When Brad Sugars’ dad found him selling off his Christmas presents to his siblings at age seven, he wondered if his son might have a future in business. The following year Brad’s strategy had matured a bit: “I worked out that if I just rented my toys to them for a day or two at a time,” the energetic Australian recalls with a laugh, “I’d get the money and still get the toys back afterwards.” By age fifteen he was hiring his friends to do newspaper delivery routes. Today he runs one of the fastest-growing franchises on the planet, with more than a thousand offices in twenty-four countries. He is author of more than a dozen briskly selling books, including Instant Cashflow, The Business Coach and Billionaire in Training. And he is a strong believer in—and frequent coach and speaker for—the network marketing model. — J.D.M.

I was intrigued to note that your story intersects early on with Robert Kiyosaki. How did that happen?

Many years ago, I attended a couple of his courses, and I ended up teaching some of them. Robert and his people had me do some speaking for a group of investors in Hawaii, and I thought, “You know what? This public speaking thing is actually a bit of fun. I might keep doing this.”

That got me into public speaking, which I’d never really done before. Eventually, we built an entire business around every aspect of business coaching.

This was back in 1994, right? Coaching was not yet the popular thing that it is today.

There was almost no such thing. We’d tell people we were business coaches and they’d say, “What? You mean, like consulting?”

Today we have more than 1,000 offices in twenty-four countries. And we work with quite a few networkers. I think networkers are treating the business far more seriously than they used to.

Does a coach replace a boss?

For the average person coming out of a job in the corporate world, their biggest challenge is that they’ve been told what to do for so long, and now they’ve actually got to decide for themselves, “What the heck do I do to make this work?” For a lot of people, having a coach can be a big help in that transition.

When you go into business for yourself, your first business is going to be your hardest business—simply because you don’t know what you’re doing yet.

A lot of people get into network marketing thinking, “Hey, this is going to be great! I can get into business for myself,” and forget that this is an entirely new game they’ve got to learn from the beginning.

Imagine you’re a professional footballer: would you try to take on professional basketball tomorrow without taking the time first to go learn some new things? Of course not. Why would we think that just because we’re good at a job, that means we’re going to be good at running a business? There’s a lot to learn here!

The reason I think network marketing is the best business for so many people is that you don’t have to learn everything about business to start. You don’t have to learn production, shipping and so many other aspects of business. You’ve got to learn sales, marketing and team-building. If you can get those three things down, you’ll be all right.

Sales and marketing, I think people can grasp—but that team-building part, there it gets tricky.

And networking’s not really about sales and marketing, is it? It’s really about team-building. People may join for the money or the product, but they stay for the team.

And team-building is not easy. Anyone can go sign up ten people themselves, if they’re good at sales. But can you train those ten people to each go sign up ten people, or even two people?

There’s this funny dichotomy: a lot of people in networking have never been in business for themselves before, so they need to be told what to do—yet they really don’t want to be told what to do.

That’s a big part of the coaching business: we have to teach people to get over their own ego. You’re starting something brand new. You’re going to have to learn to put the ego aside and just get out there and learn.

How is leadership here different from leadership in a corporation?

I teach leadership as one of six keys to a winning team. The first key is strong leadership; the second is having a common goal, something that benefits everyone and that everyone is heading towards. And number three is having rules of the game. What are the rules of playing on this team? How do we communicate, how do we work together?

By “rules,” I gather you mean something more than the sheer regulations of the company?

Right—what is this team’s culture? Winning teams always have a very distinct culture, a way they work together.

Key number four is having an action plan. What are we doing, and exactly how are we doing it? Who’s doing it, and by when?

Number five is to support risk-taking. You can’t build a winning team if you’re not willing to support the people who are willing to step outside the boundaries, try new things and make mistakes.

Number six is, there has to be 100 percent involvement and inclusion. Involvement is the responsibility of each person. Inclusion is the responsibility of the leader. If you’ve got a team meeting going and one guy’s not said anything the entire time, it’s the leader’s job to ask his opinion—that’s a leaders’ job.

Which gets back to your question about leadership in networking versus corporate. In the corporate world, there’s a kind of built-in, assumed leadership by virtue of sheer position: “This is my boss, she can fire me if I don’t do what she tells me to do.”

