Lead by example.Don’t ever ask a team member / employee to complete a task that you’re notwilling to do yourself. My partners and I are not above any task that we ask of the team. You can just as easily find me pitching a six-figure corporate event as you will packing up the van with equipment.
Respect those around you to earn respect back.The best way to earn respect is by giving it,not demanding it. Simple!
I had the pleasure to interview Tom Gambuzza. Tom is the Managing Partner at Elegant Music Group.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Surely! I was offered a full-time position at a small event and fundraising company right out of college and have been a part of the events industry ever since. Most of our customers were elementary schools and we would run their fundraising programs during the school year. My job was to oversee their end-of-year events and help them produce a “fun day”. While I was there, I picked up DJing as a side hustle because it was always an interest of mine. As a lot of side hustles do, it quickly became more of a full-time gig because of how rapidly my client-base was growing. This could not have come at a more fortuitous time. For several reasons, I became disenfranchised with the company I was working for over time so I ultimately had to make a career choice. Continue with being unhappy, but have a steady paycheck, or take a leap of faith and focus 100% of my attention on growing my side business. I chose the latter and have never looked back. Now our company, Elegant Music Group, produces and performs over 700 events per year which include weddings, corporate events, and social functions.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I made the difficult decision to leave the security of a weekly paycheck behind for something that, at the time, was very risky and unknown. What you’ll come to find about me, though, is that I’ll never sacrifice my happiness for money, and this was my motivation to never look back. Sure, there were scary times along the way not knowing how I was going to pay my car bill the next month, but being unhappy working for someone else was even less desirable to me. I was also dating my now wife at the time and decided to propose to her about 2 months after I left my full-time position so buying the ring was another financial commitment I took on. Turns out, marrying my wife and deciding to grow my business are the two best decisions I’ve ever made, so it all worked out!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
The funniest moments to me always come in hindsight because you don’t realize how ridiculous you are in those moments when they are actually happening. One day at my previous job, a co-worker approached me with an ad for a Forex trading course taught by a local chiropractor explaining how lucrative it could be. I was intrigued so we both set out to learn more about it. The course was expensive and I didn’t have the cash to pay for it outright so I decided to liquidate what I had in my 401k at the time. Well, it didn’t work out as planned. For me, the trading was hard to understand and I just didn’t end up pursuing it enough to become good at it. The result: I disrupted my entire retirement savings to take a course on trading foreign currencies from a chiropractor. Perhaps my humor is different than most, but looking back on it, I find that to be hilarious. The lesson I learned was that there is no such thing as a get rich quick scheme and if you are going to invest your resources, you better know a bit about what you’re getting yourself into.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In the events industry, especially when dealing with performers, there is no shortage of ego. Early on in growing EMG, one of our core principles was to never have ego and self-absorption be a part of our company culture or brand. While others are more apt to dish the “I’s”, for us, it’s all about “we”. It’s our belief that if we take care of the company, it will take care of us. Furthermore, this concept had to come from the top. As a business owner, my partners and I need to practice what we preach and lead by action. For example, when the pandemic first hit, our income streams were, of course, impacted pretty significantly. We huddled up and exhausted all of our options to see where we could nip and tuck company expenses, limit luxuries, and negotiate with vendors to salvage company cash flow. As the owners, we also knew that it was our responsibility to take a pay cut as well, which we did. This helped us retain our employees throughout the mess, and now we are in a much stronger financial position to move our company forward only several months removed from what could have been a much more catastrophic reality.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Balance is key and focus on what you are good at. Let’s start with balance. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day grind of growing your business and doing onlythat. While putting in the work is important, you need to make time for yourself and for your family. The people closest to you are often your biggest cheerleaders so consuming their energy will help you stay motivated when you’re back in the trenches growing your company. Next, focus on your strengths and hire your weaknesses. Focusing on what you are good at is not only best for you personally, but best for your business. We all possess a unique skill set that can be utilized for pushing the bar forward. Wasting time on things you are subpar at will leave you uninspired and feeling inefficient. Doing things you’re good at, however, will positively reinforce your motivation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife has been my rock and main support system throughout my journey. I can’t take full credit for making the decision to leave my full-time job because she was the one who inspired me to do so. I remember coming home one night after a series of frustrating days at my previous job and complaining to her about all the things I was unhappy with. She sat me down and told me to go in and resign the next day. My knee jerk reaction was that I can’t simply just do that. What am I supposed to do about a paycheck? It was at that moment she said we’re in this together and we’ll figure it out because my happiness was too important to her. You could see why I asked her to marry me, right? Needless to say, she’s the best teammate I could ever ask for.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I think a “good” company is one that has been able to establish a solid reputation, has admirable business practices, and lifestyle sustainability. To me, though, it’s more or less a “go through the motions” kind of operation. I think a “great” company encompasses all of those things, but focuses on growth at a few different levels. There’s business growth and then there’s personal growth. On the business side, increased revenue, profits, new hires, and socially responsible initiatives are all markings of a great company. I think a great company also motivates its team to continually grow and prosper individually. When people feel like they are doing meaningful work, comradery is high, and team goals are aligned, the company moves in the right direction and everyone involved reaps the benefits.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Communication is paramount.Breakdowns in communication from management to employeesor within individual teams is the common denominator for friction points. Look to eliminate any ambiguity by delivering news, updates, company policies, etc. clearly and concisely. When COVID first hit, our primary objective was to let the team know of any updates or changes in our operation as they came up. It wasn’t always the best news to deliver, but at least we can look back and say we didn’t withhold any information.
