Every week asSmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with JJ Ramberg, @JJRamberg, the host of Your Business on MSNBC, which is dedicated to issues affecting small business owners. Ramberg is also the co-founder of GoodSearch.com, a search engine that donates 50 percent of revenue to the charities and schools its users designate. She’s the author of the new book, It’s Your Business, 183 Essential tips that will transform your small business.
SmallBizLady: You’ve been hosting Your Business on MSNBC for six years now. Who is your favorite person that you’ve interviewed?
JJ Ramberg: While I don’t have one favorite, one of the people who made the biggest impression on me was Kim Bensen from Kim’s Light Bagels. Kim had spent most of her adult life raising her children and running her house. But, when her husband lost his job, she decided to take their small amount of savings and invest it into an idea she had to make low-fat bagels. This was a big risk – they had no income, four kids and a mortgage and Kim had basically no business experience. She did have a strong sense that there was a market for her product, and a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of personality. She worked incredibly hard knocking on doors until she finally got one retailer to sell her bagels. Now, Kim has a company that not only supports her own family, but the families of all her employees!
SmallBizLady: I know you are an entrepreneur yourself. What is the proudest moment of your life as a small business owner?
JJ Ramberg: In 2005, my brother Ken and I launched a company called GoodSearch.com which turns your everyday actions into ways to support your favorite cause. So, each time you search the internet, shop online or dine out, a donation is made to your favorite charity or school at no cost to you. Last year, 15 million people used GoodSearch. My proudest moment was the day we sent checks to the charities that first year. We were still very much in start-up mode and so we printed all the checks ourselves, gathered in my brother’s living room and had an assembly line of people printing the checks and stuffing the envelopes. It was so exciting because it was the moment that proved that our idea really resonated with people.
SmallBizLady: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your business?
JJ Ramberg: Prioritizing is incredibly hard and yet mission critical. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, a lot of us see opportunity around every corner and are constantly coming up with new ideas. At GoodSearch, at any given time, we have a list of about twenty new initiatives that we are very excited about launching. And, we want them all done yesterday. But obviously that’s not possible. So, we have very focused management meetings where we talk about what we think our team should tackle first, second, third etc… We often come into the meetings with each of us having different ideas of where things should land on that priority list, but we leave the meetings all in agreement. Setting that clear direction is incredibly important to the success of how our company operates.
SmallBizLady: You wrote the book “It’s Your Business.” It includes 183 tips that you learned from people you’ve interviewed. What is your favorite tip in the book?
JJ Ramberg: Tip number 101 is one of my favorites. It’s “Turn no into yes – part one.” The basic idea is that if a potential client decides she does not want to work with you, don’t let this be the end of the relationship – keep their need or project in mind and contact them after a week or so with a piece of advice or an article or something that relates to their project. This should not be a solicitation for their business, but something to keep you top of mind in case something goes wrong with the service provider they ended up choosing.
SmallBizLady: Do you have an example of how to turn a No into Yes in a small business?
JJ Ramberg: I sure do. Ashlie Yair runs a company that designs events – A.Y. Dzyne. She was contacted by someone who wanted her company to plan a child’s birthday party. Ashlie put together a proposal, but the potential client ended up not hiring her, saying she decided to do it herself. About a week later, Ashlie sent the woman an email saying that she came across a castle that would work perfectly for the party and she just wanted to pass it along. The next day, the potential client sent Ashlie an email thanking her for the link and asking if A.Y. Dzyne was still available for hire. Just a few minutes of Ashlie’s time ended up getting her a new job!
SmallBizLady: What tip from the book do you find yourself using the most in your own company?
JJ Ramberg: I try to use Tip 109 every day - Never say no to a potential client. Basically, if someone asks if you provide something, instead of saying no, try and answer in a way that explains what you do offer. Here’s an example. I was sitting in the reception area of Pilates on Fifth in New York City and a woman walked in and asked the receptionist, “Do you have yoga here?” Instead of answering no, the receptionist said “We have Pilates and cardiolates, have you ever tried cardiolates?” The founders of the studio, Kimberly and Katherine Corp told me that they have trained people to not say no. No is off-putting and a conversation ender. As you can guess, in the example I just gave, the woman ended up signing up for a cardiolates class. If the receptionist had simply answered “No, we don’t have yoga,” it’s likely that potential customer would have just walked away.
SmallBizLady: Confidence is such an issue for small business owners, how can people be more confident in running their business?
JJ Ramberg: At some point, as an entrepreneur, you just have to take a risk.
SmallBizLady: What is the biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
JJ Ramberg: Making things too confusing! As small business owners, our companies are our babies. And so, when someone asks us about it, we often start going on and on and on about every little detail. Well, you have to remember that saying too much is often akin to saying nothing. The listener gets lost, confused or bored. Every time you explain what your company does to someone new, give yourself a test – is this simple enough for someone who does not live this company every day to understand? As one company I just interviewed told me, always do the KISS check – Keep It Simple Stupid!
SmallBizLady: The holidays are getting to be around the corner, I saw that you have a fun tip about giving your clients gifts.
JJ Ramberg: I do! This was one of the first tips we gathered for the book. It’s tip 123 and the advice is to send your holiday gifts right before Thanksgiving. That way your gift will not get lost in a pile of other gifts and will really stand out!
SmallBizLady: It seems that you care strongly about socially responsible business. How can people incorporate being socially responsible in their own companies?
JJ Ramberg: I truly believe that running a strong company and keeping people employed is socially responsible in and of itself. In addition, you can do little things every day to help out your community or a cause you care about. For example, if you go to GoodShop.com, you can link over to stores like Office Depot or Target and buy all of your office supplies and a percentage of what you spend will go to your favorite charity. You can also sponsor local nonprofits or events that help your community. Doing good is a great way to both feel good and get the word out about your company.
SmallBizLady: You and your brother Ken run your business together, that sounds like it could be tough at times. Do have suggestions for how to run a successful family business?
JJ Ramberg: It’s actually never tough. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with Ken as he’s one of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever known. I think we both have different strengths and really appreciate what the other brings to the table. Ken and my mom had started a business together previously (Jobtrak which they sold to Monster.com) and so it may just be in our blood that we have good working relationships with family members. My suggestion is that before you go into business with a family member, be very clear that you not only love them as your brother (sister, mom etc.), but also that you respect them as a business person.
SmallBizLady: People often talk about work/life balance. How do you manage it?
JJ Ramberg: Well there is no doubt that I had a very busy last few years. Within five years, I launched a company, launched a tv show, got married and had three kids (who are now 2, 4 and 5). That said, I have a wonderful support system everywhere. Scott Leon, the executive producer of Your Business, and the entire staff (including my two co-authors Lisa Everson and Frank Silverstein) are all dedicated, as I am, to making this show the best it can be. At home, I have a great husband who shares in everything we do there. And at GoodSearch, Ken, my brother has been an incredible co-founder. About a year ago, we also hired Scott Garell, the former President of Ask.com, to be the CEO of the company. So, the key is, surround yourself with good people. I try to separate my work and family life so that when I’m working, I’m working and when I’m with my family, that gets my full attention. Granted, it doesn’t always work, but I try!
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.