Josh Tolley engaged a large crowd at the UW-Extension Lunch N’ Learn with his humor, wit and non-conventional approach to succeeding in business.
Tolley, a nationally-syndicated talk show host, spoke to a packed room at the Juneau County Extension office July 27 in Mauston. Tolley focused on how the country’s entrepreneurial spirit is dying, which is why many small businesses fail within a few years. Along with his radio show, which reaches all 50 states and more than 160 nations, Tolley also teaches business courses to masters of business administration (MBA) students.
Tolley has published three top-selling books and is considered among the best business trainers in the country. Through Purple Monkey Garage, his online training business, Tolley coaches aspiring entrepreneurs. According to UW-Extension Community Resource Development Educator Gary Kirking, Tolley has revived failing businesses, restored troubled marriages, and even helped teach parents on how to raise children with entrepreneurial mindsets.
“He was coming through our way so we were able to get him,” Kirking said. “We’re really fortunate to have him.”
Through his message, Tolley hopes to change many tired beliefs business owners possess.
“I talk to thousands of business owners every year,” Tolley said. “I tell them America’s entrepreneurial culture is dying. Why is that? Because through the years we’ve shifted how we teach business. Small business owners are different than entrepreneurs.”
Through his research, Tolley dived into the plight of rural America. He said the nation is creating more ghost towns at a faster rate than in the late 1800s. Tolley said when factoring monthly bills, various payments and debts, the practical poverty rate for most Americans is $70,000 per year.
Tolley also discussed the main reasons why businesses fail and how employers can cultivate better work environments. Tolley emphasized the importance of branding for businesses to succeed. He showed a slide of famous brand ambassadors such as Michael Jordan (Gatorade, Nike), Steve Jobs (Microsoft), Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Flo from the Progressive Insurance ads.
“How you brand your business is so important,” Tolley said. “The product or service actually matters squat to your business. At the end of the day, every business is a brand.”
Small business owners invest more than money into their companies. When small businesses fail, families suffer, according to Tolley. He shared the story of how he talked down a person who had called his show ready to kill himself over a failed business.
“It’s more than just their bottom line, it’s their livelihood,” Tolley said. “Do you know there are more deaths from suicide in the country than from car accidents? It’s amazing because I’ll ask 100 business owners how things are going and they’ll say, ‘Great,’ but how can that be when only two percent are actually doing well?”
He also discussed how marketing and advertising are two separate functions in business, but are often treated as the same entity. Tolley said SEO, or search engine optimization, isn’t actually that great for businesses because when people type in a product or service in the search bar, all of a businesses’ competitors come up on the same page.
“I’ve seen businesses blow their entire advertising budgets on SEO,” Tolley said. “People don’t Google you if you have a good brand.”
Tolley also downplayed the impact of social media marketing. He said many users grow tired of business ads on social networks such as Facebook. Tolley said business owners should treat social media more as a customer relations tool to foster better relationships with already established customers.
“Seventy percent of social media users actually leave pages they’ve once followed,” he said.
Tolley also shared an interesting life story. Growing up in Madison, Tolley struggled academically and barely knew how to read when he graduated high school. He was a shy, illiterate teenager who would hide when people came to the front door. He sharpened his reading skills by reading business magazines such as Forbes which ignited his drive to be an entrepreneur. His first three attempts at business failed, but he kept trying. Tolley knew he wanted to be self-employed at a young age and started teaching business classes.
“Getting in debt to start a business is never needed,” Tolley said. “And you should think about what kind of life you want your business to provide you; the business shouldn’t be tied to your identity. You should be able to walk away from any business in 15 minutes.”
Contact Kevin Damask at 608-963-7323 or on Twitter @kdamask