Our audience is keen to learn from the stories of entrepreneurs creating a difference in the world. Enlighten us about who you are and what you do.
We are two entrepreneurs who have faced our fair share of setbacks and failures, only to find that these difficult times were really the foundation for our success. Leonard went from almost being homeless to a well recognized marketing authority, and Ryan who at one point lost all he had, has built his brand to be a sought after professional speaker.
Instead of sharing what we do, it is more important to understand the problem that we are solving.
The problem is that we live in a world that culturally makes us question what is real, and what is fake, at every corner. When we turn to social media to see what others are “up to,” we will find countless images and videos that show others living their best life. But then we might ask ourselves the following questions: Is there a filter on that picture? How accurate was that video? Are they really that happy? How can they be on vacation all the time!?
The reality is that society tells us to put on an act. Look like this, be like this, follow me, follow me. In our book, Ditch the Act, we talk about how to stay sane in a world that looks like everyone else is more successful than us, better looking than us, and has found more success than us. What people don’t realize is that your true advantage of differentiation is being yourself. In the book, we convince you that you don’t have to be perfect to have a successful personal brand. In sharing our personal stories, we dive into the art of exposing your true self in a way that gets people to get to know you, which helps them to get to like you, which helps them to ultimately trust you. And at the end of the day, to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to get people to trust you. So why not get them to trust you by actually revealing your whole self, which includes all of the good things, the bad things, and even some of the things that you are scared of sharing because you feel like they should be hidden.
Tell us about your book and your journey as co-authors.
Ditch the Act is a book that demonstrates how exposing your failures and weaknesses is an essential element to creating an authentic personal brand. Like the subtitle suggests, it will help readers reveal the surprising power of the real you for greater success.
Writing the book was a journey that has spanned over three years. First, Leonard was approached by Wiley and Portfolio in 2016 about writing a book, and when we discussed the idea, it seemed to make sense. Our company was doing well, our personal brands were bringing inbound leads, and we were helping executives approach personal branding in a unique way. While most branding consultants push their clients to showcase their highlight reel, our approach was almost the opposite. We showed how being vulnerable, and showing your human side, was a faster way to gain a trustworthy reputation. Why? Because when you are more human, you allow the opportunity for people to relate to you faster.
So we decided to get a book agent, write a proposal, and thought we would have multiple publishers fighting for the rights to our stories and unique branding methodology. Boy were we wrong. By the time we shopped our idea for a book on personal branding, the publishers one after the other said, thanks but no thanks. Yet one said, no, and encouraged us to try again. We were told to dive deeper, get more focused, and refine our secret sauce to be something fresh and new.
After months of work and exploratory digging, we hired a consultant who helped take a look at our processes and found that our secret sauce was hiding in plain sight all along. It was what helped Leonard achieve over 10 million reads of his content and what helped Ryan stand out in a flooded market of speakers. It was that we didn’t just share our successes, we shared the good along with our bad, and our version of ugly. This process, of exposing ourselves, we decided to call ditching the act.
The idea of ditching the act is to be more vulnerable, and share your journey with others as the best way to differentiate and grow your brand, while cultivating brand loyalty.When we outlined our step by step process for others to duplicate into a new book proposal, we landed a deal with McGraw-Hill Business.
Our journey as co-authors had its fair share of ups and downs. Spending hours each day on the phone for months, we continuously challenged each other to ensure we were sharing our best ideas stitched together with entertaining stories, relevant research, and archetype examples of other successful people who have embodied vulnerability as part of their success.
What challenges did you face while writing the book? What challenges do you go through on an everyday basis?
The biggest challenges we faced when writing the book were burnout and not killing each other. Both of us have full time jobs, are in relationships, and run our business InfluenceTree. The one thing we didn’t have available was time. But we needed to make time, so for months on end, we sacrificed each evening and oftentimes entire weekends to writing the book. This takes a physical and mental toll, not only on us, but on our loved ones. There were many times in the process where we would burnout, and this raised tensions between us, and resulted in some sections of the book that we would have to revisit once we were in a better frame of mind.
There were moments when we got frustrated with each other. But the root of the frustration was usually at wanting each other to make sure that we were putting forth our best work.
How do you remain stress-free while working? What is your idea of getting over the writer’s block?
