The Lead Generation features conversations with today’s entrepreneurs willing to tell the truth about what it takes to be your own boss and the transformative impact you can have on your audience.
In this episode, we’re bringing you the story of Ramon Ray, a marketing and technology evangelist for small businesses.
Ramon is editor and founder of Smart Hustle Magazine and Smallbiztechnology.com. He is passionate about educating small businesses about technology and marketing best practices for sustained growth. His writings and opinions have been featured in the New York Times, Fox Business, MSNBC, and more. He’s also frequently seen on stage delivering keynotes about client attraction, personal branding, and technology trends.
Ramon talks about persisting with optimism, when it’s time to pivot within your business, and why it’s critical to surround yourself with smart people who can steer you in the right direction.
If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
- You don’t need anyone else’s permission to pursue your business idea.
- Persist through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship with the help of close friends and your faith.
- Growing your business will likely take longer than you think. And it will likely require a pivot or two along the way.
- Whatever your current family situation, prioritize the important things to you, and have conversations about the big Why with your spouse and kids.
- Learn about things beyond the focus of your business. It’s inspiring, spurs creativity, and gives you perspective on the bigger picture.
- Yacov Wrocherinsky
- This is Marketing, Seth Godin
- Men of Honor (Film)
- Celebrity CEO (Book)
- Books by Ramon Ray
Continue the Conversation
After enjoying this episode, what are your top takeaways from Ramon?
And what’s one lesson you learned in this episode that you’ll take action on over the next week?
Get to Know Ramon
Bob: Ramon, thanks so much for joining me for this week’s episode.
Ramon: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here, and I love the aspect that you can be there and I can be here, and we can still talk. That’s amazing.
Bob: Absolutely, because you’re a busy guy, you love to speak around the world and you get to have all kinds of conversations with important people, and I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.
Ramon: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Bob: So before we get into some of the nitty-gritty stuff, I want to get that high level of the impact that you have on your customers as you go about your everyday. How would you say the lives of your customers are transformed by what you’re doing at SmartHustle.com?
Ramon: Sure. I think it’s two things. I think that one, there’s the community of people I have who follow me on Twitter, and Facebook, and online, and websites, and all kinds of things like that, the community that I have who are small business owners, and that’s through SmallBizTechnology, Smart Hustle and otherwise. I think that impact, the biggest impact I can have is when I’m in a room and watch somebody’s face just light up because I’ve shared something with them they didn’t know. As we’re taping this, I’m going to do that in a few hours today. I’m going to the New York public library, a free speaking engagement to educate people. So that’s one impact that I am helping them grow their business, which means they can better provide for their families, etc.
The second audience is the branding I work with. So that’s another thing I do work with brands and speak around the country on the world, and listen, as you know, what our logos? Leadpages, can’t shake hands with each other. You and I can talk, but logos and brands are not; they’re static objects. It needs humans to make that connection. So I think that’s the impact I make it be able to humanize a brand and educate people.
From United Nations to International Stages
Bob: I can’t wait to see some of the answers to the questions I have for you today because I know people are going to love your story, and we’re only going to scratch the surface because there’s a lot of stuff that you do, and a lot of things that you get to work on. Take us back to the beginning. How did you get started on this trajectory of where you are today? Take us back to whatever you used to do. Maybe it was a soul-sucking nine to five job or whatever it was that got you into saying, “I’m going to put up my shingle. I’m going to go speak and influence people, and make a difference that way.”
Ramon: Yeah. I think starting back, I think entrepreneurship and life, in general, is about your expertise, your comfort zone. Maybe you like to cook or read or do hockey. I don’t know. Me, I like to do what I like to do. So, as a small child, I know that I’ve always been involved in technology. Now, being over 40 years old, I’m into marketing and starting companies, but the tech side of my brain, if that makes sense, all that started as a small child and a vicarious reader.
Jumping far ahead, I had many years of working at the United Nations. I was a civil servant working at the United Nations, a special United Nations passport even until I was not there anymore. I was fired because the UN has a rule that you can’t have your own business, and I went through a lot of complications with that.
So lo and behold, from launching several side hustles while having a nine-to-five job to provide for my family, I was now on my own, and that’s where no longer could I do things for free. No longer could I just say, “Oh, I have a steady check, I can just do it.” No, I had to make it happen. From there, while at the United Nations, I had built, I think, two companies. I had sold one, had an event business, and when I left I just grew on that. That’s when I had SmallBizTechnology at that point. At that time I launched Smart Hustle Magazine. The event business grew, and really this aspect of influence from marketing, which is one-third of what I do, really blossomed and took off. From the United Nations to leave it, to having a full-time job, and exploring the world of content.
