It’s time to get your “smart hustle” on.
Self-described “small business evangelist” Ramon Ray has helped scores of entrepreneurs achieve that goal with his 12th Annual Smart Hustle Small Business Conference. Held in the heart of Times Square at the New York offices of Microsoft, the event provided actionable business-building advice, ranging from leveraging a firm’s “smallness” as a competitive advantage to boosting revenues by “tapping into the passions” of customers.
Ray, who has served as a popular speaker spreading the gospel of entrepreneurial growth at BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Entrepreneurs and TechConneXt summits, produced an event that offered the same attributes as his presentations: infectious energy, full engagement, and accessible strategic gems. Among his speakers: renowned tech entrepreneur and author Seth Godin; highly acclaimed business coach Carl Gould; and innovative CEO of online bulk shopping service Boxed, Chieh Huang, just to name a few on this week’s program.
In past conversations about Smart Hustle, which is also a magazine, Ray told me it was designed for entrepreneurs who have owned and operated their business for five years or less, found their niche in the marketplace, and are “willing to grind to get their company to the next level.” He’s had firsthand experience: The tech-savvy author and global motivational speaker has launched four ventures and sold one.
Here are just four simple but powerful nuggets that can help you hustle:
Profit from knowing every detail about your customer
In a live podcast with Avanti Entrepreneur Group founder and CEO David Mammano, business coach Carl Gould (who says he’s mentored over 5,000 companies and helped motivational guru Tony Robbins develop the famous 18-second, fear-facing “firewalk”) discussed the value of making unshakable connections with customers.
Asserts Gould: “There’s a market for everything. Your challenge is whether you can bring your product or service to the market profitably and sustainably. [To do that], you must know your ideal client pretty well.”
Gould offers three specific guidelines to figure out “what makes your client tick and what they will pay a premium for.” He encourages entrepreneurs to find out answers to the following questions:
- What keeps your customers worrying at night? “When they’re up at 2 a.m. and wide awake, what is on their mind?”
- What makes your intended prospects “feel guilty or do they get grief for [something] at the end of the workday.” If you have the answer then you’ll know what issues dominate their daily conversations.
- What’s going on in your prospect’s world right now that makes calling you or hiring you an absolute urgency? Identify a given customer’s trigger point and market directly to it at a premium level.
Use competitors’ weaknesses to promote your company’s strengths
To better position your business, Gould advises, identify the top five complaints about your competitors and then be able “to make the promise in your niche that now one has the guts to make.”
Gould illustrated his point by using Netflix as an example. The company used the numerous shortcomings of the business model of Blockbuster to unwind the one-time video rental king. Consumers’ biggest complaints: Having to go back and forth to video stores; parking problems; fees for late returns; fines for not rewinding returned videos; and lack of available titles. Before adopting its current digital model, Netflix was a mail-order business that provided home delivery with a money-back guarantee that their customers would not suffer past inconveniences.
In communicating your “unique selling proposition,” Gould argues that entrepreneurs should spend less time sharing their core values or mission statements on websites, marketing materials, and business plans but clearly emphasize their promise to solve client’s problems and frustrations.
Boost sales through likability
Michael Katz, founder of Boston-based Blue Penguin Development, says he helps professional service firms distinguish their companies from the pack by positioning them as “likable experts.” He asserts that tact represents one of the best ways “to leverage smallness [and] do things that large businesses can’t do.” Moreover, he maintains the likability factor can give your company an edge-especially when battling rivals with similar competitive strengths and capabilities.
Here are Katz’s strategies to increase your appeal:
- Tell stories. Customers become more engaged when you can provide historical, humorous, and engaging facts about your company and its products and services.
- In dealing with clients, Katz says, apply the world’s greatest (and most underutilized) relationship-building tool: handwritten notes. He maintains that even in today’s tech-driven environment, personalized correspondence continues to be far more effective than emails in that they “get a 100% open rate” and customers are more likely to treat them as valuable keepsakes. “I have visited clients who have received my notes and I’ve seen them tacked to a wall in their office,” he says. “It’s not about penmanship but making a connection.”
- Help people that can’t help you. By doing so, you can build a reputation for putting people first.
“You should do what you do in your personal life when you’re trying to make friends,” he says. “You want people to see you as a three-dimensional person and not like every other businessperson.”
Put yourself in your customer’s “house” to gain more influence
Leadership development expert Mitch Fairrais told the Smart Hustle audience that most people “tend to be wired for self-interest.” He maintained, however, that entrepreneurs can reap greater benefits, gaining “the ability to deal with others from their vantage point. Helping people get want they want is the best way to get what you want.”
He advised attendees to adopt the philosophy: “Tu casa es mi casa” or “Your house is my house.”
It starts, he says, with what he calls “airline emergency listening,” citing that if a pilot told passengers about a mid-air malfunction they would focus on instructions of flight attendants unlike the crew’s reception before take-off. “Don’t spend too much time strategizing at the door and be present to what the other person is saying. You can then better understand what you can do for them.”
Lastly, Fairrais says the most important parting question to ask a client or prospect: “Is there anything I should have asked that I haven’t? Usually, the response offers greater insight on how to best personalize service or the need for an urgent remedy.
Fairrais cautions business owners against canned presentations and salesman spin. He told conference attendees that the direct approach builds trust-the core component of influence.
Scaling your business through the grind
Boxed CEO Huang shared how he scaled up his online and mobile membership-free wholesale retailer for “urban consumers who didn’t have the physical means to buy products from Costco and other warehouse clubs from a garage startup in 2013 to a multimillion-dollar national enterprise today.
As his business grew (by the end of 2014 it had customers coast to coast and grew to its number of strategically located fulfillment centers) Huang discovered that “in solving the problem of those that [were unable] to access warehouse clubs, we had stumbled upon the fact that providing time to people who didn’t have the patience to go to warehouse clubs was a much bigger business. We couldn’t have done it by planning the business a year ahead and waiting for it to be perfect before we launched. It’s by walking that path and grinding and hustling every day that all these different paths emerged in front of us. You can’t see what’s around the corner until you work it.”
In scaling the business, they discovered three elements that drove Boxed’s value: pricing, convenience, and branding. As such, Boxed is now positioned to take a larger chunk of the online/mobile segment, or 2% of the $200 billion retail market. Asserts Huang: “There’s room for a bunch of different players. So many businesses have grown incredibly well in the shadow of Wal-Mart in the offline world. So much money is being spent online now that you have multi-hundred-million-dollar businesses like ours growing in the online world as well.”
Boxed has grown into a sophisticated operation in a short time. Its fulfillment centers are huge four-story, robotic structures that handle the flood of orders. Selfie-cams follow and tape each order, and each video is sent to the customer. “Millennials love it,” Huang says of this customized feature.
In recounting his entrepreneurial journey, Huang offered his philosophy of scale: “In the beginning, it was about living the dream, starting a business in a garage. Now, as our business has scaled, it’s no longer about the money or the glory. We are now building our brand based on how we do good for people. So as you scale your business, there are different ways to think about it. There’s scale of people. There’s scale of revenue. There’s scale of systems. But, I hope you do a gut check of yourself and ask are your motivations scaling.”