057 | Promote Your Small Business | The Right Way | with Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz. Ebony is the Founder and Chief Strategist of Above Promotions, a digital marketing, public relations and promotions company in the Tampa, FL area. She is also the author of the book titled, “Because You’re Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation” and a marketing instructor for Jolt headquartered in Tel Aviv Israel. For over 15 years and 80+ brands, Ebony has had the opportunity to work on campaigns for businesses such as AT&T, AAA, AOL, ColdStone Creamery and Verizon Wireless to smaller national and international organizations and large non-profits such as the University of South Florida.


So just to kick things off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and experience so that we can get to know you better? 

Okay. Well, my name is Ebony Vaz as mentioned, and basically, my path is a little bit different than a lot of people, but I think it’s coming to be a little bit more common now. So I have an industrial engineering and tech background and information security. And so, this path for me move towards marketing well over a decade ago, just trying to help people get their dreams, you know, meet their dreams, understand how to enter the marketplace and tell stories and do better with communicating that to people. And so my journey started off with me just doing side projects while I work my corporate job until going full time for myself. So I always tell people you know, your path doesn’t have to be quick today. Your path can be I learned on the job as I go. So my journey is a little bit different. My husband tells me I am Forrest Gump because I’ve had 20 different lifetimes. But I’ve had a good experience doing a lot of different things. And so, for me right now, the focus is growing our business and helping companies to use marketing technology in a way to help them grow. 

Awesome. That’s good. So let’s start with your book, ‘because you’re small’. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that? And how do you know, what are some of the core techniques or framework that you teach in that book? 

So I started the book because I was always getting questioned by small businesses, how can I market my company, you know, they think if I run my company from my home, or from a coffee shop, that I can’t compete with larger companies that have larger budgets. And so that’s why I wrote the book. And so the book was to give people the resources so, that way, not that they have to pretend like they’re more than they are, but that they can present themselves that they are equipped to be able to do the same type of work as their counterparts that are larger. And so that’s really the basis of the book is helping businesses. Because they’re small, they’re able to quickly implement these changes as to where big companies can’t do that. So that’s really what the book centers around. I cover just sort of small things from getting a phone line and how to set your phone line to set up leads, and how to really think through your email strategy, and things of that nature. So it’s really a way for a business that feels overwhelmed because they know they have to do a lot to help them to feel confident to be able to compete in the marketplace. 


That’s cool. Yeah, I mean, it’s so true, like large companies, they have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of red tapes. And they take a lot of time to implement small things as well, whereas small businesses have an advantage because they can make a decision and implement it right away. So that’s awesome

Yeah, they do. Yes. This is really can win in that aspect. So, and I think that by the end of the book, people feel like better like, I’m a small business, but it’s okay. 


Yeah. That’s cool. So now, you know, looking at the other side of the spectrum, do you think there is any stigma attached to small businesses?

 I think there are because, for instance, let’s say you’re a restaurant, and you are a family rain restaurant, and something happens in your family, or there’s a jewelry store near me, that’s a family-owned, and I want to get my battery and my watch replace, but they’re the only vacation for three weeks. So when you have like a small business that will close, unlike a large chain that’s going to keep running, they’re going to be there every single day, seven days a week, all these hours are different, you know, that sometimes gives people a bad impression like, well, I want to shop and I want to support this business but they’re closed right now, even though I sympathize with them because they have to go pick up their kids because that’s what The note says on the door, you know that I think that Oh man, I should have just went to a big box store instead of going to a small chain. So I think there is a bit of stigma sometimes. People don’t understand that there are a few slight dynamics. But I think right now we’re in this world of on-demand have to have it right now, right? Now, if a small business can’t do it right now, then yeah, there is a stigma that says they can’t do it at all, which is unfortunate. It’s like, extreme, right? It’s not like we can’t do it. You just can’t do it at this time. So there’s a bit of a stigma. 


So how do you overcome that stigma?

You know, what I really try to help customers do and that’s why I focus a lot on the marketing technology and stack. What can we do to continue to allow customers especially for business to consumers, to be able to can still feel like they can communicate with a brand, even if they communicate with a chatbot online that goes back and forth then narrows down some things and it tells the person at the end of the chat that I can’t help you specifically, but I elevated, escalated this up to the right person that tomorrow morning, you’re going to get a call first thing in the morning. And then when you honor that, that makes a person feel good. So there are ways that you can get around it. And that’s why we like to really focus on whether it is artificial intelligence or, you know, just setting up good common-sense business practices and communicating. So like if I, if your company does have to close your restaurant, has to close your store has to close early, the same way you tell people about the sales, go back online, to your social media pages, go back to your email accounts where you send out the sales and let people know it’s about communication. And there are ways to get around being small. You just have to know how to utilize technology to do it. 


