121: Alec Stern & Small Business Advice – Starting Up, Surviving & Thriving  


Starting up and maintaining a successful business is no easy feat. There are only mountains to climb and so much heavy lifting to attend to. That is why it always helps to have someone who can walk you through it, guide you, and help you move along. In this episode, Michele Swinick interviews America’s Startup Success Expert and the Co-Founder of Constant Contact, Alec Stern, to share some advice for small businesses on starting up, surviving, and, more importantly, thriving.  Starting is one thing, but how to keep the engine running while becoming better at it is another. He provides numerous invaluable marketing strategies, including how to: Stay in front of your followers so you’re always their first choice, Navigate through this current pandemic, Tools every business can’t live without, How to begin a conversation with a prospect and much more.  His insights are so motivational and inspirational that you’ll want to listen to this episode more than once.  Plus, Alec shares with us his own journey to becoming who he is now and why looking Big and acting Big will make you Big!

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Alec Stern & Small Business Advice – Starting Up, Surviving & Thriving  

I am very excited about our guest because when I first watched his presentation at a virtual summit in May, I not only loved his message, but he also has a great personality. When I realized who he was, I said, “That’s the total package.” My special guest is America’s Startup Success Expert, Alec Stern. Our topic, Alec Stern and Small Business Advice: Starting Up, Surviving and Thriving. Alec is an entrepreneur, speaker, mentor and investor. He has become known as America’s Startup Success Expert for performing hundreds of keynote speeches worldwide. Also, for his popular sessions at top conferences like Secret Knock, CEO Space International, City Summit, Powerteam International and Habitude Warrior. He’s been a Co-Founder or Founding member of eight startups with 5 exits, 2 IPOs and 3 acquisitions.

As a primary member of Constant Contact’s founding team, Alex was one of the original three who started the company in an attic. He was with the company for 18 years from startup, to IPO to a $1.1 Billion acquisition. In 2019, Alec was selected to the Influence 100 Authority List by Influence Magazine and featured on the cover with a very handsome photo. For 2020, he’s already won two Visionary Awards at top conferences for his success as an entrepreneur and his work helping startups and entrepreneurs. What you might not know is that he’s also an accomplished drummer and has had the honor of sitting in with a number of musicians including Toby Keith’s house band in Las Vegas. Alec Stern, how are you? Thank you for coming on the show.

Michele, thank you so much for having me.

Let’s talk a little bit about Constant Contact since their products are something everyone can relate to and need. I used it the other day to send an email to my database and didn’t realize how long it was since I had sent something out. I know you’re going to say it’s bad business, bad marketing and bad follow up on my part, considering how important it is to be in contact, especially now. A lot of other people may not realize how long it’s been since they’ve outreached or done something that should be consistent.  Where did the whole Constant Contact concept come from and then you can reprimand me on my bad marketing tactics.

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You’ve got to stay in touch with your customers but also your list. If you wait people, you’re not top of mind. People are like, “Why am I getting this? All of a sudden, I’m getting this?” You don’t want them to unsubscribe for the wrong reasons, simply because you haven’t been in touch. It’s important to get into some rhythm and you decide that rhythm. No one’s saying do it daily or weekly, monthly. You could do it quarterly or every 6 or 8 weeks. Whatever works for you, establish that calendar and stick to it. There’s so much value in staying top of mind and sharing things with your followers.

They’re not going to always come and find you to learn stuff. You’ve got to present them with things. I’m not one to reprimand but now that you’ve started it, just keep it up. It’s important to be top of mind and share it with others. You’ll increase engagement and also possibly even some additional followers from that. Let’s switch hats to talk about Constant Contact. I have been involved with eight startups with five exits. Constant Contact is the one that most people know by name because either they have used it or know someone that’s used it or receive messages or seen commercials.

The name has become almost a business hold or household name, which is exciting. Back at the end of ‘97, beginning of ‘98, there were three of us in an attic. It was Randy, Margaret and myself. The original founder, Randy, has an idea. Margaret is the software architect and I was on the business side. Back then there were more things we didn’t have than we did, and this is not unlike any other startup. We didn’t have a finished product, business plan or an executive summary. We had a PowerPoint. We didn’t have revenue, an investment, employees, customers, success stories, etc. What we did have was a passion to help small businesses.

I would go out and talk to small businesses in the earlier days and understand what is it that they’re looking for in terms of a goal, a vision, something that they have more of or something that they don’t have and they wish they did. Hearing things like, “I’d love to be top of mind with my customers. I would love to get them to come back in. I would love more revenue. It would be great to get new people to come in, new prospects coming into the business, whether it’s a product or a service.”

