Business is tough. When you hit that wall but need to stay in ACTION so you’re unstoppable, what do you do? Find out what “Small Business Stacey” has to say about conquering fear and getting into ACTION on The Unstoppable Podcast. #ASmallBizLife #WhereMarketingMeetTechnology
Bill: You’re tuned into the Unstoppables, you know, that place. It’s the undeniable space in the universe where we explore the minds, examine the habits, and learn the fears, the failures, and the triumphs of the undaunted, the unstoppable achiever. And boy, do I have one today! Her name is Stacey Riska. She’s an internationally renowned business marketing expert and a serial entrepreneur. I was on her show. She’s fantastic. You’re going to love this one. So it’s going to be a treat cause Stacey eats, sleeps and breathes small business. She understands exactly what it takes for the small business owner in any niche, any industry to not only survive, but most importantly survive.
Hi Stacey. Welcome to the show.
Stacey: Awesome to be with you, Bill and your audience. Thanks for having me,
Bill: You know, we always dive in the background and I’m gonna hit you with this one first. You’ve got a background story that starts with about $500,000 in debt. Is that correct?
Stacey: Yeah, a lot of zeros.
Bill: Wow, $500,000 in debt. Tell me about your background. Tell me about the debt and tell me how you started to dig out.
Stacey: Alright, well, tell your audience to grab their little tissues because my story, I would consider it a conglomeration of every kind of movie genre. It’s got horror, drama, comedy, action, all intertwined, but I guess that’s the life of a serial entrepreneur. So my journey starts back in about 1998. I started my first business, an outsourcing business, where I was doing the back-office work for associations and nonprofits. It was a great business. Things were going great. But then a few years later, this thing called 9-11 happened in 2001 and associations were greatly impacted negatively because nobody was flying. Nobody was traveling and associations really relied on membership and meetings as their main revenue source. Now I made a lot of mistakes during that time, but I also learned a lot through it and actually ended up coming out of that much better, ended up buying a mail house and a warehouse because when I listened to my audience, they were telling me we just want one-stop shop, full-service solution.
So I continued to grow that business. And then in 2006, I had my midlife crisis because at that time I had a team who was really managing my business. I had two project managers I wasn’t in the day to day and I really missed the hands-on. And I woke up one day and said, I need something fun to do. So what else would you do, Bill? Well, I decided to start a Hawaiian theme, coffee and smoothie business, right? Rational decision. Well, that’s what I did. I was in the Washington DC area and I went gangbusters. In two years I opened up two stores at Dulles airport, a store in the mall. I had 10 of these mobile tiki bars going all around the Washington DC area. And I had three food trucks. I was actually one of the first few trucks here in the DC area.
And I got to tell ya, you know, the growth was great, but so was the crash and burn because I woke up one day in 2008, I’m sure many people have stories from 2008, but I woke up in 2008, $500,000 in debt. I was so broke and I did not know where my next customer was coming from. And those were really dark days. I had young kids at the time. I was so broke I couldn’t put peanut butter and jelly on the table. I was sued six times in one year. I had the bank threatening to take my house. I mean, those were seriously dark dreary days. And I remembered the day. So clearly in my mind where the changing point for me, after working many 120 hour weeks, I was driving home from one day at the store. And I just started crying, but not just crying.
I mean, like heaving in and out, so much so I couldn’t catch my breath. So I had to pull over on the side of the road, and it took me like 10 minutes to come through and I kid you not Bill, this is absolutely true. When I finally came out of it, what was playing on the radio was Kelly Clarkson’s song. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger. And I was like, wow, that is my theme song. And it still is today. And when I went home, I opened up my door and in my foyer, there’s this big mirror there. And I looked in the mirror with my tear sodden eyes. And I said, Stacey, you are at that proverbial Come to Jesus moment. You are at that fork in the road. You’re either going to throw in the towel, lose your house, lose your family, lose your business, just lose it all.
