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Episode 047: Smashing the Plateau Podcast ft Eric Kasimov

Welcome to the podcast Entrepreneur Perspectives, building and protecting your business one podcast at a time, a KazSource family Production. In this episode, we discuss becoming an entrepreneur, content marketing as the ultimate insurance policy and finding one fan. This episode is a guest appearance I had on the Smashing the Plateau podcast. This hit podcast hosted by David Shriner-Cahn helps entrepreneurs overcome the roadblocks on their way to success.  David asked me to come into his podcast and talk about how we created a content marketing and how other entrepreneurs can apply these ideas to their business. Thank you to  David and the Smashing the Plateau podcast. It was an absolute honor to be featured by them and we encourage you to check out their podcast on Apple or Stitcher. On to the interview…  David Shriner-Cahn: Today I am pleased to welcome Eric Kasimov. Eric is the founder of KazSource, a multifaceted business development company that includes KazCM – a content marketing agency, SportsEpreneur – a content platform, and KazSource Insurance – a life insurance brokerage firm. He is also the host of the podcast, Entrepreneur Perspectives. For Eric and his team it’s all about helping entrepreneurs build and protect their business and that starts with creating opportunities through content marketing. Eric grew up in Buffalo, New York and remains a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan. He currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife a songwriter and their three kids. From now, he still wins every driveway basketball game he plays against his son. Eric, welcome to this show it is great to have you on.  Eric Kasimov: It is an absolute privilege to be here David, thank you for having me.  David Shriner-Cahn: So Eric, why did you become an entrepreneur?  Eric Kasimov: Well, really simply it was what I always wanted to do. When I grew up my father built a dental practice in Buffalo, New York and my grandfather-my mom’s father owned a life insurance agency in Niagara Falls in Buffalo, New York. So, entrepreneurship you can say was in my blood and the other aspect is that I don’t like being told what to do. So, I realized that at some point in my career I will have to be get to the position where I will be the one as the business owner to be the entrepreneur and I would have to put in my time and I educate a lot of people on making sure that you put in your time so when you get to that position that you can finally make that decision to become an entrepreneur that you have learnt a lot. You have gone through the ups and downs and I think it became a realization to me. My father used to tell me you are not in-charge until you are actually in-charge. This funny story is what led me out of my final journey of wanting to be an entrepreneur. I was on vacation in Cancun, Mexico and came back. I had been working a Sunday night for this large insurance company for a couple of years. I knew changes were on the horizon but I did not think anything drastic. I thought I was next up, right. For the next promotion, and sure enough I get in and there is three voicemails on my phone; this is when you checked the phone. It was not that long ago but still seemed some time ago. I was not checking my iPhone that is for sure and these voicemails made it sound like my company might not be around tomorrow, which would have been Monday. I told my wife that and she was like, “why don’t you go to the office on Monday and see what happens.” We were nearly married at the time. I show up to my office and sure thing I get off the elevator, there is security waiting to escort me to my cubicle, and sure enough, no one else was there except for a small skeleton crew. They escorted me to my desk had me grab my stuff. I was not allowed to get on my computer. I grabbed my stuff, walked out the door and that was the end of it. My job was over. That was the realization. Changes were made that I had no control over. Our business was doing very well. A new CEO had come in and just decided “…hey I don’t want to do this anymore. We want to make and change this entire division from the top executives down to administration was gone …” I realized at that point that I really needed to fast track this thing and this was real. What my father had told me was right and I always like to say when my father was right’ like I said before I do not like taking direction that well. But ended up finding a new position after a couple different opportunities had come up that I didn’t really like and turned out that I worked at a company for 9 years and really loved what I was doing in the life insurance brokerage world. But three significant changes during this time, I thought I was running my own business while I was at this company until every time they would come in and kind of be like change your comp line, change your rules, change leadership, etc. on the third significant change, I realized this has come to end and it fast tracked my decision to become an entrepreneur. This had been my goal, my dream all along to run my business but I did not want to just do it because that is what I wanted. I needed to know  that I put in my time, out in my effort and realized I was ready and had the people around me which I want to talk about more today to make sure that when I did make that decision I was doing it so I could have the odds in my favor. Taking it back to the very beginning when I was young to going through all these troubles and these ups and downs rollercoaster rides, that’s what it led for me to become an entrepreneur.  David Shriner-Cahn: Yeah, it is fascinating. Your story really resonates with me. I started my career as an engineer and like you a decision was made that had nothing to do with me that impacted my life. I was also newly married and suddenly I am unemployed and struggling to figure out what to do as well. I took a 20+ year detour from engineering into the non-profit world and ended up learning a lot about leadership and management before becoming an entrepreneur a little over a decade ago. You are right, nothing has the impact quite like somebody else making decisions for you that you don’t really want to be made.  