Entrepreneurship IS Enduring

Life is a struggle…at least it has been much more in my adult life than it ever was in my childhood. That’s no fault of my parents, actually quite the opposite, I really didn’t have any major trauma occur in my child years, even through all of high school. Then the typical struggles of your college years and adult life spring up. For me it was breakups, bad grades in college, losing a job and losing myself. All these traumas set me up for the ultimate struggle though…entrepreneurship! 

Entrepreneurship is enduring. Every day is going to be a struggle, if you’re doing it right! It’s trusting the process and believing that NOTHING great ever happens over night. My Mom has a great sign up at our camp that says “Every step of the journey IS the journey.” Too often we get caught up in the end goal that we forget that going through the process, is actually the part that we should be addicted to. 

So the big question is, how the hell do you endure through all of life’s or business struggles? Part of getting through is having your mindset right from the beginning that giving up is NOT an option. No matter the financial struggles, no matter who says that maybe this isn’t a great idea, no matter the days where you may not be able to do one second of work…getting up every day remembering WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. My motivations have changed over the years. At first, I just needed to be free of the stress of corporate sales. Then it was about proving people wrong. Now it’s all about preaching and teaching people about the FREEDOM OF TIME. Helping people build their lives how they want through the skills they’ve built. And being consistent doing it. Waking up every day…with NO alarm clock since 2013 unless I was going on vacation…with the intention to keep moving forward. I’ve become addicted to the process of being an entrepreneur. There are most definitely days where mentally, I just don’t have it, can’t stay focused…but part of my mindset is, all those days in the past where I would give 0% work could have turned into a win by just taking 1 tiny step, just 1% on those HARD days. 

Now my motivations run much deeper and stronger than they were in the beginning. If you’re going to build your business and your brand you need to think big. Money is not a motivating factor, it can be to start, but eventually you’re going to reach the level you want. Build wealth, that includes knowledge which you can never have enough of. Your kids are not a big enough motivating factor…they will only need you for so long. Finding your true WHY, your real purpose, the thing that helps you JUMP out of bed in the morning…or afternoon if you’re a night owl kinda person…that is what will keep you enduring day after day for the long haul. 

It took me a solid 5 years to figure out WHY I was doing what I was doing. Graphic design is fun but it doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning. Web design makes me some good money, but I don’t get goosebumps from making pretty websites. The goosebumps come from “younger” clients (in terms of their entrepreneur journey, not necessarily by age) asking for my advice or telling me they’ve used something I’ve said to help motivate them. It comes from my close friends telling me about their self-realization of what it takes to get through and endure through the worst of times and realizing, hey that’s exactly how I said it worked for me. It comes from that addiction in improving. Knowing that only 33% of small businesses ever created in this country have made it to the 10 year mark, drives me to be of that small minority. 

Learn to endure through the struggles, find a deeper motivation than money, and go all in on yourself and your dream. 

Interview With Ashley Verrill

Man I’m pumped to introduce you guys to one of the most bad ass chicas I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. She is a REAL, live, completely self-made CEO of an international events & entertainment company…sorry friends just calling yourself a CEO, does not actually make you one. She’s an unbelievably creative artist who just recently started putting her paintings out there for the world to see. We met wayyyyy back in another time and world, of 2001 when we were both in high school, and strangely haven’t seen each other since. Our friendship blossomed about 9 years ago with a random message to her when she asked about help with her business…it was a simple solution from me, and since then she’s become one of my go-to business friends. We’ve hit many of the same roadblocks in business and personal life and live by many of the same moral and ethics codes…she’s obviously much more saintly than I am though lol. 

I’d like everyone to meet Ashley Verrill, CEO of After Dark Events & Entertainment. Thanks so much for taking a little time to switch from us talking on Facebook to us talking through email Ash! Why don’t we just kinda start with your initial journey into entrepreneurship and being a business owner, and eventually becoming a CEO. 

Hi Nick! I’m honored that you reached out to have this chat. We’ve certainly seen each other through some crazy professional adventures (and life adventures too)! I’d love to elaborate a bit on my journey and my road to entrepreneurship.

Since we’re throwing it so far back to when we officially met, I feel like even as early as high school, I’ve always been someone who loathed being told what to do. I rejected the whole notion of “taking orders” from someone above me, especially if I could see a better way of doing things. At that time, it reflected in my competitive cheerleading career and come to find out, it later spilled over into my professional career in a big way.

So, where to start? Directly out of college I moved from Buffalo NY to Baltimore MD to work as a Regional Manager for a travel agency in the area. That same year, as a result of hard work and a very high sales volume from my cubicle, I was promoted to become the Program Director for their Cancun student travel program. I traveled to Mexico regularly, and during my time there I saw the opportunity for significant growth within the agency I was working for. There was a white space that hadn’t yet been filled in the event industry and it just seemed like the obvious next step. When I pitched my idea to my boss at the time, I specifically remember him blatantly laughing in my face. Within seven days, I had quit my job, sublet my apartment, and moved to Mexico to see if I could fill in that white space myself… fast forward a couple months, I did it!

Needless to say, I learned rather quickly that I was not meant to work for someone else. I wanted my potential for success to be in my own hands. I wanted to motivate myself and answer to only myself. My goal was to create a career that allowed me to LIVE my life every day however I chose to. So, yes, I left my 9AM-5PM grind living as a young professional in the US and ran away to Mexico where I spent the next six years of my life becoming fluent in Spanish, learning huge life lessons, and building my professional empire. I am now a proudly bi-lingual entrepreneur, a business owner and the CEO of my own LLC.

