MD22: How to Make Your Business Idea Stand Out With @DorieClark
Once you find your business idea it’s critical that you learn how to make it stand out in such a noisy world to ensure that you get noticed and that your project grows as you expect it.
With so many companies, blogs, products, podcast, etc. It’s extremely hard to get noticed, this is why I brought Dorie Clark on the show to talk about the process for standing out that she has identified for her book that entrepreneurs use for standing out and growing their businesses.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
– How to find a breakthrough idea for your project
– The 5 tips for making sure your idea stands out
Stand Out (Book)
Reinventing You (Book)
How to make your business idea stand out with Dorie Clark, episode 22, let’s do it.
Welcome to the MoneyDiver podcast. I am Borja Obeso, and every week I bring to you step by step, actionable online marketing strategies that you can implement in your business to see the results fast. So let the diving begin.
Hey, what’s up guys? Welcome back to another episode, thank you so much for being here.
I’m going to be very honest with you, I hope I had this episode to listen to when I first got started, because it’s all about making your idea unique, making sure that your idea stands out in a crowded place, in a crowded industry, because this was something that I struggled with a lot back in the day when I first got started with the blog, now it’s a podcast, of course.
So I got Dorie Clark with me, who’s going to walk us through the step by step process that you can use, the different types of things that you can implement to make sure that your project idea, your business idea, is unique and gets noticed by people.
Now, this week, we’re also doing a contest where you can win a lifetime premium membership to smartduu.com, the only provider of WordPress themes with website personalization features. Head on over to dorieclark.com/moneydiver to participate in the contest. So without further ado, let’s jump right into the interview with Dorie.
So Dorie, welcome to the show, thank you so much for coming here.
Dorie: Thank you so much for having me!
Borja: Yeah! It’s a pleasure! So, would you mind telling us a little about you and who you are, and what are your expertise in marketing and branding?
Dorie: Absolutely! So I’m the author of a couple of books, Stand Out and Reinventing You, and I spend my other time when I’m not writing, teaching for the Fuqua School of Business at Duke, and also I blog pretty frequently for places like Harvard Business Review and Time and Entrepreneur.
My general area of expertise is that I write a lot about how people in the current economy can find ways to really make sure that other people recognize their true talents, and so that can be grouped under personal branding in some ways.
My first book, Reinventing You, is really about professional reinvention and especially if people are making some kind of a transition, whether it’s to a different job or a different career, how to make sure that they’re able to tell that story and get other people on board with it.
And my new book, Stand Out, is really about what happens once you’ve hit the place you want to be, you know what field you want to be, or you know what job you want to be in. The real question becomes, “How do you make sure that you come to be recognized as an expert? Someone who really knows what they’re doing in that field?” And so I try to break down that process through sharing about 50 interviews that I’ve done with top performers in a range of different industries.
Borja: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that people struggle the most when they’re starting a venture, whether it is a business or a blog or whatever it is people want to start, is getting through the noise and the crowd and standing out, and it’s definitely one of the most of important things that you have to do if you want your idea and your project to succeed. So why don’t you take us through an overview of what is that you have learned about this process.
Dorie: Yeah, so in terms of coming up with a breakthrough idea and becoming recognized for it, and essentially, it’s a two-part process, right? If you’re going to be a recognized expert, people are generally known for their ideas, I mean, that’s the definition of being a successful professional rather than just being a celebrity, right? You’re not known for being, you know, you’re not famous for being famous, you’re famous because you stand for something.
So for the first part of the book is me breaking down this process, by which the most successful professionals have come up with their breakthrough ideas. And then the second part, equally important, is building a following around your ideas, by which I mean, there’s plenty of people who are knowledgeable, there’s plenty of experts out there, but if their knowledge stops with them, if they don’t spread it, if it stays locked up in the ivory tower, it’s not going to do them much good and it’s not going to do the world much good. The kind of impact that, I think, many talented professionals want to have, is one that can only come from sharing their ideas. So I take people through these steps of how to do that and how to make sure that their ideas actually spread.
So, I’d be glad to go into more depth about either of those steps for you if that’s helpful.
Borja: Yeah! Let’s do that.