That’s cool. Alright, so I’ll take an incident that you mentioned in your book, where you and your friend, were thinking about going to a restaurant and she was not too enthusiastic because she hadn’t read any comments or reviews on the restaurant. So tell us a little bit about that story. 

Well, I mean, I think that story, and even that’s what just happened recently, I was out with some friends again, and a new store, our new restaurant had just opened. And we’re like all this go support. But we couldn’t find like, we couldn’t find the menu online. No one had posted any reviews. They hadn’t claimed their business listing. So I mean, that story from that book is still even today. And I’m really surprised that businesses I mean, Google gives you a lot of free ways to put your business out there. And just the basics of putting your menu there and putting your times and your location their businesses still aren’t doing that. I mean, so it’s kind of sad, but I hope they catch on. But yeah, as I said, that’s so funny. You said that because I just happened last weekend. Friends to go out and try a new restaurant. 


Yeah, I mean, as you said, like, you know, small businesses have so many other things to take care of sometimes they forget, you know, these tools are available and they are free and very easy to use. So I think they do need some guidance and perhaps a little bit of time to catch up. But so anyway, moving on. So you know, you also said, something along the lines of, in order to be successful and grow your business, you’ll need to attract and retain a large client base. So if you’re a small business or you’re launching a new company, how do you find your first few clients?

So one of the things that I always work with clients and doing is creating, you’ll hear marketers talk about that customer avatar, that target demographic, and that’s one of the classes that I teach on hitting your target demographic, but you have to know specifically who you need to talk to you like people always I just want to say who your customers when I asked them who your customers are, like “everybody.” “No everybody’s not your customer”. So we tried to talk to everybody you’re going to get really frustrated, burned out, you’re probably going to quit close your business because you’re not talking to the right people. And that’s what we want to prevent from happening, right? We want to prevent you from talking to the wrong people and get you to the right people. So focusing in if I have a car wash detailing company, then I need to say what kind of cars do I want to detail don’t want to do to high-end cars. So and that’s the case I can go into you know, there are different resources where you can go to even the public library was here has it where you can go and get a list of who is what zip codes have certain incomes. And then you start to target that because if you said I’m want to mobile detail Porsche cars, then maybe you need to go to the Porsche dealership and make friends with the Porsche dealership, and you know, advertising that way, but you really have to narrow down. So it was when people say, how I can find my first clients. You have to create in your head and on paper, call your ideal client is, and we are a business to business type of company, you need to think about the whole is my decision-maker that I need to talk to? Or my gateway keeper? Who do I need to talk to first? Do I need to get to know the person as a director before getting to know the chief or the vice president of a certain department? So you really need to hone down in who you need to talk to you. 


Awesome. Now, I have seen this many times that you know, you’re absolutely right. Most people, they think that they want to target everyone, and they want to market everyone and obviously, the method gets diluted. But I think, you know, on the contrary, like it’s also very difficult. It’s almost like a science or an art to come up with the right message. Come up with the right avatar. So do you follow any framework or methodology to actually narrow down and hone in your message and your target audience? 

So let’s take it from business to business type of company. That’s what your frame our company is set up as, then let’s take a look at the industry first, and then let’s take a look at their revenue. And let’s take a look at where they’re located within a certain geographical area. And let’s take a look at what type of projects they take on. As you start to narrow down like this, you’ll eventually get down to who is the person that I need to speak to them make the decision because some companies if you sell from business to business, then you want to go and try to get $100,000 contract and the company didn’t even make hundred thousand dollars in revenue last year. Right? So you really do my framework is to get big and make it small. So in even with consumers Want to do the same thing? If I’m want to sell cheap crayons for kids the color, then I don’t need to try to go sell to the audience that shops at Nordstrom, right? Maybe I need to go find the audience that consistently shops around the dollar stores that are around the area and focus in that way. And what do they look like? What age group you know, who has, you know what you don’t sell crayons to 70 years old, right? Because they might buy it occasionally for their grandkids and they come over, but they’re not the person who’s going to be buying it all the time. Say how to start to like, make it big and make it small. And then once you make it small, you can make craft the message appropriately. Because even just like you said a few minutes ago, the message becomes diluted. If we try to talk to everybody, it’ll just go right over their head. Like they’ll completely miss it if you try to talk to the wrong person.


