Brian Basilico has a gift. He knows how to tell a story, communicate from a perspective of success and help you do the same for your business. His own company creates marketing campaigns and social media content for his clients. His wealth of experience and powerful stories entertain and instruct us all on how to really be seen and noticed in the noisy world of Internet Marketing!
Brian Basilico Cracks The Code: Marketing Magic
On this episode, I have a very interesting gentleman. He’s an internationally recognized best-selling author of It’s Not About You, It’s About Bacon. Brian Basilico is with us and he is an amazing individual. He’s written this book about relationship marketing in a social media world. He’s also a speaker. He trains on the topic. He’s an adjunct professor. He does bring 30 years of experience in marketing to his award-winning internet marketing company, B2B Interactive Marketing Inc. Brian is a syndicated blogger and a sought-after guest expert featured in Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine articles, radio show. Brian, I’m glad to meet you. Welcome to the show.
Mitch, it’s a pleasure meeting you.
One of the things that impressed me was your book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve read about it and I’m pretty excited about your message. Before we get into the book though, I want you to take us back to the beginning and tell us about your business and how you started it. What was that all about? What does the beginning look like?
I started my first business at eighteen. I started a recording studio in my dad’s basement. I went to do radio commercials and bands and things like that, and then I went to college to become an electronic engineer. I got hired at AT&T to wire a video studio and then eventually was promoted to cameraman, then editor and then producer. I did a lot of corporate video and training. I moved on and opened up a full commercial recording studio where I worked with companies like McDonald’s and Motorola and did radio spots for companies all over the world and did jingles. I ended up selling that company to a multimedia production company where I did website and CD-ROM development. I went to work for Arthur Andersen for a while in their training division and again developing content for training. I ended up going to an ad agency and learned about online marketing, Google and all that.
After I left that, I decided it was time for me to be an entrepreneur again. I started in 2001, so I’ve been doing this for seventeen years. When I first started it, it started as a business that was building business card CDs. We put videos and little interactive programs on them. One of the things that I call myself is a constant re-inventor because you can’t even get a CD player with a computer anymore pretty much, those things are gone. You’ve constantly got to evolve and reinvent yourself. I’ve grown my company into one that helps other companies strategize about how to use the internet to market their businesses in a way that has measurable results. We’re talking doubling, tripling business over the course of years. That’s what I do, I help companies strategize, set that stuff up. It’s been an evolution, but the key thing that I want to get across to the audiences is that we’re all constantly reinventing ourselves, but the principles that I learned at eighteen are still the principles that I use today in all the marketing things that I do.
Why don’t we then go back to that time because that’s when you got started? We all have a beginning and I would love to hear about yours.
When I started, it was a small business in my dad’s basement. I bought a ton of gear. It was a legit studio, microphones, tape recorder, mixer, the whole nine yards. The marketing side of things, back then, we didn’t have the kind of technology that we have today with email and all these other things. I still learned to communicate with my customers. I had an Atari 400 and a dot matrix printer. I would literally type out stories on how to make the most of doing audio for your business, like doing audio cassettes that you could hand out to customers that talk about what you do. I’d produced this little newsletter. The way I would do it is I would literally print this out on a dot matrix printer, cut it up with scissors, lay it out on an 11×17 piece of paper, send it to a printer, have it printed and then it was folded and mailed with labels out to all of my customers. One of the first things that I learned how to do was make sure that you’re constantly communicating with the people that are supporting you.
For a teenager, you’re pretty darn smart to have figured that out. Some people say that’s obvious. There are adults today that don’t realize how important that is and you got that as a kid. That’s amazing. How many clients did you have?
At the time, I probably had about 50, maybe 100. It just depended on what was going on but they kept me busy. I still had to go to school and do all the other things. It wasn’t a full-time business but they kept me busy.
Now you have this little business. You got around 100 clients. What happens next?
What happened next is I moved on to the corporate world. I still kept the recording studio going. I moved from place to place to place. I was building recording studios in bedrooms and turning closets into voiceover booths. I eventually bought a place where it had a basement and I built our studio down there. I kept learning and growing how to do audio marketing, video and all that. I kept evolving and kept learning. Even today, I’m still learning and evolving.
You still had that studio but somebody must have poked you in the arm and said, “Brian, you need to get a job.”
You nailed it because my dad worked for AT&T and he literally got me the job. It was the best thing that ever happened to me because I learned so much. I was given an opportunity to get into the corporate world and see how that bus drove, vastly different than being an entrepreneur. I had to learn to evolve and grow in something that I wasn’t comfortable with. You have to answer to vice presidents. At one point, I was putting microphones on the president of AT&T out of New York. You learn so much by getting into a collaborative environment like that.
