I was running a workshop once on building a personal brand or reputation by showing your work. I asked a participant what he was passionate about. He said financial literacy. He loved personal finance and wanted to help others get better at managing theirs.
I spent five minutes web-stalking him right there. All I found were a few nice family pics, some music he’d shared, and a half-complete LinkedIn bio with nothing related to finance.
Turns out, he’d read several books on the topic. Followed several writers and podcasters. Knew his stuff.
But he didn’t share any of it!
If someone emailed me and said they were working on a book or conference related to personal finance and were looking for some hungry young person to help them edit or organize, he’d never even be on my radar. In fact, even knowing about his passion, I’d be reticent to recommend him because I’d have no proof to send the person, and if they Googled him, they’d find no evidence he was a good fit.
It’s impossible to see the opportunities that can’t see you.
“Show your work.”
“Learn out loud.”
“Create a body of work.”
“Be your own credential.”
“Build a better signal.”
I’ve used a lot of phrases to describe this idea over the years. I just can’t shut up about it!
The life-expanding power of making stuff that other people can see is hard to overstate. It is the best-kept secret for opening opportunities. It’s the stupidly simple activity that everyone knows about but hardly anyone does.
You are “Me, Inc.” The startup of You. You have a brand (whether you want to or not). Your reputation and what people can easily discover about you create a constant broadcast. The bigger, stronger, and more accurate that broadcast, the greater the odds for happy accidents and lucky opportunities.
When you’re loud about the right stuff, the right people are more likely to hear you.
So what exactly do I mean by showing your work? What are some examples, and how can they lead to cool opportunities?
Some real-life show your work stories
On a challenge from a friend, I started daily blogging. Instead of keeping them to myself or conversations with friends, I began writing about the stuff I was interested in, books I read, and ideas I had.
Some of these posts got published by third parties, some of those got read by event organizers, and some of them invited me to speak. My daily blogging built a small audience and dramatically enhanced my reach.
When I decided to start a company for the first time, I already had “1,000 true fans” who were my first champions and customers. I’d never have succeeded without them, and I wouldn’t have them if I kept my thoughts to myself instead of blogging.
A friend of mine once gave a presentation called “Hosting a Podcast is More Valuable Than Going to Harvard.”
He’s not wrong. He explained how podcasting gave him a “hook” to reach out to the most interesting experts in the world on almost any topic. People who’d never give a stranger an hour of their time just to ask questions and learn…unless that hour was recorded as a podcast episode!
He eventually built a huge network and a full-time living from podcasting about his passion—travel—and connecting with people who opened even more opportunities. I know many people who have won jobs, raised investment, and built careers simply because they started posting podcasts instead of just listening to them.
Sharing ideas online
Our lead engineer here at Crash, Dave Wasmer, wrote an article. He was working a boring job and wanted to break into startups. But he didn’t have a plan yet. It was just a vague notion at that point.
So he wrote a post about a product idea he had. It got picked up by Hacker News and went viral in the coding community. A fast-growing startup halfway across the country saw it, contacted Dave, asked him to come interview, and ended up making him an offer.
Instead of sitting on his idea, he shared it. That resulted in an opportunity he never would’ve come across otherwise.
Documenting what you’re learning
My colleague Chuck Grimmett is a relentless out-loud-learner and work-shower. He’s into lots of stuff—cooking, wood carving, homemade cocktails, lock-picking, and tech-tool mastery.
I had met Chuck a few times and always liked him, but it was when I saw him teaching himself data analytics and visualization and sharing his results in a break-down of Steph Curry’s shooting that I realized I needed to hire this guy! Chuck’s cooking blog and constant documentation of what he’s up to at work and with side projects made him so attractive as an employee. We didn’t even have a clear role for him at the time, but I knew anyone who was that interesting and eager to learn would be an asset. He joined that company, and I convinced him to come along when we started Crash.
I did an experiment once where I decided to post a short review to Amazon of every book I’d read that year, and some older ones too. I figured I have thoughts on books, why not share them? I posted maybe 20-30 book reviews, nothing super in-depth.
And a funny thing happened. I started to get free books sent to me in the mail, some from big publishing houses and authors! I got emails from up and coming authors asking if I’d review their books. I wasn’t trying to break into publishing, but I did end up getting a few good podcast guests and free books out of it. For doing nothing but posting some reviews.
Tweeting or blogging about companies
I’ve even gotten free t-shirts sent to me from cool companies because I took the time to tweet or blog about their products. I once had the VP of a startup call me to ask my thoughts on the product after I published a Medium article with ideas about how they could improve.
I’ve hired people who’ve done this, too
I’ve hired more than one person based on books they’ve self-published or graphic design work they’ve done—people I never would’ve known about if they hadn’t shown their work. And no, these were not best sellers. But they created just enough of a signal I was able to happen across their work through friends of friends.
This is just a handful of examples I am personally familiar with off the top of my head.
Get started and have fun
It doesn’t have to be a big scary thing.
Start blogging. Start a YouTube channel. Don’t just read books, review them. Podcast. Create projects around stuff you’re learning. Share your process and the outcome. It doesn’t even have to be good to do the job of showing the world your interest, eagerness to learn, and passion.
Don’t feel like you need a whole website or huge project to begin. Start with a Crash profile if you want a simple place to show some work and personality.
When someone searches for you on the web, will they find what you’re all about, or just some random selfies?
Live out loud. Show your work. Share your interests.
You have more control over your brand than ever before. Don’t fear it—have fun with it!