Yeah, that’s true. Now, one of the things that you mentioned was the location geographical location of your target customer. But, you know, we are living in a digital world, a lot of companies, they actually maybe have a, you know, a good customer avatar, but they are spread across multiple geographical regions, maybe the Middle East, maybe Asia, maybe not America. So is there a way that they can sort of, you know, hone in the message and still be able to target people in different geographies, which may, who may have like different languages and different cultures, different backgrounds? 

Well, I think you still I think you answered it, but then it’s still there, right? Because you have to hone it in the messaging is totally different, like in, you know, I like to travel internationally. And when you go from country to country, they do business differently. They talk differently, right? The English language is written how many different ways so you have to be able to understand the culture of a person when you start thinking about different geographies, because I’ll say for instance, like, in the south, we have Southern tea, what they call which is ice tea, which has sugar in it. But when you go up north, ice tea doesn’t have sugar in it, you have to ask for tea. So if I’m in the tea business, and I want to put sugar in my tea, I need to know that the people in the south are probably the ones that are going to purchase it one of the people in the north because they’re used to sugar and tea. So you still have to kind of know who your audience is and break it down. And it’s not to say you can’t sell Southern tea in the north, but you have to know who to target because maybe at that particular point in time, I’m targeting people who may have been transferred to that area, who used to live in the south moved up north. So there is while I love the fact I love, love, love the fact that we have the internet and we can sell around the globe and talk to people in different countries. You still have to know who you’re targeting so that you can craft that message appropriately. 


Cool. Alright, so now, you know, obviously coming up with a good customer avatar is very important. But there are some other mistakes that people make while launching the company running their business, growing their business. Can you share with us any typical mistakes that you’ve observed your clients or small businesses make while trying to grow their business?

So there’s one thing that I share with people, whenever I do presentations before I even get into the nuts and bolts of marketing, and it’s a talk to entrepreneurs about who did they create the business for. Because some small businesses get into business because they, they don’t want a boss, but they forget that their clients are the boss. Right? And so now they’ve created this company that feels good for them, but it doesn’t feel good for anybody else. And they can’t get any customers. So Who did you create the business for? That’s the question that I asked audiences all the time. Who did you create the business for? What can you be created for yourself, more than likely you will probably fail? Because in the end, the money gets exchanged more easily when you’re giving something to somebody they want. It doesn’t matter if they need it or not. But it’s do they want it? And you can’t do that if you’re creating something that only you like, you have to think about the marketplace and who your customer is. And that is a problem that I usually end up finding is that you know, I’ve helped businesses I helped to retail, a small retail location that opened up one location, there wasn’t a second one, but they were purchasing things and the retail location that they liked. And they wanted was wondering why things weren’t selling and they wanted to move another location to the other part of town. Well, guess what you’re selling things that you want, maybe things that you want in your home, but that doesn’t mean that I wait in my home. So I always start with that question. And that’s the biggest mistake that I see that people think about crafting and creating your business based off of what they want and not what the customer wants. 


Yeah. It’s so interesting. I’ve seen similar issues and you know, I work with tech startup founders and I see similar issues, they try to build things that they want, but not what the customer wants. 

Yeah, the marketplace and ask for it. And sometimes that works out okay. Because, you know, we think about it the marketplace and ask for the iPod, but we got and we liked it. Right. So sometimes it works. But most of the time, it does not work. 


Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m sure Apple has their own ways to figure out exactly what they what people want. So and you know, they do things differently, slightly anyways. Now, let’s move on. So, in one of the other quotes, which I find very interesting, you compared business owners to parents in the They know they’re not perfect with their kids, but they don’t want to hear that from anybody else. So can you tell us a little bit about that?

Well, I mean, it’s very hard to get criticism about your baby. You know, that nobody I was talking to a founder the other day and he said it so perfectly. It says no one wants to hear that their baby’s ugly. No one wants to hear that their baby has this problem, that their baby’s not fast enough, smart enough, agile enough, no one wants to hear that. And that’s the thing is. It’s nothing wrong with having that complete ownership over your business. But at the same time, you do have to take in and learn from other people and experts. I mean, it’s hard because a lot of people deem themselves as experts. But in the end, the end the day you do have to think you know, how can I grow my baby? What is the best thing for my baby doing growing up in only how I want to see the girl, or do I take a look at how it needs to grow. And so I think like the type of parenting decisions that parents have to make, you’re going to have to do the same thing with your business, you have to think, well, is this something that needs to happen? Will this help it grow? And then additionally, you know, sometimes you’re a parent, with your employer. You know, you do have to be like that person where you have to step back and see things a little bit differently, and you can’t play favorites with your employees to but in general, it’s, it’s that closeness that you have. And when you birth that business, you are like, I don’t want to hear anything bad about it. And that’s the struggle. That’s a struggle for a lot of entrepreneurs. 


