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Obscurity is the enemy

Do a quick search of consultants, coaches, and trainers on LinkedIn and you’ll find a staggering number of well intentioned folks listed as founders and CEOs of their companies! And if as an HR professional I was asked for look for an executive coach* for my organisation, who would I choose?

It’s a difficult question to answer. There are many variables and since the stakes are high, chances are I don’t want to take a risk at this juncture. So, I would connect with someone within my network who’s either an executive coach or can recommend one. And here’s the interesting part — the probability of me reaching out to one of the recommended coaches is way (way, way, way) higher than me connecting with one of the countless coaches listed on LinkedIn.

If you’re thinking, “oh, Sunil, why would you say such an obvious thing?” I wouldn’t blame you for being unreasonable. But have you wondered why is that a case? What makes us ignore the unknowns and yet choose an unknown recommended by someone we know? Here’s why — obscurity. Essentially, nobody knows who the heck you are. Period. And that is the biggest problem.

Irrespective of the number of connections you have or the number of updates you share on professional or social networks, it won’t do you any good. Why? Because everyone’s doing it and there’s no way to know you’re special. So, as a person who has the power to “pick” someone from a crowd I would rather play safe, save my time, and go back to my network (of people I know, for real) instead of relying on some random database of unknowns.

If you came highly recommended by someone I know, you’re in. Else, in all likelihood, you and I aren’t going to meet in this lifetime. Even if you’re in my LinkedIn network! That’s technology for you and believe me, you don’t want to rely on the platform’s algorithm to have people choose you.

And if you’re wondering there’s a way to break out of this chain, I’ve got good news for you — you can. But you’ve got to choose yourself first. Stop being a “founder and CEO” or a “life coach” if that’s what everybody else is doing. Yes, even if that’s who you really are. These titles are meaningless. People can’t help but either form stereotypes or are getting sick of it.

I know that’s a daring move but you’ve got to focus on creating an impact in a way that your minimum viable audience (MVA) takes notice. Identifying this audience is something most people really don’t do, if that’s you, stop everything and try to identify the kind of people/entities you want to serve. Don’t think beyond 50 or 100 people right now. The keyword is “minimum.”

Once you’re through with the above exercise, think of the ways you can add value to these people. Could that be a webinar, a workshop, or perhaps a mastermind meeting? These are hard things to do. Way harder than updating your profile picture, description, title, and those random curated updates that you post every couple of hours. The best part is that people appreciate real value when they see it. And narrowing down on your MVA allows you to reach out to these people personally and invite them to something they would find valuable.

The big question now is this — what happens when 10 people who didn’t know you before attend one of the free webinars you offered? They get to know you. And if the session was really valuable. They will remember you. Heck, they might even share your work within their network. (Provided you don’t have a sales pitch towards the end of the session. There’s the right place and place to do this. A webinar or a workshop isn’t the right occasion.)

That’s how you overcome obscurity. As Seth Godin would say, “drip by drip.” One person at a time. That’s the reason why I’m a big fan of MVA. It allows you to take it easy and stay focused on those 50-100 odd people/entities you want to serve. It’s a signal to the rest of the world that you’re focused on your audience (and it’s not for them) and that what you do is special and unique.

All of this calls for hard work, which, of course isn’t for everyone. But if you really wish to standout, I hope you will consider obscurity as your enemy. Because it really is!

*there’s a solid reason why an internal coach isn’t prefered for coaching executives (in other words, why I can’t coach the executive myself?) — organisational bias. But that’s another post for some other time.