Darren Hill – Black Belt Under the Microscope

Darren HillGood morning. Peter Cook interviewing Darren Hill on the 23rd of the 7th 2010. Thank you very much for joining me. Let’s get started. No problems mate it’s good to be here.

Our very first black belt under the microscope. Tell me how did you get to white belt. What was it that got your first 10,000 a month?

I think that the first thing on getting to white belt is quite simply making the decision. For a while I had been thinking about leaving my job and heading into my own employment and I probably spent 12 to 18 months ruminating over the decision and, I truly believe just making the decision and going for it was simply the first thing I needed to do to get to that 10,000 a month.

To just put myself into the market, to back myself and sort of move on with things.

Actually one of the key strategies I used I guess was that I boxed up our television set. We actually took our television set and put it back in its cardboard box and for probably three months leading into starting business most nights when I get home from work I just sit down and start writing, some IP and I think that that was why we launched so well and $10,000 a month wasn’t too much of an issue.

And what was your first mode?

Oh first mode was training. Delivering training particularly to government institutions.

And was that your background? What was the job that you were leaving?

I went with the classic sort of “low hanging fruit”. I had a number of years in federal government agencies so targeted those agencies, (not the one I worked in but other similar ones) and just went after those markets that I knew existed.

I knew myself because I was formerly a learning and development manager, so I knew what a shortage of good training there was out there so I just targeted that market and hit that hard.

Yeah very well done. I know for a lot of people even getting to white belt is a big achievement and I think you know in that whole journey I think it’s probably half the battle is getting to white belt and then the next half is white belt to black belt. Once you – what were the main challenges for you between white belt and black belt?

If I could put it down to three things; the first one would be just understanding our value and, and overcoming the self limiting beliefs that sort of hold you back a little bit that maybe I’m not as good as what I think I am and really stepping into that space where you do believe that you offer a valued proposition to a market and that, by you being in that market makes people better off.

I think that that’s one of the great challenges for people who might be struggling with those early couple of belts is you just have to get over yourself a little bit and, understand that there is a value proposition and that people engaging with you are better off because if you can’t accept that, if you can’t see past those self limiting beliefs I mean really what are you doing. You know get back to working.

The second point is concentrating on what you’re good at and there’s often a law of divorcing yourself of what you know best and wanting to chase greener pastures.

Really the success particularly early on in the stages in the belts is just making sure that you’re spending all your time on stuff that you know like the back of your hand.

The third point would be unlearning lessons. This particularly came through the middle stages, was unlearning lessons learned off moderately successful peers and, so I think you tend to particularly as a white belt or a yellow belt you, you tend to learn lessons off established business people but it’s not until you progress through the higher ladders that you realise that these successful business people are still doing the same thing they’ve been doing for 10 years and aren’t moving and, and you’ve kind of learnt those lessons off that peer group and all of a sudden you realise that you’ve, you’ve crafted your own lessons and it’s time to, to get some thought leadership into your business so.

Yeah what are what are some examples that you’ve had – what were some of the specific lessons that you had to unlearn?

Oh I think one of the specific lessons that I’m, still learning at the moment is particularly – I mean I, reside in Darwin and so it’s a reasonably small town so to speak so – I mean it’s a lovely achievement to achieve black belt and beyond in a market like Darwin but the other thing is that there’s a very collective group and I think these occur everywhere where local businesses who are doing okay.

They’re earning good quid and when I say good quid I guess you know they’re around the $200,000 $300,000 mark. They tend to form these cliques and groups but they tend to forget the positioning piece and, and so you find yourself being asked to enter into these, these cliques into these groups and you forget about positioning yourself and this is I guess where I see one of the errors or one of the lessons that I learned was always if you’re going to join a group, speak at the group you know or if you’re going to join a group lead the group don’t just be a bit player in the group.

Yeah that’s interesting I’m, have joined I don’t know if you know Excel a, a networking group here in Melbourne and I think I learned the same lessons …


Cause three weeks after or three months after joining it I found myself leading it. This is interesting.

