Episode 274: Creating a Simple Replicable Business Model with Sarah Willingham


What does success look like for you? Others see success as having wealth and power. But for Sarah Willingham, success is freedom. Having the ability to travel, spend time with her children, and do the things she loves. That is why she makes simple, replicable business models to create her own path to success.

Sarah Willingham is a prominent European female entrepreneur, investor, and media personality. She built one of the UK’s largest chains of Indian restaurants, Bombay Bicycle Club, which turned her into a leading figure in the restaurant industry. Sarah is also one of the investors on the BBC show Dragon’s Den.

In this episode, Adam Stott and Sarah Willingham talk about how to leverage the business the right way. Sarah discussed how she designed her life path and changed her career path to fall into place, the importance of making decisions, and how to create a simple business process to set yourself up for success.

Show Highlights:

  • Prioritize living the life, and the career will come along
  • Two reasons why money is important
  • Creating clarity in chaos
  • The importance of numbers in your business
  • Attach lead generation to sales
  • How to leverage all parts of your business
  • The pie chart of life and business boundaries; and
  • Sarah’s way of relaxing her brain

Follow Sarah Willingham on Instagram @sarahwillingham

Join the Ultimate Three Day Business Event and learn more Business Growth Secrets
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:

Really, really pleased to have you here, Sarah. Obviously, we’ve talked a lot about what we do, the people we serve, and we’ve been working on that a lot. And I want them to get to know you a little bit better. So maybe we’ll start a little bit with your background and talk a little bit about, you know, where you come from, the process you come from. I dunno if you heard outside, but what I was talking about when I first met you, your philosophies around balance, your philosophies around, you know, looking after your time. I think you’re going on holiday for a month, aren’t you as well? You know, being able to do these things, obviously, I haven’t cracked it cause I don’t feel I can go away for a month, right? 

Sarah Willingham:

We’re getting there, though.

Adam Stott:

So, that’s kind of why I really wanted to bring you. So do you wanna tell everyone, you know, the background of your career? Perhaps we’ll start with your career and we’ll talk a bit about business, sound good? 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. I’m a kind of a… hello everyone, by the way. Thank you so much for having me. I always love coming into rooms full of people like you actually. So enthusiastic starting off a new journey. Really exciting. So I hope it’s gonna be some great questions afterwards. Yeah, I kind of fell into being an entrepreneur actually. I was not one of those people that when I was really young, kind of grew up going, oh, I must be an entrepreneur. I was always fascinated in business, loved business.

Even when I was young, I couldn’t really understand how we were all sort of wearing the same brands and eating the same cheese and singing the same adverts, showing my age now, but Finger of [02:21:63] is just in here. All that stuff of Italian. And I was like, how is this all of this? How has it all got into our head? And I was fascinated by that and wanted to go off and study business at university. Also wanted to travel cause my dad wouldn’t let me take a gap year so I managed to combine the two. And actually that little bit about my dad not letting me do a gap year and the fact that I then chose a degree where I was gonna be spending a couple of years abroad is actually really important.

It comes back to what Adam was just saying about how I very much view every decision I make within that has an impact on my life. I really don’t believe in a career path at all. And so when somebody talks to me about what’s your career path been? I kind of glaze over and think, what are you talking about? Because to me, it’s about having a life path. And actually your career and your work, it’s gotta fall into place, otherwise, you don’t have the life that you want.

And that started very, very young. Actually, with that decision to go to university, there’s lots of clever things I could have gone off and studied. Well, actually I didn’t do that well in many levels, so that’s not quite true. But, you know, I wanted to do business, but more importantly, I wanted to do business abroad. That really mattered to me that the need to travel. Then having left there, again, I ended up working during that time in hospitality and loved it. Thought, God, this is brilliant! This is my path. Combining food that I love with business that I love and a very social environment, it suited me perfectly. But again, I still needed to travel. So trying to combine all of those things.

Then managed to get a job with, I was at Planet Hollywood and then I was at Pizza Express. Again, doing all of these things, running their international department, traveling. Absolutely loved it. At this point, I’m like, I don’t need another job, you know. I’m really happy. I’m learning, I’m traveling, had a great life. I was earning enough money to live the life that I needed to live. I didn’t think, oh, I’ve got to go off and become an entrepreneur. So I’m kind of fast-forwarding a little bit now, but sort of as I got towards my late twenties, I thought, while I gone, this isn’t gonna work if I want to have a family. And at this point, I hadn’t met Mike or my husband but I knew that, you know, my dream in my life was to have loads of kids.

And I thought, well, I’ve been to three countries this week, which is great as a 27-year-old, but not great as I want to start having a family. So it was at that point that I started to think, well, whilst I love this path that I’m on, it’s actually not gonna be my path in the future. It can’t be because otehrwiseI’m not gonna have the life that I want. And that’s then when I thought, right, you know, I’m gonna go alone and do what Pizza Express has done. But look, and what I’d learned. And actually a very pivotal and important part of that journey was I had made this decision that I wanted to sort of change paths to suit my life.

And I’d gone to the Board of Pizza Express about it and I’d said, you know, you’re not really into international development anymore. Neither am I, actually. I’ll leave and they’d said, well, no, don’t go. Why don’t you stay with us and do another year or two doing special projects? My dad always says that’s the first job to get made redundant. I think it probably is actually, special projects. But what happened that year was really, really important. And I think it’s because at that moment I was open to a different level of learning because I’d made this important decision about wanting to change my life path. You know, I was going into my thirties thinking, probably want, you know, hopefully, I’ll meet somebody, hopefully, I’ll have children if it all works out.

And I shared an office at this point with two really clever people, the CEO and the managing director of Pizza Express. And during that year, must have driven them mad. But I soaked up every single thing that I thought I was ever going to need if I was going to be successful on my own. And I think that’s an important part of the journey because I was open to it and I gave time to it. So as well as doing my job, I thought, well, I want to change my life actually. I want to go down a different path and I can’t do it without more knowledge and without more understanding and more importantly, without more confidence. I think that was really key to me.

And I’d really held these guys up on this pedestal. They got a floated business, very, very successful business model. Beautifully,  simplistically, replicable as they kept opening more and more and more around the country. And I was like, oh, they’re so clever. And then after at the end of the year, I thought, oh, they’re not that clever actually. I totally get what they do. Really understood it. And I’d asked so many questions at the end I’d got, and that’s not to make them smaller, but it was actually just this realization that, you know what, it’s not that complicated. It really isn’t. But you just, it’s just asking the questions and understanding it and then going I can do that. I totally get it.

And that’s when I felt ready to go off and do it on my own. I actually asked them to back me, but they weren’t interested. They said, no, Sarah, we do pizzas, not Indian food. And then I went off and had the largest chain of Indian restaurants in the UK, which was my goal. That’s what I really wanted to do. And it was that moment where I ran my diary, you know, like I was in charge at that point, and I thought, right, if I can do this, then I’m starting on a different life path where, you know, if I have children and one of ’em sick, I can actually move things around because I’m in charge to take that day and be with them.

Adam Stott: So it’s a different purpose, isn’t it? So a lot of people, while they start their business, they don’t do it for the freedom. 

Sarah Willingham:

No. 

Adam Stott:

They do it for the money. And it sounds like you did it for the money, but you did it because you wanted to go in a different direction of your life.

Sarah Willingham: 

Well, the money was important actually for two reasons. One was that I was entirely driven by freedom and I still am actually entirely driven by freedom. And the second thing was that, so the money gave me the freedom, it gave me the freedom to be able to do it. And also I really wanted to be successful in the thing that I’d set out to do in it. Actually, in business, quite often, where unless it’s a social enterprise, quite often the definition of the success, right, is the fact that you managed to exit successfully or you managed to create enough wealth that you have the life that you want. So it’s also how success is defined in business. So it’s two reasons why the money was important but it’s not the drive.

Adam Stott: 

Absolutely. And when you went off and started an Indian chain of restaurants, you could have had a number of reasons as you could have told yourself a story as to why you couldn’t do that, right? 

Sarah Willingham: 

Oh my god! Like…

Adam Stott: 

And I’m sure everybody else.

Sarah Willingham:

 Yeah, exactly.

Adam Stott: 

So most other people said, what are you doing?

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. Oh, totally. But…

Adam Stott: 

Why did you not tell yourself a story? Said, well, I’m not Indian so I can’t do this. I don’t know how to cook Indian food, so I can’t do this. Why did none of that matter to you? Because that matters to a lot of startups. They tell themselves a story of why they can’t do something where you just said, no, I can take this simple model. I can attach a different type of… I can use this, but this is the vehicle, the Indian food.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes. You know, I think one of the things that as you, as I guess as you go on your journey is identifying what your superpowers are and I think that’s really important to know what they are, what are the things I’m really, really good at? And you know, there’s lots of things. Also identifying the things that you are not good at, that’s equally as important. And one of my superpowers is being able to see clarity and chaos. So you can give me lots and lots and lots and lots of, lots of information and my brain goes through it all and kind of just goes and then cuts through it. And that’s how I see business.

