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Chapter 2: How to Join the Guru EliteGurus are not born, they are "manufactured" through self-marketing and promotion. This chapter outlines the philosophy, attitude, and action plan you must implement to elevate yourself to guru status.
PhilosophyThe philosophy behind How to Become a Recognized Authority is one of acceptance. Specifically, accepting the fact that we live in a guru-oriented society, there will be gurus in virtually every field of knowledge, and that since there's going to be a guru or gurus in your field, you might as well be one of them.
Whether you think the adulation many people lavish upon gurus and celebrities is justified is, frankly, irrelevant. That gurus and celebrities are looked up to is simply the reality of life, and this is a book about dealing with reality and being successful in the world as it is, not as you or others wish it would be. Recognizing that the business world is guru-driven and that guru status can be yours if you work at it is the first step to becoming recognized as a leading expert in your field.
"See yourself as a brand and learn techniques to distinguish yourself from others," writes Roz Usheroff in Speakers Gold (April 2000, p. 1). "Developing brand distinction builds your reputation and opens the door to future promotions, opportunities, and options."
Guru vs. Mini-GuruYou should decide whether your goal is to be a guru or a mini-guru. I define a guru as the recognized expert in a particular field that is fairly large in size and broad in scope. John Gray, as the leading authority on male/female relationships, certainly qualified as a guru. So does Peter Drucker, the leading authority on management.
A mini-guru is one of several recognized leading experts in a particular field, not necessarily the leading expert. And the mini-guru operates in a niche that is smaller in size and narrower in scope than the full-scale guru's arena.
My colleague Travis McFee is a mini-guru in the field of practice-building for dentists. Why do I put Travis, who knows an incredible amount about his subject, in the mini category? Two reasons. First, he is not alone; there are a number of speakers, authors, and consultants who teach dentists how to build lucrative practices. In fact, there is a speaker's bureau that handles only dental speakers! Second, interest in dental marketing is limited to about 100,000 dentists in the United States, compared with Peter Drucker's management advice being of interest to virtually every white-collar worker in America.
I definitely fall into the category of mini-guru probably very mini but that is good enough for me. My specialty, as I've mentioned, is direct mail copywriting. There are hundreds of direct mail copywriters and consultants, but by applying the method outlined shortly in this chapter, I was able to break out somewhat and position myself in the top tier.
Does this mean I am smarter or better than the hundreds who are relatively unknown or at least not as widely known as I am? No. It does mean I have a consistent flow of prospects ready and eager to hire me for work I want to do, at the full fees I want to charge without me having to prospect, market, cold call, sell, negotiate, network, or do many of the other things my competitors do to keep the work flow steady.
Does being a mini-guru, even at what is admittedly a very modest level, make a big difference in my life? Absolutely. A survey from Creative Business, an industry publication, indicates that the average freelance copywriter grosses around $50,000 a year. I make that much about every six to seven weeks. I am not super-rich, but I have become a self-made multi-millionaire in a field freelance writing where most practitioners struggle to get by.
I spend my time doing what I love writing and not schmoozing clients, going to meetings, or networking. We have a materially comfortable, financially secure, pleasant life, all made possible by the fact that I have achieved the status of a mini-guru in a specific niche market. That's what I wanted, although I didn't realize it when I started. If it's what you want too, the good news is that it is within your grasp and achievable sooner than you might think.
AttitudeIronically, even though I am the author of this book about becoming a guru, I am by nature a cynic, crab, and curmudgeon. I fall into the one third of the population who are skeptical and distrustful of gurus.
Do I dismiss all gurus? Not at all. The ones I like and there are quite a few I really like. I buy their books, eagerly mooch free content off their Web sites, subscribe to their e-zines and newsletters, attend their seminars, even hire some of them to consult with me on my business. It's just that, all else being equal, a guru has to quickly prove to me that there is substance behind the style, that he's not just smoke and mirrors. I prefer solid, authentic experts to the trendy and overblown any day of the week.
Having established that, how did I reconcile my inherent distrust of gurus with my own desire to become a mini-guru in my narrow niche field of direct mail copywriting? Below is the attitude I have. As you read this list, can you share this attitude? Do you feel comfortable thinking and saying these thoughts? If you do, you will be well-positioned to pursue your own attainment or guru status in an unconflicted manner.
