Marketing, branding and management consultant Dorie Clark shares her diversity story of growing up as an LGBTQ individual in a small town in North Carolina, and eventually moving away and graduating from college when she was just 18 years old. Dorie discusses the changing world of work and the corporate power structure, and how becoming more entrepreneurial can afford individuals from traditionally marginalized communities the opportunity to claim their own power and voice and monetize their expertise. Dorie also shares the evolution of her own business, and what you need to do to become an authority in your field.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Dorie’s diversity story and the experiences that informed her thinking (4:24)
- The different pathways to success, inside and outside of the traditional corporate structure (6:55)
- How to be authentic and transparent (10:45)
- Why Dorie feels her authority has been accepted in corporate America (17:00)
- The connection between gender expression and corporate power structure (17:50)
- Steps you need to take to reinvent yourself (22:55)
- How people from marginalized communities can find the courage to share their voice (25:36)
- How difference can be a superpower (26:00)
- How to create your own leadership roles (29:50)
- The importance of telling your diversity story (30:15)
- How to have more agency in your own job and career (33:20)
- The evolution of Dorie’s business (37:50)
- How to create more freedom in your business (40:20)
- An authentic marketing model that attracts ideal prospects (44:30)
- How to find out about Dorie’s upcoming book launch events (47:40)
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Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation
JENNIFER BROWN: Welcome to The Will to Change. This is Jennifer Brown. Today my guest is Dorie Clark. Dorie Clark is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and a professional speaker. She is the author of the forthcoming Entrepreneurial You from Harvard Business Review Press. Her previous books include Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine, one of the Top 10 Business Books of the Year by Forbes, and was a Washington Post bestseller.
A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and is a consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is also a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album.
Dorie Clark, welcome to The Will to Change.
DORIE CLARK: Jennifer Brown, thank you for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am so glad you’re here. You and I are friends, we are fellow authors, we are speakers all over the world together—but apart. We never cross paths, but I wish we did. I love, love, love your body of work. It is so important. As a business owner in particular, everything you write about really maps to the experience that I’ve had over the last ten years of building my own business, and scaling it beyond the founder. I just love all that you write about in terms of thought leadership, claiming our voice in the business conversation, and giving us the tools to do that. I want to acknowledge what you put out into the world and how important it is.
DORIE CLARK: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it, Jennifer. You’re doing amazing stuff, and I’m happy to be talking with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m psyched to bring a different side of Dorie to the world today through The Will to Change and to our audience, which is really passionate about diverse voices and building a more inclusive world where we can see more kinds of thought leaders out there building their platforms. I know that you’re equally passionate about that.
I want to jump in, as we do on The Will to Change, with your diversity story. For you, I’m sure there are many aspects of it, but one that intrigued me was your early days. You had a really unique school experience that I’d like you to share a little bit about. I am positive that it’s informed your rapid success as an adult and an authority.
Take us back. What was that environment like for you growing up? What was unusual about your schooling? And how did it supercharge you and point you in a direction that has led to what you do now?
DORIE CLARK: Thank you. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, which was not really ever to my liking. It was a little too small, a little too boring and isolated for me.
That feeling got even more intense when I was a young teenager and realized I was gay. I started looking for ways to get out.
I am proud of my young teenage self because I was pretty methodical. I came up with a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C of different ways that I could get out of my little town. But plan A actually ended up working, which was great. What I considered to be the best option was getting accepted to a program at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia which allowed for early entrance to attend college.
I finished up ninth grade, and after that I just stopped going to high school and was able to enter college. It kind of sounds crazy because I somehow felt like, “Isn’t this illegal?” But people are allowed to drop out of school, I never really officially dropped out, I just never went back. I don’t have a high school diploma to this day, I just went straight into college and did that instead.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my God, that’s just so unusual. And you left out a critical detail, which is it was an all-girls school as well. I’m curious, are you a true believer in the space that created for you and the other girls to flourish? It’s an interesting question. I’m always asked in the corporate work we do, there are single-identity spaces and certain special things and unique things happen in those spaces, and there’s also a need for cross-identity spaces for work to be done and learning to happen. How did that feel for you, particularly in that all-girls space in that context?
DORIE CLARK: Yes. I thought it was great. I was, an am, a big fan of single-sex education. I was at Mary Baldwin for two years, and then I transferred to Smith College, which is also all female, because I wanted to preserve that as part of my undergraduate experience.
