Given that this is a small-business blog, you might not ever have heard of Colt Cabana. He's a Deerfield-born wrestler who was "fired by the WWE, [and] told that I couldn't live my dream." He turned a potential negative into a huge positive by building a legit empire of supporters on social media. As of press time, he has 110,195 followers and a very popular podcast, Art of Wrestling, which, as of press time, has a five-star rating from 2,606 votes.
So, yeah. He's doing pretty well. Arguably much better than most small businesses. I gave Cabana a call to find out what his "secret" is to social media success and how other entrepreneurs can learn from his example.
The typical image people have of entrepreneurs is dudes in khakis and polos taking meetings over coffee. Tell us a bit about how you fit into the entrepreneurial community here in Chicago.
Colt Cabana: As weird as it sounds, because I go town-to-town as a professional wrestler and I'm traveling a lot, but I really seem to build up this empire/multimedia community. I talk to a lot of my friends just in the regular business world and I see their concerns and complaints with their own life and I see what I'm doing and how easy it would be to transition any of this. I'm working for myself and so I'm my only employee. There's different money coming in and different jobs to do. The idea is I'm working as hard as I possibly can and I get to reap all the benefits. This week I was in Portland and Vancouver and next week coming up I'm in Cleveland and Detroit and then I'm going to Japan. I have to race back to America and fill out all these shipping supplies, all the orders that I've taken and all the international orders that I've taken. At the same time, I bring my laptop with me and my recording device and I put out a podcast every week and I still find time to write.
How do you figure out the best way to promote all the different things you're creating? And how do you keep finding things to promote and having something new to say?
Colt Cabana: People talk about the word "marketing." I think it's so generic and weird, the term "marketing yourself." People just say, "Oh, you just have to get a Twitter and constantly put your sales up." That's what I think people think, that you just have to bombard people. Where, everything that I do, I do on what I enjoy as a customer. I hate people that tweet every single hour and fill up my timeline and only promote sales. It's annoying. So I make sure that I have the right amount of comedy and fun tweets and then I intermingle the obviously important things. Advertisements or whatever I need to tell people what I'm doing. Also, I guess in terms of promoting, you can't be so ego-driven -- you have to give people stuff that they enjoy. What I've come to terms with is that I'm going to give out content that people like. My content's not going to be driven to make people buy something or to sales or whatever. Like, I'm going to put out as much quality stuff that people enjoy in my field, which is professional wrestling, and if I put out enough stuff and I give enough content and put people onboard, then all of a sudden they have a connection to me and they feel a real connection to me. I think that's the most important thing.
My story that I've told a million times: Fired by the WWE, I was told that I couldn't live my dream and I said I wouldn't give up. I let people into my world. I think it's very important, but I won't let WWE tell me that I can't be a professional wrestler, that I can't do this for a living. I have so many people onboard now that love what I do, that support what I do, they want to see me successful. They want to see me succeed. I think that's important to small business.
Every time they buy a T-shirt, they know it's going to me. They know it's going to help me live my dream. Every time they buy a digital download or come to a show and get an autograph. That's literally going into my pocket to help me live and keep me in wrestling, which WWE didn't want me to do.
What's the most important part of your social-media hustle?
Colt Cabana: My vision of a business, especially a small business, is to have that real relationship. I don't care about if Michelin Tires does well. Like, to me, it's just a giant corporation. I don't care about McDonald's. It's just a giant corporation. But Ryan Barkan at One Hour Tees. I know it's just him and his friends trying to make a living. I care about those guys. Every order I make over there is going to go and help somebody live their dream. That's important to me when I support a business.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.