Or you’re going to fight to save your business. So what are you going to do? And I gotta tell ya, it wasn’t an emotional decision. It was a rational decision. I put on my glasses and I looked at my business with clear lenses. And what I realized was that there was one little piece of my business that was making money. It was very profitable and it was called catering. And from that moment on, I realized I need to build a marketing plan to focus on that. And I went straight into my office and said, what can I do that’s simple. That will get me business now. And I laid out six simple things that I could do. And it worked! In two years, I transformed that business from $500,000 in debt to a seven-figure profitable business. And people started hearing about it. And so then they started reaching out to me and they’re like, Stacey, can you teach me what you did?
Or forget it. Can you just do it for me? And I was like, Yeah, I would love to do it for you. And so that was my inspiration to start the Small Biz Marketing Specialist, where I help small business owners get their marketing into action pun intended, because that then led to me writing my book, “Small Business Marketing Made EZ”, where I lay out the six simple steps to get your marketing into action. So fast forward today, here I am on a mission to help the small business owner really ditch the CEO, title, chief everything officer, so that they can build a successful and profitable business they always knew they’d have. You didn’t grab a tissue.
Bill: You know, my mouth’s been open for most of it. And that’s because I was in awe. You are the manifestation of what the show Unstoppable, where we talk with people who have overcome adversity. You’ve had adversity as a guide, a crucible, you had to major. Now you’re into your third. You had 9-11. 2008. And now, and now you have covered, which I want to ask you about how COVID has affected your business today, going forward.
Stacey: Great question. So COVID has detrimentally impacted my coffee smoothie business, which I still run today. It is literally closed down, but here’s the thing Bill, because what you probably teach your audience of how to be unstoppable is I have learned from those two experiences now what to do and how to deal with it. So I’m actually really grateful for all the horrible things perhaps that others would say, Oh my God, look at what happened to you. But I learned so much. It taught me so much and I am absolutely confident that I’m going to come through this a winner.
Bill: If the past is prologue, you will. I believe in you. I think that like seeks like, and I was on your show, loved being on your show, had a lot of fun on your show. It was great. And I just found that your ability to think, to do what you just said to get out of that emotional swamp, get out of the emotional stew that can just drive you backward. All the fears of what’s happening and what can happen will stymie you, it’ll stifle you. You got to the rational part of your brain and you did something very important. This is huge for every business. You focused on the niche. You went deep, deep on a deep dive on niche. What’s the one thing? And you put all of your energy on that one thing, small, and then made it big. So many of us are grasping for a lot of things, the shiny objects of new things, and trying to be more than where we’re capable of. No matter what circumstance that is. I think some of, or one of the many similarities we have speaking of shiny states and our, my might be resiliency in your name. A lot of people just starting to market their product or service fall victim to the sport for years. They might chase after the new and the shiny methods of doing things, promotions, Facebook, Google ads, but are we just really flushing money down the drain by doing this?
Stacey: I would take a bet. If you were to survey your audience and say, who would say yes, I flushed money down the toilet when it comes to advertising: Facebook, et cetera, Google, I hear this all the time. The clients who come to me, they’re saying, I ran a Facebook ad. I’m doing Google. I’m doing this. I call it spaghetti marketing because you’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if something will stick and then nothing does. He’s got it circled. He must be guilty of that. He got a copy of my book.
Here’s the thing. When a new client comes to me wanting help with their marketing, I tell them that I won’t even put a dollar towards advertising because you have to have the foundations in place. First, you have to get your back office in place because what’s the point of driving traffic to a crappy business. If you don’t have good customer service, if you don’t have a good online presence, if you don’t have the authority and the reviews and the reputation, and you’re not known as the expert, what is the point of driving more traffic to a crappy experience? So I am actually completely opposite to pretty much what every other marketing person out there is preaching.