I knew from the beginning that I was going to go on and get a graduate degree, and I figured there would be plenty of chances to have co-ed environments.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. The world, basically.
DORIE CLARK: Yes. Exactly. It’s not like I’m going to miss out by doing this. I figured I would harness that opportunity.
I thought it was great. To a certain extent, rightly or wrongly, it gave a lot of parents more confidence in sending their kids off.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course.
DORIE CLARK: Because they were not as directly exposed to the potential deprivations of teenage heterosexual dating.
JENNIFER BROWN: So risky. Oh, my goodness! (Laughter.)
DORIE CLARK: The caveat here, though, is while the program that I entered at Mary Baldwin is still single-sex, the campus now has just this year become co-ed, to great uproar. It was actually one of the most poorly botched crisis communication situations I’ve ever seen. As a former presidential campaign spokesperson, I have seen many, and I feel like they just blew it in so many ways. They ended up alienating a lot of their alumni in the way that they handled it.
It will be interesting to see how the program progresses and proceeds now that there are men on campus, essentially. That being said, there are other longstanding early campus programs that are co-ed, the most famous of which is Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts. That has succeeded reasonably well for decades.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s really good to know. I’m learning so much about the existence of these programs. As a gifted girl, it strikes me that fierce intelligence might be one of those aspects that we cover, going forward into our workplaces.
When I talk about covering in the workplace, people come up to me and share so many different things that always are broadening my understanding of how many stigmatized identities we all actually carry around. Many times, education and intelligence and PhDs, advanced degrees—a storied academic career, if you will—in the corporate space is actually something people downplay. It’s interesting to think about, especially for girls, non-traditional, and minority talent in the way I speak about it—women, people of color, other underrepresented folks—we’ve got so much to manage in terms of not bringing our full selves to the world and to our employers. Add to that fierce intelligence, which has its own stereotypes, of course. It might be celebrated in a man, and may not be viewed that way in a woman.
As a girl, I would imagine that single-sex experience is so important to create what you call “bonding capital” versus “bridging capital.” Could you explain that to our audience and talk about how this grounded you and allowed you to get your sense of yourself in a very solid place that reflected you. How do we then bridge from that solidity to “bridging”—reaching across difference and having a stronger voice for ourselves when we navigate the environment around us?
DORIE CLARK: I think you make a great point, Jennifer. One of the hats that I wear, one of the things that I do these days is I’ve done a pretty large number of courses for Lynda.com. For those of you who are not familiar, it’s a startup that was acquired a few years ago by LinkedIn, and they’re now in the process of rebranding it as LinkedIn Learning. It’s a subscription service where people get access to online courses.
One of the courses that they have had me develop is called Learning How to be More Approachable. It’s an interesting question. In sourcing ideas for what I should cover in this course, I put a post on my Facebook wall. I said, “Hey, guys, have any of you guys struggled with this? What kinds of topics would you be interested in having me write about? What have your experiences been?”
And one woman wrote in and said that one of the challenges that she had found was that she had been torn in a number of directions. She had experienced that her intelligence had not turned people off, per se, but that some people were reacting poorly to it. It made her seem unapproachable to them, they were a little intimidated by it.
In turn, she tried to cover that, to scale it back a little bit in terms of how she presented herself. Then, of course, that created a host of other problems because you’re not really being your authentic self, and people can kind of sense that. So having to navigate that and thread that needle can be a little bit tricky.
For me, fortunately, it’s not something that I have ever really worried about that much. Partly because my feeling is that the part of intelligence that people often react to—when people get triggered by it, it’s often because they feel that somehow your intelligence or your education is an implicit rebuke to them, that you’re better than them or something like that. My general personality and affect is, I would say, a little bit “folksy” even. I will swear, I will use slang words. I’m not pretentious. I can be pretentious when I need to be, but it’s not my usual MO. That maybe lessens some of the overt strains that might come with somebody that is perceived as being an egghead, quote/unquote, or someone thinks they’re better than someone else.
JENNIFER BROWN: When you’re an author and a speaker, like you and I are, we get to geek out. That’s what we’re paid to do. It’s a perfect career, right? You can be all of those things and you have a pass to do it.