I appreciate you mentioning my art as well! That journey came as my “pivot” when the pandemic temporarily shut down travel and I needed to find a way to sustain my overhead and keep myself sane. I am technically trained and hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art but before this year, I would simply paint to fill my empty walls. Whenever friends or family would see my artwork, they would ask when I was going to start selling it. My answer was always that I was too busy I didn’t have enough hours in the day (as any fellow entrepreneur can relate to). Well, as you may have heard time and time again, life is too damn short, so I took a really difficult time and tried to find an opportunity in it. Travel is coming back now and I’m so grateful but as a result of the insanity that was 2020, I also see how important it is to diversify your streams of income because someday the rug can be swept from under you and you’ll need to flex to survive. Just one of life’s many lessons I hold near and dear!

Aww I’m not sure anyone’s ever used honored to describe anything to do with me lol. It’s interesting to see how people’s journey’s really do tend to parallel each other. We face so many of the same challenges just disguised differently to one another.
 
Loathing being told what to do is a common trait amongst us entrepreneurs…I think a lot of people struggle and bounce around jobs because they’re entrepreneurs at heart. I’ve also known you long enough to know that you do often find a better way of doing things, it’s helped get you where you are now. 

I used to think of myself as a control freak. My Mom often called me a “bull in a china closet” growing up and man, how that would offend me. Now, I see that it is actually a positive trait. Yes, I have a presence. I’m not shy or quiet. You know when I’m in the room. I don’t let things happen TO me, rather I take hold of the reigns and manage to navigate the path myself. Love it or hate it, I’m better for it and I attribute a lot of my success to crashing into a few walls on my way out the door.

I actually think the “control” thing is just all part of the entrepreneurial personality. Fear of the unknown or lack of control in a situation was always a driving factor of my anxiety…but I’ve taken that same exact mindset of not letting things “happen” to me anymore. Shit happens to everyone, honestly I think if we each delved deep into one another’s stories across the board we’d find a lot of similarities in situations and feelings attached to them. It’s the reaction that separates the helpless, from the good, from the great, from the unstoppable. I recall us both going through similar personal issues back in the day and I really drew strength from the way you approached it rather than the way I was approaching it. I realized looking back I made myself a victim when really, plenty of other people have been in similar situations and came out on top…why couldn’t I?

I think all entrepreneurs (even those that don’t know they’re entrepreneurs yet) have that similar mindset. You must have it in you to take the leap, risk it all, self-reflect, accept defeat and get up kicking and clawing until you ultimately have a breakthrough. Once you’ve “made it” you’ll probably fail again…. and again… but those lessons are the most important ones. You cannot control what happens around you, but you CAN control your reaction to it, and THAT my friend is an important thing to remember. Fail your way right to the top and keep on keepin’ on!

And wow, to be laughed at by a superior for an idea could have easily derailed your entire career…instead it fueled an entire life for you. 

Moments like that are hard, they’re embarrassing, and it would be easy to bow your head and let it defeat you. He will never know how pivotal that moment was to me. Publicly laughed me right out of his office and into a new adventure that I’d later be forever grateful for.

It’s quite the amazing story to go from little Oriskany to turning your life upside down in a different country. We’re you on your own at that point in your life, where it was a “simple” decision to just say, screw it, I believe in myself enough to give this a shot? It’s funny to hear some people say they “can’t” do something like start a business when there’s plenty of proof in people like you that have thrived after dumping the 9-5 life. 

I was on my own. I had no strings attached to where I was living, or anywhere really at that time. I can’t say it was necessarily a “simple” decision to have left my country and taken on that kind of risk with literally no money, but I remember that I didn’t hesitate. I was so busy DOING that I didn’t question myself once. I was fearless at that time in life. Maybe it was confidence, maybe it was ignorance? I’m not sure but I’m certainly glad I did it!

Well I put “simple” in quotes for that exact reason…no strings attached, no other humans feelings or life to worry about at that time. It was sort of the perfect storm to be able to follow your dream at that time. And isn’t it funny how confidence/ignorance can sometimes be interchangeable? haha. They say “ignorance is bliss” for a reason. How did others in your life react to your relatively split second decision to dump the life as you knew and become Mexicana? Parents, close friends, other family members? We’re they extremely supportive or did they think you were out of your mind?

That’s a great question. I think at first, the person I was most nervous to tell was my Dad, but not very surprisingly, he was SO SUPPORTIVE. He shared with me that ever since I was little,  growing up in a cushy comfortable life in my small hometown of Oriskany NY, he would worry that I may not branch out… see new places… make myself uncomfortable in order to push myself.. yet there I was saying “hey Dad, I think I’m going to move to Mexico in a few days and try and start this ambitious business.”. He basically said; Do it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. He was right. My Mom and Dad both work for the airlines and they’ve always traveled for a living, so I don’t think it was as big of a deal to them as it would be to most parents.

As far as my friends go, mostly supportive, some judged and talked about me behind my back (those ones are no longer friends, because real friends don’t do that to you). The thing is, I didn’t give myself time to care what anyone thought. I just went full speed ahead and somehow landed on my feet. This kind of move weeds out the toxic people in your life. As a result, the friends I hold near and dear to date are THE BEST. I only surround myself with those who uplift me, and I return the favor unconditionally.

So when you say you “did it” by filling that white space, what exactly are you referring to? And obviously this didn’t come without fighting tooth and nail with giant competitors, and my favorite, unscrupulous Mexicans who thought they could pull one over on the tall blonde American girl…. oh little did they know hahaha. Like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Some of my favorite stories involve some speaking Spanish under their breath to you and you bust out the fluent Español! Did you naturally have the confidence to deal with these types of people and companies or is it something you built along the way? 

Well, when I arrived in Cancun, I remember I had $740 dollars in my pocket from my last tax returns. I had no idea where to start. I mean hell, I went to art school and there I was trying to start an international event agency with zero capital to invest. I used my contacts to find leads who would produce a customer base and eventually I formed a relationship with a small travel agency in Canada, then another small travel agency in France, etc. They would send me their Cancun travelers and I would set them up at the clubs. After a few solid months and a heap of positive reviews, word spread and I began generating my own direct client base.  

