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.

The Great Shrinking Business Model

As a business model, Redbox is on its way to completely replacing Blockbuster. And the company has accomplished this goal in a remarkably short time period. Examining the two business models reinforces the importance of creativity, flexibility and appealing to changing market demands in our own businesses.

Redbox wins this competitive fightLaunched in 2002, Redbox is the company placing movie and game rental kiosks in prominent places around the country (i.e., those ubiquitous red boxes). Blockbuster, of course, is the retail chain with a similar function founded in the 1980s and enjoying success through the early 2000s.

From Redbox’s about page, one learns there are 34,600 Redbox locations in the US, and 68% of the population lives within a 5-minute drive of one. Blockbuster, meanwhile, boasts of just 2,500 stores across the entire globe– down from 6,500 stores in 2010. Clearly, Redbox is on the ascendency.

I call this competition the great shrinking business model. For local movie and game rental, Redbox learned that a kiosk could take the place of an entire retail store. It was quite a revolutionary business decision to implement a strategy that relied entirely upon glorified vending machines.

But the model certainly makes business sense. In a convenience-driven market where almost all consumers own and use credit cards, renting a movie for about $1/day on the way home from the grocery store is easy to understand and simple to do. Selling through a kiosk also allows consumers to rent media 24-hours-a-day.

By taking advantage of evolving consumer behavior, Redbox benefits from a streamlined overhead– with fewer employees, drastically reduced leases and lower insurance rates than required to run a full-size retail store. These optimizations allow Redbox to offer the exact same product as Blockbuster more conveniently and for a cheaper price.

Blockbuster is the market loserSome might argue that the experience of interacting with a movie buff employee at a retail movie rental store makes the visit worthwhile. Perhaps, but it seems that the corporate nature of Blockbuster killed that experience along with the neighborhood video rental store  years ago. My last experience at a Blockbuster included an uninterested employee mumbling “hi” to me without even lifting his head out of box of movies he was sorting. Frankly, I feel the kiosk is more friendly.

By analyzing the business models, it comes as no surprise that Redbox is quickly eliminating the market need for Blockbuster. This rapidly shrinking business model should make you think about your industry– are you the clever innovator or the stodgy competitor about to be taken by surprise?

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.

Marketing Tips: Naming a Business

When you start a new business or develop a new brand, one of the most important early steps is naming it. A good name tells customers who you are, what you do, and what you can do for them.

If the business name is too generic (think American Business Group or Unified Solutions), customers won’t know what they can buy from you. A generic name means your marketing has to work harder to tell your story, both creatively and monetarily.

Alternately, a too-specific name can limit your future potential. Apple’s iTunes Store was painfully out of date with a business model that evolved to sell so much more than music. The company had to go through the expense and consumer education efforts of rebranding the service as the App Store. Apple still hasn’t solved the naming problem of iTunes, the application a consumer counterintuitively must use to sync the data on her iPhone.

To name a business or brand, the goal is to craft a name that is descriptive without limiting the future- and has good domain name possibilities. Some of my favorites include Fast Company, the magazine for innovative businesses; POM Wonderful, the delicious pomegranate juice, and Chik-fil-a, the chicken sandwich fast-food chain.

Or take the example of the business forclosure.com, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Very descriptive of the path the business took, don’t you think?

Marketing Podcast- Startup Marketing

After writing about marketing for startups a few weeks ago, I had some new ideas for the topic that I shared with the radio audience of “Getting Down to Business.” Host David Weatherholt and I gave marketing tips to small businesses who are short on marketing history – and short on cash. Our advice centered on easy ways to use connections to build your customer base and reputation.

The show was fun and educational, so I think you’ll enjoy it.

Marketing for Startups

Download the startup marketing MP3 file here. (4.7 MB)

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.