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The Money School Weighs In On What’s Really Stopping You From Financial Freedom

76% of the average South African salary is servicing debt. This is causing massive financial stress for blue and white collar workers alike. Do you know how your workforce is affected by debt? Are your engagement and productivity levels suffering? Hayley Parry and Gary Kayle of The Money School unpack the truth about financial stress.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Hayley Parry and Gary Kayle
  • Company: The Money School
  • What they do: Independent, scalable financial education solutions for businesses — both their employees and clients.
  • How: Online, in-person or at one of 44 Boston City Campuses nationwide
  • South African education in 2016: 18 738
  • Financial services products sold: 0
  • Coolest tech: Artificial Intelligence infused customer support through their Money Coaching™ team
  • Visit: themoneyschool.co.za

What is the reality of financial freedom?

People want to be wealthy,
but instead they live in debt. Rising indebtedness, lowering disposable income, using the bank’s cash to gear your lifestyle or living above your fighting weight have become the norm. People are financially dependent, but should be financially independent.

Related: What Makes a Good Financial Management System?

Money problems affect employee productivity and efficiency

The reality is that people will job hop for an additional R3 000 — sometimes even less. They believe they’ll get their affordability back with a little bit more money; unfortunately this is rarely the case. Instead, they just spend more.

High indebtedness impacts staff productivity
and ‘presenteeism’ because the average South African employee spends three hours or more per week on financial problems and 45% worry about money daily. It’s difficult to concentrate on work responsibilities when you’re always stressed about money.

We find employees start to resent their employers, believing they are under-paid, when in fact their problems stem from debt and the mismanagement of their primary wealth building tool — their salaries.


Fast Fact

In the US the highest number of dollar millionaires are teachers — not because they earned high salaries, but because they were good with their money. 80% of dollar millionaires come from the middle earning bracket.


Is this predominantly a blue collar worker problem?

Not at all. No one is immune. White collar workers are as, if not more, affected by debt. For example, we recently ran our course with a company of 300 employees, all of whom were white collar workers.
We always begin with a survey to gauge the financial health of each individual taking the course. When asked how many people could deal with a R5 000 financial emergency, only 27% of the group admitted they would be able to without taking on more debt. After the five-week course, this had risen to 57%.

No one was earning a larger salary, but they did have a better understanding of their own money. 92% were worried they were making the wrong financial decisions, and 63% spent more than they made. These had reduced to 13% and 27% respectively two months later.

The level of indebtedness we are currently facing means that the average South African gets poorer the longer and harder they work. Our aim is to equip people with the skills and confidence they need to eradicate debt and achieve their financial and lifestyle goals.

Related: 7 Ways To Be Debt Free For The Rest Of Your Life

Why is this something that employers should care about?

It directly impacts their bottom line. Money stress affects all aspects of our lives. The larger an employee’s debt, the higher this stress. This has a knock on effect on their health, productivity and even attendance at work. With 76% of employees’ take home pay spent servicing debt, it’s no wonder that 9 out of 10 South Africans will not be able to afford to retire.

What is the solution to this dilemma?

the-money-school-south-africa

And independent financial education. Whether it’s self taught, or taught at schools, varsities or the workplace (or preferably all three) it’s important that everyone is educated and empowered to take control of their financial future without being sold financial services and products at the same time.

As a team, we understand this issue from various angles. Hayley’s background in financial media helped us package our content in an engaging manner — particularly online — which was key to scaling our business. Gary has an intimate understanding of the unhealthy relationship we can quickly form with money, particularly when we start earning decent cash for the first time. In his first job as a salesman, Gary was romanced by debt, flashy cars and gold credit cards. He was converting hard work into debt.

It was this experience that gave him an intimate understanding of the problems most people face when it comes to money and he was determined to help others once he’d figured out how to help himself. After a stint as a broker he realised how wide-spread this problem was and how everyone needs a financial education irrespective of their salary bracket or professional qualification.

What should people consider when thinking about financial wellness?

The first is that our financial planning tends to be reactive instead of proactive. If you want to achieve financial freedom this has to change. We have
a genuine desire to see South Africans live better, healthier financial lives, but this starts with a long-term view of growth.

Only 3% to 6% of South Africans will retire financially independent. 94% of South Africans work their entire lives and end up broke, and this includes a lot of high net worth individuals. Income and wealth are not the same thing. There’s a huge difference between wealthy and rich people, starting with the fact that wealthy people sleep at night, and aren’t constantly stressing about money.

