Usually, Ben Baker is the one asking the questions. On this 100th episode, it’s his turn to be on the hot seat; and who better to interview Ben than close friend and podcast host Kirby Wassermann? Kirby goes personal on the life of Ben and doesn’t hold anything back. Ben shares his own origin story that is nothing short of inspiration from those he interviewed on the show. He taps into the stages businesses have to go through, the importance of marketing, and the content we put up online. From his beginning and failures to finally his success, Ben takes us into his life and offers great wisdom on growing your business where giving value to others sits at the very center of success.
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100th Episode Special: Ben Baker’s Story By Kirby Wassermann
This is our 100th episode. I went out to ask people, “The 100th episode is coming up, who do you want me to interview?” I sent it online to 100 different people that are close friends, allies, clients, etc. I said, “Who are the people that you think should be the number one person that I should interview over on my 100th episode?” The answer came out resounded, “You.” It blew me away. It was one of those things where I say, “What do you mean me?” The answer that came back is, “Ben, we want to hear your story. You tell everybody else’s story, it’s your turn.” I turned to my buddy, Kirby Hasseman. He is a great friend and was one of the original people that was on this show. Kirby has his podcast. I said, “Who better to turn the mic than to Kirby Hasseman?” Let him pepper me with questions and find out my story. Kirby, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Ben. I could not be more flattered, honored, and excited to be a part of this. You said you’re humbled. It is an honor. One of the things that you know as a content creator is you start to appreciate the other people who are putting in the work. It takes courage and a ton of work. Kudos to you. Congratulations and thanks, I appreciate the opportunity.
Thanks a lot. I know that I’m in a capable and phenomenal hand. Let’s forget about capable hands we know you’re capable. I’ve listened to your podcast. I’ve watched you over the years. I’ve seen you on stage. I know how good you are at getting the best out of people. I turn the mic over to you and see where this goes.
Let’s dig into your story. Let’s start with the basics. How did you get to start in your business and what got you into a marketing business in the first place?
There are two different starts. I was in high technology sales for almost ten years. The last job I had was managing a retail company that ended up being bought by Best Buy. Everybody across the United States knows Best Buy. If you walk into a Future Shop and you walk into a Best Buy, they look almost the same. The color scheme is different but it’s the high-tech gear, it’s the software, it’s a hardware, all the things that go with it. They were 100 store chains, 75 in Canada, 25 in the United States. $1 billion company and they were $100 million company to us.
I was the firefighter. My job was to manage this account and because of that, I was in the air 200 days a year. I was jumping on a plane, sitting there saying, “Where’s the next problem? What’s the next thing we have to work on? What’s the next program that we’re trying to figure out? Let’s make it happen.” I had 30 staff that were incredible in figuring out the day-to-day, what went into the store, what didn’t go in the store, returns, accounting and finance. I left that to other people, my job was to handle the account from the 50,000-foot level. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “This is a divorce waiting to happen.”
It sounds exhausting.
Anybody who says that travel is exotic, it is to a limit. 200-plus days a year, when you walk onto a plane and the pilot knows you by name, it’s not a good thing. We had a conversation with the VP of sales. The deal was they had me steal my competitor. I brought on my replacement, I flew around for 45 days and then I was out, they paid me a nice six months override. The best thing they gave me was they gave me the training like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They threw me through the whole battery of psychological tasks with the industrial psychologist. What they came up with is that “You work well with large corporations, don’t work for large corporations.”
It says, “You’re good at going in there and fixing problems, understanding and creating clear communication but you know the internal politics are going to kill you.” That has resonated well with me over the last 22 years. My clients are fairly large. I work with $100 million and $100 billion companies but I don’t work inside of them like other people do with the politics inside. What I realized was the sales jobs were gone. If I wanted to make the money I was making and had the responsibility I was doing, that travel was necessary. I took a look and said, “What was the next best thing?” I like marketing. I like telling stories. Over the last 22 years, it’s evolved from direct mail to promotion marketing to trade shows development. Being able to create development to understanding that my forte is on the consulting and workshops. It’s being able to say, “Let’s work on the brand and communications strategy and help clients communicate more effectively.”If you don’t have the answer and the ability to fix the problem, find somebody who does. Click To Tweet
You talked about when you came out and what you did and all of the things that have evolved. When you came out, when your business started, what was your differentiator? That’s something we think about and take for granted. What was your differentiator? Did you have one? Is it like, “I want clients.”