Enjoying the Bumps Along the Way
Bob: I’m sure that whenever somebody looks at your story, perhaps you tell it in a very shortened version like we just have, it can come across as an overnight success story. We know that entrepreneurship has got a lot of roadblocks and obstacles along the way. So tell me a little bit about what stood in your way, what kind of roadblocks did you run into and what did you learn from them?
Ramon: Thank you so much for highlighting that, I did that just for the sake of the conversation. So, you’re exactly right. I love that you called that out. Today, Ramon Ray has written four books. I have a fourth book coming out in April called Celebrity CEO. I’ve spoken around the world. I’ve interviewed President Obama, been with Ivanka Trump in India, I can go on, and on, and on. I’ve been very blessed.
I think the journey to get there has been things like – and if I say it too much, I’ll cry – standing with Bill Gates, with other journalists, where Gateway Computer, those who might remember the cow boxes and give him a note, like, “Can you just talk to me, or look at me, or shake my hand, or can I be in your aura?” One of his team took the note crumbled it. They didn’t know Ramon or anything. I didn’t know you’re supposed to talk to the PR person ahead of time. I didn’t know.
“This has been a journey of mistakes, of learning, of getting back up, and serendipity.”
So, I can remember being at CBS. I had my little, I don’t if I had even a video camera then, but Michael Dell was speaking on stage. I think I stood up to ask him a question because I’m just like that, I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to ask the big executives questions if you’re in the audience only. So, I then lost some money. I tried to launch an event business in California, lost about $50,000 and for some people maybe it’s a little bit, for me, it’s a lot.
So to your point, this has been a journey of mistakes, of learning, of getting back up, and serendipity. You’re on the train next to somebody and they’re like, “Oh, I’m this famous person.” Twitter exchanging, and somebody sees you, somebody sees value in you, “Hey.” Here we are today. So that’s been my journey, and I know that in the next 10 years, five years, it’s going to be more and more like that. Soon maybe you’ll flip your dial on TV and see Ramon there on the show.
Possibilities Through Optimism
Bob: Yeah, I can imagine that you, back in the day when you left your UN job, unceremoniously it sounds like, that you wouldn’t have predicted that you would have been speaking to a President of the United States on a Google Hangout. So, as people are listening to this and they’re thinking, “What is one of those specific things that you have learned?” How do you look at the possibility, because I think you seem to be a very positive and optimistic kind of guy. What advice around that can you give to our audience?
“I see failure genuinely as a learning opportunity. I love the word no. To me, the word no means: Great, I can get rid of you and get to my yes, faster.”
Ramon: Absolutely, and I’ll talk about the negative side first. The downside of being too positive is that a bit too cavalier. I know sometimes with my wife I’m a bit too cavalier, like say I’m drinking this bottle of water or something, and then it spills. “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll get another one.” You want to have a little bit of remorse, right? A little bit of, “Oh, the water spilled, it’s precious.” Full disclosure, those of us who are optimistic, we do need people to hold us back and like, “Wait, we lost a $1 million deal. Let’s chew on that.”
That’s the key thing about optimism and hope for me. This is not some fancy Seth Godin, Tony Robbins’ book, I see failure genuinely as a learning opportunity. I love the word no. To me, the word no means, “Great, I can get rid of you and get to my yes, faster.” That’s how I see the world. That’s the colors with which I paint the world in my business. It’s a learning opportunity.
Bob: Yeah. I always loved this idea of the root of the word decision is to cut off, and so as people make a decision whether it’s yes or no, whether it’s you as an entrepreneur making a clear decision you are cutting off, which means that you get to get rid of some of that baggage for you. That’s cool.
Persistence Through Faith and Friendship
Bob: So as things do get hard and challenges come up, how do you proceed? How do you persist? What are some of the things that you do that you turn to move forward?
Ramon: I think one thing is to have mentors and friends around you. There’s at least one or two guys, two and a half guys, maybe three and a half that I think I turn to when things go wrong, and not just the things go wrong, we’re friends. Of course, I have my family who may not know anything about business, and I turn to them, my wife, and others. So that’s important to have that in your life. But bros, whether ladies or guy, who you can turn to and say, “Listen, what do I do about this cash flow problem? What do I do about this client?” Guess what, I have people who do that to me. I mentor people.
“Having something higher than just myself in this material world strengthens and gives me hope, and gives me excitement.”