The average age of a person in debt counselling is 36. Basically, they’ve worked just long enough to get into real debt. How much they earn isn’t important in this scenario though. Most people are broke between the 15th and the 20th of the month.

We’re in the business of helping people understand what it is that wealthy people know and do differently — irrespective of what they earn. If you can help your employees focus on building a sustainable financial future, you’ll be freeing them from stress and debt whilst ensuring you reduce your staff turnover, and improve the productivity and health of your employees. It’s a win-win.

Related: 5 Ways To Get Out Of Your Student Loan Debt

Where can you start building wealth?

Everyone should value their salaries, not for the debt that their salary allows them, but the opportunity to build wealth. Debt does the opposite. It stunts personal growth, because no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get out of debt if you
can’t manage your money.

Financial freedom is not linked to how much you earn, but how much you save. Financial literacy just doesn’t cut it. Anyone can be financially intelligent with the right coaching and focus.

What type of commitment does it take to achieve financial freedom?

It takes five focused years to make a significant dent in building assets — that’s it. You need to put them in place and then let them grow. Yes, it takes patience, but it’s a focused, disciplined patience. Hope is a terrible strategy. The key to financial freedom is the consistency of application.

Everyone needs to know their number. What do you need to be investing now to maintain the life you want when you stop working? Until you can afford that, don’t spend on other stuff.

This is not about losing people in the technical elements of good financial planning. It’s about freeing your mind, lessening stress levels, and spending more time doing what you love.

Anyone can be financially independent. Financially free does not mean super wealthy. It means living debt-free, saving and investing, and living life on your terms.

Top management tip

If you’re holding weekly meetings with your team, make sure they’re worth the time and effort everyone is spending in a meeting instead of working.

Follow the WWW framework: Who, What, When. At the end of the meeting, take a few minutes to summarise who said they are going to do what and by when. This isn’t about micromanagement — it’s about clear communication and ensuring accountability from all team members, the foundation of strong, sustainable management.

Take note

Debt is detrimental to your employees’ engagement levels. The higher an individual’s financial problems, the more disengaged they will be due to severe financial stress.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Lessons Learnt

Joe Public United Shareholders On The Art Of Zigging When Others Zag

Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck’s paths first crossed when Gareth saved Pepe’s life. A few years later they were introduced by a friend who thought they’d make excellent business partners. Today they’re South Africa’s largest independent agency, with a turnover of R700 million, and gross profits in excess of R200 million.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Gareth Leck and Pepe Marais
  • Main shareholders: Pepe Marais, Gareth Leck, Laurent Marty and Xolisa Dyeshana
  • Company: Joe Public United, an integrated brand and communications agency
  • Launched: 1998
  • Turnover: R700 million
  • Gross Profit: R218 million
  • Visit: joepublic.co.za 

It was a July morning like any other. Little did Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck know they were about to get a call that would shake the company to its foundations, and result in 35 people being retrenched overnight.

In 2006, eight years after launching their business, and five years after selling it, Pepe and Gareth’s biggest client fired them. The account brought in 40% of their revenue, and the company needed to retrench 50% of its employees as a result.

It was the single worst day of Pepe and Gareth’s careers. They no longer owned Joe Public, but it was theirs in name and brand.

Three years later, the business almost went bankrupt — but it was theirs again. How were these two drastic events related, and why did losing their biggest client allow Gareth and Pepe to not only buy back their business, but find their purpose and change the course of the company as well?

The art of zigging when others zag

To understand how losing their biggest client could actually be the best thing that happened to Joe Public, we need to rewind to 2001, when three business partners at the cusp of their thirties decided to sell their start-up to a multinational.

Joe Public was launched in 1998 as a rebellious, young agency that wanted to do things differently from the rest of the advertising world. Pepe and Noel Cottrell were creatives, and Gareth was a young hotshot account manager. Together, they believed they covered all the angles to run a new, disruptive business.

Related: 10 Books Tim Ferriss Thinks Every Entrepreneur Should Read

“I’d had this idea for a business, which I wanted to call Fresh Advertising, after a night of red wine and brainstorming,” recalls Pepe. “My dad had a café, and I liked the idea of doing ‘fresh’ ideas and an office with a fridge door as the front door. Our third partner at the time, Noel, took the idea further, and we developed the concept into a café-style menu. We were the creatives, and we needed a business guy to make it work. Noel knew Gareth, and so we approached him to join us.”