When I first started, I was working for somebody else. When you’re first starting, you’re working and you’re doing what your clients need. I was working for my clients, figuring things out and working out on the print management side of things. It was like, “What do they need?” My differentiator from day-one is I’ve always been focused on the clients. I’ve always been focused on, “It’s not about me, it’s about them.” What is their issue? What’s tearing their hair out? What’s making them frustrated? I’m working with them to fix it. Realizing that if I don’t have the answer and the ability to fix the problem, find somebody who does. You would be able to take care of the clients first.
When I’m talking to my team, I always tell my team, “If you want to build trust with the client, if you want to become an advisor to them, start recommending things that you don’t sell.” That’s exactly what you’re saying. You’re saying, “I’m not worried as much about it being focused on me or how I’m going to make money. I’m thinking about the client and if I take care of the client, the rest will take care of itself.” Is that right?
Absolutely. I’m a big believer of if I can’t personally help a client, I want to make sure that the client is taken care of. I’ll be reading through my newsfeed and see an article that could be interesting to them and I’ll send it to a client. It’s not going to make me a penny or a dime but it’s going to make their life better. By doing that, I’m adding value to them because I sent it to them. I’m thinking about them even if there’s no financial benefit in that for me.
I always talk about it being a give first economy and that’s a great example of providing value without worrying about our lives. The reality of it is a touch is a touch, if you are adding value in each communication regardless of whether you sell something that time or the next time. It’s about focusing on creating a long-term business. It sounds like you have been thinking in that way for many years.
That’s something I learned from my dad. I was very lucky that my father was an entrepreneur. He had a construction company for almost 40 years. The comment that he always said was, “Whatever it takes to take care of the client, that’s what you do.” If it means you lose money in the short-term, you lose money in the short term. If it means if you lose face in the short term, you lose face in the short term. You take care of the client and make sure that the client is being taken care of and you work from there.
Let’s go back to those early days. When I first got into business, it’s a little bit of a school of hard knocks, especially when it became my own business. What are the lessons you’ve learned in those early days that you still carry on? When anybody starts a business, we always talk about, “You think you’ve got it all figured out.” In my experience, I did not. I learned lessons in those early days of business that I still carry on. I’m curious to know if you had experiences like that too.
The best thing I learned early on in my career is that you don’t know everything and you can never know everything. Your best bet is to align yourself with people that are smarter than you are in whatever area they’re smart in. We all have things that we do well and there are a lot of things that we do poorly. Accounting was my Achilles’ heel when I started. When I started You Brand Marketing, I had a partner. We had a full -time accountant and 30 staff in the office that did the day-to-day invoicing and all that. When I went on my own, I watched all of that.
I didn’t even know how to set up. I didn’t even know why you would set something up in a certain way. If I had tried to fumble through that on my own without spending the time and money to get somebody to walk in here and help me set it up in a way that was logical for me, I would have been in trouble. The best thing that I learned early on in my career is that you don’t know everything and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to bury your head in the sand and try to fumble through stuff. It’s going to cost you far more money in the long run than the dollars and cents that cost you to hire somebody do it right the first time.
That’s great advice and I’ll be the first to admit, as an entrepreneur sometimes I struggle with that. Many times as an entrepreneur, we think no one cares as much as us. No one will do it as well as us. That’s false thinking and if that’s an early lesson that you got it took me a lot longer to learn it.
I learned that with a baseball bat through the back and the head a few times. Those lessons do not come cheap but you’ll eventually do learn them.
Obviously, you work with organizations on branding with Your Brand Marketing. One of the first interactions you and I had was you were getting ready. You were going through the process of rebranding your own business. You spent as much time and energy on rebranding your entire business. Why did you go through that process? What did you learn from it?
