Andy Clayton and I met in Beijing in 2008, as he was a fellow British entrepreneur, and so he was one of the first people I called when I wanted to learn how other returning expatriates have managed the transition. Fast forward from our first meeting and now Andy is a successful and articulate Gazelles and Petra certified coach with the European rights to the training methodologies of the American firm providing the tools of Scaling Up.
Andy sees the world differently to most people. Bi-lingual, he has a powerful sense of focus and clarity which helped Andy to found, grow and sell the UK’s largest China Operations outsourcing agency, helping Western companies to operate over $50m of sales in China. He achieved this through deployment of the tools of Scaling Up, and has since certified as a Petra and Gazelles Coach, helping organisations implement the tools of Scaling Up, aligning teams to unlock growth and potential in their organisations.
Andy’s passions included extreme distance running, and supporting Autistic causes, including founding Autistic Entrepreneurs.
We talk here about how he planned the sale of his China business when he decided that he didn't want to fly back and forth any more.
He shares the way in which he approached the Petra coaching company in America to bring their Scaling Up methodology to the UK.
Andy has also been working on SODA - his own methodology for saving time, which is being successfully implemented by executives saving them literally days in the month.
Read the article version of this episode - https://theunnoticed.cc/episode/how-one-man-solved-the-problem-of-returning-to-the-uk-from-china-without-a-job-is-scaling-up-and-offering-soda
You can contact him here:
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Hi, welcome to this episode of The Silver Fox entrepreneurs podcast. Today I'm talking with an old friend, Andy Clayton. He and I met back in Beijing some 15 years ago. And he's a sweetspot guru is a speaker and a facilitator. And since returning back to the UK he has become certified as the Petra and gazelles coach, is Oxford educated and is now living there. And he's also now devices own a methodology called SODA, which is a way of helping people to save time. So welcome, Andy to this week's podcast.Unknown:
Welcome to The Silver Fox entrepreneurs podcast, the show for mature men with enterprise.Jim James:
Welcome to The Silver Fox entrepreneurs podcast and today I'm delighted to welcome back a good friend from originally Beijing. And now back in the UK, Andy Clayton. Andy, welcome.Andy Clayton:
Thank you, Jim. Good to be here.Jim James:
Thank you so much for joining us. And I've invited you on the show, because you've always impressed me You're bilingual, you're an entrepreneur, when you're just a really good person too. Can you just share a little bit about where you're at now? And the What are you doing?Andy Clayton:
Sure. Well, I'm 42 and a half. I'm married, I have a couple of children in their early teenage years, and I live in Oxford. And what I do is I have a small coaching company. So we help high growth businesses, to align their teams behind strategies. And then we coach them to getting those things done. So I'm very fortunate to work with a lot of really smart entrepreneurs, helping them set a very clear direction for their business and bringing their teams together in order to strive towards those those goals and objectives.Jim James:
Now that that's fantastic in knowing you, you've managed together all really nicely organized, but it wasn't always the case. Right? I mean, you and I, when we met in China, you were having some decisions to take about staying in China in the business, do you just want to walk us through some of the history of how you went from from Beijing, and then back to Oxford?Andy Clayton:
Sure. So I mean, the story of my life, or those that period of it is after university. So my very early 20s, I was struck by China, and I got the China bug in a big way, went over there and did a couple of years as a VSO. Then I got various jobs, and throughout my 20s, I progressed professionally in China and did quite well. And then when I was 30 years old, I thought that the next big challenge for me would be to set up my own business. So that's, that's what I did. And with a lot of hope in my heart, I went after it. But I found it much harder than I'd anticipated. A lot of that was down to me that I hadn't been an entrepreneur before. And I'd under anticipated how challenging it would be. I also made some bad decisions strategically, initially with the first business. And the result was, I had to spend years clearing up the mess of that I had some original investors in the business that had to be exited, I had to reposition the business. And then I ended up in a situation of having this very small company with no money and very few people. And it just took a really, really long time to build and turn that that business around. So that's why I spent most of my 30s doing. In the meantime, I started to fall out of love with China. And China itself sort of changed and became in many ways the more challenging place to live. Also, my son has asthma, and so he was struggling out there. And so I reached the point, sort of my mid 30s, whereby I knew I wanted to leave. And so we we reached a point where Harry was getting quite unwell. And so we moved the family back here. So I ended up in a situation of having some business in China, me flying back and forth over here. And that business started to grow, but my situation became untenable. So the travel and also managing a team remotely in somewhere as far away as challenging as China eventually took its toll. So yeah, so what that meant is that by the end of my 30s by the time I was about 40 I I just decided to sell that business, which is which is what I did.Jim James:
And who did you sell the business to then and and how did you do that? How did you exit?Andy Clayton:
Well, it was precipitated by a bit of a crisis in the business. What was always the hardest thing for me was if someone in China team someone senior in the China team left because then I'd have to go over there and fill their role for a while was though, recruited replacements. And this particular role was was particularly challenging one and it made me realize that, you know, whoever I found to replace I would constantly face this this risk. And I never wanted to be in that situation of sort of being in hotel rooms and friends sofas for months on end away from the family whilst I resolved Maloney's crisis. So that's what precipitated the decision in my heart to say, right, I need to sell this business. I opted for a quick approach, which meant that I did realize some value from the business, but not everything that I could have done if I'd maybe spent a couple of years getting back into shipshape and maybe courting a few more acquires. So I sold it to a direct competitor. And really what they were most interested in was the client book, the team, the operations allowed them to get scale in a market, which for them, they haven't really had a position in before. So I got out I got out quick, I got out with some money, not a life changing amount. And most importantly, I got out clean you know, by which I mean that there were no liabilities there were everybody was taken care of the customers, the team members, the acquirers, you know, everybody felt that they'd come out of the situation, I think, reasonably well taken care ofJim James:
it well done. That's, that's a really both a sort of an expert with integrity, and with opportunity, as well. So you've got back to the UK. And what did you do then? Because you arrived back here, family's all here? Or did you manage...Andy Clayton:
Yeah. So once I sold the company I've been. We've been living here anyhow. So Alex, I was 14 years old. And I sort of realized that I didn't want to do anything trying to relate to the game. I was very, very clear about that. And so I had 15 years of experience, and let you say, the language, business background, the contacts and everything in an area that I knew that I couldn't and wouldn't use anymore. So I had to make a pivot. And, yeah, so the past two years of my life have been a story of making that kind of a transition. And,Jim James:
And how did you decide what to do next? And, Andy? Because, you know, it's quite interesting that you say that you decided not to go back to China, considering you speak Mandarin, you've been there for so long. So a decision not to be involved in China. But then what next is you've dedicated so much of your your youth in your career to that market so far.Andy Clayton:
Yeah, well, I mean, I figured that whatever I did, that would have a china angle to it would require me to go back sooner or later either to travel or spend more time there because China like anything, you have to stay current, right, you have to be constantly returning back to understand what's going on. And also, to be relevant to anyone operating that space, that would require travel out there. And also, I suppose a part of me had reached a point where I suppose I didn't want to be a part apologist is a strong word, but there was so much that was happening in China, in the regime in China, and how that society, the direction that it's going, and I suppose I realized, maybe a different value set. And I'll tell you, what I came out with, that was strongest and most positive for me, was really a very deep appreciation for what we have here in the UK. I mean, when I was my early 20s, and I left but nobody sort of disillusionment. So I found that place being small and dull, and not much going on and all these opinions. And whereas when I came back, I realized what we have here in terms of the freedoms that we enjoy the values of the society, the good environment that we have, and also actually a great business climate in the UK is a fantastic place to do business. Yeah, it's interesting,Jim James:
I found found the same, no coming back to the UK having left at 27, thinking just like a small on word. And without opportunity, and coming back to he joined the fresh air, and finally, a lot of vibrant and creative and entrepreneurial people in the UK. So it's a real celebration of that. And then so that's, that's wonderful, you're able to then kind of enjoy your home country again. What about then deciding what to do next? Because that can be a challenge for everybody, right? Because you're kind of starting from a fresh slate.Andy Clayton:
That's right, exactly. And so that's, that's a really important decision, because it then affects the trajectory for the following few years. So I came out of my previous business with a little bit of money, but really only enough to pay off the mortgage and, you know, survive for a year or two, to be honest. So not a huge amount of funds to invest in something big. But enough to be able to run at a loss for a short period of time if I had to make one investment. Most importantly, though, I came out of that business with a few insights that I knew I had to apply. So the first was to pick something, and just to do that, like, take the time that it takes to choose a thing and make the comparisons and do the analyses, and then be single minded about pursuing it. And don't get distracted. Because I, in my first business, my original businesses, I'd had these tendencies to sort of try multiple businesses at the same time. And that never worked. So that was a key insight. Another insight was, don't do it alone. If I'm going to go into a new business, I've I've done enough business over the years to know all the many, many things that I don't know about new markets. So how to price it? Who are the target customers? What are the sales and marketing channels that are going to work? What type of people do I need to recruit to make this business work? What are the good operating procedures and all those sorts of things. And I knew that, from my previous business, that each one of those things had taken such a long time that if I went and invented my own new business, it would in a new market, and it would take me forever. So I made the decision to do to do a few things I had been using, and also training a certain