Ramon Ray got to host the Verizon Small Business Webinar Series with special guest Lori Greinger. You may know her as the warm-blooded shark from the Emmy-winning ABC series, Shark Tank. She’s also an inventor with 120 patents and the author of the bestselling book Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! Her passion is helping budding entrepreneurs and small businesses achieve similar success. Lori answered questions on how to be successful during tough times, the best ways to market, how to patent, and much more.
Question #1: What are the most effective outlets to sell products right now?
Lori tells us that there are 4 main ways to sell your products:
- Traditional retail store
- Tv sales on a home shopping network
- Infomercial (not live)
Let’s break these down to get a sense of how each one works.
- Digital: Digital is the fastest-growing way to sell products right now. And it’s super important since COVID-19 has changed how everyone makes purchases. Digital allows you to control your message and manage an online store. You can really do everything online: sell, market, and even have the best margins since you can sell on your own site. And, you can sell in stores too, allowing your online and offline sales to have an interconnectedness.
- Tv shopping: This is when you’re on the air live with a host and you can demo your products for customers. Sales usually happen by people calling in or going online. There is a margin when you sell this way, so your profit might be smaller. But you can sell a lot of units really fast because of the large audience. Lori notes that you need to be really good at demonstrating and talking with ease.
- Infomercial: This is a harder way to sell products. You need to be able to sell products at 4-5x their price because you’ll need to pay for tv time and running commercials. Lori suggests infomercials if your product can solve a problem. And it should solve a problem for a broad, wide audience (i.e: most ages, men and women).
- Retail store: This is a traditional store. You need foot traffic as well as regular marketing. Right now retail stores have been hit hard because of COVID-19, so many have shifted to online sales.
Lori suggests always doing the research before moving forward with a sales channel. Shipping costs should be taken into account as well. Some items (like home appliances) are always best to sell in a store.
Question #2: What’s Lori’s advice for female founders?
First of all, … don’t think of yourself as a woman in business, really important to know because you’re already psychologically putting yourself at a disadvantage. You want to think of yourself as a person in business, as good as, if not better than anyone else.
Be confident. For example, a lot of companies have initiatives that are aimed at women and minorities. So women-owned businesses are getting a leg up lately. So if you’re a woman in a minority group, that’s even better. A lot of companies like Walmart and Target offer these initiatives. So that’s one of the very first things that Lori would actually look into.
She recommends to stop thinking of yourself as a woman in business, but think of yourself as an equal. And then start using all the benefits that women might be getting right now because women are finally being recognized.
You can also enlist the help of other women.
“I think that all of us on earth should raise each other up together as a group…we should all be helping uplift each other. But also remember that if you’re a woman, other women want to support you, they want to help you, they want to know you’re a woman-owned business.”
Question #3: Advice for women in male-dominated industries?
If a woman is the only woman on a construction site it’s going to be a little uncomfortable. But that’s when you have in your mind that you are as good as, if not better than anyone else and that you know what you’re doing. Lori says you don’t have to be “bitchy” to be strong.
I think that you can command a room, you can get respect, you can do all of these things by having dignity, by speaking up for yourself, but you don’t have to be pushy about it.
Don’t be afraid to speak up or stand up for who you are but if you can also get along with people, even better. Lori has seen women on construction sites where they fit in like a family, it’s not them against us.
Question #4: How should small business owners handle fear?
We can use the current climate with COVID as a real-life example of fear in the small business community.
Fear is normal and natural. Right now, there is a lot at stake so it’s not surprising there is also a lot of fear. Lori believes in the saying, “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” She feels that fear is a mindset. So you can let your fears run away with you and cycle into being more and more anxious and afraid, or you can take action.
When you’re taking action, you start feeling better because you’re doing something about it and it’s occupying your mind.
So let’s say that you are a business that has hit hard times because of COVID, and you’ve had to close your doors or business isn’t happening. You have to look at what is it that you’re doing or selling, and think of how you can pivot.