Yeah but I mean that’s probably happened by default for you Peter ‘cause you’ve got those natural qualities within but I mean one thing as you become more and more successful you get asked more and more to join certain types of groups because they, they want your enthusiasm and your knowledge and those kind of things.

That was a lesson I learnt early off Matt Church. Matt just said “oh if you get asked to join those groups tell them you’ll come and speak at them no problems” because when you speak at them you still give them some of your knowledge and your IP but it positions you beyond the group. Certain groups like BNI and other things like that which are great for local businesses who kind of you know sell their tins of baked beans and that kind of stuff and want to survive and thrive with each other, that that works really nicely in that collective community, but I think particularly when you’re selling ideas you need to stay really current and you really need to position yourself as, as one step ahead of the market so yeah.

Are there any other successful strategies that you want to share?

I’m really big in regards to the steps, through white to black belt is positioning, positioning & positioning. I actually see from personal experience it’s where many thought leaders tend to hit the activity cycle and it either breaks them or they kind of back off from it because it’s all such hard work. Getting to 360 a year it’s hard work, there’s a lot in it and you can find yourself doing lots of hours.

For a lot of people they undertake their sea change because they want a better lifestyle and those kind of things and all of a sudden they find themselves kind of at the green belt level and they’re doing 80 hour weeks.

It’s all on but it’s exactly where they should be but then they forget that critical point of repositioning and they kind of stare at this “oh I’m doing really well, I’ve got 350 grand a year coming in but I’m busting my guts and, and I haven’t got any more time to give, how do these guys hit 700, how do they hit 600, how do they hit a million”? They just forget that critical point of positioning. We’re really, really gifted and lucky within the thought leaders’ community that there are great experts to position with I firmly believe that you can’t position or reposition yourself without assistance, particularly to a market that already knows you.

I think it’s just about impossible and I think the great fast track to repositioning yourself in a market that already knows you, is to bring in talent and work alongside that talent. All of a sudden that same customer base goes “God I never knew he hung out with people like that, I never knew she carried such weight”.

In particularly, the thought leaders’ mentor community know this code. The code is that we position each other beautifully; but part of that is where I’ve seen my rapid growth through those middle stages come from. I got Matt Church to Darwin, Michael Henderson to Darwin, Rowdy McLean to Darwin, Penny Bourke to Darwin and now I’m about to have 12 thought leaders come to Darwin, so every step of that just starts to occur and it actually occurs in concrete form. When I bought Matt to Darwin that actually cost me money as an exercise.

I half filled the room. I filled the room but I was hoping for more but I didn’t get them, so I was kind of going “oh I put sort of so much effort and time into that and I, I actually didn’t make any money out of the exercise” but then three days later I sold my biggest ever program at the time for $40,000 so I that didn’t happen like by mystery.

It happened as a result and then when I bought up Rowdy MacLean and did some work with Rowdy all of a sudden we launched by far and away the biggest program straight off the back. It just makes sense and too many people hold on too tight I think to their customer bases so.

Yeah I think it also shows you’ve got a real abundance mentality which is you’re not trying to, you’re not thinking that there’s only this limited market, I’ve got to hang onto them tightly and make sure I get everything I can, you’re finding that actually the more you give away and the more you bring in other people and the more you share the wealth the more is coming back to you?

I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head Peter. I think it’s also a little bit insulting to customers to not introduce them to great talent if you know that they’re out there so if I’ve got a trusted client that I’ve been working with for a while and they go “gee oh Peter Cook would be great for those” and I don’t share him with them I actually hold them back and I hold Peter back and, and let alone what great positive spin comes out of it for me if Peter Cook comes up to my client and rocks their world and, takes their business forward. How good does that make me look you know and the chances of me getting extra work are fantastic because familiarity breeds contempt after a while.

You know your engagements with clients don’t last forever so you’ve got to keep it fresh for them. I think positioning is really a critical point and I actually I know as far as the stages go that it’s important for that to happen at a certain point.

