I once listened to consultants who said I had to do things a certain way to be successful in business. I spent tens of thousands of dollars to position myself the right way, because that’s how people told me others had done it. I had the pictures taken, like everyone else. I created marketing materials like everyone else. I bought the clothes like everyone else. I even ditched my cowboy boots!
But I soon stopped doing things “their” way. Because it was not me. Can a speaking sizzle reel or a brochure be helpful? Yes, but you don’t have to do any of this, and you can't do it before you tap into your core. That’s why when a person tells me, “I have to license my content online as the first step to success as a speaker,” it feels like someone sticking needles in my ears. I want to grab them by the shoulders, like I wish someone had for me, and say:
When someone says you must do this or that to be successful, tell those people to shut up; you’re writing your own story. Why have something that looks like someone else when it could be you?
That’s what your business needs to reflect, too: an identity of its own. Stop listening to “them” if you want to be the best you. The first time I did TV, I thought, “I have to act like more of a TV person,” because that’s what “they” said. All that did was make for bad TV, while just working on being the best version of me made for great TV. Consultants, speakers, masterminds ... they always talk about secrets to success, but those “secrets” are really just about figuring out:
- Who are you?
- What do you want to do?
- Where do you want to go?
- What is your end game?
- How does all this connect to the story that sells you?
Tell me: What are your main criteria for the direction you want your business to go, your conditions of satisfaction that apply to all these questions? Can you list yours? If you can’t, what the hell do you own? Someone else’s expectations? Nothing at all? Mine have been the same for decades, and they always remind me why I’m in it at all.
Everything I do in business has to meet these conditions of satisfaction: have the ability to make me money, grow professionally, and have fun doing it. Those are the criteria I use for any direction I want to go. I might consider a business opportunity that satisfies two of the three under the right circumstances but never just one, no matter how good the money is. Yet none of my conditions do me any good if I can’t use the conviction they give me to inform my story and thus connect them to what I'm selling to an audience, my customers, my potential clients or business partners, and my teams.
So start by finding out what makes you happy and meets your own conditions of satisfaction. I've learned that every time I violate my conditions—every time I do something that won’t build me wealth, make me grow or be fun—it never works out and usually ends up costing me money.
Now, what are you actually selling? Selling isn't a dirty word. We're all selling something. But what we must sell in the best way possible is bigger stories that connect on a deeper level to the product, person or service. We're selling someone bigger ideas through us that connect to what they want!
We talk a lot about getting your two- or three-sentence elevator pitch down for your business. I call this pitch the “118”—the number of seconds you actually have to pitch: eight seconds to hook people and no more than 110 seconds to reel them in. Eight seconds is the length of time it takes for someone to start losing attention and for a qualified ride in professional bull riding; you must get business prospects to lean in and hold their attention and not let them throw you off just like you were riding a bull. The next 110 seconds—and probably fewer—are the time you get to drive your message home with no bull. Although people I've spoken to love the idea of the “118,” I'm still surprised by how bad so many of them are at doing it. And I think I know an essential missing piece: They lack the connection to a deeper story. Sometimes we think we know what we're selling, but we don’t.
I was speaking with the executives of MGM long before they appeared on my TV show, and they kept telling me they were in the gaming and hospitality businesses. I said, “No, that's your industry. You're in the experience business. I’m not coming to you just to gamble, drink, eat, see a show and look out at the lights of the strip from my room. I’m coming for the experience as a whole. I’m coming for an experience that I think can get no better at any other place.” If MGM’s leadership looks at it like that, they can say, “How do I make the experience spectacular?”
Think about it like this: Domino’s isn’t selling pizza; it’s selling ease and convenience for hungry students, busy parents and tired workers. Those old AT&T commercials from the 1980s that told you to “Reach out and touch someone”? That wasn’t about long-distance service; it was about connection. That’s what Apple is selling today—not phones but status and social connection.
In the end, my way is always going to be right for me because it's mine: I’m writing my own story with purpose and direction and doing what I do because I can. I’ve gone from doing right and wrong on Main Street in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to right and wrong on Fifth Avenue in New York City and countless streets around the world. The only thing that ever limited me was the voices in my head telling me I couldn’t be that or that I needed to do something different. Don't let those same voices stop you from creating your own business identity and sticking to it at all costs.