Gareth loved the idea — he was in his mid-20s, and didn’t have anything to lose. There was another power at play as well. During their initial meeting, Gareth learnt Pepe was a boat man, and recounted a story of how he’d rescued a drowning paddleskier and placed him on a raft of piping until the NSRI could pick him up. A chill came over Pepe as he realised Gareth was talking about him. He’d been knocked unconscious paddleskiing during the first storm of the season in April 1995, and to that day hadn’t known how he’d come to be lying on the piping. They saw the business and the partnership as fate and dived in, head first.

The sleepless nights of starting a business

It was nothing like they’d imagined — particularly for Gareth. “It’s a massive jump from account management to running a business,” he says. “VAT, PAYE, salaries, traffic control, production. Suddenly these were all my problem. I was getting up at 3am so that I could get to the office and do cost estimates before going to see clients. I didn’t sleep for a year. When I did manage to get into bed, I woke up in the middle of the night wanting to throw up because we didn’t have cash in the bank and I had no idea how we were going to pay salaries.”

The partners had hit on something special though: They were selling Rare, Medium and Well-Done ideas, not time, and because they were delivering quality work ‘done well’, they were turning a decent profit. The first few months were extremely tight while they built up a client base, but by their second year they’d netted R1,5 million in profit.

“We were a small, dynamic team. We could take a concept to market within two weeks, so we were fast, and we were also very good. In 2000 we won five Loeries with a staff of five people,” says Pepe.

“We offered quality,” agrees Gareth. “We were quick and slick, and well-priced by the time you reached the end product. The menu concept also offered clients real transparency in an industry known for smoke and mirrors.”

The idea was based on the fact that as youngsters who hadn’t yet made a name for themselves, they needed to be disruptive and innovative out the gate, with a solid business model that would make great returns. “We wanted to zig while others zagged,” says Pepe.

When a buyer comes knocking

All that zigging and zagging had the desired effect, and business soon picked up, but it also had another, unintended consequence — a potential buyer came knocking. “We’d already realised there was a scalability issue with our business model,” says Gareth. “How could we replicate it without people as creative and driven as ourselves? You hit a ceiling when growth requires people of the same calibre as yourself. Anyone in our business will tell you that you can’t have a company full of creative directors. It doesn’t work.”

But there was a second option. A multi-national was offering to buy the business, and part of the deal was that they would roll out the menu option to their subsidiaries and offices around the world.

“Noel was spearheading the deal — he really wanted to move to the US, and the deal gave him the opportunity to join the international network’s New York office,” says Gareth. “From our side, the idea of spreading our model, having an international office, and of course making money from the business all sounded great.”

Why selling was the worst decision they ever made

In a nutshell, they were young, the offer was appealing — and it was the worst decision they ever made.

“We sold completely prematurely and got shafted,” says Pepe. “But more than that, we ended up in a corporate environment that was the exact opposite of everything we’d built our business on.”

The local multinational sold to a larger US-based holding company, and before they knew it, they were just another subsidiary of an international giant. Everything became about the bottom line, and Pepe and Gareth soon found they were compromising great work in the pursuit of greater margins.

And then the worst — and as it turned out, best — thing happened. Their single biggest client fired them.

pepe-marais-and-gareth-leck-joe-public

A blessing in disguise

Pepe had made the decision to fire a senior executive. “We couldn’t work with him. He was toxic to our business. We fired him on good intention, with a full view of how his attitude was harming our business and staff morale,” he explains.

The problem was that the executive in question was very close to the company’s biggest client. So close in fact that once he was fired he was offered the position of marketing director at their company. His first order of business? To fire Joe Public.

“We were devastated. We hadn’t fully comprehended the danger that such a big client posed — and how drastically our business would be affected if we lost them,” says Gareth.

But there was another unexpected consequence of the loss — the value of the business depreciated. “We realised that for the first time in five years, we had an opportunity to buy our business back. We immediately started negotiating with the holding company. The problem was that they wanted an astronominical amount for the business, which was nowhere near what we’d been paid for it. We didn’t have that kind of money. We fought for three years, and eventually resigned. We just said to them, ‘Take it all. We don’t want this.’ That’s when they came back with a reasonable number that we could manage.”

