Encourage Your Employees to Become Rock Stars

Over the last 20 years, I have worked for (and known people who worked for) bosses who did not want their employees to become prominent names in their industry. Whether they felt threatened, thought it distracted them from their “real” work, or thought it was a waste of time and resources, these managers didn’t like employees who had name recognition

Lindsay Manfredi plays bass. She's one of the true rock stars in music AND personal branding.

Lindsay Manfredi. My good friend and bassist for the band Cold. She really IS a rock star, both in music and personal branding.

One friend — let’s call him Burt O’Higgins — went to work for a software company after spending years developing his own personal brand, becoming one of his industry’s top thought leaders. The company considered it a real coup to get my friend to work there. “But,” they said, “you can’t speak at any more conference events as yourself. You can’t be “Burt O’Higgins from Big Software,” you have to be “I’m from Big Software, my name is Burt.”

They couldn’t give any logical reason why they didn’t like it, but the message was clear: you’re more popular than us and we don’t like it.

So Burt left, started his own company, and worked for Big Software as a freelance contractor, charging more than his old salary and working fewer hours. And he got to speak at as many conferences as he wanted, which boosted his own popularity and increased his client base.

Big Software might have benefited more if they had just let Burt be Burt, do his thing under his own name, and still attract plenty of attention for his employer.

There’s nothing wrong with letting your employees be industry rock stars, becoming one of the popular thought leaders that others look to for new ways of thinking. In fact, there are a few benefits your company will see by helping your employees become those leaders.

1) It makes them effective communicators

Every job description I see requires “effective oral and written communication skills.” Speaking at 4 – 6 conferences a year is going to build up effective oral communication skills. Writing articles for trade journals and blogs is going to develop effective written communication skills.

And if your people don’t have those skills, send them to Toastmasters. Pay for books and training courses. Send them on seminars where they can hone those skills. Pay for memberships in professional associations. And give them an outlet to express all this newfound knowledge.

Then unleash them on industry and allied conferences. Encourage them to write articles for trade journals or the company blog. Ask them to speak at conferences. Make sure people see your rock stars at different industry happenings, so they know your company is serious about thought leadership in that field.

But best of all, think about how much better your rock stars will be at communicating fpr your company as well. Not only will they be better at communicating internally, but they’ll be doing some great marketing and brand awareness building for your company too.

2) Your company looks like a great company for hiring them

One thing GE was known for during the Jack Welch years was for turning out great CEOs for other corporations. Partly because Jack wasn’t going to leave short of a military coup, but also because when GE executives reached the VP level, they were so good at their jobs that other corporations wanted them to run their own companies.

The same thing happened to the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s. (Read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It’s not just a baseball book, it’s a primer on unorthodox-but-effective corporate management.) The A’s scooped up baseball players who didn’t fit the traditional baseball mode, helped them develop their best skills, and turned them into the kinds of ballplayers that other teams wanted badly. And the Oakland A’s became a stellar baseball team to boot, because they built the team around their players’ strengths.

So how cool will your company look when you start churning out superstar after superstar? How many CMOs can you create? Or HR directors? Or CFOs? Or national sales managers? Your company can be seen as an incubator for some of your industry’s leading talent if you just help them develop.

3) It’s free marketing

My friend Burt would go to 6 –10 conferences every year and share his knowledge. He used his clients as case studies, but he never made sales pitches. Instead, he just shared stories and ideas with a rapt audience for an hour — an audience filled with people who hired experts like him.

Now, imagine your sales and marketing people speaking at conferences, demonstrating their knowledge and skills about the problems your company solves. Imagine a water filter company educating coffee shop managers and brewers about pure water at a national coffee or craft brewery conference. You can educate people about the importance of pure water without ever talking about your product, but when people read the name in the bio, they can put two and two together.

When I speak at conferences, I talk about how to improve your writing, or the future of content marketing, or how to use novel writing techniques in business writing. I never do a sales pitch, but my expertise clearly speaks for itself. And I’ve gotten clients just by speaking at industry conferences.

So what happens if your marketing director speaks at an industry conference, or your HR director, or your operations manager, or even your CEO? You can have a big influence on hundreds of people without once mentioning your product or company just by sharing your knowledge. Now, what if you could unleash 10 rock stars on the different conferences of the industries you serve.

4) You’re creating rock stars for your company

“But people will improve their skills and they’ll want to leave our company,” is a common refrain among managers.

Seriously? You don’t want people to improve their skills? You’d be happy that average people with average skills are staying at your company for ten or fifteen years? That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s face two facts. First, people are going to leave your company. No one stays at a company very long anymore. That’s how employment works these days. So train them, help them develop, and wish them well when they leave, knowing you taught them enough that someone else wants them. And you’ll get their best work out of them while they’re there.

Second, the people who leave will become decision makers and influencers in other companies. What if your marketing manager leaves to become a VP of Marketing at one of your clients? What do you think she’ll tell her new colleagues if she leaves with bad feelings? Conversely, what will she tell her new colleagues if she leaves with your full support and gratitude?

(This is also why it’s not a bad idea to hire people in their 50s and 60s. Rather than turning them down because “they’re only going to be here for a few years,” recognize that no one says in their same position for 30 years anymore. Hire older workers and get some of the very best, most experienced people you’ll ever find. But that’s for another article.)