Eric Kasimov: That is absolutely right and I think so many entrepreneurs have gone through these struggles and experiences. I say struggles in a sense of, I think we have to struggle in order to gain something. I tell my kids this all the time and they think I am crazy but you are going through these struggles for a reason. People are being put in your way for a reason. There are these obstacles, right? Once you achieve those obstacles and you see that you can overcome them, you realize that if it is not that big of a deal and you will get through it. Some days, you will think about it and be like, “why am I doing this?” but if you keep pushing through and you are surrounded by the right people then you completely believe in what you are trying to accomplish. The good things I truly believe will happen.  David Shriner-Cahn: Absolutely, so now fast forward to where you are today, I find it interesting that you have an interesting mix of the kinds of businesses you do and the way you do it. There is a major theme of content marketing.  Eric Kasimov: Absolutely, I truly believe in content marketing. When I was in college, I studied corporate communications, communciations, and business and what does all that mean? I do not know. But I was in school, I was having a good time and I knew I wanted to be in business in some sense. Taking it back even further, my mom was an artist and she was always using paints and canvas. I was always amazed that you can take this blank piece of canvas and turn it into something. Whatever you wanted to turn it into and that was an artist. I just was always amazed that in artist can take something from scratch and build it into something and I was like I’m not a painter, I’m not a musician, I love music too. You are going to talk to my wife, she is a songwriter, I was like how can you make music from scratch, and how can I do that. How can I do that for my business? And that’s how content creation came about. Well, I can write, I can talk about things; I have ideas I have like we just talked about before David. I have these experiences and I feel like I can give back to people I can help people. At the same time, I am helping myself, right? You are putting yourself out there; I believe helps yourself because you had better know what you are talking about if you are going to put yourself out there. So, it makes you want to read more do all these things so content creation became at the core of what we started doing. Along those lines, we talked about life insurance. Well, life insurance I feel like the whole industry is a very slow developing industry it is a slow growth industry. It is being distracted in many different ways and I thought the messaging and just life insurance in general was poor. No matter what part of the business you are in and if you are trying to sell to a consumer, you are trying to sell to an advisor, if you are selling to a large company or your software selling to somebody else no matter what area you are in I felt like the messaging was wrong. Or that it just wasn’t develop properly so we wanted to change that and we wanted to create content. Well, what it turned out to be is it was not just insurance people that started to see what we were talking about it was just business owners in general. So, we just talked to business owners about their content marketing needs. What do they need to get over the hill? Because there is two things that we see with a lot of the business owners: one is they don’t have the know how to do it and it doesn’t mean they don’t know how to do it. It’s they do not have the time to spend to learn how to do these things and on the second thing is not enough time. They do not have the time to actually think about and do the stuff that goes into. As you know, running this podcast David how much effort and time goes into putting this podcast out, what to write in it. So, taking it back, content marketing I believe is at the core what so many people are doing and you said it is an interesting mix. What I find fascinating is I believe, content marketing is the insurance policy for a business owner. Yes, we can sell you the buy sell agreement. If you have two business partners, there is a buy seller agreement that we can put in place to make sure, if one thing happens to that business owner that companies protected. But we also know that there’s other destruction that exist in the world today, whether it’s government, competitors, just a change in the marketplace. Who knows? There’s software, robots, there’s all different things that are being developed that I believe that you can create an audience if you can develop your message that if there are changes that really won’t impact you because you’re going to able to pivot to whatever it is you’re doing and build this audience. You are not considered possibly a thought leader. You have ideas that other people do not have and I think David and I hope you agree that ideas are what matters so much. Now you cannot execute on something unless you have that idea. A story that it home from me is, in 2015 of working on a significant life insurance case, in this life insurance case it had been multiple years in the making. Many different layers involved with this case and as it turns out, the client decided to proceed forward with his life insurance case. At the very last second against the Council of all of his side, not even my side, out of the equation decided back out of the deal at the very last second. That was the tough one to take because I remember getting that phone call, sitting there and thinking, “Wow, we just lost this case”. So many people were sitting there wasting time and I was like you know what? This one is different. You know, you win some and you lose some in business, but this one felt a little bit different. I even wrote a blog post about it so I feel like you can document so many stories that you have. It was just the realness of something that we had to deal with, but I was giving advice to people to not be distracted, to create content, to tell your story and I was going to make sure that that situation was going to be me following my own advice. That’s when we Doubled Down on the content development-the content marketing business if you will and it has grown significantly since then because I realize there was someone making a decision and we were talking about this before that I had zero control over. Once I realize it I had to go out there and I had to do certain things to make sure that we could create a business model that we did not have other people always making decisions out of our control and that we could control our future better and create recurring revenue or things like that. That our business would be better, that our people who worked at KazSource would be better off, that our clients would be better for it. So, it is absolutely at the core of what we do, it’s content marketing.  