Estela: Hey everyone, welcome to Freedom Experience and welcome John Abbott who is here with us for a little chat at Freedom X Fest 2017. John is originally from South Africa, however he spent the last 10 years in Australia, and then moved over to Bali 7 years ago where he set up a remote marketing and sales agency. I’m sure you have lots of interesting stories that you can tell us about. Could you give us a little bit of background on how you started your journey in South Africa, then in Australia, and what you are doing in Bali?
John: Sure, awesome to be here! Originally, I am from South Africa where I had a digital agency, that was 27 years ago -- just to work that out. I did follow the whole traditional model by setting up a whole agency, you know, brick and mortar with fifty staff. After about 10 years of doing that, I realized that actually wasn’t how I want to run a business because I’m still getting in the car every morning, driving in traffic, and doing the 9-5 (I wish it was 9-5 but it was more like 9 to midnight). I was just working really hard, pushing myself and pushing myself, that eventually just collapsed and I collapsed with it. In the past years, I made the decision to really look at other ways to live, work, and run my agency.
Estela: So what happened after you left South Africa and how did you end up in Bali?
John: I had an opportunity to promote Roger Hamilton, an internationally acclaimed speaker in Australia. I had an invite to come over to Bali, live in his resort, and help to promote it. I didn’t even think about it for two seconds...It was a very quick HELL YES!
That started my journey of looking into how I can run a business remotely from Bali, where I couldn’t just show up at local events. I couldn’t just get into a car, drive to a place and find clients because everybody was remote from me. Actually, I was remote from them, so I had to find a new way of doing things.
I started to look at how do I promote myself, grow my network, and run events all online. Everything had to be online for me, so that I could create my lifestyle in Bali. I spent a few years experimenting. As many of you know, I was looking for that secret funnel, one that works magic and makes money while sitting on the beach.
I haven’t found one secret funnel yet, however I’ve found many different funnels that aren’t so secret anymore. It’s all about taking the time to experiment, try - fail and try again. In the process, I’ve played with many different models that I’ve built up and then destroyed constantly over the last 7 years. That’s been also a buildup and a destruction of my own ego and my own need to come to a place of really finding my purpose and my own passion, and connecting to who I really truly am. It is all very much a reflection.
The last year or so has been a total re-creation of that and within just a few months of restarting my business -- after letting it go for almost a year, we started from nothing, and about a year later we’ve done over a million dollars for just one client in turnover. The business has grown from nothing to close to 20 people working remotely around the world. It’s interesting and I am really grateful for it because of the awesome people who came together and made this possible. I could have never done this on my own. I think that was my biggest learning in this journey is that I didn’t need to try and do it on my own.
Estela: Great! Can you explain more about the nature of the business: how many people you are working with, and what your work flow looks like?
John: It is a promotional business so we have a marketing arm and a sales arm. The marketing arm sets up a campaign and an online event that enroll people in a specific subject, in a specific program. Then, we’ve got and entire sales agency with people who jump on phones and speak with people. Can you imagine that? Human to human connections are happening where people are talking to other people and guiding them on a journey that is going to help them the most. The industry that we are playing in is the transformational industry: personal growth, human development, the physical and health related industry, where basically everything that we do is to help somebody grow and evolve themselves as a human being. I think as part of this entire process, the number one thing that’s helped us grow in this speed that we have now is that we are so clear on the kind of people that we really want to work with, and that’s made such a big difference.
Estela: Do you mean the kind of people you want to work with as clients or your team members?
John: All the same for me. It started with the clients because that’s who we identified with and who we’d like to represent. I asked questions like what would they look like (mentally, spiritually) and how are they showing up in the world. I’ve got this beautiful thing, I cannot remember who I got it from, but it’s like the front of the house is the same as the back of the house – what they are saying to the public is how they’re living their life, as opposed to many of the speakers out there these days. We work with people who are transparent, working on themselves, they are up for a big game and willing to do what it takes to make it work for themselves, and make it work for everyone else. That was definitely one of the big things, likability - they had to be the kind of people we wanted to invite to our barbeque.
Estela: Awesome and what about your team? Where are they based?
John: Well, because we are in Bali, the natural progression was to actually to find a few people in Bali, the interesting thing about Bali is that it’s full of digital nomads -- people who have already made the choice to live and travel around the world. So a good part of our business is made up of digital nomads who live within Bali, but we also have people from Australia and some of our team will be moving to the U.S. We have a new team that will be growing in Europe, so really all over the place.They are coming up to us as a result of the clients we’re representing. If we need to represent a client in the U.S., then that’s where we go and build our team.
Estela: Woah, that sounds really interesting! Now, for the hard part -- what are some of the challenges that you recognize working with a remote team? Have you found any patterns or difficulties showing up?
John: Yes, of course, it’s a challenge, unlike everybody in one office, where you can see what everyone is doing. Operating a remote team and having everybody doing their own thing is challenging. Number one, because you’ve got to have a level of self-commitment and the ability to wake up in the morning and know that you’ve got a certain role to play without anyone holding you accountable. It’s very important to have that self-motivation and as it turns out that’s the kind of people we attract.
It’s interesting to create the online environment that we can all play in - communicate beautifully, share, assist, guide, help, and acknowledge other people as they create success or even failure. Communication is huge to the business. I feel like that’s probably one of the biggest things that we’ve been learning over the last few years is how to keep that fun, exciting, enjoyable environment that everyone wants to show up and play in.
Another challenge is time zones. If we were talking to people in the U.S. and on the east coast of Australia, we’ve got a 15 hour difference. Then, we’ve got people in Europe, people in Thailand, and all over the place so just being able to synchronize things like that has been a really, really interesting challenge. It’s something that you can’t really overcome, but you do your best to navigate. The big thing is having everybody buy into the culture and being really clear about the values that you are looking for in people, and when you find those people, they show up in a certain way. That is our biggest opportunity and that’s what makes us work.
Estela: So the leverage and that opportunity are based on the type of people that you are attracting from all over the globe and sharing the same culture, passion, and values with?
John: Yes, exactly. Probably one of the biggest things is to share your values, your vision, and that’s going to attract a certain kind of person. Then, really make sure that you are clear that the person that you are looking for has all of that. Also, it’s important to give people an opportunity to grow into it because not everyone comes with the entire skill set. Cultivating an environment that helps us to help people grow into their roles is a big part of it as well.
Estela: Thank you, John. I am going to end here with one more question around the future: How do you see the future of your company and what is currently your biggest focus?
John: Well, the future is really growing multiple international teams. I see silos in different time zones. I see a silo of our business duplicated here in Europe and another duplicated in the U.S. So the first thing is really systemizing what we have, making sure that works really well, and then it’s duplicating the model, and having it rollout in other places. The biggest focus is really becoming the biggest and fastest growing agency in the world around professional and personal development.
Estela: Wow! That is pretty visionary goal! I am wishing you all the success in this endeavor. Thank you so much for this interview, it was an amazing insight on how you are living and running a business from the beach in Bali.
John: Thank you, Estela!