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Although business is good for ActionCOACH in these trying times, founder and CEO, Brad Sugars, is still doing his bit for the global economy, giving away thousands of hours of coaching to help small businesses survive. In his words: the only way the economy survives is if all small businesses get through this.
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Interview by Amanda Peters, staff writer at Global Franchise and What Franchise
AP: How did ActionCOACH grow into a franchise system that could be replicated in any country?
BS: It took quite some time because I had to get all of the things that I did into a teachable, systematic format. It took several years of teaching it to be able to get it to a point where I could share it with others, and they could understand what I was saying. You had to make complex arguments into simple teaching methodologies. Once it was simply taught, it was then just a matter of showing my franchise partners and coaches how to do it. I first employed people as coaches but then when we wanted to expand internationally, we moved to franchising.
At the time there were very few white collar franchises and most were tax or finance related. So, when we started it was unique and it gave people a different career path.
AP: How do you support new franchisees versus those that have been with the brand for a while?
BS: We believe in an education first approach. We educate and help franchisees make their own wise decisions.
When it comes to franchises that have been with us for some time, it is about keeping the challenge up. When they’re first beginning, it’s about getting them to master what is there. As they get further and further down the road, it’s about giving them new goals, helping them want more, and build their bucket list so that they have other things to shoot for. That is a big part of the success of any franchise partner – they need to understand that there are still other things to be achieved.
We see this not just in our franchisees but in any business owner. When a business gets to a term that I like to use, “fat and happy” - that’s when you’ve got to give them a fresh challenge.
AP: What are some of the driving factors you’ve seen that are behind sustainable, franchise development?
BS: If we’re going to sustain our franchise partners, we’re going to do four main things on top of building a good relationship with them. Number one is we’re going to measure their results. The second thing is we’re going to provide consistent education for them to be in growth mode. If they’re learning, then chances are they are growing. A business can’t outperform the owner’s knowledge base. The third thing we’re going to do is consistently build community. The best people to help our franchisees are our other franchise partners. When a franchisee is facing a challenge, rather than us trying to solve it, we refer them across to another franchise partner who has already solved a similar issue. We found that when you have that legal and fee-based arrangement, it is tough to be their coach. Whereas someone who is at the same level in the organization, we often find that they are more receptive to that person. The fourth thing is to make sure that we understand what’s going on in their life. It is not just their business that has been impacted but their life, too.
AP: How has ActionCOACH transformed digitally with COVID?
BS: We’ve always been fairly digital in what we deliver so it wasn’t a massive shift, but it sped up the shift. We help small businesses, and in good times it’s about thriving and in tough times it’s about survival. For us, this is a very busy time as lots of business owners who never contemplated having a coach are now reaching out for help. Like us, some are doing well, but some are not, and we are in the business of helping people and there’s a lot of help needed right now.
We make a fair bit of effort to work with business owners even before they start with us. We work with them for free for a session or two and in this crisis - we’ve given away tens of thousands of hours of coaching just to help businesses survive because the only way the economy survives is if all small businesses get through this.
AP: What has been the feedback from your Survive & Thrive. training course for COVID-19?
BS: We put it together and our franchise partners delivered it all over the world, in every country we operate in. I’ve taught in 18 countries specifically, but I’ve had people on webinars from many more in the last eight to 10 weeks.
The feedback is very clear that people needed that training because most business owners haven’t been through a downturn economy. We had been in a boom since 2012, so lots of leaders don’t know how to run a business in a downturn economy. I have been lucky, in the sense that this is my fourth economic downturn. I have done this four times already, but this is such a different downturn as it’s not a financial one.
“We had been in a boom since 2012, so lots of leaders don’t know how to run a business in a downturn economy”
Depending on the market, you’ve got approximately a third of all businesses that are fully closed, another third that have found a way to pivot and keep the money flowing, and then you’ve got approximately a third of businesses that are having record sales months in their history. These are mostly ones that have been deemed essential. Unfortunately, most completely closed businesses are small businesses while the vast majority of those deemed essential are big businesses. It’s been an unfair deal for the small business but this needed to be done for the sake of humanity.
AP: How will opening be harder than shutting down?
BS: The first thing they’ve got to do is plan the reopening, plan it as if they were opening their business for the first time. This is because there are new rules and ways of doing business. For instance, with social distancing, businesses will have to rethink customer traffic flow within the store, or if they must visit your office, how do they get in? Is there an alarm bell or a doorbell? What are the rules of engagement in your organization?
The second is you’ve got to change your marketing. There needs to be more sensitivity in your marketing as fear and worry are a part of the day-to-day thought processes of people. Sales will take longer and there needs to be more connectivity, more videos, and social proof because people can’t see other customers buying.
AP: Has this crisis affected ActionCOACH’s expansion plans?
BS: We’ve been opening even during COVID. We opened in the Baltic states and have been working hard to get more business coaches out there to help more people during this time.
I recently did a webinar that went out to about 50,000 Russian business owners. In fact, we coach in three communist countries, Russia China and Vietnam and we’ve had amazing results.
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