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Don’t Get Good At Things You Hate

masks-1548494-639x426A recent episode of This American Life (#598: “My Undesirable Talent”) told the stories of people who had become really good at things they regretted.

One of them was a guy named Zora, born to Ugandan parents and raised in Fresno, who went off to college and pretended to be an African exchange student. He did a whole Coming to America Eddie Murphy impression, first as a joke, and then, because so many people fell for it–and him–he had to sustain it for months.

He had fun with it at first–mainly because playing the extroverted, fun, upbeat kid from Uganda, he found, earned him far more friends and attention than he’d ever earned as the sole black kid in Fresno. He liked this newfound personality and character, and so did everyone else. He was beloved.

But, as you can imagine, he cracked under the pressure.

Forming real relationships under the guise of being someone else (in effect, mocking everyone you now call a friend) is, I imagine, a terrific source of stress. Especially when one of them was a girl he really liked.

When he finally broke character, his friends were thrown, but most recovered…except for the girl, who understandably felt mocked and betrayed. She was disappointed because he turned out to be, well, like every other dude. They were both hurt.

The whole thing kind of reminded me of Mrs. Doubtfire. And Tootsie. Anyway.

My point is this: How often do we get good at a thing because of what other people seem to want or need from us—and how long can and do we keep it up?

Fine, Zora is an extreme example. But think about it: How often or for how long have you been doing a thing you’re good at, that you don’t even want to do?

Because of the work I do in the brand space (ew did I really just say that) I know that there’s this level of weirdness that happens when someone fears they’re “pretending at” being someone or something else. There’s this whole panicky thing that happens. I’ve seen it. They worry that they won’t get “past” who they were or they don’t know who they are now.

Your brand shouldn’t be some other fake, glossy version of you. It should be, well, you.

Who you are now. And that that does change over time. It evolves. Like any organic thing.

The less of a gap between who you are and what you represent, the less confused you will feel and the more powerful your positioning. I always say this about brand: It’s a blend of your promise, your presence, and your practice—in other words, what expectations you set, what you’re like to be around, or what vibe you give off, and what you do over and over again.

So my warning is this: Don’t work hard at being a thing you don’t want to deliver on. Seems like a no-duh. But really think about it. Are you doing that?

This is of particular concern for one-man shops, freelancers, solos, business owners who are looking to grow and shift away perhaps from what they’ve been doing, to what they want to do.

Be wary of doing the things you can do, especially if you don’t want to do them.

Whether that’s certain services or offerings, or even being the person people come to for “x” when you don’t want to do “x” anymore.

The reason you may be afraid of doing this is because, like anyone, you’re afraid of turning business away. You think people are coming to you because of this one thing you do, even if you loathe doing it.

It requires an act of bravery to come out as you, to do what will serve you, even if it’s not what everyone else expects.

But what’s the alternative? Faking an accent so long you forget what you actually sound like? Bad idea.

What “I Should Write a Book” Really Means — and Why You Want It

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 11.31.54 PMThe desire to go big hits people in very different ways.

Some people have always seen themselves in the spotlight and won’t rest until they are on the set of the Today Show.

But for many others it starts smaller, humbler. Like, “I should write an article and pitch it as a guest blog,” or “Maybe I’ll start my own blog.” Or, the big one: “I should write a book.”

It all comes from the same desire—the urge to be heard.

But what do you do? You wave it away, like oh no no no not little ol’ me.

I was that way, too. I would think, oh, I don’t need that much. A little attention would be nice, but no need to go crazy. That was insecurity talking. The fear that I couldn’t possibly be worth that much so I wouldn’t ask for much.

How silly. You could write and self-publish your own book, sure. And no one would read it. And you could tell people you wrote it, and feel good that you checked that box.

But, see, that frustrates me. Because what is the point in all the effort to go big with an idea, if you’re not going to, well, go big with an idea!

I tell you this because I want you to make your effort worth it. And because I’ve had my brain in the media space, what with the launch of Lights Camera Expert, a course I’ve created with my friend Paula Rizzo, to specifically help people do that—snag major media attention. (If you want to learn more about that, and get access to our free 3-part video course, by the way, get on the list!).