Hearing all of those things and working on solving a problem or creating an opportunity for small business. Focusing on saving them money, saving them time or increasing revenue. Those are some examples of things that we tend to want to try to help our target market with. When we would hear what they were looking for and if we said, “We could provide you an easy to use self-service tool that all you had to worry about was who you wanted to send something to, when you wanted to send it and what you wanted to say when you sent it. Not worry about anything technical but have great looking email marketing messages that would level the playing field for you against your big competitors like Amazon and others who are doing that well. Would that be of interest to you?” They would get wide-eyed and say, “Yes.”

We knew we were onto something when we were starting to formalize what would be this thing called email marketing. That was a new concept and we certainly heard from people that people have an inbox. They’re sending an email now. Why would they need to use something else instead? We all know the reasons in terms of the value of setting a great looking email that got into the readable format into the inbox and then all the tracking and reporting to follow. In the earlier days, we knew we were onto something because the target market told us that we would help them in several ways.

If you wait for people, you won’t be top of mind. @AlecStern Click To Tweet

Look where it is now. If people are not using Constant Contact, it’s some similar service, which yours is much better quality when it comes to how the appearance is. It’s vital to every business. I want to jump right into what’s going on now with the current business environment. This was an interesting fact. I had gotten an email, the marketing emails that come from Constant Contact and they said that 98% of businesses rely on referrals to grow their client base, but only 3% have a referral plan.

Email marketing is the most effective tool for awareness, acquisition, conversion and retention, and 98.4% of consumers check their email daily, the other 1.6% forgot their passwords. Comparing it to social media, knowing that algorithms and other methods limit exposure, you might have a huge database of people that are your friends or your contacts, but only a very small portion ever see some of the posts. It’s critical to have that email campaign, knowing that people open them. You can get in front of them, be consistent with communication and connection. It’s a key marketing strategy which people need to implement regularly.  If they don’t, they should start now. Let’s jump into this economic situation. Considering what’s going on with this pandemic, what are you experiencing with the small businesses you work with and some advice on what companies and individuals should be doing?

I have spent a fair amount of time with startups and small businesses. Even more so than I did prior to these market conditions that we’re living with. They have been broadened unfortunately with what’s happening with social justice and everything else included. The small businesses and startups, we can use this as a stock that freezes and wait and see. Some people would say, “I’ve got to think outside the box.” The bottom line is that the box we used to live with is gone. There’s no in or out of that box anymore.

What will happen when we come out of all of this? We don’t know what it is. Is it a cylinder? It is something else. It’s going to be different. We have to think about our business at hand and what we do day-to-day. The best thing for the business is that you’re not on the hamster wheel of your day-to-day that you were before where you had so much going on. Your mind was full of operations and managing all aspects of the business.

Some use the phrase, “It’s time to work on your business, not in your business.” You’re using this time stepping back and looking at it strategically. It’s key. I’d asked some of the small businesses, if you stayed on the path that you were on before and nothing changed, these marketing conditions didn’t exist, did you see that path as your path to the success you want to achieve? Not what the industry or what others think, but what did you think in terms of success? What does success look like? Were you on that path to the success, that vision, or the goal that you set for some number of years from now?

Many thought that they were plateaued, that they hadn’t gotten the formula down to grow as they would like to grow. Some of them are very comfortable with the business. They were comfortable with the level they were at, provided well for their family and has a nice family-run business. Others had goals and objectives that path may not get them there anyway. You overlay in these market conditions so now things have come to a halt in some cases or stalled in some other cases.

When you’re thinking about this strategically, you might be looking at something adjacent to what you’re doing now where there might be a bigger opportunity. It is your time to go look at things. I’m not a fan of the word ‘pivot.’ It assumes I’m going to drop everything and move somewhere else. If I’m on a highway, I’m switching highways. I don’t believe that’s the answer. It could be a slight adjustment from the lane of the highway you’re on to the next lane or both lanes on either side of the lane you’re in, to where you might find some other opportunities and so forth.

When thinking about the business and strategizing, I’ll give you a couple of examples if you’d like. The first one is a gallery. There are several gallery owners and they were certainly Constant Contact customers. I knew them before, during, and afterward when the company sold. They’re still active with that. I knew them as gallery owners, first and foremost. I would ask them, “Where’s all the art and what are you doing?” They said, “It’s all locked up in our shop,” or “We put it into storage,” or “We did something and we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do next.”

