I'm really excited that you're here today. I have a super-fantastic guest with a story that I think all of you are going to be able to relate to, whether you're just getting started, whether you're struggling to get to that next level with your business or if you're already successful and you're looking for some motivation and some strategies that you can implement and add to what you've already got going. My guest today is Paul Potratz.
The cool thing about Paul and what I love about his story is that he dropped out of high school in 9th grade with $275 in his pock and started working as a photographer. He went out and he learned sales tactics. He learned marketing. He figured out that he was going to have to survive with not much money in his pocket.
Let's fast-forward. 13 years later, Paul owns 5 companies, employs 62 people with billings exceeding 34 million dollars a year. Think about that. Starting from $275 up to 34 million a year.
Back Against The Wall
It was definitely a back-against-the-wall situation because here I was, it was my freshman year. I wouldn't say I was a dreamer. I was just bored to death. I've never shared this story before ... The driving point, I remember I was in 3rd grade. My mom and dad and me, we lived in this really small house in a town called Springville, Tennessee. We moved from Chicago to Springville, Tennessee. They wanted a better quality of life for me but it wasn't a better quality of life. I had an accent, I was from Chicago, I lived in redneckville, I was being bullied.
My mom and dad had a good living prior to that. My dad was sitting in the living room with my mom telling her, "Hey, I'm trying to come up with the money. We've got to come up with the money to be able to buy Paul, Jr.'s school annual. I know he really wants that annual." It was only $5. They were struggling to come up with $5. I remember how it really affected me, how it made me feel that my dad was that concerned. He was such a proud person. I probably should have been on the lunch program, but he was such a proud individual he didn't want to do that.
I've Got To Make A Difference
That was really the decision that I said, "You know what, I've got to do some stuff. I've got to make a difference in how I can make money." I remember one of the first things I did back in grade school was I would go around and collect garter snakes. Then I would go to school and sell these garter snakes. Before I know it, I had 6 guys that were selling garter snakes for me. It kind of launched from there.
Fast-forward into high school. What really drove me was that my counselors and my teachers were having these parent-teacher meetings all the time. They were telling my parents that I was on drugs. I've never done drugs. I've never smoked marijuana. I've never tried coke or anything else. I wasn't on drugs, but what it was is I was really bored out of my mind. My businesses evolved. I was cutting lawns and I was doing magic shows. I was focused on how was I going to get more kids in the neighborhood to pay 75 cents to see my magic show. I wasn't so really involved in what school was teaching me.
That's how it kind of grew from there. In 9th grade, where they said I was on drugs and everything, I was selling cell phones. I know this is hard for a lot of people that work for me, too, because they were so young. When I was selling cell phones it was only doctors and attorneys because you had to lease that phone. People didn't buy them. It was $1.85 a minute and here I was 15 years old selling mobile phone. If you remember the grey brick phone, that's what I had.
One thing that you mentioned that I'm really fascinated about is you tell this story about when you were young and coming up with that $5 for yourself to go to school, and the school lunch and all of that, and how your father sort of reacted to that. I'm just kind of curious how that mindset pushed you forward because I hear kind of 2 stories with these types of stories in people.
One is they get a real negative relationship with money because they feel like, "This is how my family was." They sort of hear these conversations within their home about success and money and these things. They get this real negative attitude. A lot of times that holds them back.
The opposite, which sort of sounds like what happened with you, is it's really ingrained, "Get your education. Get a job. Figure out how to make money." I think what's really interesting about sort of your journey is it sounds like your family, from how you're describing this, was very proud and like, "Let's figure this out. Let's find a way to make ends meet and make this all work." How was that when you decided to drop out of school, sort of with the relationship that your household had with money?
My mom and dad were never of the mindset that money was evil because my dad was self-employed and he was always working. That was never the mindset. The whole ... Where the teachers brought my parents in and said that I was on drugs, it created a lot of problems in the house. My mom and dad, they were searching my stuff. They believed it. That's what the teachers said.
My mom and dad always believed in not hampering my creativity. They would always push me and say, "You can do it. You can do it." They were very ... Even my mom, my dad's passed, but my mom still to this day, "You can do it. You can do it. You can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish." I know when I dropped out of school, it was a little painful for them because my mom didn't go to college, my dad didn't go to college. They were wanting me to go to college. I ended up taking a couple of classes but I realized after one semester that I didn't even finish that college wasn't for me either. It was never a negative mindset about making money.
You Can Do It!
You mentioned a couple of times that your mom was like, "You can do this. You can do this." I think that a lot of people don't have that in their life, especially if they're older and either changing careers or just thinking about becoming an entrepreneur or starting a business.
