Listen to Justin Nelson, co-founder of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), share valuable insights on business and equality. I had a chance to talk with him and get his inspiring answers to the set of questions below. Listen to this podcast to hear it all. To listen to this audio podcast please click the play button on the left above. Or subscribe to the free podcast in iTunes today!
- So Justin, you co-founded the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce over 10 years ago in 2002. And in that time you have been extremely active in the LGBT business movement both in the United States and abroad. Could you expand on your background for the listeners and tell us a little more about your business and what your path looked like that lead you to where you are today?
- So before I get into the more serious questions, I like to ask my guests for something random or a fun fact about themselves to get us started. So, what is one thing about you that few people know or would expect?
- What was your “aha” moment when you realized this is what you should be doing in life?
- What inspires you and keeps you motivated to do what you do each and every day?
- What is the best piece of business advice you were ever given?
- For listeners who are looking to market themselves to the LGBT community, what advice would you give them to be successful?
- As an LGBT person, how you have you been able to leverage that status as a business owner?
- What is one business book, program or tool that has transformed the way you do business?
- As we are speaking right now you are in Dallas, Texas, at the site where the 2013 NGLCC National Business & Leadership Conference will be held. Could you tell the listeners more about the conference and why they should consider attending?
- Other than the conference, what is one thing in your business right now that is really exciting?
Links discussed in the show:
- Book: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant
- Book: Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track–and Keeping It There
- 30 Days – 30 Voices – Stories from America’s LBGT Business Leaders
- Next Webinar is June 7th
- New book: But You Don’t Look Gay…
Here is how you can get in touch with Justin:
Listen to the podcast by clicking the play button below!
Would you prefer to read the transcript than listen to the podcast? No problem! Read the transcript below.
AUDIO TITLE: Episode #10 – Justin Nelson
Jenn T Grace:
You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, Episode 10.
Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.
Jenn T Grace:
Well hello and welcome to episode number ten of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. I am your host, Jenn T. Grace, and I apologize in advance for the nasally sound, I am just getting over a cold. But I didn’t want to delay my interview today so I wanted to make sure that I plowed on through it. So my apologies in advance, but anyway.
So I am really excited to share an interview today with you, with Justin Nelson who is one of the co-founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Many times on this podcast already the NGLCC, or belonging to an affiliate chamber in your area has come up, so it is perfect that Justin agreed to be a guest on the show today for one of my expert interviews.
A few things to mention first…
But before we get into the interview with Justin, I do want to make a couple of announcements, and I want to mention that this is a biweekly podcast, and it alternates between expert interviews which is today’s podcast. And educational topics, so the previous episode to this which was episode nine, we talked about online marketing strategies and how you can implement different types of ideas and concepts into your business. So if you are interested in seeing past episodes you can certainly head on over to my website at www.JennTGrace.com and there is a tab at the top that says, ‘Podcast.’
So for those of you who have been following along with this podcast from the start, which I sincerely appreciate, I have started what I’m calling a ‘Win of the Week.’ So every podcast I start off with just something that’s been happening in my business that I consider to be a ‘Win of the Week’ for me. And it’s really exciting because I’ve had a lot of you reach out to me via email and tell me something that’s been a ‘Win of the Week’ for you. So this week I want to do it twofold; I want to share a ‘Win of the Week’ that I had, but also that one of the listeners had as well. So the ‘Win of the Week’ for me is the fact that my book is now on the market for sale. If this is the second, third or fourth time that you’ve been listening to this podcast, then you’ve heard the progression of me talking about that book over and over. And now I’m really pleased to say that it is out, it is for sale, and I’m really excited about it. And if you are interested in checking out the book, I’ve created a companion website for the book itself and you can check it out at www.ButYouDontLookGay.com which is the title of the book. So the book is about successful marketing strategies for doing business with the LGBT community. And as loyal listeners, I want to give you a 20% off discount for being a loyal listener of this podcast. So if you head on over to www.ButYouDontLookGay.com, and type in GBMPODCAST, that’s for Gay Business and Marketing Podcast, you can get a 20% off of your purchase in the shopping cart. So please take advantage of that, it’s just my small way of saying thank you.
