On this episode, we are joined by the world-renowned keynote speaker and America’s #1 Small Business Expert, Melinda Emerson, aka SmallBizLady.

Melinda is a bestselling author, podcast host, and blogger who reaches an audience of over 3 million entrepreneurs weekly, and consults with Fortune 500 brands who want to target the small business market.

There are 32 million small businesses in the US. They comprise 99.9% of all US businesses and Melinda knows the market inside and out. She is on the show this week to share insights that will not only help your small business survive, but thrive, including:

  • Identifying the 5 common reasons businesses fail (before it’s too late)
  • Discovering the #1 sales channel now and for the future
  • How to hack the content game (and boost the reach of your business online)
  • And so much more

So many businesses are trying to find their ground in our rapidly shifting economy. You don’t have to be one of them. Listen and learn how to navigate the digital content in the B2B and B2C marketplaces and become intentional about the content your business creates. Don’t just do it to do it, do it to succeed!

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hi, it’s Nancy Calabrese and it is time for Conversational Selling. The podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today and it always starts with the human conversation. Joining us today is the fabulous Melinda Emerson, aka SmallBizLady, and America’s number one small business expert. She’s an internationally renowned keynote speaker on small business development, social selling and marketing strategy. 

As CEO of Quintessence Group, her marketing consulting firm serves Fortune 500 brands who target the small business market. Melinda publishes a resource blog, succeedasyourownboss.com. Her advice is widely read reaching more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week online. She hosts the small biz chat podcast, and is the best selling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, and Fix Your Business, a 90 day plan to get back your life and reduce chaos in your business. So here’s some facts, everyone. I don’t know if everybody out there knows this. But there are 32 million small businesses in the US. According to the SBA, or Small Business Administration. Small businesses comprise 99.9% of all US businesses. Wow. Welcome to the show, Melinda, I can’t wait to dive in. 

Melinda Emerson: Thank you so much for having me, Nancy. 

Nancy: Besides being an amazing keynote speaker, everybody out there and the research I’ve done on Melinda, she is a lady to know, it’s 2021. We’re slowly getting out of the pandemic. So what trends Do you see with small business today?

Melinda: Well, I don’t know that it’s the trends that I see with small business as much as it’s the trends I see with small business customers, right, because I think the way people buy has changed. And I think that’s the thing everyone needs to realize, out of this pandemic. I mean, social media has emerged as the number one sales channel. Everyone’s online, you’ve got to figure out social media. And really, you’ve got to figure out online ads, probably in a lot of cases, depending on what you sell. Obviously, b2b, it’s all about LinkedIn, but it always kind of has been about LinkedIn, or b2b. But I think the interesting thing now is that when you look at social media, it’s really about Facebook, and YouTube, like video really has just emerged as the number one piece of content that people want to engage with. And we’re just seeing conversion numbers so much higher using video. I also think that decision makers, b2b decision makers are now 18 to 34 years old. And that’s new, you know.

Nancy: Not all of us. Not all of us. But you’re right. It’s a much younger community, right?

Melinda: It is. And you have to know how to communicate with that type of buyer and that type of decision maker because it is different. So I think that that is probably the biggest thing I’ve seen out of the pandemic is just like how people buy is different. And I don’t know that it’s ever gonna completely go back to what we did before.

Nancy: Yeah. Well, you know, you put up something that I’ve become aware of, I’ve got a 20 year old daughter, she lives on Tik Tok. Okay. And so if the age range of decision makers is between 18 and 34, shouldn’t we be doing something on Tik Tok?

Melinda: Yeah, if that’s who you’re targeting, absolutely. But I think I think the name of the game now in terms of social selling, is really figuring out the one or two channels where your fish are, and really focus in on those channels. I don’t think anyone unless you sell social media services, you don’t need to be on six channels. You really need to pick the one or two and you need to go all in on those until you see some results. And I mean, because it’s hard social media is hard. It’s really hard to quantify. You know, you can’t send brand awareness to your bank account, right? So you’ve got to figure out how to turn this stuff into sales. Into tangible pesos and dinero. That’s what we got to figure out.

Nancy: Pesos and dinero. Love it. Okay. So as an owner of a small business, I know firsthand. It’s not easy. I love what I do. So it definitely helps. Why do you think many businesses fail?

