My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

Strangely, reality TV has fostered a golden era of business-focused television. Whether it’s Lori Greiner detailing why a product is “a hero or a zero,” Marcus Lemonis cutting through complicated shareholder agreements or Gordon Ramsay refocusing managers on the primacy of the guest experience, small business owners have opportunity for a free (and entertaining!) business education just by turning on the television.

1. Shark Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

This show is an obvious choice for my list, and I hope my entrepreneurial readers already watch it. ABC’s hit venture capital series offers useful advice to inventors, start-ups and small businesses.

2. Beyond the Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Shark Tank shows the exciting deal-making element of business, but Beyond the Tank delves into the day-to-day operational and marketing struggles of companies that made a deal with a shark. Watch this show to become inspired to implement!

3. The Profit

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
In this CNBC series, Marcus Lemonis takes over promising businesses that are failing due to operational issues, marketing failures or bickering owners. Not every business experiences success, which makes this show even more instructional.

4. Hotel Hell

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
We all know Gordon Ramsay’s “exploding chef” persona, but he’s also a stellar businessman. His perfectionism comes from a desire to deliver the absolute best guest experience. In Fox’s Hotel Hell, he guides struggling hotels/restaurants to profitability. It’s similar to his previous show Kitchen Nightmares (but with more mold infestations).

5. Nathan for You

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Reality business programming has become so popular, the genre has earned a parody show. In this Comedy Central spoof, Nathan Fielder brings terrible advice to unsuspecting small businesses. The opening credits reveal his qualifications in booming tones, “I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades.” Perhaps this show isn’t truly educational, but you are going to love it.

Small Business Marketing as Entertainment

Can witnessing the inner workings of small businesses be exciting? Anyone who operates a small business certainly knows it can be. Watching ABC’s Shark Tank is a fascinating study in small business marketing, business analysis, financing and negotiation. If you haven’t seen the show, here’s the premise:

“Budding entrepreneurs with big ideas can still make their dreams come true and ABC is about to give them the chance to make it happen. Each week a group of self-made millionaires [Sharks] from all corners of the business world take their own hard earned money and offer everyday people their one true shot at making their dreams a reality. Some will sink, some will swim and some will be eaten alive.”

The show’s investors (or “Sharks”) are start-up and entrepreneurial experts. Small business owners can learn a wealth of free knowledge from these investors.  In the final episode of Season 2, watch some interesting and instructive entrepreneurs as they wheel and deal with the sharks. There’s a custom jewelry artist trying to take his designs to the masses. Another woman has patents for a brilliant shoe design that lets women change the uppers while using the same sole– perfect for traveling.

In this clip, a woman makes the case to reposition her maternity clothing brand in face of a declining boutique women’s market. But, as the sharks adeptly conclude, this strategy will require as much investment as building a new brand from nothing (and in a still-persistent tough economy, no less):

From a marketing perspective, it’s interesting how many entrepreneurs benefit from the show just by making the pitch and explaining their innovative products to television audiences. These entrepreneurs might make a deal, or they might not, but the exposure does wonders for their marketing. It’s a good strategy, and I recommend it for charismatic entrepreneurs selling a great consumer product.

Having all those sharks devouring her desserts helped Daisy Cakes‘ founder Kim Daisy sell a lot of cake. And Rebecca Rescate of CitiKitty may not have overly impressed the sharks, but her great presentation certainly won over many cat lovers, causing shipping delays from the high order volume. Watch her presentation below:

I definitely recommend this show to small business owners. It’s rare that you get free advice that’s worth more than you pay for it.

Let’s get started!

Small Business Marketing for Startups

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me for advice on his startup company’s marketing. He just didn’t know how to get started with his first customer. He wanted to know what kinds of brochures, business card or website he needed to get people interested.

I told him, “Decide who you want your customers to be.”

He replied, “Oh, you mean middle class or upper class?”

“No, I mean decide which specific people in which neighborhoods should be your customers. Get to know them, how they talk and what their needs are. Then you can start selling. Then you will know what should be on your website.”

When people first start looking for customers, their instinct is to look for large groups of people and hope to convince a few of those people to hire them. The idea is, “If I aim for all middle class families, surely I’ll get a couple of customers.” But this instinct is wrong. The more people with whom you try to communicate, the less each one will pay attention to you. For example, I imagine you rarely pay attention to the loudspeaker at the grocery store. It’s just not that meaningful to you because the grocery store is trying to communicate a general message to the entire store. When you try to be meaningful to everyone, you end up being meaningful to no one. Generalization for the masses is the worst way to sell a new (or any) product.

To find its first customer, a startup needs to get specific. Instead of selling to groups differentiated by demographics, sell to individual people. Talk their language and address their needs.

On a related note, marketing expert Steve Yastrow wrote two very helpful newsletters on how to differentiate your customers as individuals instead of groups– Do Differentiation Differently and How to Do Differentiation Differently. Steve’s essential message is:

“Your customer doesn’t really care if you are different. But he will be blown away if he sees that you think he is different.”

Showing your customer you think he is different is more work than blanketing a city with flyers- but it will also yield more results. As counterintuitive as it may seem, startups (and all companies) will find more customers if they focus on fewer people.

A Tribute to Small Business Dads

Father’s Day is on Sunday, and as I reflected for today’s blog post, I realized my dad is the reason I am a successful small business owner today. My dad, Mike Kinslow, has been a small business owner since he was 22. My parents bought a car wash and soon after started a changeable letter sign operation. They opened a custom hot tub store during the infancy of the spa craze. Using his car washing expertise, my dad invented and patented a radical new idea for car washing – a glass car wash building named Lighthouse Carwash. He morphed the business from simply selling products to offering entrepreneurs an entire turnkey business model.

Why I love small business marketing

My dad taught me almost everything I know about small businesses, and he is why I love small business marketing. Over the years, I’ve learned that he is entrepreneurialism personified. Here are some of his traits that I find are common to most small business owners:

  • My dad has an incredible work ethic. Small business owners know that working hard is the answer to their success. However, one of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “Work smarter, not harder.” He would be the first to chastise anyone for laboring without first thinking about how it could be done more efficiently.
  • Before making decisions, my dad always considers how it will affect his family and employees. Family values and faith in God are of utmost importance to him, and his generosity knows no bounds. This kind of heart is prevalent with all small business owners. You don’t just want to make money. You want to do the right thing.
  • My dad has earned his living searching for ways to fix other people’s problems. Relentless pursuit of the next big idea gives him an adrenaline rush. Without this passion, small businesses could never thrive.
  • If the going got tough, my dad would just work harder. All experienced small business owners know there are lean times at some points in their entrepreneurial lives. The key is to never quit, work harder and keep up that relentless pursuit of the next big idea.
  • And, yes, my dad even has the tendency to micro-manage in order to ensure perfection. All of you small business owners out there know, deep down, that you have a micro-managing spirit. It’s the sense of pride and attention to detail that has allowed you to become successful in the first place. But be careful. Often it is better to delegate decisions that are outside your area of expertise.

So, I dedicate this Father’s Day post to my dad and small business dads everywhere. (Don’t fret, small business moms. You’ll have a turn next Mother’s Day)