Focus on sales and marketing first. This is a lesson that’s been driven home for me recently. You can have the best product or service in the world but if no one knows about it and if you don’t know how to have the conversation that leads people to purchase it then you’ll never have a business. I recently realized that only 20% of our team was focused on marketing and sales. The result was that we hit a dry patch where we had no new clientele for three months. It almost collapsed the company. Now we have 80% of our team focuses on sales and marketing.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Declan Edwards, Founder & CEO of BU Coaching. Declan is also a published author, podcast host, loving husband, captivating keynote speaker and frequent guest expert on mindset and well-being for the media. His vision is to inspire people to make an impact that starts with self.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Declan! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Growing up I was the kid who changed his dream career every few months. Some of the career paths that crossed my mind were professional basketball player, musician, personal trainer, dietitian, paleontologist, and marine biologist. However I always felt this unspoken expectation that I would end up following in my father’s footsteps and join the military.
Looking back I can see how I never quite felt like I measured up to that expectation and as a result how my self esteem was quite low. I spent most of my teenage years overweight, unhealthy and unhappy.
The turning point for me was meeting my first unofficial coach/mentor and diving into the rabbit hole that is personal development. I became fascinated by mindset, well-being and how people can thrive instead of just survive. The rest, as you might say, is history.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I know the exact moment I decided to turn personal development from a hobby of mine into an actual business. My wife and I were on a six-week long group tour of America and on one of the first days we were asked to stand in front of the bus and introduce ourselves, including what we did for work. I was one of the last people to go and I remember sitting there racking my brain about what I would say I did for a living. Prior to this I had spent a few months thinking about taking the leap and turning my passion and hobby into an actual business but I’d never spoken about that openly to anyone.
When my time came to introduce myself in front of the bus I said that my name was Declan Edwards and that I ran a personal development business called Declan Edwards Coaching. For the first time I had publicly declared that my hobby was now a business, and I had done so in front of about 50 people who I’d just met.
Over time that announcement would grow into what is now BU Coaching, a company that helps individuals and organisations alike develop their mindset and emotional well-being in a way that is proactive, practical and fun.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I had to learn quite early that perfection is the enemy of progress. The business I thought I was starting all those years ago is not the business that it eventually became. I like to joke with people that if you don’t cringe at your first website, your first marketing effort or your first logo you waited way too long to launch the business. By focusing on consistently taking imperfect action, even if they were just micro steps forward, I managed to not get too caught up in the overthinking stage that often traps many aspiring entrepreneurs.
The other thing that definitely helped me take the idea and turn it into an actual business was the amount of accountability I had both from my co-founder, Jordan Jensen, and from our business coaches. When there are other people with a vested interest in the business becoming a reality I find it’s a lot more manageable to follow through on that.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My first piece of advice would be to get really clear on whether this is something you actually want to do for a living in the first place. There’s no rule that says you absolutely have to turn your hobby into something you make money from. I’ve seen too many artists, musicians and visionaries lose the passion for their hobby because they tried to make a living from it just for the sake of making a living from it.
Even now I don’t view BU Coaching as something that I “do for a living”. It’s a part of me, an expression of the impact I want to make in the world and something I’m genuinely proud of creating. Of course, I’m grateful that it also pays my bills and gives me a full time income to live on but it’s so much more than that.
If you do decide that you want to turn your hobby into a living the best piece of advice I have is to write down the three smallest baby steps that will help build momentum; it might be launching a Facebook page, telling a family member, or in my case standing in front of a busload of strangers and announcing a business that didn’t even exist yet.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Get remarkably clear on your why and your values and revisit them consistently. Every month our entire team at BU revisits the vision of the company and the values that guide us. Whenever we feel we are straying from the vision or from the values we make sure we get things back on track as fast as possible.
I’ve noticed that when I am acting in alignment with the vision and the values that led me to create this business in the first place I have a lot more fun and I genuinely love what I’m doing.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The thing I enjoy most about running the business is the sense of purpose and meaning that comes with it. If your business is something you genuinely believe makes people’s lives better than there’s a profound amount of purpose that comes from building and scaling that to help more and more people. This is what gets me out of bed excited in the morning.
I love that this interview gives me the opportunity to talk about the downsides of running your own business because I do feel that entrepreneurship is falsely glorified these days. The idea that you’ll be making a ton of money, working from a beach and choosing your own hours isn’t the reality of it — at least not in the early years.
Running a business is hard work. It’s always on your mind, you’ll often work from home more hours than you ever have before and you’ll pay yourself less for it. You’ll feel lost and confused at least half of the time and sometimes you’ll just feel completely overwhelmed by it all.
There are a few things in particular that I feel have helped me stay resilient in the face of these challenges. The first is having an amazing co-founder. Having someone alongside me who helps me stay grounded and who also balances out my weaknesses with their strengths has been invaluable.
The second is paying for great mentors. Since inception we have always been part of business coaching programs so that we can learn from people who have been in business a lot longer than I have.
