How to Get Business Coaching Clients with ActionCOACH Brad Sugars

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Brad Sugars started the ActionCOACH brand when he was in his early twenties!

Today the company is internationally recognized as the leading global business coaching firm and one of the leading and most awarded franchises in the world today.

So how did a twenty-something Australian create this global powerhouse? He did it through hard work, determination and a well-organized, systemized approach that leads businesses to profits.

Brad Sugars has always been entrepreneurial. Even from a very young age, Brad was an entrepreneur. He displayed a natural curiosity for how to work smarter and get measurable results. When still at university, Brad Sugars ran several small businesses. Perhaps due in part to his talents which were developed at a relatively young age, Brad’s ability to make companies from every conceivable industry flourish lead him to be known as “The Turnaround Kid”.

Brad Sugars was soon asked to speak to business owners and executives – sharing his tips and advice on marketing, sales, systemization and team building. Audiences were wowed. Brad’s “pull no-punches” approach was a refreshing change from other speakers at the time.

Today, ActionCOACH operates in over 70 countries and has more than 1,000 coaches around the world, coaching 15,000 business every week. The franchise has received numerous awards including Fastest Growing Franchise, Franchisee Satisfaction, Best Overall Company and has been named the number one business coaching franchise in the world every year since 2004.

Learn More About Brad Sugars & ActionCOACH

Meet Brad Sugars | ActionCOACH Founder & Chairman

Phil Singleton:  Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of the Local Business Leaders Podcast. I’m your host, Phil Singleton. Today our featured guest is Brad Sugars. Brad is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH, the world’s number one business coaching company. He started ActionCOACH because he saw business owners needed simple how-to and strategies to grow their cashflow and profits and many simply didn’t know what they didn’t know, leading to struggles with their time, teams and money. Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Sugars:   Hey buddy, it’s great to be with you.

Phil Singleton:   This is going to be awesome. So the first thing I can lead off with is just give us your story, your first steps out of school or what have you, into the business world and you’ve got a really successful business. You’re an influencer or an authority in your space. But I’m sure there might have been a few stumbles here and there along the way. I’d love to hear your journey from getting started to building your empire.

Brad Sugars:   Yeah, look, I think that all of us ended up in business by some sort of an accident, a stumble, a fall or a, “Hey, let’s just make a crazy decision.” I was one of those young people that I got into this business real early and I did it because while I was a kid in Adelaide in South Australia growing up and it’s cold in the winter and I had to deliver the newspaper every morning. And so I employed seven of my friends. They delivered the newspapers and I just manage the business. I thought this is a much better way to do it, but it got a little more complex. So I became an accountant by training. I never actually worked as an accountant. I’m very proud of that fact. But I’ve started businesses all my life and most of what I did was bought broken companies and fixed them early on.

Brad Sugars:  So I’d buy a pizza business that someone was running badly, I’d get in and fix it and then sell that business. It led to me succeeding pretty early. So people say, “Well, how do you do that? What are you doing?” So I started speaking and very quickly fell in love with teaching and all of a sudden here we are, 26 years later, we’re an overnight success. ActionCOACH coaches business owners in 78 countries. And it’s now published 17 books on the subject. So we got overnight success, my friend.

Phil Singleton:  That’s awesome. That’s so awesome. You’d mentioned your book and I know you’ve been a part of or written several of them and you’ve got a recent one. Tell us about your experience as a writer and your latest book.

Brad Sugars:  Yeah, I think being a writer… Actually, I started writing for one simple reason. I got sick of teaching the same material and I thought that if I write it in a book, I won’t ever have to teach it again. Little did I realize that the more you write it in a book, the more you’ve actually got to teach it. It’s like the band with the great song, you’ve gotta play it at every single concert type thing.

Brad Sugars:  So this latest one, about two years ago, a bit over two years ago now, actually, a buddy of mine was sitting at lunch and he runs a very large corporation. He says to me, “Brad, it just seems like magic the way some of these companies like Ikea and Amazon, it just seems like magic the way they keep growing.” And I looked at him and I said, “You don’t mean that for real do you?” He said, “Well, sort of.”