And when we asked around about why people hadn’t sought out more media coverage, we were shocked at what we heard.

One small business owner said, “Oh, I didn’t even know you could pitch the media. I thought the powers that be just decided who would be featured.”

And I completely understood how she might think that! But it’s not true!

I’m telling you this now: Please stop underestimating your ability to take what you believe in to the world’s stage. Because media is the only way hear about anything, except from one person directly to another. Or, like, shouting out your window.

Let’s be honest: Even if you do a teensy tiny blog on organic gardening, don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to reach and connect with more people if given half a chance. You would!

It’s not about whether an idea or work is “worthy” in and of itself. Don’t do that. That’s absolutism and it’s stultifying, because then you decide whether to share your idea or business or book, only based on whether it is in itself good or excellent or even genius. When in fact, the way you present a thing is EVERYTHING. And this is how people so often get it wrong. They don’t know how to position the idea to get attention.

You can’t “just” rely on media to grow a business, of course. That wouldn’t be smart. At all. You have to create relationships and network and ask questions and ask for the sale. But that tug, to do a thing and share it from one to many vs. one to one, that’s just another way of saying “the world needs to hear this.” And maybe it does.

All roads lead to media, because in this day and age, we don’t just share one to one.  In my mind it’s crazy NOT to take your idea or opinion out there into the world in a big way. Maybe not “everyone” will care. Most won’t. But. Only when you go big will you be able to reach the people who really DO want what you have to offer. They’ve been waiting for it.

(Oh, and yes, if this sounds fun to you and you’re dying to learn how to position yourself in the media, get on this list asap and I’ll be in touch.)

How to Make Your Work Matter

fistWhether you work for yourself or someone else, there’s one thing I know about you: You want your work to matter.

Even, or especially, if you’re afraid it doesn’t. Maybe your boss or clients heap praise on you. Maybe they don’t say a damn thing.

But you want it to be good, and you want people to notice it.

I just spoke at How Design Live (#HowLive), the largest design conference in the country. Five hundred people came to my session, entitled “Build Your Personal Brand On the Job,” most of whom were sent to the conference by their employers. But while that’s a catchy title, what the talk is really about is how to get your work to matter. Because when you do that in a way that’s uniquely yours, bam. You have your brand.

Because the point of having a ‘brand,’ a word that’s becoming annoying even to me, is so that people know what you stand for, what to expect, and why they should bother with you. Your brand connotes meaning, that is the point. And one way to make sure you mean something is to make what you do matter to other people.

Three ways to starting doing that:

1 – Think like an entrepreneur.

And by that I mean, stop making someone else responsible for what you do. Stop checking boxes with the hope that it’ll all add up to something, and decide to take the reins of your career. An entrepreneur, by definition, doesn’t wait for someone to say ok. They just DO. What can you go out of your way to do that would create more meaning, more value, where you are? You decide how you’re going to make things better around here, and be the one to make it happen. What are you waiting for? Initiators get noticed.(More about what makes a true entrepreneur.

2 – Give gifts.

Go above and beyond to give things you don’t have to, and you will delight, impress, and show that you are more than your job description. I don’t mean a fruit basket. I mean a piece of added value, an extra thing, a bonus, a bit of insight. Something of value to the receiver.

Ken Carbone, co-founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency said that when he’s bidding on a client, he always gives them something valuable for free—in his case, he says, “$100K worth of branding advice,” and it’s something so valuable he had it trademarked: His “unify, simplify, amplify” approach to creating a more powerful brand. Would you forget that guy? Not me.In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “The gift represents effort. Effort is separate from money, separate from job description, separate from capitalism itself.” You achieve the goal of being indispensable, he says, “by giving selfless gifts, and those benefit everyone.”

3 – Don’t wait until your next job interview to figure out what you were doing there.

How many times have you scrambled to cobble together a great answer to use the next day at an interview? Because you know they’re going to ask about your last job. Or maybe you’re struggling to update your Linked In profile, and aren’t sure what to say.