You’re right that the Mexico side of it was a bit trickier. Luckily, I had contacts in place from my previous time spent in Cancun so I knew who I needed to talk to in order to secure working contracts at all the major venues. That said, knowing who they are and getting an actual sit-down meeting with them are two different stories. Back at that time, Mexico was (and still is in a lot of ways) full of that macho sexist mindset where women “can’t be” leaders, “can’t” run businesses and “don’t deserve” the same respect professionally. There was one Director of Sales specifically that refused to meet with me. He happened to run the accounts for the biggest clubs in the entire city of Cancun so I had to find a way. After weeks of reaching out the old-fashioned way and being snubbed, I decided I would sit outside of his office and wait until it was time for him to leave for lunch. Eventually he came out and on his way to his car, I forced our first meeting as I trailed behind him not taking no for an answer. It wasn’t as easy for him to say no to my face, so I got the sit down and ultimately made the deal. To be honest, I look back at that moment and I think “How in the actual hell did you find the nerve to sit outside that man’s office uninvited? How did you have the balls to follow him until he agreed to meet with you? You’re a crazy woman, woman!” Full disclosure, 10 years later and he still looks the other way when I walk by, but I now run one of the most well-known vacation event agencies in Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas so it is what it is. Don’t let one single person road block your success, no matter how hard they try.

That story is freakin fantastic and I’m picturing the movie….he looks like Pablo Escobar

Who is playing Ashley in the biography of your life? He comes out of his office and there’s this tall blonde American girl speaking Spanish, asking him if he’d like to extend his car warranty. Can you remember the exact conversation you had with him? This is sales(wo)manship at it’s finest. You used the regular channels of communication, and being ignored certainly isn’t a “No”, at least not in my book haha, so you just randomly show up at his office. Did he have a secretary at the time? 

He did have a secretary, two actually, but there was a glass wall separating them from me. When I walked up there was randomly a single chair sitting outside, so I planted myself there and what I do remember like it was yesterday are the nerves I had in the pit of my stomach sitting there and waiting for my moment.  

To answer your question, if anyone is playing me, I’d like it to be Blake Lively because #GOALS.

And aren’t those feelings in your stomach crazy when you’re doing this for yourself? Like you could puke but would totally do it again like a rush of adrenaline.

We often hold ourselves back because of that pit in our stomach but we shouldn’t let it stop us. How will you grow if you don’t make yourself uncomfortable? The simple answer is you won’t. Butterflies are a positive thing when it comes to your love life, right? What makes your professional life any different?

People have a much more difficult time ignoring someone in person than they do through email or phone calls. Sometimes it’s just that next step you have to take in sales to get what you need/want. When I have people ask me, how do I get more sales, or more often it’s someone just starting off and asking how do I get sales…I’ll tell them, I literally make a list of close to 100 people and I then message them…people balk at the idea. I think back to when I started at the tv station, which was only 10 years ago now, and I was going through the PHONE BOOK to make a list of prospects that I would then DRIVE TO in my suit and tie and drop off a business card…..that entire friggin sentence is dated and disgusting to me lol. So I can empathize with you sitting outside an office and waiting for someone to be there…however not in a foreign country where I was also looked down upon because of my gender haha. 

When you first started did you use your ex boss as a motivating force? I know when I first started out so much of my motivation came from wanting to simply prove my previous employer wrong about firing me years back. I don’t think it’s motivation that can be sustained long term because if you reach beyond what they’ve done, now you need to find new motivation…but I feel like a lot of business ideas are born out of “pain” or trauma and the feeling of “what do I have to lose?” 

YES, I did. Gotta love that revenge-driven success. My favorite moments in the beginning were when the same guy that laughed me out of his office traveled down to Mexico and saw my team (which was often bigger than his own) manning our section full of happy clients at the clubs. I couldn’t care less about him now but you’re right, that is the beauty of it. His mockery drove me to prove him wrong. Once I did, and once I saw how incredible my business, and quite honestly entire lifestyle, had become as a result, I look back at the once mortifying moment with gratitude and amusement.

And Blake is a lovely choice. Love her in Accepted and Savages!

Blake Lively's Preserve: An Obituary | Vanity FairMay be an image of 1 person

She’s such a boss, isn’t she? On an unrelated note, I’d also love to own her shoe collection… hey, a girl can dream.Blake Lively Shoe Collection news | Glamour UK

I think your art is a super important part of your journey…a passion that you were more or less nervous to unveil, but 2020 with another example of, sorry about your plans, butttt how well can you adjust type moment.  You took the pivot as gracefully as you could and tried to turn things into a positive. Of course 2020 is difficult to look at as a whole from a positive perspective, I think it helped people find new ideas to survive. And you’re absolutely right, it’s those streams of income that differentiate you from most of our peers. I learned growing up, you got a job and you just lived. Wasn’t until a few years ago I learned that those little streams of income, tend to lead to even bigger bodies of water. 
Haze_RoomAllure_Room
 
With travel coming back, what’s your focus on now? After Dark had started to make great progress in Cancun and you also added Cabo and Puerto Vallarta to destinations you can provide entertainment option to guests…Will you continue growing that while also building out your new venture? 

That’s right. 2020 taught me a lot. It was NOT easy to accept that my bread and butter business was going to suffer for a bit and there was very little I could do about it. Depending

 on the government (barf) to assist to keep my doors open wasn’t going to do it, but neither was accepting my role as a “victim” in the situation.  So, I used the time as wisely as I could. I spent a great deal of time enhancing After Dark’s website and beefing up our offers for when travel started to thrive again. I also began to monetize my artwork and my husband and I dove into real estate investing a bit! To answer your question, yes! I have an awesome team working alongside me, specifically my incredible assistant, and as a result of that I have full confidence that I can continue to do it all. Who needs sleep, anyway right?   

