Interview – Ash Taylor

Episode Overview

Ash Taylor, also known as The Implementation Coach, works with small business owners who struggle to prioritise and feel overwhelmed with all there is to do in their businesses. He helps them create a business that provides the life they want now, not some distant day in the future.

Transcript (Click To Open)

Pieter: Hello. This is Pieter de Villiers, and this is the Build a Better Business podcast. My guest today is Ash Taylor. Ash has a long history as a tennis coach. Used to work for the LTA, has racked up I think something like 35,000 hours of coaching, and he’s using his skills and all his experience from that in helping small business owners. Coaching business owners in groups, and to focus on pretirement. Building a business that can support you now, not in the future. I give you Ash Taylor.

Hey Ash. How you doing?

Ash: I’m very well Pieter. How are you?

Pieter: Very well. Thank you very much for joining me.

Ash: Absolute pleasure.

Pieter: So I’ve given you a brief introduction. But perhaps you can enlighten our listeners, explain to them a bit about what you do, how you do it? Then as part of the focus for what we’re trying to do with this podcast here is, how is it that your business and what you do actually help other businesses, other people, to build better businesses?

Ash: Sounds good.

Pieter: In 15 seconds. Go!

Ash: I like that, I love it.

Pieter: It’s okay, you’ve got a bit more time.

Ash: I guess in its purest sense I’m a business coach. I’ve taken all my experience of developing athletes over the last half a century. Well, maybe a quarter of a century, and now apply many of those same principles to help business owners build better businesses. Which I guess is the reason that I’m on there. The big focus, the big goal that really really excites me is something I call pretirement, which is about living a life funded by your business. Like a retired life, partially retired life today, rather than waiting for the future for that to happen. I think we’re all running around trying to build stuff for a tomorrow that may actually never come, and my passion is really helping people make the most of what their business can give them today.

Pieter: So do you work with particular sectors? Particular niches? What kind of businesses do you generally help?

Ash: The answer to that is yes and no. I don’t have a particular niche in terms of industry type, but I do really really enjoy working with the smaller, the micro business. I always remember as a tennis coach, my greatest joy came from taking very raw players, young players or beginner players, and getting them to a point where they could go and compete on their own, without having someone look over them over the time. They could hold their own, as an athlete, as a tennis player. It’s the same with the core client base that I have, they’re all very very good at what they do, but they’re raw business owners. So they’ve got a lot of experience in what they do, they’re great technicians if you like, to quote Michael Gerber. He’s taught them to actually, not just grow, but just run their business effectively? And that’s a place I really enjoy working with. Because you can have a great impact in people’s lives, helping them sort of build that lifestyle that they want, without a huge amount of work, and that gives me a lot of joy.

Pieter: I suppose from the question that you phrased there, who was teaching them, or who taught them how to operate or run their businesses? For the majority of small business owners the answer is nobody.

Ash: Totally. I think we all … Sorry, not we all. I know I’ve done it, you’ve done it, other people have done it. You wake up one day and whatever that drive is, you think “I can do this better than my boss.” Or you’ve been made redundant, or maybe you have an idea, and you think the world needs this idea. And you set up your business, and you sit there, and you wait behind your desk, and you’ve got your brand new logo design, and your laptop that you’ve just leased, or spent your money on, and your desk from IKEA, and you wait for people to knock on the door. It doesn’t work like that.

You forget that you have to sell, you forget that you need to know your numbers, you forget that you need to be able to talk to people, to present, to pitch, to write. Those old ‘O’ level or GCSE English lessons suddenly become quite irrelevant, except when it comes to spelling of course. But you need to be able to write, and produce copy, and all these skills that … Who teaches us to budget? To put business plans together? To find people? To get out and get in touch with them? To follow up? An innumerable number of things, but actually where do you get this information from?

Pieter: Yeah. Your quest to help people with their businesses, help them to achieve I suppose a state of pretirement. How do you do that? How is it that you work with people? Do you have a particular structure? Or is it just talk and see what comes out?

Ash: I always use to irritate the other coaches that I would work with, because I was so structured, and I think a lot of the work starts with finding out exactly where it is that people are, right now, what state they’re in, before you then work out where they want to get to, and then it’s putting a plan together to help them achieve that. What I’ve discovered is that, the way I developed athletes, and developed myself as an athlete, there were patterns that I followed, or routines that I did, if you like. Actually what I found is that when I set up my own businesses, that I kind of unconsciously followed those patterns myself, in business.