David Shriner-Cahn: Eric speaking of recurrent revenue and content creation, where do you see some of the connections?  Eric Kasimov: So, for the insurance business and I will tie these two things together, we built our business on the insurance, where we have a lot of advisors. So, wealth advisors, property casualty agencies and they bring in life insurance cases too. They are bringing consistent business to us, but as any business goes these advisors would not always have great months or great years. So is it seems like recurring revenue in a way and there is renewals was built in the insurance business but I am talking about you know mainline business. It seems like we had a recurring revenue model but we really didn’t because their business changed and then we also realized that we’re being held by the carriers to a standard to say if we submitted a case and the underwriters say they don’t want that case then I have no control over that. We can negotiate a little bit right but at the end of the day, we really do not have that control and that is a tough business model. When someone else that is the core of what we have been talking about is in control of what we are doing. That became an issue. We built a recurring revenue model. What turned out is if clients are paying us one-time engagements or annual engagements, most of our clients are paying monthly recurring fees to access us, to work with us, to get the content marketing. So, that is very different over this last few years of what we developed and it’s been an incredible way to continue to build a business since you can predict things now. Now I know like what the very minimum this is coming in as long as we do our good work of course and support our clients, which we try to do every single day. But if you have that monthly recurring revenue coming in, it really changes your outlook on the different things that you can do in business. So, it’s definitely been something new over these last two years that we’ve developed but the important thing I would want to get at is we’re not out there trying to get thousands of clients at a time. I am not saying that is a bad business model it is just not our business model. We are working with one client at a time to build a business model. We were lucky enough to have another business out there kind of supporting the growth of the marketing business if you will, right? So, what we decided is we just had to talk to individual business owners one at a time and we continued to do that today. We do not work with everyone. We do not want to work with everyone. The people we work with have to have a certain growth mindset. They have to maybe double a little bit and understand that content marketing or marketing is an important part of their business but they just want to know the time to do it. That becomes an important aspect of it but it really started with we had zero clients and then we have one client and we had two clients and then the we kind of grew from there, exponentially grew the business. I think when you are building that model at the very beginning; I took like a drop box or box and started with one client two clients, right? It just built up from there.   David Shriner-Cahn: Eric how did you figure out where the opportunity was to build clients on a monthly basis?  Eric Kasimov: Clients starting coming to us. I believe proof of concept is very important. It was just like David, you are asking someone to be on your podcasts. The first person you ask to be on your podcast might be like who’s podcast is this is? It is never going to last, why would I do this? You have to have proof of concept and I felt like our particular concept was our own business so you mentioned in the introduction SportsEpreneur – that is our content platform. When I started building SportsEpreneur, it was really just, I read a lot about business, entrepreneurship and sports. I love all those things. But I was like I just don’t want to create a Buffalo Bills blog, Ohio state blog or I don’t want to create another rival to entrepreneurship or entrepreneur magazine, right? That is not going to work out so I was like well how I can create parallels or analogies. So, we started writing about things because I found myself talking like that to sales people in our organization and so we created this website, started writing the content. We didn’t really know what was going to become of it but could see really early that people were then coming to me to say I want to talk to you about that and know about what else you do. They have to know about the insurance but you know that is not exciting to talk about and they were like if I were to do something like that could you help me do that. That became the way to build that business and to say this is what we can turn into a recurring revenue model. Clients now want to pay us more. We are not even asking for it. They say, I see what you are doing there can you do that for me. Now of course it would be something different. It might be in the travel, or might want to talk more just specifically about their business. Those became the things that they came to us for, that ultimately led to them saying, “We want to engage with you on a monthly basis where you take our money”.  