thing that can happen here? Right? If I stumble my words on live TV. I don’t remember an answer, that I don’t look great. Because I can’t remember what I need to say that I don’t sound brilliant. Yeah, right. My life still goes on after that happens. And that is a boundary I can push.

The best thing that can happen here is that I get really comfortable with public speaking, live TV, and I lose that imposter syndrome that I’ve had for years, where I feel like I’m gonna throw off a stand up in front of people. And I’ve completely gone now. I mean, I could literally stand up in front of 5 million people with five minutes’ notice and not worry about it. I could not have done that never have done it. 

Adam Stott:

What benefit does that bring to your life? I’ve just from a speaking perspective, a lot of people that this is a big fear, isn’t it? And for me, being able to speak publicly, communicate and do these types of things with confidence. I’ll tell you that I have recently done a couple of TV programs myself, but for one minute, I feel nervous. I just went in there, it was a breeze, I loved every minute of it. I think that the confidence that you can walk and talk with just escalates so much, it makes life easier. And once you conquer that public speaking, do you think I was just interested in your perspective?

Sarah Willingham:

Yes, hugely, I think in life. It’s an incredible life skill to be able to communicate confidently. I think that’s the key. It’s confidence. And in business, I actually think it’s essential because people around you want to hear decisiveness, confidence, surety. Of course, they need to understand you’re also diplomatic, and you’re human, and you want to listen and take your ideas on board with their ideas. But at the same time, if you’re leading a business, you’ve got to give them confidence that you’re prepared to make the decisions. Yes, you might have, you know, at a conference and listen to 40 different opinions to get there. But ultimately, you’re going to make the decision, and then communicate it. And I think that’s really, really important. I also think in business. So a lot of the time we might be looking for funding. 

So even as you know, I’ve just had an IPO this year, so floated on the stock market. In doing so, I have to do a roadshow. Doing a roadshow means I have to go around to institutions, I have to tell my story. And I have to tell them what I’m planning on doing and tell them why I think my business nightcap on the stock market would be a good investment to the institutions, that the delivery of a pitch is really important. And I know it from being on the receiving end of Dragon’s Den. It’s whether you stand up and you’re talking to your staff today, or whether you’re talking to investors, that confidence of communication is really important in life. It’s a great life skill, great life skill.

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. Yeah, I agree. That’s why I wanted to just sort of see what your thoughts were on it. But you know, in terms of combat skill, so we talked a little bit about Dragon’s Den being the boy up there, you know, and obviously, we’ve had a long conversation about it already. So should I ask you some different questions? Why don’t we start off with this when you were pitching? Was there anyone you wanted to invest in? Based on the pitch? They were that compelling and that persuasive and that influential? Like I want to invest in it, but then there were savages. Like, I don’t want to be in that business. Was there somebody that you remember that presented so well to you?

Sarah Willingham:

There was one business actually snaffling pig, they still do really, really well. And I loved the guys. I mean, I just thought they were absolutely great. I really did. They were really great. But I hate pork scratchings like, they actually make me gag, I just can’t eat them. Which sounds ridiculous because so what it’s would have been a great investment, you know, but Nick did end up investing in the love support scratching? You see, oh, it was all over it. He couldn’t believe it was so exciting. But I knew those guys would be successful. And actually, I kept in touch with them afterwards. They were great. But I also had some people that I thought were fantastic that I tried to invest in, then they picked a different Dragon.

Adam Stott:

Who wants to go away for you. 

Sarah Willingham:

There was a lovely business, I think it was called Hope and Glory. I really liked the clothing business, they were great. And I really wanted to invest in them. But they picked Deborah. I think it was Deborah, was it Deborah and Peter? I think it was Deborah, I can’t remember actually, I think it’s, I think it might just be Deborah. But again, you know, great business, great girls loved them though God, I could definitely work with you, we’d actually really enjoy ourselves. But it was the first series and they didn’t pick me. So that happens a lot as well, you know, you lose out on the ones that quite often you can lose out on the ones that are really good, because they pick a different Dragon, as I get my pitch better. 

Adam Stott:

Well, knowing how personable you are, you’re very personable, and very interested. And I think that’s really, really important, isn’t it, you know, that you’ve got, you’re actually super interested in business and entrepreneurs and people, you know, they probably missed out, didn’t they? You know, I think because you would have put the time into it when you’re present.