Dorie: Alright, fantastic! So starting from the beginning, you know, how do you come up with these breakthrough ideas? There’s five major strategies that I discovered when I interviewed the 50 experts. Now, you don’t have to do all five of these, this is really more of a smorgasbord approach so that you can pick the one, or possibly the two, that resonate the most with you, but this is by no means saying that people have to do every single one of these things.
And I also just want to clarify upfront, when we’re talking about a breakthrough idea, this also, you know, sometimes people get intimidated by this because they think, “Oh, this is like for Einsteins, this is, you know, I can’t come up with a scientific breakthrough,” or you know, something like that, but that’s not really what’s necessary. What we’re talking about here is an idea that you’re known for or something that you have found a way to move the ball forward on.
One example that I really like is Howard Schultz of Starbucks, I mean, if you had a friend that was opening a coffee shop, you wouldn’t necessarily think, “Oh yeah, that’s a breakthrough idea, I mean, coffee shops have been played out, coffee itself has been played out.” But yet, Howard Schultz was able to make it distinctive enough, to put a distinctive enough spin on it that it became a very unique phenomenon, and so I think that’s really the secret here is thinking through, “How do you make it your own? How do you make it different enough to add value?”
So very briefly, these five strategies that I discovered. number one is the niche strategy, this is really common, very effective. It involves going really deep in a certain facet of something and then later on, you can expand out, but in the beginning, you are known and recognized for being an expert in a slice of something.
So instead of trying to become an expert in the news, you become an expert in the analysis of television news, or instead of becoming an expert in technology, you become an expert in Periscope or Meerkat. Those are important things because it’s just a smaller playing field, there’s less competition and you can really establish yourself out and move out from there.
Number two is the process of doing original research. And this can mean a lot of things, it doesn’t have to mean you’re running lab experiments or anything, it could be interviewing people, it could be doing a survey, it could be writing a case study, any of these things, you could be doing reviews. But it’s about creating thoughtful and detailed new information rather than just recycling opinions, that’s something that can brand you as a thought leader and a recognized expert.
Number three is mixing and matching different fields. This is super valuable because if we’re thinking about innovations, it’s actually quite hard to innovate if you are so steeped in one field or one methodology that, that is all you know. Because you don’t even know to a certain extent what’s possible and what’s not, you know what’s been handed down as wisdom, but it becomes very, very hard to test the boundaries of it or to know what the boundaries are. Where a lot of innovation comes from is people who take different genres.
In Stand Out, I profile a guy who was able to make some major biological breakthroughs because he trained his computer scientist and mathematician. You take the best of one field, apply it to another and say, “Hey, well why aren’t we doing it here?” And you can really make good process.
Number four is tackling big questions. This is really important because if you want to get people excited about your cause, if you want to get the support you need, the funding you need, the talent you need behind you, you want to pick something that people consider valuable, that they consider exciting. And so if you are tackling a big challenge, that can help get momentum behind you for your breakthrough idea.
Fifth and finally, it is what I call creating a framework, and that is where you take a look at your field from a 30,000-foot perspective, and you basically try to put some parameters around it to help explain it. Now, that might sound a little bit abstract but I’ll give you an example: people have been writing stories of course, forever, but Robert McKee has become very famous because he created a framework to help people write screenplays better. It’s become a huge phenomenon, he’s written books, he’s given a very high-paid workshops, and it is an explanatory device that helps make it really clear, “Okay guys, here’s the framework, here’s how to write a best-selling screenplay.” So that’s powerful and you can do this with any number of things, you have Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her stages of grief that helps explain that phenomenon. But those explanatory devices are a real way to set yourself apart by advancing the discourse in your field.
So that is what I discovered in the course of interviewing these experts.
Borja: That’s very powerful because one thing is to know that you have to stand out and you have to find a way. Another way is to actually decide what approach you’re going to take when you want to stand out before you start your venture, your blog, your idea, your whatever it is that you’re creating. And that’s something that I struggle a lot for a long time, when I first started my brand, MoneyDiver. I was simply talking about my successes with business but a lot of people talk about their success with business, and it was only when I started doing my MBA that I started learning a lot about audience research and the importance of your audience and your customer, and the insides and data on those persons in marketing.