Buying the business back

On the 26th of January 2009, the business partners bought their company back. The day is memorialised in their offices by a plaque that reads ‘Never, ever sell your soul, Joe Public Independence’.

Related: To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

On their way back to the office, they received a call: A media mistake had been made that would cost the company R800 000. Gareth and Pepe had put all of their eggs in one basket. They’d leveraged themselves to the hilt to be able to buy back their business. They’d also kept profits and cash flow low since 2006.

“We didn’t have R1 million in our bank account. We’d basically been breaking even for the last three years,” says Gareth. “Our revenue was R13 million, but that left very little positive cash flow after salaries and expenses were paid each month, and we had no cash reserves. It had been part of our strategy to keep our PE ratio low so that we would be able to buy back the business. We were doing well, winning Loeries and keeping momentum behind the brand, but we weren’t chasing profits. We’d never envisioned such a disaster was possible.”

Failure is not an option, even in the face of bankruptcy

By March, the business was on the brink of bankruptcy. To add to Joe Public’s precarious position, a client who had been spending R380 000 per month put a halt on all marketing spend — also overnight.

“I remember thinking to myself, if this all went pear-shaped, my family and I wouldn’t even have a roof over our heads,” says Gareth. Although more careful than Pepe by nature, the business partners realised they needed to find a solution. Failure was not an option. “We went out and got business,” says Pepe.

“We brought in six new accounts that year. One of those accounts was Anglo American. It was a small job that no one wanted because of its size. We went all out to get it. We understood the value that having a blue-chip client on our books would bring to the business. We also continued doing work for free for the client who had halted all spending. They were in the process of listing, and we believed they’d come back to us once they had, and we were right. We just needed to show them value and loyalty.”

Step by step, Pepe and Gareth brought their business back from the brink. From 2009 to 2010 the company’s revenue grew from R13 million to R20 million, and the partners started building a solid cash reserve. Today, their reserves can carry the business for six months.

Finding a purpose

In 2007, Pepe began a journey of self-discovery. His focus was not only on the business and its needs, but on himself as an entrepreneur and leader. Gareth began his own personal journey two years later.

“We haven’t only worked on the business but ourselves,” says Gareth. “All business owners need coaching, mentorship and counselling,” agrees Pepe. “We’ve both done a lot of personal work and we still do. We hit blocks and work through them. Personal development and self-reflection are incredibly important to the business’s overall success.”

Through this journey of self-reflection and development, Pepe and Gareth found their purpose, both for themselves and the business. By the time they were able to buy the company back in 2009, they had a clear vision of where they wanted the company to go, and how they wanted to change course, and it all started with not putting the bottom line first.

Creating a good formula

“When we started, our whole focus was on the quality of the product,” says Gareth. “We had a good business model and we were creative and driven. A good product led to a good brand, which resulted in revenue. It was a good formula.”

“The year we made our first million, we weren’t focused on the bottom line,” adds Pepe. “We were focused on delivering the best product and service possible, and the natural result was a big, fat bottom line.”

After they sold, the partners soon found themselves in a very different situation. “When you become too focused on the bottom line, you reach a point where you start compromising your product in order to save on costs,” explains Pepe.

“The problem is that you can’t put bottom line at the top. Revenue is a lag factor. If you become too focused on it, you lose sight of the rest of the business. You can’t measure the health of a business on the bottom line.”

Pepe and Gareth are the first to admit that they’d completely lost their way. Losing their biggest client, gaining the opportunity to buy their business back — only to almost lose it again — and finding a way to power through the setbacks gave them a chance to do things differently. They grabbed that chance with both hands.

Making mistakes to create a better business

“You need to make mistakes to get the lesson,” says Pepe. “We needed to re-forge the business based on the right culture.

“We needed to bring the power of purpose into the business. We feel it on a deep level, and it’s now the framework of everything we do. We exist to exponentially grow our clients, our people, and our country — in that order. If we focus on clients, we will grow our people, and we will have a good organisation that can positively impact and help the people of South Africa. We call it growth to the power of ‘n.’”

Revenue growth has naturally followed, but the deeper sense of purpose is helping Pepe and Gareth make a much more meaningful impact. Joe Public registered One School at a Time, a non-profit organisation in 2008. Through the organisation, they have taken their chosen school in Soweto from one of the poorest performing township schools in Gauteng to in the top three. They raise R1,2 million a year for the project, of which R250 000 comes directly from Joe Public.