DORIE CLARK: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Dorie, I really relate to how we present ourselves and bond with our audience, which ultimately we have to do. You and I travel all over the world, speaking to a wide variety of people. We have to figure out quickly, usually a minute or two, how to win people over to have them trust us. Your folksiness might accomplish that. For me, I try to beat people to the punch. I try to name what might be going through their head about me. Often, people are wrong about who I am and all the things that I am. For example, that’s why it’s important for me to express explicitly on the stage that I’m a member of the LGBT community and the room goes very quiet when I do that. You can hear a pin drop.
DORIE CLARK: Shock and awe.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, shock and awe, totally! It’s very effective.
DORIE CLARK: All the ladies are, like, “Do I have a chance?” (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: And then I talk about my partner. No, sorry, I have this lovely lady at home for 20 years.
It’s interesting. I try to read their mind because I know that I have a very limited time with people, and I know that I want to get to the good stuff. I don’t want anything about me or what they read about me to intimidate them because my message is so important. I have a limited time to shift something in them.
Covering parts of who we are in order to do that is an interesting thing, when authenticity is actually your message, which is opposite to that, right? It’s very interesting.
This is an interesting segue into something I wanted to ask you about—how you physically present your gender. You and I are both in the gay community, but you might walk into a room and you have a more masculine-of-center presentation or normative presentation. I have a very feminine-normative or stereotypically feminine presentation in the audience’s view. I am sure it creates a different reaction in people.
I want to hear from you: How do you think that impacts your ability to communicate quickly and win trust? How do you experience that? How do your audiences experience that do you think? I’m not sure you ever talk about it, but what’s the calculation there?
DORIE CLARK: Like all things, it’s a double-edged sword. I generally take the attitude that if people don’t know I’m gay, they’ve either been living under a rock or maybe they’re from a foreign country that sort of does things in a really different way.
I walk in and assume that everybody knows that I’m gay. To a certain extent, it simplifies things because, A, it probably weeds out opportunities. It’s not like I would be in a situation where someone would hire me and then say, “Oh, I’m shocked!” It’s much more upstream. If anybody is going to be turned off by me, my message, or whatever, it’s before they’ve even gotten in touch.
On the one hand, you don’t know if that’s happening or to what extent, it’s just a question mark. You can’t wonder about that or you’ll drive yourself crazy. On the other hand, it is kind of good for peace of mind because it’s self-selection. People know what they’re getting. So when you walk in, you know that anybody who’s done a reasonable amount of due diligence, which is pretty easy to do on the Internet—I have plenty of videos of me speaking and things like that. They pretty much would be aware of who I am.
Other interesting wrinkles. You do get some people, not infrequently, who are confused about my gender. It sort of boggles my mind a little bit because I wear suits and things like that, but all my Web materials it says “she,” et cetera. But, nonetheless, people do get confused. You just have to be cool with that. It’s fine. I get “sir’d” multiple times a week. I don’t want to embarrass people, you just roll with it. If someone wants to call me “sir” I’m like, “Great, okay.” If someone calls me “ma’am,” great. Probably the most uncomfortable part is when they call me “sir” and then they’re, like, “Oh, shit.” And then they get really nervous, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” And then I have to calm them down. “No, really, it’s cool. It’s really cool.” (Laughter.)
The other aspect that is interesting here is something that we talked about in our previous call, which is the question of how gender is perceived in the workplace in terms of the level of seriousness with which people take you.
One of the things that I have noticed is that—again, there may be other reasons why people might not be interested in me or my message or turned off by it, who knows? But I have never been in a situation where I felt like I have not been taken seriously. If I’m speaking, if I’m presenting, that’s not an issue. People are listening. I hear from many women in the workplace that it is a common occurrence that they will try to speak in meetings and no one pays attention. And then the classic thing, the male colleague repeats it and everyone says, “Oh, Jim, you’re so brilliant.” (Laughter.)
I’ve come to believe that in some ways, to a certain extent, it’s less about men and women in the workplace and more about our society’s profound discomfort with femininity. I think there are some advantages that I have seen as being a more masculine-presenting woman that people are cued culturally to listen to what the person in the blue blazer is saying. I recognize that I benefit from that in some ways.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. The Trojan horse metaphor comes to mind for both of us, but for different reasons. It gets us into the castle walls. Whether it’s your presentation that perhaps puts men at ease, and if men have relatively more power, you have access to express your message and do the change work that you do with particular people because of that automatic unearned privilege of being seen as “one of us.” Right?
