“Marketing is expensive,” said the well-meaning business and entrepreneur trainer when I approached him with a business idea that would help to expand his reach and potentially bring in a whole new audience. You hear this statement a lot and it’s usually followed by “I’m already using social media” like it’s some kind of magic bullet.
The thing about social media is that a few tweets here, a status update there and pin or two can only take you so far in getting feet through the door. If you’re using it to grow your reputation and business, unless you have a defined objective backed up by a solid strategic engagement strategy in place, you’re talking into the wind.
Over the past five or so years, I have worked on building my personal profile and in the process have followed some – now influential – people as they rose through the ranks to become the meaningful industry voices they are today. I was interested in creating a platform for myself which would enhance and be beneficial to my start-up business.
On my profile-building journey, there have been a number of people have been instrumental in advising me and showing me the ropes. I will, in this two-part series, attempt to share what I learnt and shed some light in how you can build a platform for yourself.
Call a friend
When you get stuck for an answer in ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, you are allowed to call a friend for the answer. Mentorship is very similar. It is about surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed and are willing to openly share the knowledge and experiences they have accumulated over the years.
A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you or necessarily wildly successful. Their value lies in sharing what has and has not worked for them and providing a sounding board when you’re unsure of the way forward.
Thought leaders are also useful guides. While you might not always have direct access to them, the insights that they share across their various platforms can help you to have important “Aha” moments or inspire you to follow a particular train of thought.
Early on in my journey one of my friends, who also plays in the creative space, encouraged me to share my thoughts, interpretations and insights across a variety of important industry platforms. This would allow me to raise my profile, as well as gain the opportunity to engage with the industry and to learn from their comments and feedback.
While initially a rather daunting prospect in the beginning, it made sense that if I was going to try and build my business around harnessing the power of influencers, then I should be living by example, showing potential clients what I had achieved rather than just making what might appear to be empty promises.
Writing regular thought leadership pieces for some of South Africa’s leading industry platforms, co-hosting an online TV show called ‘Let’s Talk Possibility’ and hosting Network Radio’s This Week in Startups has given me the opportunity, not only to share what I’ve learned through my research and the projects that I’ve undertaken, but also to learn from those responding to the articles, or appearing on the shows.
Be relevant and interesting
In my search for a magic bullet, soon after starting my business, I approached a media consultant for help on how to grow my business. He told me to take my own medicine and that selling anything, including oneself, means you have to put yourself out there.
The thing about putting yourself out there is that you’d better do a decent job. Don’t share unless you have something that is meaningful, relevant and valuable for your readers or listeners. Always do your homework too, so that you can back your thoughts and opinions up with fact wherever possible.
Be aware that you’re not always going to have a favourable response. In fact there may be times when someone heckles you and insists that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; remember at all times that it is how you conduct yourself in these moments that leaves you looking professional or not.
Have you ever found yourself making the analogy “mechanics drive the worst and most dilapidated cars”? No one wants to be that mechanic, let alone make contact with them. If you’re trying to position yourself as a thought leader, do your homework before you present your case, attend relevant industry conferences, events and workshops.
Take up interesting opportunities that will add to your knowledge in your chosen field and report back on what you learnt. Discuss past projects including what the brief was, what the outcome was and share what worked or what didn’t and muse about what you might do differently (if anything) second time around.
Why should anyone listen to you?
Our mentors are the people that we quite often bare our souls to, all the while trying to show them that we’re constantly growing and improving. My mentor has many of the traits that I want to cultivate in business, including the ability to captivate an audience and sell ideas that clients know are worth the investment.
The first questions he asked me was, “Why should anyone listen to you?” This got me thinking about the contribution I would like to make within my chosen field. In my case, the answer to that question is, “People should listen to me because I am able to generate conversations about their brands and products by introducing them to a network of fresh, relevant, exciting and engaging young South African thought leaders.”
Once you have identified why people should listen to you, creating a plan and then implementing a strategic course of action which will encourage them to listen and to ask the important engagement questions, is easier.
He also shared with me, that people listen to those whom they perceive have ‘made it’ in their respective fields. So en route to blazing a trail, remember to build a network through your contributions, which will assist in building your credibility.
We all have that one connection who calls for help whenever they’re desperate but who is seldom able to return the favour. Don’t be that guy. It is the people who give first that are more likely to make lasting connections and it’s those connections that can help to make you a force to be reckoned with in your field.
Many people spend their lives building connections and making a meaningful contribution on various platforms. Others spend their time asking to tap into the connections you’ve spent countless hours nurturing without feeling the need to contribute anything of value in return.
Referring one of your connections to another is a difficult decision to make, because at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not you are involved in the interaction that takes place thereafter, your reputation is at stake should one person not live up to the promised expectation.
Would you prefer to be someone that encourages others to want to refer you because they can trust the way you will conduct yourself with others or are you comfortable with the possibility that your calls are being ignored for a good reason?
5 Steps to success
These are some of the first steps I took, and as I learn along the way, nothing is set in stone, the journey and the strategy changes on occasion and different things become more useful.
- Start by growing your network
- Surround yourself with people from whom you can learn and who you can potentially help in return for their insights and guidance
- Begin building your profile, making sure to do your homework.
- Ask yourself the question “why should anyone listen to me” and then create a strategic plan to reach them.
- Lastly, be the person that people like to refer to others rather than drain their patience.