This is the twelfth of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the twenty-third and twenty-fourth chapters – “Build Your Brand” and “Broadcast Your Brand” – which appear on pages 224 through 245.
What do others think of when they think of you? Do they have any sort of a consistent image? Is the image they come up with a positive one, one that you’re happy to be associated with? Is the image an interesting one?
In marketing-speak, this is your “brand.” In terms of your future – social relationships, career opportunities, and so forth – the better and more interesting your brand is, the better off you are.
It can seem like a strange way to look at things, but it really works. We constantly make snap decisions about who to invite to events, who to call, and so on, and those snap decisions are based on a very simple image of people that we have in our mind – their brand. Quite often, that “brand” is based on simple things, things that the person could easily alter if they so chose.
The question of course becomes what can we do to improve our own brand?
Figure Out What You Want
On page 229, Ferrazzi addresses the big question underneath all of this.
What do you want people to think when they hear or read your name? What product or service can you best provide? Take your skills, combine them with your passions, and find out where in the market, or within your own company, they can best be applied.
The beginning of this whole matter lies in what you want. What do you want other people to think of you? When they hear your name, what would you like to be the first thing or two that pops into their heads?
If you spend a bit of time defining this, the conclusions that you come to will often direct you immediately towards what you should be doing with your time. If you want to be known as good at something, then you better well be good at that thing – and you need to be willing to share what you’re good at. If you want to be known as having a particular character trait, then you’d better have that character trait – and you need to exhibit it clearly to others.
Similarly, if you recognize negative traits in yourself and you don’t want people to identify you for those traits, work on them. If you think people identify you as quiet – and you don’t like it – work on it!
Looking at yourself through the eyes of someone else is a great way to figure out how you really want to present yourself to the world – and brutal honesty when doing it exposes the areas of your life that need work (and there are areas of everyone’s life that need work).
Ferrazzi reinforces that ‘grow yourself’ message on page 228:
You can’t do meaningful work that makes a difference unless you’re devoted to learning, growing, and stretching your skills. If you want others to redefine what you do and who you are within organizational boundaries, then you have to be able to redefine yourself. That means going above and beyond what’s called for. That means seeing your resume as a dynamic, changing document every year.
In other words, if you want people to see you differently, you need to start taking real action right now to make that happen. Just wishing for it won’t make it so.
If there’s some aspect of yourself that you’d like others to really notice and identify with you, you need to work on it. You need to polish it. You need to focus on it. You can’t just wish that others would notice your raw talent.
One of my closest friends is a really gifted writer, but she rarely shares what she writes. She keeps it to herself. Thus, when others think of her – both personally and professionally – they don’t think of her as a writer at all. She doesn’t have that reputation.
What can she do to change that? Write. Practice writing. Take every opportunity to get published. Share her successes as a writer by sending links out to her friends showing off her work. Make her personal website all about her writing, and include a link to it in the signature of her email. But it all comes down to one thing – she’s got to practice that writing, improve at it, and start sharing it with the world. Without that, everything else is just a pipe dream.
People remember uniqueness. That’s how you’ll stick in people’s minds. On page 230, Ferrazzi gives an example:
When I was younger, I used to wear bow ties. I felt that it was a signature that people would not quickly forget, and it worked. “You were the guy who spoke at the conference last year wearing the bow tie,” I’d hear over and over again. Over time, I was able to give up that signature, as my message and delivery became my brand.
My unique feature is that I’m very tall and broad shouldered, almost in a “football linebacker” kind of way. People remember me for my size.
For others, it can be trickier. However, there’s usually some way to stand out a bit in a crowd. One of my friends who’s involved in businesses wears a fedora almost everywhere he goes in relation to his work. It makes him appear a bit taller and really stands out visually. Another friend of mine – a personal trainer – has his business card done on what appears to be a piece of an Ace bandage. People remember things like that – you stick in their mind.
