Agility: More Valuable Than Revenue

I’ve taken time over the past 6-9 months to really think about the state of business and attracting customers whether it’s for my own business for @realbraveinc and its multiple locations or for the greater NYC area’s small businesses. Since I opened my doors in 2006 as a bright eyed, wet behind the ears entrepreneur, I’ve found a world today turned upside down in marketing, in sales, in customer approach and in vision. I set out to start a huge company that made everyone’s lives better with simple tools and approach. Life is much more complicated today.

In 2006, I borrowed my sister’s 4 year old Dell computer and bought a used Quickbooks merchant program complete with a scanner, a cash drawer and a receipt printer. I had file cabinets set up for filing. I had a landline phone and a DSL internet line. I was also the only employee so whenever someone found us they’d always turn their eyes to the side looking for other people when I had sales pitches that included “we”. 2006 was also wrought with uncertainty. Post 9/11 everyone was still pinching their pocketbooks and trust was in no uncertain terms something you had to earn big time. Entrepreneurship wasn’t as sexy as it is today.

I multitasked as Real Brave’s only employee and had 3 products/ services to offer to find my own way in business.

  1. Offer music lessons to kids in the area. (with yours truly as the sole teacher)
  2. Record bands
  3. Sell products.

Number 1 was solid. I was trustworthy, had a great way with people and really understood how to take care of my customers. (who knew years later that I would have dozens of employees who teach and I no longer do) Number 2, well that brought in much needed cash but forced me to work at night as well as during the day. Number 3, I sold instruments but branched out into soundproofing installation, looked into selling new LCD TV’s, drop-shipped on Ebay- you name it, I tried it.

It was after 2 years of trying everything, that I decided to hone in on what I was good at and where I thought I could have an excellent chance of building that company that made everyone’s lives better, as I first envisioned. I started building what real brave is today, an excellent school for music discovery.

The marketing tools that got me here are archaic today except for one thing: Google. I recently had a meeting with my rep Jeff at Reach Local which handles a lot of our online marketing strategy and he acknowledged that what got us to be successful (Google Adwords & Maps) isn’t going to be the only marketing tactic that makes us successful moving forward. A marketing strategy that compliments each other and assists the customer to get them to our page is the way to go. It’s a 7 prong strategy with some of these tactics… so listen up:

  1. Provide incredible, thrilling experience that is customer focused (cant’s stress this enough)
  2. Make your social imprint strong and consistent. Advertise on social but don’t break the bank. Our most successful posts are the ones that focus on the Joy of Real Brave (smiling, fun posts).
  3. Don’t be afraid of your eblasts, they reinforce messages
  4. Have a strong SEO presence. Index that site!
  5. Maps, Maps, maps. For a physical location, if you aren’t on maps, you aren’t visible. Update as much as possible
  6. Google Ads, Yelp (I hate them) and any site online that will help with your web presence.
  7. Reward customers that refer.

After all this, have a great system for the sales funnel so that when you get an email, you can reply within an hour (within 10 min if possible). If you get a phone call, have a CRM that you can use to remind you to call that person back. Have a place to communicate with your team.

Even though 2006 feels like a million years ago, we’ve come so far to automate marketing tools but it always comes back to the systems you use to track customers data, their contact info and such. In this day and age of Yelp (I hate them), it’s more important than ever to have a clear customer service experience that people will enjoy and understand when issues arise. Being flexible is the most important aspect to today’s successful business. The ability to pivot in business, marketing and customer service provides us with the ability to scale. Agility is almost as valuable as revenue. With it, you can accomplish anything. Did I mention I hate Yelp?

How to Live The Business Of Your Dreams

Brick and Mortar Stores

As the saying goes, live the life of your dreams, right? Well, how about to live the life of your dreams, for us business owners we must live the business of our dreams!

According to SBA.gov:

  • The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
  • The 600,000 plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
  • The small business sector in America occupies 30-50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.

AND

According to a sort of out of date 2013 article by Forbes: “Approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month.”

So: Small business is big business for the US economy.

On Main Street, the reasons for starting a small business vary. It goes from the passionate & talented technician who wants to set out on his/her own, to the talented seamstress with a fashion line, to all sorts of retail ideas, online stores, services… you name it, there is a business for it. However, not all businesses are meant to be. That said, not all established businesses are meant to be. In fact, your business will not last forever! That is fact that is not talked about or promoted because, like life, who wants to talk about a business’ imminent death? You’ve opened your doors and are ready to sell your widgets! The sky is the limit, not the sky is falling.

