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Rock ‘n roll hits blared through the loudspeakers as fans poured in, this time not to see the Red Sox, but to witness greatness in a different form. Bill Burr loves Boston and man, does Boston love Bill Burr.
He walked out to 40,000 fans that night. As he leaned on the microphone to begin his show, I was struck by his palpable ease. Like a shark in the water, he was confident and merciless.
Bill Burr has the ability to make us all feel like we know him intimately. He lets us in, like a close, very opinionated friend. Like we could share a cigar together and solve all world problems. Of course, that means killing off much of the population, right Bill?
I’ve since gone down a sort of Bill Burr rabbit hole watching all of his old stand-up and interviews. Listening to his stories of coming up as a young comedian, his failures and triumphs, it occurred to me that much of his own mindset can and should be applied to small businesses.
So, here are four things all small business owners can learn from Bill Burr.
1. Stay positive even in the face of negativity
Bill Burr deals with sour faces in the crowd by becoming even more enthusiastic. He sees it as a challenge and becomes even more exuberant and gracious to the audience. He tells them how happy he is to be there and how much he appreciates them coming out.
If a customer is upset, take it as a personal challenge to make them smile. If you see it as an opportunity to give more, more often than not, the customer responds positively and tells others of their experience.
2. Don’t be afraid to lean into the uncomfortable
When it comes to standing on stage in front of a massive audience, Bill Burr is fearless. He leans into the uncomfortable and takes an ornery crowd right on the chin, then gives it right back to them.
As a small business owner, your “stage” is what you do every day, and you’d be surprised what you can take, too. Owning and operating a business is hard, especially early on — that’s just the way it is. You can either let those problems consume you or learn how to untangle the web with some grace. Every morning you wake up, you get another chance to work your stage the way you want to.
Be fearless, be powerful, be smart and be bold. Remember to lean into the uncomfortable. You will gain confidence as you go.
3. Stay self-employed and don’t let too many hands get in the pot
Avoid unnecessary debt. Think big, but start small and grow in time. It may be tempting to let investors or partners in early on, but too many hands in the pot can spell trouble.
Recently, Tim Ferris interviewed Bill Burr on his new show Fear-less. Bill Burr also hosts his own Monday morning podcast, and during the interview, Ferris asked Bill Burr about one of his sponsored reads for the company Shari’s Berries.
Sponsored reads are a common part of many podcasts. In this case, Shari’s Berries spent good money to have Burr read a script to his audience endorsing their brand. He read it, derailed entirely from the script and made fun of the company.
It was hilarious comedy, but Shari’s Berries didn’t see it that way. When the company asked Burr to redo it, he dug his heels in and said he was keeping it the way it was. He knew it was comedy gold.
Much to the company’s surprise, their sales skyrocketed. Burr explained to Ferris the reason why he felt no obligation to change it: “A chocolate-covered berry company isn’t paying my rent.”
He went on, “I didn’t put myself in that position, which I very easily could have, but I didn’t. I look at whatever I make off the podcast as gravy money anyway. I can make a living off my standup and I live well within my means.”
Make decisions to maintain control of your own business unless or until you’ve reached a point in which you wish to change that and never act out of fear. Trust yourself and know that slow growth over time is a key ingredient for creating a lasting business.
4. Keep things simple
In Bill Burr’s words, “I tell jokes, I podcast and I do television when they let me.” Keeping things simple (like Bill Burr does) reduces stress, achieves clarity and removes doubt. Your customers and employees can feel it when you’re overcomplicating. Automate where you can, prepare ahead of time and hire an excellent copywriter.
Remember to be authentic and have fun. You can have more than you do because you can become more than you are.
Find your groove. Keep learning, keep growing and stick with it. If an angry, red-headed, Irish-Catholic kid from Boston can do it, so can you.