There really isn’t a way to stay stress free when working on a project as big as a book. A publisher usually gives you a deadline to write something in six months. Within that time frame, you have to figure out how to manage all of your other day-to-day activities as well.
We both have relationships and responsibilities at home. We both have a business. We both have full time jobs. Add in an extra responsibility into the mix and something is going to suffer.
We knew that we had to write the best book possible, so as the book was being worked on, the biggest thing to suffer was our business. My relationship didn’t fare too well either, as my wife began to become more and more depressed, probably since I wasn’t giving her the attention she needed. So there was really no stress-free moments of writing this book. It’s probably been one of the most stressful events of both of our lives. Not to mention, my wife walked away from her job due to misogyny three days before we submitted the book to the publisher. So that extra six figure loss of income didn’t make stress that much easier to deal with after the book was finished either.
We thought the book was done and off our plates, but it crept back up for edits multiple times. That added a lot of stress to our lives too, but hey, it’s a book, so we have to push through and do it, right?
When it comes to writer’s block, most people encounter it because they don’t know how to maneuver from one point to the next. Our consultant who had written hundreds of books gave us a formula to use when writing our book. He told us to break each chapter down into mini chapters so we could go from one point to the next and string them together. Ryan and I spent two months thinking of every single point we could possibly think of and creating this huge bullet point list that covered anything and everything so we could make sure nothing was excluded.
Because we had this whole outline completed, when it became difficult to write, we could already see what connecting points we had to make. That meant that all we had to do was type out how Point A went to Point B and so forth. So even at times when we didn’t want to write, it still came through. After pushing through for an hour or two, it becomes easier and the creative juices start flowing again.
What is your idea of success? What are the key elements required to become a successful writer?
Success is a metric that lies within the eyes of the beholder. It means something different to each and every single person. To Ryan, that is the purchase of a book from a large publisher and having it being endorsed by over 180 people. To Leonard, it’s something completely different.
Writing works in so many ways. In the most personal of levels, it helps you reflect and truly understand your story and where you are coming from. It allows you to face your darkest demons and turn them into your greatest strengths. It allows you to remember the events of your life so you can recollect them at any time in the future. Having access to that alone and going through those changes in life is success in itself.
But writing does so much more than just bringing you to clarity. It has the ability to create a deep sense of connection with others. It can spread from a tiny little one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles all the way to the other side of the world and touch the lives of people in India, the United Kingdom, Australia, Russia, Japan and nearly any country imaginable. It gives you the ability to feel like you’re not the only one who struggles and to make friends who are like yourself. It gives you the opportunity to grow into a better person so you can attract the dream woman into your life and get married. It could even help you get free food at Shake Shack, maybe. Then on top of that, it could redefine your entire career so you’re no longer at a dead end job, earning $16.24 an hour and instead, being able to afford looking at moving into a 2 bedroom house in Los Angeles county and hopefully starting a family soon. Success is measured in so many different ways, but what is really important are the key elements to becoming a successful writer. So many people get caught up in their thoughts and want to go straight editing what they wrote. I just type and type and type away. I get all my thoughts out and clear the air. Then after I’m done with that, I’ll go back in and edit my piece.
When it comes to structure, you should write how you talk. If you feel that you are going back to something and adding in other thoughts (because what is my brain telling me to do right now?) and things are getting in the way of your thoughts, leave those out. Why? Because you wouldn’t say that when you’re talking. You don’t need it when you write either.
Also keep your writing down to a fifth grade level so anyone in the world who reads your content can consume it. English isn’t everyone’s native language and you want to write to be inclusive by letting anyone experience your piece; not excluding audiences due to a lack of specialized education. Keep your paragraphs short and use a lot of white space. This makes things easier to digest and understand. Read your piece out loud when you’re done and if everything sounds right, you’re off to the races. You have a quality piece of content.
If you want your content read, however… You may need to work on optimizing your headlines. Take the piece you wrote, look for the most intriguing parts. Did you mention a celebrity, a scientific study or a life changing experience? Figure out how to include that into your headliner and leave a bit of mystery in there so readers want to expand upon your piece and learn more.
