After two years of uncertainty, many business owners and entrepreneurs aren’t sure what to do next. In this edition of Expert Insights, entrepreneur, author and speaker, Ramon Ray, discusses a path forward. Ramon explains that getting closer to your customers throughout the year—not just for sales reasons—can deepen the relationship by adding value, which ultimately leads to more business. Ramon also discusses several actionable strategies for gaining new customers, tips for navigating inflation, why a great accountant can be your secret weapon, and best practices to make the most of your company’s social media presence. With Ramon’s advice, you’ll be ready to elevate your business in 2023.
BizFilings expert insights: How to elevate your business in 2023, with Ramon Ray
Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest in this edition of Expert Insights is entrepreneur, author and speaker Ramon Ray. You can find him at ramonray.com. Today, we want to discuss what is top of mind for many business owners heading into 2023, and perhaps some areas that should be top of mind but might be flying under the radar right now. And Ramon, thanks so much for being with us.
Ramon Ray: Hey, Greg, you're so welcome. And thanks for having me here. Really appreciate it. Always good to be here and share with business owners and other professionals as I can. But thank you, and I wish you and your family all the best for the coming year, indeed.
GC: Thank you. And then the same to you, of course. So, let's start with where you are focused heading into 2023, whether running your own business or consulting with others or what you're telling folks when you're out there speaking. What are you encouraging business owners to focus on in the new year?
RR: Sure, I think where I'm focused, and definitely where I encourage others to—and again, thanks for the question, Greg—as I think, you know, we are still at a time of two years of uncertainty. Well, we got into the certainty of uncertainty. That was what we were certain about, and not sure where things will go, right? The world is still in flux. It's not like it was five years or 10 years ago, there's a lot of iffy-ness or wondering where things will go. So I think the one thing if I can pick a few more as we go along here, Greg, but I think the one thing I would encourage people to do is to get closer to your customers, those who've already paid you. And as my friend John Jantsch says—I’ve got to give him a shout-out every time the book Duct Tape Marketing—as my friend says: know, like, and trust you. Get closer to those people. Greg's already bought it from me. Let me keep talking to Greg and say, how else can I serve you?
Then, too, those who are a bit warm and “in your funnel,” so those are the two things meaning follow up, follow up, follow up. I'm saying a lot, Greg, but it's all the same. Tip. Follow up, get closer to people, and find out how you can serve and help. Oh, great. You had a baby. Oh, great. I'm glad you bought a car! Be in their life as un-slimy and un-awkward as you can. Because they already trust you, Greg. And I think that's the main thing. The closer you close the trust gap the more hopefully—which we need to do, we're in business to sell.
GC: You have a phrase, and I might not get it exactly right, but it's basically date your prospects and marry your customers, right?
GC: And so for a lot of folks, it's, Oh, I’ve got to get more customers, I’ve got to get more customers. But your focus is on building deeper relationships with the ones you do have. And ultimately, hopefully, that leads to a bigger business relationship as well. You mentioned not doing it in a slimy way. And I've seen folks do it in a very natural way. I've seen folks do it in more of a slimy way. So, what's the key to showing that you're genuine and not just after their money?
RR: Here are a few things that we do. And again, we know at the end of the day, let's say in a business relationship, it is about money to some degree. We know that. But I think you can show it's about money by having some genuinity, if that's a real word or some authenticity to it. So here's a few things that I do, Greg.
So, I have several different segmented lists. That's another tip for people—I get this from Chet Holmes, Amanda Holmes, Holmes International, where they talk about having your dream 100. Now, Greg, they refer to this as far as core, hardcore sales as it were. But I also build my list not just with sales and customers, but people I want to work with. Having said that, so here's what I do two things: One, I send thank you cards, or Christmas cards, and holiday cards as you wish and many will do that. But that's one thing that does help.
Number two, throughout the year, I'm not asking for a sale. I’m not asking for you to hire me. But I'm giving a tip or an update about Ramon. So for example, Greg, there’s a billion-dollar client of mine, I don't get all their money, but I get a small little bit of their money throughout the year, billion-dollar client of mine, Greg, and I just do things in a specialist that goes personalized to them that I just say, Hey, this is Ramon, here's what I'm working on. What things are you working on? I just wanted to keep in touch. Done. I don't have a specific ask. I'm not asking for him to pick up the phone and hire me right now, but I know that when they're thinking of doing something big, right, a big event, hiring a speaker, I'm going to be top of mind.
GC: And so what do you recommend are the best ways to perhaps freshen up that approach? As you enter a new year? Is there any particular approach or strategy? You mentioned kind of the casual “hey, just checking in with you,” not a specific ask. But in terms of really putting this front of mind in the new year, how do you set that up?