Bill: Good point on customer service. And I’m going to say, as part, as an owner of a brick and mortar company, that the way we restructured was antithetical to the industry in that we really focused on customer service. We had less people out there selling, but a whole lot of people on the high end of service. And what that did is create raving testimonials from very, very happy, delighted customers. And that’s how we grew. In your book you talk about this. You said, did you know, it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, you know, and you asked the question, why are we focused so much on new? Now we have to have new to grow, but we’re throwing a lot of money away. I knew and not taking care of our revenue stream are our clients. The ones that really have helped us build the foundation. What do you have to say about that?
Stacey: I say Bill, you’re a hundred percent right. Because every business always thinks they need more, more, more, new new new. And they forget that they’re sitting on a pot of gold, the customers, clients, and patients that they already have. Here’s the thing. This really drives me nuts. So many businesses will give away so much stuff for free to bring in a new customer and then they totally forget the customers, clients, and patients that you already have. If you would take the money that you are now flushing down the toilet on Facebook and all those things and spend it on retention and keeping those customers, clients, and patients happy. They’re going to come back and leave you rave reviews. They’re going to refer others. They’re going to come back again with open wallets. I use this as the end. I call it nurturing in my ACTION marketing system. And although it’s the last letter in action, it’s actually the most important. It’s the first step that we start with when a new client comes to me and they’re like, well, can you get me more leads? Can you get me more prospects? Can you get me more people to talk to? I say, yes, but we’re going to start with the ones you already have because you’re sitting on a pot of gold and most businesses don’t even realize it.
Bill: Listener loves your, loves, your approach. They’re intrigued. Where would they find you?
Stacey: Where do they find me? Well, you can find me online. My homebase is smallbizmarketingspecialist.com. And on there, if you go to smallbizmarketingspecialist.com/book, you can get a free copy of my book. It’s my gift to you. Just pay a very nominal shipping and handling fee. You can find me on all of the social platforms, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, I’m actually on Alignable. And I would love to invite you to join my free Facebook group, which is Small Biz Marketing Success. So just go to Facebook type in the search bar, small biz marketing success. And this is a great group for small business owners and entrepreneurs looking for tips, ideas, inspiration, support, and when necessary, a tough kick in the butt to get their marketing into action.
Bill: You have credibility when it comes to tough and biz is BIZ. Stacey, let me flip to the acronym action. Why don’t you just walk me through action.
Stacey: Action. See, action is a pun intended, six letters, six simple steps that any business owner can take and put into action. We’ll go quickly through what each letter stands for. A is for attention. And as we talked about before, it’s not about getting more new, new, new, but it’s doing it in a smart way because here’s the thing. You can’t be everything to everyone. So be something for someone because here’s what most business owners do. They’ll put their name on a sign, strip naked, run up and down the street naked. Here I am, here’s my business. Come, come visit me, come do business with me and sure, you’ll get attention, but not the right kind of attention. So Bill, you kind of alluded to this before, right? By winnowing it down, get super specific on your niche. Who are you for? I did this in my catering business and I realized that my greatest profit came from companies with 50 to 100 employees in the Washington DC area technology companies who were looking for some kind of fun and different staff appreciation.
So I didn’t go after the little birthday party, I didn’t go after weddings or bar mitzvahs. I got super specific on who I wanted to serve. And by doing that, I could be the something for someone because I was the one, you know them, then you’re super clear on their pains and their challenges. And you can position what you do for them. The C is about connect. Because once you’ve got their attention, too many business owners want to say, Hey, baby, want to get married, right? They just want to make the sale. But no, somebody meeting you for the first time, doesn’t want to get married. They don’t want to buy your stuff. So you need to see connect with them. And the way that you do that is to ask them to go on a first date, grab a cup of coffee. Basically you’re going to drip information that is helpful to them.
Bill: No, that’s huge. I don’t want to interrupt you, but I’m going to. That’s the word each way is huge. It is the small incremental steps toward yes. We say, don’t go out or try to get married on that first day. You get slapped in the face. You will never recover. Small steps. Make sure you can. Small steps. Have coffee. First small steps before the rose is the dinner, small steps. So I didn’t want to move up, but I’m, I’m, I’m excited.