Related: What You Put In Is What You Get Out – Create Your Own Success

This same drive and dedication is given to clients. “Purpose is just strategy. We do strategy for businesses,” says Pepe. In 2005, Laurent Marty and Xolisa Dyeshana joined the business as shareholders. Today, Xolisa is Joe Public’s chief creative officer and Laurent its chief strategist.

Pepe, who is technically a creative, now also does purpose workshops with the executive teams of their clients. “We bring a creative edge to board-level strategies. Our purpose is to help our clients grow, and that starts at the top. McKinsey has released a report stating that high calibre work in the marketing space will give you a seven times higher return than other work. In other words, high calibre creative counts, and should be part of your strategy. And nothing inspires better work than purpose. It’s our role to help our clients achieve just that.”

Over time, Joe Public has found its mission, which aligns with the business’s purpose. “We now need to develop the metrics that prove the purpose. Every business should be able to quantify the ROI it gives to its clients.”

The ability to course-correct

From 2009, Joe Public refocused on product over the bottom line. Meteoric growth followed. The problem with growth is that you need people to manage teams and business units — and those people were coming from traditional corporate environments, and they were bringing pre-conditioned ‘bottom line’ focus with them.

“Within three years we were back where we’d been, struggling with the wrong culture,” says Pepe. The trouble is that you don’t always spot a problem until it’s too late — particularly when your numbers are good. “The business results were excellent,” says Gareth. “We had found a way to win pitches, the company was growing, revenues and profits were great — but the culture was getting lost. We learnt that you can lose your way culturally and not financially.”

Except that culture feeds the bottom line. Lose it, and the business will eventually start to plummet. “We needed to radically adjust what we were doing,” says Pepe. “We hadn’t hit a problem yet, and our numbers were great, but we realised we were heading towards the top of our bell curve.

Changes for success, starting with culture

“We had already determined that the business must succeed if we want to do more — for our clients, our staff, and in education. Success is fundamental to achieving our purpose. If we didn’t want to go the way of so many companies that reach great heights, only to miss all the warning signs and plummet, we needed to make some serious changes, starting with culture.”

For Pepe and Gareth, a beautiful creative space filled with happy people is the foundation of a company that can do great things. “It’s all about triple profits,” explains Pepe. “Serve your clients and keep them happy, keep your staff happy, and your profits will be happy. A healthy business lets you do all these things. It’s the oxygen to deliver on all the rest. With strong revenue streams you can achieve so much more.”

There are industry jokes that Joe Public is like a cult. Pepe and Gareth are happy to agree. “We’ve built the ‘cult’ into culture,” says Pepe. To achieve a strong, client-focused culture, the partners needed to make some tough choices, and even exit some people who were not aligned to their purpose of serving clients through great work.

Remove toxic employees as fast as you can

“It’s never a nice part of business,” says Gareth. “We’re nice people, and in some cases we took far too long to act. We moved in on people in the organisation who weren’t a good cultural fit. It was damaging to our team and to them to remain here. A happy, healthy workplace is a team effort. You’re not doing anyone favours by keeping toxic individuals in your workspace. It’s been a tough lesson to learn, but we’re much faster to act when we realise we have the wrong people in the business now than we were before.”

Today, Pepe and Gareth follow a simple formula. “One of our clients once told us that all they wanted to do was serve the best possible product to customers, with the best service, at the right price to give value,” says Gareth. “It really resonated with us, reaffirming everything we believe as well. We all have a tendency to complicate business, when what we should be doing is serving our clients — and the best way to do that, is to do great work.”

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Lessons Learnt

Founder of Five-Star Wes Boshoff Weighs In On Becoming An Entrepreneur

Here are Wes Boshoff’s seven lessons in building a brand that matters, offering your clients something of worth, and always following your passions.

Nadine Todd

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A lot of starting a business is just winging it. Call it the hustle, faking it ‘till you make it or biting off more than you can chew (and then chewing like hell), the reality is the same: Doing what you can, when you can to get yourself and your business out there so that you can build a brand with longevity.

As a start-up, does your vision push the boundaries? Are you putting everything you have into achieving something great? Here are seven lessons to help you (and your business) reach full potential.

1. Seize the day

Wes began his career in the people development industry. He was involved in high-impact training and developmental coaching, and entrepreneurship couldn’t have been further from his mind. “I had no appetite for going solo,” he recalls.

