You want to share your story to educate your readers and clients. But you’ve got to do it faster than ever before.
Or your clients will find a solution that isn’t yours.
Here is a three-step strategy to do exactly that, says Verne Harnish, founder of the Entrepreneur’s Organization.
Strategy 1: ‘Ask Which Two Words Do You Own?’
‘It was critical we figure out what word or two we wanted to own in the marketplace,’ says Verne Harnish, founder of the Entrepreneurs Organization.
Harnish knows the value of words. After all, he’s written three bestselling books. And he’s very keen on books.
But it’s not only 250-page books that matter – he believes even a simple, two-word phrase can change your fortunes.
Verne, who writes a globally syndicated column, assumed his name would become synonymous with the two-word byline on his column: ‘Growth Guy’. But he was wrong.
‘For me I thought it was going to be “growth guy”,’ he says. ‘I own it any place, including India. You search for those two words, Google them, I own them – problem is, nobody cares. When’s the last time somebody was searching for “growth guy” unless it was Viagra-related?’
And there’s the crux. Words are only valuable if people urgently want to read them.
Back to the drawing board
What was Verne’s mistake? He took a lead from his fellow bestselling author, Tim Ferriss. ‘Using his brain power and testing various phrases, [Tim] came up with the classic The 4-Hour Work Week,’ says Verne. ‘I had to kinda go back to the drawing board.’
It was clear Verne needed to find a phrase that would motivate and provoke people in the same way – something they would type into a search engine.
He thought hard about his business – advising those mid-market companies he calls ‘gazelles’ on how to build and execute a strategic plan – and he hit on the term ‘scaling up’.
Not only did this sound like a great book title, but it also worked as a domain name.
‘So it’s very intentional calling the book Scaling Up,’ he says, ‘to do what we need to do to get the URL scalingup.com.’
And so the book Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and Why the Rest Don’t was born in 2014. It rapidly became a bestseller and won eight major international book awards.
‘It is a mission’
Verne Harnish’s career has taken him from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to CEO of his company Gazelles Inc, and along the way he founded the global networking group Entrepreneurs’ Organization which now extends into 58 countries. But wherever he’s been, his focus has always been on helping entrepreneurs.
‘It is a mission that I’m on,’ he says.
‘You know, I grew up around entrepreneurs. My dad launched with his partners a very successful company. They “went to the moon” and then lost it in the ’73 recession. He never recovered and it destroyed him, destroyed our family. And I said, “You know what? I don’t want to ever see that happen again to another entrepreneur.” So it’s missional.’
His own business came out of the executive program he founded and hosted at MIT for 15 years, called The Birthing of Giants. It is still hosted at MIT, now called The Entrepreneurial Masters Program. ‘They still let the old man come back and teach in the first session,’ he says.
He founded Gazelles, based in Ashburn, Virginia, in 1997. ‘The business that I launched was really to bring that kind of quality executive education into the entire executive team, not just the CEO,’ he says.
That’s when things changed
The company started out as just a training company. But things changed when Verne published his first book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm, in 2002. ‘When I released the book, it caught on,’ he says. ‘And we realised that we also needed a coaching component to go with the training component. And that’s when we brought on our first 50 coaching partners.’
Today, he says, the firm is global, working on six continents, with 2,000-3,000 clients at any one time. My dance card filled up really quickly and so I needed to bring on some people to help me and it’s just continued to scale since.’
His mission to help entrepreneurs may have grown out of his personal history, but he’s alive to the fact that every entrepreneur has his or her own personal story too.
‘Look, at the end of the day we just really want to help people not make the same mistakes that my dad made and others have made in scaling up, and all the collateral damage that that causes,’ he says.
‘Because we’ve got a lot of lives that are dependant on us as business owners, a lot of mouths that we’re feeding. And so it’s a serious business. And we knew that this market needed some serious support in doing that.’
Strategy 2: ‘Get Your Message Out’
Verne is happy to give away his expertise, advice and support in his books and speeches. And this means he’s an enthusiastic proponent of self-published books, rather than the traditional publishing industry.
‘You see, I’m passionate about, particularly, self-publishing and really getting that message out to as many authors as possible,’ he says.
That’s not to say the traditional publishers wouldn’t publish him. ‘Across the three books we’ve sold and distributed about 700,000 copies. So the books have done well. And so yes, the publishers are interested,’ he says.