And at that point, like all that stuff that you’ve just talked about, all of those reasons, that’s the chaos. That’s the Indian food. I’m not Indian. I don’t how to cook it. Oh god. Loads of stuff. Nightmare. Like a thousand nightmare, nightmare, nightmare. But when I cut through it, what I saw was this really beautiful clean business model underneath it. It was a really simple business model, which was very replicable and easy to sort of slot into what I’d learned all of the big chains did. I mean, one of the things that I did when I was at Pizza Express was look at other businesses to acquire.

So I would analyze their profit and loss accounts and think, my God, everybody has the same model. And even today, the business I’ve floated last year has exactly the same model, pretty much as Pizza Expressed. It’s the same business model, so the same return on investment, the same level of EBITDAR at the bottom. It’s the same payback period. But it doesn’t really matter if the period, if the payback period is the same. It doesn’t matter if the EBITDAR’s exactly the same. But actually,  if it fits into a clean, simple business model that I can explain to you in like 20, 30 seconds, doesn’t matter about all the chaos.

Adam Stott:

Just exactly what you did with me is funnily enough, the last time we sat down is one of the things you encourage me to do is have the model on paper in a 22nd explanation of exactly everything that you do within your business from start to finish within 20 seconds and the process. And I drew that out. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

And I got it designed, I’ve used that. And since I’ve used that, actually we, you know, record month after record month. Did you wanna tell them what that means? Simple replicable business model. Cause I think it’s a really good…

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah, I need to think of a tangible example. Let’s start with coming at the angle from an investment, right? I’ve got a pound. I’ve got to decide where I’m gonna put this pound. And I can put the pound in the bank. I might get 2%. That’s one. 

Adam Stott:

If that.

Sarah Willingham: 

If that, exactly. Pound, as my pound. I can put this pound in one of your 50-odd businesses. That’s my choice.

Adam Stott: 

It’s got more than 50 [13:38:04].

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. No, it does actually. I was like 70-odd whatever. That’s actually how you do. However many you are, I can put this pound in any one of your businesses. 

Adam Stott: 

Who wants a pound? 

Sarah Willingham:

So what’s gonna make me choose your business? And it’s about when you spend that pound in your business, what do I get back from it? So not talk about me personally, but like you, every pound you spend, what are you getting back? So I’ll give you the example of Pizza Express, right? I’ll make it simple by talking about a pound, but basically, they open a site, and let’s say that site costs a pound to open a site, doesn’t it cost like half a million quid? But you open a site and you know, within the first year of opening that site, you are likely to make 200,000 pounds, 150,000 pounds EBITDAR. So EBITDA is, does every know what are we? 

Adam Stott:

Probably not. 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. So EBITDAR is like… 

Adam Stott:

Bottom-line profit. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, profit, basically. 

Adam Stott:

Depreciation… 

Sarah Willingham:

Cash, profit. So it’s not your depreciation, it’s not your interest payments, it’s not your amortization. It’s how we sort of measure the true return on investment of a business. So you do it before all of that stuff. That stuff comes off when you are talking about cash flow, which is obviously extremely important in all businesses. So how much of that am I gonna get back? So let’s say the first year I’m gonna get 150 grand or 200 grand. And then it usually takes a restaurant about two years really to operate at a decent level of maturity we’ll say.

So by that point, if you spent half a million quid, you are likely to be making 250 grand back. That’s your profit that you’re gonna get by the end of the second year. And that’s when we would calculate our return on investments. Our return on investment, we spent 500 grand, we’re getting 250 grand back in the second year. So my return on investment is 50% at that point. Well, so that means that for every pound I’m giving you, I’m getting 50 p back basically. That’s pretty good, right? We like that. It’s better than the bank option that we just had. So how do I get the 250 grand? How am I getting off that? So that’s the investment model. She’s really simple.

Then how am I getting that out of that restaurant? Well, in order to make 250 grand, I need to turn over… I need sales to be a million quid out of that restaurant. That’s 20,000 pounds a week. That’s a standard, like a decent non-do’s or you know, a lot of others will do a lot more than that. But let’s just look at a simple model for a restaurant, 20,000 pounds a week. And the business model itself is if they’re my sales and in order to get my 50% return on investment, I need to make 25% profit in that business. How am I gonna make 25% profit? Well, my rents and my rates are gonna be 10%. My labor’s gonna be about 25%. My food costs, my drinks cost are gonna be about 25%.

That leaves me another 15% for stuff, chemicals, cleaning bills, maybe even security, replacing some new straws, whatever. But I’ve got a 15% to play with there. That leaves me a 25% profit. That’s a really simple business model. I could draw that out on a board and split it. Sales, cost of sales, labor, establishment costs like rent and stuff, and then everything else in a little bucket. And I’ve got 25% left. Really, really, really simple. And that gives me, for every pound I spend, I get 50 p back. I dunno if I explained that as simply enough. 

Adam Stott:

So the reason that they scale… 

Sarah Willingham:

Make that word for their own business now, and I don’t know if, yeah.

Adam Stott: 

So the reason that they scale is then you are able to, which is the point is simple replicable. If you could only do it once, you’re not gonna be as interested. So the point is, if you do it again and again, and again, and again, and again and again, now you have a massive scalable business because you set it upright in the beginning. Right, because you actually knew the numbers from the beginning. So why don’t we say the numbers, Sarah? So I taught them budgeting two months ago. Yeah. And many of them did their budget, some of them didn’t. Who didn’t? Oh no, no, let’s go. Who did? Who done their budget? Raise your hands. So give yourselves round applause. We’re done. Okay. So taught them budgeting to get them to look into the future. 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Adam Stott: 

How important are the numbers from the beginning?

Sarah Willingham: 

I mean, you know, you’ve all watched Dragon’s Den, right? And everybody goes, oh, they don’t know their numbers. It’s so important. I can’t tell you how important it is. Now, also understand, cause I’ve also started lots of businesses, that you don’t sit there with a crystal ball and a magic wand, right? So actually you sat there going, well, I don’t know. I haven’t got a clue. What does good look like? But don’t start a business if you don’t know what good looks like.

Find out what good looks like. Find out from other people that do what you do. What that business model that I’ve just talked about there in restaurants, anybody that starts a restaurant, that’s your benchmark. That’s what great looks like in restaurants. That’s what w’re aiming for. So every time you get up in the morning, every week when you look at your numbers, every month when you look at your numbers, you’re like, well, I’m not making that 25% that Sarah talked about. Why not? Well, she said 25, 25, 15, 10, and then I’ve got 25% left. Why am I not doing that? Oh, well, hang on. I’ve looked at my labor that was 49% last month. Sarah said 25. Why is my labor 49%?

So I’ve just told you what great looks like in restaurants, but don’t start your business unless you know what great looks like in what you do. It’s really, really important because then we dunno what we’re aiming at. And you might do that model and find out that great in your business, in your area is only 5%. And then you’re like, well, is that really a simple replicable business model? So that’s why the numbers are so important. You’ve got to sense check. I’ve got a pound, where am I gonna put it? In a world where your business hits the great, this is about setting yourself up to succeed in the first place. So don’t start, don’t go down a pathway you’re starting a business where success, brilliance actually doesn’t look that good. Do you know what I mean?

Adam Stott: 

I did that. The first business I did was a car business. Great is 3% net profit. That is great or that is the industry level. If you do 3% net, you’re doing really well. If you do 5%, you’re absolutely obliterate in the marketplace.

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott: 

So you don’t wanna work for 5% net, do you? 

Sarah Willingham:

It’s hard work.

Adam Stott: 

You wanna work for a higher margin, so why service-based businesses make much higher margins. So you’d be better off to be in a business where you can make 40% net. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott: 

You know For sure. So you gotta understand the business model and then you go about simplifying it, don’t you? So we go back to, we did Bombay Bicycle Club. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott: 

And you got that grown. And I actually read about the Real Greek as well, isn’t it?

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. That was part of…

Adam Stott: 

I’ve never asked you about it. 