So it’s about taking that programme if you like, those little habits, probably a good work, and principles, and just applying them. None of them are rocket science, we probably all know what they all are. There’s really nothing new in business, hugely. Sure the sort of digital marketing world changes all the time, as technology and apps change all the time, but fundamentally business is quite simple. You know, sell stuff for more than you make it.

Pieter: Yeah, I think people forget that. We can get very caught up in the complexity of it all, and a lot of the complexities we think we needed, there’s no set rule that says “Well you need to use this, you need to do that, and If it’s not difficult, and complicated, you’re doing it wrong.”

Ash: Totally. I wrote an article actually last month, that was about being busy for busy’s sake, if you like, and almost having a badge of honour because you’re trying to keep up with what the latest thing is. It can be incredibly overwhelming, and I do believe wholeheartedly, actually, that we do just take stuff on. We take shiny stuff on because we think we should, and because we can, before thinking about whether it’s the right thing to do for our business or not. You and I chatting before we came on air about an app that I know you’re very very fond of, and whether it would be any use for me, and absolutely so easy for me to spend hours researching it and playing with it and downloading it and using it. But there’s only me, so actually it’s a complete pointless exercise. But we get sucked into these things.

Pieter: Just for our listeners, we were talking about a communications app, and bar sending yourself messages on a Friday evening … But it’s interesting because people forget to do that, they forget to go through the exercise of saying “Well actually, is this going to make me better at running my business? Is this going to make my business better?” It’s just “Oh, here’s a tool, it’s fabulous, everyone says it’s fabulous, I’d better sign up for another $30 a month,” or whatever it is. Rather than just say “Well actually, yes it’s a brilliant tool, but it’s completely the wrong tool for my situation.”

Ash: Yeah totally, and I think part of that comes from people not actually understanding the process, or the pathway if you like, their particular business model follows. So if they don’t understand the route that their customers take from discovering who they are to becoming a customer to becoming an ongoing customer, what their supply routes are like for instance, then if they’re making up [inaudible 00:08:28] as they go along, it’s very very difficult to apply the right systems, if you don’t know what the processes are.

Pieter: Yeah. Coming back to your own business, and what you actually do, what are your key focuses in as far as making sure that your business is always getting better? I don’t always mean getting better in the sense of growing, growing profits or anything like that. Just simply getting better at being what it is, and functioning better, and more importantly serving you better.

Ash: That’s a really interesting question, it’s a fun question. I’m constantly … Probably because I get bored quite easily, but I’m constantly sort of tweaking, playing with the model, and looking at ways to generate maximum revenue from, not minimum effort but most efficient effort, if you like. So at the moment a big focus for me is about, well that particular market that I’m looking at, it isn’t necessarily a particularly high-end market. Some of them can be only doing 50-60k a year, and I don’t [inaudible 00:09:38] disparagingly, but they’re not necessarily startups but they’re just small, neat businesses. So how can I create a situation where my business can serve them without pricing them out of it?

The answer for me, to make my business better so it can serve more people, is to move towards running larger groups. I run small groups, reasonably high-end at the moment, five or six people, sort of mini masterminds, which work really really well. But I think the next step for my business to be able to serve more people is to get 15, 20 people in a room together, at an affordable fee, and pass what I have, in terms of experience and knowledge, onto them. So that they can apply it in their own businesses.

Pieter: That would certainly allow you to make a bigger impact as well. On the one hand, yes you’re able to serve more people, perhaps at a smaller fee, and therefore you are able to keep those people in your marketplace, but at the same time you’re then able to have a bigger impact, more businesses, but also we’ve both been in masterminds in the past, and it’s very much the … You learn so much more from the other five, six, maybe 10 people around the table, than you necessarily just do sitting in your back office on your own, trying to figure it all out by yourself.

Ash: I think so. These interviews that you’re doing are kind of an extended reflection of that. My experience with masterminds is that you get far more out of other people’s sessions than you do your own. It’s about learning from other people, and having your mind open to the fact that other people may know stuff. I do think that we go into situations very very often with a closed mind, with that assumption “Well I know some of this already.” Or “I know all of it.” Actually I think if we went into situations with just … It’s really tough but just with the view that “I am completely ignorant, I’ve just been born, I know nothing.” It makes you so much more receptive to stuff.

Pieter: I was listening to a podcast earlier today by Dan Sullivan and Joe Polish, and they made the point that if, you can only really have two responses to someone else, whether they are more successful than you or not. That is you can either say “Okay, I can learn from this person, or I can disregard whatever they might say.” Those are really your only two options, there is no middle ground, and you’re far better off going into every conversation, no matter who it’s with, thinking “Well actually there must be something I can learn here. They might not have more experience than me, but they have different experience to me.”

