It’s not a surprise to see a lousy business file for bankruptcy. Before 2020, the Blockbuster bankruptcy wasn’t that big of a stir because Netflix and RedBox were already disrupting the market. The problems were evident. Netflix had good online tech. RedBox’s tech was more convenient. Both companies meet customer demand, unlike Blockbuster’s tired business model. Thanks to them, cable television is next on the list due to the likes of HBO2GO, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. I’m sure those who thought it would be an isolated issue are retracting their words. Hindsight is 20/20. But duh! Anyone who watched the cartoon The Jetsons knew we were supposed to have technology run our lives. Ok, maybe we don’t have the flying cars just yet, as Back to The Future II showed. However, no one expected technology to be a business dissolver either.
The reality of technology helping a business comes at the expense of another company. Uber and Lyft have exploited this very notion with the taxicab business model. Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry. Amazon Prime is dissolving the United States Postal Service. Technology is great and all.
Don’t get me wrong. I love tech.
It’s been fantastic to use my Apple smartphone to Google search anything I want in a matter of seconds. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube provide entertainment when I don’t want to watch my overpriced Xfinity cable television. My MacBook Pro can do it all. A better example would be all of my college courses using a learning management system (aka, LMS) shell to make adjuncting much more manageable than driving to these campuses with multiple briefcases of papers and visual teaching aids. But I don’t want to focus on the next great leap a multi-billion dollar company will make during this COVID-19 era. Instead, I’ll tell you about me, my business, and the journey of a young small local boutique marketing agency. As a small business, I can attest the fight to stay alive requires technology to be an asset. Too many companies have relied on the physical touch and presence rather than using tech. I love meeting people at networking events, but creating business opportunities has evolved in 2020. This is a new era, and not everyone wants to embrace it.
A Proud Black Marketer in White Suburbia
To keep it real, I’ve learned my work ethic from the United States Marine Corps. The rules are simple. If you want to get promoted, you need to hustle your butt off to achieve high scores in every test, look the part, do extra, and stay out of trouble. I apply those same rules as a business owner. However, getting promoted isn’t the focus. You need to secure contracts. I’ve embraced a problem because being an educated black marketer in white suburbia is more challenging as an entrepreneur than a regular citizen looking for employment. Even though it’s my hometown, I’ve learned Vancouver, WA, hasn’t evolved much in diversity. I’ve operated in Black Suburbia Privilege because it’s what I knew, but that mindset wouldn’t help me grow my business. In other words, I was being a glorified token. Ultimately, being a token wasn’t getting me anywhere. It’s a term I find offensive, but I can’t be in denial either. My mother told me never to beg, so I don’t look for handouts. I’m a competitor, so finding the solution keeps me up at night and gets me out of bed. The adage of ‘follow the rules’ and you’ll get the contract in ‘Corporate America’ wasn’t working for me. I saw it work for others, but that wasn’t my experience. Here’s what I had to do regularly and in this order:
1. Get past the gatekeeper
2. Gain access to the room where decisions are made
3. Sit at the table and wait for my turn to talk when pointed at
4. Have my input valued as an equal
5. Show my value is essential to the task at hand
This was also the pre-smartphone and social media era. Nowadays, it’s a bit trickier but somewhat still the same. However, COVID has disrupted this model. I’m not saying it even doesn’t happen because it does. The process has changed due to key decision-makers seeking to find undiscovered talent, ideas, and opportunities using tech as one of their essential methods. I’ve learned that great leaders seek to establish authentic relationships without agendas. In my case, I needed to move beyond being a token. Tokens can be seen but don’t get the credit, power, or opportunity. Running a business requires all three, so technology was my tool to be proactive because an opportunity is always waiting if you’re prepared. And you’re like, “how does all this relate to technology?” Easy. My podcast. This was my opportunity.
Let’s Talk Marketing with Nathan A Webster
I watched Shark Tank religiously for the first few seasons without missing a beat. Like any other entrepreneur, my goal was to land a deal on the show. Being that I had a nonprofit, I knew my reality wasn’t very realistic. But I kept hearing Mark Cuban say something to the tune of, “all it takes is one good idea.” As entrepreneurship grew in popularity, resources became more popular as well. As a nonprofit founder in the early 2000s, it was hard to find someone with experience. Seeking advice from a qualified expert was almost impossible. It wasn’t until I came across John Lee Dumas’ podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. John Lee Dumas–who also goes by JLD–promoted his podcast class and network of other podcasters. He’s a beast (aka, a professional guru).
When you go to his website, you’ll see he brings in at least $100k a month from all his activities. But what I like about him is that he is super humble, which is why I had him on my show. JLD was the catalyst to help me see that technology paved the way for me to create an opportunity to reach an audience I couldn’t reach. Because of my small town restrictions, I knew I had to grow my fundraising base if I wanted to build the community center I envisioned. So when I started in 2016, my podcast was Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A Webster focusing on social good, business, and personal development. My goal was to speak to everyone in Washington, Oregon, and possibly California. Still, it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I realized I was more popular overseas than in my own country. Even though I shouldn’t have been shocked by the results, I was. The podcast taught me how much I needed to evolve my business to more than just social good. Ultimately, this growth led me to dissolve my nonprofit. It was bittersweet. When I had my nonprofit, podcast, and business simultaneously, I needed to have different websites and social media handles connected to the podcast, the nonprofit, and the company. It was too much work, and I wanted to align my business ventures better.