And the third is to prioritize your own mental and emotional well-being. It’s been said that a business will rarely outgrow its founder. That’s why I’m always up-skilling myself and prioritizing my own well-being and development.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I started this business I thought I would spend the majority of my working week coaching people on how to improve their mindset and emotional well-being. While that did form a large part of my role in the early years I very rarely coach people anymore. The majority of my time is now spent on strategic partnerships, training companies to enhance their staff well-being and engagement, appearing in the media as a guest expert in my field and developing the future direction of the company. It’s been a dramatic shift that I’ve had to adapt to rapidly.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Multiple times. One of the most memorable was when I had just returned from a three-week trip to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was the first time in the company’s history that both myself and my co-founder had been away from the company at the same time. When I returned I foolishly checked the company’s financial reports at 2 a.m. while jet-lagged and saw that we had halved in value in under a month! I’m going to be honest here and let you know that I burst into tears and felt physically sick at the idea that I’d spent years building this company only to have half of it collapse in three short weeks.
I spent most of that night on various job seeking platforms and was convinced that this was it and I was done.
The next morning I called my co-founder, we booked in a meeting with some of our business advisers and we figured out the root of the issue. From there we put together a plan of action and we bounced back to be stronger than ever before. It was hard work but I’m glad we stayed resilient and kept going. I can honestly say that I would’ve given up had it not been for my co-founder and our advisers that day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I feel like the most interesting stories have come from the most unexpected circumstances. Whether it be selling copies of my book from the front seat of my car while working as an Uber driver, or forming strategic partnerships with people I bumped into at coffee shops I’ve really come to see that opportunity is available everywhere if you’re keeping an eye out for it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I laugh about it now but early on in the business I tried to find the money to buy my co-founder out of the business about four times. We just couldn’t figure out how to work well together and I was convinced that I would do better with the business without him involved. Luckily for both of us, I couldn’t find the money to buy him out and he is now one of the greatest assets to the company. I really learned about the value of disagreements from this. I feel like in the early days I was looking for someone to just agree with me when what I really needed, and what would benefit the company, was someone who would challenge me.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Leadership is a field that absolutely fascinates me and it’s a field I’m incredibly grateful to train organisations in. When I think of a great leader my mind goes to people such as Richard Branson, Will Smith, Theodore Roosevelt, Brene Brown and JK Rowling. To me these examples highlight that great leaders are able to seamlessly intertwine love with the more corporate sense of leadership. They focus on people and they focus on making an impact.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Everything I do is in service of leaving the world a slightly better place than it was when I was born. BU Coaching’s vision as a company is to positively impact 1 trillion lives, starting with self. This is obviously something that cannot be achieved in my lifetime. We chose this vision because it keeps us humble and it consistently reminds me that this isn’t about me, it’s about creating a global and generational shift to how people and organisations approach their mindset and emotional wellbeing. I truly believe that by helping people and workplaces by happier a ripple effect will be spread that will make the world become a far better place.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s going to be far more difficult than you think. I entered the business world young and naive, filled with a joyous sense of hope and optimism. While I still bring plenty of hope and optimism to each day I’ve also come to see that running your own business is not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s going to hurt, and you’re going to struggle, but it’s definitely worth it.
- Focus on sales and marketing first. This is a lesson that’s been driven home for me recently. You can have the best product or service in the world but if no one knows about it and if you don’t know how to have the conversation that leads people to purchase it then you’ll never have a business. I recently realized that only 20% of our team was focused on marketing and sales. The result was that we hit a dry patch where we had no new clientele for three months. It almost collapsed the company. Now we have 80% of our team focuses on sales and marketing.
- The first idea is a starting point, not the final product. I’m going to be real with you and admit that I spent far too long attached to Declan Edwards Coaching when I knew deep down that it was bottle-necking our ability to make a global impact. I knew it was time for a re-brand and a pivot in company direction but I held on to the original concept out of nostalgia for about six months longer than I needed to.
- Trust yourself. Advisers and business coaches are great and incredibly valuable but nothing compares to that gut instinct intuition that comes with being a founder. Nobody is as closely connected to the vision of the company as those who first founded it. Had I known this earlier I would’ve trusted my gut instinct a lot more in the early days instead of blindly following other people’s advice.
- The failures are the greatest lessons. Some of our greatest ideas and innovations have come from the times when things didn’t work out as planned. For example, when we halved in value when I was in Africa it drew our attention to how much we still had to learn in keeping our team performing without us there. We now have a great staff training and performance system in place that I doubt we would have developed had it not been for the ‘failure’ that happened whilst in Africa.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Be yourself! The greatest gift that you can give yourself, your loved ones and the world as a whole is to be authentically, confidently and purposefully you. There are far too many people who are acting as a human chameleon, trying to be whatever everyone else wants them to be. As a result they’re just ticking the boxes of life, turning the wheels but not really ever going anywhere. They’re robbing the world of the gift that is them and their life purpose. If, through BU Coaching, I equip people with the skills and tools required to live authentic, confident and purpose driven lives than I know this will create a movement that will change the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
This quote is spoken in the film “Coach Carter” and made a profound impact on me growing up. At the time I was playing basketball but struggling with my own sense of self so the film resonated with me on a personal level. When this quote is spoken by one of the characters it helped me to realise how I had been playing small for most of my life, afraid to make an impact and afraid to be true to myself. I consider this quote as one of the starting points in me turning my hobby into a business and a tipping point in me making an impact in the world.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.Any of the people in the list of people who inspire me to be a better leader and make a greater impact in the world — Richard Branson, Will Smith, Brene Brown, JK Rowling.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.