Randy Wilburn is the founder of Encourage Build Grow, an agency focused on leadership development, communication and personal development for design professionals. In Randy's words, he helps engineers and architects, environmental consultants and planners "be better leaders, better communicators, and ultimately better people."
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Randy, who was featured in our first volume of “Black Entrepreneurs Speak Out”, is also a self-proclaimed “Serial Podcaster” whose latest project has a particularly local character. I Am Northwest Arkansas covers the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas.
"I started this podcast here because I didn't know anything about this area," says Randy. “When I left the company I moved to work for five years ago, I didn't really know anyone. I knew the gate agents at my local airport better than the people in town. So I said let me find out, let me learn a little more about this place. "
While Northwest Arkansas may not illuminate the mental map easily, this region near the borders of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri is home to retailers Walmart, Tyson Foods and JB Hunt, as well as the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where Randy and his wife Nicola and her three children are alive.
A pedigree of entrepreneurship
Randy always had an entrepreneurial spirit that grew out of a foundation made by family members. Some of his relatives have run successful businesses, including his great-uncle who owned the first black pharmacy in all of western Pennsylvania.
Randy also moved into online business because of his desire for flexibility. Today his three children are fifteen, thirteen and ten years old – but ten years ago when Randy started creating designs in the online world, they were five, three and a newborn.
"I had my hands full trying to figure out different types of work and livelihoods," says Randy.
He was also “never a big puncher. I don't mind planning the time. But if I had to compare the two, I would like to do it on my terms as opposed to anyone else's. "
And so Randy pioneered time and terms on the internet. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, he figured out how to compile an email list and provide online services. He and Nicola eventually started a range of businesses focusing on real estate, consulting, design, and even baby food businesses, from home.
Back in 2008, they were featured in a Businessweek article titled Mom-and-Pop Multinationals, which described how they used virtual assistants – a cutting-edge practice at the time – to grow their online business .
Randy Wilburn, his wife Nicola and their three children
It was around this time that Randy came across Pat Flynn, who was also a member of Jason Van Orden and Jeremy Frandsen's Internet Business Mastery group.
"I was near Robin Hood's barn," says Randy when it comes to online business. “And I've always tried to figure out, okay, how can I really use that and create passive opportunities? And just to use the online space and make life at work easier? And so it was just an endless conquest to find out. "
Podcasting: On the ground and in the sky
Online entrepreneurship is the airspace Randy has been on the rise for over a decade – and podcasting is the engine that powers him.
"I kind of followed this path to try to get a better understanding of how to run my business online and how to distinguish myself."
He has directed more than six hundred episodes on a wide variety of shows, including a podcast for his old company, Zweig Group, called Zweig Letter, which is 173 episodes deep and strong. He has also been a guest on many other shows. "And I've been trained by the best."
"The best" is a guy named Cliff Ravenscraft, who also gave Pat his podcasting wings.
Randy took Cliff's A to Z podcasting course in 2011. He had done a few podcasts before but was “really not sure. And Cliff really crystallized some things “for him. During the course, Randy learned how to build his podcast episodes on a solid foundation “with a clear beginning, center, and ending, and in a way that any information given me can tell a story . ”
Randy started being I Am Northwest Arkansas about a year and a half ago and he's already had 83 episodes in. “It has given me the opportunity to expand and better understand what the market needs because I communicate with it Market regularly, via the podcast, via social media platforms. "
Randy records an episode of the I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast with local entrepreneur Brian Bonk
This communication has resulted in a number of growth opportunities including partnering with local sponsors to help cover podcast costs. He recognizes the niche nature of his audience – the "more than four hundred thousand people who live in the greater Northwest Arkansas area" – a population that is an obvious draw for local businesses looking to work with him.
Some of its sponsors were even former respondents. "I came back to them and they said," Wow, this show was great! "And I said, well, there are other ways for you to be a part of it. And sponsorship is one of them."
In addition to this local focus, the integrated economy of podcasting was also an advantage. “The nice thing about podcasting is that your podcasting audience here in the US is typically in a higher income bracket. And that's something I've never lost. "
What's More Important Than Your Podcast Technology?
In his more than ten years at the microphone and behind the scenes, Randy has become a podcasting master himself. So it's no wonder he has a ton of good advice for other podcasters, especially those who are just starting out.
