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Everything I needed to know about business, I learned at the circus

(Business News) Did you know that the circus offers some truly inspiring business lessons? That’s what a former Ringling Brothers exec says – read on.

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Lessons learned from the circus

We’ve all been to the circus before, but did you know that there are business lessons that can be learned if you were one of the insiders running the show? There sure are.

You may already know Bill Sussman, President and CEO of Collective Bias, a shopper social media company that drives sales for brands and retailers by working with a community of expert bloggers who create social content consumers actively seek out and trust.

Sussman has previously held leadership positions at Nickelodeon, Walmart, Triad Retail Media and Ringling Bros and holds an MBA from Columbia University and a B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

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Sussman offers insight from his time at the circus in his own words below:

What can you learn from clowns and tigers?

As CEO of the five-year-old new media startup company, Collective Bias, I recognize that today’s marketplace can be a tumultuous balancing act. I look back at my time spent as VP of Marketing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for inspiration.

As a shopper social media company representing some of the world’s biggest brands, we must constantly evolve to remain relevant. My days at the circus instilled in me core business lessons that I still apply to managing and motivating teams and advancing my company.

So, what can you learn from clowns, acrobats, elephants, and tigers? Here are the five lessons they taught me.

Lesson #1. Support Your Marquee

Sprawling an image of a ferocious tiger across a billboard or clipping the antics of a clown into a commercial were reliable marketing tactics to draw attention and attract crowds. But bringing the audience into the arenas was only the beginning of true success. To be completely captivating, the tigers had to be controlled by strong discipline, deliver an exciting performance and also be supported by other engaging acts.

A properly enchanted audience supported long-term success by returning in the future, spreading word-of-mouth advertising and buying add-on product.

No matter what type of act you create – from orchestrating a circus performance powered by live animals to creating a marketing campaign driven by online influencers – each department plays a unique role in the success of the overall production. It is essential to identify and maintain the right balance between each department.

In today’s high-tech environment, it is relatively easy to lure customers with flashy technology solutions and lofty promises. But no product stands alone. Not only must the technology function seamlessly, every department in the company has to serve in a supporting role. At Collective Bias, our community team ensures the right influencers are selected for programs. Client service teams work to ensure the program meets client objectives. Analytics assesses the impact and provide measurable results to prove ROI. A successful delivery means a loyal customer base and a means to grow sales year after year.

Lesson #2: The Key to Success is Individual Excellence

Each circus act operates independently, striving for personal excellence. Hours of discipline and practice lead to a solid performance. They are motivated by individual contracts with the show and negotiate what they need to lead to success. The clowns may request support from make-up and props and the trapeze artists need practice facilities and safe equipment. Each one knows how they are expected to contribute to the final show when the lights go down.

Members of business teams are motivated by ongoing professional development and constructive feedback along their career tracks. While they are dedicated to the success of the business and need clearly defined roles, they are also motivated by their own personal career goals. As a leader, I can’t expect top performance without giving every team member an environment in which to thrive.

We must not only reinforce the work we value but also provide actionable direction and plans for improvement when necessary. For example, my Sales teams need to know that there is something in it for them with every incremental dollar they bring into the company. Contributing to hitting overall company goals isn’t enough. I make sure to provide that extra motivation.

Lesson #3: Every Business Needs a Cast of Characters

One of the most appealing aspects of the circus is the fact that it brings together a mash up of diverse acts under one tent, for one night. Similarly, a well-run business leverages unique qualities as assets and nurtures individual personalities to make a stronger whole. Who needs an entire company full of people with the same personality?

Whether it is Play-Doh on the conference table or a lap dog in the office, our employees are allowed a certain freedom of movement. I love that our business development team consists of some “tightrope walkers” who thrive on calculated risk and enjoy operating without a net.

That said, I don’t want that same personality type in my CFO. That role is better served for a “juggler.” And we must never underestimate the need for the clown. Working with some of the world’s leading brands is serious business, but after a ten or twelve-hour day, we all need some comic relief to lighten the mood.

Lesson #4: Know Where Your Net Is and Don’t Be Afraid to Jump

This may seem like an oxymoron in the startup industry. Are you wondering, “Where is my net?” as you embark on the biggest endeavor of your lifetime? Our trapeze artists would spend hours before practice testing the net and setting up safety lines. Then further hours throwing themselves wildly through the air honing their act. And, in those practices, they missed frequently.