I’m like, “Why don’t you pick an artist, take several pieces of that art, bring it home and do a Zoom or some curate a virtual art show? Invite your customers and encourage them to do watch parties, invite their friends and colleagues. Show the art, feature the art and have the artists come on as a guest on the Zoom. Have the artists talk about their background and what got them into painting and this and the other, and start talking about the pieces of work and what was the motivation behind that painting or sculpture, whatever it may be and start showing that.”

In one case, somebody did something similar. Somebody had a watch party and one of their friends who’s watching this contacted the gallery and bought a piece. They’re moving at virtual to the experience virtual. Virtual is not going anywhere. Let’s be clear. This is going to stay around. We’re all used to this now. It’s going to stay in the mix. Anyone who has a brick and mortar or business can still supplement in a virtual experience for those that can’t show up to the restaurant. Maybe a tourist came into town and went to the restaurant and loved it. They’re not coming back until they show up in Boston again, but there could be virtual experiences with a chef in the restaurant that they could be experiencing while they’re not coming, for example, to Boston to eat in that exact restaurant.

EH 121 | Small Business Advice
Small Business Advice: It’s important to be top of mind, stay active, and engage with your customers, especially now more than ever.

There are some creative things that the chef can do, where it could be a cook at home with Chef Alec or here’s your shopping list, go buy these ingredients. We’re going to make it a family experience. Here’s the prep you do before we go live on the Zoom. You see on TV, they’ve got a little bowl of cut this, that and the other, and then they assembled the meal together. They have some fun with the chef. The family has a great experience. They’re enjoying a meal that was mastered and curated by that chef that they loved when they ate in the restaurant.

It will give these businesses a chance to expand their audience. Going virtual like the perfect example, the gallery. You don’t live in the city where the gallery is. You’re probably never going to go there. It’s something that you get a chance to look, get a feel and get exposed to art. You might be buying something and never have to go into the store. I see a lot of pros to this virtual world, even though we were forced into it. When you look at it from an added value of using both, because you still want human interaction when it gets to the point where we can be doing that on a regular basis. It’s only going to be more beneficial for the companies and the businesses that want to creatively use it as you mentioned the chefs. That’s a brilliant idea.

There are many things that could be done to your point about expanding their reach, expanding their sphere of influence. Their customers are expanding out to more potential people, which will drive experiences. We’re all connectors in one way or another. If we have a good experience, we share it. “I bought the most incredible piece of art. The gallery owner was the nicest person I’ve met. They were so helpful and I love it.” Either they take a picture of it and throw it up on social or friends come to their house and see it. Other than that, they’re not going to have a lot of exposure to that and a reason to expose it.

Imagine if they’re invited to this curated art show on Zoom on Thursday at 8:00 PM. They get an email marketing message about it. They go and forward that on to all their friends or push it out on social to say, “Any art lovers, check it out.” When they go live, they can do a watch party with all their friends. With a push of the buttons, this sphere of influence grows exponentially quickly. To a point, you raised with the email you received from Constant Contact, the most personal conversations you can have are through email because it sits in your inbox. It doesn’t go anywhere. You can go back and revisit it and look at it. You can read it at your leisure and you can take action with it.

The most personal conversations you have are through email. @AlecStern Click To Tweet

The social conversations are a stream of conversation where if you’re not checking it regularly, things stream on by and new things replace it. Unless you’re going to go back a day or two, you might never see it. To your other point, with some of the algorithms, only a fraction of the people or your friends and your followers see things anyway. One, it’s limited to seeing it through the algorithms. Two, it’s limited because they may not be on social at that time. You’ve got an opportunity to increase your engagement through email marketing. All of these are marketing touches. It’s important to know that with one touch, you might get 1 or 2 response rates.

You might send an email. You might do a social post. You’re going to get a small number of people engaging. Over time, if you were increasing that to say seven touches in a variety of different ways, you increase the engagement by up to 50%. It’s important to think about as a business, am I having enough marketing touches to be top of mind for people to make those decisions? The 1 or 2 that get the first message, “I have to plan dinner for the upcoming birthday,” or what have you. They’ll take action. The rest will be like, “It’s top of mind.” They may take action right away or they may forget it. You want to be in front of them when they’re ready to take action to do something, whether it’s booking something or going back into something when we can like the gallery or what have you.