Stacey: You’re getting somebody to raise their hand and say, yes, I’d like to know more. Yes, I’ll go on a first date with you. So then we move into the T in the action marketing system, which is for transactions. And most small business owners say, Oh great, ding, ding, ding. Here’s where I get to make a sale. Here’s where I get to make some money. Right? So what I want your audience to know is that the T, although it stands for transactions, it may or may not be monetary. Cause here’s the thing: people buy when they’re ready to buy. Not when you’re ready to sell to them. People buy when they’re ready to buy, not when you’re ready to sell to them. So what you want to do is drip on them, drip, helpful information, that positions your authority so that when they are ready to buy, the only logical choice is you.
I can give you examples of clients who come to me and I can tell you that they’ve been in my pipeline for two years. But when they come to me, they’ll say, Oh, I’ve read your newsletters. I’ve seen your videos. And finally, now that I’m ready to make a decision, I have to do business with you. It’s like, you’ve known me all along. So the T is about building those transactions. I call them touchpoints because you’re sort of bringing people along the journey with you and they will eventually buy.
The next step is I. I stands for invest. And it’s about making smart decisions with your marketing dollars. Here’s what it’s not. It’s not about, well, how many Facebook likes do I have? How many Twitter followers, how many people open my email? Those are what I call vanity metrics. They make you feel really good, right? Because somebody liked your post or opened your email, right? But the only metric that matters are those that you can put into the bank. I have the saying “Gross is for vanity net is for sanity.” So focus on the metrics that matter.
Bill: Give me that one again. Gross is for vanity. Net is for sanity. I’ve got one that says that the banks don’t cash our intents. They cash our results. We’re going to write the next book together. Keep going. Okay.
Stacey: We’re moving on to O. O is for ongoing because marketing is not a one and done. You need to be doing something every single day to be marketing your business, which is multimedia multitouch. It should include social media, content, email, direct mail, local marketing, reputation management, maybe some automation, but it’s about doing something every single day. And if you can’t do it yourself, then hire a team who can support you in getting it done. Ditch that CEO, title, chief everything officer, and get out of your own way. Because when you get your marketing into action, pun intended, your business will finally grow. My motto in this area is “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”
Bill: It’s a great one. That is one I could have saved if I’d met you sooner, I could have saved a lot of money because we only had toilet issues with flushing stuff down. We had to call plumbers. A lot of times you see that stuff. You mentioned pipeline and the importance of how you approach business, how we approach business and pipeline. Tell the audience, please, if you will, why you need to keep focused on growing that pipeline?
Stacey: Well, here’s the thing. Every business has a leaky bucket. So imagine this. And actually I have some, sorry, we’re not visual, but these are actually my next marketing piece being sent out. I’m going to drill holes. And so imagine a bucket with holes in them. And your customers, clients and patients are coming into the bucket and they’re literally, a percentage of them are going to fall out. You’re going to have attrition. You do need to make sure that you’re always filling the pipeline, but that’s where most business owners stop. They focus on filling the pipeline and never put in those T touchpoints along the way and C, communicate and connect with those people. So that a much smaller percentage do will leak through.
Bill: This is a no bullshit show. So I’m going to just shoot direct with this. And I’m not prone to giving compliments where they’re not earned. It’s only my opinion, but I’m going to take that bucket because it’s an excellent metaphor. It’s the best one I’ve ever heard to get across my point. Why people need to keep expanding their pipeline, why they need to keep their activity high, why they need to keep doing those things, making those cold calls to knocking on those doors when you, when you’re able to, to keep building it. Because people move, people die, people change for their own reasons. And if you don’t keep filling that you end up drowning. I love that. I’m going to take the idea. I’ll give you credit, but it’s one of the best metaphors I’ve heard in regard to growing a pipeline. Got to ask you this, because I think it’s very important coming from you, tremendous credibility here, by the way, you’ve earned it. But when you look into the abyss, if nothing looks back, you’re in deep trouble and you had that point where that a beast came up, it was a really dark, you looked in there and you saw that light. What is it? What is it that you would encourage the listener to do when they get to that point? They might be at that point today, what did they have to find inside of them to be able to shine that light and move forward? What is it?
