Ramon Ray, CEO and founder of Smart Hustle Media, shares tips, strategies, and perspectives on growing a thriving business—the smart way.
If you want to grow your business, you have to hustle smart. As someone who has started four companies and sold two, Ramon Ray is no stranger to growing businesses. He’s an author and sought-after speaker on topics such as personal branding, technology, marketing, and sales, and he has impacted hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs through his company, Smart Hustle Media. In this episode, he shares details of his own entrepreneurial journey, defines what it means to “hustle smartly,” and talks about how business owners should be defining success. He also shares some practical, no-nonsense tips on how to integrate your business brand with your personal brand, and how to use data and technology to its fullest in your business to save time and scale faster.
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How To Hustle The Smart Way with Ramon Ray [Transcript]
Our guest is Ramon Ray, an entrepreneur, author, speaker and Founder of Smart Hustle Media. My relationship with Ramon goes back for years where I attended one of his events and I connected immediately as Ramon being a person with no-nonsense advice for small business owners. Pay attention to what he shares about the importance of knowing your numbers and how to differentiate between a hobby and a business. We also spoke about the boundaries of hustling and why it needs to go together with the word smart and ultimately, what we could learn from the relationships he has with large brands and what you could adapt to your small business.
Ramon Ray, thank you so much for being on the show.
Thanks for inviting me and I hope I raise the bar or at least, keep the bar of the show the same. It’s always good to be here and talk to you and learn with you.
You and I met years ago when I attended one of your small business events. We connected and we had a lot in common and since then, we’ve been on a lot of stages and a lot of events together. I’m very excited to speak to you because there’s so much knowledge that you have throughout the years that we could share with our audience.
I can remember when I first met you and I think people are like dogs a little bit that you sense and click if you like somebody. I don’t know how that works but I know when I first met you, the energy, the excitement and the smile. That’s probably what it was about you. You have a very lovely smile. That’s what caused us to click together and be friends so many years out. Thank you.
Thank you so much. Let’s dive in for our audience a little bit about yourself and about your background. I’ve been following a lot of your journey. Tell us a little bit where it all started, where did you start your entrepreneur’s journey and where are you now?
Absolutely. In a nutshell, I’m the founder of Smart Hustle Media and we are a company that works with brands to help them better communicate and reach small business owners. It’s very similar to Inc. and Forbes and others. They have communities and content and they work with brands to help reach that community. So I’m a speaker. I speak around the globe about small business starting in marketing and entrepreneurship. I’ve started a few businesses, sold two of them. I’m the author of several books. The latest one is called Celebrity CEO and that’s where I am today – a speaker, writer and event producer. I am working with brands to help reach that audience.
As far as my journey, in summary: I’ve had a stint of working at the United Nations for many years. While there is where I started a few of my companies. My business started as a whim as it were. Me and a partner of mine saying, “Should we do a big event with 300 or more people?” We put our credit cards down and did it. That was the first event we did and we’ve done it sixteen or so years later. That’s a summary of who I am – someone who’s worked full-time jobs and had this passion for bringing together communities of people and then over time discovering, “Wow, I can get paid to do this? Wow, You want me to speak at your event? Wow, you want me to write this and you’ll pay me?” The rest has morphed into a media company as people call it.
Speaking about being a speaker, let’s talk about business events. You spoke and got the award of speaking at the shortest amount of time and the most amount of content pushed into fifteen minutes.
I remembered as I was leaving the stage, people were in a good way touching me and saying, “Thank you. We welcome you,” that was a highlight. I’ll never forget that feeling of being there at your event speaking to so many different communities and being so welcomed.
We’re speaking to leaders and entrepreneurs and it’s a fine line. Some people are made up to be an entrepreneur, and then there are some people that are willing to be an employee. If you worked for the UN and then decided to do this on your own, what transpired and what made you think that you’re an entrepreneur and not just made up to be at a full-time job from 9 to 5?
For those who are struggling with that, maybe this can help them. I remember going to it. It was a 9 to 5 job. You wake up at 6:00 or 7:00 AM, do what you do in the morning. In my case, it was devotions and exercises. You then come home. You leave the office at 5:00 or 6:00, some days at 7:00. It’s hard work and there is a lot of work to do. But I knew being in a “cubicle” and a desk and the 9 to 5 rat race, I was never comfortable with it. Second of all, while there were nice people, the office environment wasn’t for me. That’s why I was always intellectually bored. I’m a creator and that’s where then I got fired, or resigned. It depends on how you think of it. My contract was not extended, and it thrust me into being an entrepreneur, which as I look back at it, I wanted to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time. If I had wanted to wait until I get $1 million saved, wait until I get $1 billion saved, wait until I get $10 billion saved up…. I would never have left. Eventually, I’m glad I was pushed out to launch my own business.