Sarah Willingham:

I do actually go all in, you know, I didn’t do a huge amount of investments from Dragon’s Den. And that’s because when I invest, it’s not just me, I have a little team, you know, also my husband, he’s really smart, but smart stuff. That’s different stuff to me. Yeah, brilliant. He also goes all in, you know, we really commit, and you can’t commit to everything, you know, but I have definitely learned.

I think I said this to you last time that I see a lot more success in the businesses where I play a really active role in helping you, you know, I would hope that as with anybody. And so now I tend to choose businesses, we have just a couple of investments actually Michael has, where it’s more of a silent investment. But most of the time we commit and we go in and we make a difference.

Adam Stott:

Okay, so while we’re talking about investing, we’ve got a lot of people that listen to the podcast, a lot of business owners, and they get confused a lot when it comes to investment. And a lot of the time, you know, really an investor wants to invest in a business that’s got a very good business model, a good message, a good way of getting to the market, knows how to acquire clients, and they’ve got these things in place. Yeah, a lot of people at the early stage of their business, think I just need an investment to get me going, you know, where it really they need to go and sell themselves and they need to go and sell the product service and get themselves going. They don’t 100% Understand the investment model.

What kind of tips would you give for somebody when they should get investment? And what do they need to do at the beginning? I know my thoughts on it, I know that we’re kind of aligned in our thoughts on it, which is great. But I’d love things to be if you’re a seasoned investor. I’d love people to hear it. Hear your thoughts on it. What were your thoughts on that?

Sarah Willingham:

I mean, I am obsessive about shareholder value. And I mean, obsessive, especially finding shareholder value. And so I’m always very reluctant. When I speak to people to encourage them to get investment really early on, when your equity value is really low. I think you find every way you possibly can to get some cash into your business, it could be anything from, you know, invoice factoring to just sell more, more, more, more more, as much as you possibly can borrow a little bit like whatever it is, you can do to safely and sustainably get some cash into the business to sort out short term cash shortages, which it usually is short term cash shortages on a startup early stage business, rather than getting investment. 

The thing is, if your business is successful, the chances are you are going to need investment later. It’s rare that a business doesn’t need investment. At some point in its life. The more your equity is valued, the more value you’re creating for yourself as a founder. So the later you can do that there is a tipping point. And each business is different. I can’t just say oh, the tipping points were deliberate. Obviously, each business is completely different. But I’m always very reluctant to advise people early on, when you haven’t really proven your business model. You haven’t really proven the concept yet, you don’t really know that you’re going to be a big success. Try not to sell equity. At that point, try and prove some way or other that this is a replicable business model that is ready for growth. 

And one of the questions I always ask people early on, is if I gave you a million quid, what would you do with it? And if the answer to that is odd, hire those people in the head office and try and see if this works and then try and see if that works. I’m out because you haven’t yet nailed your business model.

If I say to you, do you want a million quid and you go oh my god and exactly what I’m gonna do with that this is amazing. Thank you so much. I’ve nailed my marketing model. Basically, I acquire customers online, to acquire them for, it’s gonna cost me 50 quid to acquire each customer, don’t worry, they all I get at least 300 back, thanks for your billion quid and know what I’m going to do with it 10 Then they gave 10 million. 

Adam Stott:

Yeah. And, you know, obviously, they’re gonna hit a plateau on that at some stage, but 100%, that’s going to get to the next level. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, that’s at that point where you’ve nailed that business model. And that replicable business model is the point at which you should think about investments if you need to. But often, when you get there, you’re like, actually, there are other ways to get some cash in here. But it’s about the protection of the founder shareholder value, because I can guarantee you if you’re successful, you will end up with a number of series of investments, which means you’re diluted all the way. Start off on your equities worth anything, and you already give away 40% of your business time. You end up when the business is worth 10 million quid, you’ll have like 6% of the business, you’ll be really annoyed.

Adam Stott:

That’s why I’m a decade of your life and a journey for not a lot of return. Now, what would you say about this is something that I’m sure you get a lot? Right? What do you say about the person that comes to you with an idea that wants investment? Because that probably happens a lot? I would imagine, certainly we have a lot of people that contact me and say, I’ve got this great idea. I just need X amount to get it off the ground, you know, which I don’t get involved in. It’s not what I do.

You know, I try and business owners how, what’s your perspective on that? What should somebody that has a business idea, they’ve got a business idea in place, but they’re not out there. They’re not selling? They’re not marketing? Right? They haven’t got the idea to the stage of, you know, being finalized. And they’re actually out there trying to seek investment for it. Would you say that to someone like that?