I’m not Joe Rogan’s Podcast and have an exclusive deal for my podcast, but I love having fun talking about marketing. One of my recent podcasts, The 5 Reasons why a Podcast Fails, covers how this technology forced me to be better personally and professionally. For those who want to start a podcast here are my five reasons just in case you want to start one, here you go: – It’s a time commitment – It doesn’t generate $ – Creating unique content – Finding the right frequency – Editing Plus, here are some of the guests I’ve interviewed throughout the years in no particular order: Kent Lewis, Anvil Media – Marketing Expert Colten Tidwell, Gravitate – Marketing Expert Mike Bomar, Port of Vancouver – Community Policy Expert Cheryl White, CW Consulting – Nonprofit Leader Mona Brookes, Monart – Art Expert Sarah Olivieri, Pivotground – Nonprofit Expert Chapin Aleman, Nonprofit Chapin – Fundraising Expert Shauntrice Martin, Coalition of Black Excellence – Nonprofit Leader Ali Abdul-Aziz, Can’t Hurt Me Book Review Matthew Boyd, Vollie – Nonprofit Leader Ryan Moor, Ryonet – Expert Logwone Mitz, New York Life – Financial Expert Andrea Demichelis, Elliot for Water – Social Entrepreneur There wasn’t an exhaustive list, so my apologies if I didn’t get one of my non-mentioned guests. It’s my number one lead generator throughout the years of speaking and hearing myself talk via my podcast. I’ve received so many unexpected praises, so in early 2020 I decided to make it more significant to my business model and increase the number of channels. Thanks to all the loyal listeners, my downloads have tripled within six months. Ultimately, this is my way of helping people by giving them free advice.
Business Requires Growth
I love to inspire people, but I can’t help everyone. Technology has helped me learn that. For example, I’m reluctant when students ask for a letter of recommendation and don’t have a LinkedIn page. In my opinion, you can’t tell me you care about your career if your professional social media profile isn’t active or doesn’t exist. LinkedIn provides anyone the opportunity to foster a business relationship. I’ve found personal friends and clients on the platform. The hard part is putting yourself out there. You might say, “why do I need another social media account when I’m not looking for a job?” The bottom line is that relationships matter and technology is one of the best vehicles to make that happen. Every person seeking to advance needs to grow. Success isn’t going to drop in your lap.
If you haven’t already noticed all the disruption and chaos COVID-19 has caused, nothing is safe from being disrupted- including your job. Every key decision-maker and leader evaluates each person, product, and system to justify their value to the organization. Plus, no individual should be so complacent to believe their untouchable. Social media is a great tool to build relationships and develop your craft. You can find thought leaders to sharpen your skill-set. However, not everyone can sharpen you. Your growth is sacred, so don’t take advice from just anyone. Also, don’t seek perfection. You’ll learn that no one is perfect. I’ve learned to fail forward numerous times, which is why I do my best to expose both sides in my social media using the hashtags #failforward and #beyou.
One of my biggest pet peeves of failing forward is when students complain about grades. I continue to stress competency over a perfect grade point average. The days of receiving academic honors aren’t a significant differentiator. Nowadays, all the knowledge and information that can be accessed with just a few keyboard strokes is merely incredible. In my days, we had to go to the local library. Yes, I’m in my 40s. I don’t feel old, but saying that sentence does. It’s a replay button of my dad telling me to find something constructive to do when I told him I was bored. “Back in my day…” As I digress, use whatever technology you have at your disposal to be better. You can use Bing or Google, or any other search engine. I’m sure their first page SERP (aka, search engine result page) will deliver a starting point and go from there. As an entrepreneur, this is about working on your business rather than working in your industry.
Expertise over Generality
The last thing technology has done with business is separate the fakers from the leaders. Become an expert in one thing, category, or industry. Stop looking to know everything about everything. Don’t be the ‘Jack’ or ‘Jill’ who has something to say on every subject. Be the category expert. As my mother would say, ‘you get what you pay for.’ Be the expert and show off your swag- you’re the expert in your field. It’s not just words but actions and consistency. Sadly, a person’s word isn’t what it used to be. Credibility is earned through SERPs and a mobile-friendly secure website. When I don’t see a legitimate website, a red flag is waving in the back of my mind. There’s a problem if a company can’t be found on a SERP.
The pandemic has given me the insight to pivot and realign my business while looking at the thriving companies in this new economy. Any company that has already established an e-commerce system is light years ahead of any other organization. The best example would be the fast-food companies. Domino’s Pizza will be the ultimate example. They were already positioned for a grand slam of comfort food, delivery, and mobile-friendly. Unfortunately, small companies like mine do not understand how technology changes the way customers ‘shop’ in this new digital era. Thanks to the tech of microwaves and smartphones, instant gratification and customization are genuine. As I tell all my business classes, the mass marketing era is over.
Marketing is Digital
Almost every adult in this new world carries a smartphone with the ability to receive various messages specific to both their needs and wants. The smartphone user can purchase while viewing an ad between their leisurely activity, which wasn’t possible with other entertainment mediums. Therefore, those who segment are the winners. What does that mean? For anyone who has a smartphone has the spending power to buy immediately. You can call this new school vs. old school, but this is the most incredible time for all businesses. Using the traditional model of newspaper ads and direct mail campaigns is good, but it won’t give the most significant return for marketing and possibly bankrupt the company. Leaders need to be more innovative because digital marketing is the new marketing. Going digital means you can also measure it. I write this because my business is personal. After all, this service is for the advancement of all humanity.
Nathan A. Webster, MBA