system for helping high growth companies from a book called Scaling Up. And there's a few guys that I knew that were coaching from one of the best scaling up implementation companies based out of us called Petrocoach. So I did a deal with the founder over there, take a license for Europe. So essentially, I became a franchisee, a licensee, and I made the trade off, Jim have, I know this isn't going to be my IP. And I know I'm not going to own the brand around those things. However, if I just replicate what someone else is doing, that will accelerate growth. And so that buys me time because it creates a cash generating business, at least in the short term, I'm learning once I've got that stable, I can then think about long term equity and IP, value generating activities. And that's where I'm now. So that's the result of the past couple of years, it's now that I have I have a strong business, which supports, you know, me and the family and the team and everything like that. Although long term, I will have to take, consider some decisions around how I generate more of my own IP.Jim James:
So that's interesting, very smart, and focused strategy there in terms of the taking on a franchise, and I think quite a few people do that each year, I read that in America, some, you know, over half of the people that start businesses later in life are buying over a business that's already in existence or a franchise. Can you just share with us a little bit about the business model at the franchise? How much you have to pay to buy it? Do you ever territory? How much revenue? Do you have to give to the to the brand owners, that'd be useful to know.Andy Clayton:
I mean, I have a very simple arrangement with the business that I franchise, which simply involves a percentage revenue split with them. So there's, there's no, whether they there's a nominal, there's a target that they have, for me in terms of size of the business. I get to use the brand, I get access to their team, I get all their operating procedures, and I have regular check ins. So it's definitely been a big source of support there. But it means that I haven't had to, because developing a brand, it's actually a very time consuming thing. And it's more than just the visuals of it and figuring out the website, those sorts of things. It's about coming up with something that's going to fit the target market. And you actually have to have quite a lot of insight about a business about a market in order to be in a position to get a brand that fits right. So it allowed me to circumvent that that whole process. See, it's a split of revenues. I think we had a three year contracts, which is another year to run out of a European Territory License Agreement. And I'm assuming that, you know, we'll we'll roll that over. Now, because this is bigger. There might be some kind of a renegotiation around those, those percentage splits, because obviously, that number is keeps keeps growing and growing, although none of those conversations have started just yet.Jim James:
Well, I'm sure when they when they had in terms of can you share? Are you willing to share? Did you have to put cash upfront, or was it just a, you get a territory and then you pay them a 10% 15% 20% of the of the revenue? And how do they audit that mean, how do you is it just an honesty system or?Andy Clayton:
So I didn't have to put cash up front? No, I mean, it's a service based business. So it's much more about IP. And, you know, they've provided a little bit of business and a few leads, but mostly it's been down to me To generate the business over here. So no, I didn't have to put up cash up front. What was the second question? Sorry.Jim James:
We're just about about how they how you monitor, if you've got a franchise auditing Do you have to share books, they do the invoicing for a practical point of view, talking to Bob Grace earlier on, he has an another episode, he works with the Hayes travel group. And they, they do all the invoicing and the billing, and they remit him at the end of the month, his commission, just wondering how your how your franchise agreement is structured.Andy Clayton:
By the contract is they have the right to come and audit our books. However, in reality, it's a trust based system. So we send them a report every month, which has got all of our revenues, and we calculate what we therefore owe them based on what's been agreed. And they accept that. I think from their point of view, you know, obviously, they have the right and they could come in and take the time toward it, those sorts of things. However, I think probably they take the view that it's all an incremental benefit anyway, they don't really have to do very much for that money. They like being able to say that they're a global business now, because previously, they're just in North America, so that they have that network of coaches in Europe, it's great credibility for the for the business. And I suppose the the deal if you like the Trade Office, as long as we don't take up too much of their time, which which we kind of don't. And, you know, we're, we're participating and adding in terms of knowledge and IP and team participation, and you know, we're paying our dues fairly, then it kind of works for both sides. But they don't have any other licensees like us anywhere in the world. So it's, it's kind of so far one off deal that was negotiated. And I don't know if there are other people that they're, they're talking to other territories.Jim James:
So Andy, I've got a question. So there are many people, including me that probably have to do the job to get paid, and maybe in a drain, by your sweet spot, you know, parlance or a distraction, but it's where they get their money from to pay their bills. But they've got a sweet spot, something they're passionate about, but they haven't managed to monetize it. How do people deal with that? How do you how do you solve that problem? That conundrum?Andy Clayton:
