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From the front line: my first year as a Sandler franchisee

12 April 2018

By Chris Ginnelly, Sandler Training West London

I started my business at the end of January 2017 after 20 years in industry. I always had an itch to run my own business, I talked about it a lot, but I never had my Facebook-like idea! I think you get to a certain age where you either go and do it or you carry on talking about it.

The thing that led me to Sandler was that I didn’t want it just to be about me helping organisations become better at selling. I wanted access to world-class tools and processes and a model that would allow me to build a business – I didn’t want to be just a consultant or trainer. Frankly, there were no other organisations in this space that gave me that opportunity.

Starting up and scaling up

I had a thorough business plan and a spreadsheet that looked great, and that’s really important, but it doesn’t pay the bills! You have conviction and passion and it’s a new business so you’re not lacking in excitement or enthusiasm – but you’ve got to make it happen.

That’s where the Sandler business model and approach to supporting us once we take those reins is really important. In the global network we’re working with, getting access to, and getting feedback and counsel from, people who’ve been around the block. They’ve built very, very successful business over 10 years-plus and have come from similar backgrounds to us sometimes.

You’ve got the benefit of being able to learn from other people’s mistakes as well as working out where they went in order to be effective – from positioning and engaging a prospect, right through your back office and getting that running as efficiently as you can as quickly as possible.

The first year’s been fantastic. I expected a lot of hard work and that was the case, you know when you’re setting up your own business that it’s going to be hard, especially in the first 12 months. In terms of my business plan, we did 125% of my targets in year 1 – and it was an ambitious plan to start with.

I recruited early as well, six months in I got somebody in to run the back office. As I completed the first year I also started looking to recruit a marketing manager to look after engagement and lead generation.

The business has gone much better than we hoped or expected, and it looks like that trajectory is going to continue, which is great.

The biggest win

It’s pretty exhilarating winning your first client – you’re full of enthusiasm and all you want is someone to confirm that you are a real business. I think I cut my first invoice for about £175! But it’s not the point – the point is that we’d then started. That was a pretty special moment.

Then there are different stepping points, when you win your first medium-sized client and when you win your first big client. But that first invoice is probably the most exciting point in the journey, because you exist as a business and that’s a special moment to be celebrated.

Moving from corporate to a team of one

I don’t think it’s a shift in mindset, I think what happens is that you start doing things that for years you’ve never had to do yourself. But when you’re fully committed to building your business, you’ll do whatever it takes – so your mindset’s already shifted. If you think you’re going to be able to operate in the same way as you did when you were the MD or sales director before: no, that’s very clearly and very quickly not going to be the case, and you probably wouldn’t have made the decision to start a business if you weren’t accepting of that fact.

I hadn’t cold called anybody for probably 20 years. Then there I was, picking up the phone and trying to generate prospects. You’ve got to have a sense of humility, recognise that you’re in a different place! But doing that for yourself, where your conviction and your motivation is all about building your business and connecting to your vision of where you’re going to take this thing – that’s a different level of enthusiasm.

Growing and adapting the business

My plan has always been the same, it’s not changing just because of the great start we’ve made. We got out of the blocks and had a better first year than originally planned and the plan was always to double every year for five years to get us to a place. My expectation is still that we’ll double this year, but it’s just with a better number than planned.

A few months into my second year and I can see a lot of that growth already. I’m very confident about doubling this year and as we get closer to the end of the year we know there are further investments to make. I’m investing in a full-time employee now to give me more capability around marketing and I anticipate that towards the end of this year we’ll invest again in delivery capabilities, taking the business from where it is today, which is about me and the team that supports me, to a stage where it’s not just about me.

I’ll continue to lead and be the face of my business, but actually delivery for our clients will then move on to be others in my team. And that’s a trickier test for the business, how we expand to that next level where we have delivery capacity and capability where it’s not just about me.

Network power

The wider Sandler network is massively important. We regularly have UK conferences where all the franchises get together, and while there’s a lot of structured stuff that goes on over the days, some of the informal conversations we’ll have around those subjects are just as important.

For example, I’ve got questions about marketing automation, how I build the machinery of a marketing engine in my business. That’s not on the conference agenda today, but it’s on my agenda in the bar tonight. I’ve got fantastic people around me and I know I’m going to get answers to my questions because the network is so giving. Everybody started out in the same position so everyone is very giving to new people who come into the network. We all want everybody to be successful.

There’s absolutely an abundance mentality. That blew me away actually. I read and watched people like me talking about things like that before I started and you think, ‘Maybe people will be more guarded and parochial in real life’ – but actually that’s not the case. It’s blown me away.

I’ve got contacts in the US and I’ve reached out for advice. I did a deal with a specific type of organisation in a niche market and the client was London-based but had presence all over the world. I reached out to a franchisee in New York who I could see had a similar type of client, and they called me on their holiday in order to help me win a piece of business in the UK and they’d never met me. It’s mind-blowing how collegiate and collaborative the network is, it’s pretty staggering.


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