It’s important to be top of mind, stay active and engaged with your customers especially now more than ever. The last point I make, we spent a lot of time looking for our net new prospect. How do we expand our business and get new prospects into the fold to buy our products and services? Your best prospect is your current customer. The referral engine that they provide and the trusted resources telling someone else. That’s where a lot of your next customers will come from. It’s important to not ignore them and assume, “They’re good. I’m already working with them. They’re my customer. I don’t have to do much there. Let me go find new.” They are your best prospects for new customers.

Take advantage of staying in touch with them and engage with them especially now more than ever. The minute all of this opens back up and they’re going to come running back in or if you give them the opportunity, they may take advantage of anything you’re doing virtually or what you’re offering. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s key to stay engaged with your customers when I talked to many who are not doing anything. They’re waiting until they can go back to opening up the shop and people will start coming back in. Give them a reason to come back in or engage with them so that you’re top of mind for them to want to come back in.

That’s a great tip and a reminder especially since a lot of people you’ve talked to aren’t doing anything. If your competition isn’t doing much and people are waiting, but yet you’ve got bodies looking for either some information or entertainment or something different. I can tell you, every television show that should be airing new episodes is on pause for some excuse…whatever. The rest of them, we’re in the summer season, so you’re in reruns. There’s nothing there for people to be distracted by. Even if there’s something entertaining that you can provide, people are going to gravitate toward it.

If you’ve got existing clients, the resources are there. It’s a phenomenal reminder to go after the existing customers. You don’t even have to sell them anything. You could provide them something that has nothing even to do necessarily with your business, but something that they might benefit from even on a personal basis. At least you’re offering value and not necessarily selling. As you said, when they’re ready, they’ll come running towards you.

There's so much value in staying top of mind and sharing things with your followers. @AlecStern Click To Tweet

There’s a kitchen art store and they’ve got some knives, pots, pans and all kinds of things. They start to do videos showing people how to use the knives that they bought or the knives you’ve sharpened for them. You have this customer base of people that are bringing their knives in for you to sharpen or bought from you. You can start doing videos where you’re showing them how to creatively cut fruit for a glass or something that you’re going to display on a food tray or for a meal. I would kill to learn how to cut like fruits so it looks like a bird or whatever and be able to have it on the corners of a plate when you’re serving food to family or whatever it may be.

You can be creative and engaging with your current customers with some tie in to the business or to your point where it’s something that’s interesting and something that they might get a kick out of. We’ll stick to the restaurant for a moment. These chefs are all home. They all have gardens or they work with gardens for all of their basil and this, that and the other. They might be given tips on starting your garden or everyone’s sitting around the house, what else can we do?

Let’s carve out a plot of land in the back and create a garden and so forth. There are different things you can do. I want to make a comment if someone’s starting a business, we’ll say that you’ve got to get out and talk to your target market early and often. While people are home, if your target market is a small business, they’re all home now. Getting out and speaking to somebody through your network, probably someone would tell, “I know a couple of small businesses.” It’s best you go to people you don’t know for honest feedback. This is the time to say, “I’d love to talk about what your focus is and share with you an idea about how to maybe help your business going forward. Do you have fifteen minutes?”

You could be sharing a new idea and get their feedback. Similarly, if startups want to be talking to potential mentors, they want to talk to advisors or possible large customers or business partners or strategic partnerships, whatever it may be. This is the time where people have a little extra time where you could capture some time with them to have that conversation versus when everyone’s in the day-to-day grind. It’s a little harder to get their attention. Take advantage of this time to be promoting your new product offering or the enhancement to whatever you’re doing. If you’re existing small business, you want to maybe bring a new line into what you’re offering or a new service you’re going to provide. Go get feedback. Before you’re jumping in and going at it without that feedback, this is the time to get it.

You could reach out through many avenues on social media. You could even communicate with people that you don’t have in your database. I’m glad that you brought up starting up a business. How many times so far have you heard people say, “Crisis equals opportunities?” A lot of small businesses are going out of business. I heard statistics of 33%, which sounds like a lot. Now, it’s not as much competition. As you mentioned, if you’re out there being creative and innovative, and you have that persistence, you can do the startup. Maybe you don’t necessarily have the capital to do that.

If you’ve got a brand-new idea, you want to talk to some people to find out, talk to that target audience and get their feedback. After you’ve done that, what are some of the next steps you can do now so you are selling or servicing in this type of environment? If you do have that new concept or you decided to start whatever business it is, give us some additional tips on what we can do in order to get it to the next stage. There are a lot of challenges with not being in person. What if it’s a service that you have to be in front of somebody to perform the service? Your hands are tied in some of these situations.