I think you prove a great point with what I’ve seen from most of my clients and friends is that the “unstoppable” ones took 2020 and went with the flow. Every single person in 2020 could have easily found a reason to be a victim or to take the year off or to blame someone else. People I look up to all took the appropriate amount of time to “grieve” the loss of the lives we had prior to the pandemic and then adjusted. The ones that stood by waiting for the government or for help from outside sources, floundered or failed. I will never forgive any government that forced small businesses to completely shut down operations without fully compensating them. The big corporate companies were allowed to remain running while the smaller folks struggled, that part was horribly mismanaged and crushed millions of people’s dreams. How long into 2020 did it take you to say, ok the realist in me says, yup this is going to suck, but what now? I think I was in a fog for about 3-4 weeks of the shut down until my mind finally decided that this is gonna go for a while, it’s time to figure out a plan of attack for not only myself, but for clients too.

Man, it’s so true. It took me about 8 weeks if I’m being totally honest. I felt really sorry for myself for a hot minute. Then I tried the optimistic mindset; “This will be over soon”. When it turned political and I saw the world go into an actual uproar, I buckled in for the long haul. I knew we were in for a bumpy ride. I just didn’t know how bumpy it would get. So much to unpack there…. but I digress. A topic for another day, I suppose..

I think we could talk 2020 for hours on end, from benign to the crazy, but I want people to understand that the initial trauma was certainly common for many people, but again it came down completely to reaction! First way didn’t work, next way nope, finally the realist in you sets in and you turn to problem solving. 

Our world is always changing. We’ll never be able to stop flexing and 2020 showed us this hard and fast. Stay ready. Stay on your toes. Have a plan, and a backup plan, and a backup plan for your backup plan.

I’m grateful to have learned about passive income and how to make money from the online space as it’s become the necessity rather than the option now. Building up all these revenue streams is truly the only way to become wealthy. How many different revenue streams have you opened for yourself now? Obviously you have After Dark, your paintings, expand a little on your real estate stuff (are you buying and flipping, leasing, air b&b’ing)? Do you do any investing in stocks or cryptocurrencies? I used to think growing up, that’s all you needed to live was a “job”, but life is really changing for many, and it has been for a long time. The pandemic I believe is going to speed along automation, robotics, and AI and even more people are going to lose their “job”, so I think it’s good to see what other successful people are doing to sort of safeguard themselves from any kind of repeat of 2020. Some of my passive income involves starting my online shop through Zazzle, setting up a partnership with an IT company to handle client hosting and I get a percentage from them. I do affiliate sales through Utica Hemp and receive 15% from them for sales I generate. My crypto portfolio is up over 50% since starting. My goal is to never let anything in life crush me to the point of business non-existence, or to be too reliant on one source. 

Well, After Dark is now in Cancun, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. I also recently started another branch of the business called The Trip Planning Experts. I’ve hand-picked some amazing team members from my After Dark crew and we now offer full fledge trip and event planning with a focus on celebrations within the US. The world hasn’t haulted, people are still having huge life events and they deserve to be honored. So, whether it’s a bachelor or bachelorette party, a weekend road trip, a full-on wedding or even a small baby shower in their own backyard, we take it on and make it unique, creative and unforgettable. I actually get incredibly excited whenever I am working on anything related to The Trip Planning Experts because this is where I thrive. I love planning the perfect getaway or an event that people will talk about for years to come. I could ride that wave all day and night!

Outside of the tourism and event space, I have my artwork, real estate and diversified investments. I haven’t jumped on the crypto currency train but I’m so glad to hear that it has been successful for you! There is no one size fits all when it comes to investing, I just do what works for me based on my circumstances. For those reading, Dave Ramsey is a great starting point for someone looking to invest for the first time.

I agree with you whole heartedly that passive income is the real MVP, which brings me to real estate. Long story short, my husband and I bought our first home when we moved in together in Florida and when we moved to Texas this year, we decided to try out the short-term vacation rental strategy with our Florida home. There are so many ways to invest in real estate. Everything from REITs to BRRRs, to flips and the list goes on. Real estate is not a get rich quick investment, trust me. It takes time and patience and as fun as it can look on HGTV, my best advice is to tread lightly, talk to other people who have done it before you and don’t over-extend yourself. The guys at Bigger Pockets have some awesome, easy to digest podcasts that really take away the intimidation that comes with the world of real estate!

Real estate is one of the initial passive income thoughts people pursue as it’s one of the most trusted and you can become quite wealthy…but boy that doesn’t come without risk and annoyances haha. Other passive income ideas to pursue for people include writing ebooks, teaching an online course, selling your knowledge or experience in any number of ways. Is there a way people are able to book your place in Pensacola? 

Sure is! Linking here: https://abnb.me/xXwjkocqqfb – Pensacola is an incredible hidden gem on the emerald coast of Florida’s panhandle. The beaches have been voted #1 in the entire US and Downtown Pensacola literally has something for everyone; from history to shopping to local cafes, restaurants and bars galore!

I’ve learned a whole lot in the last 8 years working with business owners and deep down were all so similar. I’ve attributed so much of my growth recently to reading self help and entrepreneurs books along with listening to a couple of great podcasts, The Mike Dillard podcast and RealAF with Andy frisella which used to be the MFCEO…hearing stories from truly successful people and how much their stories and struggles mirrored my own, that really helped guide me more towards helping others. Helping others is one thing I can fully control and it almost always makes me feel better. 

I’m the same way, I’ve finally reached that comfortable level with my decision that I look back at that time as a great experience that put me on the path that I am now. How could I possibly be angry anymore about it? Same for you, not like youd be angry and want to still work there. Success means not too much time for grudges and regrets. 

That initial fear of acceptance from whoever it is in your life also seems to be common. I remember telling my parents what I wanted to do basically with no notice. Said I want to quit the tv station and get back into doing graphic design. They were extremely supportive even though I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times of struggle where I was fairly asked if this was worth it…it is and always will be to me. 