So, I think that’s the biggest thing to do, and non-business is my faith. I think that’s very important to me. It may not be for everybody, but for me, having something higher than just myself in this material world strengthens and gives me hope, and gives me excitement. We’re talking about business, for sure. I think friends around you, that’s one of the most important things you do, and to that point those listening, if you don’t have a bro to call or gal to call, one, you can always reach out to me and I do mean that just Google me and you can find me.
Also going out and networking. I speak quite a bit on stage, but I love going to events where I can sit. Nobody knows me, depending on the event, people do know me, but I try to just sit there alone. No, I don’t want to speak. I don’t need to MC. I want to listen and shine the light on somebody else.
Bob: That’s good. I love this advice about having a good circle of people around you. For those that do have more of those lobsters in the pail that is clawing … or crabs, I guess the reference is that are clawing them down, how do they recognize who people are that uplift them versus people that might be bringing down?
Ramon: That is a smart question. Listen, I think that there’s not a fine line, but there’s a line between critique, like Bob said, “Hey Ramon, listen you did a great speech, you need to slow down a bit.” Bob’s saying that, and every time with Bob, he’s like, “Yeah, you could have done better. Oh, your shirt was stupid. You didn’t iron. Your hair was messed up.” That could be helpful. You don’t want to have people around you who are just cheerleaders, always saying “Good job!” – but you can’t speak well.
If you have people who are encouraging, who are authentic, and have your best interest, that’s one of the ways, I think, that you can find that you’re on the right track. Negativity is like a virus for sure, and it’s not very good for entrepreneurs. I talk quite a bit about entrepreneurial depression. I spoke about that at South by Southwest and other events. So, it’s an important topic.
3 Mindset Shifts to Succeed
Bob: Talk to us a little bit about the misconceptions that people have in the entrepreneurial world. You obviously came from a civil servant job, you then had to pick up this level of doing business, making sales, all that stuff, and I imagine that might have initially been a bit of a foreign language. For people who are growing into this themselves, what kind of misconceptions about entrepreneurship would you say that the general new business owner is going to have?
Ramon: Yeah, I think one is that it’s not as glamorous as it seems. If you watch Shark Tank and other things like this, there are positives to it, especially when you’ve reached the level cash flow’s good, whatever that may mean, but definitely starting out, even a few years in, it’s tough. Listen, I have a few companies that I’m running, not all of them are running perfectly. I’ll tell you that right now. I’ve got to deal with cash flow problems, with marketing, with getting clients just like the next guy. So, I think that’s the biggest thing. If you say, “Oh, I have a new lip balm company, and Burt’s Bees sold $100 million valuations, we can be at least a $50 million valuation in two days.” Mmmm… I don’t know about that.
So, the point I’m trying to say, Bob, is that it takes longer than you think.
“Maybe you’re building something then and you realize, You know what, I thought this was a black water bottle. I realize it’s a hammer with water coming out.”
The third thing – and I’ll end on this, I can go on all day – is be ready to innovate and pivot. Pivot’s one of those big, strategy Harvard business review words that people sometimes don’t like, but it’s true. Listen to the customer, listen to what the market’s saying, and maybe you’re building something then and you realize, “You know what, I thought this was a black water bottle. I realize it’s a hammer with water coming out. It’s a hammer.”
Persist or Pivot?
Bob: To that point, when do you say to yourself, “This idea that you have requires more persistence,” versus, “Man, the audience is telling me I need to cut bait and go to some other place?”
Ramon: I’ll tell you a real story that’s happening right now. So as you know, I launched Smart Hustle Magazine about three and a half years ago. I wanted a print magazine. Point being, that’s been kind of tough to launch. I still have the vision to do that, I’m still moving towards it, but I have it online.
But my other company, SmallBizTechnology, Bob, it’s taking off like a rocket ship. So, I’m fine. I can’t just put millions through there, so I’ve shifted my resources growing SmallBizTechnology, which is taking off, Smart Hustle is still there, but we’re tweaking it. So, that’s a real-life example. This guy who looks like he has it all, I’m even shifting and measuring the market as we go.
Thankfully, a tip, I have several revenue streams, several viable businesses and things I’m doing. So, I can play around a bit. That’s really what you do, you listen to the market, and hopefully if you’ve tried everything you can do and it’s not working, maybe it’s you, maybe you need somebody to educate you better, maybe it’s the wrong thing, maybe you really can’t sell ice to Eskimos, or whatever silly example that may be.
A Day in the Life
Bob: That’s fantastic. So you’re running a few different brands at the same time, a few different companies, and you’re speaking a lot, writing books. Talk to us a little bit about a typical day in Ramon’s life. I know you’re getting ready to do another interview now, what else has been going on for you in the last little bit of time?
