How Erica King ran 585 businesses and generated millions in profit
By Emily Pidgeon – CEO Magazine
She’s completed 31 marathons, met Oprah, lived with tribes in New Guinea and owned 12 businesses. Now the expert is sharing her secrets to finding business success.
Many of the world’s business minds are content with operating one venture, maybe two if they’re up for a challenge. Not Erica King – she drew the line at 585.
Lauded as the secret weapon to business success, Erica increased the profit average by almost half a million dollars per year, per client.
“It’s like anything,” she says, somewhat ordinarily. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Appropriately dressed in a fierce red pants suit, Erica is a refreshing change from the predictable corporates that have long come before her.
From celebrating her 50th birthday by running 12 marathons in 12 months (which is even more extraordinary when you learn she spent her school years forging her mother’s signature to get out of physical education) to being Ansett Australia’s most frequent female flyer five years running, learning how to make wigs in London at the BBC and coming out of retirement during the pandemic to launch her 12th business – Life Lessons with Erica King – there is no doubt the knowledge-hungry leader has lived anything less than an eclectic life.
Thriving in challenging situations is one of the keys to her 30-plus years of incredible business success.
“I definitely thrive on it, no question,” Erica shares with The CEO Magazine. “You know you always have that butterfly in your stomach and that fear, but in a good way.
“It’s so helpful for business owners to get different perspectives and learn something new.”
After briefly living with remote tribes in New Guinea in the 1980s, it’s safe to say the business coach truly leads by example.
“I was sleeping on a banana leaf with pigs in this hut – I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney! That’s a hell of a shock to the system,” Erica reflects. “A lot of the tribes I lived with had never seen a white woman, which was a bit freaky, but they were happy.
“It was so isolated. Some tribes will never see each other because they’re so isolated from each other.”
Erica went to live with the tribes three times during university, but on the last occasion, a riot broke after a white woman was killed, forcing her sponsors to secretly usher her out of the country.
“I literally got a phone call saying to pack a bag, we have to get you out tonight,” she recalls. “I was ushered out through tunnels to the airport. It was pretty full on – fire bombing, burning down hotels and houses, wielding axes – it was horrendous.”
While Erica has never returned, the pecking order of native tribes loosely mirrors the framework of an ideal business model – the very basis of how she built her coaching empire.
“Their lives were happy, and they lived beautifully within this tribal set-up where seasons were important and roles and responsibilities of each person in the tribe were important,” she says. “It was a wonderful immersion to actually experience that.
“Whether I’m conscious of that or not, I think every experience we all have has to have some kind of impact – whether that’s a good or bad impact.”
Achieving business success
Since she was tall enough to stand on a box at the sink, Erica began peeling prawns for her family’s catering business.
Instilled with a strong work ethic at such a young age, the entrepreneur was eager to launch her first company – a venture to help celebrities deal with fame – when she was 21.
More than 30 years later, Erica has dedicated her life to working with small business owners, allowing companies to soar by an average of US$776,700 (A$1 million) in sale price. So, what is the secret to financial success?
“You have to think of a business as a big jigsaw puzzle,” Erica says. “You’ve got to have the right pieces in the right place to create the end outcome that you’re looking for.
“It’s literally like tipping a thousand-piece puzzle onto a table with all those bits and thinking right, how is it all going to fit together?”
Having unlocked the puzzles behind hundreds of companies, the business coach says it’s crucial to follow structure, enforce time management and continually review procedures.
“Whatever you’re doing, don’t just put it in place and keep going down that path,” she says. “I believe you’ve got to keep reviewing at least weekly – certainly you wouldn’t wait until the end of a vast period or the end of a financial year.”
Learning to run at 38 years old after facing burnout, Erica has completed 31 marathons. It’s an extraordinary feat made all the more awe-inspiring for someone who used to avoid the activity at all costs.
Reflecting the dedication required to run a business, the mentor’s steadfast determination truly beams through her exceptional achievements.
“When you cross a finish line that you’ve worked really hard for, it’s so empowering for a woman,” she shares. “It gives such great confidence. It’s so powerful and life-changing.”
From understanding the strategy and knowing the plan of attack to procedures and protocols, the expert believes every business is like a marathon and should have a finish line in sight.
“Businesses should be planning for an end – to sell it at some point, hand it to somebody, exit – because if it relies on one person, that’s never a good scenario,” she shares.
The industry leader believes ultimate growth and business success comes down to the people behind your brand.
“Talk with every single person in every part of your business,” she explains. “You need to connect with the people who are working for you and with you, because I believe many leaders actually don’t know what’s going on in their business, or they’re asking people in their business to do things that just don’t work.”
And one of the absolute fundamentals of being at the helm of a brand is simply understanding what it means to lead.