In network marketing, you’re not my boss, and you can’t fire me. Consequently, you’d better inspire me, motivate me, show me, teach me, lead me, excite me, build a relationship with me—and then I might do what you tell me to.

So it’s a very different and far more inspirational kind of leadership than it would be in a corporate world.

Your third key point, creating a culture within the team, is fascinating, because it means you can’t build it purely on your personality, you need to create a larger structure.

Correct. And that’s where you start to see this great thing in networking where you have teams within a team. You start seeing leaders pop up within a network who create their own “this is our way of doing it in our team” sense.

That’s why I think it’s so important in networking to give your team a name (these days it’s typically the same as your website domain name). Identifying your team makes it easier to establish your common goal. Some of the strongest teams I see in networking circles will say things like, “Our goal is to build twenty diamonds in the next three years.” A lot of people can get excited about that, because if they’re serious, they’ll assume they’re one of those twenty diamonds. You’ve got to build a commonality of goal; it can’t just be one person’s goal, it has to be every person’s goal.

The way you describe this, it sounds like building a community.

Absolutely—that’s what a team is. A networking team can be a very small community or a very big community, but either way, it’s essentially a community.

It’s almost cliché to talk about the dissolution of community in our postmodern age—but I’m not so sure it’s really a dissolution so much as a shifting of the definition of community.

Community is very different in today’s world. Faith Popcorn started looking at how the community was shifting way back in the early nineties with The Popcorn Report. People have far fewer friends than they did twenty years ago—they put more energy getting to know the kids on American Idol than their next-door neighbors.

But not in the world of networking. This is a very interesting group. Networkers are not sitting at home watching Lost or Desperate Housewives. (Funny thing about that, by the way: now we name the show after the audience!)

This makes them different from most other people. Seal had a great song years ago called “Crazy,” and one of its lyrics is, “In a world full of people, only some want to fly. Am I crazy?” It is crazy—but it’s not us who are crazy!

A lot of people question themselves because they want to be more than the average. I’ve had to live with that my entire life. I don’t want to be whatever it is that the “average person” is. I want to exceed in life.

We’ve all got one shot at life. A human life is about 4,000 weeks. What are you going to do with those 4,000 weeks? And if you’re in your forties, you’ve already done 2,000 of those 4,000 weeks—what are you going to do with the 2,000 you have left?

You’ve said that you suffer from the sin of unemployability.

Yes, I realized very young that I was unemployable. Some see that as a sin, I see it as a virtue!

Figuring out exactly what that meant for you was quite an odyssey—you went through, what, twenty-seven different jobs?

It’s a discovery process. There is a financial ladder in life. You start as an employee, but that’s just the start. Being an employee is simply a period of apprenticeship, prefatory to building your own businesses.

Everything you do is an apprenticeship. I can’t say what any given person’s path is, but whatever it is, it’s clear that your job in that path is not to earn but to learn. Only in the dictionary does “earn” come before “learn.” The more you learn, the better you’ll get at it, and the more you’ll earn.

You see people coming into network marketing who want to earn a million dollars, yet they’re not willing to learn. They don’t treat it seriously.

We say, “If you’re serious, you won’t treat this like a hobby”—but that’s interesting to really look at. Let’s say your hobby is golf, it’s what you do. How many golf magazines do you subscribe to?

All of them!

Right! How many golf groups do you join? How many times a week do you go practice? How many golf websites and golf DVDs do you pore over?

I’ll be blunt: most networkers don’t put as much time into their networking as they do into their hobbies. People take their hobbies far more seriously than many people take their network marketing businesses! For most, taking it to the hobby stage would be a step up.

That takes us back to the word “amateur” and what it really means: a person who loves what she does.

Here’s a simple way to look at it: your first year in network marketing is your apprenticeship. If you don’t make any money in your first year, whocares? You’ve spent a year learning the trade.

It’s human nature: we want everything and we want it now. But getting rich here is not a one-year plan—it’s a ten-year plan.

One challenge in network marketing is that we lionize our heroes. What we call “edification” can be a two-edged sword. We say, “Look at that guy, he made it to diamond in one year!” Yeah, but that guy had twenty-seven years of experience in business before he got into this business.

Are we creating the culture and the values we need to create to drive this thing properly?