Don’t wait until your ‘done’ with a job or role to figure out why it mattered. Think about it now, while you’re doing it. The beauty of the Linked In profile is that it’s fluid and evolving, unlike a resume, which is outdated the moment you print it. You should ALWAYS be updating your profile—with new projects, new insights, new skills.

Here’s a tip: If your profile or resume reads like something I could post on a job board tomorrow, then you’ve written a job description, not a record of your contribution. Make sure that you show not just what you did, but what effect it had, and how what you did mattered. After all, if you don’t know, how will anyone else?

…Not sure what your brand is or why what you do matters? Maybe you need some help. I’m launching a live, online workshop this summer called “Why You” — it’s not up yet but it will be. Be the first to sign up (and get a hot seat, which means you’ll be in the spotlight) by adding yourself to my list here.)

3 Wrong-Headed Ideas You Have About Your Brand Voice

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.19.28 AMYour real-life voice is distinctly you: I know it’s you because of how you sound when you walk into a room, answer the phone, laugh. I know your sense of humor, tone, volume. Your voice is who you are with my eyes closed. You have a way of speaking and interacting in the world that no one else does. That’s why we love comedic impressionists—because of how absolutely uncanny it is for someone to nail someone else’s cadence, tone, and sound. Your voice is that unique.

Your brand voice is the same thing—it mirrors you, and should extend the “you” of your brand out beyond you the person or you the individual members of your team. It’s a tricky thing—hit the wrong note, and you can miss your mark completely, turn people off, or just confuse them. When we talk about voice, we’re not just talking about topic or tone—it’s both. It’s what you say, and how you say it. Just ask my mother, who on more than one occasion during my adolescence reminded me that it wasn’t what I said, but my tone that was the problem.

Because it’s a complex and essentially living thing (and you know this because the lousy ones sound canned)—in order for it to land with a client or customer, it has to “sound” like you, but also be a voice they want to listen to. In short, there must be a connection, and the companies who nail it do it in a way that sounds simple, natural, like regular conversation.

That said, here are three of the most wrong-headed notions about brand voice that are, quite frankly, keeping you from communicating with your customers, clients, prospects, and readers in a real way—which can be costing you fans, followers, and business.

Wrong idea #1: They know what I’m talking about.

Oh boy. Now, I know where this comes from—and it’s from a good place. You know your customers, who they are, and what they need…but assumptions you make about what they know about you or what you offer in particular are a problem.

Put it this way: When have assumptions ever not been a problem? They always are! Ask anyone who’s been married for more than eight days. Usually when you hear “assume” it’s part of a rationale for why there was a screw up (“Oh, honey…I just assumed you knew”).

Rather, I want you to presume. To presume means your thought or idea is based on what you already KNOW to be true, and assume is what you’re guessing based on no information whatsoever.

Look at your website, your communications, newsletter, tweets—whatever it is you’re using to touch your customers and audience. Where are you making assumptions, and thus making them jump to a conclusion or worse, guess, about what you can do or can’t do? It’s your job to fill in the blanks and close the gap between you and the reader so that it’s very clear what you want them to do.

Wrong idea #2: My copywriter handles that.

Writers are wonderful people to have around and on your team, especially the ones who bear some institutional knowledge and know what you’re trying to do. Look, as a seasoned writer myself, I know how valuable this skill is, and I wield it deftly and differently, depending on who I’m speaking to and writing for. But if you think you can hire a copywriter to just “write up” what’s most important to you, you’re gravely mistaken.

Copywriters aren’t wizards; they’re only as good and helpful to you as the direction you give. So that means you have to have a direction and an idea of how you want to come across to the reader. WHO are you in the conversation with your client/audience? Are you the older sister who knows just a touch more than they do? Perhaps you want to strike a more formal note, one that inspires respect and a little bit more distance. Until you know the relationship, you can’t nail the voice.

There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing to a copywriter, by the way—but you don’t leave the voice to them; co-create it with them. Yes, they are the masters of the written realm, but there needs to be plenty of discussion and trial and error and exploring of language and tone before you can just throw something out there into the world.

Wrong-headed idea #3: My brand voice is determined by SEO

(Pardon me while I reach for the Advil.)