Let’s speak about your latest venture, which is the founder of Smart Hustle Media. The middle word in Smart Hustle Media is a hustle. It’s a very controversial word in the world of business, especially when we speak about the work-life balance and business in general. Do you need to hustle? What is hustling and also how do you manage that while making sure that you’re not dropping the ball and while maintaining work-life balance?
Everybody—all your friends, family or any decent person—hustles. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. There’s always a hustler in the area in a good way. “Can I fix your tires? Can I help with your car?” Everybody works hard and hustles. That’s a given and that’s part of entrepreneurship. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you’re in the wrong place. The other half of that comes in, you have to do it smartly. If you want to build a thriving business, if you want to grow your business, if you want to take a vacation and if you want to live a better life, you have to do it smartly. Some of those smart things are things you know well like marketing—which is your cup of tea—hiring the right people, building a team, delegating, thinking about growth and building in systems in place. Those are some of the reasons that the word “smart” spoke to me, because I see many entrepreneurs where even myself, I haven’t arrived. I’m in a hustle. That’s a given. Nobody will outwork Ramon, but how smart am I going to do it?
Got it. So That’s why you added the “smart”— because you could hustle and hustle, or as Michael Gerber always says, “doing it, doing it, doing it” and not arrive at any destination, just because you’re not doing it smartly. From a business owner’s perspective, is there a “destination” where at one point you’ve arrived and where you stop hustling or is it a way of life?
I can tell you how I do it. I’d love for you to answer it. I’d be curious what you think if it’s okay with you. For me, I know I will always be in business at some point. I’m not going to sit at home in a rocking chair watching Netflix. It’s not me. As you know, I’m a person of faith so I will always be active in my community. Having said that, my business, my hope and my goal enable me to do more things for my community with the money that I’ve been blessed to have. At the end of the day, that’s what I think true entrepreneurship is about. Very few of us will be Jeff Bezos at the extreme end or any of these famous billion-dollar entrepreneurs, but every entrepreneur can earn $200,000 or $300,000 a year, not just trying a New York City wage, just scraping by with $50,000 or $30,000 but a good way of life that you can give back to the community and you can do less work. That’s what I think of arriving and what it means. You’re not a billionaire but that you’re comfortable and more importantly, how much are you able to give back? When you think of the aspect of arrival, what do you see on that aspect?
This is something that I’m very passionate about and I’ve written about it on social media in the past. Success means different things for different people. Each person has to evaluate their strengths, their weaknesses and also, what success is for them. You can have two people selling marketing services. One person wants to be a solo entrepreneur and a graphic designer and doing it as a consultant. The other person wants to build a firm and an agency around it. Who’s right and who’s wrong? They’re both right. Why? That speaks to this person and that speaks to that person and you have to live by what speaks to you. I’ve written a lot of it on social media. It’s something that I feel we need more people like you and me and other people to speak more about. When you see somebody sharing success and you’re saying, “I’m a failure because I’m comparing myself to that person.” It’s totally not true because you might never want that piece of success, because you don’t know what price the person is paying.
I only get this caution from a mutual friend of ours, her name’s Rachel Michaelov. She’s a CPA. It was her and some others have talked about this. To the designer who wants to design in their home office and make whatever they’re making, the only caveat that I’m only learning is that, what happens when you want to stop doing that or do you want to have to work so hard forever? That’s what I see in my own business because I realized that it’s not about being rich or a billionaire but I do think the 9 to 5-ers, they retire and have a pension and go off fishing or whatever they’re going to do when they’re 70 or 65. Us entrepreneurs, if we’re not building that wealth or building the system, then how do we enjoy a little life when we get older? That’s my only part to all entrepreneurs and I could be wrong, but you going to want to exit or retire in some way. If you don’t have a spouse giving you money, you need to build your business to either sell it or generating cash without you.
This is a great piece of advice. And I think what I’m hearing from you is, let’s say you’re hustling smart towards a goal, towards success—what does success mean for you? Then build into that something that is going to give you that residual income or make your business profitable in a way where it could run either by itself or at one point, you have an exit and somebody else could take it over but you got that payout. That’s great advice for our listeners.
Absolutely, that’s exactly the point.