David Shriner-Cahn: So, at this point given what has evolved who would you say is your ideal Brian?  Eric Kasimov: Yeah, so it is small business owners. That is not a tough question depending on who you are talking to. But anyone from one to a few people, companies that are under let’s say 20 employees. We want to deal directly with the decision maker because we realize if we start talking to someone who is not the decision maker it is going to run up a ladder. We have not built the relationship where they truly do not understand what it is that we are talking about. Once we have that conversation I believe they start to see it but it is someone who has a growth mindset, entrepreneur, has done some marketing in the past even on the smallest scale. They believe that a blog, podcast, or a video can actually help their business. We are not trying to convince the inconvincible. I think in time the inconvincible are getting more convinced that is just going to happen naturally and then they will come and want to talk about it. Then, you know, of course having the ability their business is going to be successful enough that they want to partner. They value partnerships, just like we value partnerships. They value it. I am willing to pay someone to help me do this and I think that is very important it is not easy to do I understand it. We have both relationships internally and externally and we value them because we realize that they are the experts. There is no difference than if we are an insurance specialist and we go to a wealth advisor. They realize that they are bringing us in to be the specialist. No different on the marketing side, they have the business they have incredible stories that is why we love talking to business owners. Business owners just like David you are telling me about your story, my story, other stories that exist out there, they have the incredible stories we want to help them tell that story but we realize how much time is involved with telling that story. It is not easy to do, trust me. When I started putting my first blog post out for talking on a podcast I’m like who is going to listen to this thing besides my mother and my aunt in San Francisco, California, right? Like they are going to be my biggest fans and that is great and maybe my kids will listen to it once in a while but who else is going to listen to it. So, it’s very hard to put yourself out there but I believe once you do it and if you have the support of someone that’s working with you that genuinely believes, we have to believe in that story, because we invest in business owners. I do not want to be out there working with the business owner that we do not believe in what their message is, what their business is but if we do now we can help that story and they can go on doing whatever they do best. We can just help craft that story for them.  David Shriner-Cahn: Yeah sounds great. Eric, what do you think are the most important ingredients to smash the plateau?   Eric Kasimov: Well, there are a few things and I will tell you the thoughts that come into my head. One, and I have mentioned this already, having trusted people and I said both internally and externally. If you are a solopreneur, I think that is great and I think you can form relationships but if, there are a couple of people. This is what I was leading to before. My business partner Shane Snively was a friend of mine and he was also someone that said if you ever build your business and become the entrepreneur that I know you want to become I want to be a part of that. I think it is like teaming up in football for example you need to have the offense in front of your defense. You finally are hired for that big head coaching job, you need to go find that offense and defense. Shane Snively became both of those things at the same time. You need to have those trusted people that truly believe in everything that you are doing but I also believe you need that externally as well. We live in the world now where we can have conversations like we’re having right now and you are in one state and I’m in another state. It is very easy to have a conversation with anyone anywhere in the world and they could become someone that is a trusted person that is a part f your network. So, you have to associate. That is why podcast became so important to me. I might not know the people that I’m listening to but I kind of feel like I do know when they tell their story. I also believe that you need one fan. I don’t know who that fan is like I said before maybe it’s your mother, maybe it’s your aunt, hopefully it’s someone who is in business as well. Because so many people are going to doubt, what you are doing and what you are saying like that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. But one fan alone, can change so much in your mind and if they’re a good fan, they’re going to help you believe in what you’re talking about. So, you can continue carrying that message because that thing might not hit home for a couple years and you really need that support. One thing we talk a lot about is refinement. You have to constantly refine your messaging, refine your story, your branding, your website, your business, whatever that is you have to refine it. We refine all the time. Sometimes I am refining it too much but I think it is very important to refine. Two more things is realization. This is a basic one of how incredible your phone is. I am just amazed what we can do on the phone with the social media apps, email, text, basic stuff. You have to do it the genuine way. Have real conversations with real people, real business owners and its amazing the stuff that it will lead to. Do not get me wrong. It takes a ton of time. That is how we built this agency to help business owners. Like you are saying smash that plateau. The last one is read and listen. When I knew I was going to build my business, I start reading and listening to books and podcast at a rate I never thought I could even accomplish. To a point where now I just love, it and I do so much of it. You can learn from stories, you can learn how to, you can podcast. I listened at 1X speed and I went to one and a half, I’m at two times. Now I can listen to something in an hour but it takes me 30 minutes to actually do. That is incredible for me.  