You should have some activity. You don’t fly in the best of the best when you’re, you’re struggling at white belt level but I think you can engage positioning fairly early on in the peace.

Yeah, yeah and that’s exactly where - I’m at green belt now so it’s exactly perfect for what I’m doing at the moment so very cool to be getting some hints from you right now, thank you.

I think the other thing about positioning is it lets you reposition your costs around it but it also it, shows you’re a person who knows people in the know and never forget that every business, is a human business so if you see another human being who knows cool human beings it does your brand good.

Yep, yep and what was your biggest mistake along the way?

Oh mate it’s a common mistake I guess but employing someone else to do something that we’re already awesome at.

I mean it was once again probably one of those lessons I spoke about earlier. Learning lessons from moderately successful peers and trying to head into that kind of mindset where “oh well if I want my business to grow I better put some staff on”.

I was already producing a really, really fine product and took on a contract where I thought “oh well this is something someone else can do”, bought on a trainer and thought “well I’ll go out and find some more work” and as a result we basically had a very uncomfortable situation where the trainer didn’t meet the client’s needs and they were our biggest client.

It really tested a philosophy in our business of that we profit through value and we’ve always held this as not necessarily something we trumpet to the world but we’ve always held a money back guarantee kind of mindset so if the client didn’t receive value through what we’d done we always had it in our mind that we would, we would refund it, if that was what they wanted.

At this point we were looking at actually a $40,000 to $60,000 refund. Now that was not something we necessarily walked in and said “oh we’ll refund your money” but leading into a very uncomfortable conversation that was in the back of our heads to honour that principle of profit through value, we were prepared to do that.

It might of nearly sent us broke to do it but it all came from that mistake of “well I should have been doing that workshop. I was the best at it and I should have been doing it”.

Yeah well how did you feel walking into that meeting ready to hand over the cheque that was …Would have made you almost under?

Well we were just about physically sick for a couple of days leading up to it. It was a very, very uncomfortable situation because essentially they’d bought Darren Hill and they didn’t get Darren Hill I guess, (I hate talking about myself in the third person but anyway it makes me sound really up myself) but basically they’d paid for my practice and I’d given them a business model and it didn’t meet their expectations.

To walk into there in the back of my head knowing that unless we can reach an agreement and if they’d have turned around and said “look this is completely unacceptable and we can’t see the cost” I was prepared to go to that degree.

Fortunately I didn’t have to. What I was able to do was redo some of the workshops and then provide them with some other learning options which cost me time obviously but in the end I think I repaired the relationship beyond what it was, just through being 100% honest and saying “look we’re not going to argue any points”. The bottom line is that they didn’t see value in our product so we done everything that we could to re-establish that value, so yeah it was big mistake.

Wow and it’s, it’s beautiful when that happens where the, a mistake can actually if you treat it well it can actually increase the relationship to before what it was but it does take some humility and some honesty to do that. Well done.

Yeah look if, we’d have gone in with an adversarial approach and tried to argue points of it because I wasn’t actually sure that everything that they’d sort of sent through in first communication was 100% true from where I sat but you, can’t.

In the end it came to the higher order principle that they didn’t, they didn’t receive the value that they were expecting so you can argue content as much as you want but it wasn’t going to get us anywhere so yeah.

Yeah very, very skilfully handled so somebody who’s starting out on the journey, not even white belt yet, what advice would you give them?

I think one might be that they don’t necessarily think about that much is check your currencies that you receive other than money particularly if you’re at the white belt.

You know yellow belt, green belt levels, what are yours – ‘because we all get payoffs Peter. Do you understand where I’m coming from with that?

Yeah so you are talking about psychological payoffs or payoffs for our ego or that sort of thing?

Absolutely yeah so I think most people – well we all have a number of different currencies in our life whether it’s love from a loved one or acceptance from our peers or all these types of things and so I think sometimes we’ve got to check our currencies because for our own gain.

I guess if people are listening to this recording they’re wanting to make money, we really need to examine what are some of those other currencies that are at play.