But perhaps his most important podcasting advice isn't really podcasting advice in itself – it's just good business advice – wisdom he's carried around since he started his online journey.
“You have to make a list. You have to offer something that makes a difference to whoever your audience is. You have to find your tribe, and that's the only thing that's always been consistent. Whenever I develop a podcast I've tried to find my tribe for this podcast and talk to them, understanding that I can't reach everyone. I can't be everything to everyone. "
Audience first. Find your tribe. Offer something that makes a difference. This is the heart of any successful online business or project.
Podcasting is also about technology and processes. These factors can either be exciting or overwhelming depending on who you're talking to.
Speaking of technology, despite being an avowed audiophile, Randy swears by the AudioTechnica ATR 2100, which he describes as the "gold standard for beginner microphones". He also has a Røde NTG2 (the same shotgun microphone Pat uses in his studio) and a Zoom H6 for recording on the go (“The sound is amazing”), but the AudioTechnica is Randy's podcasting bread and butter.
One thing Randy sees people get too annoyed about is the soundproofing. When we talked, Randy was in his isolation garage rocking his ATR 2100 – and it sounded great.
The bottom line of Randy's gear light approach? “The barrier to entry for really good audio is not as high as you think. Getting into the podcasting space is nowhere near as expensive as it was before. That's why I basically say to everyone, "You have to start podcasting."
Randy emphasizes that getting started and figuring out how the pieces of your podcasting system and process fit together takes time and effort. But, he says, once you get into a rhythm and finish your process, it can be a smooth sailing.
He estimates that for each episode of I Am Northwest Arkansas he "spends thirty-five minutes from start to finish, putting it all together, putting it out and throwing it at Libsyn and introducing it to the world."
“When you know what you're doing, once you've learned the basics, the basics of how to get good sound and qualify for your space, and know which rooms are good and what the acoustics will be like each type of The environment you will find yourself in will evolve over time. You won't learn that overnight. Then you have a much better chance of bringing out a good product. "
He is currently creating an online course for his local public library called "Think and Start a Podcast" (a piece on "Think and Grow Rich," Napoleon Hill's seminal book). Part of the push for this course was one way Randy is holding back many potential podcasters: they focus too much on the technology that they forget to make a compelling product.
“If you don't have great content, I don't care. I don't care what device you use to record your podcast. I don't care which microphone you use. You can have fifty Heil PR 40 in your office. It won't matter because no one is going to listen. "
Randy points out that the booming podcast space still has plenty of room for growth for those ready to create great content. The industry just recently hit a million shows, which still pales in comparison to the number of channels on YouTube.
“When people ask me, 'I want to start a podcast,' I think, 'Do you have an iPhone? Great. Record on your iPhone. Let's listen to that and let's get something out of it. "
So if you want to get into podcasting, worry less about having the best of everything and more about putting the work into making something great.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you have a ton of shiny new items but you can't put the work into it."
COVID: The silver lining for black business owners
When it comes to one of the most impactful phenomena of 2020, Randy doesn't crush words.
“COVID-19 has just changed everything. I don't care who you are Black, white, purple. It does not matter. "
However, he is just as quick to point out that the pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on black business owners. This effect was confirmed in research by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which showed a 41 percent decrease in active black entrepreneurs (440,000) from May 2020, a larger percentage decrease than any other population group.
Still, Randy sees an opportunity for African American entrepreneurs to harness the potential of online business and digital marketing to stay afloat and even thrive amid the pandemic.
"Now is the best time to start thinking about how to get my business online and save."
He sees “an opportunity for some of these companies that have closed their stores, unless they have just gone completely bankrupt, for them to spin around and create an online marketplace. I think the online marketplace offers so much more options than you can imagine and that just enough people aren't there. "
Randy's three boys in front of a Black Lives Matter mural featuring George Floyd
"As African American, we have some knowledge of online marketing and digital marketing, but we have never used it the way it is available to us."
As an example, he points to the entrepreneurs who quickly built online businesses that make and sell masks. "They started from nowhere … and these are all minority black and brown entrepreneurs who saw a need and said," We're going to fill it. "
Adventure in the SPI Land
"I can't get enough of Pat," says Randy.
