By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many consultants marketing to entrepreneurs brand their programs and seminars with words like “golden,” “riches,” or “success.” But Mike Michalowicz’s book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur (HarperCo, 2008) and site of the same name demonstrate the off-beat approach that represents his own entrepreneurial experience, too.
Home Business Magazine sat down with Michalowicz to discuss his thoughts on entrepreneurship.
Home Business Magazine (HBM): Why are you “The Toilet Paper” Entrepreneur”?
Mike Michalowicz (MM): Many entrepreneurs look at the covers of business magazines, and they see successes. It becomes disheartening. With the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I point out the real side, like the bathroom experience, when there are only three sheets. Then we become very innovative, like looking through the trash for these lifesaving wadded tissues. In business, we expect a full roll, but we find we don’t. We have much better success if we’re willing to use ingenuity and scrappiness over a rich network. That will get you so much further. True entrepreneurship is where you’re willing to do things a whole new way.
HBM: How did your education prepare you?
MM: Being an entrepreneur — was the best education. My college education is of the least significance, [except that] the college party scene showed me how to be social. No matter what, success is our ability to connect and help other people.
HBM: What did you learn from your first business?
MM: It was setting up computer networks. It struggled because it was like everyone else, and a million other people were doing it. I found an approach to business that was new and that’s where it really took off. It has to do with the old 80/20 rule: 20 percent of your client base yields 80 percent of the revenue. We identified the 20 percent and out of these, we decided who are the ones that we celebrate when they call. I learned about what made them tick. I found that by tweaking a few things we’d be highly customized for them and our business really took off. Within in a year, we were double our size. It sounds scary but the less you do, the better you’ll do it and the more successful you’ll be. The small entrepreneur thinks they should do more for their clients so they’ll come back. If you dilute your main service or product, you’ll never be a master at anything.
HBM: What are the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a new business?
MM: Having the get-rich-quick mentality, going into business because it’s the new, hot thing. There are certain people who do it because it’s their passion and they will excel, putting in the extra hours to get the job done and sticking with it when there’s no money because they love it.
HBM: What are some budget-conscious, effective methods of marketing?
MM: If you want to stand out from the crowd, never join the crowd to begin with. Don’t do the same as the competition. If you have no money, go to all the online sites and yellow pages listings of your competitors. Call them. Certain businesses go out of business, but their numbers are still there. Call the phone company and get their numbers redirected to you. When people call, tell them that they have gone out of business, and welcome them with open arms. It may be $5 to redirect the number per month, but that’s nothing.
PR gives more exposure to the market and it doesn’t cost anything. A lot of entrepreneurs negate the power of it. Or they send a cheesy press release, and the story is so boring because it’s all about their company. Look for the angle, the human element, the crazy, the fun, and the unexpected. Say, “Hey, I think I have a story,” and let the journalist decide. Journalists can be resources if you help them.
HBM: What are the top three keys to success in today’s economy?
MM: While it’s rooted in passion, that’s an abused term. Passion doesn’t bring about success; it brings about persistence and that’s the key to success. Success banks on good timing. The only way you can improve your odds of good timing is if you’re persistent. You’d better be there when that journalist calls or when that client calls. And you’ve got to deliver. Manage expectations. Don’t promise to get something done in two days to be competitive even though it’s more likely to be done in five days. That can create a problem when you break your promise. HBM