Developing rock stars for your company has many upsides and very few downsides. You’ll create top talent for your company, which means they’ll do their best work for you. They’ll be out promoting themselves (and thus, your company) with their speaking and writing. And they’ll moving up to positions of influence and decision making, which means you’ll have allies in other companies.

The only downside is that you may have people who are more well-known than you. But you can turn that around and become known as the company (or manager) who produces rock star after rock star. So start writing and speaking about how to create rock stars within your company, and guess what you can become. . .

Content Marketing: Winning Google Searches for Lawyers

A lawyer friend told me once, “No one likes lawyers until they need one.”

It was a good reminder about the function lawyers play in today’s society, solving problems, or preventing them. And that people don’t want to think about them, until their problem becomes all-consuming, and they can’t think about anything else.

I saw an interesting article recently on content marketing for lawyers that reminded me of my friend’s statement. I especially was struck by the headline, “People Search for Lawyers, Not Law Firms.” It reminded me that people look for lawyers the same way they look for any other service provider: they want a solution to a problem.

If you have a leaky faucet, you call a plumber. If your car isn’t working, you call a mechanic. Maybe you worked with one in the past, maybe you have a friend who recommends one. But chances are, unless that mechanic or plumber put a lot of money into marketing, you’re basing your decision on a relationship you/a friend have with a particular plumber or mechanic.

Barring that, you’re basing it on a Google search.

Chris Grant wrote on Passle.net about how lawyers can ensure they’re more easily found online, by using LinkedIn, blogging, videos, and Twitter to promote their personal brand.

. . .[P]eople are interested in people, and [this] hammers home the importance for lawyers (and other professionals) of having a really good online presence! Your potential clients are out there, searching for an individual that can help with the problem they have

Did you catch that last bit? Your potential clients are searching for those who can help with the problem they have.

When You Don’t Have Large Advertising Budgets

Of course, there are some law firms you’ve heard of. The giant ones in your city or state that spend a bunch of money on TV advertising, and coughed up several thousand bucks just to be on the back cover of the phone book. We’ve all heard of those firms.

But what if you don’t have back-of-the-phone-book money? Don’t worry about it. Instead, ask yourself:

  1. When is the last time you reached for the phone book? And if you did, did you look at the back cover? And did you look at the back cover at the exact moment you needed a lawyer?
  2. When’s the last time you watched TV commercials? When’s the last time you did it without fast forwarding or running off to the kitchen? And when is the last time you watched a TV commercial at the exact moment you needed a lawyer?

That’s not to say advertising is ineffective. It creates awareness. People will remember who you are when they do need you. But I’ll bet that many people who used the phone book and watched the commercials didn’t remember the name or phone number right off the bat.

I’m more willing to bet they Googled it until they found the right name.

Content Marketing: Providing Solutions to Problems

Search engine friendly content factory notebook and Macbook

Write down your blog post ideas whenever you think of them, and write them later.

I’ve done content marketing for three different law firms, in three different cities and states, and covered three different practice areas.

One was for a general small-town attorney, who wanted people to find his firm when they were in trouble. We wrote blog posts about “what to do after you have an accident” and “should I represent myself in court?”

Another was for an employment law attorney. He wanted people to find his firm when they had been wrongfully terminated. So we wrote articles about “how to tell if I was wrongfully terminated” and “my supervisor is sexually harassing me.”

The third was for a major medical malpractice and personal injury attorney. He wanted to be found if someone had been seriously injured during a medical procedure or major accident. We wrote about what to do after a surgical procedure went wrong, or if an insurance company wanted to give a small settlement.

For all three clients, we had three goals in mind:

  1. To win local Google searches. Google looks at where a particular search is taking place, and then shows the results closest to the searcher. Try this as an experiment: pull out your phone and do a search for a plumber. I’ll bet the plumbers that come up are all in your city. Google provides those kinds of local search results, but only the best optimized websites — and those with a Google Business listing — will show up first on those local results.
  2. To demonstrate their expertise in their field. Once people find you, they need to know you know your stuff. It’s already assumed you do, since you graduated from law school. But what if you work in a highly specialized field? Or a very competitive field?
  3. To solve people’s problems People don’t just go searching for attorneys willy-nilly. It’s not like their three favorite online time wasters is Facebook, Candy Crush, and searching for law firms. No, people only search for lawyers when they need a lawyer. If you go back and look at the attorney examples I used above, you’ll see these are all questions or issues people have at a particular moment. And they’re searching for the answers online, not the phone book, not late-night TV commercials. So if you can demonstrate that you know the answer, at the time people need the answer, you’re the one they’re going to call.

I knew an attorney who specialized in intellectual property, and he often wrote about IP issues, partly to educate the inventors he wanted to appeal to, but also to show them that he knew more than the other IP attorneys they might be checking out.

Another attorney specialized in large-scale alternative energy issues. She was sought after by investors and utility companies for her expertise in that field. And she was able to demonstrate that by writing repeatedly about different local and national alternative energy issues that were happening around the country.

Attorneys who don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising can reap great benefits from content marketing. You can boost your search performance and personal branding if you can write one or two blog posts per week. It gives you some great exposure and gets your ideas out there for your potential clients to see.