Sarah Willingham:

No, that was partly mine. Whereas the Bombay Bicycle Club, like that was my baby. That was the one that I made the cash from, if you know what I mean. Like when I sold it, I did really well out of that. That was great. The Real Greek was part of the people. As part of my exit from the investors, I agreed to run two other large chains for them to sort of turn them around, sort them out, which I did. How many you eaten in

Adam Stott: 

How many of you have eaten in there? They’re all great. [21:45:71] you in there? I love it in there. It’s nice.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes, it’s really, really good. I can’t claim it’s brilliance though. That’s somebody else’s brilliance that did that. 

Adam Stott:

Fabulous. 

Sarah Willingham: 

But yeah, the reason I sold the Bombay Bicycle Club was almost the exact reason why I went into it in the first place actually, was because I was like, this is great. I’ve got children. I wanted to have children. In fact, I started to have children during the time whilst I had Bombay Bicycle Club. And then I got to the point where I was like, oh my God, I’ve got 1500 staff and I’ve just had my second baby and I’m pregnant with my third. This isn’t gonna work. So I ended up selling the Bombay Bicycle Club and that’s when I started doing other things and, and investing and

Just being…

Adam Stott: 

How do you manage having 1500 staff?

Sarah Willingham: 

I mean I’m at 750 now again. I can’t believe I’ve kind of gone full circle, but you have to have absolutely brilliant people underneath you. That’s the key when you get to that size, the key is surround yourself with brilliant people. It’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given in my life, and it sounds like the most obvious thing.

But even in that conversation we’ve just had where I’ve said, what does great look like in your industry, in your field, that’s part of the surround yourself with brilliant people. Like, find people that are great at what you are trying to do and that can really help on that journey or at least tell you what great looks like.

And that’s the same now in a slightly bigger business. You know, I define success when I’ve made myself redundant from something. Like, that’s when a business is really working, when it doesn’t need me anymore cause I’ve managed to create this team of brilliant people around me that are actually just getting on with it. 

Adam Stott: 

And still making the margin. 

Sarah Willingham:

Still making the margins, still doing really, really well. And actually what they need is just every so often a long walk with me and to be told they’re great.

Adam Stott:

That’s what you do.

Sarah Willingham:

That’s the magic code, right? 

Adam Stott: 

This is where basically Sarah’s role now for 750 staff is to go for walks with them. That’s what you do, isn’t it? 

Sarah Willingham:

I do most of the time. Yeah. I mean, actually, it’s been quite tough recently with the…

Adam Stott:

Rain? 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah, with the rain and the wind. No, it’s been quite tough recently with the economic climate in hospitality, so I am a bit more in the business now than I have been for a while. But it’s all to come in sort and every day, I think every single day, I think  who can do this next week? Every day. It’s all about trying to make myself redundant from the role.

Adam Stott: 

It’s always looking to see who can do the thing that I’m always doing. 

Sarah Willingham:

Always, always trying to get free up my time. It’s actually, I’m always trying to free up my time. Even though I keep filling it as well, weirdly, but I keep filling it with other stuff, like interesting different things and interesting thing. But you know, whenever I’m in a business, that’s always it. But you know, you guys are slightly earlier stage and you know, that’s often all hands on deck at that point, but you still gotta have it like that little monkey on your shoulder telling you, can I ever see myself being free from this? You know, that’s when you’ve got a simple replicable business model.

Adam Stott: 

And when I started working with you, and we spoke quite a lot about, you said about Craft Gin Club that you did within the Dragons. What I was really amazed at is how quickly you were able to analyze the lead generation process and get me to increase, you know, since working with Sarah, I’ve 10 times, my marketing spent. 10 times to the point where I’m spending hundreds of thousands per month now on marketing. Because I’ve been able to do that on a signs basis cause Sarah gave me the signs. And I’ve been doing this for years and years and years before in my other businesses. But it’s only when I met Sarah that I realized, Jesus, it’s like a wild professor’s formula, right? Like, I can’t believe, you know, he was very…

Sarah Willingham: 

He’d already nailed it, right? He just needed somebody to go, but look, you know, it was the thing, it was the clarity and the chaos, right? Yeah. It was like there was so much going on. And actually, I was like, you’ve got such a great business here. Like such a great business. And it was going straight through to that’s your business model. This bit here, this is the bit where you put your pound.

Adam Stott: 

And what that was is I broke my business model down into six things, and then I only ever look at the six things. So never ever focus on anything else, just those six things. And by being able to just look at six things, you’re never overwhelmed. And that was the help you, it made a big difference to me. So I was talking about lead generation with everyone this morning. And this is where their next point of growth is, I think. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

Which is why, this is what I was doing this morning. Last month, we were teaching sales, right? On a deep level.

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

How to increase sales, how to increase revenue. And then what I wanted to do today was attach the lead generation to the sales. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

Did you wanna mention a little bit about lead generation and maybe reinforce your perspective on why they need to increase the top of funnel, right? 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. So again, this is like breaking this down so the clarity in that chaos is I’ve got a pound. And you know, couple of days ago, there’s a girl who does amazing sports massages in Brighton and I’ve really hurt my knee. And she’d contacted me to say, I’m really struggling. I want to expand my business. Would you mind spending some time with me? I was like, the best way you can possibly get my attention is one-hour sports massage. I will talk business the whole time. Let’s go. So that’s what we did. I thought… 

Adam Stott

Where’s Angela? Is she here? Cause she does that as…

Sarah Willingham: 

It’s our life. Should be really, isn’t it? We should be swapping expertise. But anyway, so that’s what we did. And she’s really small early stage in her business. And so I was trying to understand lik, trying to get to the bottom of, okay, how are you currently getting your sales in? Like, where is it coming from? And she said, oh, I do a bit on TikTok. I do this, that, and the other. So we went through every single one and I was like, well, hang on just back to that. So what happens when you post something on there? Oh, blah, blah, blah.

So it was about looking at the different basic things that she tried to do. And if she hadn’t done them, there was a couple of other things she needed to try as well. And I’m like, I’m talking about like putting a hundred quid behind something. I’m not talking about putting a hundred thousand, talking about little bits. Just little bits and seeing which one works.

So let’s assume she does like, so we looked at sort of four or five different channels, which she could put a hundred pounds on basically. And it might be that it’s 200 pounds, but you know, i it really small amounts within the context of the business. And then it was like, right, well which one works? So it looked like pretty much, so I’m saying to, okay, TikTok and I went through all of the things like with Craft Gin Club and all of the things that currently working in direct to consumer businesses, cause the world has changed quite a bit actually throughout Covid.

TikTok is really big, influencer marketing’s really, really big. Weirdly, we are getting much bigger conversion from marketing, like through the post partnerships with other people, sort of trusted partnerships. And even phone calls are converting better than they’ve converted in years, so it’s almost gone a little bit old school, like back in the day when I had Bombay Bicycle just put a really big pink leaflet through every store and people ordered, it’s easier then.

So we went through all of these different things and that’s like an influencers, right? She’s promoting a post, it’s like a sort of post-cesarean, very niche massage package that you would buy online. Great. So really niche. You can really target that, right? And so the thing with lead generation is firstly understand, you know, who is your customer? How can you speak to them? How can you communicate with them? Where are they? And it’s like when people come into the Den and go, oh, you know, my target market’s like 7 billion people.

You are like, what? And you’re going to talk to them how exactly with your 5,000-pound marketing budget. So it’s beautiful when you’ve got a business model. It’s quite niche, really beautiful, cause you can talk to these people, right? You can get to them, you know who they are. So try and communicate with them. To start with, through different channels and see what works. Something that doesn’t work, is it the ad? Is it the message or is it actually that your customers are not there? So give it another, go with a different ad. But when you see something works double. If that works still the same and you’re still getting the same return on your pound, go again, double again. Are you still getting the same return of your pound? Double again. So you keep backing the winning horse basically. 

Adam Stott:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Until at some point there will be a tipping point and people will be like, nah, it’s costing me too much money now to get these people in. 

Adam Stott: 

But… 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott: 

That was the thing that, you know, essentially for me was you’re backing the horse, backing the horse, backing the horse, backing the horse, then the costs are scaling up. But actually, it’s a good thing if the costs are increasing a lot of the time provided the backend revenues increasing, right? 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. So the important thing here is the calculation of this return on your pound. So if she was, oh, I’ll keep using her as an example, cause actually a really perfect example. Her product is a hundred quid. So she hadn’t spent any money trying to get a customer in and I said, well, in all honesty, it’s a virtual product, there’s no variable costs associated with this product at all. You’re not costing you anything. So really, you could spend a lot of money getting a customer in, couldn’t you?

Like if I said to you, I’m gonna pay 80 quid to get a customer in, you only make 20 quid, what would you say? Well, I love it. It’s 20 quid. Well, exactly. 20 quid’s still a profit, right? Back to my restaurants, I only make 25 quid in every a hundred pounds that I spend. Well, every a hundred pounds of revenue only make 25 quid. So why is it different in your model? Why she got it stuck in her head that this product was a hundred quid, so that’s not a lot of money.

