We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Lou Imbriano, the president and CEO of TrinityOne, a marketing strategy and business advisory consultancy, and the author of Winning the Customer. Although TrinityOne specializes in sports marketing, its methods have been very successful with organizations outside the sports industry. Before starting TrinityOne Lou was the vice president and CMO of the National Football League’s New England Patriots and the COO for the New England Revolution (major league soccer).
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Lou Imbriano: I always thought I was going to be a lawyer. I enjoyed watching shows that involved the courtroom and deliberation. I was full on with the notion up until I had to go to law school. The thought of three more years of school was less than attractive. The funny thing is that even though I never have deliberated in a courtroom, I have probably reviewed and negotiated as many contracts as some lawyers.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Imbriano: I started a business in the 1990s called Celebrity Sports Connections while I was working in radio and television. We worked on speaking engagements and endorsement type deals for athletes and people in the media, because I just couldn’t make enough money with my radio paycheck alone. I abandoned the concept when the Patriots hired me. But 10 years later, I embarked on an entrepreneurial career when we launched TrinityOne Inc., to no surprise to anyone who knew me well.
I always had the entrepreneurial spirit and pretty much knew the first day I started with the New England Patriots that one day I would embark on my own. That time came when I realized two things: 1) Being an employee kept me from a lot of things—mostly spending time with my kids—and 2) There was a need for organizations to look differently at how they ran their businesses. Starting my own company allowed me to address both.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Imbriano: Most definitely. It was in the late 1990s when I was running programming for a sports radio station in Boston. I had been in radio about eight years and I was in charge of programming, working directly for the station manager who also ran marketing. The general manager [told me] the station manager was moving on, and then said, “We love what you’re doing in programming, so you’re fine, but we need to search for a new marketing director.” I had a moment of clarity. It was like you see on a TV show where everything stops around you, but you are still moving at full speed. In an all-out, overachiever, knee-jerk response I said, “Let me do it.” The GM gave me a smirk and said, “Lou, you’re great at programming, but what do you know about marketing?” This was when I adopted my mantra that I still utter today when questioned or challenged: “How hard can it be?”
The GM chuckled and said the station needed someone with marketing experience, because it had the potential to become #1 in the ratings. Again, with more guts than brains, I pushed on. I asked, “How long will it take you to find a new marketing director?” He said it would be three months or so, which led me to a life-changing moment. I said to him, “Let me do it while you are searching so we don’t lose any ground. You don’t have to pay me anything extra, and if I’m slacking in my primary function, you say the word and I will focus purely on programming.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, because that was almost 20 years ago, but that was the general conversation. I guess I made a valid pitch because he agreed.
Once I got ahold of the opportunity, I wasn’t letting go. Three months turned into a couple of years, and this inexperienced, untrained marketing director was overachieving and delivering beyond expectations.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Imbriano: Quite often small business owners wear multiple hats; it’s the nature of the beast. Because of this, many try to do everything, always. This causes them to be less productive, darting around performing varying tasks with no rhyme or reason. My advice is to change your approach and look at things as a large corporation would. Large companies have many different departments, and even though a small business [can’t support] different departments, that doesn’t mean you cannot mimic a large company and departmentalize your workweek. If you organize your workweek more precisely, you will become more effective. Mondays may be your day for planning and administrative work. Tuesdays can be the day for new business outreach. Wednesdays might be marketing and the Web or whatever suits you to be more structured and effective.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Imbriano: I’m not a big fan of best practices because every business and individual is different, even when they are in the same industry. I am much more about searching for better ways to do things that suit your growth and ability to have long-term sustainability. So, I guess my “catch-all” statement would be: Stop focusing on the competition and what they are doing right or wrong, and focus on your customers. Find out what they truly want and give it to them.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Imbriano: Yes. More small business owners will quit and become employees again. Which sounds like gloom and doom, but I look at it as just the opposite. It means much more opportunity for those of you that are relentless and stick to building your businesses. Go get ‘em!
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Imbriano: Of course, Winning the Customer. Ha, OK, that was a shameless plug. I assume you mean a book I didn’t write? It’s a tossup between Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Imbriano: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” ~ Winston Churchill