Stacey: That is a great question because here’s the thing. When the shit hits the fan, we all just want to go hide in the corner. I know I did. I was embarrassed. I was mortified. How could I possibly go ask for help? I was $500,000 in debt. You know, I couldn’t go to my parents. I couldn’t even, the bank was going to take my home. Who am I going to go to for help? And I think a lot of small business owners when things don’t go right, they just want to hide in a corner and not ask for help. That’s why I started my own mastermind group. Because, when things go bad, you need to have a safe place where you can go, whether it’s good or bad, I feel because even when things go well, and you want to pat yourself on the back, a lot of times the business owner, where are they going to go?
Their employees really don’t care. They just want their paycheck. Your dog? Yeah. Your dog may care, but they just want the bone. And to get patted on the back. They’re not going to pat you on the back. So whether it’s for something great, because you just did something you’re so proud of or quite honestly, you need some tough love. You need the kick in the pants. You need to hear something from somebody who’s been there. Done that. I found that a mastermind was what got me out of those deep dark places. And here’s the thing. It wasn’t free. I had to pay to be in a mastermind group, but I got to tell you, Bill, if I could only have one tool in my marketing arsenal, it would be the mastermind group because it is that powerful. It’s what got me out of my fear.
And I know that’s a big topic of yours. It is what got me into action. It’s the place where I can go. And this is actually a very true story. I call it my bitch slap moment, where I, in my mastermind group, they call it a hot seat in my group. I call them profit seats. Cause I like to focus on the positive side, but I was up there on my hot seat. And this was when I was thinking about starting the small biz marketing specialist. I was like, okay, so many people are asking me for marketing help. I think I’m going to start this, this marketing business. And I’m just, I’m going to get rid of the coffee smoothie business. And everybody kind of knew the whole backstory of, I built this, transformed it in two years, from $500,000 in debt to a seven-figure profitable business.
And they said, Why, why would you get rid of a business that’s doing well, doesn’t take alot of your time to manage? You have a team doing it. And you’ve got super profits. And I needed that, right? Because I hadn’t thought like, wow, they’re right. You know? So sometimes you just need that fresh perspective. And sometimes, like I said, you need it to get that pat on the back. And sometimes you just need the kick in the pants for somebody to tell you to do something that you kind of already knew you needed to do. But somebody who’s been there done that can share their experiences.
Bill: And what that takes Stacey is vulnerability. Being able to expose yourself, being able to come out and say, Hey, I know what I don’t know. I don’t know what I don’t know, help me through this place. And the CEO sometimes is an exile by choice. You’re the loneliest person in the room because you don’t have those voices of dissonance. You don’t have those voices that can say here’s a blind spot. Are you thinking about this? And by the way, you have that hot seat moment where maybe your idea isn’t that great, but you don’t want to share that because you don’t want to, the emperor has to have clothes on. So I agree with you on mastermind groups. I think it’s one of the things that have helped me tremendously. And there is strength in numbers. No man is an island. There was, none of us can survive or thrive on our own. Love that one. Success. Can you define it in Stacey’s terms?
Stacey: Mmm, well, I have in front of me right now, a vision board, which keeps me motivated of what what’s important to me. And I have this thing literally called a little black book, right? Where I map out what’s ion my bucket list. What do I want to be known for? What do I want to accomplish before I kick the bucket so to speak? And you know what, the big one on my list is, most people would probably find it pretty surprising, but my dream is to get an RV and travel all around the country. And I actually, I want to tie this in with my passion of helping small business owners. And I want to go to different towns all around the country. And because one of the I’ll do my little soapbox here thing. So why is small business Saturday one day a year, ironically enough, the day after Black Friday and sponsored by American Express, the antithesis of small business?