So that’s when I started applying those concepts of finding your avatar or your ideal customer, your ideal audience into online marketing, into all the different aspects of online marketing, even SEO, webinars, paid advertising, always thinking about your customer first. So that’s when I found my unique proposition, my idea, and I didn’t necessarily start with niche, like, “Alright, I’m just going to talk about how to create printed images that,” no, I started broad. But then I found my combination, just like you said, and I sort of, I crafted my brand that way but I didn’t know how to call it, and it’s nice to see that you have these strategies and now I can categorize my approach.
So let’s go a little into finding a niche. What is a good niche? What do you consider a good niche?
Dorie: So, for a good niche, I mean I think that the important criterion is that you want to pick something that is sort of the right mix, the sort of Goldilocks-perfect mean between not being so tiny and narrow that you run out of material and that no one cares, and also you don’t want to pick something that’s so broad that it actually isn’t really a niche at all.
So for instance, if we were talking about technology, you could say, “Alright, I’m going to be the expert in,” if we were sort of picking badly, let’s say you’d pick an app in the app store, but the app has 50 downloads and no one’s ever heard of it, that’s probably not a good choice because it doesn’t have enough interest, it’s too small, people are going to hear about that and you may well be the world’s expert since no one else is covering it, but also the reason is because no one cares, that would be bad.
On the other hand, if you say, “Well, you know, I’m going to be an expert in technology and I’m going to focus on Google, I’m going to be the Google expert,” well you know, that’s way too big to start with, I mean Google’s doing a million things now. I mean clearly, they’ve been around for nearly 20 years and they have the search engine function but you know, they touch advertising, at this point, they touch self-driving cars, they have initiatives about Wi-Fi access with balloons, I mean, you know, they’ve got everything going on. That is too big.
So what I would say is you want to pick something that has momentum behind it, people have heard of it, they’re interested in it, but it’s an uncrowded category. So if I was like looking at the competition, I mean there are so many books that have been written about Google, there’s In The Plex by Steven Levy and many others, those are people that already have much more of a claim than any new entrant to be a Google expert.
But if you want to look at the kind of thing that is starting to get some traction, you know, there’s maybe some articles in the paper about it, there’s articles on blogs, it’s getting buzz, but there haven’t been so many people diving in who have a better claim than you to be an expert, if that makes sense.
Borja: Yeah, perfect sense, and even if there’s a few because if you go broad, there’s going to be a ton of competition and the players that are really making it happen in a broad space are big players, sort of Entrepreneur Magazine or Match Bull if you’re talking about business. But if you go niche and you select one niche, I think there’s going to be people already talking about that niche but is going to be much, much smaller and it’s going to be easier to build a network with those people and like breakthrough that specific niche. Do you agree of that?
Dorie: Yeah, absolutely, the main thing is that you just want to be choosing wisely the place that will keep you interested and has some room for growth. You don’t want to pick something that is already essentially a lost cause because there’s too much written there about it. You want to go to the place that seems to have momentum and be growing but you can grow with it.
Borja: Alright, let’s go into combining disciplines or what was number two, you mentioned creating your original research, right? That’s what you said.
Dorie: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Borja: Alright, let’s go into that.
Dorie: Fantastic, so in my book Stand Out, I actually profile a guy who I feel like is a great example of this. His name is Michael Waxenberg, and the reason that I really like his story is that he didn’t start out thinking that he was going to be doing original research or even really thinking about his activities as a form of brand-building, but he stumbled into it in a very interesting way that I think is illustrative.
Michael lived in New York City and about 15 years ago, his apartment building, he got an announcement that it was being condo-ized and so he and his wife had to make a decision about whether they were going to buy their apartment or move. And so, you know, this is not insubstantial investment so he wanted to make a good choice, so he started going to a bunch of real estate open houses to get a look at other properties in the area and what they were selling for, and things like that. Now, people do this all the time, this is very common, but Michael did something that was actually very distinctive.