“To be a good leader, you’ve got to continually evolve yourself and you have to walk the talk,” Erica says. “If I’m asking my team members to do something, then I’d pretty much be able to do it myself, and be able to emulate the behaviour of what my values are that I’m saying are important to the company or to the business.”
Recognised as one of Australia’s highly regarded business development mentors, the seasoned coach retired from retirement to share her wealth of knowledge with budding entrepreneurs and small business owners.
“I truly thought that was it, I was done,” she says. “Pre-COVID, there were only so many long lunches that I could have, and I had a niggly feeling of maybe I’ve still got something to offer.”
Acting as a mentor so entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone, Life Lessons with Erica King offers the most effective business strategies for brands worldwide.
Diving back into her specialty of health and lifestyle branding, Erica has been inspired by the nuggets of ideas coming to fruition.
Expert tips for business minds
1. Value Your People
“Step away from your desk and go and sit and talk with your team,” Erica says. “Talk with every single person in every part of your business – it doesn’t matter if it’s 300 or 3,000. You need to connect.”
2. Embrace Diversity
“You know what you know because of the experiences you’ve had, and those who have been in positive work environments understand the strengths of their team. Understand the different generational variants and make them work in a really great way, because we need all of that.”
3. Experience New Things
“Each of those marathon experiences was its own little New Guinea adventure. You’re going to another place in the world that possibly doesn’t speak English, it’s snowing, the Japanese are just so beautiful with these tea cosies on their heads and race refreshment stands had things that were unrecognisable for someone like me.”
4. Being Comfortable Stops Success
“Don’t get too comfortable. It’s happens so easily without you even realising it’s happening. It’s so helpful for business owners to just get some different perspectives, to learn something new.”
5. Be courageous
“Really, you can’t fail. Have an amazing adventure, meet some amazing people – where’s the downside? Stop looking for all the things that are going to be terrible and look for the positives.”
Business in 2021
With the constant rise of social media, it’s never been easier for burgeoning entrepreneurs across the globe to launch a company.
“That’s interesting – it depends on what you define as a business,” Erica explains. “It’s definitely easier to start a business and that’s great. I don’t think it’s easier to succeed in business.
“I think it depends on what kind of business and to what level you’re wanting to develop and grow. Why not give it a go? It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow, but you just don’t want to waste a lot of money doing it – that’s a bit of a trap.”
Another controversial trend is the reality of remote work and whether it’s here to stay.
After spending 17 years flying across the country every week to her clients, the business veteran believes remote work isn’t necessarily in favour of increasing the bottom line.
“Firstly, there was no other option and, secondly, that’s how I made the huge increase [in profits] because I was able to connect with those people specifically,” she says. “If I’m going to make a difference, I need to understand the person, their team and their location.
“Even though there are systems and strategies that work, someone can be located in a regional area and they’ve got different factors you’ve got to put into effect, and different personalities.
“The business owners are impacting on the businesses very significantly. The team they bring around them, how they lead, how they manage, how they train and how they support them.”
Despite the reality of a reinvented workplace gaining popularity worldwide, Erica wonders whether it will be practical in a full-time setting, possibly effecting true business success.
“There are functions you can do remotely but to actually get teams working together, it’s very hard to do that remotely,” she says. “Isolating people in their own homes, which are not always the ideal work environment is not going to be a good long-term strategy for any business.
“People need people. As a leader, I’m very collaborative, and I love to be in discussions with people around me and learn from them and get their input. Sure, you can do some of it online, but I would say you can’t do all of it fully effectively online.”
One thing is for sure, as the digital industry continues to flourish, it’s more important than ever to be visible in the virtual world.
“From that point of view, it’s really helpful. Plus, I don’t think we get smarter listening to ourselves.”
Bouncing ideas and listening to others is certainly a shining quality of the highly skilled business leader – even if the people she rubs shoulders with happen to be among the most powerful women in the world, like Oprah.
When it was announced the famed talk show host was coming to Australia, Erica’s true entrepreneurial persistence was put to the test when she contacted Oprah’s people every few days for two years.
“I had to meet her,” she recalls. “It was happening in my head. Whatever I had to do, even if I had to tap dance on the roof of the MCG, I was going to meet her.
“It was sheer bloody mindedness and persistence that just won out. She was extraordinary, she exceeded my expectations.
“There were no airs and graces, she was just so normal in so many ways.”
For someone who has accomplished more than most – from running 31 marathons and surviving riots New Guinea to meeting Oprah and operating hundreds of businesses – what could success possibly look like?
“Freedom to actually live the life I want and have the choice to do what I want to be able to do,” Erica shares. “Having worked hard and put all the right bits in the puzzle to be able to be free to make those choices – that’s what success is to me.”