When I was in my 20s, I spent a summer playing my guitar on a mule-drawn barge. It was a minor tourist attraction in the trendy town of New Hope, Pennsylvania. I served as a troubadour and tour guide on a ride that covered a mile-and-a-half stretch of the Delaware Canal.
In addition to playing a few hokey sing-along songs, my job included giving a brief speech on the history of the canal, with a few interesting anecdotes thrown in. I did not receive a paycheck for this gig; I worked only for tips, opening up my guitar case as the tourists exited the barge.
I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but I learned a few life lessons on that barge. Essentially, I was in business for myself; it was up to me to motivate my audience (the barge riders) to toss money into my case. As a result, I quickly learned the importance of a “customer-first” attitude.
Let me make it clear: I was not a great performer. Standing up in front of strangers with the intention of entertaining them is not a skill that ever came naturally to me. But because I saw the earning potential in this opportunity — and was otherwise unemployed at the time — I forced myself to do it. I decided that what I lacked in talent, I would make up for by focusing on my audience. I played songs they could sing along with … I learned about the history of the canal so that I could teach them something they didn’t know … and I made up a few jokes to make them laugh. All in all, I think I helped to make an otherwise uneventful ride pretty entertaining.
What was my reward? As I mentioned, I worked for tips. On days when I felt like I was really connecting with the audience, my guitar case filled up quickly. But the most meaningful reward I received was not a coin or a bill. At the end of a particular ride, I noticed a woman dropping a handwritten note into my case. When all the tourists had left the barge, I read the note. The passenger who wrote it was complimenting me — not only for making the ride more enjoyable, but also for my “entrepreneurial spirit.” She said it was “refreshing” to see a young person using his talent to earn money in a creative way.
Certainly, that was a compliment — though at the time I didn’t really feel like an entrepreneur. I just thought I was “paying my dues” as a musician. In looking back, I realize that I was an entrepreneur and I succeeded because I made my audience smile (or hum, or nod their heads). That’s a lesson that still serves me well today — as I help my customers get their customers to respond to an offer and buy a product.
Remember: when it comes to marketing and advertising, it is always your audience (i.e. customer) that comes first. Keep them happy, and you’ll succeed.