I’m going to forgive you for this part of your life here, going and getting that corporate job, because true entrepreneurs would have had to just push through themselves, figure it all out and make all the mistakes. You were smarter. Tell me now what happens because I’m still interested in how you moved through to get your first 1,000 clients. Where was that? What company was that that you started?
The next company that I started was called Sound Decisions. That was the place where I actually got close to the first 1,000 clients. At that point, I had about 500 clients. The current customer is the one where I got the 1,000 clients, but that’s a different animal. Back then, I was doing everything from small local advertising to large major corporate clients. I had employees at that point. I had two studios, five employees and was running a $500,000 business. Back then, there was no email, no web; that stuff didn’t exist. What I did is I tried something unique. I got on the phone. I picked up the phone, I went through the phone book and I looked at every advertising agency, anybody who could possibly use audio services. I literally picked up the phone and said, “I just want to find out, do you ever use audio services? Do you ever record anything?” They would either say yes or no. If they said yes, I would send them a folder with some information about us. That started getting people in the door. It was a way to get people to know that we existed, that we were local, because a lot of people were traveling to downtown Chicago where most of the recording studios were. I was in the western suburbs and people found it convenient. We were less expensive. It kept growing and growing to the point where we had these humongous clients. McDonald’s recorded all of their IVR, which is Interactive Voice Response, for their healthcare enrollment. They came in and did that. Motorola was coming in and doing Spanish translations for a lot of their interactive voice for technical support. We did every single one of the music on hold system for Ben Franklin Crafts across the United States. We were doing some big projects for some really great customers.
You found them by the old-fashioned way. It’s not like you had the dot matrix printer and the Atari, but the same idea was outreach. You went out there and you looked for clients. You got on the phone. I’m sure you’ve heard or seen somebody make fun of a new salesman who walks into the office and says, “Boss, I’m ready to start. Where are my prospects?” He flings the yellow pages on the desk and says, “Get started.” That’s what you did, right?
That’s exactly what I did. I had no choice. I have employees, I’ve got this space, I’ve got this gear, I’ve got to get people in the door and start paying us something, otherwise we’d go out of business.
You must have had a start. You came from your corporate position and then you built this facility. Something was going on there. How did you have enough confidence to go and start this from scratch? You must have had clients, am I right?
No, I had nothing. I had a few carryovers from the things I was doing in my basement, but those were musicians. They don’t spend a lot of money. I knew from working in a corporation that corporate audio was something that people were using. I got to see it firsthand being in the corporate environment, so I said, “I can do that.” I can do it better than half the people I ended up hiring when I was at AT&T. That’s where I knew there was a niche for it and I went for it.
Brian, was that your passion back then? Was recording and running a studio something that you felt really passionate about at the time?
Absolutely. I’ve always been a musician. People say I came out of the womb strumming a guitar. At two, I was strumming a broomstick to Elvis’ music. I learned how to play guitar at ten, and still do so today. It was something I had a huge passion for. I loved the technology. I loved the creativity. We were one of the first recording studios in Chicago to get a digital audio system. Back then, everything was done on tape. When I was working with Motorola, you’d basically record everything on reels-to-reels. When you’re editing, you basically cut the tape, you’d write on the back of it what it was, put it on the side, find the next piece, cut that out, and then tape the two of them together and make it happen. In digital, it’s a different animal. I had $250,000 and five employees at the time, and now you can get an app on your phone for $10 that does the same thing.
It’s funny because somewhere in my basement, I have a tape splicer for reel-to-reel recording. I’m almost envious of your unlimited energy to go out there and do that. Today, we have entrepreneurs who start businesses and some people will probably be in a situation where they grew up with the Internet where, to them, outreach is an email campaign. For old guys like you and me, we had to walk outside, knock on doors and do all that hard stuff that sometimes takes a lot more energy and maybe even a little bit of a reach to do it. The concept of marketing on the internet is easier. Let’s use that as a segue into your current business. Is it easier?
It’s not. It’s really not easier. In the first book that I wrote, It’s Not About You, It’s About Bacon, the subtitle is Relationship Marketing in a Social Media World. You still have to create those relationships. There are a lot of people out there that think that I can just get an email list and just start broadcasting things. You’re cold calling with email. If you really want to build a business, the best way to build the business is get out and network, meet people, have one-on-one coffees, and become a resource and get to know people. One of the things I always say is relationships are the currency of business. It’s easier once you’ve started the relationship, because now you’ve got the tools to stay in touch with people. If you’re just cold calling with email and stuff like that, it’s not that easy.