When I first went out on my own and left my partner years ago, I called the company CMYK Solutions, which is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It’s the four colors that make up all printing. When I first started, we did a lot of printing and promotional products. That was the majority of our business. It was a tangible product business. The company over the years worked to realizing where my clients wanted me more for strategic thinking than the actual printing. There are a lot of places to get printing done cheaply. I wasn’t adding any real value. Where I realized my value was on the strategic side of things in terms of branding communication.
The name was fine for your existing clients because your clients evolve with you. They understand you and you’re having those conversations. What I realized is that the name CMYK Solutions was pitching a whole on me as a printer. The clients are going, “How can you be a brand strategist with that name? You’re a printer. Your name says printing on it and it says old school. We’re in a digital world, CMYK is old school. Why are you even thinking about that?” When I developed the name many years ago, there was no Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t see it coming to the extent that it did.
That’s life. With that in mind, I took a hard look and said, “Where do I want to be moving forward? What do I want to say to people? Where do I add value to? Who are the people that I add value to?” How can I help them solve the problems that they currently have? I went, “Ben, you tell stories. You help people tell their stories. You help people communicate effectively.” That’s where the logo came from. The brand itself is the Your Brand Marketing. It’s about you, your story, ideas, needs, wants and desires. It’s not about me. It’s about you and your company. That’s where my focus is. That’s where the name came from.
When you’re meeting with a client or talking to an organization, how do you help them realize or how do they realize when it’s time to rebrand?
There are two different types of clients. One is where you’re doing a brand from scratch. We’ll work with a lot of startup communities and help them build their brand. We work with $10 million to $80 million companies when we’re doing branding. They’re going through major changes. Grandsons are taking over grandfather’s company. Somebody bought or sold the company. They got new product lines coming online that nobody knows about. They’ve had a shift in what they sell, why they sell and who they sell it to. They’ve reached a glass ceiling where all of a sudden there were $20 million.
They want to be a $50 million company but nobody is taking them seriously after $50 million mark. All those things are red flags that say, “It’s time to look at your brand.” It may not be a rebrand. It may be repositioning. It comes down to spending three to five days with the company digging deep and understanding where they are and where do they want to go. It’s figuring out where the holes in the dike are. Every company has holes in the dike. It’s a matter of figuring out is it one or two that we can patch with concrete or do we need to build a new dike.You don’t know everything and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to bury your head in the sand and try to fumble through stuff. Click To Tweet
As you’re meeting with clients, there’s a ton of value in a sense where you went through this process not too long ago. I’m curious to know what you thought was going to happen when you rebrand versus what happens. What lessons did you learn that you’re surprised about or were there any?
There were some interesting legal things that need to be considered. When you change a name of a company, you lose your lines of credits. There are things that can come up with the company legally that you need to consider. What I did is I did a DBA, which is Doing Business As. We are CMYK Solutions doing business as Your Brand Marketing or Your Brand Marketing as a division of CMYK Solutions. All of our legal contracts, lines of credits and all those things remain constant because we kept the parent name in the background. It’s a shadow. It’s there. It’s a legal company name but people know me as Your Brand Marketing but it’s a legal point of view. We kept the CMYK Solutions because there were major clients we had contracts with. They said, “You become Your Brand Marketing. We’re going to go through that contract process all over again.” That was the biggest thing that hit me between the eyes.
That’s great because by you living through that, you can walk into them and give them a heads up. There are a couple of things that come up from that. You said maybe a company gets to $50 million and they hit a plateau. It’s hard to believe that a brand would have so much to do once you get that big. Why would a brand have something to do with why they’re not able to take that next step?
What you need to realize is that we all have stages in our career. We become a $500,000 company to a $1 million, $5 million, $10 million, $20 million, $50 million, and $100 million to $1 billion company. Each one has stages and you’re building up levels of trust and expertise as you grow as a company. If you’re considered as a small business, let’s say you’re under $5 million, people are always going to give a certain amount of their work based on that. They’ll say, “This is a small company. They can’t handle it.” If somebody gave me $10 million work for a major corporation, I couldn’t handle it. I’m not a big enough company. It’s not possible.