So as I mentioned that is my ‘Win of the Week.’ Now I want to share with you a ‘Win of the Week’ that an audience member had, and it’s really exciting to hear that people are taking what I’m talking about to heart and really implementing different strategies and are finding success. So the last episode which was episode number nine we talked about online marketing tips and tricks. And in that episode I talked a little bit about how you can set up a Facebook ad campaign to drive more traffic to your page, get more likes and hopefully get more business from that. And I received an email from a listener who wrote to me that says, ‘Just wanted to let you know that I ran our first Facebook ad as you suggested, and it started yesterday and to date we’ve received eighteen likes already and we got our first two product orders from the ad tonight. Yay and thank you for the suggestion.’ That is so exciting to me that somebody took the step-by-step process that I was talking about in terms of using Facebook to your advantage, and implemented it and got two product orders. So I’m really excited and I really encourage you to keep reaching out to me and letting me know what your ‘Wins of the Week’ have been as well.
On to the interview…
So now I want to hop over to the interview with Justin, and at the end of the interview I will share with you the next date of my upcoming webinar and a couple of other important announcements. Just as a heads up, every single one of these podcasts does have a blog post which I call ‘show notes’ that goes with the interview. So anything that we talk about on the interview, you have access to instead of having to go dig for. So the information for today’s episode will be available on the website at www.JennTGrace.com/010 for episode number ten. So without further ado, let’s talk to Justin.
So thank you for joining me today, Justin. I know that you cofounded the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce over ten years ago in 2002. And in that time you have been extremely active in the LGBT business movement. Both in the United States and abroad. So I’m wondering if you could expand on your background a little bit for the listeners to tell us a little bit more about your business and what your path looked like that led you to where you are today.
Sure, well first of all thanks for having me, Jenn. I’m really pleased to be able to share some time with you today. You know my co-founder Chance Mitchell and I were really looking at the equality movement ten years ago, and what we thought was missing. And what we saw missing was an economic identity for the LGBT community. And there were pockets of business communities around the country. There were a handful of LGBT chambers that had been started before we started- state and local chambers. But what we saw was there was no umbrella organization, there was no unifying voice, there was no connection point. And I likened back to my time spent on Capitol Hill where I was an aid in the US Senate and US House for about six years. And my boss would always ask me, “What does the US Chamber of Commerce think? What does the National Federation of Independent Business think? What does the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce think?” You know, on a myriad of legislation. And why the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce? Because that organization had given an economic identity to the Hispanic community. And what we decided is we needed to do the same thing for the LGBT community. People needed to know that we were Maw and Maw, and Paw and Paw shops. That we were providers of healthcare, we were a part of the tax base of the local community. And so we set off on that adventure ten years ago now to what I think has been wildly successful both in terms of our growth nationally, but in the number of LGBT Chambers that have started up in their communities around the country. We now have 32 state and local LGBT chambers, 14 international, and we’re continuing to grow that and it’s a really wonderful family of organizations and leaders and members that have come together to create business opportunities, but put an economic face on our community.
Jenn T Grace:
Absolutely. And I- as you obviously know have a great deal of involvement both locally and nationally, so it’s exciting to hear more about how it all started. And a little bit later I’m going to ask you for a little more detail about the conference that’s coming up. But before we get into some of the more serious questions, I always ask my guests first something random or some sort of fun fact about themselves that very few people would know or expect.
Well I won’t tell you about my love of musical theatre then because people would probably expect that. I think what a lot of people may or may not know is that I grew up in Wyoming, and I’m an avid outdoorsman. Love camping and I don’t mean glamping, I mean lay in your sleeping bag, get up, cook over an open fire, you make your cowboy coffee that’s full of coffee grounds, and you just sort of live out in your tent for a nice long weekend or however long the trip may be; it’s one of my favorite things to do and one of my favorite ways to just recharge.
Jenn T Grace:
That’s awesome. Very good, I love the term glamping, that’s my idea of camping. So what I want to ask you next is did you have an ‘ah-ha’ moment, or maybe it was a series of ‘ah-ha’ moments when you realized what you’re doing now was your passion in life?
You know I did. I would have to say there were probably a series of ‘ah-ha’ moments. And I don’t remember the exact time in my professional career. As I mentioned I spent several years on Capitol Hill and then I went into the private sector as a lobbyist before it was such a dirty word, working for patient and physician advocacy. But I do remember at some point along that journey, I knew I was going to be a ‘gay rights activist.’ But I wasn’t the kind of person that was going to chain myself to the White House gate, or the sort of activist that was going to throw paint on a fur coat; not that sort of activist. I knew that there was another way, I just didn’t know at that time what it was and I’ve obviously found that through business. And I think that was further helped along- frankly as I mentioned that I grew up in Wyoming, with the horrible murder of Matthew Shepard and again it was about people not understanding who gay people are. They have this idea that- the media over many years, and just the religious right and other people have painted of us, and I knew that we had to do something. And then you know a real ‘ah-ha’ moment came when Chance and I had been talking about this concept for many months, and someone wrote in our local LGBT paper we need a national LGBT chamber of commerce. And he and I said, “You know what? If we don’t do this now, we’re going to get scooped.” And that was in September of 2002. About two weeks later we fired out our press release, and made mention that we were launching this national chamber of commerce, got our incorporation together. You know sometimes you’ve just got to dive before you can swim, and that’s what we did. You know we weren’t sure which way was up, or where we were going, but we knew we had an idea, we had the passion, we had to make it happen. And we dove. And I think that the results have been very comforting and rewarding with what we’ve been able to build.
