Home » Small Business Academy Homework – The Interviews

Small Business Academy Homework – The Interviews

I’ve been taking an online class for startup businesses. Frances Schagen, my instructor, is allowing me to do my homework live on this blog. You can read the first two installments here and here.

In the last assignment I had to identify twenty potential customers. I identified customer profiles, but Frances wanted actual potential customers because part three of this business-building class is to interview these potential customers to see if they would even be interested in the product I am offering, and what advice they might give me to help me refine my offerings.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

If you read Part 2 you know that I identified two different groups of customers for my Phil’s Forum speaking business—Small Business Owners and DDA/Main Street/Trade Association Directors.

I spoke to several of the former and three of the latter group to ask them what they thought about what I was offering.

The insights I got from both groups, while not exactly eye-opening, were helpful.


I spoke to several retailers, some who have seen my presentations and some who have not. They fell into three categories …

  1. Those who actively seek education
  2. Those who take advantage of it when it fits into their schedule
  3. Those who don’t see the value in it.

That last group was interesting because it included people who used to be in the first two groups but have become skeptical or disillusioned because of the lack of value in programming they have tried or speakers they have seen.

One person told me he stopped going to educational events like the presentations I offer because they always seem to include a sales pitch.

“They give you a nugget or two, but if you really want to learn anything of value you have to buy their package.”

Another person told me she was tired of seeing presentations where the speaker didn’t do his homework and knew nothing of her industry. I, myself, have seen speakers like that and know her frustration. Nothing worse than sitting in the audience knowing what you’re being taught won’t apply in your situation.

Group 2 was interesting. They only attend breakout sessions and workshops when they are already at an event for other reasons such as a trade show. When I asked if they would attend a workshop in their town or a special event that was solely focused on education, their responses included …

  • Don’t have the money
  • Don’t have the time
  • Don’t trust the speaker

Group 1 was the smallest, but also the most likely to attend workshops offered by the Chamber or DDA in their town. These people all followed my blog and had downloaded most of my Free Resources and were voracious readers. They still faced the time and money crunch of Group 2, but were able to see value that Group 3 couldn’t, so they made learning a priority.

Interestingly enough I saw successful business owners in all three categories. I also saw fluidity between the groups. Some of Group 3 had been in Group 1 in their early days. Some of Group 1 became that way after attending a presentation at a trade show as a Group 2 mentality.


I also spoke to three different directors, two of whom have hired me for leading workshops, one who hasn’t.

The two who have hired me before both run successful downtown merchant groups and are big believers in continuing education and see the value it offers their constituents, but both lamented the difficulty of finding enough Small Business Owners from Group 1 above to attend these programs. The directors both told me they had a lot of what I will call Group 2 constituents that complained about having time or money for such programming, so although the directors see the value, their difficulty is justifying the expense when only a few will benefit.

The one person I spoke to who hasn’t hired me, is similar to Group 3 above. He doesn’t see any value himself, doesn’t see anyone who would attend, and doesn’t believe the expense would benefit his organization enough to outweigh spending that money. In many ways he projects his own values onto his group in the way that your sales team often sells from their own pocket books.

I got four key takeaways from this exercise.

The first key takeaway for me is that the trade associations that have trade shows with educational speakers will be my best opportunities to find the largest audiences because there will be plenty of Group 1 and Group 2 type businesses there. The hard part is finding enough of these associations hosting this type of programming with a budget to hire outside presenters. Three industries I have approached in the past only hire from within because of Group 3 complaints that outsiders didn’t know their industry.

Other directors, especially downtown merchant groups, will be a harder sell, but still a strong possibility if they believe in continuing education for their members. I will really have to show them the value and help them show their members the value of workshops and presentations I offer. Past experience has shown me that Main Street programs are more likely to believe in continuing education.

The second key takeaway is to make sure I do my research into the industry for which I am presenting. When I spoke to the camera/photo industry I visited several stores before hand. When I spoke to the Garden Center industry the director of that show sent me tons of facts and info.

The third key takeaway is to make sure my presentations have value you can use right away. Fortunately, that has been my goal from the beginning. I’ve been in those audiences where the speaker holds back all the good stuff that you can have for three easy payments. I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve been in presentations where the speaker didn’t know the industry. I don’t want to be that guy, either.

My final key takeaway is to realize that not everyone will want my services, and that is okay.

It is not worth the time and energy to try to convert those people into customers. A quick no and I’ll put my resources elsewhere.

This was a fun exercise. I got to connect with some old friends. I got some valuable insight. I got some reaffirmations of what I am trying to do.

Your key takeaway should be that it is good to talk to your customers from time to time to see how you can make their shopping experience better. You should also talk to people who don’t shop with you to see why not. What obstacles are keeping them from shopping at your store? Those customers may not be worth your time and energy.

Then again, they might give you that one little nugget you need to change your business for the better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One other thing I learned is that this blog is one of the ways I build trust before a presentation. I went back and noticed a slight bump in blog views every time a trade association named me as one of their speakers. You were checking me out to see if I walk the talk. That’s good info to know.

PPS Since time is a factor—especially this time of year—the next 19 blogs (every weekday through Dec. 21) will have a slightly different format. I will being purposefully making them short and simple with little things you can do that will make a difference. Think of it as your Advent Calendar for retail.

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