September 1, 2013 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Tony Wilkins
The burgeoning popularity of podcasts across the country and around the world not only makes it one of the easiest and cheapest PR opportunities but also the most flexible for aspiring talk-show hosts in terms of not having to even leave their house. According to annual surveys conducted by Talkers Magazine (http://www.talkers.com), the educational, political and socioeconomic diversity of today’s listeners translates to a smart fit for business owners, entrepreneurs and authors looking to expand their reach. Radio personality and editor-in-chief Tony Wilkins, owner of TCS, Inc., invites us for a look at what life is like on the other side of his very busy microphone.
Q: Let’s talk about your career path and the influences that ignited your passion 30 years ago to help kindred spirits in the business world become the best they could be.
A: Okay. Well first I should mention that my initial goal was to become a successful writer. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. What’s interesting is that while I’ve always put pen to paper, I didn’t become a professional writer until years after I moved to San Francisco from Chicago. I figured if I was going to make that kind of change in my life then I couldn’t just move here and do the same ole’ same ole. So while I had a thriving practice in Chicago, there was a sense of being unfulfilled in my work. And then it hit me. Teach what you know. Write what you know and educate people along the way. This inevitably led to some major speaking engagements and consulting gigs. So I started out as a telemarketer, got into management, books(as an author) and ultimately coaching and consulting. This, in turn, led to producing my radio show – Small Business Forum Radio (SBFR) and now my online magazine Small Business Forum Magazine (SBFM) Due out in Oct 2013.
Q: Who were your mentors and what did you learn from them?
A: In business I can really only think of one person: Suzanne Tucker owner of One Stop Graphics in San Francisco. I think Suzanne taught me how to handle high-end clients. She comes from money (Hillary Clinton is a classmate) and so I would watch how she would work a room and be at ease in virtually any setting. She’s also an amazing connector of people which is a gift.
Q: Whose business model in the 21st century do you most admire?
A: Truthfully I admire strong women. I could name a few. Let’s start with Oprah just because of what she’s accomplished in a few short years. I sometimes get disheartened (by some of the negative comments I read about her) because here’s a woman who is arguably one of the most powerful women on earth and yet people still don’t give her the respect she deserves. Moving on. I love Madonna because she reminds us to keep reinventing ourselves even if the choices we make aren’t the most popular. She gets a lot of crap, too, but when you’re making that kind of money I guess you learn to tune negativity out. Okay who else… I love Martha Stewart and I think I model my business closest to hers. Everything she does cross-promotes everything else she does. Multiple streams of revenue. Multiple outlets for creativity.
Q: What prompted you to start your own radio show?
A: I believe in coming as close to telling your truth as you can (without being obnoxious about it). So here’s the politically incorrect version. Someone who was scheduled to interview me on their radio show flaked out twice and it really ticked me off. So much so that when I logged on to the website to do the interview, I noticed a tag that read “Launch your own show.” The rest I guess is history (60,000+ listeners globally 2.5 years later). I think the other person is still doing her show. I remember sending her a thank you e-mail.
Q: How do you choose topics of interest for your listeners and choose guests to fill those slots?
A: My show is a bit different in that I don’t really choose topics. I choose guests with interesting and educational stories to tell. I think doing a topic oriented series of shows makes scheduling a nightmare. So I have several rules. Educate my listeners. Be prepared to help promote your segment. Don’t bore me or the audience. Be conversational and present in the interview and share some great tips.
Q: What’s the format of the program?
A: The format is an hour and a half of educational tips from small business experts and leaders in the nonprofit sector all sharing their best advice on everything from starting a business to selling a business to launching a new career. We’ve had celebs like actress Diane Baker talk about her career as an actress and share tips to up and coming performers. I’ve interviewed singers Julia Fordham (who’s my favorite) as well as Lily Holbrook about the music industry. Claire Fordham (Julia’s sister) will be on for the second time in just a few months to talk about her work as an author. I’ve interviewed San Francisco Mayoral candidate Jeff Adachi and moderated a district supervisor debate live. So, as you can see, I just look for interesting stories and angles as well as personalities for the show.
Q: From its debut, it didn’t take long for Small Business Forum Radio to take off! What do you think accounted for its overnight popularity?
A: A couple of things really. First, sending out a press release inviting experts to come on the show helped a lot and truthfully I still have respondents from Aug 2011whose e-mails I have yet to open. That’s how busy I’ve been almost from the first show. Also one of my main rules is that if you’re coming on the show to promote yourself then you have to be willing to e-mail your target audience to ask them to tune in. It’s how you establish your brand as an expert. So because of those key components, I’ve been able to grow the show very quickly.
Q: If you could have any famous business person from history as a guest on your show, who would it be and what three questions would you most like to ask?
A: That’s easy. Martha and Oprah.
- What’s the first thing you cooked after leaving prison?
- Did you lose friends when you were incarcerated?