When I would speak at conferences, I’ll ask for a show of hands, “How many of you think you’re an innovator?” About 10% of the people raise their hands. I’ll ask, “How many of you on any given day, week, month experience a product or service and say, ‘That could have been done better,’ or ‘If that product had this feature, it would be much more useful?’ How many of you have those ideas?” Every hand goes up. The only difference is that if you have an idea and you do something with that idea, you noodle on it, you share it with others. Someone says, “I love that. I’d love to work on that with you as well.” If you take it forward in any way, you’re an innovator.

We’re all innovators in our own right. We just take those ideas and let them go. Now more than ever is the time for somebody to take an idea and start to noodle on it, give it some additional thought, maybe engage others, and also get feedback on the idea. Whoever your ultimate target market is though, get feedback and see if it’s something that would be useful or wanted and so on. If it’s a product or service, you can get feedback. You can set something up for phone calls and virtual. Start to advance the idea and potentially be geared up when the time is right, when we’re going to come out of all of this to go full bore on the idea.

Don’t sit and wait on it and say, “Let me wait until I can go see people in person.” There’s a lot that can be done now for you to vet the idea, get feedback, iterate, go back and forth. You’ll find some people that are interested and say, “When you work on it a bit more, bring it back. I love to see how it’s progressing.” If you’re in your target market, don’t go to family, don’t go to friends, don’t go to people you’ve done business with before, you go to total strangers so you’ll get brutal and honest feedback. You could find it within your network. As you had mentioned, go on the social and you can ping people that are in your target market or through your network of friends. Go and find those people. You can start to get out there early.

One of the first things you’ve got to do is get out, understand their goals and their objectives, what they want more of, or what they don’t have and that they feel they need. Figure out, where you’re fitting into the mix to help advance their business in one way or another. Whether you’re saving money, saving time, increasing revenue, maybe increasing their clarity and mindset to go forward or what have you. It’s important out of the gate to go and test those things. If you’re an existing business, you could be doing the same testing, new ideas or new features or new offering or whatever that may be. That’s first and foremost and critical.

EH 121 | Small Business Advice
Small Business Advice: What are you doing to set yourself apart, to look professional, to look bigger than you are? It’s all perception at the beginning.

In your conversations with business owners, have you found that a lot of them are saying they’re pulling back on budgets when it comes to either marketing or putting into inventory or looking at buying a new service from somebody? Is that an obstacle that you’re finding that everybody is being tight with the purse strings? Regardless of the product, they’re hesitant about moving forward or is that maybe in certain industries, like a restaurant is saying, “We’ve got to watch our P’s and Q’s because everything is tight right now?”

It’s a valid point. What I’m driving at is that take an idea, get out there, you can get feedback. It’s not costing them anything. You can have a conversation about where you fit in the mix and helping them. If you’re going to help them drive revenue or lower costs or save them time or do some of those things, they’ll find a way to pay for you. You have to figure out where you’re fitting in. If you’re going to be an extension to a product line of something they’re offering, and they see the value and you’re selling them on the value of this and that. This could be a new front door for people to come back into that retail shop, for example. It could be an exciting new line that if you started to carry that, it will attract new people into the door and your current customers are going to love the expansion and maybe buy new things.

Whatever you’ve already been selling them, they have enough of, here’s some new thing that might be exciting or are a little bit of a twist to what you offer before, whatever it may be. The bottom line is that there will be issues because with the reopening of physical stores or the re-engagement of services that people are offering, there are going to be some challenges. There are going to be types of businesses that may not make it through this. It is very sad to see the high percentage of people that won’t be able to make it through because they were carrying cost of what they had to absorb throughout this. It may not sustain to where they can come back out of it.

Some of the PPP funds and other things that they got didn’t cover enough. There are a lot of issues that people will face. I feel strongly that capitalizes on the opportunity of virtual. It doesn’t cost you anything to get someone up on Zooms and talk about your products and your services, or get a customer on the line and deliver services that are remote. If it’s something that has to physically be done in person with a customer, that’s a bit more challenging to do remotely. You’ve got to find ways to get out in front of them and make sure you’re top of mind. You’re in the mix for when they can take advantage of your services, you can then offer it to them.

On a personal side for you, you’re on big stages. You’re doing a lot of keynote addresses, a lot of different conferences. Since those are on hold, are you doing any virtual events where people can get this information on a regular basis or is that once a month? I’m sure you’re doing some performance.