You need a net. You will fall. One sewn together from your values, your morals, your family and your friends will give you the courage to jump. If you have maintained your own personal net, no matter where business takes you, it will always prevent you from falling too low.

The concept of Collective Bias was created on the back of a cocktail napkin. One of our founders, Amy Callahan, raised in the area where our corporate HQ is located, surrounded by family, friends and business contacts, took the idea, jumped and found a receptive audience. Five years, and a few bruising falls later, we are all very glad that she did.

Lesson #5: Treat Every Day like Opening Night

One of the biggest challenges at the circus was creating the same level of excitement week after week. For each new city, the show coming to town was a huge event! But for the marketing team, that luster easily wore off. I needed to find a way to bring out the same enthusiasm from our team and performers at week 50 of the tour as we did on opening night.

All teams need motivation, especially in an industry that is built around the evolution of social media. The circus quickly taught me to use this inherent change as a company advantage. Collective Bias is in the business of shopper social media – a space that can be difficult to define and is constantly shifting. I use this to inspire our teams to push the envelope every single day.

How does Google’s latest algorithm change the online campaign your team is working on? Will Pinterest’s new sponsored posts affect a new business deck being presented tomorrow? Keeping up with social media as it evolves is our business and by using that as a motivating factor, we continue to evolve as a company.

Ultimately, every day brings a new business opportunity or chance to perform, and that is incredibly exciting. Whether it’s entertaining a new audience or powering a new online shopping campaign, we must approach every situation like opening night: with a fresh perspective and with our very best performance.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. bcalvillo

    July 29, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Tigers are NOT products to be marketed. Capturing or breeding animals to perform is shameful and does not belong in modern society. Marketing to a crowd ignorant of what happens to the animals is unethical. It’s obvious that Collective Bias will continue exploiting others as they’ve done in the past.

  2. Clownron

    July 29, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    bcalvillo, I have to say that YOU are the one who is ignorant of what happens to animals in the circus. I spent years there and the cats were well taken care of. You should not assume all of the Animal Rights bunk is gospel. It is not true at all. The circus is subjected to animal health inspections and they have not been found to be abusive. This is a lie that has been spread by a very strong marketing campaign that has been active for over 40 years. Yet the show still goes on, even with all of the pathetic protestors lined up, yelling all kinds of vile things at families and kids.

  3. Pingback: Ringling Bros circus shuts tent flaps forever - time to cry or celebrate? - The American Genius

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What small business owners can learn from Starbucks’ new D&I strategy

(BUSINESS) Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Starbucks’ mission, but now they’re shifting strategy. What can we learn from it?

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Hands of all different skin colors on green background representing Starbucks' D&I.

Starbucks was one of many companies that promised to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. What sets Starbucks apart from other companies were its specific goals.

How It Started

They began with hiring targets and have now added goals in corporate and manufacturing roles. Starbucks’ plans and goals revolve around transparency for accountability. They released the annual numbers for 2021 as a way to help hold themselves accountable. The data they’ve released so far show that they’ve met nearly a third of their 2025 goals according to Retail Brew. Because of this information, we can see why they are choosing to move in the direction of manufacturing and corporate jobs. In 2021, POC’s fell to 12.5% of director-level employees from 14.3% in 2020 in manufacturing.

How It’s Going

Per Starbucks’ website stories and news, “[I]t will increase its annual spend with diverse suppliers to $1.5 billion by 2030.  As part of this commitment, Starbucks will partner with other organizations to develop and grow supplier diversity excellence globally.” To put that into perspective, they spent nearly $800 million with diverse suppliers in 2021. With these moves, by 2030, it will increase by almost double.

As part of their accountability and progress, they plan to partner up with Arizona State University to give out free toolkits to entrepreneurs on fundamentals for running successful diverse-owned businesses. Another goal they’ve listed is to boost paid media representation by allocating 15 percent of the advertising budget to minority-owned and targeted media companies to reach diverse audiences.

At the heart of all this information on their goals and future plans, data transparency and accountability are what’s forcing them to look at the numbers to make specific goals. They are doing more than just throwing money at the problem, they are analyzing how they can do better and where the money will make a difference. Something that, as entrepreneurs, we should all do.