Jenn T Grace:
Absolutely, it’s definitely an entrepreneur type of move to just dive into the deep end and know that your passion is what’s going to make you come out on the other side. So I’m curious to know- like I can already hear your passion, but what inspires you and keeps you motivated to do what you’re doing every day?
Well you know I think my inspiration comes from hearing stories from recharge moments when I’m out with our affiliate chambers around the country. You know when I see the work that we’re doing- and I mean the royal ‘we’ both nationally and our local affiliates, how we team together and the successes that people are having. When a small business gets a contract with either another LGBT business enterprise, LGBTBE, or when they’re able to score that prime contract with one of our 150 corporate partners. You know when I understand that we’re really impacting people’s lives, their ability to care for their families, to grow their enterprise. And again, to put that accurate face on who LGBT people are, that is inspiring to me. And it’s inspiring when we’re getting calls from our government leaders to weigh in on issues. Issues that aren’t just LGBT. NGLCC, while I’m passionate about the employment non-discrimination act, you know since the Obama Administration took office in their first term over five years ago, we’ve been at that White House over forty times on issues from healthcare reform to economic stabilization, the Small Business Jobs Act; everything because LGBT people, all of those issues touch LGBT peoples’ lives, not just hate crimes, very important pieces of legislation, happy to be a part of the dialogue. But it’s passionate- it keeps me passionate when we’re able to go in and weigh in on issues that impact the rest of our lives.
Jenn T Grace:
Totally and your passion is certainly trickling down to your local affiliates, myself included. Just because you’re able to connect things on such a broad level and such a large level, that it makes you realize that as a small business owner in your own individual state, that you still do have an impact and there’s somebody that is your voice at the Capitol. So it’s absolutely admiring to hear what you’re doing, and I’m thrilled to be bringing this to my audience. And I want to switch over to business a little bit, and talk about business advice. Is there one or maybe two pieces of advice that you’ve been given along your journey that are just kind of your guiding principles?
There are. You know and I think probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from Mark Bertolini who’s the CEO at Aetna, and on our Board of Directors. And I’m a bit of a control freak, recovering control freak maybe is what I should say. And he told me once in a meeting, “Justin, to gain real power you have to give up power.” And I could not agree more. One person can’t do it all. So the ability to share the responsibility and share the success with those around you, to empower people to be their best in their jobs and in their careers, in your business or your organization, it’s vitally important. And I think- you know I don’t want to overstate it but had I not had that piece of advice and really took it to heart, I wonder where we’d be today. Because I’d probably try to have my fingers in every piece of the business that we’re doing, having to approve everything, having to be a part of every decision that’s made and that’s not sustainable in an organization that you’re really wanting to have scale. If you’re always going to be a one person shop, I guess you’ve got to learn to share power with yourself. But if you really are looking at expansive growth, you have to put the right people in the right positions, and you’ve got to trust them, and you’ve got to give them enough leeway to make mistakes. That’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve received, and the best piece of advice I can give.
Jenn T Grace:
That’s excellent, that’s really good advice. So I want to switch over to marketing, and this podcast is really about entrepreneurs, and a lot of people who are listening are LGBT people themselves who are business owners, but a lot of them are allies to the community. And one of the things that I like to share with the people listening are what are the tips and tricks that they can use to help them be successful in marketing themselves to the LGBT community? So I’m curious from your perspective, what advice you might give to somebody who’s listening to this.
I think be authentic in your outreach. You know, and it might sound cliché. But I don’t mind people that are motivated by green, in fact I always say my- I get to talk passionately about my two most passionate things and that’s money and equality. And people shouldn’t be afraid to look at the LGBT community as a market. Having said that, real relationships need to be built. To think that a company is going to drop an ad in the local LGBT paper or do a specific marketing campaign for one specified period of time and just have gays and lesbians, bisexual people and transgender individuals come running to them in drodes is a pipedream, that doesn’t happen. You have to really build authentic relationships with the community, you want to be a part of it, you want to make sure that you’re present, and that that long-term commitment definitely pays off. We see it with a lot of our corporate partners that have been in the marketplace for many years, those that have been introduced more recently, but are having sustained engagements on multiple platforms. It’s not just advertising, it’s being present, it’s being a part of the community, it’s joining your local LGBT and ally chamber of commerce. That’s where relationships happen. And those are the ones that stand the test of time and when the economy turns and people are still buying products and service, they’re buying it from those people that have been along our side through the thick and the thin.