For sure. So now, you know, when you work with business owners, or you know, even in my case, I have experiences, you know, when I work with business owners, and when I tell them, “Hey, you know, what you’re doing may not be the right thing for you.“ They get defensive and sometimes they don’t listen, have you ran into this type of situation before?

Yes, I have. And I was talking with some colleagues of mine a couple of months ago. And I’ve gotten to the point now, where I don’t dig my heels as much as I did when I started, so before I was the type of person that wanted to drag the customer with me kicking and screaming to the right answer. So now it’s like I presented and then say, Well, this is what I believe to be the answer. But if you believe what you’re saying, and what you’re thinking is better than the solution, then you know, we will go ahead and try it the way you believe you can do it. And then usually in some way, when we’re talking, they start to like, step back and think about Okay, like, you know what, I did hire someone else to come in because I was too close and I couldn’t see it. So they started to step back. But yeah, it was a learning process for me because yeah, I did I want to say no because if you don’t get it, you’re gonna drown. You’re gonna close your business in two months, let’s go, you guys owe me but I can’t. Like mentally I just can’t drag people with me anymore. But I do fine just in having a conversation about the options of, if you do it this way, what can happen? And once they start thinking about, well, if this is the end result, if it is not the end result, and they start thinking in that manner, it becomes a little bit easier to get them to go in the right direction. 


Sure, yeah. Alright, so now, the name of the show is bootstrapping your dream. So and you specialize working with small businesses now, what do you think about the idea of bootstrapping businesses, how easy it is to, you know, bootstrap your business without taking in huge risks or raising a huge amount of money?

You know, I think that every business should be focused on revenue, right? And that’s a struggle because I know a lot of VCs I do, I do. And I know that sometimes in fundraising, there’s this part of them that will kind of stifle the business from really pushing forth the revenue. But I’m a revenue first person, I believe that you know, when you can put the sales first, you are proving your concept over and over, the more sales you get, you’re proving that concept even stronger, you’re being able to grow. It’s not to say that I don’t think that people may not need to take off like a small like loan to get them through like maybe you need more, you got a big order that came in, and you need to buy the inventory to fulfill the order. And you need to take a loan. I don’t have a problem with that. And I’m not against fundraising. But the problem I do see with a lot of funders because I, you know, I talked to a lot of founders is that they’re so focused on fundraising, they’re not focused on revenue and fundraise is a full time and a half job, you get me if you especially if you’re a solo, doing this trying to fundraise everything else gets on the back end. So how is your business going to grow your team who’s going to leave them? So I think that fundraising especially if you’re just starting out, that shouldn’t be your first goal, like proving that concept, creating the great product that needs to be your first goal. That’s my opinion.


I could not agree more. Yeah, I mean, that’s what I tell my clients and my, you know, whoever comes to me for advice, so I am fully aligned with that, and I understand it’s not the popular opinion. But yeah, I think it’s, it’s the right way to go. But in any case, moving on. So in your, in your practice, you emphasize on business storytelling, and science and technology, which seems like you know, there are two opposite ends of a magnet. So how do you align them? How do you put them in one package? And, you know, make them work cohesively? 

Yeah. So I like to use data, I like to get into data, see what the numbers are at. If you have an existing client base, what are they buying, you know, motivates them to purchase at the time that they do purchase, what’s motivating them to not purchase when they’re not purchasing. So just getting into that data part, I think helps you to craft a better story. And then I utilize the technology on how to deliver that to them, and then also how to collect the data. So we have a tool that we use, that if we were working with the retailer, it will take a Wi-Fi camera that’s in the venue, and it can count the number of people whether they’re male, female, the age group, and the sentiment that they’re feeling. So we can take that solution and then collect data on the people who are coming into a space that gives us a good idea as to what products they like what products they don’t. Do they like this environment, do they hang around this area of the store or the venue at all. But being able to take that beta and either push for even more sales and the things they like, our push for getting them to consider some of the things they hadn’t even considered before. So it really does work together, whether it’s you need to go and collect the data, to make the decisions to create the story, or you look at your existing data to see how you can shift the story around. But it all works together. And it’s funny as because that was one of the things that I fought with and trying to figure out how to come up with that formula and that balance within the first few years of my business. But now it’s just it’s a part of our formula and how we work with our clients. 