Pivoting is everything during these times. So if that means you don’t have a digital presence, then create your website or redo your website. Think of how you can make things better and what steps that entails.
Start bartering with people that are bloggers. If you’re a restaurant, figure out how to sell that one best thing you make and then start reaching out to food bloggers and people in the food arena. One hand turns another, so, “If you can help me by doing a tweet, a post on Instagram, a comment, I will give it back to you.”
A lot of it can come down to networking with others and lifting yourself up by getting help from people who are all in this boat together.
Question #5: How do we find good people? How do we keep good people? How do we know when we have good people?
Lori knows that good employees are a challenge to find. “I think that’s the biggest complaint I probably hear from most people that own businesses, either they can’t find good employees or they’re not happy with certain employees and don’t know what to do.”
Lori gave three tips on this topic.
1. There’s a saying, “Hire slow, fire fast.” That saying is very true. When you hire someone you have to be very careful during that process. You have to be very hands-on and interview the person that is a prospective employee. Ask them a lot of really good questions. Not only questions about their skill, but questions about their character because character also really matters.
2. Hire character, train skill. Why is that important? Because you can’t change character, but you can absolutely train skill. If you have five different people that you’re interviewing and they’re all qualified, hire the one that has the character. It’s important to see who jives with you.[Tweet “Hire character, train skill. Why is that important? Because you can’t change character, but you can absolutely train skill.”]
Communication with employees is everything. If people don’t understand you they’re probably never really going to “get” you. We’ve all met people where you easily clicked. You speak the same language, they understand what you’re saying, and you know you’re very compatible just from a conversation. If you’re a person who does things really fast, don’t hire somebody who moves really slow.
3. They need to be likable to you. We know that they’re going to come to you with skills that you’re going to need, that’s why they’re in front of you. Lori really really feels that the person, their character, communication skills, and if they are in sync with you is actually the most important thing. And then if they’re not, fire fast.
Question #6: How do businesses make themselves stand out?
Lori has always been a believer that you should be more unique. The more unique you are, the more you stand out and the more people will come to you because there aren’t others doing it. So if you’re creating a product, don’t create the same widget that’s already all over Amazon. Instead, create something that might serve a function but it’s better than everything else for certain reasons.
Lori believes in being a unicorn. Mark Burnett called her a unicorn. He said, “I don’t know anybody who does all the things that you’ve done, from creating to manufacturing to shipping to the legal, to the packaging and all of this.”
Question #7: How do we handle or deal with mistakes?
Lori doesn’t look at things as failures or mistakes, she sees them as lessons.
“Every bad thing that has ever happened to me, whether it was in my control or not, has been the greatest learning lesson and it makes you stronger and smarter and better than ever. So it’s actually a gift.”
A statement we all need to hear in 2020.
Lori is a planner. She likes to dot every I, cross every T before starting something to ensure a lower possibility of mistakes. In other words, she likes to avoid mistakes. By setting yourself up properly and doing all the things you should do beforehand makes failure less of a reality.
Question #8: How do I go from idea to manufacturer, to getting on the store shelf?
Lori has worked on hundreds of products from concept to creation. She even wrote a book about it because so many people were asking her this question. It’s called Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! and it goes into much more detail than we can here. But below is the shortened version.
- First, you’ve got to determine if your idea is really a good idea because everybody thinks theirs is, but not all are.
- This is basic market research and no money is required. The only thing you can’t do is ask your friends and family because they aren’t going to be honest. What you can do is ask people out in the public. You can go out with a questionnaire and a little prototype, even a little sketch. Lori recommends saying something in the realm of: “Do you mind sparing a few seconds? What do you think of this product, I’m trying to do a little market research.”
- Make sure that it is something that has broad mass appeal, solves a problem, and ideally not a lot of competition. Is it something that people need and want? It might be really clever but the feeling might be, “I don’t really need that.”
Question #9: What’s Lori’s advice on patents?
If it’s something that is really unique and different Lori always recommends protecting it with a patent. Patenting is smart because if it gets knocked off, (which most products do) you have a way to defend it.