RR: Here's what I would do. You know, people love trends, Greg. So I think besides sending a nice Christmas gift, or a cutting board or holiday card, whatever you want a cheese platter, do all that. But what about sending something useful? For example, I'm in the New York area. So I was looking through the New York Times today, looking through Wall Street Journal today, looking through whatever the media may be. Your media, right, Greg? And they said this, I thought this would be useful for you. So, I'm sending it to you. I hope this helps you because 2023 is coming. So is that kind of helpful. Greg? That thing of that, It's not asking for anything, but I'm of service to Greg. Greg needs to know he bought a lawn mower from me. You know what, let me send Greg 20 ways to keep your lawn clean in the winter. Greg’s going to want that. Not asking him to buy something from me. I'm serving him and offering him value. He's going to keep my name in mind. Now when the gutters are dirty, when he needs his windows washed, or he needs his shrubs hedged, at least I was just in his brain. And if you do that throughout the year, not making an ask, you'll get a tighter closer to your customers. How was that, Greg?
GC: That sounds good. Thank you for the lawn advice. So other parts may involve a more widespread strategy. One is the personal one-on-one, one is checking in via email, and then you do obviously want new customers as well and there are a number of strategies to do that. One that folks may be well along the path on others may be just tinkering with it. And that's social media. You're pretty active on social media yourself. So, what's your advice in terms of marketing and outreach to start a social media presence? And then if you've been at it for a while, how to grow it?
RR: Sure. I think two books I'll reference here and these are not mine, but one is They Asked You Answer, by my friend Marcus Sheridan, and one is by Seth Godin called This is Marketing. Great books on not social media, but marketing. And I think what I would say with that, Greg, you know, again, in the short time we have is: answer all the questions your customers have. Going back to my lawn example, it's not about saying buy a lawn mower from me or buy from me, which it can, it's about, hey, grass is growing. Here are three ways you should not cut your grass, Greg. People who have lawns, you will scare the heck out of them with a post like that. And they will read it, you know, seven ways to clean your gutter that your mama never told you. Things like that are serving your customer and I have—you know, I reference some books, but people could just DM me on Instagram, my Instagram, Greg is @RamonRaySmartHustle. If you just DM me something like best books, I will send you that list of some of my top books for business owners. But that's the kind of thing, Greg, I say that adds value. So social media, the way to do that is serving, serving, serving, and being that source of solution to people's needs, either through fear or through positivity. Take your pick.
GC: We're talking with Ramon Ray, he is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. You can find them at ramonray.com. And so Ramon, let's move a little bit away from sales and marketing for the last couple of minutes of our conversation here. What other topics are you hearing about a lot when you're with your clients or on the road and hearing from different folks you're speaking with?
RR: Yeah, I was just on the call with a famous email marketer that we all know the name of, and they were talking about the word experience. This is kind of still in that sales and marketing, but still, I think experience like Maya Angelou said, how do you make people feel, Greg? Even in this engagement here, right, our email, “Hey, Ramon, how are you?” before we got on. It wasn't a long-term thing. But Greg made me feel good. So how are you making people feel? I think that's one thing. And Greg to get really far away from it, talk to your family. Talk to your family, Greg, whether you have small, tiny kids that are two or three, whether they're teenagers, 16, or whether they're full-fledged adults, like mine, approaching 28, 24, 30, etc. Be in touch with them, and let them know what's going on. And I think if you do that you will have, as we like to talk about at Zone of Genius, a well-rounded, I think the phrase we use is “live life fulfilled.” The balance of family, and the balance of business. That's what we're seeking to do for the coming year.
GC: Let's talk about a few concerns now. One, of course, is inflation. You've got to pay more for the products, you might be wrestling with just how much to raise prices if you need to. How do you navigate that? And just perhaps an uncertain economy right now the supply chain issues seem to be getting better, but not totally resolved yet. So, some of those things that are beyond your control—how do you deal with them?
RR: See where you can cut. Go back to your profit and loss statement. Look through that monthly statement. Those recurring charges. What should you cut? That's number one. Number two, how can you increase profitability? Even if you can't increase revenue, what can you do in your business to squeeze more profit out of what you have? I think those two things are important. And then three, communicate with your vendors with the people who you're working with to power your business. Call your credit card company, call that CRM company and see how they can work with you in that mix. But get more profitability and see what you can cut. Because yes, we're not sure exactly how times will be. But there's still hope because Greg and Ramon are talking.
GC: You said to communicate with your vendors, and communicate with your credit cards. What do you want to say? What do you have to take care of?
RR: For example, let's say you're paying $49 a month or $400 a month for some software, some app or etc. They're scared too, Greg. So you call up whatever famous app software company that many of us use or don't use, and say, “Listen, I've been paying $400 a month for the last four years. I need your software, but it's kind of tight. Can you cut me a break and bring me down to X?” I bet they'd work with you. That's one example. And then credit card companies. Maybe you need a larger cash flow on it or a larger balance or a better interest rate. Call them and say, “Listen, I've been paying 21% or whatever to you for the last 20 years. You're going to have to come down on that,” and see what they say.
