Category Archives: Food for Thought

Is Working For a Startup Company Right For You?

Office birthday parties, free bagel Fridays, a corn hole game set up in the middle of the office and holiday company cruises to the Bahamas- “Is this how all internet marketing companies work?” I wondered to myself when I joined a startup team fresh out of college.

The answer is no, this is not how most companies operate, but this environment is fairly typical if you happen to work at a tech startup where your CEO is 29 years old and more than half of your co-workers are under the age of 33.

My company is growing rapidly and we are constantly looking for good people to join our staff.  I get emails and Facebook messages all the time from random people (most that I haven’t talked to since middle school) who want a job.  They ask if BMI is as fun as it seems and I tell them all the same thing.

Working at a startup has its perks, and while it can be a lot of fun at times, there is also a lot of hard work that’s put in.  We definitely work hard to play hard around here.  In the last two years I’ve seen people thrive in this environment and do really well for themselves, and I’ve seen others, some who have years of marketing experience, completely crack under the pressure.

If you’re wondering whether you’ll fit in at a startup company, here are a few things to consider.

Are you a good at multi-tasking under lots of pressure?

Believe me when I say it’s highly unlikely that you’ll wear just one hat at a startup company. I think this is the main reason why many people don’t work out.  They get hired for a certain position and are shocked when they’re expected to do things beyond their job description.  My official job title is a search marketing project manager, but I’ve also served as the office decorator, copywriter, public relations contact, executive assistant, receptionist, blogger, events coordinator, t-shirt designer and the executive producer of my boss’ radio show (there’s probably more that I can’t rattle off the top of my head).

“That’s not my job,” is a response that would not go over well with my bosses.  Startups usually only have between 10 to 100 employees. That being said, everyone must carry their own weight in their respective positions and then some.  I’m not alone- we all wear multiple hats and don’t really get paid more for doing more.  But on the plus-side, I’ve learned many valuable lessons and skills that I could always put on the resume, and I believe hard work is recognized and rewarded.  I’ve been told by co-workers that busting their asses paid off, so I’ll keep doing my thing and doing whatever I can to make it all worth it.

Do you easily adapt to change?

Plans tend to change rapidly in startup companies. The BMI Elite that I work at today is completely different than the BMI Elite I worked at on this day one year ago.  In one year we’ve had two offices, I’ve held three different job titles, had my desk moved about 5 times and seen about 50 people come and go.  We’ve added new services and taken some away.

If routines bore you and you like the excitement that comes with change, you may really enjoy working for a startup. If you prefer predictability, working at a startup will likely just increase your stress to new levels.

Are you okay with working crazy hours?

If you like showing up to work at 9 a.m. and leaving right at 5 p.m. every day, a startup is not the place for you.  Regular hours- what’s that?

In order to accomplish everything that we need to do, many of us often come in early, work through lunch or happy hour, and sometimes show up to the office on weekends.  I think this crazy schedule has a lot to do with why most of our employees are young, unmarried and have no kids.

Do you believe in the company?

This is major, as it’s really hard to put up with the multi-tasking, long hours and pressure of working at a startup if you don’t believe in the company and its product(s).

Before joining a startup, I recommend doing your research to get a clear idea of its products, values, goals and long-term vision.  What do they do to stand out among their competition?  Startups surface and die every day, so use your best judgment when trying to guess if your position could be long-term.

When working at a startup company, you never really know what’s going to happen.  The industry is ever-changing and even the most solid companies are at risk.  However, some startups thrive and the rewards become worth the risks- think huge financial returns, invaluable experience, getting to work with incredibly smart people and of course the excitement that comes with it all.

If you’re up for the challenge, working for a startup can be a life-changing experience.  Just make sure you’re prepared and are able to handle it first.

What Bartending Taught Me About Business

When I began bartending at 18 years old, I looked at it as a way to make some fast, easy cash while putting myself through college.  I always knew that it was a temporary job; I would never be a career bartender, and in the beginning I didn’t take it too seriously.  I was just grateful to have a job where I could walk in, do my thing for a few hours, leave with a wad of cash and not have to take any work or stress home with me.