So therefore she can’t spend a hundred pounds on marketing. But you’re not spending a hundred, you’re spending a hundred pounds on marketing to get how many people through the door. And all it takes is for one person to transact actually out of that a hundred pounds off one of your channels and you’ve actually made your money back. And you’ve learned something. So go again, and again, and again. And ultimately in a really niche market, she’s not gonna be spending that much money to get a hundred. I mean it’s post-cesarean massages, so how much can you spend to get? But don’t be scared. If you spend a hundred pounds, you only get two customers. That’s it. It’s okay. 50% profit, happy days. 

Adam Stott: 

And I’ll get this customers to buy something else.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes, exactly. Then you can sell them more. More content comes more content. But also you can keep going and get another two of those customers and then next time you’ll get better at it cause you’ll go, that advert worked better than that advert. So you can get three customers in. It sounds so small, but you’ve gotta start there cause next time you’ll get six. The time after it, get 12. And you’ll get better at spending your hundred pounds and then you’ll spend 200 pounds and then 500 pounds in the same area. But you will have only spent 10 pounds per customer and you’ve got a business.

Adam Stott: 

And that is business, right? 

Sarah Willingham:

That’s it. 

Adam Stott: 

Because what a lot of people think is business is I gotta go word of mouth, reputation, but you can’t grow that type of business because you’re too time constrained, right? You have no time leverage.

Sarah Willingham: 

Totally. 

Adam Stott: 

So, but it’s only when you start spending and you start leveraging capital that you can actually grow. And then the sky’s the limit, isn’t it?

Sarah Willingham: 

Totally. And it’s back to this simple replicable business model. And I know I keep saying it, but it’s not complicated. That’s it. What does great look like in your field? That simple replicable business model. And your marketing model is no different than your return on investment model that we just talked about. It’s exactly the same principle. I’ve got one pound. Where am I putting it?

Adam Stott: 

And it was really good for me to hear that from someone at your level because I think a lot of the time, you know, a lot of people don’t realize that’s the game.So the whole game that you’re trying to figure out and that people are trying to figure out, that is the game. That is not actually the figure [35:14:15], is it?

Sarah Willingham:

Not at all. 

Adam Stott:

It’s how do you spend and create more than you spend and how do you keep doing that, and how do you leverage the media to do that, that’s the marketing parts, the media leverage. The labor leverage is how do you get other people doing this stuff so you don’t have to do it. So you get your time leverage back, which means you’re then free. That’s the whole game.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah.I now always talk about return on time invested. It’s what we talk about, isn’t it? When we get together, I’m like, yeah, but that sounds great. But how much time went into that? 

Adam Stott:

Yeah.

Sarah Willingham: 

How much time… you know…

Adam Stott:

Like, we did a quarter of a million today, but were you there the whole day?

Sarah Willingham:

Yes, I’m like… 

Adam Stott:

Why is that?

Sarah Willingham:

Well, great! But you’ve just produced another arm of your business that involves you there all your time. So your return on time invested, what number do you give that, right? It’s the only thing we’ve got, that’s the real commodity that we trade in is our time. So, you know, when you talk about doing virtual, then I get really excited. 

Adam Stott:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

He’s not there. So I’m like, that’s winning. Obviously it’s a blend, ocourse it is. But the best things you can do is where you’re return on time invested is really high. So you move the needle when you’re in it. When you are involved, you’re doing something that really moves the needle. You don’t wanna be involved in the stuff that’s just generating small amounts all of the time. Your time should be there to really do something of difference. 

Adam Stott: 

So you gotta work the model first, understand what your model is, and you’re probably gonna have to be in the dirt for that bit. 

Sarah Willingham:

Oh god, yeah. Absolutely!

Adam Stott:

So you’re gonna do that bit. But then eventually, once you’ve got the model, then the new challenge becomes how do you completely remove yourself from the model and then keep it grinding, keep it going up, isn’t it, you know?

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. To begin with, you’ll find one thing that works and you’ll put 200 quid on it, then 500 quid, then a thousand pounds, and you’ll back it and it’ll really work. And that’s great. And you’ll think, okay, brilliant! But over time you’ll realize it, it’s a blend. You know, you’ll ultimately go, okay, that’s really good, but at the moment, all my eggs are in TikTok. I wonder what happens if I go to Instagram? Or I wonder what happens if I partner up with these people over there?

So, I’ll sell them and they sell me. How does that work? How does that model work? Or you’ll try different ways of talking to your customer and getting them to convert, but you’ll get better at it because you’ll understand what works and what doesn’t work. And I think this, at that stage in a business, often people suffer from, I always call it like action paralysis. Like you sort of, you’re like, yeah, yeah, I know all of that, but no, you don’t do it. Like, that’s the thing with business is we think, oh, we’ve gotta do all this really complicated stuff.

No, you haven’t. You’ve actually just got to sell your product and just sell a bit of it. Just sell a bit of it to begin with, to prove that it’s a business. To prove to yourself that this works. To prove that people want it. Then go again, and again, and again, and just get over that hurdle. And if you set yourself these like small goals, I’d like, I’m gonna spend a hundred quid and I’d like one customer. 

Adam Stott:

Yeah.

Sarah Willingham:

Great. I mean, that’s not insurmountable, is it? Like that sounds, you can do that. Whereas if you go, “Oh, I’m gonna build a business that’s worth 10 million. I’m gonna retire and have a private yacht.” And here you are today looking at, you know, should you put a hundred quid on TikTok? You’re like, what? You know, then you’ve got… that gives you paralysis that you don’t wanna, you know… but if you break it down and just these small goals, it becomes so much easier to actually take action and do it.

It’s just about, again, like just seeing that clarity in the chaos of just that one step at a time. And then business really isn’t that complicated. But when you start like that bit at a time, bit at a time, bit at a time, it’s easy to grow and to become that success. Then, come back and then we’ll have another conversation. When you’ve got past that, like, you know, you get to that first stage where you’re like, right, I’ve got a simple replicable business model. I’ve done it, I’ve proved, I’ve done it. Now, I dunno what to do next. That’s a different conversation. 

Adam Stott:

Yes.

Sarah Willingham:

And I don’t know what… you know, there’d be different people in the room that were different stages of course, so you know.

Adam Stott:

I think most people at this, you know, we’ve got some people that were early. We’ve got some people doing a hundred  thousand, some people doing half a million, some doing a million, you know, some doing 2 million, some doing five, but the bottom line is no matter what they’re doing is most wouldn’t be able to explain their entire business model in 20, 30 seconds. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

How many things you could explain your entire business model in 20 to 30 seconds, give pure clarity to people and they would understand it after you’d finished the 30 seconds? Raise your hand. Couple of you. Okay. But it’s just a couple of people. So that’s kind of the next phase. And then you build on that. Now to move backwards a little bit. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah.

Adam Stott:

Let’s talk about the balance, cause I know there’s a lot of… how many ladies wanna get more time back in your life and gents as well, right? Absolutely! And I wanna actually talk about boundaries. Because you are obviously super successful, but you’re nice, right? No, no, it’s serious though. It’s serious thing, right? Cause there is this kind of mentality that you need to be an asshole, right? 

Sarah Willingham:

Definitely. 

Adam Stott:

But you don’t do you, right? That’s the bottom line. But how do you create boundaries without being a dick?

Sarah Willingham: 

How do I… okay so…

Adam Stott: 

She’s still teaching me this. 

Sarah Willingham: 

I’ve never been asked these question. I mean, I actually think the first bit is like, don’t believe your own bullshit. Do you know what I mean? As in that’s what I think you find a lot of people do. And I sometimes sit in the room with people and they start talking and I’m like, what on earth are you talking about? Like, just, and I’ll get at the end and often I’ll sit there and go , I don’t understand. She don’t know what… I don’t know what you mean. What? Can you please explain to me simpler and I think, you know, I dunno if it’s like, I’m not smart enough or you are talking a lot of shit and I can’t follow it, basically.

So I think that’s a really important thing is like staying grounded within business as well. It’s not just grounded in your own life, but it’s just grounded, right? I’ve just explained to you that the simplicity of busines in, you know, the context of some stories, but I could have it two minutes, you know, this different angles, right? It’s like your simple replicable business model, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And I’m an investor and I’ve got a pound on, where am I gonna put it? What’s your return on investment? That’s literally the basics.

Of course, you know, we could do a whole session on branding, on PR, you know, there’s a whole on what do your numbers need to look like, you know, there’s loads and loads and loads of business, of courses, there’s lots more around it. But put really simply, that’s what we’re talking about here, it’s not complicated. And I get really frustrated when I hear a lot of people in business really complicate it.