The Guru Attitude
1. I don't think the current societal obsession with gurus is right or wrong, good or bad. I just accept it as a fact.
2. I am a realist. I live in the world as it is. I might in my heart of hearts wish to change the world, but I don't think that is realistically going to happen. The best I can do is work within the system and create a successful life for me, my family, and my clients within those confines.
3. The system is difficult and a struggle if you are one of the pack, although a quality service provider or merchant with a sincere desire to help customers can succeed very nicely. The system readily gives wealth and success to those who are considered gurus by their customers and prospects.
4. Although I am not the smartest person in my field, the most educated, the most successful, or even the most talented, I'm at least as good as most people who are considered gurus in my field, and probably better than many. They are gurus not because of talent or achievement, but because they have done things to position themselves as gurus. I would like to get in on this action.
5. There is no mystery to what I have to do to position myself as a guru. It involves a simple list of tasks, shown in the following Action Plan. Most of the tasks are not that difficult, and even the most challenging are easily within my abilities and resources to complete. If I do what it takes to become a guru, I will become a guru, at least to some degree that is an improvement over my current position.
6. When I begin to attain guru status, rewards and kudos will come my way. I will not agonize over the fairness of this fact or question it unduly. I will accept the success, money, fame, and praise; after all, I deserve it as much as anyone else. Someone is going to be the guru in my field. It might as well be me.
Ethics"But if I know being a guru is largely a matter of self-promotion and marketing, isn't it wrong for me to pursue that?" you may ask. "Won't I, in essence, be pulling the wool over people's eyes?" I resolve this dilemma by being the only kind of guru I can personally like and admire myself: an ethical guru.
Some gurus are merely hype all self-promotion, with no substance to back it up. They deliver little or no value. They either know this, or else they are so self-deluded by their own PR that they can no longer see it clearly. I dislike these phonies, so I refuse to be one even if it would make me much richer than I am.
That's my choice. You might be thinking, "Hey, if I can make up the next management theory trend and make $50,000 a speech even if it's totally B.S., that's what I want to do." Fine. Do it and go in peace. Other gurus the kind I like and emulate are the real thing. Yes, they've positioned themselves as gurus. But they have the knowledge, experience, and credentials to back it up. They may be selling sizzle, but they're cooking good steak.
Don Libey direct marketer, futurist, catalog expert, and valued friend is a good example. Don, though a brilliant author and successful speaker, is not in the top celebrity tier of futurists. His books are from a small press, not the major New York publishers. He does not have the fame of the big-name futurists, such as John Naisbitt or Faith Popcorn.
Don focuses on the niche market of the direct response industry, and specifically within that, on catalog marketing. And there his knowledge is unequaled. He has a long history as a successful catalog marketer, consultant, and investment banker specializing in catalog acquisitions. He even wrote an entire book on square-inch analysis, which is a method of determining the profitability of each item in a catalog.
If I owned a catalog company and wanted guidance on the future of my business, Don is the only person I would call; I wouldn't even think of giving Faith Popcorn a ring, as good as she may be as a general futurist. Don owns the catalog niche and no one can take it away from him. Confucius said, "The superior man understands what is right. The inferior man understands what will sell." My position as a guru is to do both well. Do what is right master your niche and offer unique value your competitors cannot. But also do what will sell take the steps, outlined below, to secure your position as a guru in your domain.
MethodologyAlan Kay, a Disney fellow at Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, sums up the methodology used in becoming a guru as follows: "You make progress by giving your ideas away; businesspeople haven't learned this yet."*
As the following plan outlines in detail, the basic method of becoming a guru is to research and gain through experience, organize, and disseminate information on your topic frequently and in a variety of formats to your target market.
To distill this to its simplest level: If you want to position yourself as a marketing consultant to audio retailers, write how-to marketing articles for their trade publication, as Roger Parker did (recall his story from Chapter 1, "What Is a Guru?"). But that's just phase one. To truly establish yourself as a guru and set yourself ahead of the pack, you have to conduct an ongoing program of self-promotion in which information dissemination is the primary vehicle.
You can and should do a lot of other things to market and promote yourself, of course for instance, running ads, networking, making cold calls, or sending out direct mail. But, while these generate leads, they don't do much to build your reputation. That goal is reached through the program outlined below....
* CIO, June 1, 2001, p. 32