He is a methodical guy, he wanted to keep track of things, and so he decided that he would start writing down his thoughts about all the properties. Again, you know, plenty of people who do that, but instead of keeping them to himself, he shared them on a real estate website called StreetEasy and the reviews that he wrote were incredibly detailed.
A lot of people, even if they bother to do this, they do these total, sort of half-hearted efforts, they’re not that helpful, Michael just went to town on it and he wrote very helpful, very detailed reviews. And before long, people started noticing it, I mean, this was a cut above what anyone else was doing.
And so he started to get people coming to him, saying, “Hey, I loved your reviews on the website. Will you represent me?” They thought he was a realtor and you know, of course he wasn’t, he was just a regular guy doing this to be helpful. And so in the course of this, he had so many people approaching him, he began to think, “Gosh, maybe I should do this.” And so eventually, an actual realtor approached him and said, “Look, if you haven’t done this yet, if you haven’t gotten real estate license, I will sponsor you to do this because you already have people coming to you, you already have a client base.” And so, Michael did and he now has a very lucrative second career for himself as a realtor.
And I think the power of this, it didn’t take any money, it didn’t take any special knowledge or expertise, this was just somebody who was a thoughtful amateur, but he took the time to write these reviews and people really responded to it because no one else was doing it. And so I think, for any of us, you know, if we want to make a mark, anybody can say, “Oh, here’s what I think about this,” or “Here’s what I think about that,” but if you’re thoughtful, if you’re careful, if you’re thorough, if you contribute new information, whether it’s writing reviews or interviewing people or you know, writing a case study or something like that, that really adds value to the conversation and I think not enough people do it.
Borja: Right, and, okay, and a lot of people, I think, find these type of idea breakthrough or whatever you want to call it “by accident” because it sounds like Michael didn’t really know that this was going to happen, right?
Dorie: Yeah, that’s exactly right, he had no idea, he had no intention of becoming a real estate agent at any point. This was strictly undertaken for his own family’s benefit but he just figured he’d help out other people in sort of a side-benefit, and it ended up sparking a whole new career for him.
Borja: Right, now, let’s go into the next strategy which is combining disciplines.
Dorie: Yeah, absolutely, so combining disciplines is really interesting, I mean, a lot of books about innovation actually focus extensively on this because in a lot of ways, it really is the cornerstone of coming up with breakthrough ideas. And fundamentally, it’s about how to see the world differently because innovating from the center, innovating from the same place that everybody else is coming from, really hard, really hard. What often gives you a competitive advantage, interestingly enough, is to come in sideways, this is the kind of place where you want to take all of the things that are different about you and just layer them on top of whatever problem you’re looking at.
If you studied a different subject in college or used to work in a different career, even at a more micro-level, if you worked at a different company, there’s probably different beliefs, different assumptions, different practices, those things are helpful to question. Maybe of a hobby that you have really dived into extensively to help shape the way you see the world, maybe you’re different demographically than most people at your company, maybe you’re young and everyone else there is old, or maybe you’re old and everyone else there is young, maybe you’re a woman and everyone is a man, whatever it is, maybe psychographically, you’re different. Maybe you work at an insurance firm and everybody’s really sober and cautious and careful, and you’re a big rock musician and you do punk rock on the weekends, I mean, that’s a difference, and what’s interesting about it is that it means you’re going to see the world in a different way.
And it means that you’re not necessarily always going to fit in perfectly with the culture, that’s the downside, but on the plus side, it means you have the potential to actually have real breakthroughs because you are processing information differently than everyone else. You’re seeing possibilities, questions, problems, you’re able to see the assumptions that other people don’t even know are assumptions, and as a result of that, if you’re thoughtful about that, if you interrogate that, you can actually begin to say, “Wait a minute, why don’t we try this,” and that could be exactly what is needed.
Borja: So let’s bring that into terms of, perhaps, an online business or creating a blog, would you consider taking a broad topic but speaking about that broad topic to a specific demographic? Let’s say, I don’t know, Hispanics in the United States? Would combining that topic and that specific audience be a way of breaking out, breaking through?
Dorie: Sure, absolutely, I mean, and this is the place where you can see that some of the strategies can merge and melt together, they don’t have to be, you don’t have to necessarily think of them as being distinct. So for instance, it could be a niche strategy coupled with mixing disciplines or viewpoints or things like that.
