How do you stand out from the crowd and become a thought leader in your space?
That's a question I asked myself many times when I was starting out.
That's why I'm so excited to be joined by someone who got a very impressive CV, Dorie Clark, to talk about her latest book Stand Out, and she knows a thing or two when it comes to standing out from the competition.
Dorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You, Stand Out, and the e-book Stand Out Networking. She is a A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and is a consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Morgan Stanley, and the World Bank.
You can download her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook at dorieclark.com.
How To Stand Out From The Crowd Guide
This is the flow of the guide you can download here as a pdf version:
1. Five major strategies for finding your breakthrough idea
2. How to establish yourself as an expert in your field
3. Three steps for building an engaged following around your idea
4. What Dorie Clark would do if she started all over from scratch today, coming up with her breakthrough idea and building a following around it
5. How to get featured in big name publications
6. Long form content vs short form content
7. Relationship building tips
8. The rule of luck in business
9. Relevant resources and links mentioned
10. Now it's your turn!
Now, let’s break down everything that Dorie Clark shared about how you to stand out from the crowd, and much, much more actionable stuff you can start implementing today to take your business and brand to the next level.
But heads up – this is a 5,500 word “epic” guide and in some cases extremely detailed. It took me well over me quite a long time to put together.
It will take you about 10-15 minutes to read (depending on how fast you read of course).
How to Stand Out From the Crowd w/ Dorie Clark
(Click the play button and watch the video interview above)
If you want to watch this video on YouTube you can do so here.
5 Strategies For Finding Your Breakthrough Idea
1) Having a niche strategy
Having a niche strategy is one of the easiest and best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
The basic idea here is that, if you start out really general, for example if you say that “I'm going to have a virtual summit about technology or online business”, it's just so large so people don't have a real compelling reason to come to you.
Because why would they pick you? There's a million technology experts and there's a million people that know about online business.
If you are able to have a niche that you own, and if you can say, “if you want this thing, I'm the best at that”, that's very powerful.
Instead of becoming a technology expert, and starting with something so broad, you can become an expert in Periscope, Meerkat or some new app etc. This is probably one of the most effective things you can do if you decide that it will be your expertise.
Literally, if you embark upon a regimen where you write one blog post per day for 60 days about some different aspect of Periscope or Meerkat, you are going to be the world's expert, because nobody has written 60 articles about it yet.
Whenever anyone Googles it in the future, you're going to be at the very top, and as a result of that, as reporters want to write about this phenomenon, they are going to call you, because you have demonstrated your expertise. Then when you start getting quoted in Tech Crunch, The New York Times or other big publications as an expert on this topic, that becomes self-fulfilling prophesy, more people turn to you and your status becomes cemented.
So once you've developed an expertise in that niche, then you can expand out incrementally from there. But it's better to start small, and then expand.
2) Mixing disciplines / perspectives
One of the best ways to innovate, come up with genuinely new breakthrough ideas is to take different pieces from different fields and bring them together.
In Dorie Clark's book Stand Out, one of the emblematic examples is a guy named Eric Shaw. Today he is one of the top scientists operating in the world. He has over 200 peer review papers about biological phenomena, everything from Alzheimers disease to diabetes. The way he was really able to become so prominent is that he actually not started in biology but in math and computer science. And when he entered biology later in his career, he had such a detailed quantitative background. He saw the world differently than traditionally trained biologists and was able to say “oh, let's apply big data to this” and that created very powerful synergies that has enabled him to have breakthroughs that other people can't.
So bringing together different perspectives, whether it's different training you've had, different cultural background, having different hobbies or skills, any of that is really valuable.
3) Doing original research
Doing original research might sound intimidating to people, because they think it involves huge amount of time and money, specialized training or something like that.
It doesn't have to be like that necessarily.
In Stand Out, Dorie profiles a guy named Michael Waxenberg, who built an amazing, very lucrative, second career as a realtor. Literally, the way that he did this was (totally unintentional) by starting out, writing reviews of properties on a real estate website in Manhattan, just really for his own interest and keeping track of his own process wanting to buy a house. His reviews were so good and so detailed, people started coming to him and wanted him to be their realtor… expect he wasn't a realtor at that point. He had so many customers coming to him, and he finally got his real estate license, and started doing it.
So it's reviews, case studies, white papers, interview etc… original research can show that you are a true expert.
