For over a decade, Shel Horowitz, “The Transformpreneur,” has shown businesses how to thrive by doing the right thing. Shel shows how not just to go green AND market green affordably and effectively--but how business can thrive by transforming society: turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. Shel is a consultant, international speaker and TEDx Talker, transformational business consultant, and the multiple-award-winning, bestselling author of ten books, most recently Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World (his second Guerrilla book with Guerrilla Marketing founder Jay Conrad Levinson).
01:43 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Your passion leads the way to your business. Be passionate.
Shel talks about the beginnings where he and his wife started a movement in their local rural community to stop a private developer from building a large development against environmentalists’ concerns. He used business principles and marketing to make the movement effective.
06:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Environmentally sustainable business and a profitable business don’t have to be separate things.
Shel talks about how he coaches business owners to make money and save money while transforming their business into a sustainable business. He mentions some great examples like Patagonia, Ben & Jerrys, Rocky Mountain Institute which have been very successful in being a sustainable business while making profits.
10:00 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep growing your business by finding new growth areas. Always think of possibilities.
Shel talks about how he started as a freelance magazine writer and started a term paper typing service which grew into resume prep service business. That business evolved into Press Releases and Marketing copy writing business.
14:39 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Use variety of techniques to build your customer pipeline: Networking, blogging, speaking.
Shel talks about the customer pipeline building process. He uses a combination of techniques such as a gratitude journal on Facebook, blog posts, speaking engagements etc. Many of his clients are either referrals or people who found him through organic google searches. Sometimes, he prospects by going to networking events.
21:50 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be proactive about having a social impact with your business.
Shel talks about being proactive to have a social impact with their business. He says it is just a matter of time that customers will ask about your business impact on the society, so be prepared. Shel also advises that it is not difficult to be profitable while having a wider social impact.
27:56 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Focus on costs while building a business. Prioritize customer engagement and interactions.
Shel gives advice to would be entrepreneurs that they should have a razor focus on cost savings in startup mode. Also, outsource where it is possible economically so you can focus on priority items. Keep your customer engagements very personable and engage with them so they can be repeat customers.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcomes to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today I have a guest with a very interesting and inspiring bike background, Shel Horowitz. For over a decade Shel Horowitz, the transformpreneur has shown businesses how to thrive by doing the right thing. Shel is a consultant, international speaker and TEDx talker, transformational business consultant and the multiple award-winning best-selling author of 10 books most recently guerilla marketing to heal the world and this is by the way second gorilla book, with guerrilla marketing founder Jay Conrad Levinson another hero of mine. So www.goingbeyondsustainability.com is his company and then website. Hey Shel welcome.
Shel: Thank you Ramesh it's great to be here with you, shukriya.
Ramesh: Shukriya. So, you are the guy who goes to companies and tells them, hey you don't have to choose between sustainability doing the right thing versus profitability.
Shel: Yeah and I even take it farther than that. Because sustainability is not in my opinion enough. Sustainability is keeping things where they are, and I want to make them better. So, I use the term regenerativity and that's why my company is called going beyond sustainability.
Ramesh: So how did you transform yourself into a transformpreneur?
Shel: It was a long slow process. Really, I mean it has roots going back to the 1970s. But the big thing that really shifted me was in 1999 I live in a rural community on a dairy farm right by a mountain, that mountain is a state park that always wins the award in the local newspaper reader Paul for best place to take an out-of-town visitor. Because you can see, oh probably well over a hundred kilometers in every direction on a clear day and so the mountain next to that was privately-owned and a developer said that that was where he was going to put 40 large trophy homes and while all the experts were saying, this is terrible, but there's nothing we can do. My wife and I organized a movement, stopped it, got huge community support. I thought it would take us five years. We did it in a year and a month, 13 months. So that success which used everything I knew not only about community organizing, but also from my long career in marketing, that success had me looking at well if I did so well bringing marketing principles into the community organizing activists side of my work, what would happen if I brought the activism more into the marketing side? So, after some years of evolving through this, I came up with this idea, first it started looking at business ethics and green principles of success drivers. But it kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper and finally about five years ago, I had the Epiphany that I could really actually play a role in reconfiguring the business culture to do good in the world and to show business that doing good is good for the bottom line.
Ramesh: So, what is your approach? So, in general right so the popular myth is that hey you know if you invest in sustainable environmental friendlies, it's down the drain, it's not really profitable. So, what is your pitch?
