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Executive conversations with Ramon Ray

Meet Ramon Ray, Branding & Marketing Guru, CEO – ZoneofGenius.com and Author of the Celebrity CEO

Ramon Ray exudes an energy and authenticity many can only hope to attain. His clarity of focus and sense of groundedness are palpable from the moment he starts speaking. In his captivating way, Ramon shares candidly about how he got to this point. He emphasizes the importance for all professionals and business owners to clarify and build their personal and business brands, and dispels the myths of how to reach Celebrity CEO status.

Trying to condense his thoughts and ideas into one interview would be an injustice, however Ramon is intentional about sharing value in every answer. This colorful and candid conversation with Ramon Ray shares key steps people can apply for many who aspire to achieve the reach and excellence he makes look so easy.

Editor: Ramon, it’s an absolute pleasure to be able to have this conversation with you.

Ramon: Thank you all for seeing value in me. There’s a trillion people you could have had here, and you decided to have me today, so thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Editor: Ramon, we’ve got to start with a suitable title, you’ve been called different things: a marketing guru, motivational speaker. What would you term yourself?

Ramon: Unapologetically positive, that’s one. Publisher of zoneofgenius.com, that’s two. Brand Strategist at celebrityceo.com, that’s three. Motivational Speaker, Event Host, Dad, Husband. I’ll take some of those.

Editor: You talk about thinking small versus thinking big. Could you explain your small pond concept for those who aren’t familiar with it?

Ramon: I think that because people think big, they think it’s not possible, or that they can’t attain it or they don’t reach for it. It’s like the story Steve Harvey shared about the flea in a jar. In the wild, the flea jumps X high, but when you put the flea in a jar and close the lid after a while, and you all may have heard the story, the flea jumps only a certain height. Thinking big doesn’t mean that you can do everything in the world, it means expanding your horizons. [For example] if you hope to have a million dollars. Well, making 1.1 million dollars is probably just as easy as making a million. That’s my point that sometimes we think too small, we limit ourselves. If you miss jumping a foot, that means you only jumped half a foot but what if you dreamed you could jump a mile? What if? And what if you only got half a mile, you still beat the foot?

Editor: Yes, definitely. In your book, The Celebrity CEO, you share practical steps for people who want to break through the barrier of anonymity. Why did you choose this approach for your book?

Ramon: People kept asking me, “Ramon, how are you in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fox? How are you [featured] in all these places? People kept asking me, Ramon, how are you in all these places? How are you on all these podcasts? How are you in all these events?” We met at Gary Vaynerchuk’s conference. People kept asking, “how did you do it?” That’s when I said it’s time to write a book. I wrote The Celebrity CEO, how every business owner can have the opportunity to be the celebrity in their business. People kept asking me the question, “How? How? How?”

I wanted to demystify it. It takes work, but it’s like living healthy. It’s not hard. You just have to want to do it. So that’s why I wrote it.

Editor: You lay out a unique formula to translate fans into customers. Could you share this with us?

Ramon: It’s morphed a bit, so I’m not sure if it would be exactly like the book, but the principles are the same. A few key things.

  • ONE – Ask for a smile before you ask for a sale. How can I dare sell you something, clean your carpet, clean your home, sell you diamonds, whatever it may be, if I don’t just ask, “How are you today? What’s going on? How have you been? How’s your family? How are things going?” If I don’t just take the time to say, “Hey, what’s up?” I don’t earn that right. That’s one, ask for a smile before you ask for a sale.
  • Number TWO is the aspect of not being plain vanilla. There should be some pop, some sizzle to who you are.
  • The THIRD concept, and I have several key things here, but I’ll keep it brief – But newly, what I’ve illustrated this as, people often want to get sales. I say, wait, don’t go for sales first, build TRUST. And before you even build trust, I need to get your ATTENTION, because if I get your attention to the right customer and I build trust, sales will come easily. That’s what I believe.