Pulling Profits Out of a Hat

Brad Sugars:  So I sat down, I said, “You know, it’s a formula the way they do it.” So over the last two years we looked at all of our clients around the world who are growing at an exponential rate, meaning year on year multiplied growth and sat down and said, “What are they doing the same? What are they doing similar?” And just as a joke to my friend, we ended up calling and pulling profits out of a hat. So it was kind of like a reference to the whole magic thing that he was mentioning.

Phil Singleton: And that’s the latest book that you’ve written?

Brad Sugars:   That’s the latest one, yeah, buddy. That’s… what’s that, 390-odd pages. You know when it gets to you because it weighs two-and-a-bit pounds. So it’s a heavy one.

Phil Singleton:  So the books that you’ve written before, were those out of your organization or did you write, read as the author on the 17 projects that you mentioned?

Brad Sugars:   Yeah, so I find that writing for me… I’m not a great typist so I actually record all my books and then get someone to transcribe them and then I can edit them from there myself. But I find that when I talk it through, the logic comes out. Because one of the hardest things about teaching is actually getting down in a methodology and a format that someone else can understand why you do what you do and what it is that you do. It’s actually relatively tough to come up. And I remember very early on it was like, “Well how do I do what I do? What is the method?” And so that’s why pretty much everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to break it down into a very simple model for people so people can understand it relatively quickly.

Phil Singleton:   So you wrote this last book and that’s the reason I’m kind of drilling down this little bit is because it sounds like you were a part of book projects or writing before it became the cool thing to do. Like, for example, I’ve written a couple of books now and mostly I’ve done it for not really selling the book so much as trying to build my own authority and credibility. Of course, as you know, it’s really… And you’re in a different space because you’re a true influencer in the niche of coaching, business coaching around the world and globally. But for guys like us that are on the ground building stuff, trying to open doors up when you’ve written a book or been in part of a book project, I can lay that in front of somebody.

Phil Singleton:  It’s almost like they’re holding credibility in your hands. Right. So that’s kind of why I started and I wrote my first book. So it’s a little bit different than what you’ve done. But I’d love to hear your take on, for instance, for the guys that are part of your ActionCOACH network, do you see some of the coaches writing their own books for authority and expertise and trust building and that kind of thing? How do you think that fits into coaching or an agency type of business?

Brad Sugars:   You know, I see a lot of people that use books for knowledge, for really a credibility build. And I think it’s a wonderful thing for credibility build. Because if you can read someone’s thoughts and it’s kind of like one of those things, if you can read the way someone thinks and you go “I think the same way and I think I could learn something from this person,” and it definitely helps out.

Brad Sugars:    I would say a book is probably one of the best brochures there is for understanding the thinking of someone that you want to work with or someone that you want to learn from or someone that you want to grow through. And I think that’s always going to be the case. That being said, I see most of my team writing their books because they have a message that they want to get out there to the marketplace, a message. Most of my team around the world, they’ve joined me because they all live in the same passion that I do and that is those business owners… Executives and entrepreneurs are some of the loneliest jobs in the world. When you’re a high-level person in a business, it’s hard. There’s not a lot of people to chat with. And so a lot of the coaches that work on my team are there because they want to help people. And a book is really an extension of that.

Brad Sugars:  For me it’s always been about what is the systematic methodology by which something can create success? So, for instance, one of my earlier books, The Business Coach, I actually wrote that book after we had coached I think it was around 13,000 business owners to success back then. And I wrote the book, which was, “This is the methodology we use to help business people grow their business.” I find it interesting that people go into business for themselves without learning the formula for business success. It’s like, “Come on, if you’re going to open your own shop, at least learn how to run the whole own thing and make it successful.”

Is Everyone “Coachable”

Phil Singleton:  That’s interesting because I even think of myself, when I first got my agency started, I don’t know, getting the first, maybe couple hundred, $500,000, $600,000 in sales, maybe. I felt, I guess, at that point looking back I was kind of uncoachable because you feel like you can do everything. Then you maybe get up into the… And, again, I’m in a different businesses, I guess we’re probably at a different level.

Brad Sugars:  Yeah.

