Last week, I attended a youth entrepreneurship conference in Ottawa organized by the Government of Canada. I had a phenomenal time, learned a lot, and got to meet some amazing young and veteran entrepreneurs. Among the mentors we were able to learn from was Jarrod Goldsmith, an entrepreneur specializing in networking events, and saxophone musician based in Ottawa. His companies are eSAX and SAX Appeal. You can find him below at these links:
He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule a few days ago to speak with me on the phone. He shared his experiences as an entrepreneur, as well as his advice for those just starting on how to network and brand themselves. Here is our conversation:
What did your career path look like? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
Most people these days study something in school and find a job in a completely different field. My background is in music and my specialty is actually in archaeology because I never thought music would be a viable path. It was just a passion of mine, but I kept it up on the side. I ended up doing a master’s degree in archaeology and I enjoyed it but I thought there was more to life than sitting behind an artefact, studying a rock.
So I moved to have a day job that everyone wants and needs and so that way I could do other things on the side. I kept up the music all these years. My last government job was in May 2011. And then I said enough is enough.
I finally decided to go into music full time. I heard all my life it is hard to go into music and it as even more difficult in my case because my band is only saxophones. So it’s not a very common group, nobody is going to hire us because they’ve never heard of it before.
So I learned a lot about marketing and social media, because I had no choice! I had to make this viable. There was no option or plan B. I didn’t want to go back to a government job. I realized I had to go all in to make this a success.
When you don’t have a plan B you find ways to make this work.
I started going to networking events to find gigs. At the time there were a lot of networking events in my area. You’ll see that a lot of people are there to, well for lack of a better word, “hawk” their businesses. Throw their business cards. Get customers.
This is what they’re told to do. Give your sales pitch, work on your elevator pitch. When I was making these contacts I was trying to develop long term connections because nobody is going to hire a band – this type of band – for a 600-person dinner or wedding. But they might tell someone in a year or two from now; they’ll keep me in mind.
So what I was doing without even realizing it, I was creating these relationships with people. Not trying to sell them anything but just trying to develop this trust factor.
I got tired of the way networking was being done, and so then I started eSAX.
At the time there were a lot of chambers of commerce around the Ottawa region. But business has no boundaries in a geographic region. I’ll make a gig anywhere. Now with social media these days you don’t care where they’re from.
I started eSAX to help teach small businesses and startups and students about networking.
What does eSAX stand for?
eSAX is a bit of a long acronym. But it’s the entrepreneur’s social advantage experience. Three reasons. It’s cute. It works with the band because the band is SAX Appeal. And it’s short.
The word social and the word experience is very important. With any business out there, you’re trying to develop this experience so people want to come back. And by having the word social, it differentiates it from any other event out there.
What was your experience starting out?
Most musicians they teach on the side to make ends meet. But I became very very good at e marketing and the branding side. Any passion can be turned into a business if you know the business sense. I didn’t have a background in entrepreneurship, I didn’t know anything about startups. I just went all in. You learn really quick to sink or swim.
To me a lot of it was using social media to the point that people were thinking that SAX Appeal was performing two or three times a week but the reality was that when we were starting out we were only getting a gig every four or five months.
Right now you host networking events, do music gigs, and get called to other events. What is your typical week like? Do you have one?
Well everything changes depending on the events I get called to. I was out until ten last night for an event. And I get invited to guest speak quite often.
So a typical week is going to early morning breakfasts, scheduling meetings downtown and going to events in the evening. And I book another group, so I’m a music agent as well. I like to think I’ve developed a credibility as the guy who plays music and books bands and also hosts networking events.
I’d like to think that developing this rapport with people helps your branding in the long run. It takes a long time. You’ve heard the expression “an overnight success takes about four years”? I think the reason for that is because it takes that long to develop those relationships with people.
In dealing with people so much, you’re often expected to always be on the ball. How do you deal with being tired or not feeling at your peak ability?
As soon as I put on my hat [Jarrod’s unique personal branding has to do with the fedora he wears at all the events he attends and in the videos he creates] and attend the events, I get my energy back. Being a professional means you go on regardless of what happens. Now, I’m a professional at networking. Think of it this way: if you’re not out there networking who’s selling your business?