He's been a SPI podcast listener "from day one" and has been inspired by more episodes than he can count – "Pat had a gajillion of great people on his show" – though some recent and less recent shows with David Siteman Garland Jacques Hopkins, Jessica and Cliff Larrew were particularly impressive to him. In fact, the Larrews episode inspired Randy's wife Nicola to start her own arbitrage-based business selling items through Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
Randy is also a huge fan of a number of SPI courses – and courses in general.
“It's incredible to build your own brand. BYOB offers the foundation you need for anyone starting out online. You know what they are saying is if you build a house on solid ground it won't stall. And Build Your Own Brand is a great example of that. "
He has also learned from and recommends other SPI courses, including Smart From Scratch and Amp’d Up Podcasting.
“There are a lot of people online who keep everything close to their backs. You don't share everything. They do not want. It's like it's all a secret, but it really isn't. All of this information is available to you. Technically, you never have to take a course. "
So why take a course?
“To save yourself time so that you don't go here, you don't go there. Everything is fine in front of you. And if you're like me and you have a hard time because every time you see a squirrel you look around, then you need a good course to keep you on the ground and keep you focused. "
Randy's convoluted Will It Fly? and loves the companion course. "Super fans are amazing too."
He also recognizes Pat's commitment to streaming on YouTube every day. “It was just proof of who he is. He just threw nuggets over the bow. Every day is something new. "
"I tell people all the time that if you are trying to start in this field, I couldn't think of a better place" than SPI.
Why you are never too old to pursue your dream
“Our time here on earth is – we don't know how long it will be. Some of us can live up to a hundred years. Some of us can live to be up to fifty years old. And every day is precious, I think that's my point. That's why I always tell people, if you still haven't gotten to where you want to be, don't give up. "
Randy's hero is his grandfather, a man named Mal Goode. In 1962, at the age of fifty-four, Goode wrote for the Courier, a black newspaper in Pittsburgh.
That same year, ABC News wanted to hire its first Black Network newscaster – the first on a network.
Goode was good friends with Jackie Robinson – yes, that Jackie Robinson – with whom Goode covered his beat for the courier. The Hall of Famer encouraged ABC's news director to give Goode a shot. So ABC News invited Goode along with about forty other African American candidates to audition for the role.
“My grandfather threw it out of the park. He beat a lot of younger people for the job. He was fifty-four years old and got his shot. "
Randy's grandfather Mal Goode (right) with the Baseball Hall of Famer and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson
Goode also reported on the murders of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X, the campaign for the poor, the funeral of Martin Luther King and the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to Randy, he was also a mentor and friend of Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings, as well as a number of others who came through the ranks on ABC News.
“He wanted to do things at a younger age and the doors weren't open to him because he was African American. But he insisted and kept pressing the envelope and envelope. And in 1962 he broke through. "
"At a time when people weren't used to seeing African Americans on TV, he was there."
When Randy learned how his grandfather took his hiatus into middle age, he could see exactly what is possible at any age.
“If you feel like it, man, I still haven't fulfilled my calling, it's never too late to do it. And I think doing something online creates leverage and an opportunity that you wouldn't necessarily get with a brick and mortar store. And I just think if you learn to rule this space the sky is the limit. "
His own experience as a serial podcaster and digital pioneer only reinforced Randy's belief that "nothing is impossible", especially online. He also nods to Pat's own story of making entrepreneurial lemonade from lemons of life.
“You know, (Pat) talks about being fired from his architectural job and just getting named job captain and all that stuff. And then he realized that I had to be master of my domain. "
Home & Away
Find a need and serve it. "Simple," maybe as Randy says, but also possibly life-changing.
“I think we're all coming to this place, you know, those of us who choose this path. We all come to the place we like. You know what? I'd rather just be in charge. And sometimes the shots will fall short, but sometimes I'll throw them out of the park and then you can have real success. "
Perhaps Randy's most inspiring story about overcoming a seemingly insurmountable barrier came early on in our interview. This Boston sports fan grilled him for tidbits from the seventeen formative years he'd spent in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston.
"I always tell people," Never say never. “I grew up in Northern New Jersey and I always said I would never go to Boston. I hated the Celtics, hated the Red Sox, the Yankees fan that grew up, and definitely didn't want any part of Boston. But it took my heart and introduced myself to my wife. And all three of my boys were born there. So I have nothing but love for Boston. "
Talk about throwing it out of the pahk.