Ramon Ray’s first foray into small business was as a computer consultant, more than two decades ago. The lifelong Windows user – a self-identified geek – didn’t know why he was so drawn to technology from such an early age, but he built do-it-yourself electronic kits from Radio Shack (such as transistor radios) as a kid. His dad being an electrician also probably influenced him too. His comfort level with modern tools went hand in hand with a willingness to take on risk – something he compares with free climbing. Ray – who grew up in the Midwest, “where neighbors nod at each other and say hello” and later, New York City – projects an extrovert’s comfort with events and public speaking and pivoted toward remote versions of both during the pandemic. “I like small business. I like the hustle. I like the risk. I like working for myself. I like the freedom, the independence,” Ray says. “It's in me to do that art of creation and work with who I want, how I want and serve them what I want. That's why I started my second, third and fourth businesses.” He embraced the internet and blogging, which led to his current role: helping small businesses through news, trends and insights on his Smart Hustle site. A small but mighty team churns out stories and tips. The site is available year-round, but expects to see a spike of traffic during National Small Business Week, which runs May 1 – 7.“I love inspiring people and helping people live better lives,” says Ray, who has constantly adapted to technology and the times on his self-employed journey – which includes a stint at the U.N. (on an administrative level), a brief interview with President Obama and completing the FBI Citizens Academy. “If I can help a small owner grow their business, I enjoy it. Telling their stories, of their entrepreneurship, of black enterprise especially, energizes me.” Ray says Smart Hustle appeals to any kind of small business; but in particular, creators (such as podcasters), career coaches, authors and speakers gravitate to it. On it you’ll see profiles of small businesses, reminders to not fear failure and best practices. [caption id="attachment_177135" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Ramon Ray at a conference in Orlando in 2022 (Photo courtesy of Ramon Ray)[/caption] Ray, who chose to follow his entrepreneurial passion over jobs that wouldn’t let him pursue his side gigs, shares some important lessons he’s picked up along the way:
- Entrepreneurship is hard. Hire the right team to help you.
- Focus on who you’re serving.
- You don't have to scale big. There's that little sweet spot, a middle road where you can enjoy your craft and get paid for doing it.
- Be the “celebrity CEO” of your marketplace, build a community of fans.