So if you decide, you know, I mean, just to take the example, insurance and Hispanics, maybe you’re a Hispanic insurance agent, maybe you’re the only one in your area, so you know, that’s a big deal, that can be a competitive advantage. So if you start writing about that, blogging about that, it is bringing a different viewpoint in and it also, you know, it may be a niche strategy.
So you could look at it both ways, if you want to think of it as a niche, maybe it’s that you have unique insights about a unique way that you can connect with fellow Hispanic customers, and so you could establish yourself in that niche, hopefully make a ton of money selling to Hispanic customers and then expand out from there if you wish.
You could also think about it in terms of mixing genres, mixing identities, maybe it’s a question of the fact that if you were Hispanic and you have particular upbringing or values or things like that, maybe you are seeing things differently than anyone else, maybe you have something unique to say to the insurance industry in general. Because for instance, the United States is becoming an increasingly minority-driven culture so maybe there’s stuff that is being missed about trends in insurance or the ways that people want to handle their finances or their planning that you’re keyed into because of your background and experiences that other people aren’t. So there may be relevant insights for the discipline as a whole that you can contribute.
Borja: Okay, now let’s dive a little, like really quick into tackling a problem. What are some, you know, the easiest way to tackle into a problem?
Dorie: Well, I think one of the best ways to really attack a problem is to start with the problems that you care about, that’s actually one of the best things because you’re going to have passion about it, you’re going to have insights into it. And so in Stand Out, I actually profile a woman named Rose Schuman who was able to develop a really innovative solution around bringing internet access to the developing world.
And the way that she originally got started on this path, what first got her glued into it, was that when she was 18 years old, she went on a family trip to Nicaragua to visit her stepmother’s relatives and she had, Rose had grown up outside Washington DC in a very comfortable middleclass suburban neighborhood and she goes to Nicaragua and she sees just this, you know, the country had just gotten over its war and the country was just in disarray, there was poverty everywhere. Basic infrastructure, that we take for granted in the United States, was lacking and she sees that and it affects her so deeply, she realized that that was a problem that she wanted to focus on, and she really has dedicated her life to doing that.
So I think it starts with thinking about the things that you really care about, could be a social cause like Rose, it could be a business issue, I mean, maybe because you’ve worked in a certain industry, you have seen up close that xyz is really inefficient in that industry and it bothers you, and you feel like, “You know what, I’m going to dedicate myself to it, I mean, one that I would love people to dedicate themselves to.” I get really mad, you know, if we think about healthcare, basic tests take weeks to come back, I mean, it’s ridiculous that in this world where you can send an email across the world in .001 seconds or whatever that a lab result can take two weeks to come back for some really basic thing that people are really worried about in the interim. If somebody can figure out a better way to do that, that is a really big deal.
Borja: Right, sort of applying lean thinking into solving a problem would be a way to approach it.
Dorie: Yes, exactly.
Borja: Yeah, and what about creating a framework? Let’s dive a little, like real quick into that.
Dorie: Yeah, so creating a framework is really a function of looking at your field from a sort of, more elevated perspective, I guess, you could say. It’s asking, and actually, in my book Stand Out, at the end of the chapters, I have a bunch of questions that, it’s like ask yourself questions, and one of them is, “What are the fundamental assumptions of my field and have they been articulated?” And you know, that’s an important thing, and I’ll actually mention for your listeners that I created a giveaway, it is a 42-page work book that helps people figure out how to come up with their own breakthrough ideas and build a following around it. It’s all the questions, all the “Ask Yourself” questions from Stand Out compiled into work book format.
Borja: Go ahead, what’s the URL?
Dorie: Yeah, they can get that at dorieclark.com, D-O-R-I-E-C-L-A-R-K.