There’s a legitimacy factor along with those milestones. As you get big, you’re still going to have that legitimacy issue. Can they handle the business? Are they big enough? Do they have the structure in place? Do they have vision to be able to help us? Billion-dollar companies like to deal with billion-dollar companies. They at least like to have that level of trust that they can do that. It’s building up your brand to create the vision and the language that you use. You’re speaking the same language as the client that you want to influence to do business with.
It feels like the actual brand is more important than ever. Do you agree? Why do you think it’s more important now?
Branding is important. Your brand is worth almost nothing as you’re building it. Your brand is worth money the day you sell the company or the day you go public or the day all of a sudden you’re starting to get a contract because somebody recognizes your brand. Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is who you are when you’re not in the room.” It’s how people perceive you. You influence your brand. You don’t create your brand. You tell your story, you act a certain way, you do business in a certain way, you have a certain philosophy, but how people perceive that brand is why it’s valuable or it’s not valuable.
I agree with what you said that your brand is what other people say. It’s like back in high school, if you had to say you were cool, you weren’t cool. The other kids determine that. I love what Bezos said there. You have thrown a couple of things there that I want to dig into in case people didn’t understand. It’s the difference between a DBA and a subsidy area of a parent company. Can you dig into that a little bit?
The DBA, Doing Business As. It’s more of a legal recommendation, especially for a smaller company. Doing the DBA, you don’t have to go through any legal things. You declare your company as doing business as. It allows you to take checks that are made out of CMYK Solutions and put them into Your Brand Marketing bank account. It allows me to say “Your Brand Marketing, a division of CMYK Solutions” on my invoices to a couple of my larger clients that I have contracts with. It gives them the capability of saying, “Yes, to us this is CMYK Solutions.”
I apologize for getting it down to the weeds there. We want to go 10,000 feet but that’s one of the things that you’ve learned by going through this process and working with all of these other organizations. That’s one of the lessons as you dig in and take your advice. You learn things like that and be able to help people with it.
The best piece of advice I’ll give with that is to talk to your accountant and lawyer. They know way better than you do. That conversation with my lawyer and accountant might have cost me $1,000 but it saved me $50,000.
How do you think your business specifically evolved over the past twenty years? Both good and bad.
When we started many years ago, I killed thousands of trees. We were in the direct mail business. That’s how I started in the marketing industry. We did large catalog runs, large birthday card runs, and working flyers for large corporations. The business was tactical. It was like, “Somebody needs X, let’s build them X.” Over the years I learned to ask why a lot more. I narrowed down my lane. I’ll take any customers under the sun. If you have a heartbeat and a Visa card, you are my client. That is nowhere near the truth anymore.
I work with business to business companies. I work with companies that are about $10 million to about $80 million and a few larger. We do projects for a couple of billion-dollar companies. We do projects for them, we’re not their vendor of record. It’s all business to business and brand strategy communication. It’s dealing with insurance and Insurtech, manufacturing companies and logistics companies. We narrowed down what we do and who we do it for to become far more of an expert than a jack of all trades.
That’s an incredible evolution that a lot of businesses and a lot of entrepreneurs either make or they struggle to make. Talk to me about a time that evolution wasn’t seamless. When you were going from anybody who can fog a mirror is my client to then trying to get to a place where you’re more specific about your clients. Tell me about a time when you failed to evolve the way you should have.
The best story that I have with that is when I first started back in CMYK Solutions. I had no way of differentiating myself. Here’s a great story that I tell from the stage. I met with a client and we went through a potential client. We walked through the entire office. They introduced me to everybody, shook my hand and had a wonderful conversation. I thought it was going well. We walked up to a boardroom and all of a sudden, three monitors are sitting right there. He turns on all three monitors. At that time, I had a canned website. It was a bought-for-your website.
