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SUNDAY READ: Running a Business Lessons I Wish I’d Known Earlier

After running a business for 27 years and having few mentors, I’ve made great strides and made big mistakes over the years. 

Some of the most worthwhile pieces of advice that people offer you have a way of finding a specific place in the attic of your psyche.

Kevin Ross

As with any business, in that time, I had many ups and downs, times when I was excited and other times when I wanted to quit altogether. But the music industry is and has always been my passion since childhood. 

running a business

I started in the industry as a singer, and I made a misstep by using radio to get to the music industry and to get a record deal. I say a misstep because I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, and I have no regrets about working in radio, but it was something that I could do and not something I wanted to do. The lessons have been invaluable, nonetheless.

As a result of the misstep, I’ve seen former hit artists relegated to catching the bus in LA. I’ve seen them go bankrupt, and I’ve seen them on drugs. Perhaps I needed to take that detour to radio to see this and to get an idea of how the music industry could be outside of the glitz and glamour.

I have come to know many more unsuccessful artists than I do successful ones. LA taught me that, and I’m forever grateful for the lesson. It may have been my saving grace. Sometimes our paths are determined once we get on the road to success. Opportunities have a way of presenting themselves and may take you places you never thought that you would go.

While radio was a good option for me, I would never get rich doing it; dare I say, I could barely even make a living. So I retired from the radio industry in my mid-30s. That door needed to be left open by someone who looked at it as a passion project, and that was not me. By the time I left, I had a great understanding of how radio had worked, and that came to serve me in my first business that still exists today but has also morphed into something else.

Watch, See, Learn, Move 

Many people in my age range fell by the wayside because they were unwilling to learn to adapt to technology. But I thank God for technology because it has opened many doors previously closed off to black business owners like myself.

In addition, my business has been a wealth of information I could not have paid for. What people read, What they respond to, how they feel and what motivates them have all become apparent to me as a result of what I do. Your business can be a wealth of information too.  

I want to offer you some tips on expanding your business and brand and avoiding many pitfalls that will come your way during your tenure as a business owner or brand manager. It is selfish to keep valuable information to ourselves when it could benefit others, so here we go. 

Listen and Store Great Advice in Your Memory, then use it.

Some of the most worthwhile pieces of advice that people offer you have a way of finding a specific place in the attic of your psyche.

That advice resting in your sub-conscience will often come up during challenges in your business (or even personal life), where you will refer to it. I believe it’s divine intervention but what we do with it falls on us.

Have Mentors

If you don’t have a mentor, find one. Many older people would be more than willing to advise you on how to run your business, but the irony today is you need SEVERAL mentors, who should be of all ages. Especially if you are over 40.

It greatly helps to have older and younger people in your wheelhouse that you may want to consult before going out on a limb which could be costly.

Define, Know and WRITE DOWN What You Want

You can waste a hell of a lot of time second-guessing what direction you want to go in in life and business. We all KNOW or at least have a pretty good idea of what we want; the question is, are we sitting idly by and waiting for it to fall from the sky, or are we going out and getting it?

You are one of the lucky ones if you realize the worst prison is in our minds, where self-doubt often resides. What we want is readily available to us if we are willing to do what it takes to get it. 

Writing down your goals (not typing but WRITING with a pen or a pencil and paper) releases an incredible power to the universe that prepares it to answer your request.

I am a witness to the power of writing things down; even your challenges and frustrations will weaken once you put them on paper. You are essentially releasing or requesting it, and it works both ways. 

Write down your goals for the week, month, or year, review and read them aloud; you will be astounded at how opportunities will present themselves to you. 

Be(a)ware of Competitors.

Competitors can smile in your face and pat you on the back all day, but there is a very good chance that they want you gone so that they can occupy your space and your income. They may even try to steal your clients and talk bad about you or your services.

NEVER speak poorly of a competitor. It’s always more of a reflection on you instead of them. If they don’t like you, they perceive you to be better than them in some form. Let them have their run; provided you offer the best service, their candle will eventually burn out on its own.

You can be courteous, but never be fooled. One sign of success is people aligning themselves with you. Follow your instinct and always know that trust is earned. Just because it appears friendly and supportive doesn’t mean it is.

A key to helping alleviate detractors is you must spend time with your clients. They will be the gateway to a TON of information about your business, what people say about you or against you, what you need to work on, and what you need to change. They want to support you and if they believe in you they will go out of their way to do so.

