I was asked the other day what I thought of Brad Burton.
If you own/run a small business then the chances are you already know the name. But if you don’t know who he is, Brad Burton is the author of business book Get Off Your Arse, and MD of UK-national business-networking company 4Networking.
The reason I was asked the question was because Brad is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact he is the modern equivalent of Marmite – you either love him or hate him.
The other reason I was asked was because I’ve been a member of 4Networking and I have met Brad.
I thought long and hard about the question, because I thought it was a really interesting one.
From what I know of Brad and his business, he is definitely a conundrum.
On one hand, his book (GOFYA) does show interesting insights into the vulnerability and humility of his character (he admits how he used to dick around when he first set up in business on his own and kid himself and his wife he was working)
To be honest I really enjoyed his book. The every-man approach to his and his co-writer’s style really struck a chord with me, and I have recommended it as essential reading to many small business owners.
His business-networking company (4Networking) follows the zeitgeist of business owners/employees meeting together on a regular basis, discussing business issues and basically buying and selling each other’s services amongst themselves and other businesses they know. This trend of networking businesses isn’t new but it has definitely surged upwards in the last 5 years of economic down-turn, where businesses are being a little choosier about who they spend their money with. And who better to spend it with than someone who you meet at a networking meeting every week!
There are literally hundreds of networking groups, the elder statesmen being the likes of The Chamber of Commerce, but the amongst the biggest players in this arena are BNI. However, make no mistake, 4Networking are up there with BNI, snapping at the heel of their air-brushed, tooth-paste American image like an enthusiastic, mongrel puppy.
4Networking perceive themselves to be everything that BNI isn’t – and I’m guessing Brad Burton wouldn’t want it any other way. For instance, if you think BNI is stuffy, then 4Networking is a breath of fresh air. If you think BNI is too regimented, then 4Networking is loose enough to fit around your working patterns. And if you think BNI is just too much like some secret masonic sect, then 4Networking is like being a member of the friendly local working men’s club!
Don’t get me wrong, 4Networking isn’t to the taste of everyone. I know of fellow business-owners who find the whole approach more akin with C4’s The Big Breakfast (anarchic morning breakfast show from the 90s) as opposed to the more refined BBC Breakfast from the 80s.
Without doubt, it’s big, it’s brash, and it’s in your face. Just like Brad Burton. He is 4Networking, and 4Networking is him. If Brad Burton is the public face of 4N, then if ever a business reflected its public face like a hand in glove, then it is this one.
Which leads me back to Brad Burton – big, brash, and in your face? Oh yes.
His approach is not dissimilar to the Howard Stern school of hard shocks – love him or hate him, you sure as Hell can’t ignore him. And again, I’m guessing Brad Burton wouldn’t want it any other way.
He is a shameless exponent of Twitter, he re-tweets everything that moves, and especially anything that remotely associates itself with him or his business. You would never accuse Brad Burton of being modest (I would imagine the word doesn’t exist in his vocabulary – but then again when did anyone get anywhere be being modest, right?)
The interesting thing here is that he is not adverse to re-tweeting comments that criticise him (although not 4N, it would seem)
So, he would appear to embrace all publicity about Brad Burton, because the more people that are talking about him, the more people will want to know what others are saying. None of us ever want to think we are missing out on something, and Brad makes sure he makes us think we are missing out on him.
He has nearly 11k followers on Twitter, and if the majority of those are small business owners then he is definitely reaching out to the little cogs of the economy at a time when certainly the UK Government isn’t.
So, does all this make Brad Burton look like the antidote to the antiseptic, tie-wearing corporate hair-cuts that spout Government economic policy, and convince us that austerity is good for us?
It sure does. Brad’s own corporate uniform couldn’t be further from what we see on BBC’s News-night. In fact, if he could, I’m sure he would trademark jeans, trainers and tattoo T-shirts as Brad Burton copy-write.
He’s fast-talking, hard-hitting and never stands still. A moving target? Certainly for his competition.
However, peer beyond the shaven-headed, wild-eyed enforcer of the little business, and you will spot a carefully collected inner-circle of advisers and 4N directors. Arthur’s round-table, as it were.
Everything goes through them, and nothing gets decided about the future of 4N without their seal of approval. And guess what their business-wear is – that’s right, pin-stripe suits and sharp shoes.
Does that mean Brad Burton is a puppet set up to dupe us all into thinking the future is a hard and fast six-shooter, firing straight to the heart of bureaucracy and red-tape?
Maybe. Or maybe Brad Burton really is a genius by realising he needed to surround himself with the right skills to take his business forward.
So, I go back to the question I was asked. What do I think of Brad Burton?
Well, I’m not sure I could ever totally endorse anyone who takes a photograph of himself in the mirror at his gym and uses it as his Twitter profile pic (maybe that really is another sneak insight into his vulnerability and what makes the real Brad Burton tick) but I can’t ignore the way he has bludgeoned an image on the small business and networking fraternity that is akin to a Panzer tank rolling up the high-street!
Is Brad Burton a business genius or a brazen self-publicist?
I know what I think, but I would rather you decide for yourself. Check out his book (Get Off Your Arse) or if you get chance, check him out speaking at one of the 4N events.
Will you like you? I’m not sure. Will you hate him? I’m also not sure.
But I guarantee you won’t be able to ignore him. Watching the antics of Brad Burton might just become your very own car-crash TV.