Phil Singleton:   You get to a point obviously where you hit that kind of classic E-Myth stuff, and it’s like, “Well maybe I do need some coaching. It’s getting a little bit harder for me to manage all these pieces,” and then you can go to somebody else. I’ve kind of seen that myself over the years. But do you find that some people, or do you think your coaches find that some people are kind of uncoachable? Do they have to be coachable? And you see that at different levels or does the business kind of knock people over the head? You know at some point you need help.

Brad Sugars:  Yeah. I think that pretty much everyone is coachable. The question is, do they have the coach that suits their personality style or their profile or the way that they like to work? I think one of the biggest challenges with coaching is that it is such a personal relationship. You are letting someone in to the secrets of your business. You’re letting someone into the inner sanctum.

Phil Singleton:  Totally. I can totally identify with that because that’s my-

Brad Sugars:   You’ve got to trust. You’ve got to know, like, and trust that person. And I think that for my team around the world, one of the big things is that what helps them a lot with their clients is their clients understand that here we are in 78 countries, ActionCOACH has more than a thousand offices around the world doing this. People get a bit of a trust factor and they realize, “Hey, there must be a system behind this. There must be a system for success.”

Brad Sugars:  But I think the other thing, Phil, when you go and get a coach, a lot of businesspeople see that as an acknowledgment or a “Look, I’ve got to give up and admit that I need help,” where it’s exactly the opposite. In the early stages of coaching people would say to me, “Coaching, is that like consulting?” I said, “Yeah, it’s like that only we work once a week and I coach you in how do you get better, not do the work for you.” And then people eventually say, “Oh, they’re failing, they should get a coach.” I think we’ve seen a transition in the last three to five years of people understanding that if you want to be great, not just good, then you need a coach. We see big examples of this from CEOs of Google and Yahoo and Ford Motor car company all talking about their coaches and people going, “Oh, well maybe this makes sense for me now.”

Phil Singleton:  For an ActionCOACH coach, let’s say, what’s the typical ideal client? Is it from small, is it a medium size? You mentioned it could go all the way up to Fortune 500. I’m just curious.

Brad Sugars:  Yeah, we work with everyone from the smallest entrepreneur to the largest executive because we’ve got such a large team. We have someone to suit every level of coaching. But like a brand-new startup, they can come and join us at some of our programs that are only a $100 a month. So it’s really not that hard for a brand-new start up. When you come in at the highest levels, the information we have in pulling profits, we have 12-week programs that we go into major corporates and help them rethink certain areas of their business to help them rethink the business overall.

Brad Sugars:  Because executive coaching is about helping the executive get real good at their job. Corporate business coaching is about the corporation rethinking how they’re going to make money and re-looking at their business and saying, “What do we need to do? How do we apply the five disciplines of pulling profits to make our organization an exponential growth business?” Then in the middle you’ve got those small to medium sized companies who, they are the vast majority of businesses in the world. The vast majority of companies in the world are the small to medium. So we coach all of them as well.

Brad Sugars:  I think that one of the keys to my success with ActionCOACH was making certain that we could help every business person, whether you’re the highest-ranking executive in the biggest company or you’re the brand-new startup entrepreneur with very little money to get going. I made sure we had a way to educate every single level and coach every single level. So it’s kind of that chicken and the egg thing, buddy. In the beginning I would’ve said, “Yeah, just those small to mid sized companies.” Now we have programs to suit every business.

What Are the Best Ways to Get Coaching Clients & Leads?

Phil Singleton:  That’s awesome. I’m going to wrap up with this question because this is one of the things I think that a lot of people are… I don’t want to say struggling with these days, but it’s definitely probably one of the hottest topics is just lead generation in general. Like how to get leads, where to get leads from. What are some of the key ways that ActionCOACH coaches get their new clients? Is that speaking, are they doing their own website stuff? What do you see your team, how they’re successfully getting new clients?

Brad Sugars:  Yeah. D, all of the above.

Phil Singleton:  Definitively doing it all.