So I’m on a mission to get in my RV and go all around the country and stop in small towns, support, small business, get some media exposure for them, maybe do some training, but it allows me to see the world. Because there’s just something so powerful about getting out of your own four walls and getting some fresh air. I love going on long hikes. I love being in nature. My husband loves to fish and whenever I get outside, it just cleanses the brain. And I always get these big aha moments. So anyways, that is, that’s one of the things on my bucket list.
Bill: She’s resilient. She’s a model of what you do with adversity and how you move forward. She’s the author of Small Business Marketing Made EZ. That’s E-Z, she’s the host of the podcast I was on by the way, it’s exceptional marketing in two minutes or less. It’s very granular is very real. Tremendous application for today and tomorrow. She’s also the CEO of small business marketing specialist. Stacey Riska is her name, the R is for resilience. Here’s your walk-off. You might have addressed it in a number of different segments here, but I’ll give it to you in one paragraph. You give the world that one paragraph when your time is done, you’re out, you’re in your RV. What would you like other people to learn from, to grow from in that one paragraph of your life?
Stacey: Life is hard. Business is hard, and I view it as a mountain. You’re going to go up the mountain. You’re going to go down the mountain and there’s going to be many mountains in your life. I would encourage your audience to know that they don’t have to do it alone. That when you’re in those valleys to get the help and support, you need invest in yourself, right? Invest in a mastermind group, invest in people who are going to bring you up, not bring you down. I think there’s a saying you’re like, you’re most like the five people who you hang out with. So maybe put on your lenses for that and see who are the five people nearest and dearest to you. I would also encourage your audience to fail fast, right? Because I have never met a successful person who doesn’t have some shit story that got them to where they are today.
Seriously, I just started watching the show called Undercover Billionaire. Have you heard of it? You’ve got to watch it. It is an unbelievable story of rags to riches. I’m not going to give the secret away, but I love this story because the guy gets a challenge, a hundred dollars, a cell phone with no contacts and a beat up pickup truck and they drop him into a city that he’s never been to before. And doesn’t know a soul. And he has 90 days to build a $1 million business. And if he doesn’t, he has to put in a million of his own. And I find it so interesting and inspiring because you talk about going through shit just in 90 days. Wow. He’s been through a ton, but the business that he chooses is very interesting to me. So I’m not going to give it away.
Bill: It’s a new show?
Stacey: It’s a new show. Can get it on Hulu or Netflix. Undercover Billionaire.
Bill: Thank you. I knew your paragraph would be great. You’ve been listening to The Unstoppables. My name is Bill. Where did she check me out at Bill? What? It’s W O O D I T C H. If you’d like, you can direct message and maybe I’ll take your call, give you a little coaching on the side, free of course. Until next time be well.
Stacey Riska, aka "Small Business Stacey" is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about saving small - and not so small - businesses one marketing plan at a time. She helps business owners become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz by teaching them marketing strategies that get MORE: MORE leads, MORE customers/clients/patients, MORE sales, and MORE profit. Stacey's in-demand "Small Biz Marketing Success Coaching and Mastermind Program" is transforming the businesses - and lives - of those who want wealth, freedom, and market domination. Her highly acclaimed book "Small Business Marketing Made EZ" lays out the 6-simple-step plan to get your marketing into ACTION - literally and figuratively. Stacey is also the creator of Cups To Gallons, the place where independent coffee, smoothie, juice bar, ice cream, dessert and snack shop owners go to learn how get into lucrative catering so they stop selling by the cup and start selling by the gallon. In this program she teaches from experience, as it was the key strategy that transformed her coffee and smoothie business from being $500K in debt to a 7-figure profitable business. When not saving the small business world, she enjoys sipping red wine, eating chocolate (who doesn't!) and spending time with her amazing husband.
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