Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest in this edition of Expert Insights is Ramon Ray. He is the founder of four small businesses, including Smart Hustle Media. He is also a highly sought-after public speaker with a focus on personal branding as a tool for small business success. Now for many small business owners, they are facing some major headwinds. Recently, we discussed the challenges of inflation and supply chain disruptions. Today, we're going to look a little more internally to examine different sorts of hurdles like the Great Resignation of employees, and people feeling more comfortable just walking away from their jobs. And also, how do you get the most out of employees that strongly prefer to telework and just make sure that the productivity is not harmed by that. So a lot to discuss. And Ramon, great to have you with us. Thanks for your time today.
Ramon Ray: Hey, Greg, you're welcome. If I had a voice like yours, I'd be like a billion-dollar man. So thank you for having me. And great to be here and share the insight that I'm able to with your audience and hello to everybody, Greg's audience, and it's really good to be here.
GC: Oh, thank you, sir. And if you think there's a billion dollars in the voice, we need to talk off-air.
RR: Greg's like, you know what, I made you a “great resignation” right here on the show.
GC: I love working for these people. The Great Resignation [as] we've seen since the pandemic is a major challenge to entrepreneurs, of course. A lack of workers leads to slower response times, slower service, [and] frustrated customers. What are you hearing from business owners that are dealing with this? How tough is it right now?
RR: It is very tough. And of course, you don't want to paint everybody with the same brush. But I think there are different segments of businesses that, yes, it's a tough time. And I think part of it, Greg, is a) the whole world has shifted. So when you get slapped in the face real hard, everything changes. You have new perspectives. I think that's just one. There has been, indeed, a reset on the globe with the pandemic we've all been in for two years — give or take. And I think, two, yes, due to especially for those workers who are [at] entry-level wages, it's very tough for them. But that makes it very fluid, them going back and forth. Because historically, over the past two years, there's been a lot of aid and government assistance and things that have been available. And then lastly, if I can say point three, and I'd love to hear your input on this as well, Greg, is that even for those who are the so-called quote-unquote “white-collar workers” or even those who are blue-collar but earning, you know, some great income, is that you have a choice. As you hinted at, Greg, you know, I can say, you know what, Greg, I don't want to work for you in Minnesota or Miami or Minneapolis anymore. I want to work from North Dakota, where my mom is, whatever it may be. So I think that's a perfect storm of issues that are [creating] a very tough job for companies. But there is hope.
GC: Well, I think we're in a different dynamic now where there is more agency. There's more options for employees, regardless of what level they're at. Certainly, the more advanced you are and the more potentially your skills are in demand somewhere else. But a lot of it is also the feeling of being valued and knowing that you are valued by your employer. So what are ways that show that you value your employees or that you don't, either verbally or nonverbally, financially or not financially?
RR: Indeed, the ways that you're not showing that you're not valued, Greg. You know, it's me not acknowledging you, me not putting that metaphorical proverbial hand on your shoulder and saying, good guy, good girl. I think everybody wants to feel appreciated. And I think corporate America is realizing, and they've been realizing this for years [to] some degree, but COVID…has shown us, to accelerate, just appreciation. As you hinted, Greg, it's not necessarily just money, just the dollar, but it's like, can I go home early? Can I pick my kids up from school? Can I take care of my ailing spouse, or my ailing parents, rather, whatever it may be. So I think those are things companies can do to show value, to increase the stickiness of their employees, especially if you want to keep people who at a moment's notice with a mouse click or LinkedIn can say goodbye.
GC: So how do business owners convince good employees to stay? Is it about flexible options and benefits and salaries? What seems to be working for those who are able to retain their talent? How do they do it?
RR: Yeah, I think, one, definitely salaries. Are you paying people a competitive wage and then some? Of course, that gives a whole other ball of wax with pricing and things like this. And are you generating the profit and revenue needed? But that's one. Money is a part of it. I think point two, are you analyzing, how are you as a leader? If you're a larger company, how is your leadership? Are you training? Are you managing the managers who are in direct line to your team? That's number two. Number three, I heard one lady tell me — and I was at a large business event — and she said, Greg, just ask, ask us what's important to us. You may be surprised. All we want is peanut butter granola bars in the conference room. Maybe that's it. Nothing more complicated than that. So just ask, how can we show value? And I think, four, do consider being as flexible as you can, especially if you want to retain good people. You may have to relax or mend some of the more stringent rules you had five years ago.