Because what it does is it puts up a barrier to people like me who, you know, I’m working class Northerner, that wasn’t surrounded by entrepreneurs that easily could have been put off by lots of people talking in a complicated way about something that actually isn’t that complicated. And I don’t like people putting up boundaries to others because we’re all very capable of it at different levels and different scales. But we’re all very, very capable of it. Because if you can run a house, you can run a business. We’ve all got a balance sheet, we’ve all got a P and L in our house, we can do it. So, I think that’s important. Also, I have loads of kids that really helps cause can’t take anything too seriously.

Adam Stott:

As for the managing staff, isn’t it? I bet.

Sarah Willingham: 

Can’t take anything too seriously. Cause they will not allow me to. But yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s a really difficult question to… you almost like have to ask everybody else that rather than me. Cause I don’t really know how you…

Adam Stott: 

No, but you’re you are who you are and you’re happy with it. But you will say no and you will say yes and you just do it, don’t you? But I think a lot of people can’t say no. A lot of people can’t say yes. A lot of people dunno when to stop a lot of the time. A lot of people don’t want to tell someone how it is. You seem to have all of that locked on.

Sarah Willingham:

Yes. So, I think there’s a few things. So firstly, you know, actually let’s talk about risk because I think that’s really important in your general wellbeing. People look at entrepreneurs and they think we’re all risk takers. Actually, the really good entrepreneurs don’t take unnecessary risks. Everything is calculated. It’s a very calculated risk.

So whenever I do anything, I mean like seriously whether I’m like literally jumping out of a plane or starting a business, I’m like, what’s my absolute downside here? Don’t jump out of a plane, cause my downside is quite big? But what are the real statistics? How many people have died doing it? Or when I look at my business, I think, what am I really risking here? So, what could go wrong? You know, if I’m doing it because I have absolutely no other choice and I couldn’t get a job. And you know, you’ve got to look at what… can you handle your worst case scenario?

So I always, whenever I look at any life decision or business decision, it’s like, what does great look like? Really important, but what does absolute doomsday look like? Can I handle it? And sometimes, you know, I say to more people to not go ahead of their business than I do to go ahead of their business. One, because they’ve taken too big a risk. I’m like, don’t do that. And two, because actually I think to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be pretty self-propelled, you know, it can be very lonely.

These environments are great because you get together with a lot of like-minded people. But it can be very lonely. And if you’re not self-propelled, then I think, you know, often aren’t suited to it. So I think you’ve gotta be mindful of your personality type as well. I forgot what was I even like waffling. What was I even saying? 

Adam Stott:

No, no, no.

Sarah Willingham:

Its about boundaries. 

Adam Stott:

Yeah. No,it is just saying that… so in a life balance… 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes. 

Adam Stott:

You consider the life path over the career path?

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. Always. It’s got to fit. What I’m doing with work and my career has got to fit in. Obviously, I’m not completely blind to the fact we’ve also gotta pay the bills, right? I get that completely. And I think that’s really important but shall I talk about my pie chart thing? 

Adam Stott:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham

He really struggled to do that. He really struggled to do this. This is quite funny actually. I feel like I need to draw it. I’m gonna draw it. 

Adam Stott: 

Not my one. Your board is… there you go. 

Sarah Willingham:

Not yours personally.

Adam Stott: 

I’ll get you a better pen than that. Hang on.

Sarah Willingham:

Okay. So, this is actually how I kind of look at my boundaries. This is how I balance my time and now I do it more naturally butthis is how I started doing it so. That is my time. Right. That’s my pie chart of time. So you could do this whether you are looking at, you could split it up into your personal life, you could do your work life. In fact, to get Adam on the path, we had to do two. One was work to keep him happy, and one was then life in general. You know, if you’re a bit more advanced, you could just start with life. But it’s okay.

And we will also allow the work one. But, so I would do this. In January for example, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions or anything, I’ll look back on the year before and I go, how did I spend my time? Did it work? Was it good? Was I balanced? The answer’s, never. You never get it right. You know, it was always work in progress. It’s always areas for development, blah, blah. So I’d start off with, what do I want to do this year? And you’d look at that and you’d go. I will end up going over it in a different pen.

But let’s say I want to go, right, I want to spend more time as a mom here. I wanna have loads of fun with my mates. So you start like this basically, then you go really wanna exercise more this year, and then you go, I’d like to swan around. So here, I want to travel, I want to learn a new skill, let’s say, cook. I want to have more time to myself, I want to read a book, whatever, right? That’s your time. And you’re that’s my perfect year. That’s my magic wand year. And then you go, oh, I haven’t paid for it yet. So you cross it off and you go, okay, I appreciate… I’ve actually got to pay for it now. And I do enjoy work.

So realistically, I’m not that bothered about the book actually. I’m not really that bothered about cooking, but maybe I just do a small amount of time for cooking, exercise, non-negotiable. Maybe my mates just seem a little bit less so let’s freeze that. I’m not gonna compromise being a mom. That’s gonna stay there. I need time to myself because the more I think and the less I do, the better I am in my business. I know I’m better, I am in my life and my businesses. So I have to have this time here, non compromisable. I’ll compromise that, won’t compromise that, I will compromise that, I won’t compromise that, that can just go, cause that’s a luxury. It’s not gonna happen.

Suddenly I’ve now got, obviously, this isn’t correct cause you do another one, but now that is allowed to be work. That bit there, but in drawing that, this is it, right? This is my life, this is all I’ve got. Some people might do this at the beginning of every week. Some people might even do it in a day. I would do this at the beginning of a year just to remind myself all the time of balance. So then, what happens during the course of the year? This one, always comes over here. This is the one that you end up spending loads and loads of time on work. But remember where you started, it’s a circle.

Remember, if you go over on the work, of what you promised yourself you would do this year in your work, what’s gone? Cause I’ve said I won’t compromise on these things. These things are not allowed. These are non-negotiable. Me being a mom is non-negotiable, exercising is non-negotiable. Spending time on my own, so I’m a better thinker, not a doer, is non-negotiable. These things are really important, but I have just compromised them. So, you know, when we were started off doing this, we would review it quite regularly and go back and go, oh, this isn’t working. Push it back and force this stuff through cause this is life here, forcing that through.

And I find this, obviously, you are much, much, much more detailed of course cause life is much bigger than I’ve just explained it here, but you get the idea. I find this is, it really works for my head to be able to see my time as finite. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. So how am I going to spend it and how am I going to split it up? And what is absolutely non-negotiable to me to live my life, the stuff that matters to me? And I have things that are non-negotiable as it happens. It is exercise, it is being a mom, but it, there’s other things as well every year that might change.

One year I did this, true story, ridiculous actually, but one year I did this in January. And I’d done it and I realized that I’d got this proportion of time here, which was media. This is before I did Dragons Den, I used to have like a regular on Sky and my own radio show and stuff like that, and it was media. And I couldn’t make the pie chart work. So in the end, something had to go and I decided media was gonna go. Cause I couldn’t make the other things work, being realistic about this bit, work. So within six weeks of doing the pie chart, I had basically handed my notice in everywhere. I’d stopped all, not my columns, cause I got somebody else to write them but under my supervision, obviously. But my radio show, the thing that involved my time, right?

So all of those, I canceled every single one of them. Anyway, this is not relevant, but it’s a true story. So I canceled it all, which meant that I could do everything I wanted to do. So the night before I’d made my final, I’m not gonna do TV anymore. And it was, I used to have a regular with Amon Holmes and he was the one who’d really supported me and I wanted to phone him first before I’d spoken to the producer just to say, look, thank you so much for all of your support, but I’m not gonna do it anymore.

So I phoned him, told him that, then told the producer. Phone my husband said, I’ve done it. No more media in my life. I’ve totally freed up this entire section. We’re good to go. And so we went to the pod, blah blah, following morning, I am not joking, 11 o’clock in the morning into my inbox from the BBC, would you come and screen test the Dragons Den? And it was one of those moments where I was like, I can’t unsee it. I’ve read it now. Like I can’t unsee that. Anyway, I did end up doing it, so I found something else had to compromise and blah, blah, blah. But, you know, that’s life, right?

Adam Stott: 

And you’ve done a lot of media lately, haven’t you? I’ve been noticing you’re doing loads of media, right? 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah, but I’m doing it now. Then, I did a lot of media almost for media’s sake, which is why I was able to go, why am I doing this? This is ridiculous. It’s like ego, really nothing else. Whereas now I actually do a lot for business. So it’s much more about promoting the bars and like I do it, there’s a return on time invested. There you go. So anyway, some people find the pie chart really useful. Other people think it’s bonkers, but it depends how it works with your mind. 

