Ramon Ray: The Smart Hustle Entrepreneur

 The Total Entrepreneur Experience From the practical aspects of starting a business, such as funding and marketing, to handling the emotional strain of striking out on your own, Smart Hustle Magazine founder Ramon Ray shares his wisdom as an entrepreneur.

Perhaps you’re an entrepreneur. Maybe you have an idea to make the best organic water on the planet. Or maybe you want to make candles … whatever it is, what is it that you do?

Related: Start a Business with this Step-by-Step Guide

How Do You Know Your Idea Is a Business?

The first step to being an entrepreneur is deciding if you’re going to be a business or a hobby. A business is a money-making venture—whether it’s scaling and growing to millions or it’s just you and your cat. Either way, it’s a business.

Have a minimal viable product and see if you can sell it to ensure there’s validity to it. Will people buy what you’re selling? I don’t mean your mother, or your aunt, or your cousin Bruce. What I mean is will people—strangers— buy it, and from there you have an idea.

Related: Businesses You Can Start with $2,000 or Less

So now you have the product or service and you’ve actually sold it, but you’ll need to get your financing in place. How much is it going to cost to make that product? If it is a product, then make sure your numbers are right and you go from there and the rest is history. You get on a unicorn and go into the sunset. I wish it were that easy, but let’s not forget about creating a business plan.

Turn Your Idea into a Plan

I think a business plan is important, but my caveat is that the business plan is as much of a mindset as there is a little bit of structure to it—some text to ink down—but it need not be a 45-page document. I don’t think you do things one after the other. You can’t do that. But once you have your idea, it’s time to put your business plan together.

First, you want to get support and counseling. Whether that support is watching shows like BusinessTown, and others, or to score a free government counseling service, find people to help you in the areas in which you’re weak.

Related: Sample Business Plan: Bob’s Rent-A-Bike

Hustle to Find the Next Customer

Second, you have to hustle.

We hear about it on Shark Tank and in my magazine, Smart Hustle. You just have to go out there and hit the bushes. You have to find your next customer, but, more importantly, you need to delight the customers who have already bought from you.

Related: How to Build and Nurture Customer Loyalty

Scale Your Business

But how are you going to scale this, meaning month one, month three, month six? Do you have a system? Is the back-office stuff in place? Because you can’t keep scaling, can’t keep building a brand, can’t keep growing your company if you don’t have systems in place.

Related: How to Overcome Common Barriers to Scaling Your Business

Build the Right Team

In addition to having the right systems in place, you have to have the right team assembled.

I think every person needs an accountant, a lawyer, a technology person and a marketing person—four people who you want in your camp to guide you on this journey. You have to have the right people on your team to help you.

Related: How to Build Your Startup Team

It doesn’t mean you have to scale up from one to 500. But, as I’m doing in my own small business, I’m looking to see if I have the right people on the right team. As an entrepreneur, of course, you want to push and have other people execute as much as possible so you can focus on your vision. That’s what being an entrepreneur is.

Choose Your Partners Wisely

I think partnerships are important and can help. I would just take them slowly. That’s a question I’m often asked by many small business owners. Entrepreneurship, as we all know, is lonely. It’s very lonely, so I would ask myself if I truly want a business partner or just someone to talk to.

So be sure to hire someone to help you in the areas where you’re too busy and start there before using the word partner.

Related: How to Choose the Right Business Partner

Starting a Business Is Not a Straight Line

Again, I wish I could say that starting a business is a series of logical steps, but it’s more like you start in January, and then end up in a different position by April.

It’s not necessarily a straight line, but I think you want to look at it day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month and then a few quarters ahead.

Use a Nest Egg To Get Started

Every business needs some money to start with. And, of course, you need to pay yourself. There are a few things to consider here, with money being very important. One: can you save the money? A year’s worth, six month’s worth—whatever you’re comfortable with is at your risk.

Related: An Expert’s Guide to Raising Money for Your Business

Credit Cards Can Be an Option

Another option to help fund your business is using credit cards. For example, one event I hosted cost me $20,000 in hotel expenses, so I used my credit card. Thankfully I earned the amount back. Again, you have to judge that on your own, but credit cards are one source of income.

