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Editor: Hello, and welcome. In this edition of the show, we’re chatting with Rob Cuesta, and if you stay listening, you’ll find out how Rob learnt a very sobering lesson that almost cost him everything. He also tells us how setbacks can actually be a good thing in business, and why he thinks writing a book really can make a different to your life.
Editor: Rob Cuesta, welcome to the show.
Rob Cuesta: Hello.
Editor: Great to speak with you, Rob. Now, I have to say, your CV is incredibly impressive. So, I wanted to start by asking, how did you start in marketing?
Rob Cuesta: Back in 1997, I caught the coaching bug, when coaching was an industry that hadn’t even just started. I attended an NLP, a neurolinguistics programming course. At the time, I was working for one of the big consulting firms, in London. I thought, this would be a great thing, we should be building coaching into what we do. Of course, nobody agreed with me.
Rob Cuesta: A few years later, I decided this is it, coaching is the way ahead, I’m going to set out on my own. With that impressive CV that you mentioned just then, of course the world would be my oyster, and everybody would be beating a path to my door. In 2002, I walked out what, at the time, was a $140,000 a year job, not realising that I had just become a $14,000 a year coach. Because predictably, nobody knew how I was, and nobody wanted to hire me.
Rob Cuesta: That was how I got started, by making the mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make, which is not thinking about what my market was going to be, or what I was going to be offering, and just taking a great idea, that I thought the world needed, and deciding that I was going to go out and offer it. It took me a few years to figure out that I’d make that mistake, literally until about 2005. So, three years of earning very small amounts, and the only reason that I can say it was $14,000 a year was because in the first year, I actually made about three times that. In the following two years, I made virtually nothing.
Rob Cuesta: It wasn’t until 2005 that I got … what I always call my Lost Days. I’d got to the beginning of 2005, and I realised, I’ve got not clients, I’ve got no money, and I was very rapidly heading towards bankruptcy. I spent two days being mad at the world, being mad at my prospective clients for not hiring me, being mad at myself for being so stupid. At the end of those two days, I sat down and I did something that I should have done in the very first place, which was I actually sat down and started setting some goals. The first goal I set myself was that, by the end of the year, I’d be making 100,000 Sterling which, at the time, was about $160,000 US.
Rob Cuesta: I made it, by the end of 2005, to something like $96,000, so I fell $4000 short of my goal, but I let myself off for the extra $4000, I’d gotten close to the intent. But, I’d managed to turn it around in that year.
Editor: It sounds like you learnt a really sobering lesson as well, off the back of that. That’s quite a story, in terms of … I just say, sometimes it’s the false security, isn’t it? You’re in a job, you’re being paid, and you think, if I leave, I’ll take all these clients with me. But of course, it doesn’t always work like that?
Rob Cuesta: No, it really doesn’t work like that, a lot of the time. I always say, if you want to make God laugh, show him your business plan. But, I hadn’t even gotten to the point of having a business plan, it was literally I’d decided one day that I’d had enough, and that I was going to go and set the world on fire.
Rob Cuesta: Instead of doing it the sensible way, by tapering in, and doing some work on the side, and building up the business in my own time, I went cold turkey. I literally walked into my boss’ office and said, “Hey, I quit.” Yes, as you say, it was a sobering lesson.
Editor: I was going to say, in terms of once you’d done that, and you’d gone through that process yourself, I guess that also gave you an insight, if you’d like, into how not to do it. If you train other people, this is like, “Don’t follow this advice, do the complete opposite.”