You’ve put up a fabulous case value with, with Tathra Street and she’s such a brave woman for putting her head on the chopping block I guess but you know as with all people I mean we, have currencies other than money and I can see that coming through in some of Tathra’s writing.

Some of her stuff on her post is that there’s other currencies at play for her here and, and she’s, trying to protect herself and defend herself and I think if your goal’s to make money and if your goal’s to be successful money wise you, actually need to see where am I getting my payoffs for elsewhere.

I think a lot of us we have different ones there so I know some people on the speaking circuit for example and they’re, they’re high volume speakers you know, they’re doing 200 presentations in a year but they’re only charging 1,000 bucks or, $2,000 and they’re, kind of looking at other speakers who are earning you know well up into the, the top belt band and they’re kind of wondering how do they do that but their currency is that they want to be seen as heavily booked.

Now I don’t know about you but I’d be happy to speak 10 times a year if I got paid 20 grand each time to speak you know versus speaking 200 times at 1 grand but for some people the lure is being seen as heavily booked.

I spoke at three gigs today and I picked up 15 gigs this week and that sort of stuff. That’s a very big currency for them to be seen in that light. I keep coming back to what’s most important, what’s the biggest currency and I know in my life with my young family and where I want to head to is that money’s a big currency.

I get plenty of other currencies from my kids and my wife but in the marketplace I don’t, I’ve learned to drop some of the other currencies about being liked. I’ve learned to drop some of those other currencies about wanting to be accepted by peers and selling myself cheaper to do that.

That would be my one bit of advice is, is get back to money as your currency if you’re sitting and listening to this and, and drop some of those other currencies.

Yeah I think that’s really, really good advice and, and I think the irony is that when we’re out looking to be approved, to be accepted, to be liked it doesn’t work anyway. We actually get more respect and more of and feel better about ourselves when we value ourselves appropriately so it’s a – even when we’re going, we’re going for being liked and devaluing ourselves to do it it doesn’t even work so.

Yeah and look I think one of the classic ones for people, a big currency that plays particularly in the earlier belts and it certainly happened for me was, was wanting to avoid rejection was a big currency.

If someone knocked back a proposal it was like a stake through the heart and “oh my God” you know “I’ve, I’ve lost a, a client” but ever since I’ve jacked my rates up and you know I frame this when I go in with clients and I just say – in the first 5 minutes these days that “hey if you’re looking, if cost is your primary criteria for hiring people” I said “I can refer you on to some really good people you know because that’s not me” and, and it’s almost like a challenge you know.

It’s like a haka and they sort of respond to the challenge and no-one wants to miss out on value and I think my conversion rate has just skyrocketed since I basically upped my rate and went with that frame instead of me worrying about how much money they had to spend.

These days I just say “well you guys can’t really afford not to do this but I don’t know what your model’s around, do you prefer low cost or not, it’s up to you but I charge a lot of money” and, and I very rarely miss the mark these days so.

Very cool. What difference has getting to black belt made in your life in how you feel about yourself with your family etc?

I think the obvious one is choices. I get to make choices these days that I didn’t necessarily get to make when I was either employed or struggling in the lower belts.

I get to make choices around which clients I want to work with so I probably knock back twice the amount of work that I take on or I refer on twice the amount of calls so there are a number of clients these days that I’m just going to go “oh look we’re, we’re, a bit busy” or “I’ve got too much on” or “we’re not really the client for you” and so that’s lovely is not having to you know take on work for the sake of taking on work.

Just choices in lifestyle so we’re going to be making some major changes to our life and fairly soon we’re looking at moving to the Gold Coast and those sorts of things would have been very heavily considered and a long time going in. Could we afford that and things like that and now that the cost is really not the issue when in making a determination.

