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Nice Guys Finish First

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Giving First by Michael Palmisano

Intro

Four years ago, at twenty-nine years old, with zero business experience and two boys under three years old, my wife and I risked our entire life’s savings - our family house money - to start an online guitar school.  And then for 2.5 years I got almost everything wrong.  

Broke and in debt, we had to move three times and rely on family and friends for bare essentials.  We even had to sleep together in the same bed during the winter because our tiny apartment was so cold.

Today we have 70k+ students, one of the highest grossing guitar courses on the internet, major brand sponsorships, guest artist instructors, and have even had a course mentioned in Time Magazine.  Perhaps most importantly, the five of us (yes we had another boy) finally have a home of our own.

Here’s a glimpse of our struggle, and how knowing yourself and helping others made all the difference.

Preface

First off, I would like to say how excited I am to be collaborating with The Nice Guys.  Doug - or DJ Doug as he would say - and his daughter are former guitar students of mine.  They are such positive, hard working, and naturally uplifting people and I’m glad to see Doug sharing the message that he lives and breathes.  I reached out to Doug to get involved with The Nice Guys because I feel I have a compelling story of risk, struggle, and reward  - with success ultimately coming from giving first and caring - which is at the core of his message.  Of course, Doug was nice as ever and encouraged me to share.  And if this inspires to you to pick up the guitar (as I hope it does), I have included some tips and a free video to get you going. Furthermore, you can always email me at support@guitargate.com and I’ll do my best to help you in any way.  

Background

I don’t remember not playing the guitar.  Without a doubt, I have spent the vast majority of my life chasing a singular goal: to be the best guitar player possible.

I didn’t come from a musical family, but they saw my passion and thankfully encouraged me every step of the way.  My first private lessons began in Kindergarten, and for most of my adolescent life I could be found in my room, guitar in hand.  At twenty-three I got serious and moved to Hollywood to study at GIT with some of the very best players in the world.  It was incredibly difficult, but I succeeded - even chosen by my peers to represent our class at graduation - and immediately after graduation I nailed an audition with a major record label.  They had a summer tour lined up, and I thought I had it all figured out.  

And then - seemingly overnight - iTunes and YouTube changed the music industry forever.  My peers and I watched our label gigs disappear that same spring.  I never even had a rehearsal.  It happened that quickly.

My (now) Wife was in Baltimore, and because I desperately wanted to be with her, I moved home and did what all musicians do:  Teach and gig.  

For the next seven years I taught hundreds of students, up to 50-60 a week, coached rock bands (Doug was in one), and gigged around town.  During that time I realized something critical about myself:  

I may be a good guitar player, but I’m an even better teacher - and teaching made me a better player.  THIS was my niche.

There was only one problem:  I had scaled out and couldn’t make any more money teaching.  And then a friend gave me “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuck and I immediately knew I had to move online to reach more people.   

Birth Of Guitargate

So - I planned the perfect product - the website I wish I had growing up: “A facebook for guitar lessons.”

It would feature a professional-grade curriculum like I found at GIT, but function as a social network, encouraging students to post videos for instructor and peer feedback.  And since I had never sold anything in my life, and my family encouraged me to complete my degree, I also went back to college full-time for business.  

Yes, you read that correctly:  Not only was I risking everything we had to start a business from scratch, but also I took out student loans to be a full-time college student, all while I was still a full time teacher, a full-time gigging musician, and a full-time husband and father of 2 non school aged children.  My Wife was also a special ed teacher and ran a skin-care business of her own.  

Hiring a firm for the site development, my main job was to create the content to fill this amazing new site:

It was a massive, 60 level, 10+ hour, all HD, multi-angle with pro audio video course.  I was the on-screen instructor and my brother-in-law manned the camera. It also featured 100+ jam tracks and 400+ images and documents.  I played all of the MIDI instruments, did all of the writing, all of the image editing.

12 months and our life savings later, I was ready to launch this incredible product that I was beyond proud of.  I thought selling would be the easy part. - because after all - who else could or would put that kind of time and money into the product??

We Lost Money For 18 Consecutive Months

Pouring every extra dollar we earned from gigging and teaching back into the company, I read every marketing book and blog known to man, took sales course after sales course, and lived and breathed Adwords and FB Ad Manager trying to make my LCV higher than my user acquisition cost.  

I finished my business degree 2nd in my class, placed in three nationwide collegiate whitepaper competitions along the way (won one), and I won our university’s entrepreneurial competition which included free office space and interns for a year.  My band was even voted “best band” in Baltimore Magazine 3 years in a row.  