Adam Stott:

 I think the key is…

Sarah Willingham:

But that gives me balance. That’s how I get my balances. I see it in this finite.

Adam Stott: 

You get in front of it. Because I think that what happens is, with a lot of people is life business carries them away. And because they’ve never actually got in front of it and said, actually how, what do I want it to look like? And if you actually get in front of it and say, this is what I want it to look like, then you can create it. But if you don’t actually get in front of it, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t do.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah, I think it is that we don’t get in front of it, but I also think that we don’t start off by defining success. So, it’s easy to sit there because you’re talking about a business. So success becomes all about the success of the business. But going back to that thing where like it’s a life plan, right? So, is success… and your answer might be yes in which case it’s absolutely fine, but just be conscious of it. Is success 365 degrees of that pie chart being just 60 degrees, sorry. I was thinking 365 days, 360 degrees, 365 days of the year being business?Is it? Because if the answer to that is yes, it’s absolutely fine. But… 

Adam Stott:

Yes.

Sarah Willingham: 

See what I’m working with? 

Adam Stott:

Nobody’s joking, right?

Sarah Willingham: 

Nobody got it. I think that’s it. So it’s one thing getting ahead of it, which I guess we’re saying the same thing, Slightly different angle is this success is, what does success look like to you? Define success. So, why are you doing this business? What for? And you know depending on different stages in life and where you are and your success actually might be. It doesn’t really matter about everything else. Cause I don’t have an enormous amount of everything else in my life. Yes, I’d like to get up and exercise a little bit in the mornings, I’d like to see my mates, but I’ve got a family yet. I just want to go all in.

My pie chart in my twenties looks very different than my pie chart did in my thirties. Looks very different my pie chart looks like now, you know? So I think that’s the important thing is defining what does success look like. And then, that’s the physical manifestation of it, for me. That’s how I draw out because I ruled by time is how I draw out what success looks like in terms of the time.

So I don’t want to start a business that might be the most successful business in the world, let’s say. Like success in that business might be incredible if it means 360 degrees. That’s failure to me because that’s my life. So then I pair it back, which of course then also means you probably pair back the ambitions for your business. So it’s all a compromise and that shows you that it’s a compromise because if you spend a bit more time being a mom, something else has gotta give. You spend a bit more time working, something else has gotta give. If you want to compete in a triathlon this year, that’s a bit more time exercising. Something else has got to give.

So it’s all a compromise, but within the context of that. So it’s like, what does success look like? And that moves all the time. So constantly readdressing it. What does success look like? So that I think is how I get in front of it.

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. Yeah. Perfect! No, I think it’s really…

Sarah Willingham:

[59:03:27]

Adam Stott:

No, no, not at all. No, I think it’s really important for people to understand that. And I think it’s important to say that if work is taking over, what would you do in the case where work is taking over rather than quit it? You would leverage it perhaps.

Sarah Willingham:

I’d find another way. Like there’s always another way. Always, always, always another way. And often if work’s taking over, it’s because you’re right into sort of the madness of it. You know, that bit that I have there where I need to think more and do less. And that sounds like such a lot to do.

Adam Stott:

So what do you do… talk about thinking? So talk about the thinking time?

Sarah Willingham:

So I walk but it’s different for everybody, right? You know, my husband’s not as introverted as I am and he talks, you know, he needs to offload it. I don’t, I walk and empty my brain and I try very, very hard to empty my brain. And as I walk in silence in nature, I don’t listen to podcasts.

I don’t listen cause my life is just one big mess of input, actually. I’ve constantly got input in my head. My moments are when I can just be silent. So I walk through forests or woods or whatever that helps to empty my brain and as my brain empties… 

Adam Stott:

How did you discover that? 

Sarah Willingham: 

I used to live abroad. Well, the way I’ve properly discovered it was I took one year of that pie chart was just travel. And I didn’t have the gap year that I told you about earlier, and really wanted to basically take a year. So I took my kids outta school. I went traveling around the world for a year. And it took me nearly two years to make myself redundant to be able to do that. And make myself redundant from my life as it were. Make us all redundant from our life actually. We took the kids traveling. And as an adrenaline junkie, which I’m sure a lot of people in this room are as well, it took almost six months for the adrenaline to leave my system properly.

Adam Stott: 

Can you explain the adrenaline cause I don’t know… you explained that to get that. What do you mean by adrenaline junkie? 

Sarah Willingham: 

So, adrenaline is this. It’s when you know, you can feel it in the way that you are reacting to things. You react very, very quickly on adrenaline. It’s your survival instinct, right? It’s the thing which will make you survive any form of crisis. But if you’re constantly pumped with adrenaline input, you react very quickly to things and it makes us far less reflective. We breathe shorter. And you walk quick. I’m a really fast walker. I’m always on the go, basically, as I’m sure a lot of people in this room are. And when I went traveling, it took months for the adrenaline to properly leave my system.

And when it did, my brain was the most beautiful it’s ever been. It was such a joy to be inside my head. I can’t tell you. The ideas that came and the free flow of thought. And now, because I have that muscle memory, I then spent quite a long time in that state, if you know what I mean, because I was traveling. I can now go back to it quite easily.

So I guess a lot of people meditate. I don’t actually meditate, but a lot of people meditate and get the same thing that I’m talking about now from meditation. But when you run a business and it’s just crazy and it’s input and you need quick decisions and you know, adrenaline’s important. Really important cause it keeps us going. But to have that clarity of thought, you need to have time without input and you need to find how you do that. You need to find whatever it is that helps give you that clarity and helps to empty your brain.

And you know, you will get 70 odd, people will all come up with something different. You know, we are all different human beings, but I think it’s a very, very important tool to have. Also to recognize how we are when we are full of adrenaline and cortisol, which is stress. And I don’t know if any of you have done like Myers-Briggs and stuff, when you do like the personality tests? Well, in times of really extreme stress, we go to our opposite type.

So I’m an ENFP, so extrovert, just, intuitive, so sort of quite strategic thinker. I’m a feeler and I’m quite last minute and bit disorganized. That’s basically it. You should see me at a time of stress. There’s zero emotion. I’m all thinking, no feeling. I am so organized, it is painful. I am spreadsheets, lists, everything. I’m very introverted. It’s all going on inside my head. And I become so detailed that I can’t see the bigger picture. That’s the opposite type of my Myers-Briggs. And I think understanding, that’s actually really cool that you realize that this is my natural relaxed state.

This is how I am, this is me as a human, but when I’m filled with adrenaline and cortisol, this is how I behave. And recognizing that in yourself actually reminds me, you know, obviously, going for a walk’s not gonna completely the undo months of deficit, but it’s that maintenance as much as you possibly can of reminding yourself to try and get surplus from somewhere so that you go back to your natural state rather than your sort of frightened state, almost your stressful state. And I think I find that very, very useful for me.

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. I think it’s really important, really, really important for, you know, lots of people in the room, especially if you’re under pressure or under stress, you’re not gonna perform at your highest levels, right? So look, we’re gonna do a quick couple of quick questions from the audience chair? You share a big round of applause. Amazing. So who wants to ask a question? So, okay, we’re going to Dan. We’ll run this… oh, you need that so we’re gonna do another mic. Yeah.

Dan:

I’ll stand cause it’s probably easier. 

Sarah Willingham:

Hi Dan!

Dan:

Hi, thanks very much. I’m absolutely humbled to be here just to listen to everything that you are teaching us and given us. I’ve written three pages of notes already.

Sarah Willingham: 

Oh, amazing!

Adam Stott:

Dan’s our super A player, right? 

Dan:

Thank you so much. So for me, I’m trying to find that balance at the moment and that pie chart is absolutely fantastic for me. 

Sarah Willingham: 

Great. 

Dan:

So really appreciate that. For me at the moment, I’ve come from a career in the NHS which I was really successful with as a paramedic in strategic roles, in going up on my ladder within the NHS really. And my family were very, very proud of me. Really could see where I was going. No one in my family has been in business. None of them are currently in business, so I’ve always had a pull and a passion in business. It is just the thing that I love.

I’ve been in different businesses over the past 10 years and it’s the one thing that I can really just feel. And they don’t get it, they don’t get it. And I know for me, I’m trying to surround myself with people who are like-minded and it’s doing fantastic things. But I can’t escape family who create quite a lot of the pressure for me. Sorry, it’s a bit… so what is your advice on that with family? The people who you love so much, but you can’t really escape?