Melinda: Oh, gosh. There’s a lot of reasons why small businesses fail, I’m going to give you five of my biggest ones. I think that the number one reason why small businesses fail is because people underestimate how hard it is. I think because people were successful in corporate America, they think, oh, I’m just gonna start this business, you know, like, it’s gonna be great. And they don’t have any idea. Once they take away all that infrastructure and the IT department, you know, you got you taken on 10 or 12 jobs at one time. And you really have to understand that, and you’ve got to have a plan, you got to know who your customer is, and you got to really be focused, like the runway is shorter. Now, you, you’re playing with your own money. So you can’t hide behind another budget and another department, if you make a mistake, it’s your budget. 

So I think that that’s the number one reason. I think the second reason is because people don’t get clear enough about their niche customer. I think people are afraid to niche. And whereas they don’t realize that you are actually empowered, the more narrow of an audience you go after. And I give people the example all the time, who makes more money, your cardiologist or your primary care physician, right. So you got to figure out how to be the cardiologist for what you do. The third reason why small businesses fail is because they’re undercapitalized to begin with. You really do need to think through how much money you’re going to need to operate. 

And you’ve got to make sure you understand that it’s going to be weeble wobbly for a minute until you can start taking regular paychecks that are going to replace your corporate salary on averages in year three or four, when you can start taking a paycheck every time you’re supposed to if you’re lucky. You know, it takes 18 to 24 months for small business to breakeven. I don’t think people completely think that through. And at the same time, I also think people are not fiscally disciplined. So what happens is, if you don’t run your household with a budget, you’re probably not gonna run your business with one. And so you’re gonna make decisions based upon what email comes to you what conference what toy what this. No, you shouldn’t spend $2 in a vending machine that’s not in a budget. 

I’m serious. And so I think that people have to really be realistic about the skills that they need to learn prior to starting a business. Because if you’re bad with money in your life, you will be bad with money in your business. And I think the fifth thing is people spend so much time chasing new customers, as opposed to nurturing existing customers. And I tell people all the time, it’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to go out a new one, because the most expensive sale you’ll ever make is the first one. And so I want to get people in the habit of loving on their existing customers, because that’s where that repeat business. That’s where that advocacy stuff is going to happen. That’s where those referrals are going to come from. It’s gonna come from existing customers. So love on them, please.

Nancy: Yep. Well said. You know, to add on to your comment about niche. Me it’s always niches rich. The grime, right? 

Melinda: Oh, yeah. Niche is rich is what I tell people. Absolutely. 

Nancy: Right. Niche is rich. Love your title, Small Biz Lady. All right, catchy. How did you become that?

Melinda: Oh, man, let me tell you, that is actually a really funny story. So back in, 08, when I wrote my first book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. I turned it into my publisher, September 1, 2008. And then two weeks later, right, the market crashed the sky fell, you know, people’s 401Ks became 10Ks. Remember that? So my publisher called me up and said, thank you so much for being a first time author that actually turns your book in on time. But with all these people losing their jobs, we don’t think anyone’s thinking about entrepreneurship right now. So we’re going to shelf your book until March of 2010. They shelved my book for 18 months. 

Nancy: Whoa. 

Melinda: And I was like, holy macaroni Batman, what are we gonna do? Right? I was like, What am I gonna do? Because at that point, I originally had a video production company that I had wound down thinking I’m about to go on this national tour and become America’s number one small business expert. That’s what I that’s what I thought was gonna happen. So when it didn’t happen, I was like, oh my gosh, what do I do and a friend of mine in the National Speakers Association said look, if I were you I would get a publicist start publicizing that book like it was coming out. And I was like, are you serious? And they were like, yeah. And you know what this new social media thing starting to get hot? Maybe you should learn that too. Figure out how to leverage that. So again, this is 2008. Twitter was one year old. Like, friend me, follow me, like all this stuff that people do now. 

So literally, I found the one publicist in Philadelphia that knew anything about social media, I hired her. And she was like, all right, you mean, we got 18 months to build your author platform. I mean, even back then people didn’t even use those two words together author platform. I didn’t know what this woman was talking about. So she said, I know what we’re going to do. I said, what are we going to do Kathy? And she said, we’re going to go out to Twitter and build your brand. And I said to her, what is Tweeter? I did not know what it was. And so she said, look, don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you how to use it on my account. And so. And then finally, the day came for me to get my own Twitter account. Yay. 