4) Tackling a worthy problem
If you are doing something that is actually genuinely important, it will get people excited about it. That momentum, and having that talent pool of people who want to do business with you in terms of forward momentum.
Now that Steve Jobs is gone, the person who most people say that they admire is hands down Elon Musk.
The reason for that is that he is one of the people who thinks the biggest in terms of his goals for what he wants to accomplish. This is a guy who is willing to tackle space, electric cars, the future of energy.
Those are big things and it gets people excited.
5) Creating a framework
How do you create an explanatory device, a structure that explains your field or a facet of your field?
This is someone like David Allen is so powerful and popular. He created a methodology called Getting Things Done.
There are a lot of people who are productivity experts, and there are a lot of people who will tell you what to do with your to-do lists, or how to file your emails etc., but David Allen created this structure Getting Things Done that is a holistic way of looking at productivity and efficiency. Because it helped explain things to people, that structure is very powerful and now when many people think about issues of productivity, that is the first thing that comes to mind.
So if you can create a structure like that, you often become so plugged into the issue itself, people can't even talk about it without mentioning you. It's certainly true with Robert Cialdini and Influence. He came up with this theory of six principles of influence and persuasion, and it's such an influential concept that whenever people talk about the discipline they always mention Cialdini.
Finding Your Breakthrough Idea (TEDx Talk)
Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich is someone you are most likely familiar with already if you've been following me for a while, and he has done a fantastic job in building his brand online.
When it comes to building a following, in Stand Out, Dorie Clark talks about this 3 step process that needs to happen when you are sharing your idea.
3 Step Process For Building an Engaged Following Around Your Breakthrough Idea
1) Start by developing a small group of trusted advisors around you to help you
This is sort of a mastermind group that can help you up your A game and really make sure your ideas are good ones before they go big.
For example, Ramit talks a lot about piloting and testing things out before you announce it to the world. If you want to learn more about starting an online business, you can watch a free video by Ramit here.
2) Building your audience
Building your audience is really crucial.
It comes from creating great content. This is a really big piece.
Ramit Sethi is very well know for having depth, very detailed, multi-thousand word blog posts on I Will Teach You To Be Rich where people are sharing their ideas, and where Ramit is sharing his ideas.
Creating really good content is critical because you start out with a small group of people but if you are ever going to grow your base and movement, you need to make sure that other people discover you.
You have to make yourself discoverable… but what's some ways to actually do that?
- You can do this partially by guest posting on other people's blogs.
- You can do this by collaborating and having joint venture webinars with other like-minded people, with their lists.
It's about making sure that new people get exposed to you and your ideas.
3) Building a community (followers who are spreading your ideas)
Finally, the tipping point, where all of a sudden your audience, the people who have been listening to you and have become fans of your work, they start talking to each other and building a community.
Ramit Sethi has done a very good job with this and we know many people who have been involved in aspects of this through Facebook groups and things like this.
Ramit has created programs like Zero to Launch where people collaborate and share their own ideas, and connect around the idea which strengthen their relationship with Ramit and with each other.
That's where an audience tips over and becomes a community, and that's how an idea can really begin to spread in a big way.
What Dorie Clark would do if she started all over from scratch today using the Stand Out formula
At a very basic level, if we're thinking about email subscribers as the metric.. Facebook fans and Twitter followers are nice, but the minute it changes its algorithm, you risk losing the ability to communicate with those people.
So having them on your email list is crucial because that is your relationship that people can't take away from you once they have opted in, and you're able to talk to them directly.
If email list is the engine:
1) You need to make sure that you give people a really good reason to want to talk to you. This is something Dorie didn't focus on for a long time, and she had her link “subscribe to my newsletter”, but that's so boring and people have so many newsletters to subscribe to and you're not giving them a very good incentive.
You will get some people because they might resonate so much with what you do, but for a lot of people they are thinking if they really need another newsletter in their life. The answer is NO!
But what they need is if you can give them something really interesting like a “guidebook”, a “cheat sheet” or a ” list of special tools that you use”. If it's really interesting, that will make them to want to sign up.
If you have something like that you can offer in your email signature, that's great because it makes it much more likely that if they have enjoyed the content in the first place, they will also sign up to get your “lead magnet” and join your list.
That's piece one.
2) How do you make sure that they are seeing that offer in the first place?
This is where guest posting comes in and making sure that you are being seen in a wide variety of places.