Related: Failure Is Not An Option – Or Is It? Your How To On How To

“I was employed but doing some part-time coaching on the side, and while this may have seemed like a springboard into entrepreneurship, I’ve always viewed start-ups as requiring three key things: Timing, opportunity and experience. Experience in particular was a stumbling block for me. I was young. I didn’t feel like I’d earned real credibility or had enough life experience to offer real value to others. Who would listen to me? I was just Wes.”

And then an opportunity presented itself and Wes decided to take the plunge anyway. “After becoming an expert in behaviour and personality profiling, I was asked to join a project management company. About a year into joining them they shut down.”

Facing unemployment, Wes decided to take the plunge and never work for a boss again. Instead, he seized the opportunity to launch his own business and brand.

And so, Five-Star was born, a brand that sought to help businesses improve their customer service by first focusing on their employees. Wes decided to cut his teeth in the hospitality arena, where customer service is the life-blood of the industry.

The lesson: There is no perfect time to start a business. There will always be excuses to put it off. You will never be 100% ready. And yet, until you’ve taken that first step, you can’t start testing your model in the market, tweaking and adjusting your offering to suit your audience. If your dream is to become an entrepreneur, don’t look for all the reasons why you shouldn’t take the plunge, but focus on the one reason why you should.

2. Don’t wait for business to find you

When Wes launched Five-Star, he had no savings to invest in the business and no assets. He had himself and his experiences. “I didn’t spend time on a business plan or money on getting a website up and running — that would all come later. I spent what I could afford on business cards, and hit the streets. I believed I could tell my story better than a website could, and so I focused on getting myself in front of the people I needed to sell my services to.”

Wes’ first call was to the GM of one of the fastest growing hotel groups in the country. “I introduced myself as Wes from Five-Star, told him I’d heard a lot about how good his hotel was, and that I’d love to take him out for coffee to discuss what would take them to a ten. I didn’t sell anything over the phone — I wanted a face-to-face meeting, and the opportunity to share real value. I wanted him to see why we should work together, rather than make a hard sell.”

Wes is an expert in hospitality, training and customer service. But he was also winging it. During the coffee meeting he was asked to do a mystery guest assessment, to uncover which areas could be improved upon. “I asked him if he’d like me to use their report or mine, and thank goodness he said theirs, since I didn’t have one.” Nine years later, that hotel group is Wes’ longest-standing client.

This is the tactic Wes has used to build his business and brand ever since: He focuses on face-to-face meetings, sharing his story, who he is and what he’s learnt, and really listening to his clients’ challenges so that he can offer advice and add value — even if they don’t end up doing business together.

The lesson: Entrepreneurs make things happen for themselves. Wes personally does not like cold calls, and so he’s found a sales strategy that works for him. How you sell isn’t as important as the fact that you are out there, selling yourself, your business and the solutions you can offer. If you aren’t out there selling, you’ll never build a sustainable start-up.

3. Make the most of tools

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The report that the hotel gave Wes for his first mystery guest assessment became the template for a report he built for himself. Over the years he has developed numerous tools, building on his experience with Discus and other methodologies to create frameworks for his motivational talks, training and coaching programmes.

“In the early days I couldn’t afford to purchase tools, so I had to really listen to my clients and develop what they needed. There are so many resources available to us today. You just need to do your research, know your industry and be constantly tweaking your offering based on what works best.”

In Wes’ own words, he’s not a book smarts guy, but a street smarts guy. “It’s why a business plan didn’t work for me — I needed to be out there, testing my model and my theories, and tweaking and adjusting my offering. I paid my school fees, and used those learnings to develop the tools I needed to deliver results.

Related: The Journey Of Entrepreneurship: How The Tough Get Going

“I love developing models. Applied knowledge is power. But don’t overcomplicate things. There’s a simple process to learning and development: The stages of knowledge start with a revelation, new knowledge, followed by realisation — making it real — and finally a revolution, which leads to purpose and progress. That’s what I help people to do — create perspectives, interrogate the perspective, and then affect real change in their lives and businesses.”

The lesson: The more open you are to learning and adjusting your solutions, the more you’ll be able to offer to your clients. Any tools you can develop to add to the overall experience are value-adds that benefit yourself and your clients.

4. Add value before you add an invoice

Wes is a born networker. He loves meeting new people, sharing his story, and finding out more about the people he’s networking with. He’s also very good at uncovering the challenges they face and offering solutions, even if those solutions aren’t one of the products he offers.

