From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Strive for Excellence

Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.

Nolan Bushnell

I guess I’m a true entrepreneur. I’ve never had a real job.

Growing up in the suburbs of Claysville, Pennsylvania, (population 500) and being the baby of six boys, I spent lots of time alone amusing myself and thinking up ways to earn money. I worked during the summers in both high school and college, but on my own terms, hawking advertising matchbooks, encyclopedias and even cars; I sold my first used car at age fifteen, before I had a driver’s license.

My dad, Sam Antion, was a heavy influence on my entrepreneurial spirit. He came to Ellis Island on a cattle boat in the early 1900s, and at the ripe age of ten he was head of his household. He shined shoes at the local barber shop to earn enough money to take care of his mother, sister and baby brother, and to also buy electrical engineering mail-order courses from the American School. Just three years after coming to America, my dad established his own electrical contracting firm and installed the first electric lightbulb in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Not bad for a thirteen-year-old.

Dad always made me strive for excellence. Wait, let me rephrase that: Dad lived excellence, and that’s all I knew my entire life.

An electrician by trade, Dad would always route the flat wires in a nice symmetrical and evenly spaced pattern when he was wiring; he never cut across the shortest distance to save wire, thus making his costs a little cheaper. As a child, I remember watching him and asking why he just didn’t run the wires directly between the two points. He said, “Years from now, when someone looks at this job, they’ll know that a professional did it. Also, if they ever have any trouble, they’ll be able to track down the problem much easier because I did a nice, neat job.”

I can’t remember Dad ever being out of work even one day. When everyone else was laid off, he was always in demand. His examples of persistence, determination and excellence served me well throughout my entire life.

By using the principles I learned from my father, I became my own boss, just as he did. Before I graduated from college, I owned five apartment buildings and a hotel. Mind you, this was in the 1970s, and all six of these real estate purchases were no-money-down deals, long before the mainstream ever heard of such a thing. I also owned other various successful businesses, including a nightclub, where I survived two gun fights, knife fights and numerous broken noses and arms. I guess being successful in that business meant I walked away alive! But one of my favorite businesses was as owner of a practical joke entertainment company; I received worldwide publicity and notoriety for pulling 4,000 custom-designed practical jokes, and had a ball doing it.

As you can probably guess, my motto during all these business ventures was: Do anything to avoid working for someone else!

Then I found out I could talk . . . for money!

The performing skills I perfected as a result of my practical joke company, believe it or not, inadvertently led me to the world of professional speaking. I learned that people were making good money—more important, great money—to talk. That’s it, just stand up on a stage and gab away about all sorts of things, mainly business-related topics. And I could be my own boss.

I knew I was great at entertaining, but did I have the skill to make a speech in a business setting? Absolutely not. So, my strive-for-excellence attitude that my dad taught me kicked in. I started studying everything I could about speaking. I bought and read every book I could about speaking. I joined the National Speakers Association chapter in Washington, D.C., and offered to be the chapter’s audiotape librarian so that I could listen to hundreds of hours of training materials from some of the best speakers on the planet. I put all my newfound knowledge into play, and over the next couple of years I started to become a pretty darn good speaker.

Due to all of my hard work in becoming a great speaker, I find myself today having to turn down way more speeches than I accept. I’ve raised the bar for myself, only speaking at the most prestigious seminars and big money events . . . no more engagements at Holiday Inn basements (no offense to Holiday Inn).

And there’s a big lesson here: when you get really good at something, people will notice and ask you how you did it. That’s when you put your expertise in print: I wrote Wake ’em Up Business Presentations (Anchor, 1997) and the Wake ’em Up Video Professional Speaking System (Anchor, 1999), which includes a book, video and audio training course. I sell these books as back-of-the-room offerings after my talks.

Then along came the Internet. . . .

I just want to take this opportunity to make sure that everyone reading this knows that I invented the Internet, not Al Gore. . . . Anyway, as I became more popular on the speaking circuit, I created back-of-the-room products (books, videos, CDs) to sell after my talks, which augmented my speaking fees. The on-site sales were so successful that I decided to sell these products online also. But sales via the Internet were really slow, so again I decided to become excellent, this time learning how to sell on the Internet.

I studied every course I could find. I took consultations and tried every piece of software designed for Internet marketing. I basically became an Internet fanatic. And guess what happened? Just like before, people started to notice. They begged me to work up an Internet marketing seminar. So I did, but with my comic background I just could not bring myself to call it a “bootcamp” like many other speakers did; since my seminar was all about making money by sitting at home on your rear end, I called it “ButtCamp.” Yes, I know it’s a crazy name, but it’s a serious seminar, and I’ve done them all over the United States, Canada, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Oh, I forgot—in the United Kingdom, my series is called “Bum Camp.”

Since the creation of the marketing series, I’ve helped thousands of other small-business people use the Web to sell their products and services. I’m considered one of the top Internet marketing speakers in the world, primarily because I don’t snow you with technical knowledge (hey, I don’t know any). From the thousands I have helped, I can proudly say that many have become “e-millionaires,” and others are making an extra $5,000 to $20,000 a month using the ButtCamp seminar.

I also own the Great Internet Marketing Retreat Center, located in my estate home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where my students come to live in the lap of luxury while studying Internet marketing with me. My book, The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Marketing for Small Business (Wiley, 2005), topped all the online business bestseller lists and was number two overall, only behind that little wizard boy Harry Potter.

What I learned from my dad has done wonders for my career. Undoubtedly, Sam is up there adjusting the circuitry on the pearly gates so they open and close perfectly. So the next time you want to open up a world of opportunity for yourself, think of him and strive for excellence.

Tom Antion

EPILOGUE: Tom Antion and Associates Communication Company provides entertaining and informative keynote speeches, educational seminars, retreats and mentoring on Internet marketing for small businesses.

A professional entertainer and speaker since 1988, Antion has given over 2,500 paid presentations. Antion was also chief spokesperson for CBS-owned, one of the most heavily visited Web sites in the world, in their online small-business outreach program MainStreets Online.

To learn more about Tom Antion—as well as his speaking schedule, consulting services and products—please visit

Dahlynn McKowen

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