I know that you have been working throughout your life with small business owners. Your conferences are very much geared towards small business owners. I’ve attended a lot of those conferences, which by the way, we should start calling them growing businesses because nothing’s small. If that’s the level of success they want, it’s not small.
You know, I actually started using that word. If you look at the headline to Smart Hustle, I still use the phrase “small business.” I cringe at using SMB, but that’s what the community uses, the sponsors. But really, you’re right. That’s the key word, growing businesses. We know we’re not talking about Dell or Microsoft. Growing businesses mean Meny and me.
That’s a place where you spend a lot of your effort and your time, educating those people and bringing people in like Seth Godin. But then you also work with large brands. You can name a couple of those brands but I’ve seen you working with Microsoft and different companies that you have worked with throughout your career. Obviously we’re not very similar in budgets and in resources, but what do you feel about how larger brands approach growth and exposure? What can we, as business owners, learn from that?
That’s a tough question because there are many opposites, but one thing that I’ve found is that the similarity between big business and small business is that it is the human at the end of the day. When you’re looking to work with big brands, let’s say you’re looking to work at Honda or whatever brand it is, the logo is not shaking your hand. There is no such thing as Honda. There’s John, Bethany, Becky, Susan who works at Honda and who has a goal to reach through your services. They need to buy your cupcakes, your flowers and your catering services for their company. That’s one similarity: humans are humans, whether that human is at $1 billion company or not.
Some things we can learn as well is some companies do well and they experiment. Not all, this may sound ironic but I see more and more. The bigger companies say, “I don’t know if it will work but let’s test it.” The third thing that I’m looking at in many of these brands, is looking to work with influencers. I don’t mean influencers like these articles you read on media, “Ten ways to work with the top influencers.” It’s finding people who have an affinity to your business and saying, “What can we do together?” Those are the three things that we can learn from larger businesses.
The lesson there is the testing part and then communicating and joining ventures with different people, like-minded people. I see this a lot with salespeople. They’re running out of context and finding that other salesperson that might speak to the same industry or even somebody that’s an influencer within that space that could work with you. In general, how much do you think branding plays a role in growing a company?
At first, I thought for growing businesses, branding wasn’t so important. I talk about this all the time. My whole thing is personal branding. Everybody has a different thing they do. My thing is personal branding. I once thought it’s a matter of leads and the marketing automation and being on Twitter. I realize that what that is, is branding. To answer your question in a succinct way, it’s so important! But not branding like I thought it meant, that you had to be branding like Coca-Cola branding, Dell or Salesforce. It’s not branding like that, but branding meaning in your small niche, as my friend Seth Godin says, how are you well-known? What you’ve done? Everybody in your community, whatever community that may be, may not know Meny Hoffman but a lot of people do know the Meny Hoffman Let’s Talks Business brand. That’s what I mean. You’re not going to know everybody in the world, you can’t. But in the New York area and certain demographics and this defined audience, you can be known and that’s what I mean. For the larger reaching small businesses, all 305 of them who are doing anything with small businesses know Ramon. So branding is everything. It’s everything.If you want to grow your business, you have to hustle smartly. Click To Tweet
A lot of people confuse branding, marketing and advertising, those three pieces of it. When they think branding, they think about, “Do I need to spend money on billboards?” We see a lot of larger brands stealing ideas from smaller brands and becoming more approachable.
I wanted to mention that to underline that. Take a brand like Casper, the mattress company. If you have the money because you’re VC backed and you want to spend $100 million or $500 million, more if you want to saturate in New York City, what would you guess that costs? I’m a new brand and I want to reach all of America within six months to know my name. It would cost them hundreds of millions. If you have hundreds of millions, go for it. But most of us can’t. But to reach a known niche, you can do it.
Adding to that from a marketing perspective, I have clicked on one of their ads. I’m being followed by all the marketing. Even if I buy a new mattress every year, they’ll never make a profit on me based on that. That’s where the goal comes into play, depending on what you want. Is it awareness? Do you want results in sales or do you want to grow with a lot of those VC-backed companies? This is something a lot of small businesses are struggling with because they see a lot of that and they’re not understanding that those people will have a different strategy. Sometimes you can see companies spending so much in getting you as a customer because they’re not looking at the bottom line. They’re looking at gross because maybe they want to do an IPO or whatever it is. That’s not for our small business owners. We want to grow our company where we could live off it or at the end of the day, retire off it.