‘But what I’ve learned is that you need to give away the content and I’ve needed to give away about 10% of the books in order to drive the other 90%. And if you’re having to pay $8, $9, $10 for your own book, versus the $1 or $2 that I paid for my book – which really is not much more than expensive [than a brochure], it’s amazing how inexpensive printing is today.’
He also points out that self-publishing gives you more control.
‘So I wanted to, first, control my destiny and get my own book for next to nothing, so that I could use it as part of giveaways and speeches, and increase value that’s offered.
‘And then, number two, I absolutely own all of the content and the form it’s in. And I can update that book, as we do every six months. So I can keep the facts and figures in there current – versus what you’re locked into in a 2014 book that had to be off to the printers, if it was a traditional publisher, a year before.
‘And I can get these books updated, printed and back out in the marketplace within weeks. It would normally take a much longer time.
‘So controlling the IP and being able to get my own product for next to nothing are the two keys.’
He adds that the return on book sales is better than receiving royalties, too. ‘And then, by the way, on Amazon, where most people are getting a dollar or two, I’m getting $10 for every book that they’re selling. And so the royalty checks are nice, and not going to the publisher.’
‘Nobody knows the publisher’
Some people want to win over a traditional publisher because they think it’s more impressive. Verne says this is a misconception.
‘I think that unless it’s the Harvard Business Press, I don’t think it matters. The quiz I give to people is, “All right, who published Jim Collins? Who published Pat Lencioni? Who published Seth Godin?” Nobody knows. And as a result, that really means nobody cares. And that’s the point.’
A traditional publisher, then, might not help you build your brand, but it’s not all about words. A two-word phrase and book title matter, but so can a symbol or logo.
‘It was really Eric Ries with his book The Lean Startup and Tim Ferriss – I noticed they both had their Nike swoosh,’ Verne says. ‘So Tim had the palm tree, Eric had the coffee stain. And it’s important, I think, to have a visual that also represents what it is you do. And so it was a lot of effort to come into what with hindsight looks obvious – it was this S curve, and the way that we’ve designed it, that it’s become kind of our Nike swoosh.
‘So title and some symbol of what it is that you do I think are two things that you have to give deep thought to.’
‘Video is the future’
In fact, visual elements are key in all areas of the business. Once you’ve published your book, he says, you should make a video.
‘Video is the future,’ he says. ‘Our videographer that we use has a great opening line which is, if you were to stop 20 people on the street and ask them, “Hey, do you have two minutes to read something?” or you stop the same 20 and say, “Hey, do you have two minutes to watch something?”… I think we know the answer to that question. I think it may be a little age-dependent, but it’s the power of video.
‘So the first thing I would do once you’ve got the book is create the video that supports it. And put together a video training program around whatever it is, the expertise you’re sharing, with a good digital workbook. And start selling that.
‘That’s a great way to multiply your impact without having to travel.’
Sharing your expertise, getting your message across, serving your community, is something most businesspeople are seeking to do. Verne urges them to start by writing a book.
‘First of all, I wish I had done it 10 years sooner,’ he says. ‘No, seriously. It is the most critical thing that you can do to establish your thought leadership.’
Strategy 3: ‘Streamline the Creation Process’
Harnish chooses to write his books with ghost writers. ‘That’s what’s made it a lot easier – for someone else to get that first draft down, and then going back and just having to edit it. Nevertheless, it’s still a really, really difficult process to bring to fruition. But it’s absolutely worth it.’
A book is one of the best marketing tools you can create, he adds. It can help you find new customers and even new staff. ‘I even encourage every CEO that runs a company to write a book because it’s one of the most powerful marketing tools you’ve got to attract your own customers – and talent, which really is almost a bigger challenge today than customers.’
However, perhaps surprisingly, Verne says a book is far more powerful than a marketing tool.
‘It forces you to get your facts right,’ he says. ‘It forces you to get your frameworks right. It forces you to figure out how you’re actually going to articulate this stuff. So that I find your speaking in your presentations is much more concise.’
So we’re back to the value of words again. Not only can they help you market yourself and your business, and spread your message – it can help you refine and develop that message.
‘And that I think,’ says Verne, ‘is the other reason I think it’s important to write a book.’