Know Your Value –  If it Costs YOU, Don’t Hesitate to Pass the Charges on to Them.

Over the years, I’ve left a lot of money on the table by being the nice guy and allowing my business to be used by certain people for their gain. Your business is like your child. Treat it like you love it, embrace it, and ensure it’s protected.

If someone reaches out to you to help them, they obviously see your value. The question becomes do YOU see your value?

I don’t see a problem with even exchanges, but it doesn’t often work out this way. You will find that most people reaching out to you and your business want to make money FROM you instead of giving it TO you. I get hundreds of emails a day that fit this description.  

They are coming to you because they NEED you; giving away your hard work and connections to your industry is not only foolish, it’s dumb. Recently, I had a couple of people reach out to me to interview someone on their roster for Radio Facts. 

I have to pay someone to do the interview and the Zoom, and I have to pay someone to transcribe it and market it via our social media channels and to our 72,000 subscribers. THEY need the publicity, and the person making the request is getting paid … so why can’t I? 

If you have worked for years to establish yourself and your brand, that translates to money and time, your two most valuable assets; RESPECT YOUR TIME, TENURE, and MONEY. 

Pay Attention to Trends

Always try your best to be IN FRONT of the 8-Ball in business. I thank God technology came into play while working in the industry. It has brought additional value and opportunity to what I do and has extended my ability to prosper.

There are things that I can do that few others can do. Knowing your strengths, as well as weaknesses, are paramount in business. I’m glad I established the huge mailing list I have garnered over the years, and the brand recognition can also not be denied. It can be tested or challenged but never denied. That’s money in the bank if used correctly.

I have seen people not grow in their business then BEG for support years later. At the end of the process, they died broke. If you are begging for business, it’s time to move on. Your perceived value has diminished or altogether dissipated.

If you are not ready to move on, recreate your brand or services to target other demos or consumers. This is the beauty of technology.

If you know a ship is sinking and you remain on the deck, it’s only a matter of time before you drown. Throw out the lifeboat, get on it, and then find a new destination. If you have done it once (and endured success) you can always do it again.

Keep in Touch With Clients

I truly love my clients. If I can claim any true friends in the industry it would be my steady clients first. They are one of a kind because they SEE your value, they are not trying to get something for nothing and they believe in you.

Why would you not keep in touch with people like this? Running a business can become cumbersome, and sometimes we figure if clients are spending money, there is no need to build or maintain the relationship but that’s not true; just because your car is running doesn’t mean you don’t need to bring it in for an oil change or give it maintenance to KEEP it running.

Hold your clients in the highest regard … They are often bombarded with requests, with often, limited budgets, and if they put YOU on the list as someone they support, respect that.  

Take as Many Vacations As Possible

This is probably the most important of all tips. I have an industry client I can call anytime, and he’s in another country or another city. He works from everywhere, which I always could do as well, but I have not.

TAKE AS MANY VACATIONS AS POSSIBLE. The value of coming back and being wholly recharged is underrated. A vacation solidifies the reason that you do what you do. REWARD YOURSELF and do it CONSTANTLY. If you can do it and work simultaneously, it is also beneficial for your taxes.

Take Care of Yourself

Working from home can take a toll on you and make you gain weight, lose sleep, or overwork. While the rest of the world is working, even your significant other, it’s very easy to break dance over to the fridge or take a nap when you work from home all day.

If you work from home, have a dedicated bedroom as your office where you can close the door when you finish each day.

Have Set Hours and Respect Them

This is a hard one. Things will happen outside of work hours, but you have to know when to shut it down, or you will be working from sun up to sun down. I have a friend who does a news site and works an incredible amount of hours each day—more than I am willing to. After all, the news is 24/7. I am constantly telling him to break away. 

Create Ancillary Products to Compliment Your Brand

The other benefit to technology is that you have the option to create different products to complement your business.

Don’t ignore these opportunities. Are you an artist, do you paint, and can you sell your artwork on your website? Art websites, for example, do everything for you once you send them a high-quality image of your work.

They market it, create the size and the frame, and mail it, then send you the more significant percentage of the costs.

This is an example of how you can increase income with your present brands. You may want to do events, Zooms, or create other ways to profit. It will require some; thought, but you will be amazed at what you come up with. 

Have an Exit Plan

At some point, you may be utterly exhausted with your business. It may simply be time to sell it or leave. I would certainly suggest trying to SELL it first. It’s like real estate; it should have some equity. I hope these tips help.


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