I was working hard, smart, and succeeding in all my endeavors except one: Guitargate was going bankrupt.  Almost 3 years in I knew my business model was broken, and I was in complete despair.

Doubling Down On Risk - And Myself

And then I had my boldest, craziest idea yet.  The exact opposite of what I’ve been doing:  Let’s make the site completely free.  

The plan was to film a new 60 lesson course - but for complete beginners - and offer brands the opportunity to feature their products in the videos in exchange for co-promotion (I was long out of advertising money).  To hopefully make money, we would simply offer these free students a coupon to buy our masterclass at a discount (which we moved to a 3rd party course marketplace called Udemy.)

This was also when we moved for the 3rd time in 2.5 years to an old mouse-filled apartment with no insulation that backed to a train track.  We maxed out the last credit card.  

And we were having another baby.

And what did I do?  

I spent all day and night giving lessons to people without expecting or asking for anything in return.  I responded thoughtfully and consistently to every email, every video, every comment, and helped any way I could - all for free.  I talked to hundreds of guitar players a day and gave honest, professional advice and encouragement. Day after day, month after month, and now year after year.

I simply provided a link to the masterclass, explained that it picks up after the free beginner lessons, and let students know that that’s how I support Guitargate.  No ads, no email campaigns, no landing page A/B testing, nothing salesy at all.

And do you know what happened?

Within 12 months we had generated 40k+ students, $30k+ /mo in sales, and secured PRS Guitars (the 3rd largest guitar maker in the US) as our first corporate sponsor.

I could go on for hours about why, but it came down to two main points:

1.  I didn’t really know what my product was

2.  My customers didn’t know what they were buying

The Moral Of The Story

I was the product.  It was me - the good player and great teacher - not the amazing expensive website that took a year to build.

Making Guitargate free allowed people to get to know me and get value from my skill set before being asked for a credit card number.  They liked learning from me, and they bought my higher level content because they knew the value of it.

It’s that simple.

I gave first.

In that spirit, here’s a list of common questions the beginner guitarists ask and a video to help you get started.  I hope you find it useful, and if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to email support@guitarate.com.

Beginner Lesson

  1. Am I too old? - NO WAY!  Even if you are 80 years old, you can absolutely learn to play the guitar if you try. If you start slow, give yourself reasonable goals, and have fun, you can do this.

  2. Are my hands / fingers too small? - NO WAY!  I have small hands. Some of the best guitarist that ever lived had small hands.  Look at Django Reinhardt - he only had 2 fingers and many people feel he is the best to have ever lived! Moral of the story = you can do this :)

  3. I don’t have much time to practice - is this a waste of my time? - Absolutely Not.  Actually, especially as a beginner, you don’t need that much time to practice… you just need to practice frequently. Learning a discipline is all about repetition, not duration.  15 minutes a day is better than 30 min every other day. You will not be practicing for hours and hours in the beginning, so it’s important to realize that regular practice is the key - not practicing for a long period of time.

  4. What should I expect realistically? - You get out what you put in.  I know this is obvious, but many people struggle with this simple concept. It is related to the previous question on practice time - if you practice every day for even 5 minutes, you should start seeing results on a weekly basis. And that’s fantastic.  If you practice an hour at a time, but only once every 7-10 days, it’s going to take you at least 1-2 times as long to progress.  Yes, of course, some people are more naturally suited to playing for a variety of reasons, but it’s quite simple: if you practice regularly, you will see regular and consistent progress!

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3 Networking Strategies to Elevate Your Experience by Bruce Waller

When I first started networking in my business, my mindset was not very good. I would often question myself about how I could possibly add value to others? I would often think “I am not an industry expert in HR, or Travel, or Relocation, or whatever group that it is meeting”. This thinking will lead you to fear and doubt, as well as reduce your confidence around people. The day you figure out ways to add value as a business professional will be the day networking will change your perspective and open doors for you that you would have never dreamed were possible.

Networking takes skill with a focus on serving others. When I was attending a networking event years ago, I remember at the end of the meeting where the facilitator asked everyone to stand up and exchange business cards for 2 minutes and try to see who could get the most cards. People would quickly shake your hand and literally throw your card at you before moving on. It was like a tornado of business cards blowing in and you were just trying to get through it. This is NOT networking. Networking is about listening, learning, sharing, and being resourceful. It’s also about having a strategy for positive results.

