On September 1, 2023, we lost a big name in music–Jimmy Buffet. As always happens when a celebrity passes, suddenly everyone is talking about him and his myriad contributions to entertainment. But Buffet’s popularity wasn’t because of his complex songs or his professionally-trained voice (he had neither). Buffet had something else. He became known as the king of vacation, his laid-back attitude was something a lot of people aspired to. For that reason, and eleven others, entrepreneurs can learn from this “son of a son of a sailor.” After all, he “sold” a way of life and a community that most of us find enviable.
In the Jimmy Buffet song Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes he sang, “I took off for a weekend last month just to try and recall the whole year…” This is something every professional can take to heart. Sometimes you need a break, an escape, to be able to have a brighter outlook on things. Whether you’re physically changing your latitude or simply coming at the problem from a new direction, new views can promote new clues.
Be True to Yourself and Your Mission
Jimmy Buffet released his first album in 1970 as a folk-country singer. In over half a century, his music has changed very little. He still sang about the same topics and was true to his musical roots. So true, that even if you heard a Buffet song for the first time, you could recognize it as one of his. He was always true to himself, his brand, and his mission.
Entrepreneurs can learn a lot about branding and tone from his approach. The Margaritaville brand is recognizable and synonymous with a good time.
Know Your Audience
In addition to being true to himself, his brand, and his mission, Buffet served up what his audience wanted from him. He knew what they liked and recognized his brand provided an escape for Parrotheads everywhere. (The name for his fan base was molded after the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads.) Even though other trends emerged in music, he didn’t go chasing them. He continued to give his audience what they wanted.
Eventually, Buffet grew his brand outside of music, getting involved in the hospitality industry, casinos, liquor, and even retirement communities and RV parks. But as disjointed as these other business ventures appear at first glance, they are a continuation of his appealing “island escapism” brand.
Entrepreneurs can learn from Buffet’s brand extension and how he continued to address the needs of his evolving audience (even into their own retirement).
Embrace Partnerships and Collaborations
It’s easy for celebrities to become intoxicated by fame. While you may not be in danger of that as a business leader, and might be feeling quite the opposite some days, like Buffet, success is something people often replicate. You may be feeling like other businesses in your area are becoming more competitive and are trying to eat into your market share.
While Buffet may have felt the same every time someone tried to copy his work, this never made him shy away from valuable collaborations and partnerships. In his music, he collaborated with Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and George Strait. He recognized a similar sound and extended his audience by working with these artists.
As an entrepreneur, you might be able to do the same thing to grow your audience and extend your reach by embracing the right kind of partnership.
Work Hard and Play Hard
Although Buffet was seen as a person on perpetual vacation, he released 31 albums and went on 45 tours (including one in 2023) throughout his lifetime. He made a living on vacation, enjoying what he did. But he also took time for self-care. Buffet mastered the work hard, play hard mantra without burning himself out.
Leave a Legacy
How many number-one hits did Buffet have? 20? 10? 5? Try 0. According to Billboard, he had one Top 10 Hit and 13 that made the Top 100. Yet, he is one of the most well-known singers out there and in 2023 he reached billionaire status.
Keep this in mind when you think about your efforts on behalf of your company. You may not be receiving the kudos of a #1 hit but you are having an impact on the industry. And you may not realize just how big that is for some time.
Buffet took a gamble when he diversified into all the categories that he did. But he diversified smart. He chose products that were in line with what his audience wanted, what his brand was, and the value he brought to his audience.
You don’t want your company to be known for just one thing (like your signature service or product). But you also want to be smart in the projects, events, and programs you take on. Don’t embrace something just because it’s a trend. Make sure it’s in keeping with your strategic plan.
Lead by Example
Buffet didn’t build an audience of flip-flop-wearing fans by showing up for his concerts in business suits or a hoodie, for that matter. His audience became him. They followed his leadership and laid-back approach.
As a business leader, you want to show your community the type of leader they need through your actions. Don’t give words to leadership programming and then exhibit the exact opposite. Be true to your brand and your leadership style in words–and more importantly–actions. Lead by example.
Don’t Succumb to Self-doubt
Was Jimmy Buffet the best singer ever? Could he play guitar like no one else? Was he the best dresser, best looking, or smartest in the room? Perhaps. But likely not. He built a brand that reflected who he was. He didn’t question whether he was the best person to sing his song, nor did he allow imposter syndrome to derail him from a spectacular career.
You may not be the best business mind in your town, but you are giving your community something only you can do. You’re sharing yourself, your personality, and your talents. Pay close attention to what you’re best at. Compliment yourself when you’re feeling doubtful. The biggest critic you will ever face is you. Thankfully, it’s the only one you have any control over.
Indulge Your Passion
Buffet did what he did well into his 70s (a decade or more after most people retire), not because he needed the money, but because he had a passion for it and enjoyed it. What is it about your work that you are passionate about? Keeping your mind focused on that will help you overcome the trials and challenges.
In addition to investing in several verticals, Buffet left time to be creative across many mediums. He wrote a Hollywood Soundtrack, a Broadway play, fiction and non-fiction, in addition to his music.
If you have lost some of your passion for life as a professional or entrepreneur, or if you want to avoid burnout, look for ways to flex your creativity. Whether that is a creative pursuit in your life or taking up a hobby or a side gig, getting creative is like exercise for the brain. It helps make it stronger and nimbler.
Jimmy Buffet had a brilliant business mind and surrounded himself by a capable team. But he was also very invested in every project and undertaking within his portfolio. Entrepreneurs can learn so much from his life, including one piece of advice that can help us through any tough day “…there’s booze in the blender, and soon it will render that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.”