Let’s go back to the book and this is a question that a lot of people, including myself, sometimes wrestle with. You speak all about personal branding and that’s putting yourself out as the expert, going to your niche market and zooming into what you could deliver with as content as a business owner. This is a question I get asked so many times and I don’t have the right answer. Hopefully after this podcast, we’ll get a little bit of clarity. How do you differentiate when a company’s building their brand—in our case, it’s Ptex—and then we have a personal brand. There are people within the company who are also building their personal brand at the same time. Particularly, when you speak in the age of social media where you have business accounts and you have personal accounts, how do you balance it and how do they complement each other so you’re maximizing it?
That is the number one question I’m often asked at events when I speak on personal branding, the business brand versus the personal brand. Here are my two cents on that. Let’s take Ptex, Let’s Talk Business, and Meny Hoffman, three different things. You’re an anomaly there. Meny Hoffman, many people know him. Your face is all over the place. You are memorable with your smile, but Meny Hoffman is driving sales toward Ptex, his main business. For very small businesses, it’s one. Let’s take your proverbial flower shop owned by Meny Hoffman. Everything you do is driving toward the flower shop. Everything that a flower shop is doing is driving back towards the business. For me, it’s integrated especially the smaller you are.
I’m comfortable that Smart Hustle is Ramon and Ramon is Smart Hustle. I’m doing some other projects and building. There may be some things that I’m doing, especially with partners. They may not initially know Ramon, but I do know that I’m an asset to that corporate brand. Very small businesses, get comfortable. You are your brand and your brand is you. Don’t try to get sloppy or crazy, or doing something stupid your personal brand. Do you think it won’t affect your business brand? The smaller you are, they’re both the same. That’s what I think.
In practicality, on your social media profiles, are you speaking as your personal voice pushing the business brand? Is that the way to go?
Yes, what I would say is, “My name is Ramon Ray. As you know, I’m all about flowers and here are three things I learned today walking my dog.” If you keep doing that, your personal brand is going to be growing. Let’s say on LinkedIn. People got to know you, Ramon, as the flower guy. As you’re infusing your content, over time people will know that they can go to RamonRayFlowers.com and/or it’s okay to even do a hard sell, “I’ve been delivering great content to you, but Valentine’s Day’s coming up. I’d appreciate it if as you’re looking for flowers for your mom, could you go to RamonRayFlowers.com and check it out?” I have earned the right to do a little more hard sell because I’ve been adding so much value over the months and years in my personal side.
Once people realize that you are the face of your brand, automatically they understand when they speak, they have to represent both and both of them have to go in concurrent.
Speaking about social media and technology, I want to shift it to a different piece. First of all, let’s speak about technology in general. I know from the earlier years you have spoken about the importance of having technology within your infrastructure. How important is technology in helping a small business scale?
That’s everything. When I say everything, you got to be strategic. You have to have the right team and you have to be a good person, but technology helps you scale your business. Technology helps you be more efficient and be more productive. Technology helps you communicate better with your customers and your clients internally. If you’re not leveraging the power of technology to fulfill a business function, you are missing out. Whether it’s Slack, Asana, Dropbox or Zoho and all these tools, you’ve got to use them and I’m learning more. Having them is not enough. You have to have them integrated properly. You have to be using them properly to drive business in, but it is indeed everything.You are your brand. Your brand is you. You earn the right to do more of a hard sell when you've been adding so much value over the months and years as your personal brand. Click To Tweet
Let’s do a follow-up question on that. If you are speaking to small business owners like our audience and they’re growing business and they are not utilizing technology, what would be the first or second step to approach it? Wherever you go in every scenario, there are many different ways they can go to.
One is don’t be scared of technology. Many people are afraid of it to some degree, “I don’t need to use technology. It’s for young people.” Two, for those of you who already know about technology in general, take some training. That doesn’t mean you have to learn how to code and be a geek but take a little bit of training even to use the tools you’re using better. Maybe you’re using Office 365. Take a 30-minute course, an overview of how to use it. If you’re using Google, get a course. Three, be security conscientious. Four, integration. Think about how you could type in once into QuickBooks and then it’s updating into your customer database or once it’s in your customer database, it’s automatically being refreshed into Zoho books. I’m a firm believer in figuring out how I can use tools like Zapier and others to make my life easier. I use Eventbrite, Infusionsoft and Leadpages because they all have three different strengths but I try to use Zapier so people can enter the data once and I can get the information that I need.
People are missing out when they don’t have the data coming together. Data is king, and when you need to make decisions, where are you looking? You need to see your sales numbers up or down and you can pinpoint. Is it up or is it down? Is it because we don’t have enough leads coming in on top of the funnel? You cannot live off of having it all over the place.