Here's the strategy Dorie personally followed (and something she describes in her book Stand Out):
In 2009, Dorie tried to get published but she couldn't and kept hitting a brick wall because she didn't have enough of a so called “platform” and publishers didn't want to take a chance on her. So Dorie, realized that she would need to do platform building in order to build her following.
Dorie choose blogging as her method, but you can choose other methods like podcasting, videos, etc. She decided that she would reach out strategically and try to build the number of platforms that she wrote for.
You have to test things out. Certain things are more valuable than other places. Dorie wrote regularly for Forbes for 3,5 years, and she writes regularly for the Harvard Business review, Entrepreneur, the World Economic Forum blog, The Economist, The Financial Times, TheStreet.com, Inc, Fast Company etc.
For Dorie, it is useful for a couple of reasons:
Initially, even just getting one thing in is useful because in your early days when you're trying to establish your credibility, you can say “as published in”, “as written about in”, or “as featured in”.
That's really useful because it's a form of social proof.
But then, when it comes to a list building goal or a platform building goal, ideally you want to have ongoing relationships, so you don't have to pitch your piece to the publication you want to write for every single time.
What makes something valuable there?
Some places are much friendlier than others when it comes to allowing you to have a bio link at the bottom where you are able to have a link to your link to your opt-in offer / lead magnet.
If they don't allow you to have that, the value is actually quite marginal of doing the post more than once to begin with because people have to work too hard essentially to find you.
Of course, the traffic numbers from these bigger publications are great. Some sites list their traffic numbers directly. For example, Business Insider and Forbes list how many views each article has. Other sites don't list it, but you can get a sense of it because you can see the number of share each article gets. Sometimes you can even go to your editor, and specifically ask them for your own reference, how many views your article got so you know what's popular and what's working etc.
So what's the best way in becoming a contributor / getting placed in these outlets:
- If you have a friend who writes for them, ask if you can get an introduction. A warm introduction is always best.
- I you don't have a friend who writes for them, there's no harm in trying to write a cold email to the editor. That's how Dorie started blogging for Forbes. Your hit rate is not going to be amazing. When Dorie tried to do this, she did a concerted campaign, and wrote to about two dussin outlets. Forbes was literally the only one who she became a contributor for out of all those outlets she reached out to.
The things you need to include when you are cold emailing them are:
- A bio paragraph
- Links to 3-4 articles that you have already written so that they can see your writing style.
- Why you would like to write for them specifically, what types of things you would like to write for them and how frequently you would like to write.
If you can do that, you can often break through if the timing is right.
How important is it that you write in the style specifically for the publication where you are trying to get featured?
It's very important. When you are sending over samples of what you've written before, it's useful to try to find ones that would mirror as best as possible the publication's style so that they can see you operating in that way.
So make sure that you are aware of the types of articles before you pitch an editor for a publication.
Blogging on your own site vs. blogging elsewhere
Dorie has personally focused on blogging for other sites.
For Dorie this made a lot of sense, because they goal she initially had when she was starting to blog, was that she wanted to build up credibility so that she could get a book deal.
What will get you credibility faster?
A larger audience can do it. But what would do it even faster (because it takes a while to build up a large audience) is blogging for brand name publications. So that was the first place that Dorie went to.
What you probably need to do, if you're literally starting out from zero, is to do a few posts on your own site. If you don't have your own website or blog, you can for example do it on the LinkedIn publishing platform or Medium and upload it there. You do it on a venue that you control, just so you have a few clips so people can see something you have published and evaluate your writing style. You can pretty much never get featured in places, if there's no paper trailer record. Everybody wants to see some kind of example of your writing style.
Then what you want to do is what's known as the “ladder strategy”.
You start out writing for something non-prestigious (meaning something great that you just put up), and then you go to places that have increasingly prominent levels of prestige.
As an example, maybe you go from your own blog to your company's blog, and from there to your local trade industry journal, then to the local business journal and from there you go to a national business publication. Each time you're moving up the ladder, so that if you were pitching Forbes, you probably don't want to do it if literally the only place you've ever written for was just your own blog. Over time you're able to build it up so that by the time you're pitching Forbes, hopefully you have some clips from other places so they can look at that and see the social proof.
Long Form Content vs. Short Form Content
Dorie says that there's a lot of different ways of doing it, but you do want to find a way to stand out. It just need to be a way to stand out which is appropriate to what you like to do and your comfort levels.
