As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Terry Blackburn.
Terry Blackburn is an award-winning entrepreneur and founder of seven successful businesses in property investing, mortgage brokerage and life insurance including Bespoke Financial which is one of the largest life insurance brokers in the UK. But Terry, who aims to own 1,000 properties by the time he is forty-five, has only just started. He continues to set himself exciting new targets and goals.
Terry Blackburn is also author of BE A LION which explains how you can change the way you think, to develop an unstoppable mindset, to overcome fears and push forward to succeed in both your professional and personal life, without having to give ANYTHING up. Terry credits his own success to this unstoppable ‘lion’ mindset.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up with my mum in a rough part of Newcastle, in a block of flats in the Northeast of England. When I was about eight, my mum set up a recruitment business and was starting to do okay financially so we moved to a nicer area. Then, in 2008, my mum’s business folded because of the recession. This had a big impact on me as I had gone from having nothing to having something and then back to nothing again. It sparked my desire to strive for both a stable and passive income in life.
I started to rebel when I got into middle school and was a complete nightmare, taking drugs and drinking heavily. My teachers said I would never amount to anything. I left school at 16 with no qualifications and became a joiner. At 19, I turned myself around and started a sales job for an insurance company, Combined Insurance Company of America and within two weeks I was smashing their sales records, first regionally in the Northeast and then nationally.
I later moved to MetLife Europe where I became the youngest ever sales manager in their history at the age of twenty-three. It was at this point, in June 2014, that I decided to set myself up in business with my best friend and started Bespoke Financial. At this time, I also started to invest in property.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My ‘aha’ moment was when I realised I was performing better than some of the other people in my company and that they might be holding me back. I realised that if I did things myself, I could help more people, have a better solution for customers, and offer more products. When you are offering your customers a better journey and service, you will see benefits in the long-term.
Once I believed I could do a better job than my colleagues, I understood that I had outgrown my environment and decided to set up my own company.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started employing and managing other people, I experienced a steep learning curve. Managing staff, being responsible for their wages, helping them pay bills and having a lot of people’s livelihoods on your shoulders is the hardest part of running a business by a mile. It was also difficult learning to manage whilst getting my head around the profit and loss figures.
It’s natural to have times when you consider giving up, but if your vision and goals are strong enough and your personal reasons for being in business are powerful enough, then you never will. Even though things were hard I continued because I was determined to be number one in the country. It was the reason I woke up every day and it was my driving factor. Everybody has hard times and difficult times, but you’ve got to push through them — I wouldn’t let anything get in my way.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I believe grit and resilience are essential for achieving your goals. The only thing that can hold you back is unrealistic deadlines, but if you keep going long enough and if you’re persistent enough then you will achieve your goals. Things are going great for me now after being persistent — today we are one of the largest life insurance brokers in the UK.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our outstanding feedback and reviews make us stand out as a company — we have between 600–700 reviews online demonstrating positive customer experiences.
Our team culture and management training also makes us stand out. We are a very close-knit team who achieve amazing results and offer great customer service.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
At the beginning of my career, I made the mistake of not watching the numbers. I was making money but ignoring the bottom line — and the key takeaway from that was that you cannot take your eye off the ball. It’s not only about how much money is coming in, but also about how much is going out.
Another mistake I made was to hire people based on how they looked and acted rather than their skill sets. Looking back this seems like a crazy thing to do, but I was very uneducated and inexperienced in what I was doing and have now learnt to hire people based on their skill sets and suitability to do the job.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I wish I hadn’t followed the old-fashioned advice about ruling with an iron fist.
It’s a management technique that a lot of people still say and follow, but it isn’t true. You’ve got to show your team respect, treat them as equals, and have a common goal as opposed to telling them what to do. You have to make them want to do what you’re asking.
Shouting at people doesn’t get you where you need to be and doesn’t make them want to do anything.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The character traits that were instrumental to my success are my persistence, being relentless in pursuing my goals, and constant learning.
I am obsessed with self-development and education. I listen to audiobooks and read daily to try and improve myself, and I’ll never stop learning and progressing.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Look after yourself.
Don’t just chase money and business goals — you also need to have personal health and fitness goals. If you’re not feeling your best, then you’re not going to perform your best. If you’re ill all the time, not eating very well and not exercising then you run a higher risk of burning out.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A common mistake people make is not recruiting quickly enough. A lot of people (including myself) will try to do everything themselves when, in reality, you can achieve far more by having a great team around you. There’s a saying — if you want to go fast, you go yourself, but if you want to go far, you have a team.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The importance of having a team is often underestimated. Taking on a new team member is not a cost, it’s an investment that will come back to you. It’s so important to get your team right and hire the right people. Putting the right players in the right parts of the pitch is imperative for success.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
When I was setting up my company, I wish someone had told me firstly how important it was to have a team. As I mentioned previously, it’s vital to select the right people and have a close team around you to help you succeed. Going it alone, just doesn’t work.
Secondly, goal setting is also very important — without goals, you won’t achieve success.
Thirdly, profit and loss are another thing I didn’t pay enough attention to at the beginning, but it’s so important to make decisions based on numbers rather than emotion.
Fourthly, if you have a team member who isn’t right for your organisation, it’s important to get them out as quickly as possible. Bad team members can be cancerous — they will spread through your organisation and have a detrimental effect. It’s important to have the right people in the right places in your business, and if anyone isn’t performing you have to get them out as quickly as possible.
Finally, I wish someone had told me to aim bigger and aim higher because with the right mindset you can achieve anything you want. Aiming high will make you think differently which means you will succeed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
I would like to encourage more exercise and healthy living in the workplace, because everyone across the board from the cleaners to the administrators, to sales and marketing, to the CEO and Directors all perform better if they are healthy.
It would be great to stop people from working so much and sacrificing their health just for the sake of success and money. If this were built into workplace culture, I think the world would be a much better place, and employees would be healthier all round — both financially and physically.
How can our readers further follow you online?