I think the opposite of that happens a lot of times we get the negative side of that. You have your spouse or your friends, your family sort of going, "What are you doing? You're wasting all of this time. You're risking all of this money. You're doing all of these things." I think making sure you're surrounded with people that are sort of implanting that "you can do it" mindset a lot of times, that's the difference between success and failure in a lot of people.
That's so true. When I was growing up and I didn't do it intentionally but looking back I realize that I was really drawn to people that I felt like that really had style, they had success, they knew what they needed to do with life. I remember this one guy in particular when I was in sales and doing marketing, there was a period that I was selling radio advertising. I remember this one guy. He was a recovering alcoholic, like 3 times over, and was still an alcoholic. He was such a go-getter and he would always, "Make your plan, work your plan. Make your plan, work your plan."
He always focused on that. I was drawn to him just because ... He was driving the big S Class Mercedes and I was just drawn to that. It wasn't that I ever wanted to be flashy even though to this day that kind of stresses my wife out. It's not that I'm going for the flash appeal. It's just I'm drawn to that. I think what it was, a good friend of mine, we were in the city this weekend. He goes, "Well, I understand why you are drawn to that." It's not that, again, that I'm trying to say, "Oh, look at me. Look at me in the big house and the exotic cars." It makes me smile, I guess you can say.
Seeing the struggles that ... My mom and dad had a great relationship. The only thing they ever argued about was money.
That's sort of why I wanted to ask that question because, like I said, it seems like the story for most people is it's one of 2 things. It sounds like for you it was that real push and "you can do this and accomplish things" which I think is great. I think the takeaway is people need to make sure that they get themselves surrounded.
"Make sure you've got clean underwear and your shoes are shined"
I kind of want to go back, so you're selling cell phones. You've got your Mustang, 17 years old. To go from that to what you've created, a lot of kids can figure out leasing a car or whatever and getting some cash in their pocket, but keeping it and then even growing it, that's a big feat not only for kids but for adults, business people, it doesn't really matter what age.
It was one of those things where I was focused. At that stage, too, it wasn't that I was ... I wasn't a steward of my money. I wasn't really saving because I think I was ... I was 19. When I was 19 I had the convertible Mustang, I had a '76 Bronco Bobtail that was all redone, big wheels. I had a '65 Mustang that I put a 302 in. I had a Fiat Spider 2000. I was wearing suits. I started wearing suits though, I guess I was probably around 15 years old because I realized that if I was going to do something I needed to stand out. I couldn't look like everybody else.
Even recently, I grew a beard because so many people said, "Oh, you've got a baby face." I've always looked really young but I realized very early on, you've got to stand out. You can't look like the average Joe. One of the things my mom always taught me, "Make sure you've got clean underwear and your shoes are shined." That was the one thing early on that I said, "How can I stand out? How can I be different?" That's what helped but ... Even today, my wife is a great support because she tells me all of the time, she says, "Paul, you've got to get comfortable being uncomfortable." When I'm doing my Periscope videos and all of that, I'm like, "Oh boy, this stresses me out." She's like, "Get comfortable."
Those are the times when you also make the biggest growth. I know for me, whether it's the first time you do a podcast or a webinar or speak on stage or whatever that is, the first time, first 10 times, first 100 times are sometimes terrifying but there's that something that changes inside of you when you go, "Oh my gosh, I can do this. Not only can I do this, now I know that I can do whatever else is going to come my way."
Right. One thing when you're speaking on stage or you're on Periscope or whatever you're doing, the one thing that I've come to realize is you can't be the guy next door. When I go on stage, because I speak all over the world, I've spoken in Denmark, Copenhagen, Athens, and Paris, but I've realized that every time you speak, how can I make it better? How can I put a shock value into it? What can I do that's going to be different than the last 50 speakers that somebody's listened to or seen or watched?
Why Would Someone Buy It?
Yeah. A lot of that for me that I see with that is you have to pay attention to your competition and model it. I find so many times people are so sort of attached to whatever it is that they're doing that they forget to see what their competition is, watch how they're marketing, watch what they're saying, and improve and sort of incorporate and make better whatever that message is from their competition.
One of the things that I learned, too, not only the competition but as business owners or individuals starting a business, they know about their widget, their product, their service. They know what it is and they know they want to sell it but the major thing, the biggest component they forget is why would somebody want to buy it?
You see that so many times. Even their business cards are all about me, me, me, me, me instead of maybe on the back of the business card putting some information on there that can get somebody over to your website that would benefit them.