Walk us through your book, share with us some insight people will gain from reading “Ditch the Act”
The book is divided into three main parts. We first set the tone and serve as examples of what it means to ditch the act, by sharing our backstories, letting the readers understand how our ups, and in particular, our downs, create the opportunity for real connection and reliability. We then make the case for why being vulnerable can be your superpower to accelerate the speed and volume of connecting with others both online and offline. Finally, we outline the exact steps to utilize our Expose Yourself Process to create a successful, authentic, and intentional personal brand. Starting with our unique Exposure Resume, the reader will start to uncover valuable stories of when things didn’t go right, and then learn how to incorporate these stories into their content to create a connection with their audience.
We show how your imperfect self is the perfect way to find common ground with others.
We have a series of 12 worksheets and concepts outlined in the chapters. Some of those include:
Crafting your unique bio
Fostering camaraderie in new relationships
Stacking your successes
The biggest insight that readers will gain, is that by being themselves, and learning to share more than just the good, they will be able to grow a personal brand that is unique, authentic, and magnetic.
How does “Ditch the Act” help others grow stronger relationships?
The strongest relationships occur when two people take off the armor that they have worn for their entire lives and reveal their whole selves with each other. Through the revealing of our most vulnerable moments, we are able to connect with others as they begin to see themselves in our own stories. That moment when a loved one left them; a time when a business crumbled; being fired from a job; these are all situations that each and every single one of us have faced, yet feel as if we’re the only ones who have.
We feel alone, desolate and try to spend our lives living as if that loneliness wasn’t just eating us up inside. But it is. And each of us is craving for someone to share our struggles with, because society has had us bury our skeletons so far deep into the ground that it’s almost as if they never happened. But when one person brings one of their skeletons to light, it gives permission for the next to do so. Then when both parties begin to share their darkest, most vulnerable moments, you create a true friendship with someone else.
It’s the exact same reason that you cry in the passenger seat of your best friend’s car at 3am in the morning, playing music at full blast and looking teary eyed, while the other provides you with support. If you think about it, the people whom you are like that around are in actuality your best friends.
What advice would you like to give to those who are trying to build their brand?
Most people do the right things but in the wrong order, or they don’t hash out their content as thoroughly as it should be made. When I was first starting out to try and build my brand, I was trying to do all the things I thought I needed to do, but my brand didn’t grow. It was extremely frustrating. After meeting Leonard and deciding that I wanted him to help me with my brand, one of the first activities he asked me to complete was to write down all of the things I was doing.
When I gave him my extensive list, he helped to show me that I was in fact doing the right “things,” but then helped me to understand that I was not doing them in the right order. In Ditch the Act, we help our readers understand the exact order of what to do to build an authentic and intentional personal brand. And we have a number of worksheets that will help readers along the way.
An example of one thing to do early on in the personal branding process is to not underestimate the importance of your bio.
If you think about most bios that you find of people on their digital profiles and websites, you will likely recall that they were essentially highlight reels. Rarely do people really share their whole past, including stories from their childhood and their early careers. But what you need to understand is that these stories from your past, are absolutely essential moments of your life and represent the building blocks of who you are today.
To ditch the act is to integrate not just the good in your bio, but the not so good moments too. In our book, we argue that your bio is the single most important part of your entire digital footprint.
When people find and read or watch your content, there is a good chance that they will want to learn more about you, and that means they will search the internet for more information about you. When they read your bio, they will know if they can relate to you, which could influence if they want to follow you, want to interview you, ask you to speak at their event, or want to do business with you.
If you are out there creating content, but don’t have a bio that lets readers and viewers get to know the real you past the highlight reel, there will be a gap between you and the people who you want to interact with. The exact people who you can help you achieve your goals, whether that is a promotion, a new job, a new client, etc.
This was a mistake that I made early on. I was creating content and speaking at events, but I had not taken the time to really develop a bio that shared my history. So when people tried to find out about me, there was nothing for them to find. When Leonard noticed this, he made sure that it was one of the first things that we worked on.
When you have a bio that shows people who you are it will help you establish instantaneous trust when they meet you digitally and in person. This is why the first step of our Expose Yourself Process is crafting your unique bio and your personal brand position and strategy.
Your bio will help you create new relationships where others you encounter will feel as if they have known you their entire life. It’s what will help you position yourself in the right way to get exactly what you want out of life.