Ash: Well I saw I great thing today, I can’t remember where it was, I think it was on Facebook, it might have been on Linkedin. But somebody was saying that if you’re going to have a debate with somebody, from both people’s perception, you’re both right. So what’s the point in the argument? You’re better off just taking the attitude that “Well you’re right. I know I’m right. So why don’t I listen to your correct point of view, and see what I can learn from it? Rather than wasting my energy trying to prove myself right?”

Pieter: Yeah, it is quite interesting. I listen a lot to a podcast by Sam Harris, called Waking Up, and focus for his podcast is specifically, to a certain extent, to get people on the podcast who disagree with him. And it’s not from the perspective of wanting to have a fight, it’s not that at all, but it’s focusing on having difficult conversations, and trying to learn from those. It’s the same that we … Life in business is, to a certain extent, quite often filled with difficult conversations. Be that around staff, customers, suppliers, and difficult decisions. I think what, a lot of the time perhaps hold people back in progressing their businesses, and building businesses that serve them better, is the fact that they’re not willing, sometimes not able, but primarily not willing, to have those difficult conversations, or to make those difficult conversations.

Ash: I think you’re right, I think it’s innate within us to want to be part of a group, to be part of a tribe. The challenge with having difficult conversations is that I think there’s part of us deep down that fears being isolated from that group, or that situation, so we tend to avoid it. Its much easier to … I’m no expert on this stuff but, I think it’s just, for a lot of people it’s much much easier to go “Well if I don’t rock the boat then I can stay in the group. I don’t want to have to sit outside the classroom, or be sent to Coventry or whatever.” Because, you know, you go- [crosstalk 00:14:28]

Pieter: What’s wrong with Coventry?

Ash: It’s an old saying, you know, “I’ve been sent to Coventry.” Because you know, you go back 100,000 years, if you got isolated from the group, you’d die. I don’t know that necessarily our brains have moved on from that. So we fear that, we fear being alone, and confrontation could end up with us being alone.

Pieter: Yeah. It’s a shame that we can’t more often take the example of the people who do rock the boat. Because progress is generally made by the people who rock the boat. Not those who conform. I was talking to Peter Daly-Dickson on a previous episode, and he used the phrase where he said “The business, running your own business, is the best playground for personal development.”

Ash: I couldn’t agree more.

Pieter: I just really like the whole … He pointed out that he specifically uses the term “playground.” I quite like looking at it with that approach, because it makes it a lot lighter. It’s not so heavy and serious, and I’ve said this a lot to a lot of people, the way that I always sort of keep in the back of my mind when business gets difficult, or tough, or complicated, or anything like that, is “I’m not running the local A&E department. If it goes wrong here, nobody actually dies. I know people who, it’s their job every day to make sure other people don’t die. Therefore whatever difficult conversations I need to have, whatever difficult decisions I need to take in my business, is immediately put into perspective, and you sort of think to yourself “Well come on man, pull yourself together, get on with it.”

Ash: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I do think a lot of us put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves, to make decisions, to grow fast, to not panic, to do various things that actually when you just separate them and look at them in context, look at them in perspective, compared to other things, relative to other things, they’re just not important. They are not that important. We get scared of stuff that fundamentally does not really affect us that badly, if it were to fail.

Pieter: Yeah it’s not just in business, it’s life in general. I’m thinking there’s lots of articles now going around again about GCSE exams and this and that. I’ve got two young kids, they’re only four and six, so they’re a long way off any serious exams. Well the way some of the homework comes home, you sometimes think “What’s going on here?” But the way that I try to look at it is, if medicine as it stands today, let alone the advances in the next 25 years or so, on average they’ve got each an 80 year life ahead of them. It causes me to think of it in two ways.

On the one hand you think “You know what? You’ve got 80 years. If you get it wrong, you’ve got plenty of time to fix it. You can try more than once.” On the other hand I also, and this is what I like about your pretirement approach, is that I think “You know what? You’ve got 80 years left. Make sure you do something you actually enjoy.” ‘Cause you don’t want to saddle yourself with something you actually hate, and then find yourself 50 years from now thinking “Well that was a bit of a waste.”

