Now the chairman of VaynerX, a modern-day media and communications holding company, and the CEO of VaynerMedia, a full-service advertising agency, Gary Vaynerchuk started out marketing his father’s brick-and mortar-wine business. He recently shared his insights on how small businesses can maximize the power of social media to grow their reach and wealth.
What would your advice be to small businesses looking to work on their brand purpose?
I think they have to focus on truth. Don’t focus on where you think the world’s going, whether it’s the environment or this or that, or the other thing. What do you do that runs a small business? What do you care about? And then that truth becomes the brand purpose.
What are some of the technologies you feel can help elevate small businesses?
If it’s a B2B small business, it’s LinkedIn — pictures and videos, but then spend media behind it. If it’s a consumer product, YouTube, Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook are where to go. You can’t think that social networks are changing the world through democracy and politics, and not also then recognize that they are the massive driver of business today. And we continue to have a large percentage of the world underestimate social media as a nice little thing, versus the fundamental force of communication, which leads to business.
Do the same types of messages work across all of these platforms? How do you know if something will work on TikTok and not on LinkedIn?
Like anything in life, you have to be good at it. You could tell me right now that cooking meals is the most important thing in the world for your business. And then I would have to start the process of learning how to cook. And that’s my analogy for social.
Somebody looking at your picture or video on Pinterest is a very different person than someone looking at it on LinkedIn. Their mindsets are different when they’re on a different platform. It’s no different than when you’re at the office, versus being at home, or on the golf course, or on a vacation with your best friends. There’s different context.
And I would argue as much as I’ve talked about content, the context of where you’re making these pieces of content is almost the most important variable of success.
What qualities do you think successful entrepreneurs have in common?
They lack the fear of judgment of others, and the successful ones are wildly patient in the macro but extremely efficient in the day-to-day micro. They think about things in a 10-year window to be successful, not a 10-day window, but on a daily basis, they’re making every hour matter.
What questions will every investor ask an entrepreneur before investing in them and their small business?
There’s two really, which is like projected finances, which I think is a complete waste of time because everyone’s guessing. I think the smart investors will ask, and what really has worked for me, is a question about who that entrepreneur actually is and why they are actually building this business. I have found looking back at my successful investments versus my not-successful investments, that question, answered more properly, has led to a lot more success.
Why is it important for small businesses to create an effective digital experience for their customers?
Because digital is actually the primary world society now lives in, not analog. Even some young entrepreneurs and business people have had success analog-wise, and then, because of that, don’t value or recognize that they’re vulnerable by not having digital.
I know of an incredible 30-year-old entrepreneur who’s got a physical barbershop business with no social presence. He would think that’s wild but he was actually a second-generation barber, and just understood the business and built a great barber shop business with multiple locations.
But what he didn’t realize that ended up happening with COVID was that by not having the virtual presence, once analog kind of got hurt, which is an extreme case with COVID, it rendered him useless. And he couldn’t really reach out and have relationships with his customers. What digital does is it lets you be omnipresent and have that relationship point, and everybody needs to build that.
What role do you think social media plays for small businesses?
Social media is the most democratic place to get business. And small business, for me, that’s the most exciting place, because they get outspent in print, or radio, or television, but in social, even though they will be outspent, it still has the biggest upside for democracy. I believe social media is oxygen for any small business.
In your opinion, why are small businesses the backbone of the American economy?
I just think it’s data, the amount of jobs created. A stunning amount of our Fortune 500 big businesses started as small businesses. So for me, it’s not only the sheer amount of job and local economic impact it has mathematically, I tend to remind people that almost every big company in this country started small.
How did VaynerMedia get started?
I had amassed a lot of followers on Twitter and YouTube doing my wine thing for my dad’s business, and ESPN and Pepsi cold emailed my wine’s email address, asking for me to consult. When I found out how much they were paying me for an hour of consulting of what to do on this new thing called Twitter, I called my brother, who was in his last semester of college, and I said, “I have an idea. I think we should help big companies and social media.” That is literally how it was born.
It’s a good macro lesson. When the market is telling you something, react to it, don’t dismiss it as random.
What inspires you in business?
I think it’s like art; you get to create. I literally thought of this in my mind and now I have a business of 1,000 people. There have been 15 marriages. You’re an artist, you’re creating things from your mind that become real things in the world, and for me that’s invigorating and has been from the age of 6.
In the age of COVID, is this a moment for people to have a fresh start or pursue something that maybe they hadn’t really thought they could do?
I said something the other day that rocked a friend of mine. He just emailed me about it this morning and it completely shifted what he was going to do. I said, “there’s never a bad time to start a good business.”
I really think that will historically hook right in. I promise you in 12 years, 15 years, there will be an incredible number of documentaries and profiles on businesses that started doing COVID.
Can explain the importance of EQ versus IQ?
First of all, small businesses are very good at long term. So, in general, that’s their strength. I think that corporate America struggles with that. I think the IQ-EQ thing is huge. When I look at small businesses — and I grew up in one with my dad’s liquor store — I believe a lot of small businesses think their employees work for them and service them, and it leads to lack of retention and bad atmospheres, and there’s a lot of small businesses that I think misplay the way they treat their employees or what they look for in employees.
I look for A+ humans that are sunshine and rainbows and I can teach them the skills, even if they’re a C+ in skills. I’ll take that person, and most small businesses struggle with that and treat their employees the wrong way, which is why they have a lot of turnover and overvalue employees that create short-term business results, instead of long-term culture results.