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It was obvious at our first meeting that Bob Graham, the mastermind behind Airwaves Music and Event Temple, is destined for success. He’s young, driven and absolutely passionate about making a difference with his businesses.
It’s a powerful combo that’s made me a confirmed “Graham fan” and why I had to learn more about what makes him tick.
Superpower: Learning & Adapting Fast
I’d say my special skill is the ability to learn new things, really quickly and adapt them to our business.
When I was about 12, I took guitar lessons. Nothing made sense, so I decided to stop lessons and just teach myself. It didn’t take long until I was putting patterns together, reading books, talking to players who were better than I was and also just getting really good by experimenting.
I do that a lot in my business too. I try to learn from great sources online, (like Book More Brides of course haha), talk to mentors, read a lot and then get creative.
I feel like the ability to learn new things and adapt is the single most important factor for my success in anything.
Biggest Challenge: Having Cancer & Getting Sued — At the Same Time
Running my business while I had cancer and a lawsuit going at the same time. I remember being really scared about my cancer and then equally scared about my lawsuit and not knowing if I was going to be healthy, or have a business, all at once.
I remember going for a drive and sitting in my car and thinking about my life. I had been working so hard and dreaming of so many adventures I still wanted to have. I had just met the girl of my dreams and we’d fallen in love.
Now I had to face the fact that I might be dying and all of that would just disappear much sooner than I ever expected. I put my head in my hands all alone in my car and just broke down. Then I pulled myself together and decided to fight it with all my strength.
I wanted to be the most positive person with cancer I’ve ever met.
Regarding the cancer, my solution was to act fast, think positively and just do everything in my power to get it dealt with.
In terms of the lawsuit, although it was hard, I learned that sometimes sitting down with someone face to face over lunch and discussing something will save you hours upon hours with lawyers.
I know many business people wouldn’t want to admit that they’ve had to go to court, but I think it was a valuable learning experience and one worth sharing.
It taught me that you have to read your contracts in full and pay attention to the small details.
Success Secrets: Good People & Smart Delegation
Work with really good people. It’s so cliche that I almost don’t want to say that, but it’s so true.
I have a DJ company and one of my DJs is so good that if everything in my business failed, because of him, we would still succeed. Now that I have a few guys like that, the business just becomes stronger and stronger.
One time I sat him down and asked him why he is such a great DJ and so easy to work with. He told me it was just his value system and the way he was raised.
So that’s first, just great people.
It’s easy to find great people; it’s hard to find ways to work with them and leverage their greatness. My sales guy has been with me for 3 years. At first he didn’t seem like a sales rep.
Then we had a conversation about his dreams and his goals. He wants to travel the world and he’s happy earning income from commissions that lets him do that in an hour a day, from anywhere.
Talking with your team over and over, dreaming together, and involving their dreams in the company is key.
I wanted a business that turned a profit and helps people, so I got involved with a charity in Nepal. I find ways for our DJs to make more money and attach it to a sense of purpose.
You can delegate business tasks to people or technology. I like to do both.
I have a social media person, an SEO/marketing person, a salesperson and a finance person. My job is to hire DJs and focus on new growth channels.
I learned that you can hire people in many ways if you can’t afford them up front. You can pay them commission, with equity, for a few hours a week as consultants or you can use a service like Upwork or Fiverr even for smaller tasks.
I try to think of who can help me and what I can afford and I try things out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but overall it has slowly but steadily been growing and working more and more.
Biggest Mistake: Losing a Sense of Purpose
My biggest mistake was forgetting that I was a creator and that I was in charge of what my business became. There was a point where our company started getting more and more profitable and growing a lot. I thought to myself, “okay, let’s just keep with what’s working.”
We created systems and metrics and ran the business like a machine. Pretty soon, I wasn’t happy in it anymore.
I had become disconnected from my vision and purpose behind the company and I started to care less and less. When that happened, sales went down and I began to lose good people. I just lost myself because I was focusing too much on the business and not the purpose it was serving.
I realized that I formed my business to help musicians and DJs to make a living doing what they love, but now I was only focusing on DJ gigs at the most profitable weddings only. I had to reconnect to my purpose.
I decided that my purpose was to help people to be free and make a living doing what they love. I branched Airwaves out to support more musicians again. We have recently started doing events, and I also got involved with a software project.
Though those things might seem like a major deviation from our core business, they actually filled it with passion and now that side of the business is doing very well too.
Bob’s Advice: Create the Business YOU Love
You can do anything you want with your business.
I think so often we think, “I’m a wedding DJ, so my business should behave like this” or “I’m a photographer so I can only make “x” dollars a year shooting “x” number of weddings.
Every person has a unique outlook on the world and no two businesses are the same. Your business is really a reflection of you.
The more you create harmony between your natural self and your business self, the better your business is going to do and the more effortless it is going to feel.
I like thinking big, so we book hundreds of weddings and have a huge team of DJs across Canada. People told me that it was impossible to do that or that if we tried, we’d get tons of complaints. Well it’s been almost 10 years and I am so proud to say that just isn’t true.
You can do whatever you want with your business and your life, if you can be excited about it.
I also really recommend wedding pros think about technology and use it to free their time and add value for their clients. The businesses that adapt to change are the ones that succeed. You can’t win tomorrow by using what was working yesterday!
Charity of Choice: Sisterhood of Survivors in Nepal
I’d like to match that $100 and I’d like us both to send it to the Sisterhood of Survivors in Nepal.
I met these little kids when I went to Nepal in November. They were sold off by their family and friends for often under $50 into various kinds of slavery.
This organization helps kids escape and then teaches them new skills, to find work as paralegals so that they don’t wind up back in the exact same situation again.
Meeting these kids in real life gave this charity a different kind of meaning to me so it means a lot you are donating and I am happy to do it, too.
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What do you think about Bob’s experience?