For me, being white, when speaking about issues of ethnicity, inclusion, and racial diversity, it’s very powerful for me to speak to other people of my ethnicity on behalf of others and bring a message forward. I have an interesting unearned opportunity to do that just based on the skin I’m in and the trust that I’m given.
I’m envisioning you as an ally. You’re an ally for women because you can have a conversation with men that is different. It will be easier. You may not be stereotyped in certain ways, which is fascinating.
This is the beauty of the LGBT community. The beauty of the difference between you and me. We may share a sexual orientation, but our gender expression is so fundamentally opposite. And yet, we both can look at these problems and think, “Am I accepted right now? Am I going to be listened to? What are the headwinds? What are the tailwinds in this moment? How can I ride those, but also have my plan A, B, and C?” I loved that you said that. How can I prepare for the resistance that I’m going to get?
I always think I need to stand up and be in my gender expression and what feels comfortable for me. In my way, I am challenging stereotypes as well about what does an LGBT woman look like? Add to that the fact that you and I are authors, speakers, and very public people. We are making a difference for others to see us and to broaden their thinking about what this looks like. We’re doing it in very different ways, which I love.
I want to get to your message in your work, your writing. For those of us who have not had a voice traditionally, we know when you’re in the minority and you perceive that you need to cover, we don’t live bold lives. We don’t articulate our point of view. We don’t build businesses in the bigger way that we could. We don’t grab the spotlight. We don’t feel we have the authority to step into this power because we don’t see other people doing it who look like us. We are carrying around a stigmatized identity or multiple intersections of stigmatized identities. Therefore, we never bring our voice to the world.
When I read your writing, I feel very much that you’re laying out a path and trying to make it simple and accessible for people who might not have ever thought about themselves as thought leaders, as speakers, as authors, as powerful voices for change.
Do you think you’ve chosen this work because, in a way, you feel responsible to expand the number of voices that we have out there in the world that are really, really visible.
DORIE CLARK: It’s a really great point. It’s not something that I consciously chose. It’s not a strategy that I had from day one and then implemented. Like a lot of things in people’s professional lives, when you’re connecting the dots looking backwards, absolutely, that was a very influential part of it.
A central part of my identity formation was being this intelligent yet slightly defiant teenager. “You will accept me or else!”
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I love that. I should have tattooed that on my forehead, I love that. (Laughter.)
DORIE CLARK: It’s stayed with me. I was never interested in bowing to other people’s expectations. I was very much of the school that, no, you will expand your expectations to meet me.
My theory of the LGBT experience is that essentially it is in many ways this microcosm of the entire human experience. What does it mean to be a human? People can offer different definitions, but what I think, and many psychologists think, is that a central human project is to learn who you are and become comfortable with that and be able to live that out successfully. That’s the definition of a functioning adult. Everybody needs to get to that point, hopefully by the time they die.
That process is expedited for people in the LGBT community because very early on—earlier and earlier these days—teenagers, or what have you, get this realization, “Oh, my gosh, I am different than the vast majority of other people around me.
When you’re confronted with that, it prompts you in an early and clear way to have to make a call. It can send you in one of two directions. One direction, if you are, unfortunately, not prepared for that, which often might be the case if you come from an unsupportive environment, is that we see some of the sad pathologies that come out—higher rates of drug, self-medication, suicide attempts—things that are still present and very worrisome.
But at the other end of the spectrum, if you can successfully come through that project and figure your way to accepting yourself and feeling really good about that, that is an advantage that you have because you have been to that place and a lot of other straight people, there might be other things that force them into it faster, and some of them may be really self-evolved and choose to do it proactively, but for a lot of people, unless you’re forced to have that kind of self-knowledge and self-reflection, it takes a while.
It really can become your superpower to have gone through the coming-out process and experience. In many ways, that animates the work that I do. The misunderstanding, the caricature of personal branding is that it’s all about, “Oh, how do I just look good and convince people I’m great?” That’s the most shallow, surface impression. It’s not that at all.
What I vehemently argue for is something that many LGBT people can recognize, which is: No. It’s about starting from within, understanding who you are, and then making sure that other people understand loud and clear why you are awesome, why they need you, and why your skills and abilities are necessary to your company or your project.
