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“I delivered pizzas to keep my business afloat”

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"When I first started my company I thought that being an entrepreneur meant having a BMW 5-series, a fish tank and a spinny chair," declares Brad Burton. "Then I ended up sitting at home in my underpants waiting for the phone to ring. I was calling up BT every five minutes to check the line was working."

It’s this kind of forthright, no-nonsense admission that makes Burton such a force to be reckoned with. He’s spent the last three years putting in 18-hour days to get 4Networking off the ground. Despite criticism from all sides ("I’ve never been respected in business," he says), he’s met every target he’s ever set.

When Real Business caught up with Burton back in 2007, he had a handful of networking groups. In the face of our scepticism, he swore blind that in 18 month’s time he’d have the whole UK covered, from Somerset to Northern Ireland. Today, he’s done just that with over 200 groups up and down the country. He’s even looking further afield. "I’m sending someone on a recce to Australia next month," he says.

But the entrepreneur has encountered some bumps along the road. "We nearly went out of business last year," he says. "I made a mistake. I told all my directors that we weren’t going to sell anything anymore. We were just going to let people come to us. No pull sales, nothing. It nearly toppled the business."

Burton freely admits that it was entirely his mistake. "At least I was man enough to admit I was wrong and put things right," he goes on. "We stopped all spending. I didn’t take a wage for three months and now we’re back on track. I didn’t wake up one morning going, ‘I think I’ll f*ck up today’. It’s just the way it went."

At his lowest point, Burton was delivering pizzas on the side to bolster cash flow to his business. "I was a bit embarrassed about that," he says sheepishly. But embarrassment doesn’t sit well with Burton. Now it’s all part of his turnaround story. His nickname on the 4Networking website is "pizza boy" and his marketing materials show the entrepreneur holding a pizza box emblazoned with "Brad’s Pizzas".

"Everyone goes through good and bad times," he says. "It’s about surviving.

"Take the recession," he continues. "I think about the recession like three days from payday. You have to go through your cupboards and dig out all the crap you didn’t want to eat – the peach segments and savoury rice. And you have to make do. That’s what it’s like in a recession. But it can’t be pay day every day."

The pearls of wisdom are priceless. And Burton is about to publish his first book, titled "Get off your arse", that will be chock-full of them. He’s also joining Real Business as our newest contributor. I’ll guarantee you this: his columns will not be for the faint-hearted. Check back next Wednedsay for the first instalment.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009
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