I was 24 years old and had just finished my Master’s Degree from Baylor University. I had no job, nor did I own a resume because Plan B was always to Make Plan A work…and my plan A?… well I didn’t have one. I just knew I wanted to work for myself. Yet I had bills to pay and dreams to live so I stuck with the only thing I knew how to do…Hustle… through Music.
That’s right. Some teammates and I from the football team at Baylor University had a rap group called the BU Allstars. Most had graduated and moved on, but I genuinely loved music and thought I could make a career out of it.
The other day, my brother found an old CD case with one of my original CDs. It was a burnt CD of one of my mixtapes with a press-on label that I had to press myself. It was one of many CD’s but as I look back at that “rap career” and those days selling mixtapes, I realized how many life and business lessons I learned from that early venture that shaped who I am today.
- MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LEVEL OF DELUSION
I love it when people tell me I’m delusional or my dreams are delusional. Why do we fear that? Why don’t we welcome that? Delusion, by definition, just means to go against what is generally accepted as reality. To be legendary, you have to think above and outside the confines of “reality,” aka, other people’s limitations. Their limitations aren’t yours. I believed I could be a rap star despite not having any of what was considered “the general reality” of most rappers at the time. I came from a two-parent loving family, no tattoos, I don’t cuss in my music, didn’t grow up in the projects, didn’t have chains, grills, gang affiliations, and wasn’t from a major music city. Not only that, I didn’t have a record label looking at me or even know anyone in the music industry. But did that matter? Nope. Life favors those who believe in themselves even if no one else does.
- CONTROL THE SUPPLY CHAIN
I didn’t have any money so I had to be efficient. I knew for every 100 CDs I’d burn and press, on average I’d mess up 6 due to burning incorrectly or pressing the label on the wrong way. I learned shipping cut into my margins so it was better to sell hand-to-hand. I learned it was cheaper to buy a new printer than it was to buy ink (side note: companies profit off the ink not the printer) and I knew how many CD labels I could print per printer.
I factored in every cost and always worked to get more efficient in my costs without sacrificing quality. I went from spending $2.59 in all-in costs for a CD to being retail ready for $0.71 per CD. In business, we’re often wasteful. Not just of our money, but our time. How much idle time do we spend scrolling social media or looking at the latest celebrity news that in no way improves our lives? Every dollar counts, every second counts. Success comes when we learn to be as efficient with our resources as possible. The result is higher margins, increased productivity, and ultimately getting the same results with less work.
- CONVERT NO TO YES
I got told No… A LOT. I still do. However, I knew that for every 10 people I approached, I could get one to say yes to buying my $5 CD. It was basic math at that point. I knew how many CDs I needed to sell to pay my bills so I knew I needed to be in front of 10 times that many people. Though every NO hurt, something happened over time. I got better at turning NO’s into YES’s. I stopped taking the NO as a personal dig at my quality of work and instead looked at it for what it was…. a starting point of a negotiation to get to a YES.
I experimented with techniques. Aggressive sell (not my thing so I stopped that), I tried the confident close…promising them they’d love it…and I tried humor, which worked. When people said no to my $5 CD, I flipped the CD upside down and asked if I could interest them in a shiny coaster for only $5. It worked, they laughed. They bought. I started converting at a higher rate because I didn’t let the NO affect me personally.
No’s can hurt our feelings. But they don’t have to. Treat NO’s like those dots in Pacman. Each one hurts, but eventually one is the Super Dot that changes your whole life or trajectory of your career. The beauty of business and life is it only takes one!
- FIND LATERAL OPPORTUNITIES
I recorded every day. I made my own website, BaylorBarbee.com by going to Barnes and Noble and reading web designer for dummies books everyday. I couldn’t afford the book, so I’d leave my bookmark in it and put the book at the back of the shelf so I could resume the next day. After a while, people asked if they could record with my studio equipment. Then they asked if I could make them a site, press their CD’s, make their album cover and flyers, and more. The skills I had used for myself I could now charge others for.
I started my own marketing agency using those core skills. I used the money I made from others to help fund my career and take it to the next level. So many of us are linear in our thinking in the false belief that the only way to profit is off our “job.” We develop skills and stare at the window of opportunity just hoping we get that dream client or dream job. What we fail to realize is that while we’re waiting on that opportunity, we could sell our skills. The same skill you use to advance your career, you can sell on the side to others. No matter what your skill or talent is, SOMEONE is willing to pay for it. Find them.
- DO IT FOR OTHERS
Music worked. I was selling enough CD’s to pay my bills, I was performing regularly and making money. The better I did, the more depressed it made me. I wanted to sell more, do more, be bigger. One night after a packed show that netted me the largest payday of my life at the time, I was miserable. I had spent years to get to this point and all I had to show for it was fans and money (hear me out). On the inside I was empty. My biggest fear became a reality…what if everything and everyone I sacrificed for this dream led to this… emptiness. I panicked.
I’ll spare you the details of my depression, but the cause of those dark days was the fact that I was only doing it for myself. How big can Baylor be? How many iTunes songs did Baylor sell? It was all about me. I walked away from it. I made a conscious decision to just be a good person. People liked my story, I told it. Daily. Over and Over. To anyone who would listen. A crowd of four? I’m there. A street corner with a crowd? I’m there. A women’s shelter, a homeless shelter, a foster home? Didn’t matter. If there were ears to listen, I shared my heart to help.
I look up all these years later. And guess what? I’m still on stage, with a microphone, performing for people. Bigger crowds, bigger stages, much bigger checks. What changed? It’s not about me anymore. I’m on stage to help you. I work on my craft to help you. I’m committed to helping you light a fire in yourself.
That’s the secret to life. Do it for others. It’s the only sustainable methodology on this journey toward legacy. Figure out what it is you love to do and figure out how others can benefit from it. If you’re stagnant, you’re probably closer than you think. Simply change the “what’s in it for me” self-talk to what “what stems from me” for the world to benefit from.
You don’t have to be an artist to leave your mark or make a hit. Go make something of yourself.
-Baylor, aka Twizzle