I know that you’re obsessed with SEO and being at the top of the Google search and all of that. Really, I do. But if you write to SEO? Look, no one’s doing that anymore. There are subtler, better ways to do it, and if I were an SEO expert, I would tell you and this would be a different article altogether. But there are ways to incorporate best SEO practice without having your brand voice shackled by lousy syntax and its resulting awkwardness.

So while I don’t claim to be an SEO expert, God help you if you’re just using words you think the customer is searching for. That’s only part of it. Brand voice isn’t a collection of words that someone might type into Google, any more than a personal and intimate conversation you might have with your significant other is plucked out of a screenplay.

Think of SEO as the address on the envelope, the details that get your message to the people who need it—they enable them to find you, yes. But. Once they’re there, you have to have more to say. Once the digital envelope connects you via the magic of the interwebs, they click on: Your website, email, profile, whatever—and out comes the letter. You’ve got to have something to say. What is it? Because that’s the most important thing of all.

Like this? Join my FREE weekly webinar, #PowerLunch, a bite-size business & branding webinar for professionals who want to learn but still want time to eat.

Sign up for my monthly newsletter, Brand Spanking News, and start blowing up your brand like nobody’s business.

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Stop Searching for Your Passion (Do This Instead)

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There’s tremendous pressure to “find your passion” lately. Too much pressure, if you ask me. It’s also misleading: If I tell you to “find your passion,” we must presume that it’s been lost, like a set of keys or that coupon for a free burrito at Chipotle.

Not only is it lost, it’s now a job requirement: Unhappy in your work? Well, are you not living in or aligned with your passion? Are you not doing the work of your dreams? If you’re not absolutely compelled and swooning over our work, we’re told, you’re doing something wrong. We use passion as the barometer and measure of everything. And it’s a mistake.

Go ahead—call up any life-slash-business coach for an initial consult (I’ll wait), and in that first conversation, I guarantee you’ll be asked, “What are you passionate about?”

The pressure so many of us feel to “find your passion” is the pits. It can become little more than a self-indulgent navel gaze, and until you put rubber to road, it doesn’t amount to much. It also presumes you’re supposed to know something you don’t. I can’t tell you how many people, including myself, have thought, “Jesus. I don’t know what I’m passionate about. Why don’t I know? It must be because I’m devoid of drive and substance, and a complete waste of space.” This is not the kind of thinking that fuels great success.

I’m passionate about lots of things. But this notion that you must have some secret, singular passion does you and your work a disservice.

(WATCH: My two-minute talk on why passion isn’t the answer to everything.)

 

“I want to help people!”

You know what everyone tells me their passion is? Helping people. Yawn.

That’s not a passion; that’s a prosocial instinct that we’re born with to keep us from (completely) annihilating each other and isolating ourselves. It makes you human and not a monster. Saying your passion is helping people is no different than saying you’re busy. Everyone is. And to say either thing as a way of distinguishing yourself is to assume the other person isn’t, and it just never lands right. (I’m busy AND passionate, too, thank you very much!)

Passion is an emotion, and emotions are fickle and transient and will trip you up every chance they get. You push beyond them by doing, acting, responding, and using the tools and talents you have to create, make, or offer a thing that’s useful and valuable to other people. And if it’s not useful, than tweaking it and trying again.

That’s why I want to move the conversation past what your True Passion. Because who cares, really? My motto is that it’s one thing to have passion; it’s another to be compelling. And no one will buy your yogurt or hire you to do their taxes or donate to your cause just because YOU happen to be passionate about doing it. You have to do it very well, and you have to make what you do compelling to me. That’s the job.

 

Passion Follows Success

One of my favorite columns ever is this piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams that ran in the Wall Street Journal years ago. In it, he argues that passion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: “It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion,” he writes. But when things go down the drain, the passion can drain, too.

“In hindsight, it looks as if the projects that I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked,” he writes. “But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

I’ll tell you how I’ve been able to grow my own business, and it’s not by waxing poetic about my passion, but by doing—coaching, writing, speaking, connecting. Doing it, sometimes well, sometimes not well, every day. That’s how my real sweet spot emerged: I have knack and  honed skill for getting people to bust through their hangups, biases, and blind spots so they can see what they do in a whole new way.