Editor: That’s great. Ask for a smile before you ask for a sale. Quite often, just taking a little extra time can get you a little further. Where has that worked really well for you? Where have you applied this principle and saw results?

Ramon: As you know the recent one (I can give so many examples), but I got a note from Gary Vaynerchuk’s team, and as I might understand that Gary Vaynerchuk himself greenlighted it saying, Ramon, we want you to speak in front of 10,000 people at Veecon. I can’t get a better example than that. For those who might not know, Gary Vaynerchuck is the biggest brand in the world as far as marketers, reaching millions of people a month. On the online stage, he’s the Beyoncé of online, and the fact that he invited me to be on his stage, that happened because of just planting seeds, just smiling, showing up, just being there, just being nice, putting out social media and somebody will discover you.

That shows the example of “Ask for a smile before you ask for a sale.” I was just on an interview here a few minutes ago with Forbes Riley. Everybody may not know her, but Forbes Riley is one of the biggest names in entrepreneurship. I looked at her Facebook, I think 3.3 million followers. You can’t make that up. It’s right there in front of you. To have her team reach out to me, that’s an example of just showing up and doing the good work… People can’t help but notice you. It may not be today, but it will be sometime.

Editor: What advice would you give to those who are afraid of being in front of the camera?

Ramon: There was a time when I recall we didn’t have money, and my dad, as I recall it, had a bag of cans. And I think he recycled those cans. I recall asking him for a cookie or something for school. I don’t recall exactly if he gave me the money or we didn’t have it, but he was willing to do anything to make sure we had. So in the same way, with the example of business, can you afford to not get over your fear of how you look? And I understand it… You don’t like the blemish on your face, whatever. We’re human, I get it. But, can you afford not to use the power of video to bring out your smile, your humanity?

Some might say everybody doesn’t have to do video, but video is a powerful way to humanize and personalize your brand. Ask yourself, what are you denying your business? How much more could your business be

if you just read [from a script], get the courage… A year from now, you will look back at what you posted and laugh. Bringing my father up, it reminded me just why aren’t you willing to do what it takes to get to the next level?

Editor: Thank you for sharing that with us. I think many people want to hide those parts of their journeys, and you are often very open. How do you manage a private life with your family and having such a public persona?

Ramon: That’s a great question. I hope you don’t make me keep crying. I may have to get a tissue box… 

License plate numbers, where I live, all that stuff (even though it’s all public anyhow), but all that stuff I try to be careful not to put out. But I think a lot of the reason that people hide that [their vulnerability] is just because they want to hide themselves. For me, based on the position I put in life, I am who I am. I’m careful about privacy, things like where I live and if I had small kids, but beyond that, I let it roll. Just let it flow because also embracing it for me, not for everybody, but for my brand, that’s an endearing part of my brand. I blend that part of the world, meaning my personal life with me. I don’t do it intentionally, but I believe that is making it more enduring than some stale person trying to be perfect. People have said that, and I want to always be that person, that’s relatable.

Editor: You talked about gratitude being in your DNA. What do you do to stay motivated? How do you motivate yourself to continue seeking personal growth?

Ramon: For me, the only opposite of me not seeking personal growth and going forward is death, whether it be literally or death professionally or otherwise. So the motivation is in there. Someone once asked me, one of my websites is zoneofgenius.com, “Ramon, how are you motivated to do it?” Because I want to eat. It’s pretty simple. Also, I think that I’m so cognizant that we all need each other. There are a few young men in my life that I call on a regular basis who call me, and I just call and tell them, “I want you to know, I love you. I’m just calling to let you know I’m thinking about you, dude.” That’s so important. They may not have people in their life or a male figure in their life. That’s what keeps me going. It keeps me positive that people have poured into me, I owe it to them to pour into others. The world is a very nasty place, and I think if more humans poured into each other, we could uplift the whole world.

Editor: You talk about mentorship, and right now you’ve just spoken about pouring into others. What are some of the most significant opportunities and challenges for minority businesses? Often minority business owners feel as if they don’t have access to mentorship or to resources that can help them to grow.