Brad Sugars:  Well, the way we work it is when they first start out, they’re going to be working short term strategies. So your short term strategies, your direct marketing strategies, whether it be direct mail, direct phone, but it’s real direct strategies type thing. Then you move to the midterm where you start to say, “Okay, now we’ve got to move to the more social and the more content based, have them start to find you,” type thing. And more strategic partnerships.

Brad Sugars:    And then we moved to the ultimate in the longer-term strategies where it’s about the brand and all of those sorts of things, creating the books and that type of stuff. So we use all three. We love seminars, we love webinars, we love any content-based marketing because the reality is someone may or may not be able to start with you today, but if you can give them some good content, at least they start making some more money and they’re around.

Brad Sugars:  I always live by a very simple thing. All of my coaches everywhere in the world all do five hours a week of pro bono work, four hours with business owners that need help, one hour each, and one hour with a charity every single week to make certain that we get the information out there. And I’ve found that by chatting with business owners for free, some of them come on board, some of them don’t. But at least we help them make some more money so that when they are making more money, they can afford to jump on a program with us and keep growing.

Phil Singleton:  So I absolutely love that. Two little spin-off questions here. One is one of the questions I was going to ask, when I got started, I did my first three, four projects totally for free. And what I did was they became my screaming references and I was able to refer people to those guys and that really, I think, made this successful.

Phil Singleton:  Even today, really on reputation management, trying to make sure that we document our successes, get those testimonials because people buy off that stuff. I love the fact that that’s what you have. Because I think that’s the key to it. But some people are afraid to give some time away and do pro bono work. But I think if you do it the right way, man, that can just snowball.

Brad Sugars:   I think if you’re brand new, you must be doing pro bono work.

Phil Singleton:  Yes.

Brad Sugars:   If you are a further down the road and you’re not doing free work. In other words, it doesn’t have to be free actual work. It can be free content. It can be free information that allows people to see the value in what it is that you’re doing. Because, hey, how do I know and how do I understand the buyers subject if I haven’t done it before? See, most people have never hired a business coach. So for me, if I give them information and they start to understand what it is we do at a better level, then it makes their life easier to make a decision to engage with a coach and actually become a coaching client and grow their business in that methodology.

The Importance of Testimonials & Reviews

Brad Sugars:   That being said, I want to go back to a point you mentioned, the two most important things in this day and age in marketing, two most important: testimonials and ratings. If you are not a guardian of every testimonial, a guardian of every rating that you’ve got out there. If you’re not using Net Promoter Score, if you’re not out there using these things and really pushing it, then you’re missing the best sales person you’ve got: your customers.

Phil Singleton:  I absolutely love it because it’s really funny, because even when we talk to clients it’s like they’re not working on their own testimonials and reviews and on their reputation. But if you ask them how they buy stuff, it’s exactly how they do it. They go to a restaurant, they go to Yelp, they want to go to a new place or a new… So we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re B to B, B to C, everybody’s looking people up, looking for that trust, looking to make sure that there’s a track record there and they’ve been able to produce for somebody else. I absolutely love that that’s a focus because I totally agree. It’s just the way the world is now, right?

Brad Sugars:  Well, let’s be really, really blunt about it. They may not find you through Yelp or they may not find you through the Google score, but sure as heck they’re going to search, so make sure if they’re going to search, they find what you want them to find. I had to learn this the hard way, buddy. Many years ago when the Internet first started and all that stuff, I didn’t know to put all of my testimonials online. I got people writing me testimonials and I’d put them in my marketing, but you have to make them live. You have to make them live.

Brad Sugars:    We spend a lot of time, a lot of energy these days, making sure we get videos from all of our best customers, making sure the Net Promoter is out there every single year. We’re right in the middle of Net Promoter Score right now. But we worked real tough to get that information out there because if you don’t make it sure that your best customers are telling the world how good you are, then the worst ones are the only ones that people can hear from.

Phil Singleton:  Exactly, man. Because that’s how the whole system’s geared. People, they’re incentivized to tell their bad stories. But if you’re going to tell the good ones… People are being asked to review everything all the time. And when we get a good service and we pay for it, it takes extra work and time to get somebody to actually sit down and write a testimonial. Sometimes they’ll say, “Yes,” and they won’t do it. Or sometimes they feel like they’ve dragged their feet because they don’t know what to write and then it never gets done, so you have to stay on it.

