Alan Donegan: Rebel Business School Co-Founder, Rebel Entrepreneur podcast host, Rebel Finance School co-founder and Queen's award winner. Marvel movie fan fanatic, breakfast lover and financial independent traveller
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To celebrate I have a huge announcement for you at the end of the article. It is customary to give away a gift on your birthday, isn't it?
But first, let's back up to how Rebel Business School begun and how I went from frustrated Entrepeneur to global movement.
Alan got fired
Shocking I know! I was fired from my last job. I can't tell you about it for legal reasons (seriously). I tried my hardest but wasn't always the best employee. They paid me to leave, and I was on my way.
That led to me searching for a new job. My mum told me to sign onto the dole and collect benefits as I had paid into the system, and they had opportunities there. So, I did. I went to the job centre once a fortnight to see my job coach and I searched tirelessly to find a new job. I just couldn't find anything I wanted to do, or that would have me.
Every time I went to Basingstoke job centre, I would have the life sucked out of me. Imagine the scene, you walk up to a 60s grey concrete block, security checks you on the way in, the smell of alcohol and weed would hit you. You are grilled by the job coach about what you are doing, where you are searching and how hard you are trying.
I always left that job centre down and feeling like I wasn't trying hard enough. I had the energy sucked out of me. It would take me two days to recover, build up my energy again and go back at it before repeating the same process the next fortnight.
At that point I was inspired to learn and grow. I had been on an NLP training course; I had read Tony Robbins books and I was desperate to get a good job and work on my life. I found a training course I wanted to do called the NLP Train the Trainer course.
At the time it was 2 dollars to the pound (the opposite of now!) and it was actually cheaper to fly to America to do the course than it was to do it in the UK!
I would be away for two weeks and would miss one of my job centre appointments. I knew if I missed one of my appointments that I would lose my benefits so I went to my job coach to ask if I could miss one appointment and still keep my benefits.
They grilled me about the course and then told me that the system didn't work like that and if I didn't come in, I would lose my benefits. I was so annoyed as I explained I am doing this and paying my own money to learn and grow so I can get a job or start a business and get off your books. My job coach didn't understand me in the slightest and just turned me down.
I was so angry at the system. It felt to me that you were rewarded for staying unemployment and turning up every week rather than trying to make shit happen.
This was a huge turning point for me. I had a choice to make. Ditch my dream of going to America to learn and stay at the job centre in Basingstoke for my £56 benefits a week or leave the job centre, pay for my own flights and course and see where it would lead......
You can probably already tell what I did. I told the job centre where to go and left for America to try and make my dreams come true. It was super scary; I had some money from being paid to leave the last job, but I was giving up the benefits that were sustaining me.
Learning to present
I travelled to Orlando, Florida to do the NLP Train the Trainer course. I learnt so much and made incredible friends. I didn't realise it when I booked the course, but it was nearly all about running training courses and educating people.
The experience of being in America and learning, surrounded by people trying to better themselves changed my mindset forever.
I came back from America inspired, believing anything was possible and ready to launch my own business training people. I wanted to share the ideas that had made such a huge difference in my own life over the years.
I was inspired and excited.
My first big deal
I was just starting out my business and I wanted to find clients, so I went networking. I found this networking group called BNI and found they had a chapter near me, so I booked a free first session and went along to the golf course in Odiham, Hampshire for the first breakfast meeting. I was super scared of the networking to start with, but I knew I had to find clients.
After months of networking one of the group told me about a friend that needed help. The friend's name was Mark, and he was an IT teacher that had been told by the government that he had to run an entrepreneurial programme for his cohort.
I met with Mark, and he told me that he had been to school, got good grades, been to college and got good grades and then immediately returned to school to teach. He had never been out of education, but they had given him a budget to hire someone to help run the entrepreneurship programme for the kids.
At the time it was the biggest deal I had ever done. I designed an outline lasting 9 months for the students from 3 schools in Hampshire. The three schools (a mainstream secondary school, a pupil referral unit and a special need school) would come together and I would run sessions for them. The rough outline was:
Here are some of the pictures I had from the first big event!
The end event was so much fun! The kids through themselves into it. They all dressed up smartly (back then I thought you had to wear a suit to be in business!) and the pitches were so much fun! The judges deliberated and you can see the Winners on the left.
I have since learnt that Dragon's Den type pitches are the worst thing you can do to inspire kids but that is a whole different story. The event was a huge success and I had so much fun running it. The feedback from other teachers in the school was they could tell the kids that had been on my programme because of the increase in confidence and energy. The teachers, the kids and the parents all loved it and so did I.
I was on cloud 9 and addicted to helping people. I could see the difference I had made in these children's lives.
This high led to ................
My worst year in business ever
As I drove away from Sun Microsystems after running the last event, I was on one of the biggest highs. I had a product that made a huge difference in people's lives, I had been paid to run it and proved the impact. I had raving fans and was ready to turn this into a hugely successful business.