Sarah Willingham:

I’d say no, I’d say why haven’t you sold anything? Why isn’t it sell, sell, sell, get money in the bank. Do whatever you have to do to get it off the ground. I think there’s a lot of people, if you’re not careful, your legacy will be the person that came with this great idea, and you actually did nothing about it, you’ve got to go out and no matter what it takes, in those early days, you’ve just got to sell whatever it takes.

Sell, sell, sell. Prove that people want this thing, or this service, whatever it is, you’ve got, people want it prove to me as an investor, that people want it and that there’s a market out there and you know how to talk to them, and prove to me that you’re the right person to do it, then let’s have a conversation. And I think so many people…

Adam Stott:

People want the dream, people want that lazy thing and to go alright, I just about this idea takeout and maybe liquid, we’re just not where…

Sarah Willingham:

I can guarantee you if you gave him a million quid, they wouldn’t make any money. The thing is, if you can’t get it off the ground by great, yeah, determination in the first place before you even have a conversation with anybody else. You’re not going to make it work either. When I give you a million quid? Absolutely.

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. So yeah, amazing advice. And I think absolutely spot on. So, we’re going to be doing the next event together, sir, which I’m super duper excited about. So, for entrepreneurs and business owners who are going to come along, you know, what would you say if you’re going to give them just three tips if you know what they need to be doing? As we’ve talked about someone that’s not there.

We talked about somebody who’s got an idea. But as an aside, we talked about someone’s business and the market got it. Let’s talk about somebody that’s in their business right now. There’s a bit of a baby there. They’ve been doing things the old way. You know, they’ve been growing their business over a period of time. Maybe they’ve been in for a few years, but it doesn’t seem to be growing. What do you do with a business owner like that? If you had much, I’m sure I’m sure you have where somebody is kind of just a bit stuck. And they need to break through to the next level? What kind of tips or advice would you give to someone in that kind of base?

Sarah Willingham:

Well, firstly, you’re not alone. So I think that’s really… There are so many people… Yeah, in that same situation. And one of the things about being an entrepreneur is it can be a really lonely place, and you have to be very self propelled, you know, you’ll fall into holes, and you’ve got to find your own way out of it. And that’s often really difficult.

So, because I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to surround yourself with great people. Now, if you don’t have them in your network, find one. Listen to people, ask questions, knock on doors, learn, take it in, assimilate as much as you possibly can. Because I can absolutely promise you the problems that you’re facing today are the same problems that millions of other people have faced and the answers are there. You just need that self drive to really want to go out and find the answers to those questions because they are there. 

Some people will help you When you can find them and you can get help. And you can help to put structure around yourself, you’ve got to say, You know what type of person I am like, I know, I have loads of weaknesses, but I live with those weaknesses, and I recruit around them, or I compensate for them in particular ways. But if you can understand what it is, often it’s about you as a person that is holding something back. It’s not about the lack of knowledge or something needs to be unlocked in you. And often that is a confidence and empowerment thing. And actually, being in an environment where you can listen to others and learn from others and take on what there’s a genuine. So easy, I can do this.

Adam Stott:

No voices make a massive impact. Yeah, and learn. Absolutely. 100% make a massive impact. And I’m really interested to know yourself, obviously, you’ve done a lot, you know, to some massive things. Have you had mentors yourself or people that have heard this type of people, you can look back on your career and say, they made a big impact on getting you to where you are today.

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, I was really lucky that certainly in my 20s, I worked with some really good people. And I was very lucky to actually share an office with the CEO and the chair of Pizza Express for like 18 months. And that was a real game changer for me. Because I was able to ask loads and loads of questions and understand what they’ve done with the IPO. They’ve become a PLC, how they were focused on share, creating shareholder value with this very simple business model.

I really understood that, because I was able to sit with them and ask loads and loads of questions, which was great. As I’ve gone on my journey, I’ve met great people, really, really great people. And so I’ve never had a mentor, for one thing. But I’ve had different people in my life that I’ve been able to call for in a very safe environment. I think that’s the key. You know, often if you’re sort of driving in business, and you’ve got other people in the business, it can feel judged or unsafe. Yeah, I think it’s extremely important that the people you pick up the phone to and have that open rule are actually vulnerable. 

Adam Stott:

To say, this is where I’m at, this is the problem I’m having.