That's the same thing for the websites. I go to so many websites. It's all about, "Oh, we've won this award, that award, and this award." I say, "Okay, turn that around. Those awards you won, how would that benefit your clients? Would that be a benefit to your clients?" A lot of times they'll go, "Oh, well that means that we've sold more volume." "Okay, what that means in a consumer's mind is you're better at taking advantage of people."
Are You Being A Resource?
Any time you build a marketing strategy, any time you do a Facebook post, you've got to look at it, "How would this benefit my client or future client? Am I being a resource?" If it's truly not, then don't do it.
I love the way that you just put that. Am I being a resource or is what I'm creating being a resource? I think that's such a difference because I know when I first got started with marketing and selling things it was like I didn't want to be a resource. The product was the resource and I just wanted to tell you, "Go get that thing." My end goal wasn't necessarily helping them accomplish what they wanted or wondering about how they were feeling. My end goal, when I first got started, was I just want to sell widgets, whatever that is. It's sort of how you talked about.
For me there was, there was a huge shift when it was like, "What is my prospect thinking? What do they need? How can I show them?" Maybe my widget teaches you how to make your golf swing better.
One of the things I would always look at is "How could they do it without my widget?" Maybe it's a harder way, and sort of create that comparison for people. What I found is when I started doing that by going, "Well, here's how you can do it ..." and getting them in that way where they're like, "Wow, they're showing me how I can do this." Then, as an afterthought at the end it's like, "Well, and if you want to know another way to do it, here's this." As soon as I sort of made that shift I noticed sales went up, engagement with customers went up, and customer satisfaction went up as well.
When I started the agency in 2003, we started as a digital advertising agency. A lot of people thought we were a social media agency just because we were using social media. I found out where we were struggling, because I remember I went out on the road and I went in and met with 17 different businesses and didn't come back with any business at all. That's because I was talking about the technology and the tools and remarketing and pay-per-clicks. Those prospective clients didn't understand what I was really trying to sell or how it would benefit them.
Think Tank Tuesday
That's when we came back and I went to the drawing board. I said, "All right, what can I do differently? I've got to educate. I've got to become a resource." We created a video podcast 5 years ago called Think Tank Tuesday and grew it. Boy, if you see the first one, you'd be like, "Wow, really, was that you?" I was listening to people around me and they were telling me how my look should be. They thought I should be in jeans and a button-down untucked hanging in a blazer that was too big. I was like, "Yeah, that's not me because I've always been in suits and pocket squares." We launched Think Tank Tuesday. We talk about all different types of things, pay-per-click, retargeting, how to use Facebook, the list goes on. It's every Tuesday. We've been doing it for 5 years. It's amazing, consistency of that video podcast, now we have over 180,000 subscribers to it.
Where Are Your Customers?
The one thing we learned about Think Tank Tuesday was we were having people come to our website, subscribe, then we would send an email to them. We were forcing people to interact with our content the way we wanted them to interact. Now there's Blab, there's Snapchat, there's Periscope, there's Anchor, there's Facebook Live, and the list goes on. There's all of these individuals, this audience on those platforms. What we were doing until 2 weeks ago was saying, "Hey, go over to our website and sign up to be able to get an email."
Instead of saying, "How do we use Blab? How do we use Snapchat? How do we use YouTube and so on and so forth?" How do we use the platform the way it was designed to be used instead of trying to get somebody to take another action and go over to our website and follow the way we want to do it?
I've seen so many business owners do that. You'll go to their website and what they want to do is they want to force you, "Visit us before we'll really talk to you. Come to our showroom or pick up the phone and call us. We might talk to you on the phone but the conversation's probably going to go like this, where we want you to come into the showroom before we really have a conversation with you." There's no opportunity to be able to engage with somebody on Twitter or Facebook or whatever their chosen platform is. There's a number of people out there ... It's amazing. I have people that want to communicate with me through Facebook Messenger. I'll give them an email, "Here's my email address." They don't do it or they want to communicate through text or Anchor or whatever.
Communicate The Way THEY Want To Communicate
As a business owner or a startup business owner, understand that you've got to communicate with the person the way they want to communicate. That's been a hard learning exercise for me because then I'm saying, "How do I manage all of these platforms?"
I'm writing over here furiously as you're talking because my background in marketing, I got started when the whole mantra was build your email list, build your email list. You kind of eluded to that where the truth is it's like, "I'm happy to give you my information. I'm happy to talk to you but you've got to give me your email address first." What I love about, not even just this portion that you're talking about but back to being a resource for somebody is why not communicate with them how they want to, whether that's email, whether that's Facebook, however it is that they want to. Then ask for the information. Then have them come into the showroom. Then get on the call with you.