JENNIFER BROWN: My goodness, we just need to frame that. It’s true. We call it the “gifts of being LGBT.” In my leadership programs working with high-potential LGBT leaders in a large corporation, we brainstorm all of the particular competencies and skills that we’ve developed through our struggle of reconciling those parts of us that you just talked about: resilience, emotional intelligence, agility, the ability to win trust.
Of course, those things we learned because of a potentially—in some cases—life-threatening situation that we found ourselves in. Whom we love can result in danger for us, physical or emotional danger. It’s a big thing to have to sort out and define.
I agree. The work we do to reconcile this and then to become powerful because of it is a flip that I find most people haven’t thought about. They usually think about adversity as a negative and something to be hidden, minimized, ashamed of, don’t want to think about it, have no idea what it has to do with my journey as a leader.
In our classes, we pull these pieces back together again and say, “Actually, this has created you in such a unique way that will resonate with so many people.” Actually, that human experience of feeling disconnected or alienated, there is a lot that people can dock into when LGBT people or anyone of difference tells their story. I’m always big on saying, “Make it overt.” It’s part of your own healing and stepping into your own power that you’ve been disconnected from. People need to see others doing this in order to do it themselves. There has got to be a critical mass of us doing this, being the first through the jungle. Once that path is cleared, it becomes more worn and more people can flood through.
Like you say, I find the LGBT story is more universal than just for LGBT people. It’s a beautiful story of allyship and the role that straight allies have played in supporting and helping marginalized communities get protection and more equality in the workplace and in the world.
We’ve got to create that space. You and I and others are trying, but we need more voices out there working on that.
DORIE CLARK: Totally.
JENNIFER BROWN: There’s so much more I want to talk to you about just on the topic of how we build our thought leadership programs and platforms and getting our voice out there. People can read the book. There is so much good advice in those books about seizing the platform that you can with your story and knowledge. Talk yourself into the fact that you do have something to say, that the world needs to hear it, and that it will actually yield a whole different career, potentially, if you step through those gates.
It may mean leaving your job or a predictable life and stepping out on your own, as you and I preach all the time. Maybe you are destined for bigger things? Why not? Your point is you’ve got to diversify the ways that you make money. You’ve got to explore all the assets that are available to you, which includes who you are and what you know, and not just the job that a company gives you. Right? We are all more than that.
What is your vision for how many entrepreneurs you want to motivate, create, and equip? Here’s how you make your living on your own. I know all your books take people through the step-by-step process of doing that. Do you think that’s what the world needs? More of us out there working for ourselves living the life that you and I lead—speaking, writing, creating content, gathering our communities and tribes, and somehow monetizing those?
DORIE CLARK: Well, I don’t necessarily think that everyone needs to be an entrepreneur per se, but I do very strongly believe that everyone needs to be entrepreneurial in the sense of understanding that in the modern economy, it is foolish to just sit back and take what’s given to you. You know? Oh, I’ll just work in my job and things will happen. I’ll get a paycheck and after a couple of years I’ll get a promotion. Letting things happen. When you let things happen, almost always—think about it in the rest of your life, right? If you just let things happen, usually they’re not the things you want to happen.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
DORIE CLARK: You can’t just be a jellyfish, buffeted around by the waves. There’s got to be a little purpose, there’s got to be a little agency to it.
Even if you have a job that you love, that you want to keep doing, amen! Do that. But give yourself a little bit more security. You owe that to yourself. The best way to create security is to build an additional income stream for yourself. This could be doing a little coaching or consulting on the side, starting to do some speaking, writing a blog—any of these things. It doesn’t have to take over your life, but it can create some valuable side opportunities. It might even redound to your benefit in your day job as well.
In my new book, Entrepreneurial You, I tell the story of a guy named Lenny Achan, who started out as a nurse in a hospital system. He actually ended up as the head of communications for the hospital system. The way he made this kind of crazy leap in his career was that on his own time, he had gotten interested in apps and the Internet economy, and he learned how to create apps. He built a couple, put them out into the iTunes store, and his boss found out about it.
Lenny was afraid that he would get in trouble if his boss knew, but it was actually the opposite. The boss thought it was awesome that he had taken that initiative and that he knew about this. He saw that Lenny was an ambitious guy and had something to contribute. And so he said, “Lenny, I’d like you to run social media for the entire hospital.”
Lenny started doing that. And then he did such a good job, he was given the whole portfolio of running communications. The things you do on your side time often might lead to new connections, new opportunities, and new money for yourself.