So I’m in front of my computer on the phone. She’s in front of her computer on the phone. She said, All right, go to twitter.com and put in your name, and we’ll get you an account. So I go to Twitter, I put in Melinda Emerson. And then I get this notice back, this name is already taken. Oh, I was like what? First of all, my name Melinda is not common. Like, when I was a kid, you remember, you go to the gas station, they have like all those key chains, my name was never there. And I was just like, you got to be kidding me. So as a joke, we went over to Facebook, put in Melinda Emerson and found out that there are seven other Melinda Emersons in the United States, however, I’m the only black one. 

Anyway, so she was like, look, we got to come up with a nickname for you. And I said a nickname. You mean like Mindy or Melly Mel is that? She says, no fool. You’re not a rapper. I’m not gonna give you a name like that. And I’m like ok, you don’t have to talk to me like that. But all right, she said, we get to come up with a name that tells people who you are and what you do. And so that was the day that I became the Small Biz Lady. And I will tell you that that was the best branding accident that ever could have possibly happened to me. But I never would. I mean, I wish I could tell you there was this big branding company I hired. No, it was two people on the phone. And we had about five minutes to come up with a solution.

Nancy: Oh, my Lord, and it’s stuck all these years. Hey, you know, what do you want me to spotlight? What do you want to talk about and promote?

Melinda: Well, you know what, the story that you just asked me is important, because that book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, has been in print for 11 years, it is in multiple languages around the world. And the third edition is coming out this September. So we’re doing a revised and expanded version of Become Your Own Boss. And I am very, very proud of that that book has sold like 100,000 copies. I mean, and I remember when I wrote that book, I was scared to death. Like I didn’t know if anyone would care what I had to say. Because back then when I wrote it, I hadn’t even hit, you know, a million dollars in revenue. And you know, that was like the magic number for business success, you know. 

So I think that people need to understand that a good idea is still a good idea. And no matter who you are, no matter where your door is, the world is still waiting on a better mousetrap. And if you build the mousetrap, people will build a beat a path to your door. And that book is a perfect example. Because that book really launched my reinvention as a small business expert and small business coach, which led me to corporate contracts. I mean, what happened to me was my book and how well I promoted my book made corporations call me and be like, we think you can help our social media department. 

Can we meet with you? And then it created a whole nother consulting company for me, that we completely pivoted 13 years ago, and we’ve never stopped. And it was all because of how well I built my own brand that other companies were like, oh, we need, we need you to come in here and talk to our entire marketing organization about what the Small Business customer is and what they need. And that has created an amazing opportunity for me. But but I’ll say this, too. Not only did the book create opportunities for me, but my blog created opportunities for me. You won’t even believe I had the opportunity to be a columnist for entrepreneur for two years. The woman who was my editor said she read my blog for one year before she called me. Yeah. 

And then after I wrote for them for two years, I got a call from the New York Times what If I was interested in writing for them, and so I wrote for the New York Times, and then you’re the boss blog for two, two and a half years. And so these opportunities came, because I was focused on my niche. I’ve developed great content, and I did it consistently. And I became a trusted expert. And from there are so many other opportunities can come to you. But this content game is not an easy game to play. And you got to be the deal with content now, because everybody’s doing content. It’s about are you writing something that’s better than what’s out there? Are you writing something that’s more in depth than what’s out there? You know, I love to see somebody attempt at a blog post. I’ll be like, I’m gonna crush that topic. You take that and look at that. 

And like, oh, no, they did 10 I want to do 25 tips, okay. I think you have to kind of have that mentality, if you want to figure out how to position yourself above the fray. Because everybody’s doing content, but not everybody’s doing good content. So I think that if you are doing things that are excellent, like your podcast is excellent. How you prep people is excellent. So when people come on your podcast, they’re prepared, they’re ready. They know what’s going to happen, and you publish it consistently. And that is what’s building your brand. But it’s also building the people who you interview, that kind of stuff is important, and building those relationships. 

