Run your business like a rock star

What can a rock star teach us about building and nurturing our brand and our customer base?

I was lucky enough to see both Bruce Springsteen and Prince in the past year, and was really struck by both shows. These are guys well into middle age, with a list of hits as long as your arm, and, presumably, enough money to retire to an island of their choice somewhere in a warm, blue sea – rather than spending their time in musty backstage rooms at hockey arenas.

A huge part of the reason they can keep doing this is their devoted fanbases which they’ve built up over decades, now spanning generations.

Individuals and companies looking to build up their brands and develop sustainable businesses can learn from these amazing performers and businesspeople. Here are some lessons I’d suggest any of us can draw on how to run our businesses like a rock star:

1. It takes time to build up your base

Almost nobody is an overnight success, American Idol and Mark Zuckerberg notwithstanding.

Whatever your industry’s version of playing the bar circuit in New Jersey happens to be, you need to assume you’re going to have to do it, and probably for longer than you expect. The benefit of this kind of apprenticeship, though, should be the learning you do, and the habits you develop. You need to have ambition to keep slogging – although patience and humility help a lot, too.

2. Keep innovating

If Prince just played a live version of the Purple Rain album over and over again, I suspect he’d be on the casino circuit by now and his audience would be much more confined to a single demographic. Instead, he plays music from recent albums, as well as new arrangements of older songs, and all of it infused with the same energy and power throughout.

Any business that stands still runs the risk of being overtaken by others. You can’t assume that your current product line or service offerings are going to be valued in the future. If you don’t keep reaching out to build your relationship with existing clients and attract new ones, you’re going to shrink rather than grow.

3. Play around a bit

At a recent Minnesota show Springsteen took a request for a song the band had never played live before, figuring out the key in real time and arranging on the fly. At the show I saw, Prince continually played riffs from other artists, seamlessly working them into his own music – AC/DC stands out in my memory, because it seemed the most improbable.

When a business or a professional has the confidence to switch things up a bit, to try something new, they can see if their market will allow them to stretch their boundaries a bit. It conveys confidence and can act as market intelligence at the same time, especially if it’s in response to ideas drawn directly from the market.

4. But respect what got you here in the first place

For all that they did some experimentation, both artists delivered the massive hits that got everyone excited about them in the first place. And both acts played as if they were in front of hometown crowds – both shows were long, loud, and enthusiastic… and probably utterly exhausting for the headliners.

No matter how long you’ve been around, you can’t take your base for granted. While you can recognize and capitalize on assets like brand name and customer loyalty, you still have to work hard to keep those assets relevant and valuable to the market. If middle-aged rock stars can do that in a market that moves as quickly as pop music, surely it’s possible in all sorts of industries.

That special atmosphere that comes from a live show should be the kind of energy that we all should aspire to generate in our work, whether we play to a crowd of one, or our work is seen by millions.

Ready to turn the amps up to 11?

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.