I love blues – maybe because both my parents were born in Memphis. I grew up listening to all sorts of music, and spent years (2nd grade through college) learning piano and various other instruments. Music taught me how to be successful at almost anything. I owe much of what I've accomplished in life to being a musician.
B.B. King, a blues musician born in Mississippi way back in 1925, is regarded world-wide as the King of Blues. Not only is he the epitome of a blues singer, he is one of the greatest guitarists of all times. Any rock guitarist playing today integrates some of King's techniques into what he does.
King is now 88 years old and still performing to adoring crowds. Want to know how to build your business? Study King. He is amazing to me. Both my own grandmother and my mother saw B.B. King many times live on Beale Street in Memphis way back when – my mother is only a few years younger than King, in fact. So, after listening to his recordings all my life, I was more than thrilled to show up at Sarasota's Van Wezel Center and see King for myself a few nights ago.
Any small business owner, from musician to techie expert, would be grateful to have a business last as long as B.B. King's has lasted. King started belting out the blues and playing guitar when he was 12 years old. That's 76 years of singing the blues and playing Lucille (King's guitars – all of them – he calls Lucille). So how has King managed to have such a long-lived career? He has done 3 things – and you and I can do the exact same things.
1. Practice your craft without ceasing. All good musicians know this is true – if you want the payoff you have to perform in front of your audience to get better as a performer. I see small business owners who practice getting out in front of their prospects almost every day, and I immediately know they have a much better chance at making money in their business long term. I see other small business owners who get discouraged and quit the first time they get booed (a no). They don't last. Whatever it is that you offer others, keep honing your expertise by doing what you do. The mistake I see some business owners making is thinking they have to go back to school to learn more, get more credentials, ask more questions. That's not what I mean. I mean practice your craft. Do what you do with your clients or customers, over and over again. Give your best performance each and every time.
2. Build a team and recognize them frequently. You have to have team members who are just as good at what they do as you are at what you do. Don't compromise on this. King starts his performances now by letting his band (some of whom are almost as old as he is) come out and play first. When he comes out to join them he introduces them one by one, and it's clear that he loves and respects each of them. If you end up with a non-performing team member it's your responsibility to your business and to the other members of your team to let her go. King can't have a drummer or a keyboard player who is late, has an attitude, or isn't responsive. He and his team are so well honed that he can make a key change in the middle of a song and his team of musicians picks it up instantly. He nods his head and they know he's going to end. He waves his hand and they know he's going to go back to the bridge and play through again. Crack team – you need one, just like King has.
3. Thank your customers and be gracious to them. Listen, King is 88 years old and an hour of playing has to be more wearing on him than when he was 40. But after each and every performance he is as gracious as he can be. Fans mob the stage, handing him guitars, programs, pictures, and t-shirts to autograph. (The picture up there is the stage the night I saw him.) He smiles from his chair, signs his name, reaches out to shake hands that are eagerly extended his way. Before the end of his performance he thanks the crowd for “continuing to show up” and asks to be invited back again. (TIP! After 76 years he still asks for the sell!) I've seen more than one small business owner make it big only to take on diva qualities, making themselves inaccessible and resenting the time they must spend with those who support them. Bad mistake. King has built such a multi-generational fan base that even though his performances are not what they used to be, he sells out almost every time. His fans are gracious to him and forgiving that he can't quite sing and play like he used to. Would your customers do that for you?
Can you see that consistency is necessary to build your business? That's the number one thing. Do you need help with getting focused on your business and what type of team you need? We can spend an hour together and flesh that out. You just might be on your way to being the King (or Queen) of your craft, too.
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