This is particularly relevant as I gear up to run a half-day workshop on Friday, July 10th  in New York City for entrepreneurs, visionaries, brand managers, and freelancers who are having trouble finding their sweet spot (wanna come? Seats are still available!) They feel stuck and aren’t sure why. They’re wondering where passion has failed them. They question who they are and how to communicate what they do in ways that compel other people. And on July 10th, we’re going to bust through all of that together.

(Register now and receive a free 30-min coaching session with me.)

When you have a clearer, crisper sense of what you DO, not just what you’re “passionate about,” the wheels click into gear, and start to turn. You gain momentum. It feels amazing.

It feels….well, like passion.
(The event, btw, is called “Nail Your Brand & Revitalize Your Business” and it’s happening FRI 7/10 from 9am – 12pm at Wix Lounge in Manhattan—space is limited. If you register before July 4th, you’ll also get a free 30-min coaching session with me, and I promise not to ask you what your passion is.)

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Passion is Not a Business Plan: Why Mission Trumps It, Every Time

Click to watch the Solopreneur episode of Selena Soo

Click to watch the Solopreneur episode of Selena Soo

You’re passionate about what you do. But is anyone else? I mean really—are they? Everyone loves to talk about how pivotal passion is: find your passion, live your passion.

But the fact is, passion itself is not a business plan, nor an imperative for anyone else. Your job is to make me care about a thing, period. Then, and only then, can you get me to pay attention long enough to become a client, customer, fan, or advocate of what you do.

This is what I do. And yes, I finally figured it out: I help people make what they care about compelling to other people. Because you can be passionate about stamp collecting, and that doesn’t mean you’ll be setting the world on fire.

I had the opportunity to spend a half day with the members of Selena Soo’s S2 Publicity Mastermind Group, to work with them on their own messaging (they were about to deliver them to members of the media at a dinner the next night). Not just the words or what they’re saying, but the how. That’s where people really get hamstrung.

I work with lots of really brilliant, successful people, many of them women, and the women in particular get caught on this thing. Because any attempt to distill what they do becomes an alarming internal question: “Who am I, anyway? And oh God, why WOULD anyone listen to me? Does anyone care?”

You can see how easy it is to get stuck on that. I know I have. And that’s why I say to people: Don’t question if you’re smart enough, or if you know enough, or if you’re qualified to take up space. Consider the people who devour scads of our collective attention, with very little to offer in return but an eyeful of their sizable rear ends. Your job is to give something worth focusing on! The fact that you have passion for whatever it is you do is great—but you’ve got to give me something I care about, too.

In this episode of Solopreneur, I talk with publicity expert Selena Soo about what it takes to not just engage, but influence other people (her course, Influence, is now closed, but check it out for the next time you can enroll). And it has to do with knowing what you want to do, not just what you care about.

Shift your frame from shameless self promo to responsibility. In Selena’s words, if you have a message and a vision for helping other people, it’s your responsibility to share that message. When you look at it that way, it changes things. Business strategist Gary Coxe says, you might feel “bad” about banging on your neighbor’s door at 3 a.m., but not if his house is on fire!

Focus on the message. Some of the shyest, most self-effacing people are fantastic teachers! Why? Because they’re not “marketing” to their students. They’re on a bigger mission: to change their students’ lives by setting them up for success in the real world. They have a passion for it yes, but they’re focused on that mission (and, some teachers are better at getting students to care than others). Your passion drives your actions, but the results depend on whether or not you can connect with what someone else cares about.

Think about what they need, not just what you want. Yes, there’s a big difference. Say I’m trying to sell you a yellow highlighter. I don’t sell it to you by saying, “You need a highlighter.” Because you don’t know you need one (yet). I sell it by identifying your need to make info easier to spot. Ok, this is a very boring and analog example. (Is anyone using them anymore anyway?) But you see my point. Get outside of your product and see the need; better yet, create one (see: the iPad).