Roughly 40% to 50% of my time, I’m traveling the US and in some cases around the world for speaking on national stages. That came to a complete halt. I was doing a few interviews and some podcasts and things prior. It has amped up to probably on average, 10 to 15 times a week, I’m doing an interview, a podcast or a summit or large event. The beautiful thing about now is that my record was three summits simultaneously. I could never do that in person. If I travel somewhere for 3, 4 days, that’s the only place I’m going. Virtually, I have three devices going at once.

I’m watching three conferences. I’m commenting if someone mentions me, thanks for the shout out. You’re shutting down two of the volume and the third one speaking. Swapping in and out and multitasking better than I’ve ever done before in my life. The opportunities have been incredible. Where I had to turn down things before, I can now accept and have to manage it properly. It’s been a very exciting time. I’ve got four. That’s the beauty of virtual for me. I’m taking full advantage of it, trying to get out as much as I can. It’s been great because I’m also not just delivering messages around starting a business, or what do you do to scale it?

I’m talking about the backstory. I’m talking about me, my life and other stuff. All kinds of topics have come up with different interviews, which has been exciting to mix it up. No two are alike, which is great. I don’t deliver the same message every time. It drafts off of the conversation and having a dynamic conversation like we’re having here. Wherever this goes, it goes and we will have fun with it. That’s been great for me to be able to do that and not be asked to do still one of my popular talks again on a live stage. I’m mixing it up and enjoyed it.

It gets your message out to many more people as opposed to somebody who had to go into a conference, or whether it’s a paid event. That entire industry drastically changed overnight. It sounded like all the players in the game adapted very quickly with this entirely new platform. It’s much more beneficial for you this way because of the outreach and the potential that you have. It’s a lot more fun than delivering a regular speech. It’s for that particular industry, either the sponsors or the venues or the people that run it. There’s a challenge there for them, but the speakers,  it’s more advantageous for you and the audience too. In the future, when it does come back, do you see it is being a blend between the two? There’s something when you are in person at an event, somebody like yourself is on stage and it’s exciting. The virtual world and that platform…you’re going to end up doing both all the time.

If you look at any industry and company environment to an industry like the motivational speaking or thought leadership speaking or topical conferences, the virtual is here to stay. This has got to fill time between the actual in-person live events. Let’s say they do an event four times a year. They’ve got all this time in between where they can do some things virtually where there are many things that can happen. I wrote an article that got published about Virtually Speaking in the new normal going forward. Three perspectives, the speaker, the host and the attendee. There’s value for everyone.

There are opportunities to supplement and complement, and there are things you can do differently. @AlecStern Click To Tweet

There’s also an opportunity for everyone. For example, there are a lot of conferences that attendees would love to attend, but it’s got a hefty price tag or it’s held on a weekend. It doesn’t work for them. There are many complications around hosting it at a time when all of the prospective attendees can’t participate and they can’t. There are many things that kick in, whatever the issues may arise. Virtual gives you the opportunity to not replicate what you would be doing in live but complement it. For example, the live might be thought leadership speaking or motivational speaking on topic for 45 minutes to an hour. You might do a virtual where it’s interview style with the host as we were doing here and we’re having a conversation. It flows like the river wherever the conversation will go.

There are opportunities to supplement, complement and do things that are different, a different approach, a different twist. Let them get to know the speakers better so that when you’re hosting the live, they’re like, “I want to go because I want to meet those speakers. I loved hearing about them and they’re funny, or they’re this or that. I want to go and meet them.” They may know us by name or from our experience, but don’t know us. There’s an opportunity for some of that where the attendee will get to know the speakers better. They get some additional content. They get some value through the virtual experience. The host gets to test new speakers. Let me put them on the virtual first and see how they do. If they do a great job, then we can potentially give them the main stage when we do live events.

They can also mix things up. They can expand their audience. They can be cultivating relationships with attendees so that then they would be maybe a feeder into those live events. They can spin something up quickly. They don’t have the cost and expense. There’s not the concern of, “Will I fill the room and cover my expense?” Hosting these live multi-day events is very costly and time-consuming, and needs a lot of staff. There are all these things that are required that you’ve got more flexibility in what you do, how you do it, how often you do it.

I’ve gotten to the extreme and do it a little too much where it’s almost daily or weekly where they’re doing lives and doing things. Others have been a little bit more prescriptive as to when they’re doing it and making sure there’s value in the content. That’s great. From the speaker’s perspective, as I open with the question. There are tons of value for me to be broadening my audience, the reach, my message, all kinds of things, letting a lot more people get to know me and be able to hear me talk of things differently.