Ash: You’re right, and this is what I come across over, and over, and over again – I was perhaps guilty of it myself – is that there are a lot of business owners out there, and no I [inaudible 00:17:47] business owner rather than entrepreneur, necessarily. That there are lot of business owners out there who just don’t enjoy doing what they do. They maybe [inaudible 00:17:58] they do, they don’t necessarily enjoy the structure that is business around it. I speak to people and I’m like “Well, go out and make some calls.” You know, “I can’t sell.”

I think the point I’m making is that, it’s not that life’s too short, it’s just that life is for living, right now. You don’t want to look back, especially if your life is very long, let alone short, and have those regrets, when we all have the power within us to change that. We all can make that change. If something’s not working, if you really fundamentally don’t enjoy it, find a way of changing that.

Pieter: I think people stay in bad situations far longer than they necessarily need to.

Ash: Totally. I’ve got a friend, you know who he is as well, I won’t say his name but you know he’s recently got divorced, and obviously it was quite difficult, and he’s going through that, young kid, et cetera. But actually at 35 years old, and I said to him the other day “Mate. Let’s assume you live to 80. You’ve got, what is it, 45 years …” Is my maths right? Yes. “45 years left to spend time with someone that you really actually enjoy spending time with. You’ve got 45 years to get to know your son properly, in a healthy environment. Far better that it happens now than get to 20 years down the line and think ‘Oh my God I’ve wasted 35 years of my life with someone I wasn’t happy with, and I’ve only got 25 left to make up for that.’” That’s rubbish.

Pieter: I think people always think “I’ll do this later. Now is not the right time.” But it just doesn’t work like that. I think you’ll never feel that this is the right time, but it’s like the saying “The best time to plant an oak tree was 100 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Ash: I think there are two things there that jump out to me. One, tomorrow never comes, and that’s something I really try and live my life by. Tomorrow just never comes, because tomorrow it’ll be then tomorrow, won’t it? It’ll be today. Tomorrow actually never comes. Actually the best time to do anything is right now, for that reason. The second thing is, we’ll never be ready, so stop trying to be ready, just do it.

Pieter: Yeah, lots of people spend an awful lot of time making sure they’re busy getting ready so they can get ready, so that they can be ready, and never actually … It’s just, move fast, getting out. Because also if it’s a change in your business, whether it’s in the business, or changing to a new business, or a new marketplace, or anything like that. You can only really make it better once you’ve gone out there. You’ve got to push something out and then see what happens, and then say “Well okay, I need to change this, I need to change that.” Sitting on your own, and sort of trying to talk it through, for five years, and still not do anything, you’re still not going to learn everything you need to know to make it succeed. You’ll only learn it by pushing something out the door and saying “Let’s see what happens.”

Ash: 100%. This podcast [inaudible 00:21:09] called Build a Better Business, and actually you can only build a better business if you try stuff, and if you actually have a go at trying things. There’s a rap artist that I really like, well he’s more of an artist but he does a lot of rap, called Baba Brinkman. B-A-B-A, and then brink, man, as in Brinkman. He does this brilliant rap around, it’s his version of the theory of evolution, so Darwinism if you like. The whole rap kind of condenses into three words, in and around some brilliant lyrics, but it’s basically Performance, Feedback, Revision. That’s what we are, we are just in the middle of one big performance loop, as people. Nature will get some feedback, and make some revisions, and go and perform again.

Pieter: But you get no feedback sitting on the sidelines.

Ash: You get no feedback if you don’t perform. You’ve got to get out, you know. I used to say to my players all the time “Right. That’s enough lessons. That’s enough training. Go and play some matches. ‘Cause we don’t know how far you’ve come until you actually go out there and compete. We’ve got no idea if you’ve improved.”

Pieter: I thought about that kind of thing a lot when I was at university, studying music. Where I played the drums, and there were lots of drummers, and guitarists, and bassists, and all these guys who were technically incredibly proficient, and they could sit on a practise pad and play like anyone, or sit quietly with a guitar and be really impressive. Put them on a stage with two other people, and they couldn’t string a song together. They didn’t have to write it, they just had to play someone else’s song, but they simply couldn’t play music. They could individually play their instrument but they couldn’t play music.

Ash: Yeah, and that to me is like teaching somebody to just hit a forehand. In my whole life, it’s pointless without the context of being able to apply it in a game. I met a guy a couple of weeks ago, I love this story. Got chatting to him, introduced to me in the pub, we were chatting away, and it turns out that he plays golf. We were chatting away, he said “Do you play?” I said “Yeah.” We exchanged … You do the whole “Let’s measure how good we are with our handicaps,” and all that sort of stuff. Then I said “You know, we should get together at some point and play a game. It would be really good to go round together. I quite enjoy your company, we’ve had a good chat today, let’s go and do it.” He’s like “I don’t … Never played on a course.” All he does, three times a week, is go to the driving range and hit golf balls. In his mind, that makes him a golfer.