I quickly realized that I could make my wad of earnings much larger by doing a few things differently.  Damien, a former manager, once explained this to me and it made a lot of sense:

“You’re basically running your own business behind the bar.  We provide you with the ‘office’ and ‘tools,’ but how you run your business is up to you.  If you provide a great product (good drinks) that you know how to sell and upsell, and you give great customer service, I guarantee that you will make more money.  It’s all up to you.”

I became a hustler behind the bar, and saw my money grow almost immediately.  I loved the fact that I could give myself a raise on any given shift just by working smarter.  I got better and better at what I did, and by the time I graduated from college, the money was so good that it was almost painful to walk away and start at the bottom of the internet marketing rat race.

To create cocktails and call yourself a bartender is not hard- a monkey could be taught to pour beer and shake up a martini.  What separates an average bartender and a great bartender is not the competence to make drinks- it’s the ability to sell, satisfy the customer and keep them coming back.  I’ll explain each in detail as I share a few lessons I learned that I have used to succeed both behind the bar and in the real world:

Know your product and sell the hell out of it

I’m going to break this one up into two parts, because each is equally important.  It’s very hard to sell something you know nothing about, and even if you’re an expert on a product, it’s worthless unless you figure out a way to sell it.

It’s very simple: if you’re not selling something that people want, you’re not making money.

Cocktails in a bar sell themselves- that’s why the customers showed up in the first place.  However, the customer may not necessarily know what they want, and it’s up to you to inform and sell them.  This is your opportunity to upsell.  As long as you can convince your customer that Grey Goose is better than Crystal Palace (yuck) your sales will go up, and most likely so will your tips.

When you walk into a bar, it’s very easy to spot the great bartenders- they’re the ones who greet you immediately, make conversation and try to sell you their products with enthusiasm.

Bad bartenders on the other hand tend to have the same bad habits I’ve seen struggling business people have.  They’re either more worried about the drama in their personal lives, too lazy to put in the work, not interested in what they’re selling, or they fail to upsell.

When you’re trying to succeed and make money, it’s important to remember that selling comes first.  Everything else comes second.

You must make people feel comfortable

Have you ever wondered why bartenders are also considered therapists?  One of the main reasons that people go to the bar and pour their hearts out to an almost-stranger is because bartenders just listen without judging.  Think about it- how many people in your life hear you out and ask questions without judgment?

As a bartender, I never told people what to do or judged their motives or actions the way I might do to my friends. By doing this, I earned the trust of my regulars.  They were comfortable coming in and updating me on their lives (while spending money), knowing that I wouldn’t think any more or less of them.

Trust is huge in almost every facet of life, especially business.  When people feel comfortable coming to you, it is much easier to accomplish things.

When you’re a team player, the results are usually better

Although you might consider yourself to be running your own little business, I guarantee that it’ll run a lot smoother if you accept some help from time to time.  When you’re busy, it’s really helpful to have that extra person who supports you, whether it’s a bar-back refilling your ice, or a co-worker to share the workload with.

You can’t be everywhere, and you’re not going to be good at everything, so it’s important to surround yourself with a great team to keep you balanced.  Make sure you treat those people well.

Know that you can handle a lot more than you think you can

I remember feeling excited, but absolutely terrified, before working my first Winter Music Conference.  I heard stories from those who had been through it before of 18-hour shifts for five days straight, dealing with the most wild and drugged-up partiers ever.

In the days leading up to WMC, I rested, meditated and did my best to mentally and physically prepare myself for what laid ahead.  By day 5 I felt like I had run a marathon and calculated more prices in my head than a math team- I was fried. But it was so motivating to look over and see the cash piling up in the tip jar.

The moral of this story- you can keep going much longer than you think you can when you need to.  I’m not telling you to hustle for 18 hours every single day, but when the money is there, GET IT, because it might not always be.