The stories you can get from it, I will give you one quick example, is the Phil Knights book I am sure many of you have read it “Shoe Dog”. The stories you here out of business, you find that these amazing companies that existed where they almost went out of business. They were minutes away from their business being shut down and here you go and you have this company, Nike, which everybody knows about and you are realizing how the struggle was, or Amazon. Those stories t me, to a lot of entrepreneurs, they resonate. So I just say you have to read, you have to listen, you have to move fast and just really enjoy the entire process of it all.  David Shriner-Cahn: Eric, whom do you know personally, who has done a remarkable job at smashing the plateaus?  Eric Kasimov: Well, I want to give you if I could, three people.  David Shriner-Cahn: Sure  Eric Kasimov: I will move fast. John Priore, I think they are all in different levels. John Priore is our social media producer but he is an intern. He is a college student, soon to be graduate. We hear so much out there about college students that when they get out of college, they run into the plateau. Because they cannot get a job or they hate their job and life. They want to go back to college. I was there. I was like, what am I doing out here, I should have stayed in college for 6 years. Why did I graduate in 4 years but John became the intern for us. First of all, he found me on social media sent me message. We had a conversation, like we found a lot of our own clients on social media. Here is this person who came to me not just buy the old fashion way of sending me a resume. He just engaged with me and all the sudden he comes in as an intern, learns, proves his value, was willing to go on to the front lines. He is working full-time for us while in college. He is graduating in May. He will be here working in our offices starting in May. I think someone at a very young level let us smash the plateau. I will tell you this, now he is going to have to smash new plateaus. Then there is Cynthia Kay, who you may know from the national Small Business Bureau Association. Cynthia is a client of ours but she was stuck on building her brand but she saw the opportunity that if she could build her personal brand and not only would it help her business but also opportunities that she was looking for. The last one, I kind of touched on this at the very beginning. This is someone who is not here anymore but this is my grandfather. My grandfather had his brother and his mom. His mom was an immigrant who escaped from Russia when she was very young. When my grandfather grew up he went to the Navy and eventually like I said before ran the John Hancock General agency in Buffalo, New York and before that in Niagara Falls. Against all odds, he and his brother went on to do amazing things but of course, he passed too soon. There is not a day that goes by I do not think what my grandfather would have done given those opportunities that we have in a 2018 world. He destroyed the plateau and I think we all can find someone in our lives to look up to that has smashed the plateau. We have to be grateful for the opportunity we have to do what we are doing and to make those people that came before us proud.  David Shriner-Cahn: Speaking of that, Eric, how are you going to smash the plateau in the future, what is coming up for you?  Eric Kasimov: Yeah, so I believe it is our next level of growth with KazCM with our content marketing company from 16 to 17 and we are going to continue to do that with our business. I think you can look forward to see the next level of growth from our content marketing company but that is all because of the great clients. I mentioned Cynthia Kay is one of them. With many other clients, Pushup4Parkinson’s is a cause that is all about a movement of doing push-ups for just awareness around the Parkinson’s disease. We will want to talk a lot more about stories of our clients’ successes. We just love most when we find out about a client of ours that has had success because of something that we were involved, maybe it’s an article we created, maybe it’s a conversation that we started on Instagram or maybe something we did on Twitter or it’s a conversation we had with just any other person that we work with on a day to day basis. Look for that that next level growth but also the successes of our clients and that is a result of the growth that we are having.   David Shriner-Cahn: Sounds great, how can listeners learn more about you and follow you?  Eric Kasimov: Our website is KazSource.com and of course, you can find me on social media. I think Twitter is a great place to connect. A lot of great conversation we can have there. My name there is Eric_Kaz. We are happy to connect with anybody on LinkedIn, send me a message I will love to learn more about you.   David Shriner-Cahn: Sounds great, Eric thank you so much for taking the time to join us today on Smashing the Plateau. I know you and I have been talking about doing this episode for a long time so I’m glad it is finally happened.  Eric Kasimov: Absolutely good things come to those who wait but no really David its been my pleasure to be honest and thank you so much.   David Shriner-Cahn: My guest today has been Eric Kasimov the CEO of KazSource, thank you again Eric for joining us.  Eric Kasimov: Thank you   David it was absolutely awesome being on your podcast. Anytime we are giving an opportunity to chat with entrepreneurs like David of the smashing the plateau podcast, we are grateful and for that David, thank you. For any individual looking for a new podcast to listen to I would encourage you to check out the smashing the plateau podcast. If you have questions feel free to reach out to me directly, you can contact me on Twitter, at Eric_Kaz or the same name on Instagram or you can find us at KazSource.com. Thank you for listening to our KazSource podcast Entrepreneur Perspectives, building your business one podcast at a time until next time we are out of here.