Shel: Well my pitch is let's start with the things that are highly profitable. Let's face it, when you're talking about sustainability or regenerativity, you're talking about using resources more wisely. I don't think I’ve ever met a single business owner who loved spending money to have their waste shipped out and processed somewhere. Who loved paying enormous high electric bills or fossil fuel bills for powering their business. They all would love to save money in those areas. So, I look at how can they save money and how can they make money and those are two halves of the same situation really. Because they both mean more dollars in the bottom line, a greater ratio of expenses to profits and these are things that every business owner wants. So just something as simple as taking rope caulk and going around and in places where your facility is leaking huge amounts of air, close those up put in you know when you go to the hardware store and the baby department, they have those little safety outlet protectors, just little pieces of plastic that slip in to an electrical outlet, they happen to be extremely effective also for blocking air transfer of cold or hot air inside and out, so that your utility bills go down. It is something that simple. You can look at the processes, there's a man I have enormous respect for Lovins and I profile him in the book. His consultancy, the Rocky Mountain Institute found a factory that was making carpets and I believe China and they looked at how they were making the carpets and they looked at one particular process that involved complicated piping with lots of twists and turns, they widen the pipes, they straightened them, they were able to remove a lot of moving parts and they were able to save 92 percent of the energy that was being used in that process. So, 92 hundred of the portion of the energy bill that was funding that process will became revenue Base, found money. So, something as simple as that can make enormous differences and then on the other side one of the things about selling things that make the world better is that people like to do business with you, people like to write about you and feature you in their newspapers or on their podcasts or all sorts of other places. People like to form joint ventures with you, because they see you is helping the world. So, there's a huge huge marketing impact. Something that nobody would have done, and Patagonia put out an ad saying don't buy this jacket and basically the copy in the ad was talking about, how well yeah if your jackets worn out, fine buy it. But if you're just going to have it sit in your closet, use those resources for something else. It was a really gutsy thing to do and they paid off very very well for them, they are extremely successful.
Ramesh: very very successful.
Shel: Yeah you look at a company like Ben & Jerry's, what kind of crazy people would have suspected that two guys with no experience making ice cream, with no experience for that matter isn't is could make a success of a venture like that in Burlington Vermont. I mean it's not New York City, it's not LA, it's not Chicago, it’s you know it's Vermont and I would posit that the reason that they continuously have 40 to 45 percent market share of super premium ice cream is specifically because you cannot go three inches into that company without finding something they're doing to make the world better. Whether it's hiring people with developmental disabilities to work in their scoop shops or contracting their brownie baking to Greystone bakery, which hires ex-addicts and ex-felons and people like that to the funding of solar festivals around the country. It's an amazing company and they're now owned by Unilever and interestingly enough, they have maintained operational independence as part of the very clever buy sell agreement that they had, and they were already a B Corp certified company. One of the very first when they were bought out and that is trickling up and Unilever which is this massive massive consumer products company that with millions, I don't know millions, but dozens and dozens of brands in all over the world might become a B Corp. They were seriously working on this. Because that percolated up from Ben & Jerry's. So, we are seeing that change can come from within if things are structured properly.
Ramesh: I am sorry, I don't know about the B Corp, what is a B Corp?
Shel: Oh, it's short for benefit corporation and it's a legal structure that allows businesses to be concerned about other things that short-term bottom line, which normal corporations are legally required to put that above all other interests. You could still have bottom-line profit, but often that the payback might be longer and you're not going to have it in the next quarter. So, by looking long-term, by looking at the much more holistic picture maybe twenty years ago people came up with a legal structure that allows this. It's very exciting stuff.
Ramesh: So now Shel let's talk about the Shel the entrepreneurs, so did you always have this entrepreneurial spirit in you or this opportunity of a community organizing presented itself for you to form your own company?
Shel: Oh, I’ve been in business since 1981. I was, how old was I when I started that? I was 24 when I started my business and it was a difficult time for me personally and financially. I had just relocated, I had very low savings. I was having trouble finding work and I had tried a couple of times to start a business even earlier than that and had not been successful. So, I figured okay I’ll go into, the truth is that make a crappy employee. I'm far too headstrong, I'm far too looking at the big picture. I'm not interested in the office politics. So, I thought well I had been in my one and only corporate job and gotten fired from it in 1978 and I'd kind of done odd jobs from 1978 to moving up to Western Massachusetts where I still live.
Ramesh: Shel that looks like a good quote. If you're a crappy employee start your own company.
