Q&A with Carl Reader, Author & Serial Entrepreneur
Business high achiever, inspirational and motivational touchstone Carl Reader spoke to AGENT, retracing his earliest steps in the world of business, and revealing the passions and motivations that have sustained him.
CARL Reader is a walking advertisement for the virtues of pragmatism. A man who left school at the age of 16 to train as a hairdresser, he subsequently returned, then trained in accountancy before moving to d&t in 2002, in the days when it was still known as Dennis & Turnbull.
“My only competition is myself. I just make sure that everything I do is better than before.”
In the decade and a half since, Carl Reader has risen to the top, having become partner in 2007, and completed management buy-outs by 2013. Named as one of Accountancy Age’s ‘35 Under 35’ in 2013, Reader has been responsible for the firm’s strategy of developing bespoke CRM and practice-management systems, and steering d&t to a market-leading position in the franchising and tuition sectors.
Carl Reader has also become a recognised speaker, and a columnist for various magazines, and been involved in several other businesses and not-for-profits.
His underlying mission is to demystify the world of business—laying bare the simple ideas that distinguish a winning business from the competition. He has helped businesses of all sizes across the UK, from startups and small firms to household name brands. Carl Reader is also the author of two best-selling business books, The Startup Coach: Teach Yourself and The Franchising Handbook: How to Choose, Start & Run a Successful Franchise (Teach Yourself), both published by Hodder.
10 Questions for Carl Reader
Carl Reader has a busy schedule advising entrepreneurs on every corner of their businesses — including sales, marketing, finance, legal, HR, admin, growth strategy, fund-raising and exit planning — but he freed up some time to speak to AGENT about his story, his business motivations and challenges, and what lessons he has learned since leaving school that he would pass back to his younger self.
1. Briefly tell us how you first got into business, and describe your business goals.
I was offered a partnership into the company that I was working for. The role had almost become self employed in its own right, as I was more motivated working on a 100% performance based package. From there, I haven’t looked back at employment, and am firmly unemployable! I was fortunate enough to carve out my own way forwards, and now my goals are all focused around making my businesses the very best that they can be, in their industries. There are good and bad in every sector, and my obsession is making sure that we always find a way to be one step ahead of the competition.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
It was pretty early on. As a child I used to carve up bottles of lemonade and sell them, and go out car washing. Later I ended up playing around with some small online businesses before buying into d&t.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
In truth I don’t really have any “icons” that I look up to. It might sound cliched but my only competition is myself – I just make sure that everything I do is better than before. I do get inspired however by anybody who truly has a passion for what they do, whether they are turning over £100,000 or £100m.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
There’s been plenty along the way, including challenges with shareholders, employees and customers – business is never plain sailing. Probably the most difficult challenge I’ve ever had is in respect of people, sometimes there are times that you have to weigh up whats right for the business versus trying to help people, and ultimately you have to look at every situation objectively, removing emotion from the decision.
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
As a business owner, not really. Anyone who thinks that they can run a business on a 9-5, Monday to Friday basis, is naive at best. Sometimes, you can take an afternoon off, but in truth you end up working far more than you don’t. For me though, what I do isn’t work, so work and life tend to blend into one.
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
Black coffee! I cannot function without a caffeine shot, and even the smell of coffee helps to wake me up in the morning. After that, if my diary allows I like to squeeze a workout in, as it really sets me up for the day ahead.
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
A picture of my youngest child, Carl Junior. He was in intensive care after birth, and didn’t leave hospital for a couple of weeks. It’s a constant reminder of how lucky I am.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Wunderlist – without doubt. Without it, I fall apart.
9. What is the last thing you Googled?
Now that could be a revealing question! Although, it’s nothing too controversial – a potential present for my wife!
10. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
Like most people nowadays, a mobile phone. At weekends I only take one or two out, during the week I can have up to three to make sure I’m never without a means of contact.
11. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Just to be brave and do it! You can never claw back time.