Sarah Willingham:

Please show your vulnerability. Basically, it’s got to be a safe environment with somebody that wants to help you exactly.

Adam Stott:

Now, for somebody who’s listening, because I know that I spend a lot of time with people and entrepreneurs at conferences, and they struggle with stuff like this. And it sounds like you’ve been really good at building relationships with key people. And I think you are very good at getting to know you. I think you’re brilliant at building relationships. And you clearly go and give your roll to what you’re doing. Right. And which I think is really important. What would you say? Why have you been able to develop those relationships with important people? And people that can help you? Is there any kind of methodology for it? Is it just? Or do you have a site like a philosophy for it about how you go and do that? Or is it just natural to do anything? Because a lot of people are natural to?

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. So firstly, I think it’s really important going back to that life pass career. I like great people, just like people, not everybody, obviously, I think, yeah, gosh, never in a million years of my life, you’re too toxic. I don’t want you here. But I like people. So I have the people that I formed these relationships with, or because I really liked them and that they are friends. And that’s really important to understand. It’s again, it’s that life path versus career path. I’m not forming a relationship with, you know, a partner at a law firm, because I’ve met loads of partners at law firms, but one of them, I really liked him.

He was great. And he’s now a lifelong friend. Yeah, actually now the chair of my business, and I met him, you know, 25 years ago. Because I love him to bits, and he’s great and he’s always been there for me. And he’s really, really, really smart. He’s brilliant at what he’s good at. 

Yeah. And I love that about him. But he’s kind, he cares. I matter to him. You know, he matters to me. And I think it’s, it’s been I’ve never thought about building a relationship ever, with somebody that I don’t want to build relationship with. Not clinically. I actually like you, you know, I want to get to know you.

I want to be your friend and I want to understand more about you because I’ve met you and I think you’re brilliant. That I think when you come at it from the perspective of actually really like you. It’s very natural to build a relationship. I’ve never, ever in my whole life, tried to build a contrived relationship, because I can’t do it. I wear my heart on my sleeve too much and if I don’t like somebody, I’m Like, oh, I just don’t like you, you know, this is never going to work.

Adam Stott:

So, somebody is a bit introverted. How would I? So it’s not necessarily from a contrived perspective, but say someone’s really introverted, and they don’t. And they feel like they can’t approach or they can’t do that relationship or they’re, they’re just standoffish by nature in some sort of way. I mean, you have confidence about you, 100%, about how you’re going to approach things. And that obviously helps, isn’t it in a big way? What would you say sounds a bit introverted, because really what I’m trying to get across is I think relationships are one of the most important things in business in terms of success, as well as one person, one chance, one opportunity, one introduction, sometimes can just make a massive impact on a business. A lot of people don’t, aren’t able to build those relationships. I think a lot of the time. 

Sarah Willingham:

I think my dad is painfully introverted, very introverted. I am surprisingly more introverted than extroverts. Even though I never stop talking. I get a lot from being alone when I can be and you know, a lot of peace in my mind. But, so I think, firstly, you have to work with yourself, not against yourself. So if I was to say to an introverted person, well, you need to go to walk into that room and you know, walk the room, they die, slow, painful death and leave, it would be awful.

Work with who you are, feel very introverted, then you know, what, just talk to one person, that’s okay. Because the most introverted people, when you get them one on one, they ask brilliant questions. And they listen, and they’re interested. Yeah, I think that’s the point is find somebody that you are interested in, and go and ask them some questions, and go and talk to them, and listen to them. And they will walk away from that conversation, feeling very valued, because you have given them that time.

And actually, you only do obviously, if you’re genuinely interested in them, otherwise, it will be contrived, and it won’t work. I think working, which is who you are, is really important. I think equally if you’re super extroverted, and you just kind of walk in the room, often, you have to remind yourself, you need to go a bit deeper. 

You need to spend that time one on one doing what introverted people do really, really well. And that is engaging with one person looking them in the eye. Yeah. Learning from them, asking questions, making sure they feel valued in that conversation. And introverted people will do that extremely well, actually, that one on one. So I think just work with who you are, who you are. But you’ve got to push your comfort zone a bit.