Creating a brand is more than just creating content and getting likes on your social media posts. It should be a very focused and strategic effort. All of the information available about what you should do can be overwhelming. And that is why we have packaged the way we go about branding in our easy to follow step-by-step Expose Yourself Process. Don’t make the mistake I did, and make sure you have a bio that shows you for who you are, and get that done first!
What can we see next coming from you? Tell us about any ongoing/ upcoming projects etc.
Our next big project is sharing our corporate training workshops with leaders who want to support an authentic workforce. We really believe that brands who support their employees by supporting the growth of their personal brands are creating the workforce of the future. In today’s day, employees are the de facto brand ambassadors, with access to their own networks to showcase the company they work for. When you encourage your employees to build personal brands, it can serve as a modernized approach to professional development. When you show your employees that you are interested in their success, they are more likely to stay loyal, and grow within the company. Sharing the principles of Ditch the Act, as a foundation for our corporate workshops, we show how a culture of vulnerability can create strong bonds, increase in productivity, and loyalty.
Give us one key takeaway from the book?
It doesn’t really matter who we are or what we do, most of us have an innate desire to constantly improve upon who we are. We want to become better at our craft, better at maintaining and building relationships, and hopefully better at earning money.
Some people think they need to tout that they’re the best at what they do, but so many people have adopted this philosophy, while others don’t feel comfortable making such bold claims. So what happens is that the people who aren’t comfortable say nothing and the people who do are claiming to be the very best in their fields. But so many people are doing it to the point where it’s gotten to a point where we no longer know who to believe because if everyone is saying that they’re the best, then no one truly is. But what if you could take it from another angle?
Now this won’t work for everyone, but for the people that it does work for, it will work wonders. You’ll drive instantaneous connection with others. You’ll build a social media following larger than you can imagine. You’ll be featured in podcasts, media outlets and even on television, like Ryan and myself.
You can probably even get a book deal with a large publisher. This process may scare you, and it sure as hell should. Because you’re probably not used to showcasing yourself in this way, whatsoever. After all, society has told you to put on your shiniest armor and polish that sword until you can take down all the enemies. But what if you could go out into the world without any armor? And instead of showcasing your best side, you put your vulnerabilities and struggles into the light?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably terrified by now, just thinking of that moment when you may have almost lost your home, lost a job, a client who paid the majority of your bills or even potentially losing the love of your life.
You may feel that people would scoff at you because you’re supposed to be put together and on top of things. How would sharing this vulnerable moment land you a better job or even build your business?
Wouldn’t you be mocked? Ridiculed? Laughed at?
Take a moment and really think about it for a moment. Think about your favorite movie, your favorite book or your favorite song. Do they talk about all the happy moments, or do they get deeply emotional and talk about pain and struggle? That pain and struggle is the greatest equalizer you have. It’s what drives true connection with you and the people who either read or view your content. It’s what drives paying connections right into the door of your business.
Don’t believe it works?
I didn’t either, but if I held onto that belief, I’d still be earning $16.24 an hour and wondering when I’d ever be able to break free from my dead end job. Yet, it’s really just propelled life forward in ways I never even knew was possible.
It doesn’t just work at the beginning of your career either. My wife walked away from a six figure job due to a misogynic incident in February. Most households would shatter at that kind of loss of income. In only five months time, I was able to bring in 1.5x her salary in new revenue by being open and vulnerable about exactly what we were going through, even after taking a two year hiatus from my career. Plus, that’s just going to continue to grow.
But what most people encounter is fear. They allow that fear to stop them from moving ahead. Instead, it’s your rightful duty to buy into that fear. You need to realize that it’s an indicator that you’re onto something great. Then push ahead. Because what that fear really is is an indicator that you — my friend — are onto something great. Something that will humanize yourself and connect you with the masses.
And do you know what that does?
It creates a way for people to line up at your door, following you all over social media, filling up your inbox and asking you if you’re available for a new job or about how they can pay for your services. Just give it a try and see what happens. And if it works out for you, pick up a copy of Ditch the Act and see what else is in store.
Ditch the Act is available on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Ditch-Act-Surprising-Greater-Success/dp/1260454371
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