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Should You Work Harder or Smarter?
Sean: Hey everyone, welcome back to the show! For today, we have a special guest, Mr. Chris Wilson. He has been a startup founder and owner for 30 years already, could you believe that? I have owned and run SEO-Hacker for just over 10 years now. And it’s been a wild ride. I’m sure, I can learn a lot from Chris and I’m sure you learn a lot too.
And he started with just playing the guitar as young as a 23-year-old guy out of his own condo unit, you know, growing it into a business that is, that has 25 people on staff in the US today. That is amazing. We’re going to be learning how he did it, how he had his first hire his first office.
When he decided to turn things into a business when he decided to professionalize, what’s his marketing method, what is his growth engine? Stay tuned and listen up.
Hey Chris, thank you so much for being here on the show today.
Chris: Glad to be here.
Sean: All right. So one of the first questions we ask is, what is the thing that just took off in your mind and in your heart, why did you start this business, and what’s your vision? How did you see it becoming the way that would fund your lifestyle?
Chris: Well, I grew up in a house where my dad started a company when I was about 10 or 11 years old. So I sort of grew up with that and my dad was in the insurance industry. And you know, like an insurance consultant and you know, he had quit his day job and started the business.
And initially, you know, it was at the kitchen table, like, you know, we had – this is in the seventies. And so, you know, they were writing newsletters where you had, and you had to actually get them printed. You know, people didn’t have computers and things like that. It was quite a process, but we, you know, we did direct mail and we were asked just as children, you know, Folding fliers and stuffing envelopes and sealing it, you know, so the whole family was really involved.
You know, my aunt Jean had a typewriter. She would dress in the envelopes on a typewriter. And so I grew up with the idea that you should own a business. You should always go out and create a business. So I graduated from Berkeley college of music in June or May of 1990, and kind of hung out for a month, you know, kind of did nothing.
And then the 4th of July weekend, 1990, I moved back to Chicago, got an apartment with my brother, Rob. And I said already, I have to get something going. I thought, well, okay, I’m going to start a guitar school. Like it’s 1990 and rock music’s really big and people are playing the guitar, and so I started the guitar school.
And so I went out that weekend, the 4th of July weekend, and started marketing myself to guitar stores. And I would go talk to the salesman. I have not printed business cards or anything like that, I was going to, but it was, yeah, it was the weekend. So I made these like, you know, took a sheet of paper and like drew business cards and cut them out.
I mean, they were just so unprofessional was like so terrible looking. And I had like a handwritten flyer with little tabs. I mean, it was like, you know, but it was extremely fun to do it. So right away, I was approaching salesmen in stores and saying, “Hey look I’m Chris Wilson. I’m a guitar teacher. If people come in and buy guitars from you.
They take guitar lessons, they’re going to stick with it and they’re going to come back and they’re going to buy more guitars from you, I am going to make sure they come back and buy from you. So you should send all your clients who need guitar lessons to me.” And it worked, like the phone and right away I had left, since they had clients, and people paying me and I was like, “oh, this is like a really good business.”
So every Monday I would go around to every guitar shop I could find in Chicago. And by then I had business cards. And, you know, like tape and flyers, and I would hang up posters and hang up, you know, and hand out business cards and talk to the salesman, and that was how I got my clients.
And so, because none of those, you know, they were kind of retail stores, they didn’t teach. So that was my initial thing. So every Monday I went out in my household and got clients. And then the other couple of days, you know, we used to call it going out, postering, we’d hang up flyers and stuff, and just network and hustle. And then. I had some money. So I started doing some newspaper ads and that was doing this out of an apartment building.
And the apartment building was like, you can’t do this. Like, you can’t run a business out of here, you know, it’s, we’re not zoned for business. So at that point I rented, I rented space from someone else. Like there was like a retail store and I rented the rock. You know, they had like an office like this.
And I just paid them hourly, so I didn’t have to sign a lease. I wasn’t, you know, if I didn’t work that day, I didn’t pay them. And eventually, the store went under and I got my own space and this is 1993, you know, got yellow pages ads, and you know, my own phone number and things like that.
And it just sort of kept going. And I always had other things going. I was playing in bands. I just taught at the university, like a college. And those things went the wrong sort of all over the place, but this was a stable business and it was just the thing that always paid the bills. And it was always growing and because it was mine, I could control it.
You know, I didn’t have to worry about, if I was teaching at a university, they might say, “oh, you know what? That class you were teaching wasn’t as pocket that we’re not going to do it, you know, this semester.” So I was like, “oh wait, I just lost six hours a week off my schedule. So I realized that this, what I thought was sort of the part-time thing to guitar school was actually the thing and everything else would be part-time.
And so, yeah, and at some point I incorporated it, you know, legally incorporated it and things like that. And we were busy. And so I started, you know that next process of you is to start hiring people and now you have to manage people, you know, and this was over the course of, you know, this is from 1990 to 1995. Like that was just the short version of how I got to there.
Sean: That’s an amazing story. That’s amazing.
Chris: But I just did it? I didn’t write a business plan. There was no, you know, I still haven’t had a business plan. I probably should write one, and you know, all this stuff and people talking about doing, I went out that weekend and just did it, you know, I didn’t say, “oh, I got to wait and get business cards. Oh, I have to get this. I have to get down. Like, no, I’m just going to go out and sell today, you know. Sell today, eat tomorrow was always the motto.
Sean: And did you have a day job when you started doing this?
Chris: I was right out of college, and so it was almost like the school was my day job because, you know, right away I had enough students to pay the bills, like right off the bat.
And I joined a band, and now the bands work Fridays and Saturday nights and that paid something. And so, yeah and no day job. I’m going to actually, realistically, I’ve never – other than teaching some classes every now and then at college or high school. And those were part-time, you know, three hours a week.