“When you increase your network, you increase your net worth. I believe in being the go-to guy for my clients. I want them to feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking my advice on anything. I believe great businesses and brands are built when you add value before you add an invoice.”

This has been Wes’ motto throughout his career, long before he launched his own business. “I’ve always put my hand up when a new challenge or task has presented itself. I don’t believe in constantly looking for what’s wrong in what’s right. Face the reality, and determine the best way to get the opportunity out of the obstacle. You need to choose to be opportunistic. I’m a realist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a negative environment.

“I’ve brought this attitude to everything I do, including how I view my clients’ businesses. It’s not about what I can get from them, but what I can add to them. Some of this I can charge for, but valuable advice should be freely given. I believe in cultivating an opportunistic mindset; and I want to help my clients and their employees to do the same.”

The lesson: As an entrepreneur, you need to walk the talk. If you truly care about your customers, add real value without always expecting something in return. You’ll build long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

5. Don’t lose Focus

It’s a common problem amongst start-up entrepreneurs. Early wins leave you feeling overly confident and eager for more. It’s at this stage that many business owners start looking for new challenges, and where else they can divest their energy for new and exciting wins.

For Wes, this diversion was cars. “I’d been accepted into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, but instead of focusing on Five-Star, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for cars with business.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

What Wes found was Plastic Dip, a US-based product used to wrap cars. “I stopped focusing on Five-Star and launched Plastispray,” he recalls. “I had this massive vision, with not much support. I forgot the cardinal rule that I’d learnt in Samuel Chand’s book, Who’s Holding Your Ladder, and that’s the importance of support. We might be the sole founders of our businesses, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support systems. Who is holding your ladder? Who won’t get bored and walk away?

“I ended up in a situation where my focus was completely scattered, I wasn’t managing my personal life, and the business I was trying to build just didn’t have legs. I even landed this incredible project, building a Mini Cooper for the launch of Virgin Mobile. We turned it into a photo-booth and broke a world record for the most people squeezed into a Mini — which was 25.

“I thought, that’s it, after this project, the business will just take off. And nothing happened. It opened no doors.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that took its toll on Wes emotionally. “2013 was the lowest year of my life,” he says. “I started seeing a psychologist, and spent 2014 rebuilding myself. I realised I needed to work on my attitude, my fears and my business. I also needed to learn how to focus again. We can’t achieve anything in life if we aren’t focused.

“I failed hard, but it also gave me perspective. When you learn you win — which means that failure isn’t actually losing. It’s important to understand that, and it’s what pushed me through the tough times. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

Once Wes regrouped and renewed his focus on Five-Star, the business started taking off. “People outside of the hospitality industry started asking me for help. I was invited to speak at international leadership conferences, and work with businesses on turnaround strategies. From there the business has just grown from strength to strength.”

The lesson: Focus is essential. It’s easy to get distracted and chase the next trend or hot idea, but real success takes time to build, and sticking to anything long-term takes focus. The more focused you are, the higher your chances of success.

6. Understand your brand

For nine years Wes has operated the business under the Five-Star name. The longer he’s been in the industry however, the clearer it’s become that his brand isn’t the business, it’s himself, and his ideas.

“I’m always, unapologetically, ‘just Wes’,” he says. “You’ll never be everything to everyone. The best thing you can be is authentic. Some people will love you, others won’t. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. I’m not a suits guy. I arrive how I am, share my story, my lessons, and give the best advice I can. I share tools and tips to become the best version of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t completely myself when I work with my clients.”

It’s for this reason that Wes has recently rebranded the business to ‘Wes’, with the tagline, Imagine Thinking. It’s an ideal closely linked with his talks, his philosophy, and his name in the market. “I’m becoming a thought leader, and that comes with risks,” he says. “When you put yourself out there, you need to have enough confidence for people to disagree with you, because that’s hard. Not everyone will like what you’re saying or agree with you on a particular issue. You put yourself out there in the public domain and if you aren’t sure of who you are and what you stand for, insecurities can come to haunt you.

“I tell everyone I speak to, ‘disagree with everything I say…’ I can’t change the way people think, or what they think — I just want to challenge them to think for a change. I want you to consider your opinions and question them. Imagine thinking. Thinking is a verb. You have to do something — you need to disagree to set your own thoughts in motion. Be brave; share your thoughts so that we all benefit together.