Otherwise, I mean, what we’re doing here, so you’ve got to, if normally don’t speak to one person named speak to two people, if you’re somebody who just walks in a room, and you leave with like, 50 contacts, but you’ve actually not had a sensible conversation with anybody. Remind yourself to stop and ask questions and listen, you know, instead of talking all the time, listen, be interested, take stuff home, ask. And that’s something I have to remind myself to do. Which reminds me when it’s not difficult when I’m one on one, with a group environment, especially now, I can be zapped, kept away by lots of different people. I’ve never, and then I end up not really engaging with, you know, with one or two people. So to remind myself to ask, find out more. It’s always incredible when you do stop and engage.

Adam Stott:

Your self awareness. Sounds to be a lot of the success has come from really good self awareness. And, you know, building on your skills, you know, it seems to me from what you’re saying.

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, and I think that self awareness can be really brutal, right? Because obviously you’ve learned, you know, the stuff you’re really not good at as well. But I mean, I sat in a board meeting yesterday with one of my businesses, and I had to stop him and say, What, what’s with the 20 lashes, do not have any sight that stops. You’re brilliant. Like, look at what you have achieved. All these areas for development that you’re giving yourself. Okay, great, yeah, of course, we always want to improve, but can we just have a little bit more of why we’re all brilliant. And I made everybody in the room, I’d rather all billion, because I was like, hang on, you know, you wouldn’t be sat here.

Adam Stott:

He got an endless amount of positivity. Sarah, I actually put on LinkedIn. There was a little poll. I didn’t actually put my mark in so important LinkedIn. And I had a couple of people right. Sarah was my ex boss. She’s amazing. Really? Yeah, I don’t know what I’ll have to find them but..

Sarah Willingham:

LinkedIn actually when I went on Dragon’s Den, I came off LinkedIn. I was literally like bombarding us and I called Anglet. I stopped doing LinkedIn to tell me that is.

Adam Stott:

I’ll look it up. I’ll send the chat over. Do you do a good job of motivating them and pumping them out?

Sarah Willingham:

I mean, God, I’m sure there’d be plenty of people also in my 20s to be like, oh my gosh, all those through. But you know, as you get older you do learn to reflect, and I think you’d become a much better and miles better boss today than I was 20 years ago.

Adam Stott:

Yeah, she’s cool. Well, look, I think that you know, some great, great stuff there. If you’ve been listening today, and need to get yourself over to our next event, Business Growth secrets, if you go and the best place to go will be to my Instagram, Adam, stop coach, there’s a link in the bio where you can go and reserve your ticket. Also, follow Sarah. So we’re supposed to be able to come follow you on?

Sarah Willingham:

Instagram, probably. I mean, I do use Twitter a little bit. I’ve got loads more followers on Twitter, actually. But it’s just because I’ve had it much longer than I’ve had Instagram. But Instagram is definitely the best place to handle it. Is it?

Adam Stott:

After winning? Yeah, go and follow Sarah as well.[00:40:53-00:40:55], we come to the bend, come and see myself come and learn from Sarah. I mean, the stuff that you were, you’re getting out and helping people with and inspiring them and motivating. They’re not only going to get three days of amazing content, but to be able to get somebody like yourself to go and advise them and show them the methods you were showing every day. It’s going to be incredible. So I want to thank you so much for coming on today. You’ve been absolutely brilliant, as usual. And I’m really looking forward to welcoming in January, it’s gonna be absolutely, it’s the right way.

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, exactly. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you so much. And I just, I mean, the people that come to your events are amazing. I mean, what a full of the most inspiring, passionate people just so eager to learn, and just wanting to do it, right. I mean, honestly love them. And I was buzzing all day and the amount of messages I’ve had, I found a way on Instagram now. And it’s just so great.

Adam Stott:

Really, nice for them as well. You’ve so personable, and so engaging with them that I think that’s awesome. Yeah, people are going to be lucky to come and meet your next one. So, it’s gonna be awesome. So, thank you so much for today, Sarah. Thanks, guys. Hey, everybody, Adam here. And I hope you love today’s episode. I hope you thought it was fabulous. And if you did, I’d like to ask you a small favor.

Could you jump over and go and give the podcast a review. Of course, I’ll be super grateful if that is a five star review with putting our all into this podcast for you, delivering you the content, giving you the secrets. And if you’ve enjoyed it, please go and give us a review and talk about what your favorite episode is, perhaps every single month. I selected someone from that review list to come to one of my exclusive Academy days and have lunch with me on the day with hundreds of my clients. So, you want that to be yo then you’re going to be in with a shout if you go and give us a review on iTunes. Please of course do remember to subscribe so you can get all the up to date episodes, case and love and I’ll see you very very soon. Thank you.

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