Ramon: I’ll talk about a typical day, today and another day because today’s a one-third of a typical day. So today I’ve been an online all the time, probably like you have, that’s … we’re knowledge workers, so we’re online typing, deleting, shifting. A lot of delegation to my team using a variety of tools, et cetera, Leadpages being one. Then today I’ll go to an event to speak. So that’s a couple of times a week, depends on what it is, speaking somewhere. Tomorrow I fly off to an event in Washington DC tomorrow to speak at a policy forum. That’s one kind of my day, traveling and all that.
Another typical day is home all day, but that’s again, we’re diving into doing interviews, talking to my staff, delegating. I’m trying more and more to do that. Another tip for people to help is that you can be a solo business and do everything yourself, but I think where you grow is, is you have a team, whether it’s a team of one or a team of 100, who you can manage, focus on the brand, the direction. Let’s steer the ship this way, and then have other people who can help you execute on that. That’s the best way to build a viable business.
Bob: Yeah, definitely. Talk to us a little bit now about balancing the work-life balance, as they say. You have people around you that you want to spend time with. Talk just a little about how you manage that kind of time in your day.
Ramon: It’s not easy, and there are different stages in life. My kids are older adult children, so I’ll speak to those who have small children, babies, “Wah, wah, wah, need a bottle.” Kids are a blessing, but when they’re younger, I think you really have to prioritize. That’s probably the biggest thing. Assuming you want to spend time with your family and be there. Some people made the choice, “I’m not going to be there. I’m going to come in at 4:00 in the morning and leave at 6:00.” If you want to be there, I think, prioritizing is one.
Two, educating your spouse or another half, whoever’s in your family, what you’re doing, “Hey listen, here’s her mom makes money.” “Here’s a check, and here’s how it works.” I’ve done that.” Educating, “Okay, so Dad has to be away for three days for this to happen.”
Now, for those of us who have an older and different stage of life, and that’s what life is about stages, then things change. Maybe you bring your spouse into your business and they grow it with you. So that’s really how I find it. I think the biggest thing is prioritizing and educating because we all love what we do, for sure, and sometimes family and business, they’re about equal. If you explained your family the Why, Simon Sinek, here’s why we’re doing this, so in three years we can send you to a better college. In four years we can move from this maybe small town to a better town. It helps.
Bob: Yeah, it definitely does. I think also when you make those boundaries and commitments, you stick to them. Then people can trust what you’re going to be doing is actually going to be helping all sides. That’s really beautiful.
What’s in the Toolkit?
Bob: You mentioned a moment ago that you use different tools to help out with your marketing, with your business, Leadpages is one, then I’m sure that you have a couple of other ones. What would be your top two or three tools that you’re using to help your business to grow?
Ramon: Yeah, I use so many brands, including Leadpages. Things are kind of a melding. This tool is making CRM, this tool is making landing pages and et cetera.
Listen, Leadpages is great because it’s an explosion. I have so many ideas. I can go to Leadpages, boom, boom, boom, there’s a minimal viable product, and sell it, see if it works. Then I could add to it and grow on it. So I think Leadpages is one. My team uses it. We can operate real fast, and it’s beautiful. It looks good too.
Two, definitely QuickBooks. I love their accounting, online accounting, and I think that’s the default finance choice for many small businesses, and Asana.
We use Asana quite a bit to track. If it’s not in Asana, it probably doesn’t exist. I even put my picture on Asana just so I exist. So those are the three tools that we use day in and day out because when you’ve got a lot going on, you have to have a repository somehow for tracking.
Accountability and Brain Food
Bob: You mentioned earlier surrounding yourself with key people and also coaching, has there been a key mentor or coach for you that you’ve been able to work with in the past, or that you’re working with now, that has really kept you with motivated, or grounded, or just even accountable?
Ramon: Sure. I’ll give a shout out to two people. I mean, one I bought several copies of his book, Seth Godin. It’s called, This is Marketing. We’re not golfing buddies, like we dine and talk every day, but just over the years for reading his material, reading his books and et cetera, and being able to get to know him a little bit, just a tiny bit over the years, just learning the marketing side. So, I think that’s one thing he’s taught me, personally in just more reading his materials and signing up for his courses, that’s one.
I have a friend, Yacov Wrocherinsky. Been a friend of mine since the days at the United Nations, and really a shout out to him, Hey Yakov! He’s been an inspiration just as a fellow business person. He’s farther along in business than me, started two huge multimillion-dollar companies, and it’s just been an inspiration just, “Ramon, keep doing it. You can push … Ramon, you got to know your numbers.” Just to have that person who knows the business and who can give you a little push or whatever it is. So those are two of many people I can think of who helped me. Them and my friends in my church community. Just guys who happen to be entrepreneurs as well, bantering back and forth in the world of business.