Friends are difficult for sure. I’ve noticed that some people truly can’t understand just the mental toll business ownership takes on someone unless you do it. I’ve had a couple of different types of jobs. Hourly jobs, salary jobs, commission jobs…owning a business is something entirely different times 50 because not only do you have to strive to make sure your product or service that you specialize in is near perfect, you have to somehow learn alllllll the other aspects of owning a business. Your brain never stops. When 5pm rolls around I used to leave work at the office and fuck off. Now I still fuck off, but my mind is almost always in motion with ideas or song lyrics haha. It was hard to find genuine friendships with people that really understood everything I’m trying to do.

They say you are a product of the 5 people you surround yourself with most, so level up! Dream big, work hard and keep your circle dynamic!

You’ve taken a fantastic approach to this…you started off VERY micro in the sense that you gave people the perfect CANCUN vacation experience. Then you’ve slowy added new locations over the last few years and now opened up the opportunity to plan party trips for the entire US…that micro approach to JUST Cancun helped you really become a true expert in the nuances of travel and especially international travel, now outside of obtaining the audience, planning the trips opens you up to so much more…do you think if you had done this in reverse you’d have the same success or the macro approach to the entire country would have been harder? 

I tell people ALL THE TIME, do not rush your success. Start small, perfect what you do well and grow slowly. I wouldn’t have even known where to start if I did this in reverse. I saw the path for After Dark in Cancun, and I mastered that before expanding elsewhere. Now, I can confidently say no matter where you are going, I got you. My talented team and I will meet and exceed your wildest expectations. If you’re coming to Mexico, After Dark holds a five-star reputation for a reason: https://afterdark-entertainment.com – If you’re looking to plan an amazing trip or unmatchable event in the US, we’ve truly earned our title of “planning experts” and we’re here to help you: https://thetripplanningexperts.com  

I think we need to let folks know about your art and the types of pieces you’re looking to do for people. I’ve seen your simplistic woman themed art you’ve done and I think that can be a great idea to keep pushing for all the strong women friends out there. I’d love to help you get some more pieces to add to your collection! 

I appreciate it, Nick. Through my creative work, I hope to express empowerment, appreciation and feeling above all else. Emotion is what makes art powerful. If you profoundly feel my artwork, I’ve done my job as an artist. My website can be found here: https://artbyashleyverrill.com and my Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/art_ashleyverrill/

Ash I can’t thank you enough for taking some time to do this and help me build out my blog. Eventually a podcast will be born and I hope you’ll be one of my first guest so everyone can continue to follow along with your awesome journey. Can you drop some links to where people can reach you for any trip planning to Mexico or within the US now, commissioning you for art pieces or even ask you about your rental properties?  Rock on boss lady and keep kicking ass!

Thank you for having me. It’s always fun talking with you and I humbly hope my story can give someone the courage to take their own leap of faith. Consider me on standby for that podcast!

After Dark Events & Entertainment: https://afterdark-entertainment.com / https://www.instagram.com/afterdarkcancun/

The Trip Planning Experts: https://thetripplanningexperts.com  / https://www.instagram.com/thetripplanningexperts/

ART by Ashley Verrill: https://artbyashleyverrill.com / https://www.instagram.com/art_ashleyverrill/

AirBnb Pensacola Vacation Rental: https://abnb.me/xXwjkocqqfb

Scott Grates Interview

This week’s blog post is going to feature someone pretty damn special. He’s someone I’ve known since high school, not that he knew me because he was WAY older than me. I consider him a friend, mentor, and one of the most successful people I know. He’s managed to succeed in an oversaturated service industry that every single person in this country needs, even though they may not necessarily want to pay for it. Not only that, now he teaches others how to do exactly what he’s done, while focusing on the most important part of any company….its customers. Scott Grates owns a little State Farm Insurance Agency in Ilion, NY and while it may be small in size, it’s impact on the community is huge. He’s also taken that success and founded Insurance Agency Optimization, taking everything he’s learned and built and helping other insurance agents do the same.

One of the main reasons Scott has succeeded is the importance he’s placed on trust, honesty and always making sure every situation for every customer is a win/win. With how much I’ve learned from him personally and just from indirectly seeing the impact he makes, I thought it would be great for people to hear straight from him how and why he’s making the moves he’s making. 

Scott, thanks for taking the time to do an old school back and forth email. I think it’d be good to give people a little bit of background on how you got started on your own, how did you fare those first couple years out in the scary business world, and now that you have that perfect 20/20 hindsight vision what would you have done differently, better, or sooner?

Thanks for having me “young Nick.”

My background in a nutshell…

Graduated with a journalism degree (I planned on being the next great sports reporter for the newspaper).  Now, many reading this may be asking what’s a newspaper.  So, I guess I am really old!

Unfortunately (or as it turns out fortunately), I had a ton of debt after graduating college. the newspaper offered me a job, but it was for $6 an hour at the time.  Yeah, that wasn’t going to cut it.  I hit the job boards and saw an opportunity to sell furniture on nights and weekends and thought to myself, how hard can that be?  As it turns out it was REALLY HARD.  But, it turned out to be a fantastic way to cut my teeth in the sales industry.

Now here is the part where I “yadda, yadda, yadda” the next 14 years.  During that time I become a top 5% producer nationally in the new home construction industry.  Then, the housing bubble burst and I was out of a job.  What came next?  I became a top 5% producer nationally in the mortgage industry.  Then, the market crashed in 2008 and I was out of a job.  What came next?  Insurance.  Why?  RESIDUAL INCOME.

I was sick of the month to month sales grind and I was sick of working like mad to build somebody else’s business (only to be back to square one) as soon as markets shifted.

At the age of 32 I decided to start over.  I put my family on a “beans & rice diet,” cancelled all future vacations and drove an old Honda Civic with over 100,000 miles.  Starting your own business from scratch is less than “glamorous.”  I was working 70+ hours a week, stressed to the max, paying through the nose for employees and keeping $0.00 for myself.  Just the opposite actually.  After all the dust settled after my first 18 months I still hadn’t taken a paycheck and was over $30,000 in debt.

Honestly, it was the most fun I ever had.

Yes…I’m that kind of strange.