That’s awesome. Now you know storytelling is obviously is part of our civilization for a long time. But how do you uniquely use this skill of storytelling and help it help grow business through that?

Being able to tell the story is crucial. How long you tell it is crucial. What you start and end is crucial. And I love though that people are finally understanding the power of storytelling. And I have to say it’s because of the increased use of video. Right? When you think about like people going live, you think about TEDx, our TED Talks, you know, a video has been helping to craft a story. And when you start to look at how even the news and the media are telling stories, they everybody is looking at what is going on right now. Before people would sit down and they would relax and they would watch the news and that was a big deal, you know, in their household this time of this time was watching the news. But now we have so much stuff going on. We’ve got news flying on our feeds on social media. And so now if you try to tell a story, how you telling it, how quickly you’re telling it, and it’s become so important now, it’s forced us to hone that craft, and how to tell a story. So I always say what the storytelling is, what’s the end result, what I want people to walk away with. And if I know what I want people to walk away with that helps me to start to craft a story. And it’s funny is because I will work on as a creative director telling stories via video. And I was talking to team member earlier today and I said, as funny as because I came up with the end of the video. Now we have to come up with. But, you know, that’s how once I understand what that last feeling I want people to walk away with It gets me to shift back to the beginning, like, where do I want the story to start? How do I need them to get to the end so that I need to focus on that middle part? So if I think about the end in mind, that usually helps me, but I think that’s kind of like a towel or even how to do business. And how do you meet your quarterly goals? Right? What’s my end result I want to do? How am I going to get there? So you back up and you start thinking about how will you get to that end result of that goal? 


Yeah, cool. All right. Now, there’s a quote, I think maybe you’re familiar with that failure lets you move on mediocrity, stalled you and keeps you from reaching your potential. So I know you have some thoughts about that. So can you tell us you know, what do you think about mediocrity and failures? 

Yeah, you know, everybody, there’s a saying and the tech and stars face fail fast. I think there’s some merit to it. You know, of course, you want to try to think through and through. You want to be the best and to be the best you have to overcome being mediocre. You can’t just put out just anything. But I always found like, I am appreciative of my failures, I’m appreciative of the things that don’t go right at the moment that they don’t go, right. Because what I think about is how I waited to learn that lesson months from now, what it would have cost me. And so if I think at, you know, failure is like, the thing is, I just figured out how not to do it, you know, how not to get something done. So if you look at it in that manner, okay, was a business owner, I realized that you know, they don’t need this particular software, they don’t need this particular product. So I learned this, let’s move on. We’re pivoting, going in a whole different direction because I’m listening to what the market has to say. So that’s kind of my thoughts on you know, failure and mediocrity are because when you’re always thinking about what’s the best thing to do is kind of hard to completely fail and you just figure out the wrong way to do something. 


That’s for sure. Now, you know talking a little bit about your own personal life. You are also a social activist, too. So can you tell us a little bit about that? 

Um, so funny, I don’t know. me But yeah, I guess so. I, I mean, I think I’m, I’m more of a people person. At the end of the day, I want people to be treated fairly equally. So I do write a column on diversity and technology. And I do participate in workshops and trying to encourage diversity. I just did a workshop with some colleagues of mine, and one of the local county offices on trying to make sure that the older population that you know, minorities, have an understanding of projects that are coming up that innovation that’s coming up and how they can plug into it. So I guess it is a social activist, I don’t know. But I just, I feel like if there’s a way to level the playing field to an extent, I know we’re all not going to succeed. But I think everybody has a chance to get a fair shot. And that’s kind of what I want to do. And so I try to do that even with the group of minorities and corporations and marketing that we get together once a month, just so we can make sure that our knowledge base is on par, and we’re able to perform excel in the marketplace. So I think, I guess it could be considered social activism. But, you know, I, I just, I don’t know, I think that if I can leave the world a little bit better than how I got here. I’m good. 


Well, that’s a very noble cause. And thanks a lot for doing that. And also, thanks a lot for coming onto the show and sharing all your wisdom and knowledge with us. Now before I let you go, can you tell us how people can reach out to you and contact you? 

Yes. So our website is abovepromotions.com. And you can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. And I am always open to connecting with people on LinkedIn. So feel free to look for me to find me at Ebony-Vaz on LinkedIn. Awesome. 


Thank you so much. 

Thank you for having me. This is fun.


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