Holidays, these kind of things so we had a lovely family holiday to Bali at Christmas time in peak season and just you know I guess financially we just said “we can afford it let’s do it” so it was great to make choices like that in our lives

Probably one of the biggest differences in black belt and beyond kind of sounds like Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story doesn’t it you know, black belt and beyond but I think it’s, it’s actually, it’s, it’s about the last point that we were talking about was you, you feel more valued and I think sometimes particularly when you’re down, down in the, in, in the start up levels or making that decision is that it’s sometimes hard to see your value and I think the higher you get in it, it starts this, this own snowball effect where the market believes your value more and you believe your value more and, and, and you just feel more valued in the marketplace and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Yeah, yeah it starts to become Sort of self perpetuating like a snowball like you say it actually gathers momentum rather than just being a struggle which I think it probably does in that positioning piece that you were emphasising.

Yeah and look I think for a lot of people the white belt to black belt journey, actually as far as timeframes go, will take you three quarters of the journey to get to green belt and it’ll take you a quarter of the journey to do the next four or five belts. It rapidly gains momentum when you shift into the positioning phase.

Yeah oh I’m looking forward to that. What does your practice look like now in terms of composition of people in it and, and a different modality that you’re doing?

So our practice has got three people including me.

We’re heading, into bigger markets and at this point we’ve very heavily invested in a number of areas so we’re moving into a lot of product development and look that just follows the, the strategies within white to black belt.

It almost feels quite natural to at this point to go “okay we’re, we’re going to do heavy investments” so the relocation I talked about earlier down to the Gold Coast is about investment so we’re moving toward bigger markets on the east coast, putting the finishing touches on my humanity quotient inventory which is the first thing in the world where you can go in and measure the humanity in an organisation or a team. That’s nearly finished and a book and a few other things like that.

We’re doing a lot of work in investment a product at the moment but it’s so nice to go into your accountant, (it’s tax time for everyone) and we head into our accountant who we’ve had since start up and kind of see them speechless so it’s a lovely thing cause there aren’t too many businesses out there like what we do here and the margins are so high.

A lot of businesses when they talk revenue or turnover really it’s almost like a false figure and you’ll hear people say in business “oh tell me about, about your profit” but I think our business is info *28.33* you can talk about revenue because you automatically know that the margins are so high in what you do.

Training for example is probably one that costs you the most money but really you’re only looking at maybe 20 cents of your revenue going in, going for outgoings, whereas speaking for example’s 95% claim so you sort of – the, the practice is very profitable and yeah we’re, we’re looking to really head into, into you know larger markets and, and test ourselves against the bigger market so.

Yeah so that’s your next big challenge?

Yeah well we’re going to do the relocation thing so what will come with that is trying to find a, good business manager to, sort of do the set up for me.

It’s really interesting mate, I sat down and I was getting some fish and chips down the, the waterfront at Darwin yesterday with my kids which is another great thing about the business that we do is you can kind of, kind of go out on a, on a Thursday and just kind of chill out with the kids for a couple of hours if you’ve got nothing else on.

I was sitting down waiting for the fish and chips to be cooked and there was a BRW fast starters 200 list or something like that and I was leafing through it and I think the 200th one came in at 760,000 or something like that and it had 50 people employed in it and that was turnover of 760,000.

I’m saying “how do you get on the list” you know and ‘cause I was looking, I was looking through the staffing levels and stuff and that was when it was almost like a, lovely little epiphany before this talk that, hey you know like the game that we’re in can be just awesome if, if you do the work and if you get out of the road of yourself and, and let the, let the program work it really works so yeah.

Beautiful, anything else you’d like to share?

It’s just a great thing to do what you love doing and I probably still do pretty sizeable hours at the moment but only because I love it and I really want to go to a few new phases.

It’s not necessarily about the money like I won’t say it’s not all about – it’s, got nothing to do with the money but I just love doing what I do so that’s great.I think that the big one I’d leave people with is if you’re struggling at the kind of white belt level or maybe the yellow belt level try boxing your television up for three months and just you know get back to “you’re trying to earn money”so make that the forefront, be unashamedly commercial.

We don’t serve anyone by playing small.

It’s been a chat and I know there’s a lot of talent out there and people who are ready to take the step so hopefully they, found something out of today’s conversation that might help them.

Well I certainly have and I’m sure our other listeners will too. Thank you so much for your time.