Bob: Excellent. I love that we live in a time when you can get some advice from people even if you don’t have that individual one on one connection. A lot of times that comes through books or even through podcasts. So, as you look at your travels, I imagine you might be listening or reading quite a bit. What’s on your phone right now?
Ramon: I get stacks of Business Week and I go through it. For me, it’s nice because it gives a nice snapshot of the world around us. I’m a very small business, but it’s important that I get a quick up to speed on coal, Venezuela, pigs in Nairobi. On the little screw that the iPhone couldn’t be in the US for if you read that article.
Little things like that, I think as we as … you can’t be … you’re an expert, let’s say, in marketing Leadpages, but you’ve got to expand. I just signed up for Harvard Business Review. I like the Google News App, it’s kind of curated, when you click it enough, kind of like Clipboard, it begins to know what you want. So that’s me, and then of course, when I take long flights, don’t tell anybody, but I download a lot of Amazon Prime.
Bob: Nothing wrong with binging a little bit to give the brain a different expansion.
Bob: I’m not afraid to talk about that too, has there been a favorite show you’ve binged or a movie that you watched that you just were like, “I really enjoyed that time of my day?”
Ramon: I think, listen, I love Shark Tank, and Marcus Lemonis, The Profit. Definitely, love those two shows, learned a lot, are inspired a lot. The one movie, it’s called Men of Honor, Cuba Gooding Jr., this black guy in the 1940s whenever segregation and racism was at its height in America, and then Robert De Niro, the gnarled white guy, chip on his shoulder. You weren’t sure if he was racist or just mean, or just stupid. The two of them coming together, and then where they end being brothers as it were, it would … that’s a movie back in the day, I don’t know, 20 years ago, 10 years ago but, Men of Honor, and it’s a really good movie everybody should check out.
Bob: Yeah, it’s definitely a good one. I enjoyed that one myself, but it’s been a while since I’ve watched it. I know you’re coming up on time when you need to jet out. So I’ve got two more quick questions for you.
Bob: The first one is, as you have these conversations, you get to give keynotes and all this kind of stuff, is there a single key of entrepreneurship that you distill people towards? If so, what is that? And I’ll save the second question for after that.
“Keep going, and do it smarter as you’re doing it.”
Ramon: The big surprise question. Oh, no. Listen, I think that on the marketing side of the house, which is what I speak about more so, I’ve really learned so much and so much, and I get this from Seth, is really, who is your target market, and what are you trying to get them to do? I am seeing this more and more when I look around and be like, “Huh, 50,000 people didn’t come to the stadium and see me, why did they see Tony Robbins? I didn’t get 10,000 likes on Instagram as Gary Vaynerchuk got, or as Steve Harvey got.”, I’m like, “You know what, Ramon has this community, he has his following and that’s good enough for me.” I mean, we all want to aspire to be bigger, but that’s the biggest thing I tell people.
As far as entrepreneurship in general, just keep going, because the moment you stop, the game is over, and do it smarter as you’re doing it. Hence, Smart Hustle. There’s a lot of hustlers out there, Bob, but I’m trying to tell people, “Do it smartly.” That’s the only way to succeed.
Bob: Excellent. My last question is really just a softball for you. It’s not a secret and nefarious one. People can connect with you on Twitter, Ramon Ray, connect with you, et cetera, but you mentioned you have several books. Do a pitch for one of the books people should pick up. What’s a good starting point out of the library?
Ramon: Absolutely. So, coming up in April is my newest book. The last one was Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing. The newest one coming up Celebrity CEO, and that is all about the art of how smaller businesses can build a strong personal brand to get more revenue and be different in the marketplace. So it’s not even listed yet, but Celebrity CEO, and you could just hit me up, find me anywhere and DM me, or go to ramonray.com and sign up, and I’ll be posting about it, but thanks for asking the question.
Bob: Excellent. I imagine that you’ll have a coming soon launch page using your Leadpages account to get people signed up for your actual launch into the market for that.
Ramon: That’s right.
Ramon: Actually, I have my team, I have a little note in Asana saying to do that. So, we’ve got a lot going on, but yeah, that’s coming soon.
Bob: Excellent. Ramon, thank you so much for joining us today on this episode of the Lead Generation. It was a real pleasure talking with you today.
Ramon: Thank you. My pleasure.
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