- Guilty fast food that you eat alone in bed?
- Why didn’t you want to interview Paula Deen?
- What have you learned about success and friendships and money in three decades on the air?
- Does anything in life still surprise or scare you?
Q: What is something about today’s radio biz that average workaday people don’t know?
A: Almost as many people now listen to Internet radio as traditional. And you can make money at both.
Q: You’re also Editor in Chief of Small Business Forum Magazine. What’s its scope and how does this publication complement or contrast with your radio show?
A: The show’s focus is on educating small business owners around the globe. The magazine will not only tell their stories but will also share resources, information and, most importantly, jobs and contact info about who is hiring.
Q: As if you weren’t already wearing enough hats, you have also made time to write books and be a filmmaker. Tell us about it.
A: That’s a whole ‘nother interview. Essentially I write about subjects that excite me. The first book came out of a need to write a comprehensive but easy to read book on appointment setting (the book became a best seller and still sells well on Amazon). It was a goal I had set to publish by 40. The second book came out of not wanting to write another book on telemarketing. So I wrote one about cooking as a single person (The Single Person’s Cookbook) which landed me several guest spots on Channel 7’s The View from the Bay. The most recent book was more about taking my 30 years of biz development experience along with other entrepreneurs from around the country and telling people how to make ends meet and thrive in a tough economy. I was getting so many e-mails from frustrated business owners that I felt I had to write something to help.
The movies came out of needing yet another creative outlet. The first movie, “The Mo Diaries” came at a time when I was promoting my cookbook in NYC, and living bi-coastal between there and San Francisco. It was a magical Sex in the City time of my life and I loved every minute of it including my sublet apartment in Harlem for just $500 a month. Anyway, I had an idea for a mock documentary about sex, love, marriage and Prop 8. It was also during the presidential election so there were elements of suspense and excitement because there was a chance that gays would be able to legally marry and that America might elect its first black president…all in the same year!! Exciting times. The second film, “Zelma’s Spirit,” was a 10 min short/tribute to my birth mother who I never knew. It was a way of putting a period on a very painful childhood. The third film, “Lonesome Town,” is one of my favs because it’s about feeling ostracized and lonely, even in a room full of people. And the fact that we all feel awkward at one point in our lives struck a chord with many people. I‘m working on a feature-length sequel at the same time that I’m working on my first SciFi novel.
Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?
A: Candidly? I collect comic books. Love cartoons especially super-heroes. I prefer my own company to being around a lot of people and I’m painfully shy around people, believe it or not. Maybe shy isn’t the right word. Let’s call it reserved. What else? I love playing the slots. Particularly the penny machines. I find it strangely relaxing. If you see me at a machine, don’t talk to me. I’m not interested in talking to anyone. I think because I talk for a living there’s something really therapeutic not to have to hold a conversation while playing slots. You can really just zone out.
Q: What has success taught you about yourself, your friends and your work?
A: That’s a tough one. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons and I’ve passed those lessons on to others. The first lesson was that not all of my “friends” were going to be happy about my accomplishments. I call them accomplishments as opposed to success because the word success is so subjective. The next lesson was to stop trying to explain what I do to people. I use to go to a local bar in the city – just a hangout really – and I would come in and see the regulars standing, holding court. Anyway, someone would ask how I am and I would say something very casually about a great new opportunity like being interviewed for a magazine or whatever and I would get the weirdest stares from people. It wasn’t bragging. To me it was just answering a question by stating a fact. It was a painful lesson for me because I always try to be supportive of others’ accomplishments or whatever and naturally assumed it was reciprocal. It was like they didn’t quite know what to do with me. So I learned to not talk about my work or career. Most didn’t know what I did for a living until people saw an interview I did on Channel 7. Once word got out, it was like I had to talk about it. But the truth is that we all need to share good news when it happens and we also need people to cheer us on when we share that good news. It’s just disappointing when it doesn’t happen which is why I’m very selective with whom I share news with now.
Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?
A: On the front: It’s your life. Own it!!! On the back: I no longer need your approval to be happy.
Q: What’s next for you career-wise?
A: A new book, and movie and the launch of the magazine and then who knows? I love the unexpected. I just wait for the muse to speak to me.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I hope my legacy is one of service to others. I think it’s vitally important that small business owners band together to help one another especially in a tough economy. I’ve seen business owners lose everything – their homes, businesses etc. and just break down because they can’t figure out how to get out the mess they’re in. That’s why I wrote the book “Surviving the Economy” as a way of helping those business owners not just get through the tough times but to thrive afterward.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: They can look me up on Linkedin or wwwbusinessdevelopmentsolutionsintl.com. They can also go to Amazon.com for any of my books or movies. We don’t have a site for the magazine yet but they can check out my radio show at www.blogtalkradio.com/tonywilkins Friday’s at 3:30pm Pacific or in the archives 24/7. You can always e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org thru the radio show’s website or call me at 415-267-4872.