Related: 5 Options for Using Debt to Finance Your Business

Sell Ahead of Time

Keep in mind that sales cure all. There are tons of examples, but say you’re selling toothpaste. Can you pre-sell—not quite like Kickstarter—but can you sell 300, 500, 1000, whatever your numbers are slightly ahead of time? That will bring in some cash.

Friends and Family Loan

When you’re thinking about finding money, don’t forget about friends or family.

I am very cautious of VC, Angel investors, and other terms like that. But if you know somebody who you trust—and who trusts you—you might have somebody who can loan you or invest $5,000 with you, which for them might not be a lot.

Related: How to Ask Friends and Family to Finance Your Business

Venture Capitalists Money Is Good, Too

I’m sure the venture capitalist loves you and your mother and your father, but they’re businessmen and women and they should be. If they’re investing a dollar, assume they want five or 10 or 20 times more. But if it’s something scalable, if it’s going to go big like an Uber or Etcetera-ish, VC capital can’t hurt. But remember, when you sign that line, they own you. And that means you can’t just look at the money, you have to look at who the VC is, just as you see on “Shark Tank,” right? If you’re really looking closely at VC money, know your numbers, have it be highly scalable and look carefully at who you’re partnering with because it is a partnership.

Get the Word Out

Once you have your investor and your partner, it’s time to get the word out about your product. It’s definitely one of the most important things, but don’t forget that it also means retaining the customers you have. That’s often part of the equation and I don’t hear enough about it. They’ve already bought from you, now you need to sell to them again, but there’s more to that than meets the eye.

Related: More Marketing Videos to Help You Promote Your Business

Target Your Market

You have to do your target marketing. Is the product you’re going after for shaved-head black guys with glasses? Or are you going after guys with spikes or white guys? You hear people say they’re going after the Latino market—what kind of Latino market? Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians? Which kind? This is where you have to let people know.

Related: 3 Steps to Identifying a Target Market

Build Your Web Site, Build Your Tribe

Now that you know your target market, it’s time to build a tribe.

Don’t try to sell first. Now you’re targeting, you know your market and you’re going after them. Very tactically I would say you need to build a website—you can get a developer to do it for you. You can go to Wix, you can go to Squarespace, maybe you have partners that can do it for you—but you need to build your website.

Create Content and Use Social Media

Once you have your website done, you can use Facebook advertising, Twitter advertising, word-of-mouth marketing or you can go to trade shows.

Social Media does work for brand building. You take any business owner who posts and creates content at some frequency for three to six months using hashtags targeted towards their audience, and you will find that they achieve higher sales results than before their social media presence.


That’s almost a guarantee because that’s what social media is about. You’re feeding regular content on a regular basis, it’s hitting a nerve. Your market likes it, they’re going to share it and your profile is going to rise. People will come back to you: “Oh, he sells orange sweaters, I didn’t know that. Let’s buy one from him.”

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media for Your Business

Test with Facebook Ads

I think Facebook is the easiest way to test and see what works. It’s simple for me to sit at my desk with a credit card and hit a button. I can just drag and drop and click: “Females in Oregon who love dogs”—boom.

PR on a Budget

Use hashtags. Post. Use video. Write a good blog post. Do your own digital PR. In my journey of personal branding, I spend very little money, but I use the internet quite a bit because it’s free to a degree. If you give them your name and an elevator pitch over and over and over again you will have a following.

Related: Marketing Without a Budget

Create Brand Identity

What do people think about when they think of your name? When they hear “we make forks,” do they think it’s a fork for cheap macaroni and cheese on a Friday night? Or do they think it’s a fork at a high-end premium steak shop?

That’s one element of branding, and that takes some part of identity—how it looks, how it feels. And then there’s how you’re treating your employees.

Develop Personal Branding

I was at a Shake Shack and I was so impressed with how every employee—minimum wage—said, “Hi! Welcome to Shake Shack, good morning!” That’s brand identity—every Shake Shack has that. The hamburgers are a little sloppy, but they taste darn good when the employees are positive. That’s the aspect of what branding and personal branding that I like!