This is why I consider you a mentor. Your path and my path have been very similar. You had to have felt on top of the world during years in sales where you were in the top 5%, and then to have it all ripped out from under you, where was your mind at when that happened? I think a lot of people can relate to that with everything that happened in 2020, and honestly what’s probably even going to happen in the next couple of years. Do you think all of these major ups and downs have helped build who you are today? I think a lot of people look at success as something that either just happens or it’s immediate and long lasting, and I’ve sure as hell learned that it couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Sacrifice. That’s the key to take away from your story to starting your own business. It’s so hard to think that, “I built a great life early on and now to think I have to start over and suffer again?” I think that thought stops many people from chasing their dreams. It’s so hard to say to yourself, alright self, I did what I was supposed to, I went to college, I got a career, and I’m completely unfulfilled…now what the hell do I do? My opportunity was simply born out of straight frustration with life, and I didn’t have a family to support at the time. How did you convince your wife that this was the way to go? Obviously you’re a great salesman/woman/person (see, I can attempt to be PC) so that helped, but she had to be slightly hesitant to the thought of working backwards, or was she completely on board because you’re just that awesome? 

I was lucky in the sense that I only had myself with no overhead, no office, no employees…just trying to fill my schedule with projects. You went full bore and 18 months in you were having a blast, but the numbers were showing red…was there a point where you thought I have somehow offer something different from other insurance agents?

Regarding my mindset when things crashed in 2005 and then again in 2008…it was tough.  It was humbling.  It was frustrating.  I was angry that I had spent so much time and energy, late nights, weekends, missing out on social events all to advance my career only to learn I was nothing more than a number on a spreadsheet in the end.

It was also scary financially.  When I left college I was obsessed with making money.  I chased money so I could buy materialistic crap that I thought would validate my “success.”  I wrote down $30,022 on a post it note.  That was the HIGHEST ANNUAL income my father ever earned working in an awful factory (pre-OSHA days) during his entire career.  I vowed to do better.  In February of 2014 I earned ONE monthly commission check of $32,000.  I obsessed about money, I found it and quickly realized I was never more UNhappy in my life.  How is that for irony?

One year later I was out of work, forced to sell a house we couldn’t afford at a $70,000 loss and was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Through tough times and adversity, you find out who you really are.  It was then I realized money wasn’t my WHY.

Regarding the sacrifice question…you are spot on.  Too many people don’t take chances and pursue their dreams because they are working towards somebody else’s agenda.  They are trapped in the “this is what I’m supposed to do” or “who I’m supposed to be” mindset.

My wife…I can truly type all day about how amazing she is, truly.  Funny you talk about “selling her” on the idea of starting a business.  I say all of the time the greatest “sale” I ever made was convincing her to marry me.  But here’s the simple answer…I build teams and family is no different.  My wife and I lead “Team Grates” and we have since 2002.  We have a clear vision for what makes our team successful, we have clearly defined roles, we have very open and honest discussions around all decisions and we trust and respect each other.  Do we always agree?  NO WAY!  But that’s healthy and part of what makes us a great team.  We are both passionate about winning and living the vision for our best life.  With the decision to start the insurance business (and each business there after), we weighed all options and ultimately trusted that we’d both do what needed to be done to move us closer to where we wanted to be.

Speaking of  “all in with no return question”…self-doubt will cripple a person’s ability to take action and with no action nothing ever happens.  We’ve always had a “No Plan B” mindset.  It’s either “all in and don’t look back” or don’t bother with everything we do.  I can honestly say even during my darkest, scariest moments I never questioned the path I was on.  I like to gamble.  I learned early in my life that the best bet I could make…was going all in on myself.

I had those same exact feelings when I was let go as a graphic designer in 2010. Unemployed for 365 days on the dot from that point forward. I beat myself up constantly over this “missed opportunity” of having my career job established and then to find out I was the most expendable of a small group of employees, it hurt like hell. Then I was stuck in unemployment hell where I had at least 40 interviews for graphic design type jobs over the next year, didn’t have enough experience for some, had too much for others, most were less than I was making prior, some were even less than I was making on unemployment. I was a top 3 candidate for a dozen jobs and never could quite get the offer. I had a horrible view of myself during that time. Finally getting that job at the tv station in sales I think really changed everything. I had no choice but to, as you said, “cut my teeth in sales.” And I definitely learned that selling television advertising just after a financial crash in the 170th ranked market in the country was easier said than done…well I learned that selling was the easy part, getting people to keep going and paying was another story. Having to go through those struggles helped forge the business I’m growing today though. 

Chasing money seems like a blast when you first start doing it right?? When I had a job, you know what you make for the year and you budget it out, now, I make as much as I put into it, and that chase initially is exhilarating. But that’s exactly what it was, a constant chase, figuratively and in my case sometimes literally…had clients putting money in their garage, under shit, around shit…just exhausting. I finally learned that even if I got “rich”, this formula just isn’t sustainable. I keep saying, and I probably heard it from somewhere, that “rich people go broke because they lack the main thing wealthy people have and that’s knowledge.” And I think part of that knowledge is without question to figure out WHY the hell do you get out of bed every morning? Then how can you leverage that into making money? I ran across a podcast with Simon Sinek right around the same time we connected and you both were preaching the exact same thing that resonated with me and it was trying find your WHY. It finally dawned on me that I wasn’t really a graphic designer at heart, and I wasn’t a salesman at heart…but what I did find out that I loved to do was to help small business owners or even Multi-level marketers how to create success. Everything changed for me from that day forward.