GC: We're talking with Ramon Ray. You can find more about him at ramonray.com. And one of the things that people love about you, Ramon, and we can hear it in this conversation, and anybody that's ever brought you in as a speaker. I can certainly testify to this. You bring tremendous energy and positivity and excitement to what you do. It's clear that you love what you do. For folks who might not have that kind of a personality, they're more introverted or whatever. How do they convey that to people that they're excited about what they're doing? They're excited that these people are on the team. And they're excited about the vision they've got for the company.
RR: I've asked this question a lot, Greg. And I think I'll break it down with three different types of people, if that's helpful. I think some people I've worked with…I teach a Sunday school class. There's a young girl in my class, Greg. Really, really quiet and painfully shy with her head down and etcetera. That's okay, if that's you. How can you slightly break out of that? And do, I wouldn't say better, but be different? Just be aware of it. Hold your head up. Maybe force yourself to do a small smile as you're speaking and telegraph that to people. That's one for those who are really painfully introverted. Then you have a second group of people that are just quiet. Listen, Greg. Everybody's different. I happen to be an extrovert —fast laugh, big voice. Everybody's not that way. And no, that's okay. For you. It's okay, though, to raise your hand. It's okay to be proactive and ask the question. You should do that. And I think those are some things that people can do. And for those of us that are extroverts, that are loudmouthed etc, we need to make space for others and make sure that we don't take all the oxygen out of the room.
GC: Yeah, good point, you still want to be authentic, obviously. You don't want to put some sort of contrived exuberance out there on a daily basis. You'll never be able to keep that up. And nor should you want to. It should be explaining and modeling what you expect from your team, day by day. One area, in terms of keeping employees happy. We talked about flexibility. And during the pandemic, one of the ways that that was certainly conveyed is telework. Some people were already doing that. A lot more people started doing that. And a lot of people decided, I like this. I want to keep doing this. Or at least have the option to do it, instead of having to commute to the office every day. So how common is telework becoming? And even with COVID hopefully behind us for the most part, how common do you think it's going to be going forward?
RR: Yeah, I think definitely it is the thing that's going to be done. And I think it's still being shifted out, especially the very large companies, where they're going to take it. But I think for sure, Greg, the cat’s out of the bag. And that has to be an option to be considered for every role that's possible. And I think that what you can do to manage that is a) understand…measure for the output, not necessarily the input of the task. Measure, clearly, here's what we expect you to do. Can you do it? If you want to wash your car early in the morning, but you're doing the work that needs to be done, God bless you, and God bless America. Go for it. So I think that's important. Then, two, I think, to make that really as best as it can, especially for your team members that you really want to value, right? And that should be all of them. Are they set up in where they want to be to work best? I was at a friend of mine’s house, Greg. And, you know, the mother had her notebook computer on the ironing board, and he was working at a kitchen table and things. And some people may need to do that, and that's fine. But at least check-in and say, is there anything you need to do to work from home or to do telework as best you can. So those are a few things I would say, but definitely, the cat’s out the bag. And you should be prepared to offer that if you can for your team members, as it makes sense.
GC: But that also comes with challenges. Of course, if you're in the office, you see each other in the kitchen or just passing in the hallway. You know, hey, how's it coming on this project and so forth. It doesn't seem like somebody's, you know, hovering over your shoulder. Whereas if you're the boss or the manager, and something is coming up pretty quickly on deadline, you might be a little more squeamish as to email or text or Slack or whatever…that person and say, hey, how's it coming along? How's it coming along? Which might leave the impression that you don't necessarily trust them to get this done on time or you're not quite sure of how good the performance is going to be. So how do you balance productivity and trust?
RR: I love that. What a great question. Two things I think are helpful. A) demand in a good way, in a mutual trust. Right. Greg and I are working together. I don't want to be on his back. So hey, Greg, listen. Every Tuesday, 8 a.m., can you check in with me and just update me on what's going on? That's one. And part of that check-in process can be just great tools and scheduling software, task management. Project management software that…people have the opportunity to check in and self update what's happening. Then me as the manager, I won't have angst. I won't worry, because I already see, proactively, the progress. And then two, have a standing meeting. Or you know, it's not going to be a standing meeting, if you're working remotely. But have a regular meeting. Every Friday, the team's going to meet together, video on. And that's how that collaboration — that smile, that facial expression — will come into being. So I think if you have good check-ins, project management, task management, tools like that, that people can proactively self identify how they're doing. And then two, regular check-ins. No pressure. This is our Friday meeting, Greg. So we're going to talk about a variety of things, including how are things going with your project,
GC: We're talking with Ramon Ray. You can find them at ramonray.com. He's a highly sought after public speaker. And obviously, the technology that we have now, Ramon, can be a huge advantage. We obviously saw that during the pandemic. And people can work from home. And so the fact that you can work anywhere, anytime, means that people can expect things of you anytime, anywhere. So how do managers and employers need to balance that as well? Because employees might like the ability to work from home. But if they're at their kid’s soccer game at 6:30 or seven o'clock, and all of a sudden they get a text, hey, can you work on this right now? But that might get a little old, too. So what's the best way to manage that?