You said data is everything and you’re true. That’s something I struggle with. We have all this data going back and forth. The technology gives us so many things. Are we using it? When is it best for you to be open to your business? Should you be open to 9:00 PM on a Wednesday? What does the data say? Who are the top 10% of your most ardent customers? The data is there. When are your Twitter followers most active? Your website, is it working for you?
Let me ask you this. I know you have spoken a lot about business owners in general and take companies that are growing or companies that are going under, so to speak. How do you know when to tell a business owner, look them in the eye and say to them, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby or vice versa? How does a person know that this little shop that I’m having, is this a real business or am I playing over here with a hobby that I am attached to?
The numbers say it all. How much time are you putting into the business and how much money is it generating? To me, that’s all that matters. For example, your desire is to pay yourself $50,000 or $60,000 a year, which is not a lot by New York standards. You can do something with it. Your business is pulling in $10,000 a year because you’re staying with your parents may be and you don’t have to pay rent. That’s what I mean by the numbers don’t lie. If you’re able to pay yourself a good living salary, you can pay the overhead operating cost of business and you can pay to have the team you need, you have a business. If you’re pulling money from grandma, pulling money from Auntie, pulling money from loans and line of credit and all those kinds of things all day long, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby.
That’s very valuable because at one point, you have to stop and think, “What’s going on over here?” If you’re spending so much effort and so much time, at one point you have to ask yourself, “Is this a viable business?”
That’s important. Should you even be in business? Are you the right person to run the business?
Thank you so much, Ramon. Let’s end with our famous four rapid questions. Ramon, what’s a book that changed your life?
Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing.If you're able to pay yourself a good living salary and pay the overhead operating costs and have the team you need, you have a business. Click To Tweet
Tell me more about the book.
It’s a book that’s all about the fundamentals of marketing, not the speeds and feeds like Twitter and LinkedIn and all that, but mindset. The things we talked about like niche. Seth talks about building tension, getting people excited about what you’re doing, how can I be different and those kinds of things.
What’s a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget?
My Indian friend said, “You need to slow down. Calm down. You’re going too fast.” I’ll never forget that. He was about 80 years old. He’s passed away but we worked together for many years.
Anything you wish you could have to go back and do differently?
Probably, I wouldn’t have spent so much money on some of the business ventures I’ve done and I have lost money. Of course, I’ve been blessed but some days I wish, “If I wouldn’t have spent $20,000, $50,000 or $100,000 on this, maybe I would have had that or could have done something else with it and be farther along than I am now.”
Last question, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?
I would like to have my own TV show and I would like to interview the president, whether it’s President Trump or a future president. I want to be invited to the White House and interview the president.
If Donald Trump or any other potential president want to be interviewed by Ramon Ray, here’s the request. Thank you so much, Ramon. This was amazing. Our listeners will get a lot of value out of this, and we look forward to having you again on the show.
- Smart Hustle Media
- Ramon Ray
- Celebrity CEO
- This Is Marketing
About Ramon Ray
Ramon Ray is an entrepreneur, author and speaker who loves burnt pancakes, bacon and eggs. He’s the founder of Smart Hustle Media, has started four companies and sold two. Ramon has authored four books and his latest book is “Celebrity CEO – How Entrepreneurs Can Thrive By Building a Strong Personal Brand” Ramon has been invited as an expert witness to the United States Congress, invited by the Office of the President of the United States to speak at the White House on personal branding and produced many events including the “Smart Hustle Small Business Conference”, “Small Business Summit”, “Small Business Technology Tour”, “Small Biz Big Things” and more.
Get to know Ramon better at http://www.ramonray.com Ramon has shared the stage with Seth Godin, Daymond John, Guy Kawasaki, Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s interviewed many of the sharks and contestants on Shark Tank and other celebrity entrepreneurs. He’s interviewed President Obama in the President’s first live Google Hangout, and was part of the US Delegation to India, led by Ivanka Trump for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
Although Ramon has interviewed and shared the stage with many celebrity entrepreneurs, his passion and biggest professional accomplishment is interviewing “main street” small business owners and entrepreneurs and sharing their stories. Ramon is not just an ivory tower geek, but as a former technology consultant, he has hands-on experience in a variety of technologies including social media, mobile computing, computer networks, online software and more.
Ramon’s expertise is technology, marketing, sales, business startup and growth and his favorite is personal branding. Over his extensive career, Ramon has written thousands of articles, spoken to thousands of business owners and impacted hundreds of thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs to help their businesses thrive.