“How do I get recognized as an authority and have people want to work with me on projects or ideas that make me excited?”
I’m hardly the last line of expertise on this question, but there’s definitely some stuff I’ve learned and observed — some of it the hard way and personally — about putting it out there, about getting yourself in a place where you can take advantage of the good stuff when it comes along, and what separates the “always seem to be doing the cool stuff” people from the “WTF, why is that not ME” crowd.
You cannot — I repeat, cannot — get approached for awesome things until someone really understands what you do and stand for.
I work in social business strategy and organizational change. I also have experience in community management and building social media teams. I have written (loudly) about these things for almost five years now, and while I’ve occasionally shifted around a bit and evolved my perspective, the themes are consistent. You can go to my “About” or “Speaking” pages here on BTT and know immediately what I focus on and what my experience entails. If you go visit our SideraWorks website, social business is front and center.
Which means when someone needs an authority on incredible content marketing, they call Ann Handley or C.C. Chapman, not me. When they need advice on persuasive copywriting and blogging, they call Brian Clark or Sonia Simone. When they need input on being an entrepreneur, they might call Jonathan Fields. If they need to understand how to use visual thinking and Gamestorming to clarify ideas, they’re going to call Dave Gray.
But if there’s a project that has ties to the shifts in business as a result of the social web and all of the changes that entails, they just might call me. Because at least professionally, I’ve made that my crusade.
Did I mention the part about having a consistent thread throughout my stuff for the last five years? Not months. Not weeks. YEARS.
I blog about it, in two places (though I’m hardly the machine that other people are in that regard). I wrote a book with Jay Baer about it. I speak about it. I write some more. I had an amazing job doing it for a real, honest living, and then I built a business around it.
I didn’t start out having all kinds of street cred. In fact, I had anything but. But one element of building that credibility was consistently exploring, learning, talking, listening, and plugging away at these topics even when no one was really listening. This kind of thing is a low, slow cook over time. It’s not a big, flashy sudden rush-the-stage kind of deal.
Your theme may be easier or harder to find. My brilliant friend Pam Slim has been talking a lot about finding the through-line in your body of work, the thing that hooks it all together even if your career and experiences have been all over the place. There is a theme, I promise. It just might take some work to dig it out. But it’s worth it.
The biggest favor you can do for yourself is not just to find it, but to continuously and consistently put it out there. Steady and patient wins the race. It really does.
Please believe in something.
You can always change your mind. Evolve your point of view. Change your perspective or advance it or shape it more carefully to reflect your experience and values of the moment. The beauty of the web — and humanity as a whole — is that we are not static.
But for the love of all that’s holy, have the courage to have a perspective.
If you want to be a “thought leader” or an expert or an authority or even a respected professional, you can’t do that by walking down the middle of the road and hoping that you won’t piss anyone off, or that your ideas aren’t good enough, or that you don’t have what it takes to play alongside the big kids.
You don’t need to be a bitch like I am, but you do need to stand for something. You need to be audacious. And even if you feel — like many of us do, often, including me — like you’re vamping your way through the music, play. Pretending and “faking it”, in many ways, is preparation for the reality of our futures. Do it, believe it, and own it.
People notice. And they want to work with someone who believes.
Quit “building your network”.
Much like our obsession over fans and followers and traffic and subscribers and all kinds of meaningless, empty numbers, we crow on about “building our network” as if amassing nodes on the mesh were enough by itself to do anything meaningful. I’ve had one too many “Hello, My Name Is” tags and bad canapes to tell you that people spend millions of dollars every year going to networking events, collecting business cards, and playing the numbers shuffle like a sad, desperate business dating game.
I’ll concede that if you have a network of a million people, your odds of finding someone valuable in that mass statistically and numerically increase. More or less.
But whether or not you believe in Dunbar’s Number, we each have a cognitive, physical, and temporal limitation to how many people and relationships we can maintain with any level of quality over time.
So we must learn to identify relationships that carry mutual value, and nurture them. Note I said mutual, which necessarily means that you both recognize, appreciate, and are willing to invest in the potential of the relationship (which is not the same as you seeing our relationship as potentially valuable and me not quite seeing it the same way, which I would like to explain to many networking gurus and LinkedIn abusers, but I digress).
I would rather have 50 amazing, fruitful and long-lasting connections any day beneath which I really know and understand the humans than thousands that afford me little more than an email address and the promise of a desperate email someday.
Investment is for tomorrow, for someday, for a time that is not right now. Learn how to do it with people as well as you would like to do it with your bank account. Those are the relationships that end up paying dividends in the long term. It’s not the answer that most people want, but it’s the only one that’s true.
When all else fails, pivot.
There’s something to be said for putting out unfinished ideas and subjecting them to critique before they’re baked. You have to be willing to iterate and adapt, which often means starting before you’re ready to start.
You’ve also got to be willing to make quick decisions about immediate opportunities that may not look like you thought they would. Sometimes, that means listening to a persistent theme that keeps cropping up that’s not exactly where you intended to focus, but yet there it is. Sometimes it’s saying “yes” to a project that isn’t even fully baked, but that makes you scream HELL YEAH at the top of your lungs (and of course, no I’ve never done that, ever, in the middle of my living room. Nope. Not me.)
Sometimes it’s changing your entire business model on a dime because something moved, and you know it, and you can’t help but respond.
Darwin had it right. Those that survive and thrive aren’t just the ones that are stronger, but the ones most willing and able to adapt to the environment around them.
Half the battle is having great ideas. The other half is being willing to adjust when a great idea finds you.
These aren’t tactical things, like how to grow your email list or find prospects or approach partners. I realize this. But honestly, it’s the best advice I have. Because you can have all the tactical awesomeness in the world, but without the stuff above, they’ll all fall flat on their face.
If you’re in the fortunate position to be working on things that you love and enjoy, please share your experiences. If you get to collaborate with the best and the brightest, tell us what you think are the important things about getting to that point. There are many people lurking and reading that want to know what you did to get there. And this isn’t the time to be humble. You know if people have asked you how you got the projects you have, so for once I’m giving you permission to talk about your amazing work and (I hope I don’t regret this) share a link to some knowledge you’ve dropped about that.
If you’re the one who’s sitting there wondering why it isn’t you with the book deal or the byline or the partnership that you really want, talk to us in the comments and tell us what you think might be holding you back. Ask the hard questions. Put the insecurities and the fears out here, now, today. We have an experienced and diverse community here, so let’s all have a chat and see how we can help each other.
Are you in?