But so, if you ask yourself, “Have these assumptions been articulated? And have they been tested?” That’s really an important thing and so, you know, for instance, you look at these fields that need structure so, for instance, if we look at mythology, right? I mean stories have been a part of humanity as long as people have existed but it wasn’t until Joseph Campbell really began to look at myths and say, “Hey, wait a minute, there’s a lot in common here, what are the broader principles? What do all of these things have in common?” If you can ask yourself that about your field and no one has come up with a framework to explain it, if you can do that, if you can take the step back and say, “Alright, what are we assuming? What are the steps here? What does that look like?” You, actually, may be able to make a very significant contribution to how people think about your discipline.
Borja: So once you have an idea, you have mastered any of these strategies, you have found your breakthrough idea, how do you get it out there? How do you create a community or an audience or followers? How do you do that?
Dorie: So, it’s basically a three-step process, really briefly, the way that it unfolds as I’ve discovered in interviewing all these experts for Stand Out is that the first step is, one-to-one idea transmission, I call that building your network, where it’s getting a group of really trusted high-quality people on board. People you turn to for advice, for ideas, for support, that’s really valuable early on to help refine your ideas and get them the support they need.
The second step is building your audience, which is the more public process, the one-to-many idea transmission of talking about your ideas so people can hear about it, basically. you blog about it, you do webinars, you do speeches, any of these things to make people aware of your work and how you’re thinking about it.
And then finally, the third step, once you have built up a sufficient audience, is that you want to get those people talking to each other because it’s when an idea goes viral, it’s when you develop evangelists for your idea that it really is able to take off in a big and lasting way. And I call that building your community and you can do that by, you know, whether it’s creating meetups or doing conference, or something like that, but it’s finding ways to bring together those like-minded people who care about your idea as well, and care about it enough to make it their own.
Borja: Yeah, and I have a friend down here in Florida who’s doing an amazing job building a community, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, his name is Jared Easley.
Dorie: Oh yeah, absolutely, I know Jared.
Borja: Yeah, well, he’s doing an amazing job. He runs monthly meetups where we all get together, talk podcasting, and he travels the world, sorry, he travels the country doing different, sort of, meetups in different parts of the country about podcasting, and then he ultimately drive all of those members of his community to his main event which is Podcast Movement. And I have told him a lot of times that he’s doing an amazing job and it’s worth mentioning here, people go out and learn more about what Jared is doing.
So, Dorie, here’s the question that I ask all of my guests, like I said, I put a lot of emphasis into finding your ideal customer, your ideal avatar, who is your ideal reader as an author of Stand Out or any of your other books? Who is your ideal avatar?
Dorie: Yeah, so if we’re thinking specifically about the books, I would say that the ideal reader for my first book, Reinventing You, is someone who wants to make a change in their professional life. So maybe they’re thinking of changing jobs or changing careers and they want to figure out how to position themselves for success in that transition. And the ideal reader for Stand Out is somebody who knows what they want to do, they know the place they want to make a mark, but they know that it’s complicated, it’s a complicated process to really get your true talents recognized, and they want to find a real roadmap to help guide them through so that their abilities can be recognized and that they can begin to gain recognition as being among the best in their field.
Borja: Fantastic! It seems like you know your stuff!
Dorie: Thank you! I’m trying!
Borja: So Dorie, where can people go to find out more about you?
Dorie: Thank you so much! So I would send them to my website, dorieclark.com, D-O-R-I-E-C-L-A-R-K. I have all my articles there, at this point, it’s nearly 500 free articles that I’ve done for places like Forbes and HBR and Entrepreneur, and they can also download the free 42-page Stand Out work book. And I’m also reachable on Twitter, @dorieclark.
Borja: Fantastic! Well, Dorie, thank you so much for coming over, I really appreciate it, and I hope to have you again in the future and talk a little more about your progress in your business and your life.
Dorie: Thank you so much, it’s wonderful speaking with you.
Borja: Bye, bye.
Borja: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Dorie Clark and I hope you learned the importance of making a business idea, project idea that stands out and how to do that. Also, remember to participate on this week’s contest, head on over to dorieclark.com/moneydiver, and you’ll get, you’ll be on your way to win a lifetime premium membership to SmartDuu.
As always, thank you so much for your time, for listening, for subscribing, for everything that you guys do for my brand, my podcast, my blog. I hope to see you again in the next week, next episode, and go out, implement and good bye.
Thanks for listening