GC: Let's talk about another challenge these days and that It's maintaining a consistent and happy workforce. We've heard the term quiet quitting a lot over the past couple of years. Hopefully, it's stabilizing. But it seems like there are still a lot of folks who are yet to reengage with the labor market since the pandemic, and what are the keys to keeping your staff engaged and excited to be there?
RR: I think it's a great question. I think that for large, large companies that are more people in a cog, as it were, that's different. But talking to my brothers and sisters, who are entrepreneurs, the business owners, etc. I said this word before, Greg, but I think it's applicable here. If I'm in communication with my staff, if I'm asking, “Are you fulfilled? Are you happy? Do you like what you're doing?” how can I as the leader serve you better, so you can serve our customers? You'll know ahead of time, that person who's like, you know what, I'm no longer into what we're doing. I really want to do something else. Great. And you at least know ahead of time. Or they'll be like, Greg, or remote, I'm happy. Here's a few things we can do better.
So my point being is that if you're not talking to your staff, or your managers aren't talking to staff, that's where things get very jacked up. And that's where things often don't work out because you're not sure what's happening. And then all of a sudden, Becky says, “Oh, I gave you two weeks' notice,” you're like, yeah, thanks. But I wish you to give me six months' notice, or I wish I could have kept you if we would have communicated.
GC: Just a couple of minutes left with Ramon Ray, entrepreneur, author and speaker. You can find him at ramonay.com. And, Ramon, things tend to change from year to year in terms of regulations, new laws sometimes affecting taxes or what you can maybe right off and that sort of thing. There's also technological advances that could be changing the playing field, even regardless of what business you're in. Anything on those fronts that you're particularly interested in, heading into the new year?
RR: Absolutely. For me, so as you can get a sense, Greg, my strong areas are sales and marketing and small business growth. But I must say, having a great accountant, a great bookkeeper, and even I would say a small business CFO—doesn't have to be big someone you're paying half a million dollars a year—but somebody to be all up in your business, you know, all up in your business, even though I'm not from the south, but to emphasize the point, who can help you with the money side, Greg. Because for small businesses, or even larger businesses, that's not their comfort zone. But get somebody who knows the money and could have a quarterly, a monthly, a weekly call with you, Greg.
GC: And Ramon, last question. Now, we've talked a lot about what existing business owners are thinking, what they're looking forward to, what they might be dreading headed again to 2023. And then there's also the folks who are thinking is this the year? Is this the year we make the plunge? Is this the year we start the business? And it could be something small. You've spent a lot of time working on solo entrepreneurs. You've got a whole set of resources entitled Grow Your Solo. And so, there's great opportunity in starting a business. There's also a lot of responsibility. So, as you look at the atmosphere right now, is it a good time to take the plunge?
RR: Yes, it's a good time to take the plunge. Especially if you're ready. Do you have some cash on hand? Do you have a backup plan? Some people don't like this. But if you have a family, you need to have a backup plan—something like this. If you have a full-time job, can you grow your side hustle? But yes, there's so many tools and resources for low cost or free, Greg, that can help you start. There's so many free services score, give them props, score.org, free counseling for small business owners and more. So my point is Greg, yes. Now's the time. And thanks for mentioning that resource, Greg. Again, people can DM me on Instagram. Instagram’s @RamonRaySmartHustle, the word “solo,” happy to send information about that. But thanks for the question, Greg.
GC: One of the reasons people, of course. don't make the plunge is that they fear that they're going to fail, and you come at them with the also reassuring line of you're going to fail. It's a matter of what you learn from it. So for folks thinking, you know, this is going to be a huge risk if I leave my full-time job, what is my backup plan? Am I going to be okay, financially, if this doesn't work out? Is my insurance situation going to be okay if I'm a solo entrepreneur? And that sort of thing. So, a lot of concerns, but the dream is still alive. So, what advice do you have on that front?
RR: That's right, Greg. And I think part of its mindset. Yes, Jordan may lose the game, for sure. But if you build the plan as best as you can: is there an addressable market of customers? Do they have a problem that you can solve? Do you have your marketing dialed in? Do you have a runway for cash flow? Do you have all these things in place? Doesn’t have to be perfect. Don't let perfect stop you. But you have a better chance of doing it than the person who has not done it. That's what I say, Greg. So yes, go for it. Go for it. And you can call Greg and Ramon if it doesn't work out. And maybe you can sleep on Greg's couch, probably not mine.
GC: Or you can call Ramon. He's the one who told you what to do there. Ramon, always good to have you with us. Love your infectious enthusiasm and your good insights on how to really connect with your customers and how to keep your head in the game in terms of all the things that are required to keep your business not only alive but thriving. And so, we wish the best for you and for all of our listeners and their businesses in 2023. Thanks for your time today.
RR: Thank you, Greg. Appreciate you.
GC: Ramon Ray is an entrepreneur, author and speaker you can find him at ramonray.com That's ramonray.com I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights. For more information on these topics please visit BizFilings.