I think you give a lot of great advice for folks that may want to follow their dream but so much of their life is intertwined with their partner. It’s one thing to go off on your own with no one else to worry about, but it’s a completely different story when your decisions affect your loved ones. You started right in your own home with honesty and integrity and respect…and then built your entire company around those same qualities. I think most people can agree that the insurance industry as a whole, to the consumer, is full of shady convoluted bullshit to confuse us so we have no idea what the hell were paying for? I’m right, right? Do you think this is how you’ve been able to take a small insurance company and corner a huge market share in our area? I think so many people can benefit to learn how to sell to people in an industry that’s oversaturated. I have a lot of friends doing MLM (multi-level marketing) and frankly social media is flooded with stuff constantly from everyone. Then there’s plenty of small business owners in the trades that know their trade, but don’t know a lick about customer service or sales…what advice do you have for these folks to stand out in a sea of nonsense? 

Ha ha ha…well, I’m not sure I’ve ever been told my industry consists of “shady convoluted bullshit” before, but you do bring up a good point.  Regardless of the product or service you are offering it’s important to understand your market and also the perceptions and/or misconceptions associated with it.  I quickly learned that people dislike things they don’t understand, and most don’t understand insurance.  This industry is also much different because we sell an “invisible product.”  People make purchases based on emotion, not logic.  So, when something looks, good, smells good, tastes good people want it.  However, insurance is a logical product which extracts zero emotional attachment.  And finally, insurance is a commodity.  Yes, there are differences company to company and policy to policy, but at its core about 90% of the protections are the same.  

Knowing all of this I took a contrarian approach to the agency.  For starters, I do not SELL insurance.  Instead, we educate people on how it works when they need it the most.  We share real claims stories from our community to bring to life the reality of the hidden risks we all face.  Once people understand how it works, then they can make decisions that make the most sense for them should they ever find themselves in certain situations.  

Next, I had to create a unique and memorable customer experience.  My mantra is “If you aren’t unique, you are weak.”  When everyone is doing business the same way, do yours the other way.

And finally, people want to feel special, they want to be a member of a tribe that makes them feel appreciated.  We always lead with our hearts and everything we do is to improve the lives of our customers (big or small).

So my best advice for other small business owners?  Answer this question…what problem does your business solve for people?  Then, become OBSESSED with satisfying THAT problem.  Too often new entrepreneurs focus on their own needs or their products and services and they miss the boat on the ONLY thing that matters...how does what you offer make the person’s life you are offering it to better?  What’s in it for THEM?  Always start and end with that question.

People do business with people they KNOW, LIKE & TRUST.  Become that person and you cannot fail.  

  • Educate others

  • Help make their lives better.

  • Be unique.

  • Be memorable.

  • Make others proud to be associated with you.

  • Don’t look for blessings, instead BE a blessing.


Ok maybe I was a little harsh about your industry, but I think you’re right when it comes down to, it seems to be made intentionally complicated where you need a specialist to help you…similar to the credit industry, anything to do with law…just seems some things are made harder to fool people. But that’s where you come into the game with your approach on not SELLING insurance, but teaching people about it so they can make the best choice for themselves and their families, and much of the time you’ve proven that they choose you and your team. So much of that comes down to that team you’ve built and how you’ve taught them to talk to people on a personal level rather than a business level. 

That was the major change to my approach that I took about 5-6 years ago also, which you were a major force behind that shift in thinking, where I went from wanting to be this “Mad Men” style advertising agency with the big fancy downtown office and the fancy cars and the power suits and all that….then I realized a lot of that was everything I hated about the business world. The idea that you had to wear a nice suit and tie to be successful. I learned that you’re successful in whatever makes you most comfortable. I don’t want to work with every single person on the planet, mostly because I learned I don’t like a majority of them haha. But the people I do work with, they are like family to me, many of them have become some of my closest friends and confidants. The first thing I try and tell new clients is that we’re in this together…I don’t grow without successful client interactions. Same with you, you could easily just skate by doing the insurance gig yourself, grab up some of that residual income and then retire, but you keep thinking bigger and bigger. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for the future as I think your approach to sales is something that can translate to any number of industries, especially in this day and age of the “fake” and the “made up”. Authenticity is key and you have it in spades my friend! 

Thanks so much for the chat my friend and I look forward to many more of these in the future!

I often say the driving force behind starting my own business was it allowed me to throw away all of my ties!  I wore a suit and tie for the first 10 years of my career and hated every minute of it.  Why?  Because it just wasn’t me. If you are going to connect with people and be relatable to people you must be authentic. Well, it’s difficult to be authentic when you aren’t even dressed the way you’re comfortable dressing.

Here is some solid “business advice:”

BE YOU!

You have to be your own first believer in life and in business.  Once you truly believe you are worthy of greatness in your own heart and soul, that energy becomes contagious, and others will want to be around you and support your mission.

I’m a polo shirt and shorts guy in the Summer and sweater and jeans guy in the winter.  Nobody has ever been offended or put off by the fact that I don’t wear shirts and ties in the past and if I find somebody who is in the future…well, they just aren’t a person I’d care to work with.  You were spot on with your assessment that we don’t need ALL customers/clients, we only need the RIGHT ones.

As always, I’ve enjoyed our time together as well Nick.  I’m proud of all of the work you put into your business and helping others who are pursuing something on their own too. Keep fighting the good fight brother. None of it is ever easy, but all of it is worth it.

Cheers!

Thanks so much to Scott for the time. If you’re interested in getting a quote for any type of insurance, I highly recommend reaching out. Find his Facebook here or visit his website insurethevalley.com.

If you’re a State Farm agent and reading this, check out his Agency Optimization  system to improve the performance of your agency. 

If you’re looking for a good time, call Scott at 867-5309 (don’t if you’re in the 315 area code, I think it’s still Herkimer County Community College)

Thanks for reading everyone!

Embracing Change

I don’t consider myself much of an “expert” at anything. The expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” certainly applies to me. The one thing I’ve been forced to become an expert at is coping or responding to sudden and unexpected change. Whether it was from poor decision making or factors out of my control, I’ve had to deal with numerous instances of sudden change to my plans in life. From being fired as a graphic designer and living on unemployment for a year, to having a relationship end and having an empty house to myself, to losing myself to pill abuse, anxiety & depression, to failed business experiments, to losing my Dad suddenly…all of that from 2010-2018 prepared me for what was coming. Being forced to pivot quickly, sometimes without much thought being allowed to happen. 