The only thing that differentiated my website from anybody else was the fact that my logo was at the top left-hand corner. Can you guess what was on the other two monitors besides mine? The two websites that looked the same, all three of us were in the promotional marketing industry. The guy said, “You all look, smell, and feel the same. You all buy from the same people. Why should I care about you?” I didn’t have the answer. I can tell you the answer now, but back then I didn’t have the answer. Within six months of that, I tore down my website. I rebranded myself in terms of the story that I told. I took the time to hammer down what made me different. It was that kick in the face that made me do it.
Those are the lessons at the moment and I’m visualizing that. That’s got to be gut-wrenching when they did that.
It’s tail between your legs, “thank you very much,” and walk out the door.
At that moment it hurts so much but it is a great lesson. We both come from similar backgrounds from an industry perspective, so it is something I understand. It’s something we work hard at. The differentiation is a huge key in any industry. That is a great story. I want to start talking about this show. That’s part of the reason for this 100th episode. I feel like I’d be remissed not to talk about the role of content played in your business evolution. We talked about how you have evolved from being that jack of all trades that takes any client to someone who is a little bit more selective. It’s not necessarily in this show but whether it’s blogs, videos or podcasts. How this content did helped you evolve in that story? How did it make you different?
Content is king. People are desperately looking for information that can help them make a decision to either go one way or the other. It’s whether they should like or dislike something, whether it’s something they should care about or they should ignore. The problem is there’s so much noise. There’s so much “Look at me and look how wonderful I am. Look at the amazing things I do.” When people put out content that’s a value to the audience that they communicate with, it gets lost. People are jaded. They are scrolling through their feeds at a million miles an hour. They’re picky because we’ve come to a point in time where we jammed up people’s emails and social media feeds with so much junk. It’s hard to differentiate what’s good, what’s bad and what is going to help me move my needle.Every company has holes in the dike. It’s a matter of figuring out whether you can patch with concrete or build a new dike entirely. Click To Tweet
As a person consuming content and someone who’s creating content like yourself, the challenge is, how do I stay relevant? When you do it, especially when you do it for the right reasons just like you said, “I want to create value.” That’s one of the challenges and I wonder how do you answer that question for yourself? How do you decide this person would be a good guest or this piece of content will add value to the client?
The question I always start off with is, what do my clients care about? That’s what it is, whether it’s wonderful audience here, whether it’s the people I line my pocket with money or it’s the people that they are trying to influence. The first question I ask is, “Why should people care? Am I seeing something that makes a difference in somebody else’s world?” If the answer is no, then I don’t say it. It’s that simple. The question is, I have an ego that sit there and say, “I talk about branding and marketing strategies.” That’s it.
I’m on social media. I’m not talking about politics. I’m not talking about the Kardashians. I’m not talking about anything along those lines. I’m talking about branding and marketing strategies and I stay in that lane. I want to be known for that and therefore those are the communication and that’s the information I do. When I’m bringing guests onboard my question is, do they have a relevant story? Can they tell me what they do and how they do it is different and unique? They’re the ones that differentiating themselves in their industry and how they do it. That’s what I want from a great guest.
In other words, these are the kind of people that not only can share a 10,000 foot view but they can talk tactics for your clients and add value in that way.
It that phrase, “People like us do things like this.” To the day I die, that phrase will probably be in my head. If you say, “These are the people that I care about and care about me. This is what they care about. Let’s talk about that in a way that’s relevant to them.”
We talked about evolution and since it is the 100th episode, I’m curious to know how has the show changed? What have you changed from this piece of content?
The biggest change was moving over to iHeart Radio, K4HD and changing the format. It started as a live podcast, then went to a pre-recorded podcast. Quite honestly, a few of my guests could not make it on time and therefore we were dead air for a few minutes. I moved this into a podcast that I release weekly and all the episodes were pre-recorded. I realized what I was missing was a live engagement both with an audience and guests. That repertoire goes back with real live radio. By moving over to K4HD and talk for the media, it allowed me to have that back again. It allowed me to bring an audience in. It allows me to sit there, read the questions online and answer the questions that mattered to the people that are listening to this. It also has given me the ability to send it out on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and iHeart Radio. The message is being disseminated on larger basis. It’s allowed me to increase the size of my audience and to reach out more robust crowds.