Sarah Willingham: 

So, I think the first thing I would try and do is to understand why they don’t want to understand it. So what’s the driver behind that? Cause it’s probably fear. Most of the things that we are scared of in our life are the things that we don’t understand, right? Yeah. You tend to be less scared of the things that you do understand. Because you feel like you can sort of control it or be part of it. So my guess would be that it’s fear that drives that.

So, okay. What is it about it that they fear? If, let’s assume it is that it could be money, safety, security, is usually what it is. So I think in a circumstance like that, to be fair to them, they’re probably right to be scared actually. And they’re probably right to worry about money. And the right thing to do then is to open their eyes to everything. What is it that scares you? Let me explain it to you. Go through this, go on this journey with me, and I think back to that, you know, we talked about mitigating risk. You know, what’s your real downside here? Like what are you really risking and in explaining what you are really risking? Cause I hope the answer to that is not everything. 

Dan:

Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

So you’ve mitigated. There’s a level of some mitigation, right? 

Dan:

Yeah. Like, I think I resonate with all of that. That is kind of where it is. It’s the unknown. And I think I’ve tried to protect them so much from not telling them because they don’t understand it, that actually that probably creates more anxiety, more more fear. 

Sarah Willingham:

It will create more fear. So, I guess the answer you’ve always got is, look, I was really successful at what I did. 

Dan:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

So I always used to say, well, I’ll just go back to working behind a bar. 

Dan:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

I’m great at that. Do you know what I mean? I was like, if all else goes wrong, I’ll go and get a job behind a bar. Cause  I’m good at it. So you’ve got an amazing job actually that you can always fall back on. There’s always jobs available in your field and you are very, very good at it. So that’s an enormous safety net, right? Which means that you’re not risking everything because you’ve always got that…

Dan:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham: 

To fall back on. And I would be extremely open. I would take them on the journey and I would force them to ask you every single question that they’re scared about. Everything. 

Dan:

That’s brilliant. Thank you.

Sarah Willingham:

And I think they’ll be a lot less fearful.

Dan:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Cause it is really, really hard for families, I think when one person seems to be going off. And it seems at a whim and not planned. And it seems a bit crazy, like, why the hell would you leave the security? Why would you do that? That’s bonkers. But actually let them get inside your head and understand that you know what you’re doing. 

Dan:

Yeah.

Sarah Willingham:

Two, that you love it, like it gets you up in the morning, you feel alive. And three, talk to them about the absolute risk mitigation. So part of that will be in your business, but your real mis risk mitigation is, well, I’ll go back and get a job behind a bar. That’s what you’ll do. You’ll go and get, go back to your brilliant job if it all goes really, really, really wrong. So what does great look like and what does doomsday look like? 

Dan:

Brilliant. Thank you very much.

Adam Stott: 

Brilliant. Appreciate, good stuff with, thank you. Okay. Who else got question? Okay, so we’ll go cause we’re there. Then we’ll go there and then Michael as well. So we’ll go over to Laura. 

Laura: 

Thank you. Hi, thanks so much for that. I’ve really enjoyed it. Just so you know, I own a cafe, so I have a hospitality business, and we make niche crepe cakes. So what I do is so niche. So listening to your story has been really interesting for me. The one thing that I feel like as a business we struggle with, is we sell a lot but it’s all through word of mouths. The whole lead generation side of it, I struggle with, owning a cafe, like how to get more people in. So really is there like any advice around that in terms of how you did it with your own businesses? I’m just intrigued to know. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. And do you know what? Hospitality are not very good at this actually. 

Laura: 

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

We’re not very good at everything you’ve taught this afternoon because we’ve got our own way of doing it and that is word of mouth. We open the door, we expect people to come. We think, well, we serve great food, so why aren’t people coming?

Laura: 

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Actually, we in hospitality, we do need to do what Adam’s been talking about this afternoon, this morning. And we need to be good at it. But it’s harder to calculate your return on investment because it’s not like you’re selling a hundred pound product. Because if you sell a hundred pound product, your profit on that is only at best 25% anyway. So it’s really 25% of the hundred and somebody comes through the door, spends a hundred quid, you are actually only at best making 25 quid off that. So you have to remember that your return on investment model is slightly different. 

Laura: 

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

So we do a lot of things. We do a lot… TikTok actually is, I know I keep going on about it, but it’s only cause I’m getting old and it blows my mind. But people search for everything in hospitality through TikTok. TikTok’s really important. But it’s the same principle of trying different means of doing it. Like it’s the usual, it’s your loyalty schemes. It’s encouraging word of mouth through actual refer a friend, you know, and getting money off if you bring a friend in. It’s the adverts on TikTok.

Find posts that work, maybe with a local influencer or somebody who’s got quite a few followers. Tie up with local businesses, corporates, you know, you’ve got to… in hospitality, the sales don’t just come. You have got to actively get out there and get the sales just like you do in every other business. And it’s walking the streets. It’s doing your partnerships, everything we talked about.

It’s exactly the same in hospitality. Go and find your partnerships. Get the big corporate bookings in. Encourage more loyalty. Try and spend, sell the same person more so encourage more repeat business, some of the social media ads. Try the influencer route. You know, all of these things, it’s exactly the same for a cafe. Because actually, you must have a measure of what your repeat business looks like and therefore have a decent measure of…

Laura: 

We did, yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Not the lifetime value of a customer, but the true value of a customer. So your customers are, if you are good, will not just come in once, right? They might come in 10 times and they might bring 10 mates with them, in which case, getting that person in the first place is worth so much money to you because they bring in a lot of other custom and they keep coming back. So that bit you’ve got nailed, right. You’re great at the operations, you’re giving people a good time. You need to encourage them to come back, encourage them to bring more people, and then get new people in there in the first place through those other means. It is exactly the same as any other business, but we’re not good at it. 

Laura:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Historically.

Laura:

I think that’s why I struggle with it, that’s [01:14:24]. It’s like sometimes I can’t get my head around those concepts and be like, how does that apply to like cake? Do you know what I mean? 

Laura:

Totally. It’s difficult. 

Sarah Willingham:

Loads of my team are like that. Like old school operators. They just, well, we just show ’em a great time. 

Laura:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

Who… where are they? You know, it’s exactly the same principle no matter what your business is.

Laura:

Okay. Thank you.

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. And some good ways as well as you can create a little affiliate army of your clients. You can turn your clients into your affiliates, get ’em marketing for you, all right? As well. So you, all the people coming into the business that you’re seeing, you want to talk about maybe the affiliate plan you got, where they’re actually going out there and promoting what you do. Turn your clients into your markets.

Laura:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

You know, things like that as well, which you can do. So you’ve got a very small niche business and you know, got a brilliant products like pancake cakes, but they’re made of pancakes. It’s really hard to explain.

Laura:

I’ll show you a picture. 

Adam Stott:

I’ll do your business model in 20 seconds.

Sarah Willingham: 

Where is it? 

Laura:

It’s in Chatham. I’ve got a shop in Chatham. 

Sarah Willingham: 

Amazing.

Adam Stott: 

Yeah. Really, really successful. Really well known. I think it was Joe next, was it? Yeah. Okay. So yeah, we’ll pass over to Joe. I think Carla and Michael. Well done, Laura.

Carla: 

Hi. Thanks for everything that you’ve taught us today. So one of the things that I’ve struggled with, not just in business but prior to starting my own business, I’ve always worked in the corporate industry, design engineer, design manager. And I’ve always struggled with like going back to like your pie chart there, is you plan something and then you find it very difficult to stick to. So for example, I can do a schedule and plan this, this, and this. And the first thing on the list I might just like, might take longer or something else, a curve ball comes in and then I’ll find that it just completely blows my day. So what my question is how do you kind of like make your plan and actually stick to it?

Sarah Willingham: 

Well, I think the first thing is you don’t have to stick to all plans. That’s okay actually. And that’s actually important to know that in business, you know, you’re driving a jet ski at businesses of our size and sometimes you do have to move around something. That does take you off course. Actually it’s okay because a lot of the times when you start a business, you might think that your business model is X, but actually as you progress, you find a better and different business model. You might become a virtual model instead of an in-person model.

When you started out, like never cross your mind, but, you know, so I think it’s okay to consciously veer off plan. But if it’s not a plan that you should be veering off, then it is about, you know, the fact that you’ve written it down. I find that works for me. It doesn’t, it’s different for other people. You might have a different means of like sense checking yourself, but it’s a bit like that. It is about having something that you come back to, to remind yourself of what does great look like here? I think that’s where we get lost a lot in our day or in our week. Not just in life, not just in work, but also in life actually.