Ramon: I want to first acknowledge that it is hard to be considered the other. The black experience, talking very directly has been different. However, I must say also for minorities, part of it is a mindset shift. And I’m going to be very sensitive because I’m one who hasn’t gone through a heavy, hard road. I haven’t. I’ve been a bit more privileged compared to others. I believe that when you change the mindset and not assume there’s somebody out to get you under every rock, you start to see the possibilities. When you just give a little more space…. Maybe they didn’t like your [ product/ service ] and they just thought your [ product/ service ] book wasn’t a good fit. Nothing to do with you. They just didn’t like it. That’s number two. Number three, here’s what I learned in 2005. I was tired of applying to event after event after event. Could have been racist, could have not been. But I was applying, meaning, pick me. Pick me. Can I have the award? Could you pick me? You pick them – could you pick me? I then said to myself, hey! I took my credit card, I went to a New York City hotel, and I did my own event, and I picked people. I picked people.

I don’t have to wait. …And so the tip there is what I call create your own table… and over time, you’ll have people who want to be at your table. Make Your Own Table.

Editor: That’s great advice because we talk about a new narrative and it is changing the narrative of, I need to be picked, when in fact, you also hold cards that allow you to choose and create within your space. Tell us about how you went from being fired to interviewing Barack Obama.

Ramon: It’s amazing how opportunities flip and switch… yes, fired from the United Nations because I had entrepreneurial ventures on the side… And then you’re right, Google, around the beginning of President Obama’s presidency, they had a contest for American citizens. And I believe, to my understanding, about 300,000 people applied for it… and they picked me and three other people on YouTube to interview the President. And then years later, I was invited, by his administration, to come to the White House and teach his staff about personal branding. But sometime later I testified in front of the US Congress. The tables flipped a bit.

Editor: For personal branding, you talk about social media a lot and leveraging that in your toolbox. How do we navigate the new social media landscape when things are changing so quickly and so often?

Ramon at Leadership Conference, in Orlando

Ramon: It’s very simple for me. There are the mature platforms that are already here that have billions of people using them. Stay on them. Don’t leave them. There’s the new one that just got started yesterday. If you choose to be like Ramon and others who are the influencers, digirati, first movers, jump on, join us and try it. I got a Threads account. Threads could close tomorrow, but I’m okay with that. But for those who are heads down in their business and are not high-tech people, don’t worry about an app that just came out. Don’t worry about it. Most people here weren’t on Facebook on day one. It’s never too late. And then third, I want to add AI. Some things, once your mama tells you, your granddaddy tells you, your uncle tells you, CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, New York Times, tells you, it’s a real thing. Some tools you shouldn’t ignore though.

Editor: Your journey started in tech. And with AI being the new kid on the block, what are your thoughts on the future of tech and the fears many have that it poses a risk to human capital?

Ramon: I think it’s a valid fear but what to do about it? But this is the world we’re in. I think that one thing I heard being said about AI in particular is that “it’s not AI that will replace humans, it’s a human with AI that will replace humans.” These are global economic issues. What I don’t want to see is Mary’s flower shop to say so that we can hire 100 people on staff, we are not going to use tech because we want to keep hiring 100 people. Then Becky’s flower shop advances in technology with five staff, and the other flower shop goes out of business and they’re all fired.

That’s another thing, learn it. Get on YouTube, get on a platform, learn it. Somebody told me if you take eighteen minutes a day for a month or something like that to learn something, you’ll be smarter than 99% of your competitors.

I think most of the time we just think that learning needs your full attention most of the time. You shy away from it because especially with AI, if you’re not technologically savvy, you just think to yourself, Oh, that’s not for me. I don’t understand it. We need to remember, the world evolves. Technology obviously will evolve.

Editor: Ramon, this has been truly insightful. As we close out, what book can be always found on your shelf?