JENNIFER BROWN: Good, good, good. I have a story about that. I was recently asked by a corporate client to construct or improve their social media voice when it comes to their brand related to being an inclusive employer and inclusive place to work.
I’m a consultant that specializes in diversity and inclusion strategies, right? Social media is an afterthought for many large companies. They don’t do it very well, in my opinion. But who does it well? People like you and me, of course, because we’ve had to build these personal brands around our content and our thought leadership.
As I’m doing my own business, the client notices, “Maybe she could do that for us. Maybe she could do what she does for herself for us and build bring that to bear to tell our story better.” I tell my story all the time, and I’m always thinking about how I can craft it and make it more useful.
You’re right. In following our passions and making those visible to the world, you never know who’s going to notice that. It may actually shift your career, what you do every day, how you make your living. What you thought your value was is always changing. I’ve been fascinated to watch and listen to how my brand is being received, perceived, and what my strengths are. And then thinking about how I orient what I do around that.
I’m sure you have shifted from the many different hats that you’ve worn to make a living as you’ve worked for yourself, and as you’ve discovered your sweet spot. It’s probably still changing. Who knows what your fourth book will be about? You’ve had three in a trilogy.
What have the key changes been as you’ve listened to how the world is receiving you and what they need from you? What are some changes in product that you’ve made over the course of writing these three books? Can you describe that evolution a little bit?
DORIE CLARK: Yes, absolutely. Part of it has been responding to market demand. That’s something that, of course, is useful for any entrepreneur to do. Initially, it’s pretty common, this is what I did, you miss the first few signals. Sometimes you have to tune in, learn, and listen.
For instance, when I wrote my first book, Reinventing You, I started to get people coming to me saying, “I read your book, do you do coaching?” And my response was, “No, I don’t do coaching. That’s not what I do.” (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m impressed.
DORIE CLARK: My original background was marketing strategy consulting. That was something that was for companies, not for people. But I started to get so many requests that I just realized, “Dorie, this is foolish. You should just start doing this. People are asking for this.”
I’ve built up now an executive coaching practice. It’s great. It’s one of the things that I do, it’s one of the income streams that I have. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s six figures a year just working with really talented executives. Specifically, the reason that I resisted coaching was I’m not trained as a typical executive coach in the sense of, “Here’s how to manage your employees better” or whatever. That’s not what I do.
What I started to do was a place where I really felt I could add unique value, which is coaching people specifically in how to become a thought leader in their field. That is the niche, that is what people hire me for, it is very clearly defined. That was something that I did not originally do, but added to my portfolio. That become one of my income streams.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. E-Myth is one of my favorite books. It’s been reprinted about 25 times, but it’s all about the pie maker, right? The talented chef who becomes a victim of her own success and has to decide, “What kind of business do you really want to have?” If you continue making pies yourself, there’s no way you’re going to grow. You can keep making your pies more expensive until such time as people just can’t afford them anymore. But if you want to keep making pies, there is a ceiling to how big you can build your business.
One of the key points for me, I was coaching and training, I was doing all the delivery work for my company ten years ago. I remember the day that my client said, “You know, it doesn’t need to be you that comes and does this program for us.” It was an “ah-hah” moment. I realized I could work on the business and not in the business every day, and that would allow me more time to focus on strategy, resourcing, what the future looks like, developing our vision, marketing, and building the brand and the voice of the brand.
That flip was really fundamental for me. You get at that, too, to say when you’re onto something and people are eating up everything that you’re putting out, you have a choice. Do you stay small and niche and an in-person business? Or do you start to expand a build a small team that helps you? Do you pull out of the day-to-day? And is your value better, is your time better spent focusing on what’s next and finding new markets, new audience members? And all the while, your product is being made by you and others. I love that piece, too.
In the business of the future, if we have a bunch of entrepreneurs that we’re teaching, what is the structure going to look like for those thought leader businesses? Do you have an opinion about what the optimal structure is when you are talented and everything you touch leads to possibility? How do you build that in a future-focused way?
DORIE CLARK: It’s an important point to touch on. In fact, I have a whole chapter on it in Entrepreneurial You. It really involves understanding what your personal goal is. You’re going to make different choices depending on whether your goal is to maximize revenue and grow a large business where you’ve got a big staff, you’re supervising a lot of people. That gives you scale, that gives you the ability to do a lot, which is fantastic.