Like we forget what does great look like? And that constant self-checking, whether it’s a plan that you’ve got with work or whether or not it’s how you’d plan to spend that week or how you wanted to live your life. Constantly going back, going, remind me again what great looks like because I can’t see the wood for the trees. So having when in a moment where you can see the wood for the trees, a moment where you do have that clarity of thought and you have written a clear plan, you have got it there and it’s down in paper, then remembering to come back to it and having the brain space to come back to it and finding the brain space.

So if you are like all over the place, cause loads of curve balls have been sent to, you know, I go for a walk. But again, everybody’s different. So it’s finding that way of emptying part of your brain to just, to allow you to have that space. Like I said, a lot of people meditate and stuff. I don’t know. Whatever your thing is, might go swimming anything but finding that space to be able to come back and kind of breathe and go, right, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s just a curve ball. That’s just a curve ball, deal with, deal with back on track. Do you know what I mean? But you’ve got to be able to empty your brain, I think, to be able to… 

Carla:

Yeah, I mean, I write, lists and lists, lists of things, and then I like try and like pick them really important things for the following day or for the week or whatever.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. 

Carla:

But like I say, sometimes I just get lost in the first thing and then I have trouble then going back to actually like, what was I supposed to be doing? 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes. 

Carla:

You know, I suppose it’s like a case of what I’m trying to do is put like the money side first over the things that don’t really matter.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yes. 

Carla:

But I just get stuck on the first one and I wanna keep going until I get it finished and then it’s at the, you know, the expense of something else that’s just as important. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. I mean it also sounds like a lot of lists can be quite a scary place to be. That would totally freak me out if I had loads of lists.

Carla:

It’s just how I empty my brain. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yes. It’s okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then you might want to do loads and loads and loads and lists and then when you’ve got the brain space, like pull out the clarity. That’s the chaos. 

Carla:

Yeah. 

Sarah Willingham:

All those lists. It’s like you’re starting to organize the clarity but then pull it out and go, actually these are the only four things I need to think about here.

Adam Stott: 

Yeah, definitely. 

Sarah Willingham:

You know, you should be able to count it on one hand, like what you’ve gotta do. Like, can you tell us in a minute or half a minute what you’re trying to achieve here, not your massive to-do list, cause we’ve all got them. Huge. Like that’s not just work, that’s life, that’s everything. Huge to-do list, not them. They’re the post-it notes, you’re functioning there, but like over here, what are you really like that step back? What are you really trying to achieve?

So sounds like you just need to keep stepping back, pulling yourself back. Honestly, it’s the thing I do most with my team is I almost like grab them by the collar and pull them back out. Like at the moment, we’re in the middle of Christmas and hospitality, it’s crazy.

So, I’m the last person they need to see. Like I just, you know, I just buy people pizza and hope for the best. But it’s just crazy at Christmas. But like in January, you know, that’s it. My job is to pull them out of the business so that they can see clearly again what it’s all about. Rather than going, oh my God, I’ve got so much, I’ve got… it’s just, you know. So if you don’t have somebody that does that for you, you’ve got to be good. So if you need to write on your list, head back in the game, write on your list, get my head back in the game, you know, so it’s pulling your head back.

Carla: 

Okay. Thank you very much. 

Adam Stott: 

No worries. Give a round applause.So question? Okay, before we got time for just a couple more. Okay, Michael’s add his hand up the whole time at the back and we go to Mary. 

Michael: 

Well, it’s a privilege to see you, Sarah, not just on the TV and BBC’s and it’s great to hear like your business a advice. My question is, obviously you talking earlier about the percentage within the restaurant business. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Michael: 

Which obviously what’s the great? How do you work out? What’s great within your service business? How do you work that out? 

Sarah Willingham: 

So you basically find businesses that do what you do and do it well. So they’ve been successful at it. They look, you know, they’re big, they look like they’ve been successful, as many as you possibly can, and you knock on those doors until you find out. You speak to as many people as you can. You’ve got to find out what great looks like in your industry.

And of course, there are people who are innovators. That’s different. You know, I’m talking about doing what ult ultimately your business model is unlikely to be innovative, unlikely it might be. But in terms of the underlying core business model, what does great look like in your sector? So if it’s, you know, advertising or selling pet products or whatever it might be, what does great look like? Why would you win in a room of a hundred people? Why would you get the pound? 

Michael: 

You see, we went from like a profit first banking system, so we got like five different bank accounts. And 75% of that operating expenses, that’s obviously, that’s just us. So I don’t know, like you, any like [01:23:19] heating service business, obviously they’re gonna know some are gonna operate more and some are gonna operate less. I just, I don’t know how open people would be like, what would be like the percentage you should be looking for to achieve grace? I think… 

Sarah Willingham:

But what made you start it in the first place? Like when you started it, you must have thought, oh this is a great idea because… and you must have at least have had an idea of what your profit margins would look like.

Michael: 

Yes. So obviously, having like 20 years experience in the [01:23:54] business, it was a no-brainer. But now, I’m trying to get systems and processes and CRMs in place so we can streamline that. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah. 

Michael: 

But obviously we just took on a unit, which is a big milestone. So obviously, the overheads are going up and up and up.

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. Yeah. 

Michael: 

And it’s obviously we’ve gotta work out, so how much per day do we need to generate? But I’m just obviously, you know, just trying to work out that, I suppose that magic figure. 

Sarah Willingham: 

Yeah. I mean, it’s an impossible question for me to answer it in about your business specifically without understanding your business a lot more, if you know what I mean. I’d like kind of need you to empty your head for a couple of hours but… 

Michael: 

Just the simple question should be a lot easier. 

Sarah Willingham:

Yeah.

Adam Stott: 

The first answer Sarah gave is the right answer. If you don’t know anybody in your industry, and you don’t know what great looks like, that means you’re not building the connections with people in your industry. And if you go and knock on five doors and four of them tell you to go away, the fifth will say yes. So you were to build a relationship with one, and you’ll know what good looks like. I’ll give you an example. That’s my phone. Can you believe it, right. Okay.

So, if you give an example, you know, I’ll work closely with Liam, right? So with Liam, I sit down with Liam and I’m going, I know what great looks like and I have a look at what Liam’s doing, and I know what great looks like to him. And I know I would another 10 people. And there’s parameters, you know, your cost per lead. You know your cost per head, you know, and you can look at other businesses and find out, well, who’s doing the biggest cost per head at this event? And then you ask the question, why are they doing that? And then you continue to improve based off that.

So Sarah’s answer was, bang on. Go and find those businesses, build relationships with those businesses, and very quickly you will find, there’s some people that are operating at a very, very high level. And that will give you some really great insights. I think it was absolutely nailed on. And should all, you know, what do you think about partnerships, Sarah? Not partnerships, but relationships with other people in your sector.

Sarah Willingham:

I mean, they’re critical to it. I honestly can’t stress enough how important it is to know what great looks like and what you’re doing. Again, what success looks like to you, your definition of success, but what great looks like in your particular business, it’s really important. So when you talk about restaurants, we talk about cafes, you know, I’m like, well, how does Nandos have as many as they’ve got? How? What does their model look like? What… you know, learn, find out. That’s what great… surely if they’ve got that many of them, that’s what great looks like. And suddenly you’d find out that Nando’s, Pizza Express, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, somebody else, it’s actually a really similar business model. Really, really, really similar. 

Michael:

The thing is, before we join Gold Circle is that we were spinning all the plates like myself, and it’s very, very difficult. Like I would love to have half of those things on there to like do like outside work. But the biggest thing I’m like seeing, like if we can network like with other people that’s in my industry and obviously build up partnerships, then yeah. And that would really help. 

Sarah Willingham: 

I think that will help you to shortcut. Like I think that that time invested, you know, if we talk again about that return on time invested, that’s a really, really good use of your time, to find the time. That’s kind of worth you’re sacrificing something else on pie chart in the short term because it would free up more time in the future.

So it’s something that’s helping towards you, making your time redundant basically. Because if you can learn how to get somewhere just a bit quicker, if you can learn about a big hole that you’re about to fall in and actually walk around it, and you can learn the smallest thing, just the smallest tweak that you find out that somebody else does. It could be, whether it’s lead generation, it could be how they generate a profit margin, whatever it is that you learn, something that you tweak your business.

It could make the world of difference to the way that you operate in just one conversation. Or it could be in the 10th conversation, but actually that investing your time in that particular way by the sounds of it at the stage your business is at as well, sounds really, really useful, useful thing to do right now, I would say. build those relationships.

Adam Stott: 

Build those relationships Michael.

Sarah Willingham: 

Ask the question. Yeah, exactly.

1 Comment

  1. Daron Harvey on December 16, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Great episode. I was listening in the car and leaving loads of notes-to-self on my dictaphone to either action or look further into when I got back to my home office.

    Terrific content again, Adam. Thanks!

Leave a Comment