And so I just think that the name of the game now his expertise like it, because you want to demonstrate your expertise in such a way that when clients call you, there’s no conversation about whether or not you can solve their problem. Your conversation is about availability and price. And that’s the reason content and thought leadership, and podcasts and videos and audio and written articles are important. Because you don’t want to I’m not gonna convince you that I can help you reach more small businesses. I’m not gonna convince you that. You have to know that when you pick up the phone and call me and why you know, that is because you put my name in Google, I think the first 19 pages is me. And so that that’s where people got to get to. I mean, but you got to write 5000 articles to get there. So, you know.

Nancy: Hey, are you hearing this folks? Listen to this lady!

Melinda: You know, so I, you know, and I was trained as a journalist in college. So, I am a prolific writer, because I wanted to be a writer since I was in eighth grade. So I think that it’s hard for you to compare yourself to somebody like me, because I’m a master content developer. And I’m an animal, you know, I’m beast mode all the time. So.

Nancy: So I guess the solution is, for us, folks that are not prolific writers, you want to hook on to somebody that can get your message out in the way that Melinda just suggested, right?

Melinda: I mean, yeah, you definitely want to figure out what type of content feels good for you, right? If you hate to write, please don’t start a written blog. Don’t do that. That’s terrible. I don’t want you to do that. You have to figure out is it images? Is it videos? Is it podcasts? You know, is it cheat sheets? Is it webinars? What is it like? What is your thing that you like to do? And that you do well. Figure that out and then figure out your content schedule and how often you’re going to do it and how you’re going to do it. And what’s your value ladder behind it? Like, what do you selling? Like don’t do content just to do content. Do content, because ultimately, you’re trying to sell something. So you want to breadcrumb people to that, but you want to hit them with the value first. 

You can’t lead with the sale, you got to lead people to your solution, you can’t lead with your solution. And I think that’s a lot of the problem of stuff. There’s like bad sales practice out here all over the place. Like I don’t know about you, but Nancy, I have these people who connected me on LinkedIn. And then two seconds later they emailed me what they do. I don’t know you. What you just did was walked in a bar and asked me to marry you. I don’t know you. Getting to know me. Make me be comfortable with you send me some free content. Send me something of value to me. Make me think about how I can help you. I mean, people have forgotten the social part of social selling, you know, we still have to do give to get, it’s almost like going to a networking event. You go to the networking event and become a bragger source and talking about you or do you act more interested than interesting, right? 

Nancy: That’s right,

Melinda: I think is where people get messed up on. And it’s true online as much as it’s true in person, or it takes five to 30 contacts to really build a relationship. Five to 30. The average b2b sale, they’re going to look at three to five pieces of content about you about your brand about your product before they ever pick up the phone and call a sales rep. That’s what’s you got to know. That’s why content is important. Because people can get all kinds of information. It’s almost like Santa Claus. You never know who’s watching, right. So you really have to make sure that your content is on point.

Nancy: Well, you know, Melinda, we’re running out of time here and I could go on and on and on. You are awesome. I want my audience to find out how to get in touch with you. I think it’s so important. So how do we reach you?

Melinda: Well, I am SmallBizLady on every platform, except for LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes me use my government name, which is Melinda Emerson. Please come find me connect with me. I also have Small Biz Lady University. If you’re looking for some tools or tips on how to sell online, come holla at me at Small Biz Lady University, I’ve got some great tools over there to help you launch a business, reinvent a business and build your business online. So come and check us over there.

Nancy: One last question. One takeaway you want to leave the audience with?

Melinda: I think the one takeaway that I want to leave your audience with is that you never lose in business. Either you win, or you learn. You know, some lessons get to be more expensive than others, but as long as you learn them, so you don’t have to learn them again. That’s what business is all about.

Nancy: Have you ever considered stand up comedy? 

Melinda: No, but people tell me I’m funny. So no.

Nancy: Yeah, you know you’re funny. Come on!

Melinda: SmallBizLady gig has me working 20 hours a day as it is. I don’t know if I got started now at my age and stand up comedy. I don’t know.

Nancy: Always do something that your competition isn’t right? So a huge thank you, Melinda for sharing your expertise. And I want to just thank the audience for listening and some really really great ideas, suggestions and listen to her passion. I mean, it exudes through a phone call. So we know how to reach her. Get in front of her. Have a fantastic sales day everyone and see you next time.

Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.