Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie is a success story about the power of positive thinking. His blog, TerryStarbucker.com, spreads “realistic optimism” through a philosophy he calls “half-fullism.” After working in various leadership positions for more than 25 years, St. Marie and his partner, Liz Strauss, co-founded a company called SOBCon in 2007. The annual Successful Online Business Conference gives bloggers an opportunity to meet face-to-face.
We asked St. Marie how his event business has grown, how he helps other small businesses use social media, how he got his distinctive moniker, and why he’s eternally optimistic.
ISBB: What’s with the “Starbucker” nickname?
St. Marie: About five years ago, I started my personal blog and wanted to keep it separate from my corporate job at a large cable TV company. I had an affinity for Starbucks coffee and went to the same store every day, and the nickname just stuck. In fact, it’s taken on a life of its own and really represents both my social media presence and personality.
How did SOBCon start, and how has it grown?
SOBCon is a live event that my partner and I launched a few years ago. It started as a gathering to get fellow bloggers together in person, but we needed something more interesting, so we turned it into a conference. We asked people to come to Chicago and attracted about 90 people our first year, so we knew we had something substantial to work with.
In 2008, through word of mouth and organic support, we had about 100 attendees. We capped it at 150 the past two years. Now, we have a second annual spin-off event, SOBCon NW 2011 planned for September 16-18 in Portland, Ore., to help bloggers find new business partners, discuss content, combine the aspects of being a small business with being more business savvy, create processes to be successful, or overcome their fears.
How does SOBCon help individuals “get it”?
We separate some SOBCon programs into Models and Masterminds in our 45-minute sessions, during which we put people in small groups and give them time to talk about how they use content. We all have lunch together and find like-minded people to explore ideas and how they can be applied. During our Mastermind sessions, we often see light bulbs going off and people saying, “Now I get it!”
What is the biggest problem you’ve faced in running your company?
Creating a live annual event is a very speculative business. When we started in 2007, we built a website and put it out there, and then we waited and waited for people to sign up.
How did you overcome that challenge?
We tried to mitigate the risk by fostering corporate partnerships through our sponsor and event hosts. Though we lost money on the first event, we were able to partner with our vendors. You might not always be able to pay a bill right away, but with the right partner, we found that you can work out a payment plan. They understood the speculative nature of our event. It’s always a leap of faith, but they were willing to work with us.
Your Twitter account now has more than 17,000 followers. How do you help other small businesses use social media?
I think a lot of people over-analyze how to use social media. If you don’t have good communication skills, you’re not going to be that good on social media. To me, social media is a bow and a quiver of communications arrows, or tools, that you toss out there. There are a million different opinions on how to best use social media, but it has to come from your heart. You also need to have a social media strategy so you can execute it against a plan.
Why are you eternally optimistic?
It’s the result of a few things. First, my Midwestern upbringing was founded in education, so that’s where I got my “half-fullism.” Second, I learned that life teaches you great lessons, and you grow by them. I had some early successes in my career, but then some failures. I always asked myself, “Was this misfortune or an opportunity?” No one leads an eternally happy life, but you can perpetuate optimism and create a self-fulfilling prophecy if you remain positive.