I have my groupies that wherever I speak, they show and they’re on every virtual. They write, “That was great. I learned many new things that I hadn’t heard before.” I love to see that. I love it when they feel that it’s not the same old, same old or to the point where they could recite what’s coming next. I try to mix it up for that reason. It’s been fun to see that they’ve enjoyed that. Being able to hear different things or similar topics that some of the conferences may ask for.

What I appreciate the most is getting to know their personality and that’s what was attractive to me when I first saw you at the Virtual Summit. I said, “I like his personality.”  The message, I enjoyed too, but there are a lot of messages out there. When you can get the two of them to match up, you become a groupie. It’s great to be able to have somebody like yourself to have those conversations with. You’re not going to do that while you’re performing on the stage, but I get a chance to hear or see that side of you, depending on where I’m listening to you or watching you, like in a Summit. The people like yourself that embrace this, take advantage of it in a positive way…the attendee or the person like myself who is watching it, benefits so much more. There’s so much more value. There’s a relationship there. There’s nothing wrong with becoming a groupie. That’s a good idea.

I’ll welcome you to the groupie family. How’s that?

I am in. I need my t-shirt that says, “I’m an Alec groupie.”

You’d get a mug and a pin.

There should be a groupie swag bag that you get when you sign up and a picture with Alec. You can do a whole lot. I came up with a whole new innovative product line for you. The potential is there. The great thing is all of these platforms that are out there make these ideas easy to become a reality.  Most of the time you’ve got to take a picture of something or have it designed by a simple graphic designer that you can hire on Fiverr for $30, $40. The next thing you know there are companies out there that do all the rest of it. You advertise the link. There are many services where you don’t have to spend hardly any money whatsoever. How about a final takeaway, something actionable that people can use and do?

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I have a couple that comes to mind. The one I’ll lead with is one of my mantras is look big, act big, become big. The real focus of that is, what are you doing to set yourself apart, to look professional, to look bigger than you are? It’s all perception at the beginning. For example, I’ll ask, “Show of hands, how many of you have a business email address that ends at Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and if you’re older AOL, etc.?” About 40% of the hands go up. The first thing I would say is, “How serious would someone take you if you have a domain, a website or a landing page anyway but you don’t spend the $5 to get an email address that matches your domain for your business?” You want to look professional. You want to be taken seriously. When I see that I’m like, “How serious are they in this? Are they partially in this and not in it? Are they lazy? What’s the reason why they wouldn’t have gotten their domain and their email address?” You start with that.

Look Big, Act Big, Become Big. It's all about perception. What can you do right now to look bigger than you are? @AlecStern #smallbusinessadvice #smallbusiness Click To Tweet

Oftentimes, we’re in conversations with people. Thanks to Twitter and other tools, the stuff we write is short. We say short snippets of thing. We might get on a Zoom. What you want to do is professionalize yourself as much as possible. You have a brand. You have colors to create a five-slide deck. Five slides, who we are, what we do, what makes us unique, what our customers are saying, and what would a partnership or relationship look like between us? You create those five slides. When you get on a Zoom, the person says, “Let’s get on Zoom and let’s chat.” You could say, “I’ve created a few slides to frame the conversation. Would you be okay if I kick things off and went over those few slides?” They always say yes. You take over the screen and you present those five slides. Done with the conversation.

You package up a PDF version of that and email it to them. This way, they can review it again. They could share it with others. It’s not the telephone game where you say something, they interpret it a certain way. They tell someone else and then they’re like, “We don’t need that.” You get the call and say, “We’re all set. We’re not going to go forward talking to anymore.” You’re putting your best foot forward. You look professional and you’re going to make sure your message gets delivered to whoever is hearing it. You get on a follow on a call with the whole team and we’re going to kick off the call and you could say, “I know we sent over the slide deck, but to level set for everyone on the call, would you be okay if I run through those slides?”

They always say yes. You own the second call with the group. You have a chance to put your best foot forward and you look professional. It’s perception. You’re bigger and it doesn’t look like this is your first time calling someone like this, whether it’s a strategic partner or a possible mentor advisor, maybe an investor or someone that you’re initially meeting to see if there’s a fit to talk further. Put your best foot forward. If you operate in that way, you’re going to look big, act big, become big.