It was at this point I went to the British Government for help turning it into something. They gave me three workshops.
Then they gave me a coach to support me that did more to put me off running a business than help. I was cold calling schools, I was writing letters, I networked all the way from the local teachers to the top of the Department of Education in the UK and I got nowhere.
I didn't matter how passionate I was, how much I knew I could help or what I offered. Education didn't have money they wanted to spend with me, and I was not going to go into debt like Business Link wanted me to.
I was left destroyed. I wasn't making enough money to live. I had given my heart and soul to this project, and no one wanted me. I made a loss that year and my reserves of cash were nearly out. I was running out of time and money...........
I went up to London to see one of my mentors and on the way, I was listening to a Brian Tracy CD set about goal setting. I remember breaking down on the way to London and crying to myself that I had been setting goals for years and had not reached them.
I sobbed on the train as I felt there was no way forward. Business Link was telling me I had to get a loan and build a big business, the market was telling me they weren't going to pay for my product, I was FAST running out of money.
Brian Tracy was telling me to set HUGE goals and follow them. I had constantly set the goal of making £100,000 a year and chased it. That year I made a loss and felt like it was impossible to achieve a goal. I was confused, lost, desperate and left feeling that it was impossible to get ahead.
In this moment of desperation, I wrote a letter. A letter that would change my life forever.
The complaint letter
The letter I wrote was to the guy in central government who was responsible for the business support package called Business Link. He had funded the £40 million project in the south of England.
I wrote three handwritten pages explaining my frustration, where I had come from, what had happened and asking for help! I think I pleaded for support finding my direction.
I sent the letter and didn't think about it again. I didn't expect a response. I just had to let it out.
A couple of days later I got a call, and I couldn't believe it. It was the guy, Glen, that I had written to. He spent an hour on the phone with me understanding my position and what was going on with me and coming up with ideas. At the end of the call, he said he would find someone within Business link to support me. He ended the call with "We aren't all bad!"
My faith had been rejuvenated. Maybe there was a way forward? I was still lost but at least I had a way forward. I got a call to organise a coffee meeting with someone from Business Link and I readied myself to drive to Winchester Starbucks. I expected another suited bank manager who had never started a business in his life.
The meeting that changed my life
I arrived at Winchester Starbucks early and got myself a giant latte. I sat in the corner reading and waiting to see who would turn up. A guy walked into the coffee shop looking around and I knew it was the business advisor, but he looked different. There was no suit and shiny shoes, he wore trainers, a t-shirt and a jacket. Something was different. He got a coffee and joined me, and we started chatting.
I started asking about him and his position, what he worked on. I was just curious. Eventually he asked me about my experience with Business Link and we talked about loans and business plans having the opposite to desired effect. They put most people off starting a business rather than help them. He had come to the same conclusion from his work in disadvantaged areas of the south of the UK.
He started to give me different ideas for my business, and we chatted for what seemed like seconds but was actually hours. That coffee meeting ended up being one of the most inspirational meetings and the business advisor set up to meet me again in two weeks' time.
We met every two weeks from then on and started discussing, self-development, how to help people and business ideas. He gave me the Four-Hour Work Week to read from Tim Ferriss and we discussed it after I devoured it.
From service recovery to business partner
Do you know my current Business Partner Simon Paine? He and I build Rebel Business School together and over the years he has become one of my best friends. We have been on some crazy adventures over the years. Let's switch to Simon's side of the story.
At the time Simon was working for an off-shoot of a government department trying to help people in disadvantaged areas start businesses. He was sat in the office one day minding his own business when the CEO of that organisation stepped out of her office, holding a letter and looking for someone to help her.
Simon looked up at the wrong time gaining eye contact with the CEO. She walked to Simon's desk and handed him a 3-page handwritten letter saying "We need to perform some serious service recovery here, this has come straight from central government"
Simon read the letter and his heart sank. He thought to himself "we let this guy down and this is a going to be a shit meeting!" Let's get this over with.
He organised to meet the disenchanted customer in a Starbucks in Winchester at 8am, thinking "let's get this out of the way". He arrived at the meeting and was taken back by the positivity of the person he met, they shook hands, got coffee and the first question the guy asked was "How can I help you?"
Simon was thrown back thinking, "I was sent here to help you, not the other way round". What followed was an inspirational meeting discussing what stops people starting businesses and confirmed a lot of what Simon had already discovered in this area. Simon thought "This is not a normal meeting" and organised to meet me (Alan) again in two weeks.
The original idea
We spoke for hours about traditional education and how it doesn't seem to give you what you need to be successful. I wasn't that successful at the time by traditional measures, but I had landed a few big clients and was starting to make things happen.
The skills that were helping me be successful were confidence, positivity, sales, marketing, time management and how to get things done. None of which I had been taught at school.
At the time there were very few routes for people leaving education, go and get a degree, get an apprenticeship or trade or get a job. That was about it. Simon and I wanted to give another option and we envisioned a Business School that actually taught you what you needed to be successful in life.