I’ve always thought to myself, if I want to stay in business two years from now, what do I have to do now to get there? A lot of it has to do with this passion to make something out of nothing. This is the epitome of being an entrepreneur. So I started these Ask the Fedora videos to help others. It’s not rocket science. But people aren’t taught these skills.
Where did you learn these skills?
Trial and error. A lot of the things I’ve talked about in my videos I learned the hard way. Anywhere from spilling food on myself, to not having a free hand to shake, to throwing people my business cards and giving my sales pitch. I used to do everything wrong but I learned through time and time again better ways to interact with people.
Do you read entrepreneurship books?
I don’t. I never have. I just do things because I think it’s the right thing to do. I guess I’m a bit of a dinosaur in that way. I just don’t read entrepreneur books. I know I should but I just never have.
Do you read other books?
I don’t read much. I don’t watch TV, I don’t watch movies. I’m always on; I’m always working. I mean, it’s not work for me. But it also keeps me on my toes.
What is your biggest challenge in your industry?
I mean the drive to Toronto once in a while gets a little tiring. But the biggest challenge is changing things up. Businesses get stale. Butsineesses have to change. You have to do something different every three months. I found a format that works really well for my networking events, but I change it up each time.
For example, the one in July is a pitch fest. The one in October is a fireside chat, and I’m looking to get one of the Dragons [from the popular entrepreneurship TV show called Dragon’s Den] to attend. Things are changing all the time. I encourage people – whatever you’re doing – keep tweaking.
What are some of the biggest changes that have taken place in your profession?
Well I’m not sure how much the music has changed but people understand the need to support local. Everybody likes to support local when they can.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Everyone needs to become known as the go-to in their field. In my case, it’s networking. Think: how else can you branch out without losing that. You know, being a specialist in everything is not going to work.
And leverage your strengths. Because I host eSAX, I’m getting calls to help other people plan events. So now I’m an event planner. Go figure. But it’s a paid gig, so as an entrepreneur, your first reaction should be yes to everything,
You know, you’ll get calls from people asking, “do you do this?” And you go, “oh yes, that’s my specialty.” Then you hang up the phone and go, “oh shit.” And you learn real fast.
In your industry and as somewhat of a “freelance entrepreneur”, you have to negotiatie your own value with your client.
What was your process for learning how to price yourself?
So that’s a tough one. I’m going to talk about the music right now. When I first started, there were no saxophone quartets. At least in Ottawa. There were very few in the world.
So I based our prices on on a string quartet. And I even priced us lower than a string quartet when we first started out, just to get our foot in the door. After a few years I realized there’s no reason to be cheaper than a string quartet because we are so unique. I doubled the price.
We’re not the cheapest, but I can do that because there’s no competition.
So when I started eSAX, the events used to be free. I used to spend four or five hundred dollars for food and for everybody. And everybody was happy. I started getting twenty, then forty, then in October 2013 I had 280 people. So I realized I could start charging. I upped it to forty a person. Now it’s 65 at the door plus sponsorships and booths and things like that. You have to do market research and know what can the market bear. But you also have to see how you stand out and why they would pay more and come back.
How do you determine how much to put back in your business, and how much to keep for yourself?
I put everything back into my business.
Do you have last pieces of networking advice for people just starting their careers?
Well of course, subscribe to the eSAX YouTube channel. Obviously. Little plug plug.
Don’t treat networking as a sales pitch. Wait until someone really wants your business card before giving it to them. Then ask for their business card.
When you’re starting, of course you want to throw it into everybody’s face. Then it comes across as a sales pitch, but nobody likes that. Engage in conversation. Talk about everything else but business. Try to get them to relate. Ask questions.
Eventually the conversation is going to be brought back. Why are you at this event, what do you do, why are you here. And I would let the conversation take the time to get there.
And that’s a wrap!
Hope you enjoyed our conversation and that you learned a little something from it. Let me know in the comments below if you’d like to see more of these interview-style posts!
And of course, special thanks to Jarrod for speaking with me and sharing his story. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, eSAX! His bite-sized networking tip videos are a fantastic resource for anyone looking to improve the quality of their interactions with others!