When you stick in their mind, you become the person that they recall later on. When they need a personal trainer, they’ll remember the guy who had the business card made out of an Ace bandage. When they think back to the conference, they’ll remember the guy with the enormous hands who gave the talk about money. They’ll remember the guy with the fedora who was astonishingly quick at remembering a large set of names (a little parlor trick he’s mastered). They won’t remember the person that didn’t bother to stand out at all.
Talk to Journalists
One of the easiest ways to get your unique story known is to talk to journalists about it. It’s easier than you think, actually. On page 233:
Journalists do less sleuthing for their stories than you’d imagine. They get a majority of their stories from people that have sought them out, and not the other way around.
This is surprisingly true. I’ve been called out of the blue by reporters who merely went to Google, typed in search terms, and found The Simple Dollar because it matched a story they were interested in.
The reverse is also true. When my first book, 365 Ways to Live Cheap, was about to be released, I attempted to drum up some traditional media about the book. I just simply contacted lots of different publications directly, telling them about the book. I did NOT do a press release – those don’t seem to work when there are people out there issuing them by the hundreds of thousands. Instead, I contacted people directly myself.
It worked. I ended up with a small flood of stories about The Simple Dollar and my book last December. Yes, just because I’m some guy writing a blog about his inability to manage money and his struggle to find a career path.
Once you’ve figured out what you want your professional brand to be (probably a mix of your passions and your personality), look at journalists as one way to spread the message. Maybe you’re a stay at home mom trying to make money selling handmade Norwegian food on the internet (and if you live in central Iowa, let me know what your lefse prices are!). Maybe you’re a government employee who spends his spare time making exquisitely-finished wood flag cases for the parents of deceased soldiers. Maybe you’re wheelchair bound and you’re writing fiction by using transcription software. Whatever it is, you probably have a story that someone would want to share. So send it out there.
But where? Many people swing too hard and strike out quickly. On page 242, Ferrazzi offers a clue:
Are you Bill Gates? No. Maybe you’ve developed the antidote for the common cold? No again. Well, the New York Times probably isn’t knocking on your door quite yet. Go local first. Start a database of newspapers and magazines in your area that might be interested in your content. Try college newspapers, the neighborhood newspaper, or the free industry digital newsletter you find in your inbox. You’ll get the fire started and learn how to deal with reporters in the process.
In my area, I’d start with the smaller papers and the free papers. I’d also talk to people running websites that cover issues in central Iowa. If I were running a local side business like the ones I mentioned above, I’d shoot for the independents, not for the Des Moines Register – at least not at first.
Once I was comfortable talking to reporters about what I was doing – and if you’re going to go through stages of nervousness and screw up, you’re way better doing that in front of a reporter from a tiny paper than a big one – then I would move up and try to contact bigger sources. View it as a mix of practice and of ultra-local marketing of your story.
Yes, you’re marketing yourself. For some people, that’s uncomfortable. But if you’re doing something that requires others to be interested, you have to start somewhere. Start telling your story if you want people to start finding you.
Don’t Be Annoying
On page 243, Ferrazzi makes another key point about all of this:
There’s a fine line between marketing yourself properly and becoming annoying. If a pitch of mine gets rejected, I’ll ask what else it needs to make it publishable. Sometimes it will never be right in the editor’s eyes, but other times, you can answer a few more questions or dig deeper.
Sometimes people won’t be interested in what you have to say. That’s fine – just let it drop, or else find a way to re-work it. If you just keep trying again and again to catch a fish with the same old rotten bait, you’re not only wasting your time but you’re learning a bad technique through repetition.
A rejection isn’t a bad thing. It just means that what you’re saying needs some additional work to make it compelling. Many people think that if they tell their story to someone and the person is not interesting, that person is rejecting them. Rarely is that the case – usually, it’s the story that’s being rejected.
Step back and ask yourself what’s interesting about what you’re trying to do. Why would other people care about this? If you were reading about what you’re doing, what would make you want to keep reading and find out more? The better you are at answering that question, the better you’ll be able to explain that very thing to a journalist and the more likely they’ll want to write about your story – and then you both win.
On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters – “The Write Stuff” and “Getting Close to Power.”