Charlie Sampson talks of life after being CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency in China.
Key take aways:
- Keep the business niche at the beginning.
- Get in front of customers as quickly as you can.
- Customers buy you, so be genuinely passionate and credible about the business that you are in.
Reach Charlie here:
Director of Property IC,
Level 26, Fortune Financial Center
No.5 Dong San Huan Zhong Road
Chaoyang District 100020 - Beijing
T: +86 (10) 5775 0348
M: +86 186 0112 8041
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Welcome to The Silver Fox Entrepreneurs podcast, a series of interviews to inform, inspire and support men later in life, who want to start their own enterprise for profit, or for pleasure. Hi, my name is Jim James and I started the Silverfox Entrepreneurs grew in my 50s. Because my friends who were losing their jobs or were bored and felt insecure about keeping their jobs, were asking me how to make money from their own initiatives. I've run my own businesses since the age of 27. In Asia and in Europe. I've also set up peer groups for younger entrepreneurs. And now I think there's a need to share information from subject matter experts, inspiring stories of men who've already started on the journey of making money from their passions, and to provide opportunities to collaborate and to increase the chances of success. I hope that you'll enjoy this interview and learn something that adds value to you do subscribe or leave a rating. And for more information, please visit Silverfox entrepreneurs.life. Today, I'm interviewing Charlie Samson, one time CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi China, who's recreated his life as a property investment expert, running the company property IC. Property IC operates in Beijing and Shanghai facilitating product purchases in the UK to expatriates based in China. Charlie Samson, in Beijing, perhaps you could share with us why being over 50 is the best time of your life. And then tell us about the life journey that brought you to contemplate starting your own business later on in life.Charlie Samson:
Hi, Jim. Yeah, happy to share that. Um, so I spent, just maybe start with a little bit of background on me and work my my sort of career, I spent 30 plus years working in the advertising industry. I worked for Saatchi and Saatchi for 20 years in, in in London, and then spent the last 10 plus years of my advertising career in China. Initially, we started CNN with WPP. So I was working, you know, in big corporate, global ad agencies had a fantastic career, I was the CEO for 17 of those years. And I loved it. But, you know, advertising is a young man's game at the end of the day, and I was over 50 and, you know, it just became a point in my life where I felt 'Okay, I've, I've done advertising now, what next?' And I certainly wasn't ready to retire. And I think the great thing about you know, when you get into your 50s, you really I mean, hopefully you've learned quite a few things along along the road and over the years. And you're able to step back and really ask yourself the question, you know, what, um, you know, what, am I really interested in what we are, what have I learned? What am I like, as a person, you know, what are my strengths, what are my weaknesses, and you're able to sort of bring all those together, and hopefully, you know, do something that you really feel passionate about, that you really feel you can make a difference in and, and bring your strengths to bear. So what I'm doing now, I've started a business with a with a with another partner where we are in property investment. And although I'm based in China, I'm actually focused on UK property. And I'm helping people who live in in primarily in Beijing and Shanghai, to to invest in UK property. And why I ended up and that wasn't an idea that came to me immediately. I had about a year when I after I left WPP, I spent a year thinking about what I wanted to do. I went and did some passion projects, but I hadn't really decided what I was going to really do next. And I came to property because I'd been a property investor myself for many, many years. One of the reasons I was able to step back from full time corporate work, and still pay all the bills was because of property. And so when this opportunity came up to start a property investing business, it was something that I felt I could be convincing about because when I was going to talk to clients and say, 'Look, properties a great way to give you financial freedom in the future at that point when you're ready to step away from corporate.' I could be convincing because that was true in my case. So it wasn't you know, it was something I felt in my heart that I could do so Yeah, that that was sort of how I came to it.Jim James:
And how important do you think it is that you have later on when you start a business, that sort of domain expertise somehow, because actually, you decided not to go into advertising, which you'd been doing for so many years? But you went into the property, Because you already had expertise in that? How important do you feel that has been to the success that you've enjoyed, and perhaps you can share with us, kind of fast forward, where are you at now with this business?Charlie Samson:
Um, well, I think whether you've had direct experience, I mean, I've, so I, I have been a buyer, right, as a property, I'd never actually advise people to invest in property. So So I, you know, I had quite a bit to learn about the business how it worked. So I had a, you know, I essentially had to go back and study right and, and, you know, my business partner, luckily, for me, had been in this industry before, so he was able to help me get up to speed. I think it definitely helped. It has helped tremendously, that I, I have been a property investor for many years. And I'd seen the benefits of, of property investing personally. I think that that gives a tremendous authenticity, when I'm talking to clients. Because I can talk about the journey I've been on. And my clients are all working in corporate, right, or they're, they might be teachers, they might be working in companies, but they're all experts, you know, working abroad. And so that was the path I went through. That was the journey I taken. So you that that that really does help tremendously. I'm not I don't think that's a must for someone who's thinking of starting a new business, a new career. But clearly, it's got to be something that you feel passionately about, you feel interested and you feel you have some value to bring. Otherwise, why is anyone going to buy, buy what you're selling? There's got to be, you know, there's, I mean, that kind of leads me to jumping a little bit ahead. I think, you know, what I've learned one of the main things that I've learned in this journey, which is still quite quite new, it's only two years old. In these very early stages of starting a business, people are buying you, right, they're not buying a business, they're not buying the name of the company that you've created, they are buying youJim James:
and Simon Simon Sinek not the cynic as in C Y N I K, but S I N E K has quite a big sort of story about people don't buy what you do, but people do why you do it. People buy why you do it. Right. So was that something that you already knew that people buy, you know, by you? Or is it something that you learned? Because coming from a big agency, you're always creating brands before we were already already creating personalities for products? So is that something you understood Charlie innately already? Or is it something you came to realize over time?Charlie Samson:
No, that's, that's a fantastic question. And no, I didn't realize that at the beginning, I think that, you know, I, I kind of came to this realization, we had quite a lot of, I think we, we sort of set the business up, and we did all the conventional things, which I think you need to do, like, you know, you need a, you need a website, you need, I think you need a brochure, because that kind of makes you look kind of proper. You know, business cards, you know, all of these things, I think you need to show that you are serious, right? But then I think we sort of got a little bit down the rabbit hole, thinking about, you know, what's our social media strategy going to be? What are the, you know, how can we get how can we build our brand? How can we, and we spend a lot of time looking at the design and the VI and the slogan. And all that stuff is, it is important. I mean, definitely, you know, from my background, I would say it's very important. But I think in hindsight, we probably spent a bit too much time debating that, and, you know, finessing it.Jim James:
When you say too much time why what did it, what did it distract you fromCharlie Samson:
what I think the key thing what I what we learned what I learned is, you know, the most important thing you've got to do is get in front front of people, right physically in front of people, because that's the way you build relationships. And, you know, I think it wasn't until the second year that that I fully realized this. And then what I did my strategy now is, I set up as many presentations as I can to people, or I'm getting myself in front of groups in front of individuals. And, you know, introducing myself introducing my story introducing how I can help them. And that I've found, it sounds an obvious thing. Now to be talking about it as well, of course, you need to get in front of people, you dummy. But you know, what I, what i what i think i didn't fully appreciate the power of that, and the effectiveness of that, physically getting up standing up presenting. So that would probably be the biggest piece of advice I could give to anybody trying to start a business is, get out of your office, get out of your home, get out of your wee workspace, wherever you're basing yourself and get in front of people, either either through networking events, or just through once you've identified your customer just you know, try to try and meet with him.Jim James:
That's a great point that in this sort of day and age of online and social media, that actually people still buy people, right? And then this person,Charlie Samson:
it's fundamental. And when you're starting a business, that is all they're buying, right? Because I mean, you know, my case, the property I see no one really knows who the property I see is. That's the name of our company. But it's not like it's not, it's not a brand. It's not it's not Saatchi and Saatchi. Right. So they are buying you they're buying, you know what you, they're buying your credibility, your personality, your story, the service you can offer. That's what they're buying. And the only the, what I found is yes, but you can do, you know, posting on LinkedIn, and we do all that stuff. And we have our own, you know, social media account, and we put content into it. And that's all fine and good. But what really shifts the needle is meeting people getting in front of people presenting to people.Jim James:
And you've obviously had a lifetime of presenting in front and doing pitches to be client, but what about for kind of preparation for presentations because by and large presentations are quite often stressful. The most stressful part for people in a new business is pitching. Yeah. Any any sort of learnings that you had there about kind of reducing the stress and obviously increasing the conversion rate when you're in the room, either one on one or in a seminar with a group.Charlie Samson:
Yeah. Well, look, I mean, that there's, there's tons of great content and resources out there on how to make a good presentation. So I mean, I wouldn't I think if you feel your presentation skills need improving there's there's a whole bunch of stuff out there that you can you know, books you can buy podcasts you can listen to, and courses you can go on. So, you know, just keep keep honing that skill. You know, I still even though I've been doing presenting for many, many years, I still am always looking for ways to be better always looking for ways to improve. It's a never ending quest to to influence right. To influence people is it's that quest never stops, you never stopped improving. And you should never try and stop improving. That would be my advice is don't worry. If you feel you're nervous, I still get nervous when I present and there's nothing wrong with that. That's natural, you should be nervous when you that it's a case of obviously managing those nerves and making it an asset rather than a problem. But anyway, the point being that, you know, just never stop improving, never stop, you know, sharpening the sword. When it comes to, to presentingJim James:
And then, the sharpening the sword is really a nice analogy, because it's all about preparation in presentations, isn't it? You know, the stress comes from actually being ill prepared. And my experience is that the best presentations are the ones that look the easiest, but they're the ones that have had the most time in advance put into them.Charlie Samson:
Yeah, and I mean, what I found is is with with the best presentations, or the most successful presentations that I I make, when I really capture you know, what is the what is the the what's the problem I'm solving for my client? And what are the what are the what are the emotional barriers or insights that are really going to drive them to take action and of course, I you know, I need to have my process I need to have what I do, I need to have, I need to show my expertise. But if I can really tap into their problem, which is usually an emotional problem, right? Or their their barriers, again, it's usually an emotional thing that's blocking them if I can tap into that, that I'm much more successful.Jim James:
Okay, fantastic. And you, you mentioned before we were talking about, about finding the audience for those sort of meetings, it's good like to share about how you've done the prospecting, how you've done the definition of who's going to be your target customer, because one of the things we'll talk about, if you're a startup, you don't have the resources to do broad based marketing or to service if you get broad based leads. How did you go about sort of identifying your customer?Charlie Samson:
Yeah, so I mean, we were very clear on who our customer is, which I think is vital for any, any, any business, that starting up, you've got to have a very clear, you know, picture of who your target is. And, you know, one of the classic mistakes that people make is, it's always everybody, you know, I mean, you know, I mean, anyone can, be my customer will clearly that's not true, you've got to really drill down into who that person is, you know, what is their age, what is their demographic, but but also, you know, what kind of people they are that that psychographic and and profile and so on. So for us, you know, we're very clear, we're aiming at expatriates who are living in China, we know that there are certain nationalities, I mean, obviously, Brits are the bullseye, because we're focusing on UK property, but we know there are certain other nationalities that are more open to UK property investing than others. So, so we draw that down, and then then it's really a case of Okay, where can we find these people, and for us, schools have been a great a great area, because there are a lot of teachers, particularly the British schools, which there are several engaging are, are excellent. So as an example, we will, you know, will, will will, through a contract that we have in those schools, we will promote, usually an evening event, where, you know, we will lay on some, you know, some some food and drink, we keep it quite short, we say the presentation will be only 30 minutes. And we make it clear that it's educational, we're not, it's not a hard sell, this is really, you know, to give them some valuable information. And if they're interested, then we can set up a separate meeting on another date, so so we sort of take the pressure out of the situation, we try and make it social, you know, we do it in a restaurant or a bar. And, and we find that that works well as a as an approach.Jim James:
And what would you say have been the sort of main ways that you're able to take someone through the funnel, as it were, you know, because meeting people, and you know, there's conversations, various groups, or people doing startups and they're able to pitch or they're not able to close the deal? So, what's been your experience on how you go from meeting people in a nice restaurant and talk to them about learning about property? And the impact on your life to them actually becoming customers? How do you? How do you take them through that process to actually closing the deal? And, and charging them money for that?Charlie Samson:
Yeah, when it comes back to pres presentations, isn't it? I mean, you're not first meeting, I'm not really hard selling my company. I'm focusing much more on their problems, you know, their, their desires, and then, you know, how, how property can help to solve solve those and meet those. I touched a little bit on what we do, but I'm really in that first meeting, talking to them on a on a sort of higher a higher level, both in terms of a sort of trends within UK property, for example, which cities are showing the most growth, you know, where the kind of best opportunities you know, what property you can bring to them. What are the what are the what are the typical barriers and you know, why did why what what you know why people might be interested but don't take action. I'm really talking looking at quite a high level, in this first meeting, then out of that, there'll be, you know, maybe half that go, Okay, that was interesting, but not for now, or, you know, maybe contact you in the future, and that's fine. But you know, you're going to get a group that will go, Okay, great, I'm interested in learning more, and then you'll have a one on one meeting with them separately, where you'll get much more into their personal situation, what they can afford, what you can specifically bring to to them as an individual. So it's definitely a two step process, sometimes a three or four step process.Jim James:
And from a practical point of view, you need what you share, what are you using any tools for that are using an online CRM to keep everything you're doing an Excel sort of practical level? Often people are not sure what systems they need? So what what are you using to keep a record and to make sure that everything's sort of centralized and under under management?Charlie Samson:
Yeah, I mean, so we are, we're still, like I said, we're a new company. So we, you know, we're, we're, we're, we're starting to systemize. This as we go along, my business partner is quite big on systems. So you know, we we've actually just now he's introducing a new CRM system at the moment, I just keep everything on a on a spreadsheet, personally, but now he has invested in a new proper CRM system. Don't ask me what it is, because we haven't, we haven't actually personally discussed the name that is. But yeah, I think as you obviously, as you grow, I mean, in the first stage, a simple excel is fine, because you're just starting out. But once you start to build up, obviously, a significant number of clients, you probably do need a proper CRM system where which, which is going to manage it all for you, or help you manage it.Jim James:
But if you're raising a, you're raising a good point about the simplicity in the early days. And you mentioned earlier on about getting in front of people being the first first task, rather than trying to build a big system, which can be too complicated. So would would you say that you've made it like one mistake? Or maybe more than one that that nearly killed the business? Or have you made something that was nearly life threatening? And if so, what was it and how did you overcome it?Charlie Samson:
No, nothing, nothing life threatening that, that that will have killed the business. I think, you know, I think just the to, overall, if I think you introduced me to this book, Jim. Yeah, the the E myth. Which is a brilliant.Jim James:
Yeah, the Michael Gerber Ebook.Charlie Samson:
You're, if any, anyone listening to this hasn't read the Emyth and is thinking of starting a business or is or is in the middle of, you know, starting a business, that's probably one of the best book that has ever been written about entrepreneurship. And, and, you know, the, the, the main takeaway is, the importance of right from the beginning, if you can, is to build is to systemize things so that you, as the founder, don't get dragged into doing everything that you, you know, you set up systems so that you, you can free yourself up to grow the business. So I think, I think we're, we very much have taken up that book and that approach on board. And so we're trying, you know, as we go along, to really systemize everything, so that, as we as we continue to grow, we can, you know, we can bring in people to do various functions, and, you know, we're not always needing to be the ones doing it. So I think, and that's, that's not an easy thing to say, and a harder thing to do. So I would say if I could pinpoint one sort of struggle, is probably the systemization of things. Not my natural, you know, I'm not a big kind of systems person, but I do, I do very much agree and understand the need for them. So, you know, if you're not, if you're not a systems person, you need to learn to become more of a systems person, like I've had to do, it's vital.Jim James:
Right. So there is some some degree of finding partners or outsource but also some degree of learning oneself. So on the on the final question, then Charlie, what would you say would be like the one, the one takeaway that you've now would say you have from on reflection, having started your own business later on in life, is there is a one thing that you could sort of share about the impact it's had on your life?Charlie Samson:
Well, I would say I mean, There's been ups and downs, right? I mean, it's not all the better roses by any means. And I'm fortunate in the, you know, my, you know, putting food on the table or hasn't, you know, hasn't relied on the success of this business. So I, you know, the context of what I'm about to say should be seen in that light. I mean, if if it was all down to me to put food on the table, and, and so on and so forth, it will probably be a very different experience. But then again, I come back to, you know, property being the the key to that financial independence. You know, and that's, that's been that's been part of, you know, a big part of the story. So, yeah, I would just say, you know, it's been fantastic. I love, I love working on my own terms. You know, creating my own schedule. And just that, that the freedom to run your life and not have your life run for you is amazing. And, and I'm certainly a happier person as a result. And yeah, I think that's, that's, that's, that's really been been my my, my experiences. I it's been great so far.Jim James:
Charlie, thank you so much for sharing that. And we look forward to your success in hearing how you and your partner get on with developing the business over the coming years. So thanks very much for sharing both the sort of the information and the inspiration of starting your own company as a silver fox.Charlie Samson:
Thanks, Jim. It's been a pleasure.Jim James:
Do subscribe or leave a rating and for more information, please visit Silverfoxentrepreneursllife and drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you. And maybe we can get you on the podcast and share what you know, or let me know what you'd like to know. Thank you. Once again, have a great day.