How could people build a relationship in email if we’re so overwhelmed with the number of emails we all get?
It really depends on who you’re talking to and what you’re putting out there. My latest book is called The Bacon System. This is my fourth book. It’s Sizzlin’ Hot Recipes That Grow Your Business. This is a twelve-step program for people that have tried everything and failed. This is the way that I view things and let me give you a broad brush overview. The first and foremost important thing that people have to have is a home base. You’ve got to have someplace to bring people to that will get to know, like and trust you, and that is your website. I don’t believe that you can run a business on Facebook or LinkedIn or all those other things. A lot of people try to do, but the problem is you don’t own it. Something happened to me. I have a huge Facebook following and I spent a lot of time on Facebook, but something happened and they shut me down. I was down for weeks. I could not communicate. People were going on Facebook and messaging my wife saying, “Where’s Brian? What happened? What’s going on?” You need to own your media. You need to own your website, your domain name. You need to have someplace to start with.
The second thing is you need analytics. Nobody would run a business without understanding their books. Analytics is books for your internet marketing, for your online stuff. The third part is content marketing. You’ve got to create great content that people want to absorb. That’s why you do this; you do interviews and things like this. This is great content. That’s what you want. You want people that are going to teach, people that are going to give advice, so it’s something that people are going to tune into and listen to. It’s no different with blogs. It could be videos, it could be podcasts, it could be audios, any of that, but you create that content. The third piece of that puzzle then is how do you deliver that content? This gets back to what you were talking about with email. If you have a website and you’ve created great content that draws people back to your website, you use email to send out that content to an audience that already is warm. They know you. They like you. They maybe even trust you. You’re sending out great content to them.
That’s one of the ways to do it. I send out an email blast every Thursday. I do a podcast on Monday, a blog on Tuesday and then an expert interview on Wednesday. On Thursday, the only thing I send my audience is, “Here’s the link to those three things in any speeches and presentations that I’m giving.” All it’s doing is saying, “I’m not selling anything. I’m giving them great information.” If they choose to click on it, they end up back at my website. That’s how you can use internet marketing to do that. Social media, I look at it the same way. It’s a content delivery platform; relationship-building first, content delivery second. You can do the same thing. Take that content, put it out there, give people something of value and when they click on it, they end up back at your website. That’s the secret sauce formula that makes this work.
Thank you for explaining that. I’ve known those things, but I’ve never heard anyone put it together quite the way you did. It explained it well for me and I appreciate that. Now we have to get to the ultimate question here. How did you finally get to 1,000 clients?
The way I got to 1,000 clients is through exactly what I talked about. I practice what I preach. Since I wrote the first book, I have been producing training courses on a lot of this stuff. I’ve created a class around The Bacon System. I have a weekly mastermind call that I do. On top of that, I have regular project work that I do that includes website strategy and all of those things. Between selling those courses, which is great information to teach people how to do things, to creating the classes that I teach, the masterminds that I do, a lot of that is all driven around writing those books, giving speeches, and getting out there and letting people know who I am and what I do. It’s basically a business preacher as opposed to a religious preacher. You’re out there preaching the word, the gospel of how to build business. That’s essentially the way I look at it. By getting out there, meeting people, speaking all over the country, speaking locally, I’ve been able to bring people into the fold to get to that 1,000-person mark.
What we’re hearing is a lot of experience. A lot of the folks who start businesses don’t generally start with the level of experience that you have, and that shines through. Your analogies and the stories you tell clearly indicate that you’re a guy who decided early on that you are going to be successful and you are going to do whatever it takes to be successful. Can you talk a little bit about that?
I’ve been running this business since 2001. It’s been about sixteen years, soon to be seventeen years doing this business. I worked hard. I didn’t get to that level of success until I decided to make one decision and one decision that was uber important, and that was I needed help. One of the things I tell my people is that I believe that every doctor needs a doctor, every mentor needs a mentor and every coach needs a coach. One of the smartest things that I did was start to invest in myself by hiring coaches, finding great mentors and being a mentor myself to other people. Starting masterminds, doing things where I could give out my information, but also learn from other people. Investing in myself is when it took off, because I had that book and it’s like, “I got a book but what do I do with it?” The average person sells about 100 books and that’s it. You write a book and you sell 100 books.
