Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ken Schmidt, Owner of Ken Schmidt Co, Inc., located in Potomac, MD, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am a speaker, consultant, and author ("Make Some Noise: The Unconventional Road to Dominance"). Customers include the top name brands in the world, along with hundreds of up-and-coming businesses of all sizes in virtually all industries.
Tell us about yourself
I am a former head of communication at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Being part of the team that drove the company's high-profile turnaround back in the 1980s and 90s -- using unconventional market approaches -- opened doors for me around the world. The bottom line for me is that while businesses today are very good at doing whatever they do, they simply do not know how to compete. Marketing and selling aren't competing - they're simply going to market. To dominate a market requires a top-to-bottom transformation in how a business presents itself to its public and a top-to-bottom culture that's aligned not to do business the way competitors do. I love seeing CEOs and business owners buying into entirely new ways of thinking about their roles and discovering the incredible influence they have in shaping their business cultures.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Being demanded. Business leaders tend to be social creatures
they all tend to know each other and take advice from each other. When I serve a business and delight leaders in ways they don't expect from outsiders, they recommend me to others. And thus, my phone rings.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Actually, there are two. The first is saying "no." It's everyone's dream to be able to do that, but I really hate when I have to turn a potential client down because I don't have time or because of conflicts of interest. The second hardest is self-promotion, which sounds weird coming from me. I never carve out time to update my website, prepare new marketing materials and participate in socials because I'm either too busy or prefer to focus on more pleasurable pursuits. I'd much rather take a long ride on one of my motorcycles than update my website. My bad!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Realize -- immediately -- that whatever you're doing or selling is a commodity. There's nothing unique in the world. You'll be competing against others who are very good at doing what you do. I always tell clients, "There's nothing you can sell me that I can't get from somebody else for less money. Now...what is it you want me to remember about you and tell others?"
- Decide that no part of your business -- from the way you present yourself, to the language you use, to the way you approach and treat people -- will in any way, shape, or form seem familiar to the people you serve or hope to serve. Meaning that everything you do has to be noticeably, meaningfully, and memorably different. Otherwise, you'll be confused with your competitors, and that's a formula for frustration.
- Never partner with people who aren't the very best available. Pay for the best vendors you can afford because, in the end, it costs as much to hire crap (because you'll end up having to re-do everything) as it does to hire A-listers. There's a reason weak people don't charge much for their services and a reason the best do. Trust me on that.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Before any interaction with a customer or prospect, in-person or via any marketing channel, think R&R: What is it I want this person to Remember about my business, and what is it I want them to Repeat to others. If customers don't talk about your business and refer you to others, it's because you're not giving them anything worth remembering and talking about. That's why it pays to never say or do what's expected. And focus on being "human." We do business with people we like. If customers in your market space don't like you better than competitors, they'll buy on price. Just like you do.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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