Here are 3 strategies to focus on next time you network for maximum value:

Show up. When I decided to attend my second DallasHR meeting back in 2004, I pulled into the parking lot and remembered the overwhelming feeling I had experienced from the previous meeting. I didn’t know anyone and was getting nervous as I walked up to the hotel. Once I walked in, I looked over at the sea of people networking and immediately walked out of the hotel back to my car and started to leave. I was a wreck. However, I knew that in order to meet people, and connect with others, I had to take action and show up. I am glad I went back into the meeting, because it has impacted my business and personal life in a positive way for over 13 years now.

Be a learnerFocusing on the other person when networking is critical. We all know what it feels like when you have someone come up to introduce him/herself and just start talking about their business or their personal goals. My wife and I attended a book signing not too long ago and met some great people. When we left, she mentioned that she met a few people and learned a lot about what others are doing in their careers, but she also experienced an interesting observation. She said nobody asked about her career. So many times we get caught up talking about our own situation and forget to learn about what others are doing to achieve success. It reminds me of the quote by John Maxwell, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. Asking questions and learning from others will deepen the connection every time.

Add Value. A lot of people struggle with this area because they don’t feel like they have anything important to share. We all have a story and value to share. We just need to find the connection. Value is about learning, sharing, and being resourceful. Another way to add value is to help others connect. When I am networking with someone and see another person I know, I try to introduce them so they can connect. People appreciate and value a good personal connection. I also try to learn as much as I can so that I grow and share with others to help them grow their business and/or in their personal life. Networking is a skill that you can develop with practice, but it takes some work along the way. However, the payoff will be priceless.

Call to action: Write down some questions to ask the next time you plan to attend a networking event. Focus on learning more about them and how you might be able to add value in their business. You will be amazed at the results.

This has been “a Relocation Minute update” on “Networking” with Bruce Waller, for more information on relocation resources, call 972-389-5673, or email bwaller@goarmstrong.com. Follow me on Twitter too!

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Small Woodland Animals by Nicole McDermott

There’s a quote I like to share with the staff at school each year, and it’s posted in my office too:


“Think of your boss as a small woodland animal – make no startling moves or strange gestures.” (Cathie Black from Basic Black)

This is funny to many because if you know me, you know that I am probably the least likely person to be compared to a small woodland animal – or any animal, really! – but the message fits.

Your boss doesn’t want you to do things that are odd or unexpected.  Your boss wants to feel confident that when she hears from you and sees you, both in and out of the work place (and on social media, too), she knows what she’s going to get.  Your boss wants your behavior and your work to reflect well on the company or organization.  

Because if something you do is strange and startling, what will a customer or client think?

Because if your boss is feeling like your behavior is strange and startling, can he trust you?  Can your colleagues or teammates either?

I think the answer is no.  And, if there’s no trust, there’s not much of anything else…

Another way to get at this is: be consistent.

Last year, I heard a speaker say, “When people are consistent around you, they show you their integrity.”  When I think about the people with whom I work – both in my professional life and in my volunteer work – I think this quote rings true.  How do you earn respect?  How do you become seen as someone who is reliable, trustworthy, committed?  It’s by being consistent over time, living your values through your actions, focusing more on the organization or company than yourself, following through on what you say you will do – and by making no startling moves or strange gestures.

 

Nicole McDermott recently concluded her eleventh year leading Pinecrest School, a small, independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia. In addition, Nicole has extensive experience working with high school student leaders through her community service work with Kiwanis International, and she spends a week each summer volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from around the country. She prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into a better version of herself. You can read more of Nicole’s written work on her blog.

 

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Nice Guys Finish First? by Dara Goldberg

Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing Doug Sandler give a presentation at The Philips Collection. Doug has recently released a book, Nice Guys Finish First  about how to effectively build and maintain relationships. I have to admit, the title sounded intriguing, and so I decided not to skim through his book online and spoil the mini-seminar since I wanted to hear the author make his case in person. 

During his talk, Doug even pointed out that nothing he was saying was revolutionary. In fact, he said, everyone is already aware of most of his points, and even more importantly, they already know they should be following them. I thoroughly enjoy going to these types of talks as a refresher, to... well... keep myself sharp. Here is what I learned at this talk:

Note: Doug was speaking to a room full of sales and marketing executives -- apologies if sales or marketing is not your full time job -- but I believe this can be applicable to any industry!

We all know that communication is the key to relationships, and luckily for you, according to Doug, you're in more control than you think. When you're interacting with a client, you want to feel a human connection to that other person. People want to work with businesses focused on making an exceptional customer experience, rather than exceptional products. In order to get there, you need to connect with your customers, clients, prospects, or leads. The simplest interactions can deliver enriched, meaningful relationships; however, they can get botched by the silliest things.