Related: Jeffrey Hayzlett: Branding Isn’t Just for Cattle

Maximize Your Brand

You have your corporate brand, but also your individual persona. What do they think of when they think of you—whether it’s Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Michael Jordan? As a small business, you have that brand whether you know it or not. The key is whether you’re leveraging it, maximizing it and crafting it whether or not you’re a famous rapper, basketball player, or chef.

Focus on Your Geographic Area

So I would say start in your local community and by local community, I mean your geographic area. For example, if you’re a massage therapist or a chiropractor, then you want to say, “In the next six months, I will be known as the best massage therapist or chiropractor in my small town.” Or maybe not the best, maybe the most fun. Whatever it is, find an achievable goal. And through the next few months, be on your local radio station maybe on a regular basis. Write a post for the local newspaper, write some blog posts. Or you can sponsor your local kids’ softball game. You want it to scale naturally.

Related: Why You Need a Local Web Presence

Expand Your Brand’s Reach

Once you grow locally it’s time to grow nationally, which is where you maybe write a book and then they fly out to New York to “Good Morning America.” That’s when the White House maybe awards you, or maybe you attend one of the Kennedy Center ceremonies where fancy people wear black clothes and white ties and all of that fancy stuff. That will happen organically because you cannot squelch a strong personal brand. You just can’t. It’s going to grow in some way.

Related: 5 Ways to Build Your Brand Online

Take Advantage of the Six Degrees of Separation

But remember that on this journey of selling, on this journey of building a personal brand, I think relationships are important. There are people who are farther ahead of you. Take advantage of those six degrees of separation so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Call up your buddy and say, “hey, listen, I see that you knew Seth Godin. Can you hook me up? Can you have him meet with me?” Or whatever it might be. There are people in your life who you know—leverage them to get to others. Not in a bad way. Not stepping on someone’s head and smashing them. But just in human-to-human relations.

Transition to Full-Time Entrepreneur

All of these aspects are very deep and emotional for me because I’ve gone through a lot of this. I’ve been fired from my U.N. day job, where I was making great money for a number of years and all of a sudden it was gone. I had to stop being the fake entrepreneur—maybe fake is too harsh because I applaud those who have full-time jobs and are entrepreneurs. But I wasn’t doing it full time. So, that was a hard time for me because that was directly related to money stress—can I make this work? Being a single-wage earner in a family with people depending on me made me nervous.

Related: Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur?

Know Your Limitations

What I struggle with even now is my own lack of self-worth. I know I don’t spell very well, for example. I operate very quickly, so often my work is subpar, meaning I get people to help me with it. I beat myself up a lot about that. That’s my battle. I really struggle with the thought that I’m not good enough, that I can’t do it. So those are really two things. Making sure I can do this. And the second thing is knowing my own limits, because I always want an A-plus.

Keep Going

Speaking for myself, it’s funny that always wanting an A-plus is the DNA of entrepreneurs. But we also have our issues and challenges—we’re human—everybody has challenges, but as entrepreneurs, we have to suck it up and move on. Getting down and rejected is a reality, but then sales calls come in, and we put the tie on and we go crush it.

Small Steps to Get Started

Start small. There are so many channels. You know people are watching you. When I have interviews, I take snippets of them and put my face with them and say Ramon was on so-and-so. I share that with my audience all the time. It makes me look good. Target and get to know the journalist. Then, make sure you have something that can get media attention that’s worthy of it, that’s interesting. And be sure to start small. We’re all looking for content to share with our tribes. So start there, build that up. Blow it up and keep moving on.

So start somewhere else, somewhere small, such as 15 minutes in the local library. Folks will see that you were pretty cool and think, maybe he can handle two minutes on NPR. And then you go from there.

About Ramon Ray

Ramon Ray is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and editor of Smart Hustle magazine.

As the personal branding expert, Ramon knows it’s the quirky things that make us stand out. From over 20 years of personal and proven experience, Ramon knows the secret to standing out, getting noticed and making money.

As a four-time entrepreneur, Ramon knows what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. As a best-selling author, Ramon knows the ins-and-outs of guerilla marketing. As a global speaker, Ramon makes each talk personal and relevant to his audience.