You hear people talk about fighting for this know, like, and trust, and how to build these relationships. Then you watch how they implement it afterwards. It's always, "Enter your email address and then I'll talk to you. Enter your email address and then I'll give you my report. Enter your email address and then ... " There's always these conditions. Then you hear those same people, myself included, right after you say build, know, like and trust, and that's the most important thing and trust and all of these other sort of cliches that we hear. You hear them say that but then you turn around and say, "I'll only do that with you after you do it on my terms."
What I love about what you're talking about, like I said I'm taking a ton of notes over here because you're almost the exact opposite. You're not saying don't communicate, don't collect an email list, don't build subscribers. You're almost saying be that resource and flip that relationship on its head, more so that it's on their terms rather than on your terms. That's when you really start to be able to build that relationship from the beginning.
Exactly. You're being a resource. You're being trusted. So many business owners ... I fight this battle so many times that so many business owners are focused on the end result instead of building and nurturing that relationship to get to the end result.
If you focus on the relationship and nurture and become a resource, your end result is going to be much more profitable. That end result is going to repeat over and over and over because they're going to come back to you when it's time to purchase again. They're going to recommend you to all of their friends, their families and complete strangers that post something on a social platform.
Case in point, I see so many business owners, there's all of these review sites that are popping up, these 3rd party review sites. I constantly have business owners ask me, "Should I sign up? It's $500 a month, $300 a month for this review site." I'm like, "No. That's forced." I've got ... Sometimes my analogies are just a little bit out there. That's like going to the bar and picking out the really good-looking girl at the bar and going, "Hey, let's just forget the drinks. Let's just go back to the hotel and you know what." Instead of, "Let me get to know you. Let me find out your needs, your wants, and your desires."
Build a relationship. That's what we miss.
So many, again, business owners are saying, "Oh, all of these platforms, where do I go?" Pick a few and start with them. It's kind of funny, if you were to look into my office you'll see I have these stands. I have 2 phones running with 2 different social platforms, my computer. Dan and I, my VP, we just ordered 2 more iPads and 2 more stands. Now we can broadcast across all of the platforms.
If somebody's listening to this message and they're like, "Okay, I need to kind of sort of become a resource. I need to reach out." What steps should they start with in order to get moving in this direction, whether it's strategically how to sort of plan it out and decide which platform they need to use or if they need to change at all. Where would somebody that wants to sort of revamp their business or move in a new direction start?
I would start with the one that's got one of the most widest audiences. That would be Facebook. I was just at a small business empowerment in Richmond, Virginia. I was sharing this practice. While it comes easy to me, if I roll the clock back it wasn't so easy to me when I started this, deciding what kind of content are you going to provide?
You've really got to become a resource. You've got to decide what is the content that I'm going to deliver that's going to be a resource? This comes easy to you, Lance, but so many people struggle with that.
They want to keep on pushing it into a sales pitch instead of saying, "How can I give great free information?" Decide what that great free information is. That's what I did with Think Tank Tuesday. I said, "Okay, every Tuesday" so I gave it a name, Think Tank Tuesday. "Every Tuesday I'm going to do a video." Now you can do that on Facebook.
You can start generating this video. So many times we have excuses of why I can't, why I can't. "I have to have the right camera. I've got to have the right mic. I've got to have the right lighting." Boy, I though that forever.
No. Just do it. Just get a cheap little $12 tripod at Amazon or Wal-mart or whatever. Put your phone on the tripod and just do a test run. Make sure people can hear the audio and do it. It does not have to be a Hollywood production. I'm stumbling right now. You can stutter. You can do whatever you want to do. As time goes on, you'll get more and more comfortable but start sharing.
No One Watches?
Don't get frustrated when no one's commenting, no one's sharing, and no one's liking. There's still people watching it. There's plenty of videos that I've posted, no one commented, no one liked but it's really funny that I travel all over and I'll go into the different functions, which is really weird for me, but I have people coming up and going, "Oh, hey, I watched that video about you going to Starbucks. Hey, I've seen that picture you posted on Facebook about a new pair of shoes." I've got a shoe fetish. "About a new pair of shoes you got." I've got people coming up to me and going, "Hey, can I get your autograph?" I'm like, "Really? That's kind of weird." I don't say that, I play it off like I'm all cool and everything.
It's just been 5 years of doing that every single Tuesday. By all means, yeah, build your email database but build the people you're connected with on Facebook. So many times I see people building people that they're connected with on Facebook and they try to take the path of least resistance. In other words, "Oh, let me connect with my aunt and my uncle and my niece and my cousins." Chances are they are not going to be doing business with you. Find who you would deem a competitor and start connecting with their friends, the people that are engaging.