Ramon: The book that can always be found on my shelf is about 20 books.

[TURNS TO HIS BOOKSHELF]

When I talk, it’s serious stuff. I live what I preach, it’s here on my bookshelf. I have books all around me, but these are my go-to books. Marie Forleo – Everything is Figureoutable, Jon Acuff has a book about Soundtracks, don’t let the bad stuff stay in your head. Mike Michalowicz – Profit First is good. My friend, Alexandra Carter – Ask For More; how sometimes a good no saves you from a bad yes, something like that. Eric Thomas’s book, You Owe You, of course. They Ask You Answer by my friend Marcus Sheridan. Dave Ramsey is the go-to person about finance. John Lee Dumas, one of the largest podcasts on business, I highly recommend, Common Path to Uncommon Success. Maybe I’ll just say two more. Seth Godin’s book, This Is Marketing. My friend Phil Jones – Exactly What to Say.

Editor: Talking about soundtracks, what’s one song that can always be found on your playlist?

Ramon: Now, unfortunately, I’m not a culturally astute person, so I don’t have a lot of songs on my playlist but it happens to be a Christian song by Donnie McClurkin.

[STARTS SINGING]

“We fall down… but we get up. We fall down…” That’s my song, that’s one of them.

But I’m like the guy who has two songs on their playlist. I go to parties. I don’t know anything. I can tell you how to tweet. I can tell you what a RSS feed is. I can tell you what a WordPress widget is. I can tell you how to use Shopify. Music? Don’t know.

Editor: You just rattled off some tools and terms that people get terrified by. For someone who says, okay, I want to quieten the noise. I want to do one thing. What is the one thing someone can start with today?
Ramon: Let me give some context. If you’re a business owner and you’ve been in business for one to three years. Let’s say you’re in full-time business right now and you’re just struggling to get to the next level.

Find the customers who’ve bought from you already and have deeper conversations to understand them. That will elicit two things; how to get them to buy more from you and how to find more people like that.

That’s the one thing. I wish I could say 75 things, but you only said one thing.

For the person already in business, you’re okay, you’re eating, your revenue is coming in, but you’re tight. You’re thinking, this is a little struggle, but you’ve got some money. People have paid you. Go talk to them. Just go talk to them. Go talk to them. I do the same thing in my business.

Editor: You’ve had numerous interactions with successful individuals. What are some of the common traits that you’ve observed and what contributes to their success?

Ramon: Well, if I had to compare Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, two energetically different people, but two very successful people, both seem to have an insatiable curiosity, and not curiosity like, what’s 2+2, but just the curiosity about tell me more. Tell me about you. Tell me more. How can I learn this? I think they have an insatiable curiosity. Just in the conversations, you find them always asking. Not an attitude of I know it all. That’s what I find common among successful people.

Editor: You didn’t mention yourself as a successful person, and I know you believe you are. You’ve spoken so much about what really makes Ramon Ramon. We’re always looking for advice for the younger generation, some advice for those who are starting out, some advice for those who aren’t necessarily business owners but are saying, “I want to be a celebrity CEO one day.” What do they need to know now?

Ramon: I think there are four things, and I may forget them, but I did a long post about it on LinkedIn  many years ago. For the young person, especially the one just starting out, have a fantastic attitude. Make others around you take note of you. Wow, that’s a very nice young man. That’s a nice young lady. I like her vibe etc. Number two, work hard. When your manager says to show up at 9 am, show up at 8:50 not at 9:01 am. Number three, always keep learning. Learn, learn, learn. Ask questions. And part of the way of learning is by serving. And number four, do great work. Do Great Work! Be the best at what you can do. If you’re mopping floors in your church, you’re dusting, you’re filing some files in a dusty room somewhere. You do it the best way you can.

Editor: Ramon, let’s end it there. There’s so much to unpack here and so much more we could ask. Thank you again for taking the time to have a chat with us. It was wonderful.

Ramon: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it very much.

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