If you’re like me or like anything else, I compare. A lot of times, I’ll compare marketing to fitness. The reality of it is, the more you do it, the more you flex those muscles, the more repetitions you get, the better you get. For me, I got a little better and I’m sure you feel the same way.
If you went back and listen to the episodes one to ten and you compare them to this and the last five episodes, then the next five episodes, it’s a better show. The questions are more relevant. The guests, the stories and the flow are better. It’s a much better show. I will guarantee you in my 200th episode, I will be even better than I am now and I will learn more. The guests I have on will make me a better radio host. It’s a muscle. The more you flex, the better it is.
I talk about it a lot with my guests. They are like, “I feel you get things out of me.” I’m sure you’re the same way. I spend more time coming up with the questions than I do doing the show. Many times, people will look at the people on TV or creating the content and they’re like, “They’re just naturally gifted at it.” That’s always like, “Yeah, sure, after I spent three hours preparing for a fifteen-minute program.”
If I didn’t take the time combing through people’s social media feeds, reading their website and having a conversation with them ahead of time, you couldn’t do the show. If you start blind with somebody who you’ve never met, you don’t know anything about them and then try to talk to them for 25 or 30 minutes in a relevant way, I couldn’t do it.
One of the things that I get all the time when you’re creating content, people are always like, “What’s the ROI?” I’m going to ask a question in a different way but it’s the same question. How does it help your business?
What it’s done for my business is it’s given it a larger voice and it’s allowed customers across the United States to know who I am and what I do and be able to have more relevant conversations. What we’re doing a lot these days is we’re working with companies to find out how to retain and grow your rockstar employees. The branding is a huge part of it, but what we’re trying to do is retain and grow your rockstar employees. By people hearing that message, it’s enabled me to have better conversations with clients. Instead of me dialing for dollars, people are calling me.
You mentioned Seth Godin and that’s the person that popped into my mind. In his book This is Marketing, he broke it down in the best way that I‘ve ever heard anybody described it. He said, “In brand marketing versus direct marketing, many people are looking at content and trying to treat it like direct marketing.” It’s like you’re going to click here and sell something. It’s much more brand marketing and you alluded to that. It’s making you and your brand show up in a different way and that leads to sales. It’s harder to quantify but it’s powerful.
Nobody buys off my radio show. Nobody clicks on the link and says, “Charge my Visa card $12,000.” What it does is it enables meaningful conversations to happen that become $12,000 to $100,000 engagements.
That’s super powerful. The other pushback I get is people are like, “How do you create content and still have time to run your business?” Do you have any advice on how to get it done?
I compartmentalized this. I probably spend another hour a week on research and I do another hour a week on making sure I have new guests coming in. I’m lucky. I’m booked three to four months out. I book guests for three to four months out regularly because it makes life a lot easier. My guests come through natural conversations as I have with companies and I invite people. The guest is the easiest part for me to do. People are more than happy to be on the radio and tell their stories. People love doing that. It’s a matter of sitting there going, “This is two hours a week on marketing my company.” That’s probably the best way to look at it.
When people ask me that question, I’m always like, “I make it a priority.” Many people say, “That’s important,” but their actions don’t show that. Your actions have shown that over and over again. You’re many years in business, 100 episodes in, what are some of the most important lessons in business you have learned?You influence your brand. You don’t create your brand. Click To Tweet
The most important lesson that I’ve learned is it’s all about the customer, not about me. If I take care of the customers and treat them like gold, if I build my business around their needs, wants and desires, and understand what the challenges that they face are, the money comes. If all I’m worried about is making the paycheck, it’s a long and hard slog.
That’s exactly right. Putting the customer first is a ton of value. Ben, as someone who is a fan of yours, someone who follows you, you certainly provide a ton of value to me, I want to say, “Congratulations.” I don’t think people sometimes understand 100 in a row. That takes an enormous amount of dedication and preparation. I know you’re saying two hours a week but that’s a lot of work.
It is a lot of work.
I wanted to congratulate you and thank you for all that you’re doing.
Kirby, thank you for being part of this show. Thank you for being part of our 100th episode and to all my readers. Thanks to Rebel.
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