A lot of times, it’s to your friends and neighbors. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. It cost me a lot of money. It cost $5,000 to produce that book, and I self-published on top of it because I had to hire an editor, a graphic designer, a proofreader, all of that other stuff. I had a goal of selling 500 books within six months. I blew that away by using the techniques I’ve been talking about. I sold over 1,000 books and now it’s up over 2,500 books. It’s not going to make you rich, but it’s certainly going to get the word out. The most important advice I could give people is learn to invest in yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find somebody who knows how to do what you want to do better than you and go hang out with them. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
Everything you say makes complete sense to me. I’m glad you mentioned that because I’m the same way. I always feel as if there’s something else I can learn. I look for the best person in the world who could teach it to me and I seek that out. I’m with you 100% on that. Thank you for sharing that. We got a business. We got 1,000 clients. We have a staff of people, everybody’s busy, everybody’s doing this great stuff, but now we know that there’s got to be more. I want you to tell me a little bit about today. What is your passion? Where does that come from and what is that about?
I discovered my passion through the process of a handful of things. We mentioned my dad before. My dad, he was in the Second World War, strung wires across China, Burma. He ended up getting back to New York and was a lineman stringing wires. He worked himself up the ladder in AT&T. He became an instructional designer. He was a great teacher. He taught a lot of people all over the world. He was so passionate about it that even when he was retired, he was flying over to Okinawa, Japan to teach military people how to bring themselves back from the military into the citizen world, becoming a private citizen versus all the things that the military does. He loved teaching. As I started going and evolving after I’d written a book and doing all this stuff, I found that my superpower is teaching. That’s the thing that I love to do, educate people and teach them things. More importantly, what I want to do is I want to provide value where what I’m teaching teaches people how to enhance their lives, make it better, make more money, just become better people and, more importantly, how to not get taken advantage of. There are a lot of people out there making promises about how you can get rich doing things on the internet, and a lot of it just isn’t going to happen. Not that they’re lying, but it’s not going to work for the average person.
Unfortunately, our world is filled with claims like that, so it’s a good point to mention. As you get experienced, unfortunately you’ve tried some of those ‘get rich quick’ programs and know the answer yourself. This follows your point about a mentor. If I gave you the chance to choose anybody in space and time to enjoy an hour with doing whatever you want, who would that person be?
There are so many of them on different levels. This is one of the things that I’ve learned over the course of the years. When I started my journey with coaching, I had a lot of problems. I needed to learn systems. I also had a bunch of mindset problems. I don’t like sales. I hired a coach specifically to get me over that hump of learning how to do sales without feeling like I’m being salesy, and understanding the process in a sense of providing value versus trying to extrapolate money from people, because that was my biggest fear. The other mindset problem that I’ve always had is trying to envision myself as the person that I knew I could become, but there were always things holding me back, like I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough. I’d love to sit down with Jesus Christ. I’d like to say, “What’s happening?” That would be probably one of my favorite things. I would love to sit down with Zig Ziglar, just learn from somebody like that. I would love to sit down with David Ogilvy who’s basically the godfather of advertising. There are so many different people but they’re all in different areas that have different things that they could teach. It’s a long list. I wish I could give you one, but there are three.
I have several of the same choices as you. I would add Elon Musk because I’m a super fan.
Steve Jobs is another one. I know he would probably beat me up and take my lunch money, but I would still love to pick his brain.
I’m down to the last question for you, Brian, and it’s my favorite question. It’s the change the world question. What is it that you’re doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
The thing that I am going to do to change the world is I’m going to find a bunch of people and turn them into advocates for compassion in business. It’s teaching people to do business from a mindset of, “I am trying to provide you more value than I’m trying to take away.” It’s educating a larger army of people that will go out and teach other people and continue this message of, “Let’s live in a compassionate business environment rather than a competitive business environment.”
That is a ‘change the world’ mission and I’m here to help you. I bet you there are other people that are here to help you too. How could listeners get a hold of you and learn more about who you are and what your company does?
The easiest way to find me is to search me on Google. Look for Brian Basilico. In there, you will find all of my website, my blogs, my podcast, my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. I would love to connect up with anybody. Follow me and connect up with me. If you have any questions or something I can help you with, that’s what I do.
Brian, this has been inspirational for me. I have so enjoyed this conversation. I hope we get a chance to talk again soon.
I do too. I would love the opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you, Brian.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Brian’s Website
- It’s Not About You, It’s About BACON! Relationship Marketing in a Social Media World