Shel: Sure, so I decided that I was going to try a career as a freelance magazine newspaper writer and while I was waiting for that to take off I started a term paper typing service. I live in an academic area, this was in the pre-personal computer era. So, a lot of people needed papers to be typed. I think I discovered that many of those people also needed resumes written and that was something that I was good at. Because having struggled with my own very at that time checkered career history and having written seven different versions of my own resume, that I had ideas about how to make people look good on paper and without lying really make them shine out in a crowded marketplace. So that became my bread and butter for a number of years and that evolved into doing marketing for small business. Which I have you know things like writing press releases and later when the web came out wearing web pages, not designing them, good god I don't do that. Yeah definitely copy and then from that into the sort of the marketing strategy, the overall marketing planning and what makes sense for your business, where can you go to take advantage of the really wonderful low cost no cost high return marketing avenues such as forming partnerships with people who already reach your core audience or getting exposure in the media or as it came into being, I’ve been on social media a ridiculously long time. I started on social media as it existed back then in 1995. So, the obviously it was before there was such a thing as Facebook or even LinkedIn. But it did exist and actually was very good for my business to be participating in an email discussion list which at the time were really the core of social media online. So, it's been a long journey with many zigs and zags. But always ever iteration has been a little bit more focused on what I really want to do in the world, what I feel like I was put here to do Ramesh.
Ramesh: So, Shel actually you have a very interesting background because your business evolved. You started with the turn papers, went into resume writing and then into marketing plan. So, it is not that, it's a completely different business. But you kept adding to your strengths and kept building the business I mean as it evolved.
Shel: Yes, and it's cumulative other than I haven't yet from paper in more than 20 years now, I think 1990 was the last one. I wrote like three resumes last month you know I still do that. It's not a big part of my work anymore. But I still do that, and I still write press releases and I still write book cover copy and all those things that I’ve been doing all along, I just keep adding new. But at the same time, I'm really looking much more strategically at what kind of impact I can have in the business culture and that's really only in the last few years.
Ramesh: You know that's actually goes back to what I think about entrepreneurs right. So, you said cumulative right, it's always you keep looking for the possibilities. So, term paper writing you know provided you the possibility.
Shel: Oh, I never wrote term papers, let me get that clear that I would consider unethical. I would type them, but they need to write them. I will write pretty much anything else for somebody but not something they're getting a grade on.
Ramesh: Yeah okay so its cumulative. So then from there so you added something, so you kept looking for the possibilities of you know and then you also added your purpose and your passion. Like in the sense like what is, why am I here, uncertain what should I do. So, it's a different way of looking at things. Because other people I talk to they just quit the job and then they went into it you know either totally different business or something like that.
Shel: Yeah and again when I started this I saw myself as doing it temporarily and in fact I did publish 87 articles the first year that I was in business. But I made all of two thousand dollars from those 87 articles, money just wasn't there, and it was so much head-banging and I decided it would be much easier to write for business clients and individual clients than for magazines and newspapers. So that was something I totally didn't expect and sometimes also sometimes my clients have kind of pushed me hard into a different direction. The whole side of my business involving a book shepherding and consulting with people who would like to be published authors was something basically my clients started demanding of me. So, after holding them off for about a year, I decided okay why not and I'm very glad I did.
Ramesh: That's good. So now let's talk about your business. How do you find your customers? Do they come to you or you go after them, how do you find them?
Shel: Some of each. There's a lot of range. Sometimes people will read a book or an article that I have either written or been quoted in or they will read a book, sorry they would hear me speak either over the internet as we're doing now or in a live audience. They will get a referral from someone. They will for the resume clients, they will actually look me up in Google search for resume writers near me or something like that. A lot of the book shepherding clients in particular are referral. Sometimes I go prospecting, I went to a networking meeting and I networked afterwards with like six of the people. I met one has become a client, two more I think will become clients and that was just from one meeting. So, everything is a little different because I do what the Brits call bespoke, everything I do is a little different for each person. I don't have cookie cutter stuff. So, there's a lot of attraction in that for people who are not exactly sure what pieces of my skill set that they need, but I can help them think it through and it's wonderful. I feel so happy, so lucky that I get to do what I do and be paid to write and to think and to speak and to talk to people on the phone. It's like wow how did I manage that? I am a person who focuses a lot on gratitude, I actually every single day since March of 2018 I have been posting a gratitude journal on Facebook for whoever in the world wants to see it and that has changed me in some very interesting ways.
Ramesh: Actually, I heard the gratitude journal from many entrepreneurs, they maintain them for themselves. Actually, they write this gratitude notes to other people they help them kind of stuff, that is very interesting.
Shel: But putting it out there for the public to see I think is a different level. I had a gratitude practice informally for many years. But this I find that it's really sharing it having to go through my day looking for things that I'm going to say, oh I'm grateful for that later when I write about is really interesting.