Let’s live the business of your dreams. This means do whatever it takes to bring the customers in. Do all the necessary things to make them thrilled and be evangelists! I’ll boil it down to 3 things to be successful in any market and any economy.

Profit Margin

If you were to sell a widget or a service or an internet service widget, can you prove that you can monetize it? If so, who else did it and what was their outcome? Sometimes the most innovative products and services aren’t sellable. Take virtual reality, out 50 years ago, The Sword Of Damocles was as amazing and innovative as it was completely impractical. Was there a market for it? Probably not. Today the market for virtual reality is set to hit billions dollars which makes sense since consumer demand coupled with consumers having access to technology to support the headsets. More recently in the 90’s Nintendo and a company called Virtuality Group unleashed their virtual reality headsets actually selling units but the tech or demand wasn’t there yet. It took over 50 years for ideas to catch up with the technology.

Next with the product that you know can sell, how much can you sell it for and for how much profit? You can’t sell one slice of pizza and be a profitable business. Know how much you make on each transaction and track it.

Marketing

 

So you have a great widget/ service and know there is a market for it that can make you money and be profitable. Are you going to open the doors and be profitable without anyone knowing about you? You have to market it! Marketing is simply the means to which you find your customer. So where is best? Well if there are 100’s of billions of people on the internet, you can be rest assured that your marketing forum is right in front of you! But these days SEO, Adwords and such are expensive. Look into ways to do all this yourself and you will save thousands and market your stuff without breaking the bank.

Innovation

Once you are in business, as in people are paying you cold hard cash for stuff you do, innovate. Don’t do the same thing everyday and expect the same results. Constantly innovate around your services and products to ensure that you are adding value to the consumers experience. Some simple examples are:

  1. Sunday Football “adult beverages”. Hanging out at your favorite store that’s not a bar? Sure.
  2. Wine for clients in the waiting area. I am not proposing getting your clients drunk- just showing you another example.
  3. Coffee. See? Non alcoholic example!

Point is, by providing free services to help your customers, you add more value to their experience. Especially if you do something they really love! To get a business live the business of your dreams you need to get in the zone. Make sure that the zone includes, a product/ service that people want, one that you can sell easily and make a great profit off of, that you can market effectively and are constantly innovating around.

 

 

Business Is Changing. The New Revolution is Here.

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It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the playbook for business owners has changed and no one really announced it. The landscape has changed, the formats have changed, the “rules” of marketing have changed. Forget the nonsense that you read in “the” expert magazines and on the blogs & podcasts. A new revolution in business is here. And it could be good for small business if we play our cards right.

A revolution is successful when the people charge the castle, so to speak, and take back their country and give it back to the people. However, most of these tales begin with the struggle of the people and end with their vindication, sometimes the untold story is that the people give the power to another leader who is corrupted with filthy riches, blinded by misperception and the process starts all over again.

Here in America, the old guard in business ie Macy’s, Sears and others are failing because of a revolution of the people and by the new businesses themselves that are taking their place. The people chose to buy elsewhere. The new business conglomerates are taking down the old guard of large fancy stores, big fancy displays and people that spray you with sticky perfume. They are replacing it with something completely new and we are accepting that change!`

At a Anthony Robbins seminar recently, he began to speak to us matter-of-factly about this. The biggest business in hospitality owns no real estate (Airbnb) and the biggest provider of transportation in the US owns no cars (Uber)! It gets more incredible as you go down the list. Amazon holds the largest proportion of internet sales at 33% and the closest competitor to them is Walmart (7.4%) who just improved their market share by .04% last quarter because they are seeing the writing on the wall. Sears, once the biggest stores in the world are now crumbling do to lack of vision and leadership losing $6 billion in sales since 2012. That’s billion with a B.

This is perhaps a bit of a relic in terms of examples, but Blockbuster was the king of rentals. Their company had the opportunity of a lifetime to buy Netflix for a paltry sum in the early 2000’s but declined to do it because leadership couldn’t see it’s worth. Think about that! Netflix’s revenue is 8.8 billion today, Blockbuster went bust 8 years after that fateful decision and Netflix with other companies are changing the way we watch TV.

The new giants of business are taking down the old guard one by one. How are they doing it?