What I absolutely love about how you put all of that is first of all, don't be perfect. If you wait until you're going to be perfect, well guess what, that day's never going to come. In 5 years, you're going to be sitting where you're at right now.
Also, don't get frustrated. I hear your numbers, 180,000 subscribers, all of these things and I'm thinking, "That's insane. That is an insane amount of people." I think what a lot of people have a hard time, and that's why I love how you put it this way, what a lot of people have a hard time connecting with is they see your 180,000 - 200,000 subscribers and they go, "Well, that's easy for him to say. He's got 200,000 subscribers." The truth is, and why I think it's so nice to document, whether it's a podcast, whether it's a blog and putting it out there is it allows people to see that progression in you and you also see that progression in you. You started with zero subscribers just like everybody else.
Be A Real Person
I think that that's the whole thing is start trying to connect with people, whether it's on Facebook or YouTube or podcast, that people kind of want to see what's going to happen to you. They want to know you're like them. They don't want to hear the polished guy if they're not with you on that journey yet. There's something to that start where you're at. If you say "um", if you stumble, if you don't know what to say, if you completely screw up, just own it and move on. My experience has been that people like and connect with you more when you don't edit that out.
They understand you better and they see you as a real person that they're like when you don't do those kind of things. They root for you when you do those kind of things.
Yeah, without a doubt. One of the things that took me awhile to learn, how I was going to grow my contacts and my database. I do a lot of public speaking. I do slow down in the public speaking. One of the things that I do is like, "All right, who is everybody that has a smartphone? Put your hand up." Everybody puts their hand up, of course. "All right, pull your phone out." They pull their phone out. "All right." Then I pop to the screen. "Here's my Facebook profile. I want you to connect with me right now because I share information on Facebook that I don't share on anything else so connect with me."
I'll stand there. It's kind of uncomfortable. It makes me sweat a little bit because I'm standing there for 2 or 3 minutes while they're connecting. I'm thinking like, "Oh, I've got to be providing content, content, content." That's one way that I've grown Facebook.
Then I'll get further in. I'm like, "Do you like this tip I just shared with you?" They're like, "Yes." "Put your hand up if you like it." "Yes." I'm like, "All right, good." Then I pop to the next slide and I'm like, "Hey, if you want to subscribe to Think Tank Tuesday, what I want you to do is I want you to pull your phone out and I want you to email email@example.com." Did you just like how I did that plug?
That's what I tell them. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Then what happens is I automatically get them right into my list. Think about that. If you're out, you're speaking, you're doing a podcast, you're doing a YouTube video, you're doing a Facebook post, you keep on pushing that, you're going to have a percentage of people that are always going to sign up.
I'm doing the same thing on Snapchat. I'm posting pictures and going, "Connect with me on Snapchat." Dan, my VP, just did a graphic for Anchor, the new app that we're working on now that's a really cool app that I think you would love, Lance, if you're not already on it.
Anchor, and we're posting that, "Hey, connect with me on Anchor." I had zero people that were connected with me on Anchor. This morning I looked at it. Now I think I have 14, not a huge number but we'll blow that up.
I love that you just said you're just starting with it and check it out because I would encourage everybody listening to go watch that. Go check that out right now and watch what happens because what I love about it is it's a new platform. It's very rare that you get to see somebody successful start from zero at something.
The lesson for me is always when somebody tells me something like, "I'm on this new platform. I've got 14 or zero people and I'm about to blow this up" the first thing I do is go watch it. I want to watch how you progress this thing. I think in any business, if you get that opportunity to watch somebody that has been successful, it doesn't mean you're going to succeed.
What it does mean is that it's very rare that you get that insight into what somebody is doing that has already been successful in other channels. The lessons you can learn just by watching somebody start from scratch, you'll never be able to pay for those.
You're going to make mistakes. The cool thing is you watch on Anchor, the mistakes you made, I'm sure they'll get talked about on Think Tank Tuesday, they'll get talked about on ppadv and all of these other places. It's a unique opportunity for listeners right now to get in and watch something get built.
The biggest thing that a business owner or a startup business owner can really understand is how do you make a tremendous amount of noise? When you're making that noise, you don't have to pay to play. You don't have to be doing radio and TV and newspaper and all of that because a lot of times you don't have that budget. You might have some money in the bank but the question is can you sustain it? Can you keep doing it week after week, month after month, year over year.
If you can't sustain it, then don't get into it.
When I started the business I had no money. When I started the agency I really didn't have a whole lot of money. When I started the agency in 2003, I had like $6000 because I wasn't really good at saving money at that time. I had to create a tremendous amount of noise.