That's a really good question. And I would say, probably three, three answers to that one. The first one is that one of the criteria for something to be a sweet spot is that it must be high value. So that means that and often high value. The euphemism would be that it's impact that it has a significant influence on on our lives or on other people's lives, probably one of the key measures of value is monetary. So if it's something that is going to be able to generate revenue, then you have to ask yourself the question of, if it's a sweet spot or a distraction. And that can be an uncomfortable one, because the many things that we like, and enjoy doing, and we're good at, that don't generate revenue in our lives. And so sometimes it creates this difficult dilemma between you want to spend time in distractions or your spent time in sweet spots, and it's a bit like the Jim Collins Hedgehog concept, in that, it's got to, we've got to be good at it, we've got to have passion doing it. And it's got to drive our economic engine, it's got to got to make us money. Now, it isn't always as simple as that. Because sometimes you have people who have like what's called an emergent sweet spot. So I've, I've started doing this thing, which I think think I'm good at. And I know I like doing, but it's not making me money yet. So I founded this business. And I knew I was good at helping companies to do their coaching and their strategy and their planning sessions. But without a reputation in the market without a steady stream of leads, it took a long time to actually turn that into a lucrative business. And so the second thing I would say, really is about time, this, how long will it take. And again, I use a Jim Collins analogy, which is the flywheel. And in the early days of the business, it just takes a really long time to get the first customers to get the reputation to get the testimonials to get enough cash in order to be able to make investments to be able to start marketing and it can feel like a really long, hard push. And in that meantime, sometimes you do have to be doing other things in order to pay the bills. And gradually the focus shifts from what was previously been done to To the new business. And so that's the period when a lot of resilience and patience and application and dedication and, you know, if I, I'd be lying if I said that the past two years for me had all been easy, I mean, I have enough insight and I've been through businesses enough times knew that I would get there. But of course, there's been times of self doubt of getting fed up, or is this going to work out. And so the thing that has always kept me going through those times, it's those moments when I know that it will work, you know, a happy client, even if there's just one. And that's not quite enough to pay the bills yet, or a positive testimonial. And as those data points slowly start to ratchet up, then confidence in the business will return. And then the third point I'd make is about kind of, again, it's to do with skill set and ability, but it takes time to get good at things. And so one of the things about sweet spot is about being good. And often, if someone's launched a new business, or they're going into a new area in their life, they themselves have to this idea of 10,000 hours, right, you have to do something a lot before you actually become proficient and skilled at it to really be able to make it lucrative. And that requires sometimes doing things for free or doing mates rates, and whilst you're still honing your craft. And again, it's this idea of just having to stick with it. And knowing it's a bit like the rocky montage isn't that you've got to put the hours in, do the training and keep yourself motivated, and believe and know that the outcome will get there. And so what's how I would summarize that is you kind of have to search your heart a little bit, if you're doing a new thing to see if it's really a good fit or not. Like, is this something that I'm naturally interested in? It's really got my curiosity and even when I don't have to do I'm reading up about it. And I'm, I'm looking for sources, is it something that people that I do it with, tell me that I'm good at? And is it something that I feel that I could really do this for a long time rather than I'm just doing it to fill time? And if it does tick those boxes, then it's just a question, consistent, steady application, isn't it and you just have to kind of live die repeat, you just have to keep going until our own abilities develop. And our own reputation and resources reach the point whereby it has that momentum and eventually. And what I like about the Jim Collins analogy is that flywheel starts to push you, you know, and the people that are working in your team and the customers that you're serving, kind of develop a momentum of their own. And that's when you know, you've, you're there and you've kind of reached the objective that you were looking for.Jim James:
And so you mentioned as well Andy about developing your own IP with your experience entrepreneur in your own right. You were talking earlier on about some of the tools and techniques that you're starting to think about that you've originated, you want to share a little bit about those I think you mentioned gin and tonic or something earlier on. You mentioned the SODA?Andy Clayton:
That's right. Yeah.Jim James:
So I want to share about because you you're a thinker, and you've had some of your thoughts. So just share it, where were some of the things that you've been learning in terms of best practice that some of the listeners might find useful for them to actually apply?Andy Clayton:
Sure, well, I have my first book coming out this year, and it's built around an exercise that we've been using with our clients for some time now. And they've found extremely popular and beneficial. It's a very simple thing at heart, Jim, it's called sweet spot. And it's about each of us has particular skills and abilities that are particular to us. And our sweet spot lies at the overlap between the things that we enjoy doing and like doing, and that are high value that have a big impact in our lives. And usually, most people struggle to spend much time in their sweet spot. And the reason is because of everything else that we do in life, right, or the other activities that keep us busy. And so those are the other three quadrants, you got the things which you maybe like doing or you're good at but a low value, which are distractions. So, you know, I still do a lot of my own financial reporting, because I quite quite like doing it, but it's probably not a very high value task for me to be doing. And then you've got the things which are important we feel that we have to be doing, but maybe don't sit within our skill set, which we call drains. So for me, I've done my best at doing my own marketing in my business for some time now, but I'm not very good at it. And so it doesn't get done very well. And it gets me down. So I've now actually hired somebody to take that from me. And so we're finally seeing progress and development that And then you've got the disasters, which are the things which so for example, this week, our administrator is on holiday when she knows she's had an operation. And so I find myself doing travel bookings, and, you know, drafting agreements, and those things that I give up doing some time ago. And so that the trick in life, particularly as an entrepreneur, is this constant protein source of moving towards the top right hand corner there, eliminating the structure and strains and disaster so that we can spend more time in our sweet spot. And that changes over time. So what we find is, once we get into a sweet spot area, it then divides into four. And also, as we get good at things and our priorities change in life, we we were constantly discovering where that area in the top right hand corner is. So as an exercise, you do it by identifying the sweet spot is what activities, you're doing that taking up time and energy that you could reduce or eliminate. And yeah, we've come up with this, this acronym SODA, for how you can go about eliminating or reducing tasks, spending time and advancing your sweet spot. So it stands for Stop, Outsource, Delegate and Automate. And those are the four ways that you can get rid of work. So it's a lot of things you can just stop doing. It's like setting good boundaries, it's about saying no to things. Outsourcing, there are so many opportunities these days for using external service providers to take work off us. And that may be freelancers that may be expert agencies, but also a lot of it these days is stuff like you know the door to door deliveries, you don't even have to go to shops anymore, or do a lot of the kind of menial things that these days can can be brought to your top door. Delegate is all about handing stuff over to team members, which sometimes people find hard because it means that you have to actually take the time to go find somebody and train them how to do it, and then trust them to get on with it. And then automate is all about using software and robots and algorithms. So for example, we started using this task management software a few months ago called Monday.com and it's reduced our internal email traffic by like 70 or 80%. But with those you do have to take on financial commitment of often and usually something that you're then tied into for a while. So the thing with with sweet spot is it's an exercise, and you can do it pretty quickly. 20, 30 minutes, you can get immediate benefits. One CEO I worked with he saved up five full days for his calendar just by doing it once. But the real benefit actually comes and doing it again and again as a repeated habit. And it changes your mindset and your thinking and decisions that you make every day. So it's a guy, I've done it with a few times. And he found himself very stopped driving anywhere. He just took taxis and Ubers and trains because he could actually work in that time. Or he would make decisions about whether he's going to cook for himself or go to a restaurant. And he realized that for him, the key was to put a price on his time. And then a thing that was less than that he would find someone else to do it for him some some way or another and then using it with the team. So if you're entrepreneur and you're running a business regularly sitting down and going through the sweetspot activity with them means that it improves their productivity and takes off their plates, the things that frustrating them or wasting their time. And also it means that this conversation about the direction of personal development, each members of the team. Many years ago, I had a finance manager in the early days of the business, you know, she was doing finance and HR and import export and and operations. And it took us a couple of years. But after we'd done her sweetspot activity together, she's I really just want to focus on on finance. So we had to grow the company and recruit people in gradually delegate those functions out. And two years later, she was just doing finance. And then like I say, finance then divides into four. And so within that we then had to get through another sweet spot to identify financial management or accounting or Treasury. So that we have the book coming out this year, we've got the website launching www.sweetspot.guru. And we're doing a lot of workshops and public speaking events around the origin sweet spot.Jim James:
And if that sounds both informative and inspirational, I think you've given me a lot of food for thought as well about what I do and spend my time doing. So you've mentioned sweetspot, dog guru, and how else can people find out about you and where can they track you down?Andy Clayton:
So the main business that I run is called Petrocoach. So www.petra oach.com. We're up on there, along with the US coaches. That's where you can find more information about what the what the main business does. Andy, thanksJim James:
so much for sharing your wisdom and your insight and really impressive life journey. And I've always admired how you've managed to be focused and creative, but also really have integrity in the way that you're doing your business in your life. So, thank you very much for sharing the mic with me today. Thank you very much, Jim. I really appreciate it.Unknown:
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