For many people, that’s not the thing that they want. They don’t want to be responsible for 15 people’s livelihood, or 50 people’s livelihood. They want the ability to leave at 3:00 in the afternoon and go do yoga if that’s their deal. Getting clear on the vision first so that you can optimize for that is critical.
For me, in many ways, I put myself in the latter camp. I’m not exactly leaving at 3:00 for yoga.
JENNIFER BROWN: I don’t think so. (Laughter.)
DORIE CLARK: I’m sort of a workaholic, at least during launch time. Nonetheless, having managed people before, I liked it, that was fun, but I thought, “I don’t really want to do that my whole life.” I have been very conscious about how to scale, but I’ve looked for other ways to do it. One of the ways, and this is another income stream that I sought proactively to develop over the past couple of years, is creating online courses. That, of course, is a way that I can take my intellectual property and be able to disseminate it more widely, above and beyond the very intensive, in-person executive coaching.
Last year, I created a course called Recognized Expert that helps talented professionals figure out the steps to becoming a recognized expert in their field. In many ways, it’s similar to the executive coaching experience, but it’s online and because it’s not one on one, it’s scaled, it’s much cheaper, so it’s a good option for people who might not otherwise be able to afford the individualized time with me.
For me, it’s a way of reaching more people, scaling myself, but doing it in a way that doesn’t require me to build up some huge practice.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That hybrid model is what our future really holds. I am often asked, “How do you generate sales?” I often say it’s through our expertise and the generosity of how much we share our content and our point of view. It draws a certain tribe to us and attracts a lot of interest. It’s not at all that “sales” is a bad word. It’s interesting, I like sales and business development because for me, it’s always stemmed from putting my expertise out there. I like to give before I ask. I feel I want to make my field better, I want to contribute to that, and it’s resulted in a lovely synergy with our audiences that has resulted in sales.
The whole model of thinking of sales as pushing and pushing and pushing to sell more of something, if you’re doing it right and putting your vision out there, the right people will come along and buy what you are offering. It feels so much more organic, natural, authentic, and more full of integrity than the usual sales as an uphill battle with targets and many, many sales meetings—most of which don’t result in anything because they weren’t really warm leads anyway. All the tactics that I think are a vestige of the past. We’ll probably look back on that and say, “Wow, we weren’t going about it in the right way. We were pushing against something instead of inviting something.”
Thought leadership platforms allow all of us to invite people to us and we will find the right people that come to us. So you’re demonstrating how to build businesses that do that.
Dorie, I want to wrap up, but I want to give you an opportunity to talk about your launch on October 3rd for Entrepreneurial You. Tell us what we can do to support you, where people can see you. I think you’re going on the road in the fall and meeting and greeting your adoring fans. What can you tell us about when we can get our hands on the book, where, and how we can potentially see you in person in various cities around the country and the world in the next couple weeks and months?
DORIE CLARK: So exciting, thank you, Jennifer. Yes, you’re exactly right. My new book, Entrepreneurial You is coming out October 3rd. If folks are interested in getting a copy, they can certainly do that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, other good, smart bookstores as well.
If people are interested in getting a free resource and checking it out, I do have a giveaway that I think might be helpful. It is the 88-question Entrepreneurial You self-assessment, which actually walks people step by step through how to start thinking about creating multiple income streams in their own business. Folks can download that for free at dorieclark.com/entrepreneur.
If people are interested in coming out and hanging out in person at any of these book launch events, I’m going to be doing events coming up in New York, Boston, Washington, LA, and London. If folks want more information about that, I certainly won’t bore everyone by reciting them, but if you go to my website, dorieclark.com, shoot me a note on the contact form and I’ll send you the invite link.
JENNIFER BROWN: So generous, thank you, Dorie. I wish you huge sales, and more importantly, I know that you have shifted so many people’s thinking and hearts about what they’re capable of doing in the world. I thank you for that deeply, and for showing up as who you are authentically to so many audiences around the world. You are challenging notions, and yet you are fiercely protective of your own authenticity and your story. That is a unique combination that all of us need to pay a lot of attention to.
Thank you for joining me today.
DORIE CLARK: Back at you, Jennifer Brown! Thank you so much. It is wonderful, always, to talk with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Awesome. Thank you so much.
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