Ramesh: So, Shel look at your company, the things that you do. So, you have a resume writing, you have a copy, you have multiple areas that you could focus on. So, when like for example in the next month, which areas are you going to get your customers from? Like is it a sustainability side of the world or resume, how do you go about that process?
Shel: Well it's really who's finding me. I had a client today show up with a PayPal order for an hour of consulting and this is very unusual, because I have no idea why they found me, and they chose to work with me. So, the first thing I did was write a few questions about what they're looking for in the assignment and also how they chose to work with me. So that'll be really useful information for me. Because it's really rare for that to happen. To buy a book yes, but without any dialogue with me first to become a client, that's rare. So right now, the book shepherding piece is very big. Because certain things like there is a seasonal event once a year called Book Expo America that will be happening very shortly. So, my book clients are all right now very active in helping me help them explore the options for them and the opportunities for them. I have in mind for this summer to put out a lot of energy into really finding more clients in this incredibly wonderful work about helping business find their real purpose and helping business do make a difference in the world. That's really where my heart lies, and I am hoping to get to the point where that as most if not all of my business. But meanwhile I will enjoy the diversity of what falls into my lap.
Ramesh: So how do you manage your pipeline? Like how do you plan the next month or two with the diverse set of customers?
Shel: Well I'm always looking for opportunities to touch base with them and say this is coming up, is this something you're interested in exploring or when I was on your website doing the last thing you asked me to, I noticed that this is something that we could fix and make it much better very easily, is that something you'd like to do? So, I take a fairly proactive role with my existing clients and I also, because every day is different and because that's the nice thing about that as I can't get bored. Whether I'm going to be, what I'm going to be doing. Whether I'm going to be helping somebody think through their startup in solar LED lamps or I’ve got a client in the health and wellness space, who owns a float center and I see with my broad-brush definition of helping the world, I see the work he's doing is helping the world. So, I figure that he fits right into that. I'm one of the people that I think is going to become a client is of all things a genealogist. So, it's fun. I think for me the sweet spot is smallish businesses that don't have their own in-house sustainability coordinator that are trying to do the right thing, that are maybe even started as a social venture, but they haven't quite figured out all the pieces yet and also of course I love to speak. I have never been one of those people that's terrified of public speaking thrive on it and I would like to see myself as influencing people by speaking to them and I certainly feel like I’ve had that effect in the past when my work was a little less ambitious in terms of the impact on the world. When I started talking about business ethics in 2002, it was not fashionable, there was a whole lot of scandals at that time on WorldCom, bunch of others and for me to go out there and say business ethics is a success principle was kind of revolutionary at the time. Now it's fairly much an accepted belief. I feel like I helped to change in some small way that culture and I'm hoping that I will have as I look back on my legacy 20 years from now, I hope that these next 20 years which will take me into age 82 will be, oh yeah, he was the guy that made us think about how to solve hunger, poverty, war, catastrophic climate change and make money doing it.
Ramesh: It's socially I think reformative and lots of big problems you are trying to solve Shel.
Shel: Yeah that’s where my kind of ADD personality being interested in a million things all the time, an absolute sponge for information.
Ramesh: So, coming back to the entrepreneur, business side what tips can you offer other business, oh let's start with the owners. People who have the businesses, how can, what should they be thinking about growing and building their business?
Shel: Well they should be thinking about if it isn't happening yet, it will be happening soon that their customers or clients will start to demand social action from them. So, they want to be prepared. They really want to be thinking about how can we impact the wider world and then turn that into a marketing advantage and that is something I can help with, people can contact me. My website again is www.goingbeyondsustainability.com, my phone number is 4135863288 and on that website if you go to the freebies page, www.goingbeyondsustainability.com/freebies, there is a whole bunch of stuff that I give away and the very top one is a special report on basically ten ways that you can create a profitable social change focused business. Because what will happen is, it’ll be like green. Right now, if you have a choice between doing business with a green company and a not green company and the products, the quality, the pricing, the service are all relatively comparable, you're going to go with the one making the difference and that is going to be true as we go forward in all of these other areas as well. It's not enough just to be green anymore. But you want to be making the world greener and it's not enough to be concerned and giving charity. You want to develop products and services that help people actually have a better life.
Ramesh: Correct, that is actually I think the unique angle that you bring to the parties that hate not just being sustainable, but you be profitably sustainable. Yeah so if I'm a person wanting to look at business right, whatever the business, what are the tips that you could share with them based on your experience?
