‘When you’re skeptical but have to enact change and it works – that’s the best kind of wrong to be.’
Brad Burton founded 4Networking in 2006 he revolutionised the networking scene with his 50% social, 50% work concept. It was pre-social media and the nation loved it. Functioning at running over 5000 events ever year, covid threatened his livelihood overnight. Working all hours with his team, Brad revamped his 14 year old offering, launching online networking meetings through 4nonline.biz and blasted on through. He shares his story and imparts some golden nuggets of wisdom to anyone in business, or starting up in our weekly podcast. Part of his interview follows, hear the full story on the Business Matters podcast.
Has being online broken down new barriers to trade?
Yes it’s been really interesting because we’re getting people who’ve never done face to face networking before. Being online has actually broken some barriers we didn’t even know were there. Because we’re not having to cover expensive room hires with food and drink, we’ve passed that saving on to our members. The main expense of time and cost is of course travel – we’ve eradicated the fuel, train tickets, parking etc. It normally requires about four hours out of someone’s day. So the system has been completely streamlined and we’ve capped the meetings down to 90 minutes which has actually made people more focused and productive. And of course we can have more meetings.
So covid has ended up being positive?
It’s crazy to say it, but yes, it’s probably how we should have progressed to doing it before. Plus I’m loving it because it’s actually got a startup vibe to it that I almost missed with 4Networking the first time round because I was so busy trying to get it off the ground driving 1000 miles a week. With covid it’s been a fresh start. A lot of other networks are still in the discussion stages of whether or not they should go online and we’ve already got 100 groups running. We started it all within four days of me making the decision. When this is all over, because at some point it will be, there’s going to be a column of losers, big losers, winners and big winners, and what we’ve done is a few months ago will mean we’re in the winning category.
Do you think you’re going to retain the online meeting space when this is all over and run a hybrid model?
Yes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
How are people reacting to meeting people online? There was more of a social element to the face to face …
If you were in London in your networking zone close to your office or house you would go along every week or month and occasionally meet someone new. Whereas online, everyone’s the new kid in school. I did 20 meetings in a week online and met 500 new people. I felt as though I teleported around the UK. It was incredible. It’s a brave new world but it’s a brilliant one.
What’s your next goal for 4Networking?
I want us to be the Netflix of networking. When we started in 2006 it took twelve months to run twelve groups, the next year it was 26 groups then 56 groups and then 120 … We’re now at 100 in six weeks. Anyone else coming into the community at this point has got a tough job to create a network as strong as ours.
So part of your day you’re on 4Networking, the rest of the time you’re actually being a motivational business speaker. When you’re at speaking events what is a common fear that people voice?
People are often scared to make decisions incase they make the wrong one. But how can you know until you’ve done it? No one wakes up and thinks: I’m going to screw up today. If I make a mistake it’s just that. A mistake. Here’s how I make decisions: if someone tells me something I will normally make a decision in 24 seconds. If I can’t make a decision then I’ll sit on it for 24 minutes, if not then, then I’ll revisit it in 24 hours and if I can’t decide then, then that’s the decision made. It’s not important enough for me to act on at that time.
Talking about the decision making process. You started 4Networking on 325k in debt, you walked out on your last employer and you started it from scratch. You didn’t wait for a perfect situation to begin a new company …
No absolutely not. You need three things to start a business: ideas, vision and belief. If you don’t 100% believe in your business you can’t get upset when you talk to people and they don’t 100% believe in it either. And that’s the problem., people are too busy moaning ‘oh I’m waiting for a second round of seed funding. Shut up and put your house on it. ‘But what happens if it doesn’t work out?’
If you believe in it, do it.
With or without funding?
If you don’t get funded it keeps you hungry. Having too much money in business makes you lazy and stupid. I was offered £300,000 to start 4Networking and all I would have done is drive around in a branded Range Rover and lost equity for it. Less money makes you lean, keen and focusses your decision making processes.
So by definition using the Darwin theory, think around the problem, you may not have thought about online before or dismissed it because you wanted face to face?
18 months ago we were talking about it and we did a few trial runs and dismissed it saying that the technology wan’t right. Rubbish, it was our way of doing it that wasn’t right.
What advice would you give to our readers for the next time something happens, large or small, to disrupt their business?
Write the following on a blank piece of paper: what does this make possible? Answer the question and that’s your new business plan. Then react. Fast. We moved so fast we were in proper war mode.
How do you maintain a high level of motivation to see you through and push you forwards?
If I said to you there’s a million pounds at the end of 100m sprint and you’ve got a lion chasing you – what would motivate you more. Fear of death or wanting the money? I work at the pace imagining that I’ve got lions chasing me, I work and run for me. Money doesn’t motivate me to that extent and the people who just focus on the money as a target and then they’re surprised when someone else can run past them. Is to make a positive difference to my life, my family and for every single one of my 4Network members.
So now you’re online, you don’t need to worry about geographical issues. Do you worry that someone can copy your concept?Yes we’re going to go international next. Anyone can copy our format, it’s easy to do, however they can’t copy the culture and vibe. That’s been set from day one. I’ve created something that people can stand or fall on, based solely on their ability not on their fancy suit or cards.
What take away can you give to businesses to get them through the next six months and further?
Imagine that you’re reading a book and you’re halfway through the book and the lead character is where you’re at right now. I want you to write: this is not how this story ends …
Then, I want you to think about your final chapter and what you want to happen. What do you want the hero of this book to achieve? And then work out how the heck you get there.
Don’t waste time thinking about how life was pre-covid, it’s here and it’s done. Crack on with your future. The past is finished. Start again with a blank piece of paper. If all you’ve got is hope and determination, it’s going to be enough.