Case study: Julie Parker. Julie, one of Selena’s Mastermind clients, is a life coach. But that’s not what she’s trying to get you to pay attention to. That’s because she owns Beautiful You Coaching Academy. She doesn’t necessarily want to talk you through your break-up; she wants life coaches to enroll in her program.

She wants to pitch what she’s passionate about: Training life coaches. But how does she do that? Not by using the media to just talk about how passionate she is about it. Who cares? And then again, the media isn’t interested in promoting her school just because.

The answer? To pitch herself instead as an escape artist. Because that’s what she does: She helps people escape the drudgery of boring careers—and find more meaning in a whole new one. The real moment of genius was when, in our session, Julie mentioned offhandedly that second careers were quite like second marriages—better because you have a better idea of what you want.

I said, “Have you been married before?”

“No,” she said. “But my husband has.” Aha! There you go. A very personal and authentic truth that serves as metaphor. She helps people out of their obligatory “first” marriages to jobs they took because they felt they should, and into more fulfilling second marriages—as life coaches.

In her talk to the attendees of that media dinner, I had her say just that: “Second careers are like second marriages. They’re always better. Just ask my husband.” Nailed it.

This is what you need to do: Find the thing that the other person is passionate about doing or solving—or, for that matter, escaping!—and show them how you can help them achieve it. This is your secret sauce—and it should be so irresistibly delicious that not only does it taste good, but they come back again for more.

Watch a new episode of Solopreneur every Tuesday at 4pm on the Whatever It Takes Network. 

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Why Questions Are a Crutch (So Stop Asking Them)

Don't ask.

Don’t ask.

I teach people how to speak in the media, on stage, and to each other with power and conviction. And there’s one crutch in particular I train people right out of: Asking questions. Want to make a stronger impression? Make a statement. Ideally, one that could be argued or flat-out disagreed with. That’s when you know you’re onto something.

Here’s why: Questions make the other person do the work you should be doing. Which is why they have their place in dialogue, to engage the other person directly. But I’m not talking about that kind of question. I’m talking about the rhetorical filler at the start of a talk, or the habitual “You know?” that attempts to win approval at every turn. I’m talking about the questions that keep you from making the stronger choice.

The way I see it, if you’ve got the stage, you should do most of the heavy lifting. The ability to be clear and direct is paramount; questions are a crutch. And you rely on them more than you think.

I saw this first hand in an improvisational acting class I took (one of many) at the Magnet Theater in Manhattan. (Improv, by the way, is excellent training for being in front of people, because you essentially walk out onto the stage with no clue what’s about to happen.) The instructor and Magnet cofounder Alex Marino gave us a challenge: Do our scenes without asking a single question.

I lasted less than 30 seconds.

It’s a lot harder than you realize. I was shocked at how bad I was at this.  “Questions are reflexive,” Alex said. “We use them to blunt statements and figure out what’s going on.” Which, in improv, is part of the problem: No one knows what the F is going on. That’s the game. But questions stall the scene and detract from the action. They soften and qualify and weaken. They rely on buy-in (“You know I mean?”, for example). When you rely on questions, you fail to create the scene—or anything interesting. Instead, you shift the burden to the other person (“Can YOU tell me what I’m doing up here?”)

It made me realize how often I use questions instead of statements in general, and how, in so doing, I compromise my own conviction. And so do you. It keeps improvisers and presenters and people in general from making something far more powerful: A choice.

(Want to listen instead? Be my guest.)

Women do this far more than men, by the way, because we’re raised to think that way: Be agreeable. Please people. Make nice. Asking questions is an outgrowth of that urge. It makes you tip-toe instead of stomp.

So whatever it is you’re doing, or trying to do more of, whether it’s TV, radio, web, seminars, or just growing as a professional in your industry and having people take you seriously, take a good look at where you’re relying on questions instead of making statements. Where you’re hedging and qualifying, instead of owning your shit. And where you’re leaning on your audience/user/reader to fill in the blanks instead of taking the lead.

You can’t afford to sacrifice directness and power when you’re building a brand. It’s what the strongest brands are made of. No questions asked.