Seth Godin writes a blog post literally every day, and they tend to be very short. His posts can be as short as 200-250 words which is his preferred style, and his audience are used to getting their regular Seth updates.
If you go to someone like Tim Ferriss, he posts quite irregularly and he doesn't have a standard schedule. He posts like every 2-3 weeks, but when he does, it's usually a 2,000-5,000+ word epic blog post. So you know that you're going to have to wait a few weeks till the next post, but you also know that it's going to be very detailed and probably something that's worth reading.
This is more of my personal approach to publishing content online, and for anyone starting out, I do think this is the best way to really cut through all the noise, if you get your content in front of the right people (20% content creation, 80% promotion!).
Dorie also mentions that if you create something that is very long and detailed, it's very likely to stand out, especially if you're “self-publishing” it. It creates a level of content and depth that enable people to look twice and pay more attention to it.
If your goal is to write for another publication, they almost always have their own guidelines, so you want to find out in advance what the guidelines. If you do that, you're never going to have a situation where you pitch a publication, and if you blankly violated their guidelines, they will refer to the guidelines. In other words, don't pitch a 3,000 word article if they are only asking for 700-1,000 words. Rather start with what the publication wants and you're much more likely to get published and become a contributing writer.
How to go from “just” Podcaster/Virtual Summit host to go-to expert in your field
Dorie says that she would almost view it as a TV show.
For example, if you are a Hollywood creative and you're trying to come up with a TV show, you don't just come up with a plan for one season, and then if they renew your show don't know what's next.
What happens is that when you're coming up with the idea for a TV show, you always create five seasons worth of content which is standard in Hollywood. That doesn't mean that you write all of it out, but you need to understand the story ark. You need to plan for success because it's possible that your show might get canceled after the first season but if it keeps getting renewed, you don't want to put yourself into a corner where you've made some terrible mistake that limits you. You need to know what would possibly happen over the five season ark.
And similarly, if you are putting together a virtual summit, you need to think, “alright, if this summit is successful, how do I build on it, what's the next step etc.”. The next step could be another virtual summit but it could also be something different, for example you can decide to write a book based on all this great content from the summit etc.
Or maybe you decide to start moving into a new area, for example if you've been helping people with self-publishing successfully, there's possibly an adjacent area that would make sense. Once you self-publish, maybe you need to start a speaking career, and that's the next step and you do content around how to do that or whatever it is.
You want to have a logical progression mapped out in advance of where you want to go and how to take it because hopefully if it's gone well, you've built a great list with people who are interested in your content. You don't want to just let the ball drop for a year, lose your audience, have them forget who you are and then a year later you share some content with them all of a sudden.
You need to leverage the momentum you get from your virtual summit by having an idea of what the path is you want the customer to follow.
If you don't know what “niche” to pick, how do you make sure you pick the right niche to focus on?
You want make sure that you have a goo working hypothesis about it.
In the way that you can develop that is by really listening what your audience members are asking for.
- What do people want to know about when they email you asking for advice?
- What's the thing about you that people tend to glom in and focus on?
How can you do this effectively?
For example, when people sign up for your email list, as part of your autoresponder which is a very common and useful thing to do, is to include a sentence in the welcome email saying “send me an email asking about what common challenges and questions you have”. That way you begin to get a sense of what your audience typically is interested in.
You can do surveys of your audience to see what they care about.
And then, once you start to develop some ideas, that's powerful. The next step beyond that is to run some kind of a “pilot program” so you're not spending a lot of money and time creating something that people don't want.
The short version boiled down is to begin to offer something for sale. Initially you can sell it at a very discounted price for a small group of beta users but you want to SELL IT, and you want to make sure that people actually put down money for it so it validates that people are willing to pay for your product or service, and gives people the solution to their problem.
What to do if you don't have an existing audience already?
For example, if you have a course you're thinking about creating, instead of worrying about the course, Dorie recommends building the audience first, and not do the course when you are first starting out.
If you create an online course, with no existing audience, it's like you're “building it and they will come”… which you probably know will never happen. Yes, you can do Facebook ads etc, but all of that is going to be much harder if these people have never heard about you or don't have any trust in you.
If you just spend a little bit of time in advance, not worrying at first how you're going to make money from something, but instead building the audience first, and you do that through establishing trust, by great creating content, webinars, a virtual summit or whatever it might be, that builds your list.