RR: And that, Greg, is a powerful conundrum. Because I'm still hearing that happens. You know, I don't think that's a secret. Greg's my manager. He's in the office working late. He needs something done. He's gonna have to text me and reach out. So I think there's a balance, and a personal communication and corporate communication. That's going to have to be done. But I think going back to technology and tools, and etc, that's where I can put an indication. I am away, I am busy. I'm with family. My calendar shows I'm having personal time for these four hours. And I think everybody can respect that as much as they can. And then Greg, that's where…comes prioritization. Where you can feel free to say, hey, if it's a, you know, quote-unquote, nuclear issue, you're just gonna have to call me, and I'll have to deal with it. Because this is like life or death or impacts the business dramatically. But if it's something that really could have waited till later on, that somebody could have waited until tomorrow. Understand, I'm gonna respond to it then. And I think that goes back, Greg, bottom line, just to clear communication on both parties — the business, the manager, and that employer, that person who you're serving under.
GC: Just a couple of minutes left in our conversation here, Ramon. And I do want to focus for a little bit so folks know what you like to zero in on a lot. And that is the smart hustle and doing the self promotion that is necessary for success. And as you well know, and we talked about earlier with just interoffice communication, that doesn't come naturally to some people. So what's the key to getting over that to some extent and confidently promoting yourself and your business?
RR: Yeah, I think…and thank you for asking that question. Greg. I think a few things. I talked about this in my book, Celebrity CEO, and as you did rightly say, personal branding is an important thing of mine. And I think that…understand that you are going to be your best tool of self promotion. Number two, understand that if you don't promote yourself, if you aren’t your own best broadcaster, people won't know what you do. People won't know the accolades you have, and they won’t know to reach out to you. And I think three, Greg, the most important thing, all we're trying to do in this, is close the trust gap. The more Greg sees Ramon, the more he sees me in a good context and likes it, the more he's going to like me, know me, and trust me. As my friend John…talks about, and that's the bottom line. Building trust to have better relationships.
GC: And so you, of course, know what value you bring. And most business owners hopefully know what value they bring in. So they can, they can tailor that in a message. But each customer is going to have a different story, a different situation. So how do you present yourself without sounding like you're just hitting the play button, and the person who's listening to you actually thinks you understand where they're coming from?
RR: Sure two things I learned. One is from Seth Godin. Those who don't know him, [he’s] one of the biggest, best, well known marketers of all time. Other one was Marcus Lemonis, a TV celebrity and a billionaire. And blending their two bits of advice together is this. Seth says, people like us do things like this. So metaphorically, raise your hand, raise your voice, and tell people hey, we make burnt pancakes, and we love a lot of syrup on them. That's me, by the way, Greg. So people who like that, they'll flock to me. People who don't, they'll stay away. And then point two from Marcus Lemonis is the aspect of vulnerability. Tying in my vulnerability? My name was Ramon. As a child growing up, I was impoverished, and I didn't have a lot. And my childhood is really jacked up. That's why we make these swimming pool covers, because we want to save the lives of children…so that all those things didn't happen to me. But if you get what I'm trying to say, I told my story, I shouted it out. Then I got vulnerable and connected my story with how we can help. That's the perfect scenario. Now everybody who wants to work with me, and jives with me, now has that opportunity.
GC: Fantastic. And obviously, we've just scratched the surface here, but a lot of great insights in terms of keeping your best talent, attracting your best talent, and having that flexibility to keep your staff happy. And then, of course, selling yourself and selling your business to attract more customers, and making yourself kind of the thing that attracts people and makes them become your customers. So, Ramon, thank you very much for your time today. We greatly appreciate it.
RR: Greg, thanks for having me. All the best.
GC: Ramon Ray is the founder of four small businesses, including Smart Hustle Media. You can find him, again, at ramonray.com. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights. For more information on the subjects we've spoken about today, please call CT Corporation at 844-787-7782.