Embracing innovation.

Now all this ingenuity isn’t to say that it’s hurting small business because it is. There’s an incredible man that owns a shoe store by my Queens, NY music studio and one day I went in there to buy something. He had just made a huge expansion of his store and he was doing well because of the smart investments he made but also I could tell he was a good businessman. Anyway, I asked him how he was surviving Amazon which has a stranglehold on all retail. He stopped what he was doing, and I’ll never forget this, opened his arms wide as if shrugging and giving up at the same time. He then said, “they are killing small business.”

Since I love a good business back and forth, I asked “why??”

He said simply, “Nike puts out a line of sneakers. I buy them at cost and sell them for a smaller margin than I can afford now.” He pauses as if swallowing a bitter pill.

I say, “ok?”

The store owner looks at me and pleads, “Amazon buys those same sneakers at the same price I did, then sells them below cost.

That exchange is an example of how innovation can hurt people. I get it, because one company has a stranglehold on an industry it disrupts everything, can put businesses out of business and sometimes ruin lives. This gentleman from the shoe store will survive if he continues to innovate his service to compete in the New Revolution. He won’t survive if he markets like he did 10 years ago, sells like he did 10 years ago and even how he pays his bills 10 years ago.

Be forward looking for your product or service. You won’t be able to survive the new revolution if you don’t adjust, measure, change and repeat.

Stand at the tower always.

How Resistance To Innovation Killed An Industry

With the Grammy Awards on tonight featuring some truly great talent and with the rest just incredible branding and fashion, it’s time for my semi-quarterly takedown and challenge to what was once my industry. I am at my core an artist who likes to perform and teach. That’s why business entrepreneurship and business coaching speaks to me. However, I am an artist that hasn’t bought a CD OR purchased an iTunes song in 6 years. The music industry lost a customer. Why?

Think of any business that sells a product or a service product. How can they survive when their customer stops buying? TomTom, the ingenious navigation hardware that we all bought and used… that is until phone makers started placing them for FREE in our phones. Goodbye TomTom! Now they’ve actually innovated other products quite well to stay in business and more on that here. Anyway, Polaroid, Blockbuster and the list of all the companies that were destroyed because of innovation is getting longer and longer. Innovation is that hand that giveth and taketh away!

Look no further than the music industry, the (now) handful of companies that create products out of artists music and use their own distribution chains to sell it and market it, to be up next. These guys and gals in suits that make the decisions of the business, initially failed to see how resistance to innovation almost killed their business. They fought back against the internet usage of their property. Initially it was probably best from a copyright and a trademark point of view but they failed to see the power of how fast the revolution was changing the BUSINESS. They were busy in the courts (still are) and they had the illusionary comfort of their model and how THEY would win because it was “stealing”. They failed to see any opportunity with it. Their illusion that their CD product would keep their revenue safe for years or the unrealistic vision somehow that people would pay for a virtual CD almost killed them. Thanks to artist innovation, streaming and iTunes-like products they are making a comeback. The industry has a long way to go- revenue is still way down.

The industry experienced a severe downturn with revenues plunging in 2009 50% to 9 billion and only recently getting back to $15 billion in 2015 thanks to the same technology that almost destroyed them. In fact the 3% growth it experienced last year was the largest increase in almost 20 years.

What make the music relevant aren’t the companies that traditionally monopolized the industry or the greed that we are familiar with, it’s the resilience of the artists that make the music and the people that consume it. Music will always be a part of our lives but how? When will the next revolution be? How will a whole industry adapt?

Better question here is how can you take the lesson of innovation that brought down the giants of an industry, ones who were comfortable in the illusion of the lasting identity they had in their product, ones who scoffed at the notion that they would be brought down by a simple idea. How will you apply this lesson to your business? To your product? Will you look for change in the world and embrace the change? Even better, look at the world around your business… all the change around your business that it’s not taking advantage of. Will you incorporate new marketing tactics to your business or still use the old world marketing tactics?  For instance, an astonishing almost half of US businesses DO NOT HAVE websites. How much business are they losing by not simply being on the web? How can they innovate by resisting the fear that is holding them back? Maybe they had a business than sold sneakers and now Amazon is crushing their business. They are still holding on to the old world brick and mortar model and not taking the initiative to make bold steps forward.

Where do you stand? Where does your business stand? Will your business be around when innovation is the hand that take the away?