Rob Cuesta: Well exactly, because I’d got to 2005 and I’d three years of, basically, treading water. It was only in 2005 that I thought, well, I don’t have a client base. So, I need to find a way of building clients, very quickly. Quite by chance, I started doing joint ventures. That was, literally, what saved the business, and saved me, was finding …
Rob Cuesta: The first joint venture I tried wasn’t as successful. I can remember, I’d arranged a … it wasn’t even a webinar, it was a teleconference, with a competitor/peer/JV partner in North America. I remember dialing in from a hotel in Newcastle. Dialing in, in hotels, on an international line, was ridiculously expensive. So we were on the line for however long, for an hour or whatever, doing this teleconference. Of course, at that point, I still hadn’t learnt my lesson. We got to the end of the webinar, and I suddenly realized, I hadn’t really thought about the call-to-action. I very quickly came up with a call-to-action, and that joint venture netted me something like $100, which didn’t even cover the cost of the phone call.
Rob Cuesta: So I went back to the drawing board, set up another joint venture with a joint venture partner that was a better match for me, and for my skill set, which was personal branding, which is ironic. That joint venture got me up to a few thousand. And then, at the end of that year, what literally got me to the $100,000 mark was that, during that year, I found a partner that was perfectly aligned, and I had the right offer for their audience. They were desperately in need of what I was offering. By the end of that year, that had turned into almost a six-figure, in Sterling, business partner. It was around $160,000 of business, in US dollars.
Rob Cuesta: But, it was just finding that one partnership, which is something that I say to people now, is if you can find the right partners, and the right alliances to make, that can be the difference between having a very expensive hobby, or having a viable, and valid, and successful business.
Editor: That’s really true. I guess, the really interesting part in this, is it’s almost like you went from … As you say, you quit a well-paid job, a relatively well-paid job, so it was riches to rags. And then, almost back to riches again, from the joint ventures that you started to develop in that time.
Rob Cuesta: Yeah.
Editor: Can we just put a time frame on this, Rob? You mentioned that you quit your job in the early 2000s. Then, how long was it before … You say, three years before you realized you had almost a failing business? Then, off the back of that, how quickly was it before you started to turn the corner, and see that actually, this now is moving in the right direction?
Rob Cuesta: That was literally a 12-month shift. At the start of January 2005, I thought, this is it, everything has failed. I’m going to have to go back and get a job, and I’m going to have to eat humble pie, maybe, to my old employer and things. But literally, by the end of that year, that big joint venture had delivered the big payoff.
Editor: That was the turnaround year, I guess?
Rob Cuesta: That was the turnaround, yeah.
Editor: Then, in the last 15 years, things have really gone from great to stratospheric I guess, in terms of what you’ve achieved. I know we talked about the books that you’ve written so far, and also that you’ve moved into more of the personal branding side of things. Can you just walk me through the process of that, Rob? What made you want to, first of all, turn what you were doing into the books, first of all?
Rob Cuesta: Yeah. Well, let’s go back to that 2005 transformation. By the end of 2008, I’d then built a very successful, one-man business. I was travelling all over the world, I was working with big corporations, I was coaching senior partners in big, professional services firms. You probably remember, 2008 is memorable for one, big thing which is that in October 2008, the world collapsed.
Rob Cuesta: October 2008, I was literally packing to jump on a plane to New York to go and coach one of my clients, and I get a phone call saying, “Hey, you’re supposed to be with us next week, but we’ve decided we’re not going to go ahead, the market has collapsed, so don’t bother getting on the plane.” That was the start of having gone riches, to rags, to riches, literally 2008, I was facing going back to rags again.
Rob Cuesta: This time, it didn’t take me three and a half years to figure out what I was doing wrong. And so I very quickly started to get things moving again, to turn it around. Again, going with … initially, my first, gut reaction was joint ventures is what’s kept me going, joint ventures will help me, and they did.
Rob Cuesta: The other thing I did, which I hadn’t done before at that point, was I joined a Mastermind group. I suddenly realised, “Hey, I need other smart people around me.”
That was the point at which I joined my first Mastermind group, which some people would think was insane, when all your clients are disappearing, to go and spend $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, $25,000, being in a room with other people, might seem ridiculous. But, I needed to be around people whose businesses were successful, and learn from them, so that was the point at which I discovered the power of Masterminding.
Note from the editor:
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