Jenn T Grace:
I couldn’t have said it better myself, that is excellent, thank you so much. And my next question is around you being an LGBT person and a business owner. Have you been able to leverage that status as an LGBT person in business?
I think so, honestly. And you know I think- I’m a little bit different in the fact that we’re a not-for-profit organization so my business is your business, is all member’s business, is our corporate partners’. I happen to be the steward of it. But we do have a guiding principle; it may be a nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean no profit, and we run it like a business. I think one of things that’s kind of exciting is I don’t ever have to come out to another person in my life, not that I would, but I show up at a meeting or I get on a phone call, or I send an email, and it’s right there. And unless you’re incredibly thick in the skull, you realize that I’m an LGBT person representing an LGBT organization. And I think that that ability for me to just show up on day one, 8:00, 9:00 in the morning for a meeting and not have to go through some of that sort of the dance, the coming out dance; allows me to dive right in. And I think being an even more impactful advocate because people have already dealt with any discomfort that they may or may not have before I get into the room.
Jenn T Grace:
Yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s great, thank you. So my next question- and then I want to talk about the conference a little bit. Is there a business book, or maybe a program, or some sort of tool that’s really just helped you transform the way that you’re doing business?
There are two, and this is a great bridge question to the conference. One is Blue Ocean Strategy. And it is a brilliant book. And I think that’s exactly what we’ve done at the Chamber, and it’s all about why fight in the same bloody waters that your competitors are fighting in, when there’s a whole blue ocean out there? You just have to identify what your product and service is, what makes you unique, and then you are soaring out in the blue water when your competition is still fighting it out back in the bloody waters. And it’s exactly what we did. You know we looked at what the other equality groups were doing, we looked at what other diversity groups were doing, and we found our blue ocean and it’s allowed us to be very successful. We’ve been very good at keeping mission creep out of our organization, and when we have had it- because I think everyone has it, we’ve been able to go in and sort of in keeping with the blue ocean strategy, scrape the barnacles off the boat and keep it pointed in the right direction. But I would recommend that book to anyone, it’s absolutely phenomenal. Second one is Predictable Success, that’s a selling business book, author is Les McKeown, and he will actually be one of our keynote speakers at the conference. And this is all about life cycles of a business and recognizing where you are, what you’ve got to get through, how you can get there to find this predictable success. Where you’re constantly producing quality product and service, and have a steady stream of revenue as a result of it. And they’re two really phenomenal books that I would encourage all of your listeners to read.
Jenn T Grace:
That’s excellent. And every one of these interviews that I do does have a blog post that goes with it. So I will make sure that I link to both of those books in that post. And so let’s talk about the conference for a minute. I know as we’re talking right now, you are in Dallas, Texas which is where the 2013 National Business and Leadership Conference will be held. So for somebody who’s listening to this who may not have heard about this conference before, what would you tell them to expect? Or what would be that hook to get them really engaged and inspired to attend?
Well I have to tell you this is sort of another recharge moment for me. People may think that when you’re producing a conference- and I mean again the royal ‘we’ in this, me and my team; that it might be a draining experience, but it’s one of those recharge moments too. Because you’ve got LGBT and ally business owners from all across the country. People that come in from other countries; Latin America, Canada, Europe, that are here to do business, to meet one another, to create connections. There are over 150 corporations that are going to be here that are looking to do business with LGBT business owners; not despite the fact that you are gay, but because you are. Because they want to ensure that they have a diverse supply chain that looks like their customer and employee base. You know there are a lot of our affiliate chambers that come in and get recharged, and share best practices, and talk about sustainability and work with us on how we deepen our reach on supplier diversity certification and to their communities. We have amazing keynote speakers that really inspire people. We do great special events. And I think people walk out of here, whether you’re a corporation, whether you’re an LGBT business owner, and ally business owner, a chamber leader, or multiples of that; they walk out of this event inspired, excited with new connections, opportunities to team, to become suppliers to one another, and just to meet people and new friends that otherwise you wouldn’t have met. And I’d say to folks that haven’t been before, get your room reserved now because as I sit here today, our room block is already 50% sold out this far in advance. So we’re anticipating significant growth over last year which sold out at 550, we’ll be upwards of 700 people, if not slightly over here in Dallas July 30th to August 2nd.