Education is a very big part of networking, and overall I think it’s done extremely well. But I think there is a fundamental lack in teaching the actual plan and how to implement it. If you go into any network marketing system on the planet, if there are 4,000 networkers, you’ll find them teaching 4,000 different ways to succeed at it!

Most network marketing companies fall down in one simple thing: they build 200,000 systems to deliver one way of doing it.

Now, go into any McDonald’s. How many different ways are there to make a Big Mac? One. Here’s how you cook the burger, here’s how you add the sauce, here’s how you wrap it—there’s one way.

To build a successful team, we’ve got to have an action plan. When people come into any particular type of business, they’ve got to know what to do, and they’ve then got to be trained in how to do it. Networkers put a massive amount of effort into signing people up. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they put as much effort into getting them successful?

That proliferation of 200,000 different methods goes back to the challenge of our all being volunteers: no one tells us what to do, so we all go off in different directions.

Yes, but I’ve run charities, and as a chairman of a charity I’ve found something very interesting: people say they don’t like being told what to do—but they really do!

They don’t want to have to rethink the entire wheel. They want to walk into the network and be told, “Okay, here’s what you do—call people up, use these exact words, and have them come over and give them this exact presentation, and you’ll get a sign-up rate of one in every twenty people…” or whatever your numbers are.

People do like to be told what to do, as long as it’s positioned in a way that we’re not doing so to make you look like an idiot, but to make your life easier.

What else is missing in the way we’re taught the business?

There are two key tasks in life concerning money: making money, and managing money. Most networkers are never taught how to graduate successfully to the second stage.

What makes network marketing so valuable is that unlike a job, it takes us up the cash flow ladder, moving us from active income to passive income.

You can ask people this simple question: “What are your plans for passive income? If you don’t join our network, what other plan do you have for passive income?” They have no answer, because they don’t have a plan. Their plan is, “Work until I’m sixty-five, retire and die.” That’s not a plan—that’s what the government told you to do.

So the first hurdle is to hang in there long enough to earn some real money—but you have to keep learning while hanging in there. Because once you’ve mastered how the business works, all you’ve done is learned how to earn money—not to manage it.

I’ve seen people become successful in networking and end up with a big tax problem at the end of their second year, because they never learned how to manage money. You might be the greatest network builder on the planet, but that doesn’t mean you have any idea how to invest money.

You speak to network marketing groups all over the world. What kinds of topics do you typically cover?

It depends on the organization and where they are in the business. You have to sit down with the leadership of that business beforehand and say, “All right, what are the major challenges facing your organization right now?” Then, you design the program based around what outcomes they want to achieve with that group.

Often they want you to focus on team-building, on the sales aspect, or on the recruitment side of the business. Most of the time, I teach the fundamentals of business. Again, a lot of people come into this thing having never been in business before. We’ve got to teach some fundamentals if we want them to succeed.

When I speak for networking companies, I focus on making everything very practical. I’ve been called a “motivational speaker,” and I get very upset with that! I don’t want to motivate people. If you motivate an idiot, he just does stupid things faster. What I want to do is educate.

A speaker should be inspiring, not motivating. Motivation comes from within. People get more motivated if I can show them what to do than if I rah-rah them. We need to give people practical things they can go out and use tomorrow to build their businesses.

Brad, what do you see as our biggest challenges in the decades ahead? What do we as a profession need to do better?

This group needs to work on its professional credibility. I think the heads of all the major networking companies need to do a better job with this. For example, they could hire a PR agency to represent the profession of networking as a whole and ensure that it has good publicity. Every other profession on the planet does this.

One reason networkers struggle to sign people up is that people say, “Well, I’ve heard about that and it doesn’t work. My mother went into that and she lost all her money.” We’ve got to get people over those issues before our people approach them.

Secondly, the profession as a whole needs to look at the professionalism of how it trains its people. Network marketing is obviously a growth sector. Where are those great new people going to come from in the future? Are you going to keep just poaching them from each other? Or are you going to look at it as a business approach and say, “All right, we need to build a training school for future network marketers and executives at network marketing companies.”

How do we, as a profession spanning different industries, keep our future growth planned by making sure that network marketing becomes part of the curriculum at colleges and universities? We need to be anticipating and planning for our growth over the decades ahead.