Don’t let anyone disrespect you

Even though I was there to earn money, whenever a customer crossed a line and disrespected me, they were quickly shown the door.  It didn’t matter if they were spending money- no negativity was allowed.

I know this goes a little against everything I have already said in this article, but I’m a firm believer in removing anyone who causes a great amount of problems and stress.  This applies to both at work and in life.  These people end up sucking your time and energy, creating a bad vibe, and will often badmouth you to other customers or ask for a refund after you’ve bent over backwards for them.  It takes your attention away from the better paying customers, and in my opinion, it’s just better to remove these bad apples.

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What Internet Marketers Can Learn From LeBron James

LeBron James is a champion for a reason. Nothing was handed to him or came easy; many years of hard work, planning and preparation went into making him what he is today.  Here are some valuable lessons that internet marketers, entrepreneurs and basically anyone who wants to be successful can learn just by observing The King:

To be a winner, you must push yourself

LeBron James flex

It is not possible to become one of the best athletes in the world without figuring out the physical limits of your body and a way to exceed them.  Just like in the NBA, there’s no shortage of competition in the internet marketing industry. As more people join the industry and become better at what they do, it’s going to get harder to stand out.

Instead of perceiving competition as a threat or a negative thing, we must use it as motivation to push ourselves harder.

Have you ever seen the video of LeBron’s pre-game workout routine?  The same way LeBron puts in the work to be stronger than his competition, marketers much push themselves to exceed to continually provide the best service and technology in the industry.  It doesn’t matter whether you work in an office or an arena- you’ll still need to put in the work if you plan on beating your competition.

Don’t let awkward situations get to you

LeBron and his mother, Gloria James
As many NBA fans know, LeBron’s mother, Gloria, can be a handful.  LeBron was forced to deal with a touchy subject involving his mother and her alleged lover, Cleveland teammate Delonte West.

No matter how awkward things got, LeBron kept his cool and doesn’t let tension affect his game.  He kept his focus and still played like the boss that he was.

With the constant change in the marketing industry, it’s easy to sweat the small stuff and turn a simple misunderstanding into something that could end up making you look bad or terminating a relationship.  By taking a cue from LeBron, we can learn to stay calm, take a deep breath and keep going.

It’s hard to succeed all alone— surround yourself with a great team

Dwyane Wade and Lebron James

The King was already an all-star player in Cleveland, but he knew that there was no way he was going to win a championship all by himself.  He knew he needed some help from a great team, which was a huge factor in his decision to take his talents to South Beach.

No matter how awesome you are, it’s really hard to succeed in the marketing industry by yourself. Surround yourself with other great talent and together you guys can achieve a whole lot more.

Learn from those who have already succeeded

Jay Z and Lebron James

Every successful person has someone that they look up to and learn from.  While LeBron undoubtedly looks up to basketball greats, it’s his unique relationship with Jay Z that stands out to me.  The guys have been friends for years, and Jay has served as a mentor to LeBron.  Jay has guided LeBron in using his success to branch out of basketball and think like a businessman and entrepreneur.  As a result, LeBron surpassed Kobe Bryant this year as the highest paid basketball player in the world with earnings of $56.5 million.

The lesson learned here- If you want to be the best, make sure that you are being taught by the best.

Keep a thick skin and keep on moving

LeBron James is one of the most disliked and scrutinized athletes in the world.  People have picked on him about everything from leaving Cleveland to not winning a title for nine years to his receding hairline.

As marketers, we understand that clients all have different personalities, needs and demands and we must do what we can to make them all happy.  Even when you’re really good at what you do, it’s simply not possible to make every person happy all the time, and some people will turn on you the minute something doesn’t go their way.  You must have a thick skin in times like this and try not to take things personally.

After LeBron came to Miami, people called him names and made fun of him, and what did he do?  He kept going and became a champion.

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Casey Kurlander, Search marketing Specialist, BMI Elite