I’ve never had a job, like a full-time job. I never really worked for somebody.
Sean: Got it. And who taught you that, where did you get the idea that, “Oh, this is what I do. I just have to get out of my ass and go ahead and knock on these guitars sales people, because they’re the ones that’s going to be driving me leads?” Where’d you get that idea?
Chris: I mean specifically that idea, it just, you know, I grew up and my dad was in the insurance business I mentioned that. And you would go out, and you would have appointments, you know, you would, people would mail back a flyer and you say, “oh, I have to go to this company over in this town.” And while – before he went over there, my dad would be, you know, this is before the internet, you got a map. Where am I going? You forgot where you’re at.
And so it would be an office park and there’d be 10 other businesses. So you would cold call you just knock on the door. Hey, my dad would be like, Hey, if I was Wilson, I’m an insurance guy. Hey, if I do your insurance. That’s all human cold calls. Every single one of them called it cold calling, you know, canvassing. Just hit every office in the office park, just old school door to door salesmen.
And sometimes people would be like, oh, you know what, actually, someone just screwed up my insurance policy. Can you take a look at this? And he would be, you know, reviewing someone’s insurance policy on the spot. It didn’t happen all the time, but, I think there’s so much money in insurance. You don’t need tons of clients.
You know, some of these companies are spending a hundred thousand a year on insurance, so yeah, so that, that was where I got the idea for me to get up in your house. And my dad was a guy who got up at 5:00 AM every day and hustle. And so I inherited that from him. And so it just seemed to make sense.
Okay, go out and you’re going to network and you’re going to talk to people. No one’s just going to find you. No one’s just going to show up at your business, right? They’re not gonna be like, “oh, there you are – we’ve been looking for you.” You have to go out and figure out a way to reach people directly.
Sean: For sure. And so that’s really good work ethic getting up at 5:00 AM you see your dad do that, but I’m wondering before you started this guitar business who was there, they say work ethic is built and established early on in life during your teenage years.
I was wondering, did you work during your college years or high school years to build this work ethic?
Chris: Yeah, so as children and I’m 54. So as children in the seventies, my older brother Rob, and he’s a year older than me. We had the paper routes, we delivered the newspaper in Chicago. So we got up every, we got up at 5:00 AM with my dad and my dad went to work and we delivered newspapers in the neighborhood before we went to school.
So we fall, all these newspapers in Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, daily papers basically. And we go around our community and deliver a couple of hundred newspapers, come home, have breakfast, and go to school. And we did that every day, like Christmas day, before we opened presents, we delivered the newspaper, new year’s day, we delivered the paper before anything.
You know, it was like, so yeah, we had that growing up and then I got a restaurant job, like working in a kitchen when I was probably 13 years old, I went in and got a job because I wanted to make some more money and one of my neighbors was working there.
So, I mean, I would get up deliver papers at five in the morning, go to school. And I was a good student and then work in a pizza restaurant until midnight. And this is in like seventh grade, eighth grade, like the lower school and all through high school, I always work.
And then starting in high school, I worked for my dad, you know, by then I didn’t have the paper route anymore. But you know, if school started at eight in the morning. Working for my dad, you had to be there at seven. I mean, I was up earlier working on the summer holiday. I was working for my dad. I was working, you know, it was you were there longer in earlier than school. So I just, that was completely normal to me.
Sean: Amazing. That just shows the truth about work ethic.
Did you establish it early on in life? And your dad did an amazing job training you and making sure you knew the value of hard work, which is pretty much a lost art right now and lost discipline with Millenials. I’m a millennial by the way, so millennials younger, you know, we always say “work smart.” Don’t work hard, but Hey, work hard – that’s key.
Chris: Work smart and hard, you know? So it seems like when I started the music school, going in and networking with the stores where the clients were, was the smart move. Yeah. There wasn’t an instant message. I couldn’t send someone a text message. There was no Facebook. So that was when you had to go face-to-face.
Yeah, to me, it wasn’t hard work. It was time-consuming but it was the smart thing to do. I was the only one doing it. None of the other guitar teachers are doing it. They’re all complaining, you know, like whatever.
Sean: And did you get rejected by some of those guitar salespeople, guitar stores that you approached?
Chris: Yeah, you know, when you had the – because these are salesmen, right?
And so you had in any business, 20% of the salespeople make 80% of the sales and then the bottom they come and go. So when you go in there, you know week one, you talk to everybody, you come at week two, there were five guys. Now, one of the guys is missing and there’s a new guy.
By the end of the month there’s really one guy who’s there every week and they, and the other, you know, the other four guys are just transitioning. So you figure out, okay, I really only need to talk to this guy, the rest of these guys aren’t going to be here. And then at some point, this guy, the sales manager, and then at this point, the guy, the store manager. You know, you watch them move up so you can kind of see, okay you figure out who the person is very quickly, who’s going to hook you up. And they know that you’re sending them clients.
Sean: Yeah. How often would you get frustrated that the guy was talking to him, building this relationship with his is he’s gone. So he’s one of the bottom 80%?
Chris: And I realized early on, it was like, okay. So it was just like with my dad’s company, it’s like, you know, there is a top salespeople.
There are the people who grow up in household. There are other people that do things and then there’s kind of the other people. And so you don’t know you give everyone a chance and it just seemed like the thing. I actually liked the hustle and I liked outworking and I really didn’t want to get a job.
I didn’t want to have to get a job. You know, I had a music degree, so what was I going to go do? You know, I was, I always wanted to be a guitarist, so I was pursuing what I wanted to do. So it seemed to make sense to say, okay, there’s going to be some obstacles along the way, but you don’t give up.