Using Video to Your Advantage

Brad Sugars:  That’s why we use video so much because when we use video, we can get that person, put them in front of camera and they’re done in 10, 15 minutes.

Phil Singleton:   Make it easier, right?

Brad Sugars:    You’ve got to make it dead simple for them. They’re there doing work to help you make sales. Make it easy for them, get them in front of a camera, get a professional, sit them down and say, “Hi,” and just get them feeling comfortable in those interview.

Phil Singleton:  And those are they best, aren’t they? Video testimonials, they’re just killers.

Brad Sugars:   Look, today we all know that in this day and age, video is the thing. I mean, Google, Facebook, Insta, they’re all going, we’re going live. You sit down and you take a look and you say, “Why is it that there’s now live on LinkedIn?” Well, because video is the future. They’ve all got it. They all know it. They want time on site. That’s what they’re going to use. So build what’s being used out there.

Phil Singleton:  All right, final thought here, because this is still along the same lines of lead generation and stuff. Thoughts on, especially in starting out, cold calling and hitting the phones. Is that something people still need to do? Some people? What are your thoughts on that?

Brad Sugars:    100% yes. 100% yes. You should be doing calling. Now, does it need to be cold? No, it doesn’t need to be cold anymore. All you have to do is jump on LinkedIn or Facebook or something. You find out so much information about any prospect that you don’t need to be cold anymore. Now, that being said, if you’re doing short term, if you need business immediately, then, yes, you must do that stuff, the short term marketing reality. You’ve got to do that stuff. Run an event, get there fast. But flip that over.

Brad Sugars:    Now, some people are going to feel a little beat up right here just for a second. I’m sick and tired of hearing people hiding behind social media instead of actually getting on the phone, picking up the phone. If you want to ask for a date, pick up the phone, don’t go and send them a text message. That’s just downright awful. You want to put the best foot forward, pick up the phone, chat with somebody. This, “I sent out 20 LinkedIn connection requests.” Shut up. That is not business. Come on. Be Real. Don’t hide behind social media and emails and all that stuff. That stuff’s a great tool, but it’s not the tool. If you want to speak to a human, pick up the phone, get on the phone to the human. Go visit the human, even better type thing.

Phil Singleton:   We had this conversation today at my agency, which is just like, “Look, nobody ever really is going to spend money with us without looking us in the eye and shaking hands. At some point it’s gonna be a conversation and probably in a lot of cases, a meeting, right? You’re not gonna be able to hide behind and sign an engagement up with never having to talk to somebody.” So the sooner you can get that going, the better. Because in this business that’s one thing that will probably never change is there’s going to be a relationship and some kind of actual either phone call, video call or, more likely, an in-person meeting.

Brad Sugars:   It’s still true today and I guess it’s probably going to be true forever, people buy from people they know, like, and trust. Those three words have been in that sentence for a hundred years and they’ll probably still be there in a hundred years. And the fastest way to get to know someone is to actually have a conversation with them, to actually meet with them. So that, to me, is the best way.

Phil Singleton:  Well, let’s finish this up with telling us the best way to follow you. Where we can buy your book and how we can learn more about ActionCOACH.

Brad Sugars:   You can buy the book at any good bookstore, Amazon, Coles, Barnes & Noble. Any airport bookstore. Me, you can find me on any social media, Linked, Face, any of them, or

Phil Singleton:   Do you have a favorite one that you go to or do you pretty much cover them all?

Brad Sugars:  You know, I cover them all because I find that it just is today. Different people like different methodologies and I have different target audiences. Some people love Facebook, the older crowd. The younger crowd in business, you’re getting them on Insta, you’re getting them on the Snap. You won’t find me on Pinterest, though, buddy. I’m not really into crafting. I’m not a crafty guy.

Phil Singleton:   There you have it, ladies and gentleman, Brad Sugars. This was an awesome call. I really appreciate you spending this much time with us and sharing your experience and advice and some tips.

Brad Sugars:   It felt wonderful to be with you, buddy.