2. Your door always needs to be open. As important as communication is, welcoming concerns orfeedback is one of the best ways to let your employees know that they have a voice and, more importantly, that it matters. At first, this was a bit of a foreign concept to our team, but they’ve since grasped it and it has opened up a much better communication gateway. This allows us to address issues before they balloon into something more serious.
3. Lead by example.Don’t ever ask a team member / employee to complete a task that you’re notwilling to do yourself. My partners and I are not above any task that we ask of the team. You can just as easily find me pitching a six-figure corporate event as you will packing up the van with equipment.
4. Respect those around you to earn respect back.The best way to earn respect is by giving it,not demanding it. Simple!
5. Know when to have fun.It can’t beall work,all of the time. Keep your team engaged by havinga break in the workplace. Schedule a company outing or mid-day activity every now and then. We’ll do something like order lunch for the team at the office, or schedule a get together at the driving range.
Extensive researchsuggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Having a purpose for your business should be the driving factor every day. If you don’t have one, why get out of bed then? You need to have goals beyond increasing profits in order to keep you moving and working on meaningful things. In turn, this then becomes tangible for your customers which will create happier clients, better retention, and significant brand value. For us at EMG, our purpose is to supply our clients with access to the best event talent possible and having an unparalleled client experience throughout their life cycle with us. We do this by giving them tools and resources that none of our competitors are able to offer.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
You have to become more analytical and not be afraid of being your own worst critic. If the old tricks just aren’t working anymore, it’s time to look inward and audit your operation. For example, a 10 million dollars business has to ask itself much different questions than a 1 million dollars business. Are you exploring new marketing efforts and how are you actively trying to widen your sales funnel? Have you indulged in personal growth strategies or thought about linking up with a mentor? Are you surrounded by others who want to continue to grow with you? Finding new projects and expanding your network with the right people will help you re-spark your enthusiasm and propel forward with vigor.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Having the fortitude to march forward during turbulent times is certainly not for the faint of heart. For many, this current pandemic has presented challenges that no business has had to navigate before which makes everything especially difficult. I think the most successful people/businesses face adversity head on because they know that the alternative is shriveling up, and that simply is just not an option. The main strategy we used was a “buy low” mentality. Luckily, we were in a healthy enough financial position to stave off some of the dips that came with COVID, but we still had to deploy some unique strategies too. We audited our monthly expenses to become more lean, and negotiated with vendors to try and get more flexible payment terms to help with our cash flow. In addition, while most of our competitors adopted a “hoarding” mentality to hold on to what they had, we proactively tried to find new business by coming up with creative ways to expand our sales funnel. We are now forecasting to come out of the pandemic stronger than we were before.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
My answer to this is always centered around marketing. We all know that it’s important, but I see so many companies doing it incorrectly. Whether that is from a brand messaging or strategy standpoint, there is just always something to learn when it comes to marketing your business, especially now during
such a digital age. There’s SEO, PPC, Social, Email, Website, and the list goes on. How do you keep track of it all? It’s no longer enough to just have a great website. We’re constantly making tweaks to our strategies and looking at how we balance the allocation of our marketing budget on a monthly basis. It’s practically a second full-time job!
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Although it’s not the only game in town anymore,this is where a great website comes in to play. A great user experience is key. It needs to reflect your branding, your messaging has to be on point, and the site has to be easily navigable. Simple and frictionless navigation will lead to the customer contacting you much more quickly. One of the specific strategies we’ve seen work really well lately is the pop-up experience on our website. Before a customer “bounces”, we’ll give them one last chance for a special offer.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
You have to ask yourself what your thesis is. Of course, this can evolve over time, but on a macro level, delivering on your brand promise is the best way to build a trusted brand. There’s no better feeling than getting feedback from your customers citing that you did for them exactly what you said you would. As I alluded to earlier, our purpose at EMG is to give every customer that works with us a luxurious, unparalleled CX and we are maniacal about not letting anything get in the way of that.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
I think a great customer experience comes down to accessibility, the resources you give to your customers throughout their life cycle with you, and delivering on your brand promise. Great customer service simply cannot exist without a direct line of contact for your customers. In our business, we pride ourselves on our customers always being able to get a hold of us. The resources your customers have access to are equally as important. This can be an easily navigable website, technology features, and a frictionless buying experience. For us, we’ve invested heavily in the UX/UI design of our site, and we use third party applications to help our clients plan their celebrations more seamlessly. We then bring things full circle with exceptional talent and performers to give our clients an immersive event experience.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveysof United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
I don’t quite share this concern for our company, but I do see why businesses can look at it like this. Social media today is used in a way that wasn’t originally intended, and it certainly has the capacity to open up your business to unwanted exposure. With much more sensitive issues at hand in society these days, it can be confusing to navigate what posts are appropriate or misguided. If your intention
continually comes from a good place, I think you can use social media to your advantage and not worry about the associated risk.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Trying to grow too quickly without having the proper infrastructure. You will inevitably run into roadblocks, especially when first starting out. Having proper structure and processes in place will help you overcome the speed bumps when necessary without throwing you too far off-course.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find me personally on Instagram @emg_tommy and you can see everything EMG here:
Spotify: The EMG Podcast
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!