Then it becomes much easier because people are always going to be more likely to buy from you if they trust you in the first place and you'll actually have real information from your audience what they care about, so that your product marketing can be much more targeted.
Relationship Building Tips
Build authentic, powerful relationships with people before you actually need them.
If you're able to develop relationships early on, those are the the people who will be very quick to say yes to you later.
For example, one of the way Dorie used her Forbes platform (as a contributor) for the 3,5 years she was blogging for them, she would very frequently go to authors who had new books coming out or things like that. Dorie's criteria was literally if she wanted to meet this person and if this person is interesting to her. And if that was the case, she would reach out to them, and ask if she could write about their book or idea.
It was a way how Dorie initially was able to build relationships with a lot of people and do it in a giving context.
So many people just reach out and say “hey, can I have coffee with you, can I buy you coffee etc.” , but these authors and busy entrepreneurs have a lot of people who want to buy them coffee, and they don't really need your 5 dollars.
What they need is exposure for their ideas, because that's what they care about and why they're writing books in the first place.
So if you reach out them and say “hey, can I write about you/can I interview you…”, that's much more powerful.
Of course it's great if you have a brand name behind you like Forbes, but you absolutely don't have to.
In Dorie's book Stand Out, she profiles John Corcoran, and he has a podcast and blog called Smart Business Revolution.
John did a really great job at building relationships through the act of interviewing them.
When you reach out to interview someone, they usually won't ask how many views/subscribers you have for your YouTube show or podcast, especially if you're able to establish social proof.
For example, the fifth person John had on his podcast was Daniel Pink. Dan had a new book coming out, John was smart about it, asked him at the right time and Dan Pink said yes.
If you approach an expert afterwards, and you had someone like Dan Pink on your show, they are far more likely to say yes.
It may have happened to me a few times that a very big name influencer I reach out to for an interview actually wanted to know how big my audience was, and declined because my it wasn't big enough yet. In the very few cases when this happens, you can always follow up later, and continue building the relationship with the expert you really want to interview for your virtual summit, blog, podcast or YouTube show, and you will be more likely to get them on in the future.
The role of luck in business
This is something Dorie Clark learned from Anthony Tjan who is a venture capitalist in Boston. He wrote a book a few years ago called Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck.
He and his partners did a survey of several thousand entrepreneurs and high level executives to try to determine what made them successful.
It turns out, according to their study, that people really break down to four key personality types:
- heart-driven entrepreneurs
- smarts-driven entrepreneurs
- guts-driven entrepreneurs
- luck-driven entrepreneurs
The first there make sense and are all positive things, for example that someone is carried by their passion, intelligence, perseverance etc.
But LUCK, that was the the part Dorie thought was really interesting.
What Anthony said when Dorie interviewed him was that it turns out that the people who are considered luck-driven, they are fundamentally more laid back than the other entrepreneurs. Sometimes we get so focused in our quest for immediate gratification and immediate success, and we have this mono vision that we think we know exactly what success looks like.
The people who are a little more luck driven, they are willing to see where things go and how things play out, and as a result, the personality traits they really have in abundance are that they are more curious and often times more humble than other people.
That enables them to have an openness to experience, and realize that everyone is worth getting to know, talking to, learning from, you can always be learning from people, not just people who look exactly the way that you think they have to look like.
If you are willing to learn from all the people around you, you can have a greater, richer experience that may later on turn out to be quite “lucky” because everybody else walked passed it and didn't see it. So the more of that we can have in our lives, the more successful we'll all be.
Links And Resources Mentioned In This Interview
- Dorie Clark's website
- Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It
- Free 42 page stand out workbook on how to develop an idea
- Stand Out Networking
- Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future
- The Branding Summit
- Ramit Sethi
- Daniel Pink
- Influence by Robert Cialdini
- Seth Godin
- Tim Ferriss
- John Corcoran
- Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck by Anthony Tjan
Now It's Your Turn!
There you have it… now you have a proven formula to follow so you can stand out from the crowd.
What do you think? Do you have what it takes to stand out from the crowd? What action step will you take in order to stand out and become a thought leader in your field?
Leave a thoughtful comment below sharing the MOST IMPORTANT insight you got! Be specific – tell a story, please. I’ll respond to every one.
If you enjoy this interview with Dorie Clark on how to stand out from the crowd, or know someone who might, please feel free to share it with them!
Until next time… stay inspired!