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Ed Sheeran: “Never have a Plan B”​

01 April 2019

On Wednesday last week, I was blessed to be able to spend 2hrs in a small room with Ed Sheeran and a relative handful of others. Ed was giving an exclusive workshop to some lucky ones, sharing his journey, anecdotes, a wealth of advice and direction to many budding superstars in the room (and me).

If honest, I was there as a properly star struck amateur guitarist who destroys many of Ed’s songs around the campfire. But I also wondered if I’d get any useful insights applicable to my corporate speaking business.

Could there be any similarities between the business I am strategically growing and this mega super star’s journey to fame and insane success?

While I’m certainly not looking for fame, as a speaker I do need to stand out, I do need to be noticed in order to be considered for the next event and there is a ton of clutter to cut through in order to achieve this. It is hard, make no mistake.

The more he spoke, the more I was able to draw parallels. I found myself forgetting about the star struck part and hanging on every word of this super down to earth, humble pop star. And I was not alone.

The first thing that struck me was simple. We only ‘met’ Ed as a public when he was already a massive success. That’s all we see and it’s easy to paint him with the “how lucky is he” brush. But listening to Ed encouraging and advising some of `SA’s top muso’s in the room, one quickly realises the years and years and years of hard work, of touring, of failing, of rejection, of ridicule, the ups and the downs, the hand to mouth living, before finally getting noticed in one small segment of the world and slowly nurturing this to see it gain momentum. Star or not, it was a slog!

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, even for a mega star. Do the work!

“Forget the traditional”! This was the other revelation which I took to heart. Ed spoke at length at how he tried for so many years to get a record label to recognise him and take him on. “Cause that’s how it’s done isn’t it?”. But he never got this right and most would stop there, fatigued and broken by the continued rejection. After years of his own rejection he recognised the new technologies out there such as Spotify and iTunes to get himself recognised globally.

“Don’t worry about record labels, you can self publish these days anyway and most labels don’t know what to do with you once signed, so you lose momentum. Make your own magic – back yourself first” – said Ed. This is so applicable to me!

Getting noticed out there is very hard. But if you believe in yourself, in your product and in my case, a strong belief in the power of my messages, one needs to be brave, look for non-traditional ‘stages’ and out of the ordinary, new ways to show the world what you’ve got.

I need to stand on stages where I am not expected to be seen. Ed went out of his way to find, for eg, hiphop audiences and other environments which were miles away from his genre of music. When he started playing, of course some would be most surprised and possibly unhappy with the style he brought to them. But one thing he knew was that he would get noticed! And in such a competitive environment, that’s the best result. No difference for me.

And the last one to point out briefly, was the realisation that Ed came to, that because he had made in the UK, things would naturally snowball from there. They didn’t. He still had years ahead of him of hard touring and gigging in the USA before finally he gained any traction. I’ve had great success (on a much lower level obviously) in some sectors of industry where I am well recognised and a respected speaker in demand. However, this does not naturally overflow to other areas or industries. My work there, likes Ed’s once was in new countries and cultures, is not done! You can never take your foot off the gas. And that still applies completely to himself even now!

Never have a Plan B” – a piece of advice that I think took the whole room by surprise.

Ed suggests that a Plan B is little other than an escape clause for when the going gets tough on Plan A. I didn’t see this coming, but it spoke directly to my extreme swimming challenges, my elevated goals for my business as well as to part of my messaging and previous blog posts (Fog in Our Eyes). How our minds create and cling to excuses to make us feel better and less responsible for failure. Keep that door closed! Firmly.

And a bonus bit of unexpected advice. The one someone like me finds most challenging: – “stay off screens, minimise social media voyeurism and messaging – they suck creativity from your brain are a constant interruption that we have all allowed into our lives. Switch them off and focus!”

Ed told us that he doesn’t even own a smart phone – he has one of those old flip phones for emergencies.

But I think this might be a reach too far for me – maybe one day if stardom ever struck and I had an entourage around me 24/7, I’d put the old iPhone to rest.

I walked in as a star struck fan hoping for a selfie. I walked out with new ideas for my speaking business, a new level of understanding for what even the top of the top have had to go through to reach this point, hundreds of useful anecdotes and a wonderful, deep respect for the person and super star that is Ed Sheeran.