Shel: Well one is to keep your cost down especially when you're in the startup phase and there are a lot of creative ways to do that. I am after 38 years in business, I am still working from home and I love that. I don't have any office overhead. I get to have my music and my food right here, I get to enjoy this incredible mountain behind my house and for me that works well. But I also like the first laser printer I bought, and this was back when new laser printers were seven thousand dollars. Well I found one for 4500 remaindered and I got three other business owners to go in on it. So, my cost was very very affordable and since I was the one who set this thing up and lived at my office, so they would have to come over here to run their prints. But meanwhile I had this $4,500 machine for including the table we bought to put the thing on, it was like $700. So that was a huge savings and an expense I didn't have to incur. There are a lot of things you can do like that. A lot of low-hanging fruit and also think about what parts of your business you need to do yourself in what parts you delegate. For example, I write a birthday greeting every year that goes out on social media, specifically at Facebook. But I don't send it out. I have an assistant who actually goes and says oh hey here, it’s your birthday. This year I'm sending a greeting from Paul McCartney, last year it was something else and it feels very personal to the person who receives it and I get a lot of positive interactions based on that and I of course handle the follow-up, but I don't handle the initial sending out.
Ramesh: So, outsource where you can okay.
Shel: Yeah outsource where you can, but do the things that really require your own skill set. So, I don’t have source copywriting ever. Oh, that's something I do for people and I do it really well and why should I have source that?
Ramesh: So, what are the I mean challenges that you face, you said the zigzag of the 38 years of a business journey.
Shel: Well right now the biggest challenge I have is trying to figure out how to market appropriately both to the small entrepreneur and to much bigger companies. In all my years in business I’ve really never had big corporate clients. And so that's a whole different mindset, a whole different pricing structure, a whole different way of thinking about being in business that I am still figuring out.
Ramesh: And also, the, maybe there is overhead that comes with trying to reach out to these large corporations as well.
Shel: Yeah yeah, I might have to buy some new clothes. But I also you know because I’ve been an outsider lone wolf kind of person for so long, I would not want to be working for one of those big corporations as a full-time employee. As a consultant I think they will put up with and actually welcome my lack of conformity with the traditional this culture. But if I were an employee, it would be soul deadening for me and many of these companies at this point probably most of the fortune 500 have their own at least sustainability coordinator, if not sustainability department. So those people are in full-time position. So, figuring out what do I have to offer to them that they don't have in-house, one thing I Thought might work is that they can offer me to their smaller vendors or clients or small business units within the organization that maybe don't have access to the sustainable and research this and I become a marketing asset for them. Because you know whatever it is, Unilever has provided you with three hours of consulting from this brilliant guy named Shel Horowitz, let us know how you think.
Ramesh: Yeah yeah, yeah actually there's a lot of possibilities that out there for you. So, one of the other questions I want to ask you is that I mean you've been a pretty successful entrepreneur based on the experience that you shared with us. But if you were to restart your company, let's say you were to restart your business life, let's say today, so what are the things that you would do, or you would not do based on the experience so far?
Shel: Okay number one is I would have outsourced earlier, number two, as I would claim my identity in the green business world and regenerativity business world much earlier. I could have had the domain www.greenmarketing.com, my friend Jacqueline Ottoman got it years before I thought to. Because I’ve been doing, I had a client in the solar industry in 1983. I did the brochure for him, I wrote it on a typewriter. You know I have been in this space a very very long time. But I hadn't really thought in until the last 10 years or so that that's where I was really going to concentrate. So, I missed some opportunities there. I think I would have looked more at what is actually working in my particular business and how to do more of it and how to do less of the things that aren't working, I was a little bit slow to figure some of that out. But also, one thing I wouldn't change is that I’ve always been content not to be driven by the desire to make absolutely the most money I could, but to make a comfortable living and to do good in the world.
Ramesh: I mean that probably provided the right balance.
Ramesh: Okay. So that's good Shel. So, anything else that you want to share with the listeners who are either would be entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs themselves?
Shel: Yeah one other thing in addition to that great special report that you can get on the freebie page is if you fill out an assessment about your readiness to do social change and environmental profitability stuff in your business, that earns a fifteen-minute free be consulting session with me and fifteen minutes, you'd be surprised how much good advice you can get in fifteen minutes. So, I would encourage people to go to www.goingbeyondsustainability.com /freebies, download the report, read the report and then go back and do that assessment and then claim the 15 minutes with me.
Ramesh: Shel I mean this opened my eyes a lot and then it definitely you come across as a person with a lot of passion and then trying to you know I have a purposeful journey. So good luck.
Shel: Thank you so much.
Ramesh: Thank you very much for your time Shel, really appreciate it.
Shel: It's been fun, and I look forward to sharing the link.
Ramesh: Okay definitely thank you.