I learned the importance of living simply and sacrificing what many people my age were doing at the time. I learned not to put all my financial eggs in one basket. I learned how to be happy by myself and alone in my house for long stretches. I learned how to stare out into the abyss and darkness but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how big the step. I learned the importance of becoming wealthy, not rich. Rich people go broke all the time because they lack what wealthy people have…knowledge. I learned the importance of creating as many online revenue streams as possible. Even on my worst of my anxiety days I can still get work done from the comfort of my living room. And where do all streams lead? To a much bigger body of water. 

Don’t let 2021 be a carbon copy of 2020 because of what’s happening, what’s happened or what’s gonna happen. Plans are great, they’re necessary and need to provide a map of where you’re going. But like most places on a map, there’s going to be numerous twists and turns. You may need to get outta your car and hoof it for a while. May have to climb a mountain or slug your way through a swamp to get where you’re going. But just don’t do what many people did in 2020, they stopped moving. KEEP MOVING. Don’t have a job? Crash learn a marketable skill.  Have a great job? Start a side hustle. Have a side hustle? Legitimize it. Wanna make that leap to entrepreneur? Do it. Have one business? Start a second one. Have those revenue streams set up? Invest in stocks or cryptocurrencies. Got all that figured out? Teach your family, friends and others how to duplicate your success. 

Make change happen so when the unexpected comes, you just ride the waves. 

3Zero’s 8 Year Anniversary and our 1st blog post

Eight years ago today, I woke up a different person. I awoke as a boss for the first time. No one appointed me that title. There was no immediate pay raise, as a matter of fact, I was at a couple of grand from a tax refund and a couple of measly commission checks left from the television station and that was it. I didn’t require permission from anyone to make myself my own boss. No one gave a shit about my education (which to this day, no client has ever asked me about where I was educated) or asked me what my biggest weaknesses are. My CEO from my advertising agency days didn’t make me a boss, nope I was fired from there…well I think they softened the blow by “eliminating my position”. My sales boss and my station boss from my tv days sure as hell weren’t going to put me in any kind of seniority position, I couldn’t even get people to buy local tv ads consistently. All I had were some skills like graphic design and some sales knowledge on how to get clients. 

When I woke up that morning, I had the name 3Zero but definitely didn’t feel like a business owner, I was just basically a freelancer out on his own. All I knew at that time was, I didn’t have an alarm clock to wake me up…I happily awoke even before my alarm would normally go off. It was February and I didn’t have to clean off my car, warm it for 20 minutes, or drive in a snow storm to get to work. I didn’t give a shit about my monthly or quarterly sales goals at the tv station…all I looked at was the next bill on the calendar. Professional tip, National Grid and Spectrum I routinely tell to go fuck themselves on payment dates…so far, I still have both. No more stressing about internal meetings, fake deadlines, made up budgets, bitchy coworkers, forced fun or any of the other shit that goes along with being an employee and having more than 25% of your life and time dictated by others. 

These eight years were built on the motivation to never want to work again for someone else. To never have anxiety because of a job or if I will have the rug pulled out from under me again. To never have to lie about not feeling good because I just wanted a day off. To never be told, you were 2 minutes late, you better stay 2 more minutes. To never have to “hope” that I could get that vacation time off and someone else didn’t take it. 

To think it was made this far though without challenges is laughable. Every single day is a hustle, but not that shitty hustle where you’re screwing people over to make a living. And every day you’re not hustling, you’re falling further behind your goals. I spent many days struggling to recover from failed personal relationships and friendships, general anxiety and panic attacks, pain killer abuse along with quitting those cold turkey and also starting on anti-depressants and all that goes along with those side effects. The waves of depression that come suddenly without warning. Having my best friend, my Dad die suddenly and coping with that change. I’ve had months where I made more money than I was used to making in 6 months…and I’ve had months where I didn’t make a single penny. I’ve sacrificed vacations and fun at times for work and responsibility because there was no one else to do it. I’ve sacrificed my once perfect credit score to realize that credit is ultimately for suckers and we shouldn’t have any money owed to large corporations. I’ve sacrificed the thought of “retirement” to live right now. My friend Scott told me, “people work their entire lives for a day that may never come.”, and that really hit home with me, especially after my Dad died. He fought for his country, he drove trucks cross country, and he worked his entire life to enjoy a few short years of retirement. I have vowed to not be that. I’ve chosen to make certain sacrifices in my life to enjoy the freedom of time, because that is the one thing you can never make enough of. 

Of all the things I’m most grateful for over these last 8 years, it’s not just that I’ve built an actual company and I don’t just feel like a freelancer trying to survive anymore. It’s not that I’ve increased my revenue every single year since I started, even during the great refuckening of 2020. It’s not that I have over 150 clients in Quickbooks and probably even more quick projects that involved the beauty that is the barter and trade system. It’s not even the numerous amazing connections and friends that I’ve made as I couldn’t even begin to thank them all. It’s that freedom that I know I own every single second of my day. The first thing I thought about after my Dad died, once that shock wore off, was how thankful I was that from 2013-2018 we spent more time together than at any other points in my life. We had coffee together during the week, we’d work on projects together, we’d go to camp together, we got the dogs together all the time, we talked business all the time….all those hundreds and hundreds of hours, would never have been had I been working my career type job. Time is the one thing you can’t obtain more of, you can’t purchase it, you can’t steal it, you can only take what you’re given and work within it. 

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, I still get told that. Most of my friends and family work for corporations, or the government, or the state, or in education…we need all those things…except politicians, for the most part they’re useless twat muscles. But I simply can not stress this enough to those of you that bounce from job to job, or you truly hate where you are at…make those sacrifices for a few years to build what you really want, because it’s true, once you find your passion or your “why”, you really do never have to work another day in your life. 

Thanks for reading everyone.

Nick