The Five BIG Mistakes People Make:

  1. Failure to Listen
  2. Over Promising and Under Delivering
  3. Poor Response Time, i.e. replying to a text several days later (Why pay that forward? Don't be that person...)
  4. Failure to Have a System / Failure to be Consistent
  5. Failure to Care -- the Holy Grail of them all

OK, so all of the above are not easy habits to break. But you can turn all of this around, and position both yourself and your clients in a win/win situation. If you truly want to succeed, you will strive for leaving other people feeling good about themselves and thereby wanting a deeper more engaging relationship with you and your business. Don't forget that creating systems is very important for your daily operations, since it will build that trust and consistency that clients crave. Oh, and advising and educating your clients, rather than 'selling to your clients' will lead your client to better decisions.

'Go the extra mile, it's never crowded'

Doug asked us to take a Thirty Day Challenge, the Nice Guy’s Challenge. Here are the Nice Guy Rules:

  • Return Every Phone Call
  • Return Every Email
  • Deliver on Every Promise
  • Be on Time. Every Time
  • Send Two Messages a Day (texts or emails to two people you haven't spoken to in at least 3o days. Something quick, 'Hey, I'm thinking about you, and hope you're having a great day')

I’ve decided that December will be great month to do this. The theory behind this is to throw positivity into the universe like a handful of glitter. You get what you give, you know, the golden rule of the universe:

'Treat others as you would like to be treated'

As I said earlier, I believe anyone can benefit from this type of advice. I highly recommend Doug’s Podcast as well. I started listening to some of the episodes on my morning walks and I've been learning a lot of great tips to incorporate into my daily work.

About Dara Goldberg (in her own words):

I’m just a twenty-something woman, navigating her way through this strange, yet fascinating, adventure called life. I’m a sunshine, sand, and ocean loving  Florida girl, currently living in the heart of Washington, DC with my boyfriend, Alex. We have a house full of herbs, succulents, and cacti we are attempting to keep alive. Check out Dara's lifestyle blog at Peonies+Bees.


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3 Ways To Find Valuable Customer Experience Insight by Jeremy Watkin

I’m 6’4” tall so I don’t typically spend much time riding in the back seat of cars–especially not in my own car. We had family in town this past weekend so I answered the call and sat in my back seat quite possibly for the first time ever. When I sat down, I adjusted the floor mat and found the tiny USB plug for my headphones that went missing quite a while ago. It had fallen out of my pocket and I assumed it was gone forever.

Isn’t it funny how simply changing my seat resulted in finding what I was searching for? Business insights are a lot like my missing USB plug. Sometimes a change of seat or speaking with those in other seats within your organization will give you new eyes to see problems and solutions you previously believed were nonexistent.

Voice Of Customer (VOC) is all the rage right now for companies interested in improving the experience for their customers. Before you spend many thousands of dollars on a VOC solution, allow me to offer a few ideas to kickstart your program.

Get To Know The People On The Front Lines

Housed within your contact center is a wealth of knowledge and information about what is and isn’t working about your product or service. Whether you periodically speak with customers or speak with the people speaking with your customers, create open lines of communication so they are comfortable sharing the challenges and complaints they regularly face. You may find that there’s a simple, inexpensive improvement that can pay big dividends for your customer experience.

Get People In All Different Seats Talking To Each Other

You may not realize it but many people within your organization have an impact on your customer experience. Sales and marketing work to get customers in the door and signed up, management creates policies that affect customers, and customer service takes care of them once they are customers. These groups should be talking regularly to gain insight into how they can help one another make the experience as smooth as possible. At FCR we are big fans of regular round table discussions in an effort to share more and more insight about customers with our clients.

Ask Your Customers

The best way to ask your customers about their experience is to survey them. At this point I’m less concerned about what survey you use and more concerned about getting regular customer feedback. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), or even the one with the happy and sad face are all great and inexpensive provided that you allow your customers to share feedback about their experience. The important part is routinely reading this feedback, following up, monitoring trends, and fixing issues.

It’s so easy to plop down in our chairs each day and only see the customer experience from our own point of view. Perhaps you think your customer experience is perfect–or perhaps you think you have an insurmountable problem. Regardless of what camp you are in, make it a routine to get out of your chair and view the customer experience from another seat. By gaining a new perspective, you may just find something you lost– whether you were looking for it or not.

Jeremy Watkin

Jeremy Watkin is the Head of Quality at GoFCR.com, the most disruptive and respected outsource provider. He has more than 15 years of experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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