The last thing I would say is that we all have that strategic person we want to call, but we’re hesitant. I’ll ask for a show of hands. “How many have that one person they want to pick up the phone and call, but you’re hesitant because there’s stuff like you have to finish the website or the product’s not quite ready, or you’re not sure if you’re up for that call quite yet. You’re afraid they’re going to ask you questions you can’t answer?” All the excuses. You’ve got to stop those excuses. If this is a strategic partner, it might take you six months to a year to close them as a partner. What do you want to do? Do you want to continue working on things for the next 3 to 6 months and make the call then and wait another six months to a year to do business with them? No. You want to get on that call now. If you’re hesitant, they’ll hear that right through the phone or they’ll see it on a Zoom. You’ve got to get yourself fired up for the call and how do you do that?

You can call a loved one, hold a baby, pet a dog, sing your favorite song, which is my go-to. I belt out Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. I get all fired up, then I pick up that phone and make a great call. When you have a great call, what do you do? The answer is always to celebrate. I say, “No. Make another call.” Accomplishments are something to build on, not rest on. Don’t put your feet up and celebrate after that first call. Make another call because your energy will be felt through that phone or seen on that Zoom. When we’re back in person and make a second call and have a great call, then make a 3rd, make a 4th, and at the end of the day, celebrate. There are many things that you can do to look big, act big, become big and take full advantage of that because it’s go time. Every day is go time. We have to stop any stuck points, fear, hesitation, excuses and go for it.

Powerful information and the true action items that are completely realistic for every single person. You didn’t make anything out of touch. There are things that somebody could start doing immediately. I loved the five-slide deck. The number of notes that I have, the number of quotes and segments that we’re going to take out of this episode…these are things that can make a huge difference immediately. That’s what we always want to provide, real-life tangible takeaways. Listeners could see the results immediately. It makes sense why you have had many companies that are successful.

It’s repeatable and focuses on the small stuff. It’s those little things that will make the difference.

There is a lot of information. This is a show where people will have to listen to and read the blog, multiple times and start using the information and the tips immediately. It’s go time. No more excuses because you’re going to be in the same place in a couple of months. That time is gone. You have nothing to lose. If they don’t work with you, fine. If they don’t call you back or whatever the situation is, go on to the next. There’s a lot of fish in the sea. Thank you so much, Alec.

It's Go Time! No more excuses because you're going to be in the same place in a couple of months. You have nothing to lose. If they don't work with you, fine. If they don't call you back or whatever the situation is, go on to the… Click To Tweet

I am going to ask you to come back on in the future. I know that you have an extremely busy schedule as you said you are on four different events. When you have some free time, even if you want to pop in for something short, a 15, 20-minute in between to throw some tips at people, my invitation is open-ended. Whenever you have time and you want to share something, our platform is open, because you’re an amazing guy. You’ve got a great personality.

Look Big, act Big, become Big! @AlecStern Click To Tweet

You’re too kind. I appreciate that. I will welcome coming back on. We’ll get it scheduled so it doesn’t slip through the cracks.

Thanks again, Alec. Mr. Alec Stern, America’s Startup Success Expert and we’ve talked about small business advice, starting up, surviving and thriving. Alec, give your website so that people can contact you directly, learn more about you and watch that video when you’re playing the drums.

The best way to get a hold of me is through my website, which is AlecSpeaks.com. You can go there. There are a couple of resources. There are talks about my speaking, my coaching and mentoring. There’s a fun video showing me drumming on stage. If you want to find me through social, you’ll see my channels all listed there as well. It is the best thing. I look forward to getting to know some people that reach out.

You’re now a member of The Everything Home Socially Conscious Referral Network and you’ll be showcased on our platform and our website, and we’re constantly promoting you and your events once you let us know what’s going on. Listeners can always go to EverythingHomeResourcePlatform.com. We have Alec’s display with information about the show, easy listening options, all of his contact information. blog, etc. You can always find him under the small business category, the marketing category and also under the famous people category. He’s listed a couple of times. Thank you, Alec. I look forward to following your virtual events, sharing them with our audience and having you back on soon. Good luck with the rest of busy speaking day.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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About Alec Stern

EH 121 | Small Business Advice

Alec Stern is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker, startup mentor, innovator, and investor. He has become known as “America’s Startup Success Expert” and is now regarded as a motivational speaker, as he has performed hundreds of highly inspiring keynote speeches worldwide.   

He’s been a co-founder or founding team member of 8 startups with 5 exits – 2 IPOs and 3 acquisitions.  As a primary member of Constant Contact’s founding team Alec was one of the original 3 who started the company in an attic. Alec was with the company for 18 years from start-up, to IPO, to a $1.1 Billion-dollar acquisition.  

In 2020, he was a 2-time Visionary Award winner at top conferences for his success as an entrepreneur and for his work helping startups and entrepreneurs. 

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