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Business News

Peloton is back-pedaling: Reports of price increases, layoffs, and cost cuts

(BUSINESS) After a recording of layoffs leaks, ‘supply chain’ issues cause shipping increases, and they consult for cost-cutting, Peloton is doomed.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Is Peloton in Trouble?

According to many reports, Peloton had success early in the pandemic when gyms shut down. Offering consumers a way to connect with a community for fitness along with varying financing options allowed the company to see growth when many other industries were being shuttered.

After two years, CNBC reports that the company is “being impacted by …supply chain challenges” and rising inflation costs. According to the report, customers will be paying an additional $250 for its bike and $350 for its tread for delivery and setup.

As demand has decreased, Peloton is also considering layoffs in their sales and marketing departments, overheard in a leaked audio call. The recording details executives discussing “Project Fuel” where they plan to cut 41% of the sales and marketing teams, as well as letting go of eCommerce employees and frontline workers at 15 retail stores.

Nasdaq reported that the stock fell 75% last year, after a year where it soared over 400%.

Peloton reviewing its overall structure

According to another report from CNBC, Peloton is working with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, to lower costs as revenue has dropped and the growth of new subscriptions has slowed since the pandemic. Last November, according to NPR, Peloton had “its worst day as a publicly-traded company.” It also anticipates greater losses in 2022 than originally predicted. It makes sense that the company would reexamine their strategy as the economy changes. They aren’t the only one that is raising prices amid supply chain issues.

It will be interesting to watch how Peloton fares

Peloton has a large community that pays a monthly fee for connected fitness. While growth has slowed, the company still has a strong share of consumers. Although it is facing more competition in the home fitness market and more gyms are reopening, as Peloton adjusts to the new normal, it should remain a viable company.

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Business News

CEO is offering folks thousands to *quit* their jobs, with one catch

(BUSINESS) A CEO out of Arizona is challenging employment norms by offering a sort of “sign-off” bonus upfront, but this method has one fatal flaw.

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Man counting cash in his hand representing the CEO offering money to employees who quit.

Chris Ronzio, the CEO of Trainual, a software company in Arizona that aims to systemize and scale your small business, is offering cold hard cash to quit your job in an unconventional ploy to bypass the effects of the Great Resignation.

Before you rush to turn in your notice and make some extra cash, you should know that this offer is dependent on being selected as a hirable candidate and making it through the hiring process for Trainual. This option is also offered to new hires after 2 weeks of employment.

This model of employment gives the employee the ability to fire the company and walk away with a little sum of money. The thought process of the CEO was outlined in an article by the Insider, saying it is a strategic move to retain top talent and maintain a strong company culture. While this is a unique approach…it has a glaring flaw. The offer is only good for the initial two-week period. However, it can take some time to recognize the shortcomings of any company when you begin employment. We can all recognize the long-term financial potential of reoccurring income and while $5,000 is not anything to shake your finger at, it will eventually be gone. I think we can all agree that constructive criticism can be difficult to swallow at times, however, if Trainual was truly invested in this model they would extend the offer at other key times during employment. What if this offer was again available at the 1-year mark? If the offer reappeared at a one-year review, the turnover may increase.

Per the Insider article, Ronzio was quoted as saying, “With today’s market, hiring teams have to move quickly to assess candidates and get them through the process to a competitive offer, so it’s impossible to be right 100% of the time,” Ronzio said. The CEO added, “The offer to quit allows the dust to settle from a speedy process and let the new team member throw a red flag if they’re feeling anything but excited.”

These statements detail another dimension to consider which is the employment hiring process and timeline. If top candidates are in such high demand that the process has to be sped up to secure a workforce, this monetary compensation can help to ensure the hiring decision. Although, when the offer was implemented in May of 2020, the offer was $2500, half of what it is now. Ronzio reasoned that they could stay while they looked for another job so they increased the amount to compensate for those with a higher salary range.

Let me preface this by saying that yes, accountability should exist, but I would be interested to know the turnover rate for the hiring team. The cost to the company from this unique approach adds extra weight for those making the decisions on who to hire. The stress the hiring team faces has to be factored into the candidate decisions. How many times can the hiring team get it wrong before they’re let go? While the pressure to hire the right candidate should always factor in, one has to wonder about the effects of this model.

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