We wanted to Rebel against traditional education and become the only business school that you made money going to rather than costing you money. We imagined a school where people came and learning was centred around building businesses, entrepreneurship and what you needed to get going.
I imagined workshops on confidence, inner dialogue, creativity, inspiration and more. We imagined a school where you were given the keys to the building on your first day, where it was promoted to get your phones out to look up answers, where we worked together to be successful.
The Rebel Business School was born, and we worked out that we needed at least £250,000 to set it up. We were back at the same initial problem; we needed money to get going and I didn't want to go into debt at ANY COST. I was stuck again!
Can't afford that "Let's PopUp"
We sat around thinking about how we could do it, "maybe we could PopUp and borrow other people's spaces?" I said. Simon had done some previous work with Housing Associations in the UK and said maybe they can pay for a course, and we can run it in one of their buildings?
In that moment Rebel Business School got put on hold and PopUp Business School was born. I sold the first ever event to Michael William's from Alliance Homes. We travelled to Weston Super Mare and managed to get 40 people to show up for the first course.
I wrote a course outline with Simon, and we turned up just wanting to help. I remember saying to people on the course I don't really care if you start a business, I just want to help you make progress. This started the idea that the course sold itself as an entrepreneurship/business course but really, we talked about what people really needed, confidence, self-development and help overcoming their most challenging problems/fears in life.
The biggest challenge in starting a business is rarely the "how to"; it is nearly always confidence, fear or motivation.
We made a lot of mistakes along the way. We learnt a huge amount about what worked filling and running courses and what didn't. Some of the things we learnt:
From PopUp to Rebel
This year we turn ten years old, and we are finally getting that permanent building to run a Rebel School that we wanted way back at the beginning. With the support of Westminster Council, we will be opening Rebel Business School (more on this soon).
"Now we have our own building we can't really be called PopUp can we?" I said to Simon. That led to us re-branding as Rebel Business School a couple of years ago and a lot of new projects.
Rebel Business School now
Katie (my lovely wife) and I create Rebel Finance School teaching people how to take control of their finances three years ago and have helped over 3000+ in the first 4 courses.
We are so excited about the future of Rebel. Helping people to create extraordinary lives. Supporting the people that need it the most around the world.
It all started from a complaint letter
Don't accept things the way they are. This incredible global movement I started all happened because I wasn't willing to accept how things are. I wasn't willing to accept that you needed a business plan and debt to build a business. I wasn't willing to accept the traditional advice thrust upon me by the British Government. I wasn't willing to accept my station in life and get a job and put my head down. I wanted things to change.
You don't have to accept the way things are. If you don't like them change them. Find someone that feels the same and work with them, find someone already working to change things and join them or just do it yourself. Don't accept life the way it is, create the life you want.
The Big Announcement
Which brings me onto the big announcement.
I wanted to do something HUGE for our tenth anniversary of Rebel Business School. For 10 years we have been helping people to build businesses and make money doing something they love, and we have given away every single course we have ever run.
I am so proud of the fact no one pays for our education. In a world where education is increasingly becoming a for profit business that looks to take from students, we have bucked that trend and remained true to the mission of help the people that need it the most.
I always used to say I don't care who you are, where you are from or what your past is; I just want to help you make progress on creating the life of your dreams. The same is just as true today 10 years on from that very first course.
To celebrate 10 years of Rebel Business School we have been creating and writing a new course for you.
Simon, Katie and I have been writing and creating a new course for you. We have nicknamed it the Extraordinary Life Course. The purpose of this course is to give you the lifestyle design tools to be able to create the life of your dreams.
We want to help you set yourself up for the most incredible 2023 and beyond. Starting Monday 21st of November we will be running a 5-week online course with the sole purpose of helping you figure out what your version of an extraordinary life is and then create it.
This is my tenth anniversary gift to you.
Katie and I have got pretty good at creating extraordinary. Katie took charge of her finances to a point where she was able to retire from corporate life age 33, she broke a world record, delivered a key-note speech at a woman's summit in Namibia and co-build Rebel Finance School with me.
Simon is average at best. Don't let that put you off.
Simon and I built a global movement together. I "retired" 25 years earlier than average in the UK and became nomadic travelling the world having cool adventures.
We have been building our own versions of extraordinary for several decades now and we have learnt a thing or two along the way. This is what we want to give you.
Thanks for reading the blog post, thanks for being on my mailing list and being part of the Rebel Gang. We have so much to share with you coming up! Look out for a post about the history of Rebel Business School, Katie is working on new financial charts to help you understand index investing, we are going to be on ChooseFI podcast soon talking about index funds and so much more!
Our big project for the end of the year is the extraordinary course for you. Katie, I and Simon will all being doing the exercises and course alongside you as we will be working out what we want our 2023 to look like.
THANK YOU for reading.
The biggest gift you can give me for our tenth anniversary is your happiness. For me please start working on your happiness and creating the life you want. Come along to the course, bring your friends, family and start creating extraordinary.