“I used to take myself seriously; I don’t anymore. I don’t want to offend, but I’m okay if you don’t agree with me.”

The lesson: Your personal and business brands tell a story. They let your customers know who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are. People do business with people, not companies, so don’t be afraid to authentically share your story.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

7. Have a vision that scares you

For Wes, too many organisations have a vision that’s external and designed for clients. But he believes vision is an internal thing. “As an entrepreneur, your vision should be for you and your employees. It should be your guiding light. It’s your future, and it should consistently grow.

“If you don’t achieve your vision, it’s because you don’t have an appetite for the mission. If you’re only looking two to five years into the future, that’s a goal, not a vision. Your vision should scare you. It should wake you up and keep you up. It should drive you.”

“The mission is how you achieve the vision. You need to know what it will take to get there, and this usually includes a lot of hard work, stress, fear, and living on the edge. But that’s okay, because we’re designed to stretch ourselves. That’s when we discover our full potential.”

The lesson: Don’t ever be too scared to think big. Thinking small isn’t what entrepreneurs are built for. Big hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are the foundation of successful, game changing businesses — and successful, fulfilled entrepreneurs.

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Lessons Learnt

Successful People Always Chase the Impossible – Here’s Why

Achieving perfection may never happen, but the attempt can lead to results you never imagined.

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Vince Lombardi said it best: “We will chase perfection, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”


Successful people are always in the chase for perfection. As Lombardi knew, however, and as I’ve discovered more than once myself, what we chase is often very different from what we catch.

Early in my career, I planned on being a pharmacist, then making partner at a PR firm. Both goals were within reach, but I never caught them — as they came close I found myself rethinking my ambitions, then changing direction. I had to let go of the goals that had motivated me for years, and find different ones, chasing perfection in new and often unexpected ways.

If you are looking to catch the best in excellence, while not letting yourself get boxed in by chasing perfection, it is important to remember a few key guidelines.

Changing your path isn’t failing

Successful people – and entrepreneurs especially – are driven by their goals. It’s a fine line, though, between goals that inspire and goals that trap. The best stories about entrepreneurs are full of fresh starts and unexpected detours. If you find yourself disliking what you’re doing, or feeling frustrated even when things are going well, think about making a new plan.

Changing your path isn’t bad or wrong or failing – it’s simply a new choice, and often the right one.

Related: 7 Rules To Master Your Start-Up Success This Year

Never perceive anything as a setback

Circumstances can spiral out of control – plans tank, products fail, companies come apart. When something is running off the road you can be consumed by it, or you can realise that what you took to heart before isn’t your reality anymore, and the seeming chaos around you disguises a new reality. Don’t beat yourself up about it, don’t mourn the wasted time and the discarded mission. Negative experiences aren’t a setback, they’re a chance to make new decisions that are right for you.

However bad the situation, there’s always an angle

bad-situationWhen things get rough, take five minutes and give free rein to let it all out. Find a private place, get mad or cry, let whatever’s struggling inside you get out. Then get to work finding the angle. There’s always an angle, and a path forward to success. Usually, it involves getting over yourself. Whatever your emotions, stop thinking it’s about you.

Recognise that you’re in service to something larger than yourself – your company, your staff, the people who depend on you. That’s where you’ll find the angle you need, beyond your emotions, and outside of yourself.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

Success looks different to different people

We can all relate to the true believer who challenges conventional wisdom and beats the odds. When we make these challenges, our parents, bosses, society at large – insert appropriate authority figure – sometimes just won’t see it our way. But often it’s our own internal schoolmaster that’s the barrier we need to overcome. We persist in judging ourselves by standards that once seemed essential, but have outlived their usefulness. In fact, there are many different ways to succeed. The important thing is being comfortable with knowing there is more than one right answer.

It’s a never-ending experience

Is it ever time to stop chasing perfection? No. Chasing perfection is the opposite of a hamster wheel or rat race. It’s about your never-ending pursuit of happiness. The sooner in life that we master the flexible mindset needed for continuous evolution, the better.

My career has had enough twists and turns all ready to make a running back proud. At those times when I had no control over my external situation, I could see that the one path I thought I would take wasn’t the only path – or even the right path.

Related: To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

I’ve never come close to attaining perfection, but Mr. Lombardi was right. By chasing it, from my days studying to be a pharmacist to my current role as VP of Marketing and Communications at Intel, I’ve caught excellence again and again along the way.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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