Pieter: Yeah. I think to a certain extent there’s a lot of people who can take a lot from that, in their own businesses. Because there’s lots of people say they do things, or they are things, but they don’t actually. They do it in the confines of a very small sample set, or to some extent in their own head. Actually I always think it’s like your business is like a little paper boat, and you’ve got to push it out on the water and see if it floats. Whilst you’re sitting on the banks of the river with your little paper boat, all you actually have is a piece of folded paper. But you got to push it out there.

Ash: It’s not a boat until it’s on the water.

Pieter: Yeah, yeah, it’s not a boat. So back to your business. What are you focused on at the moment? What’s the big thing you’re working on at the moment?

Ash: Well the big thing I’m working on at the moment is putting the feelers out there, creating copy, content, to get this programme, this sort of one to many group sorted. I’ve set myself a target of launching that in July and getting out there, so I’m doing a lot of work in the background. But it’s not ready, I have a rough idea of what the content structure will be. I know what all the content is in my head, but I am already going out there and talking to people and selling it, essentially. Because I don’t know if it’s going to be any good until I’ve got some people to try it out on, really. Going back to what we talked about before. So the plan is probably to run an event in July, and get as many people there as possible. Then look to encourage them to take that next step with me on their journey, to see if they can learn something.

Pieter: Okay, that sounds good. Well as and when, I’ll hold you to this, let us know when and where the event is and we’ll add it to the podcast and go from there.

Ash: Brilliant, sounds good.

Pieter: So just before I let you go, I always like to finish with this. Three books that you would recommend any business owner read, and why?

Ash: And why? Okay. My bible, everybody has their kind of thing, is something called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson. Fantastically easy to read, very kind of story-led, and it is an incredibly simple principle, essentially the compound effect, but just doing little habits every day. It’s just a very very powerful read about how habits can transform you. I absolutely love Daniel Priestley’s Key Person of Influence, I think that’s a phenomenal book. Again because it’s just business basics that we all really should know, and if we apply them do make a big difference in today’s modern business world and environment. I suspect 30 years ago it may not have been so [inaudible 00:26:30] but right now it’s a really quite … It’s a must-read book, right now.

Obviously your book is going to have a little bracket mention, Barefoot Business is the title you’ve decided on, isn’t it? So that should definitely be on there. And my third, given that I read it a couple of times now, is Ask, by Ryan Levesque, which I really, really like. I think most of us mere mortals probably only need to read the first half of it, but the principle of just go out there, however you do it, and ask what your market wants, and give it to them. Don’t dare to presume. Who are you to presume that you know what your market wants? Go and ask them, and then give it to them. It’s such a fundamentally simple principle I think a lot of people can learn from. They would be my three, definitely.

Pieter: Cool. Well I’ve not read the Slight Edge. I’ve read the other two, the Slight Edge I will be adding to my Amazon 1-Click addiction-

Ash: [inaudible 00:27:31]

Pieter: … and working through that. How can people get hold of you? Where can they find you?

Ash: Easiest way is probably to drop me an email at [email protected] I’m in the middle of changing that, but that will still work for now. Or you can catch me on Facebook as Ash Taylor Coaching, is my Facebook page, or just Ash Taylor. They’re probably the two best ways to get hold of me, and connect with me, and see what I’m doing, and read my blogs, and my vlogs. Did I say that vlogs or flogs? Vlogs.

Pieter: Your flogs.

Ash: My vlogs, my video blogs, there you go, that I do on a Friday.

Pieter: Cool.

Ash: Which seem to be fun and popular, so I’m going to be doing more of those regularly.

Pieter: That’s good. Well I’ll put links to all of that in the show notes, and with that I just want to say thank you very much for joining me, thanks for making the time.

Ash: No problem, thank you very much mate.

Pieter: Thanks to everyone for listening, and if you found this useful, interesting, or anything else, do comment. Let us know what you think. If you want us to cover anything specific in these podcasts, let us know, and we can see what we can do. Share it out with everyone you know, and let’s help more and more people build better businesses. Until the next episode. Cheers.

Pieter K de Villiers

Pieter K de Villiers

Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.


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Pieter K de Villiers

Author: Pieter K de Villiers

Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.