Jenn T Grace:
That is so great, and I know that I am one of those people that I look forward to the conference every single year. Just because it’s still- it feels like a family. Like when you go, everyone is really there and they’re invested in your future success. And it’s all around, whether you’re talking to corporate people or to business owners or to chamber leaders. So it really is an inspiring event. And I know that I’m certainly looking forward to it. But I do want to ask you one last question and then I will let you go. And other than the conference, what is one thing in your business right now that’s just really exciting?
Well first let me say thank you for your previous comments, and we’re excited you’re going to be there. And I want to thank you so much for your leadership as our regional chair for our council of chambers and business organizations. You’ve made a tremendous impact, not only on your chamber, but on chambers in your region, and on our organization nationally, so thanks for that.
Jenn T Grace:
I would say something else that’s really exciting is we’re about to announce some new grant funds through the NGLCC foundation, which will underwrite our international expansion. Meaning helping chambers in developing Latin American countries, identifying trade opportunities for our US-based LGBT businesses, teaming opportunities with LGBT and allied companies in Latin America, and really helping that region put their economic identity- their best economic identity forward. And it’s incredibly exciting with what’s going on. 95% of the world’s consumers live outside of the US borders. So unless your product is hyper geographical- IE the yogurt store on the corner, you’ve got to be thinking about customers not just in the next town or the next state, but in other countries. 95% of those customers. And so something really exciting that we’re doing is working on that international expansion, finding those opportunities, planning our next trade mission for the fall to Mexico, and making sure that our LGBT companies can compete on every level, any level, in every country in which they want to do business or in which their product or service can find a market.
Jenn T Grace:
Wow, that’s huge and really exciting. That is awesome, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day. I know you are super busy today, and every day I’m sure. But before I let you go, why don’t you just give yourself one last plug and let everyone know where they can find you and the NGLCC.
Well if you’d like to ask me anything you can reach me at JNelson@NGLCC.org. Or even better would be NGLCCJustin on Twitter. And please find any information you want to about the conference at www.NGLCC.org.
Jenn T Grace:
Perfect, thank you so much and we will talk soon.
Thank you, Jenn.
Jenn T Grace:
Alright so that wraps up my interview with Justin Nelson, one of the cofounders of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I absolutely hope you enjoyed the interview. And having his interview now is a really great precursor to a series of interviews I have coming up in June, which I have talked a little bit about but I want to tell you a little bit more so you have a better understanding of what to expect come Just 1st.
So a couple of months back I had an epiphany that I needed to find a way that I could celebrate LGBT Pride Month with my audience in a way that is reflective of what I’m doing. So what I decided to do is put out an interview every single day for the month of June with an LGBT business leader from across the country. And the project is called, ’30 Days, 30 Voices: Stories from America’s LGBT Business Leaders.’ And you can find information about this project on my website www.JennTGrace.com/30days30voices and I have a list of everyone who will appear in the show lineup, but there will be thirty interviews with some amazing, brilliant business leaders across the country. We have a mix of LGB and T, we have a mix of men, we have a mix of women, we have a mix of allies. So it is an amazing, amazing program, and I really hope you stay tuned and check it out on June 1st.
So a commonality that has come up in a lot of those interviews is being connected to your local chamber, and to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. So it was my pleasure today to talk with Justin so you have a better understanding of what the NGLCC does so when you start hearing those interviews on June 1st, you’ll have a broader picture of how everything ties together.
So the final thing that I want to mention today is the date of my next webinar. It will be on June 7th at 1:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. And the purpose of the webinar is to teach you about doing business and marketing yourself to the LGBT community. And at the end of each webinar, we do have a live Q&A; so it is your opportunity to ask me any specific questions that you might have. So I encourage you to head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/webinars.
So before I close out today, I do want to make sure that I put in a good word for my sponsors over at the Human Performance Academy. So have a listen to this commercial and I will be right back.
As I mentioned before, you can see the show notes to this episode and find all of the links mentioned on air at www.JennTGrace.com/010. As always, thank you so much for listening to this show. If you’ve enjoyed what you heard I encourage you to leave me a review in iTunes, and if you are looking to reach out to me by any means, please head on over to my website for all of my contact information. That’s www.JennTGrace.com, and I will talk with you next time.’
Don’t miss the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Conference, it is in Dallas this year! Click here for more details. I’d love to hang out while we are all there!