So what are the differences between patents? Let’s break them down.
1. Utility patents are the strongest because they have to do with the function of something. It’s not the look—it’s how it functions. So it’s much more protectable to get a utility patent.
2. A design patent has to do with the look of something. So that can be easily written around or designed around. A design patent isn’t as strong but if you don’t have a choice and you can’t get a utility patent, then a design patent is the next best thing.
3. A PCT is good if you don’t know what your full idea is, maybe you have the bones of it. You can file a PCT which means an intellectual property attorney. An IP attorney can help, that’s what they specialize in. Lori feels you’re most successful if you do that. Some people do it on their own, but she thinks using an IP attorney is worth it. They’re called patent prosecutors.
4. Then there are ways now to fast track patents. So it used to be that it would take many years in which for it to go through the USPTO, that’s United States Patent and Trademark Office, but now there is a fast track and it’s not very expensive and you can file it that way, which I always recommend because they usually answer the first response within a year.
Question #10: What is the best marketing channel to reach new customers?
Lori really likes Instagram ads. Why? Because they come through your feed, they catch your eye, and all you have to do is click shop now. It’s very instant and it’s very on-trend with what people want.
People are on their devices all day long constantly looking and scrolling. So Facebook ads are also good, but Instagram ads have a format where you can create a short, snappy video or quick graphic. It’s very visual and that’s what catches attention more easily.
Question 11: Lori’s message to teams about thriving and surviving during COVID-19?
Being able to pivot is really, really important during these times, but it’s not only for now. Pivoting is important in every single business. If things aren’t working, you have to constantly be watching and analyzing.
Lori gave us an example:
“Let’s say that you’re a retail store owner and people just aren’t coming in as much. That would be the time where you have to think, ‘How can I also sell or market my goods in a different way?’ So going digital would be the step towards a solution. Digital is the way in which you can reach people now during COVID.”
Lori says you need to take time to look at your website or even create one if you don’t yet have one. Start to put together an email list because you can get out your messages that way. Network with other people, get other people to share with what’s working for them, and also to spread your word through their website by partnering.
I’ve always been the believer there is enough room for everybody. I never worry about what is the other person doing. It’s like in a race. If you’re running a race and you turn around to look back to see where’s your opponent you slow down.
Listen to the Full Conversation
There were tons of great questions from attendees of the Verizon Small Business Webinar Series. We’ve put together some of the most detailed and talked about, but you can listen to the entire conversation here.
About Lori Greinger
Lori is a star Shark on the 4x Emmy Award-winning and 6x Critic’s Choice Award-winning show, Shark Tank. Shark Tank is a hit entrepreneurial business show, on ABC, where she invests in companies and helps turn people’s dreams into a reality.
Her accomplishments come from her sharp instincts and strong business sense. Well known for telling instantly if a product is a “hero or a zero”, she has a 90% success rate on new items launched.
She is hands-on in all facets of taking a product from concept to creation, to market within months in lightning speed. She oversees the legal and patent processes and has driven her business to the success it has achieved.
She’s also well known for her impeccable negotiating skills and her uncanny ability to know and identify emerging brands and people and invest in them. She has helped many budding entrepreneurs turn their ideas into hit products and has 10 of the top 20 most successful companies on Shark Tank to date.
Well known as one of the most prolific inventors of retail products of our time, Lori started with one idea and turned it into a multi-million dollar international brand. She has created & marketed over 800 successful products and holds 120 US and International patents.
She is known for creating a diversity of products that help make people’s lives easier, whether it be must have clever and unique organizers for the home, kitchen gadgets, tech and travel solutions or the most popular jewelry and cosmetic organizers of all time. Lori’s products are enjoyed by men and women alike.
About the Verizon Small Business Webinar Series
Verizon debuted a Small Business Webinar Series in April 2020 to help small business owners. The series features experts who share practical advice, insight, and tips on how small businesses can survive during these unprecedented times.
Small businesses can register for this series here: https://www.verizon.com/business/resources/webinars/