Dorie Clark: Building Your Personal Brand

Thinkific TeamTeach Online TVLeave a Comment

Dorie Clark on personal brands

Dorie Clark on personal brands

Today on Teach Online TV I have a guest and we are going to be talking about building your personal brand, developing your breakthrough ideas and, most importantly, building a following around your brand and your ideas. And I know that’s something we could all use some help with.

My guest is a two-time author working on a new book now and she has interviewed the likes of Al Gore, Tim Ferris, Mark Zuckerberg and Seth Golden to help develop her ideas and share with you how to build your personal brand.

Her first book, “Reinventing You” helps you reinvent yourself and build your personal brand and her second one, “Stand Out” has been recognized as the number one leadership book in 2015 by Inc. magazine and it’s going to help you find your breakthrough idea and build an audience around that.

If you’re not already following Dorie Clark, you definitely should be as I know you can learn a lot from her. Let’s see what Dorie has to say.


Greg: Dorie, it’s really good to have you here. I know that you are a marketing strategist. Something that I really have found interesting is the books that you’ve been putting out – ‘Stand Out’ named the number one leadership book by Inc. magazine, and ‘Reinventing You’, a book on personal branding. I love the whole branding side, especially personal branding, and I know that our audience is very interested in that, so I’m really excited to be speaking with you here today.

Another area that I think the people in our audience are interested in is that you teach and you’ve done a lot of teaching as an adjunct professor at Duke University in the school of business there, and also guest lecturing at places like Harvard business school. So it’s very a wonderful to have you here and really exciting to be talking to you.

Dorie: Hey, thank you so much, Greg. I’m really glad to have the chance.

On Reinventing Yourself

Greg: Great, excellent. So I have so many different things ask you that I think our audience would be interested in. You know, one thing that I find interesting about your kind of career path is you really have reinvented yourself a number of times. Can you talk a little bit to some of the stuff that you’ve done before? I mean, people look to you now and they think you’re in this wonderful successful place where you’re a thought leader and you’ve built this amazing personal brand. What are some of the different reinventions you took and paths to get there?

Dorie: Thank you! There have been a lot. In fact, that was the genesis and the inspiration for my first book ‘Reinventing You’. But basically, I studied philosophy as an undergrad and then went to graduate school for theology. After I got my masters degree I thought I would go on to get a doctorate in literature, and I actually got turned down by all of the doctoral programs that I applied to so that was not going to happen. And so my first reinvention was just having to come up with a totally different plan.

So I became a newspaper reporter which was actually a pretty good plan. I felt pretty solid about that except I picked the worst time in world history to be a newspaper reporter and the industry was collapsing, thanks to Craigslist and the internet, just as I joined and so a year later I got laid off.

So then I transitioned from covering politics to working on political campaigns as the spokesperson for two actually very prominent campaigns, one as a gubernatorial race in the US, the other the presidential campaign. They both lost so I had one more big reinvention being a nonprofit executive director and it was in the course of running this nonprofit for couple of years that I realized that running a non-profit is exactly the same thing as running a small business and I thought, aha, I should do this for myself, I should become an entrepreneur. That was my big reinvention.

On The Importance Of Persistence

Greg: Lots of experiments along the way and learning at each of those steps too. You put out a number of book proposals right before you actually took off. How long was that persisting phase of trial and error before you hit it off?

Dorie: It definitely does take a while. I was having a call with a client this morning actually who was feeling really discouraged because she’s been trying to do this kind of brand building stuff for a few months and she felt like it wasn’t getting anywhere. And you know the truth is in a few months it’s never gonna get anywhere. You have to do it for a few years before you see results but the advantage is that by the time you start seeing results a lot of people have already dropped out because they’ve gotten discouraged and so they’re not doing it.

By the time you start seeing results a lot of people have already dropped out because they’ve gotten… Click To Tweet

So for me, it was 2009 when I really decided I wanted to publish a book and I wanted to make that happen. And so I wrote three different book proposals, tried to get them out there, tried to get publishers interested in it. Nobody was interested because I was not famous enough and so I needed to essentially go back to square one and so I spent about a year trying fairly unsuccessfully to even just break in and to get to be able to write for major publications. After that, it took me probably two to three years of very regular writing to start having inbound inquiries for consulting, for speaking, for coaching, as a result of the articles, the brand I’ve built and things like that.

But what did happen faster which I was really pleased about was in 2011, which was about a little less than two years after, I hit this realization that I needed to start blogging to build my platform. 2011 was when I signed my contract for my first book. So that process took a little while and then it took a couple years for the book to come out. So what I’ve discovered is that if you did it in the right steps you will see progress eventually, you will get there, but it always takes longer than you want it to.

On Where To Focus When Starting Out

Greg: Yes, I’ve definitely seen that in experiences I’ve had. When you got that book contract I know that some of that came from an article you wrote for Harvard Business Review. Something I’m always curious about is when you’re getting out there and just getting started trying to build a brand and you’re writing, should you be, and there’s that ongoing debate, but should you be writing on your own platform, on your own blog, writing on other people’s, putting content in those places? You know if you only have time for a certain amount of that because you’re starting this on the side, where do you focus your efforts?

Dorie: So it really depends on your goal. For me my goal very clearly, from the beginning, to publish a book and so I knew that whatever I could do to get external credibility and social proof, would be really valuable to me in terms of being able to convince publishers that I had a following and I was a reputable enough to earn the right to do a book. So my goal from the beginning was to try to write for the larger publications first. So I focused on that.

Where to focus your marketing efforts depends on your goals - Dorie Clark Click To Tweet

If you have a different goal, if you want to develop a blog and monetize your blog, then it’s not a bad idea, like a Seth Godin or Chris Brogan, to focus on creating content on your own site. A hybrid model that actually is pretty good as well is one that James Clear has done in which he publishes his content on the blog first but then he syndicates it to other publications. Not every publication will take that second run content. A lot of people require that it is original but he’s found sites that are willing to take it and then he just links back and says to subscribe to my newsletter and so he’s been able to build up a pretty good number of followers that way.

On Finding Your Key Idea

Greg: Yeah, a lot of the strategy depends on what your goals are and that’s a really good way of looking at it is starting first with what your goals are and where you’re going with it. I know that in ‘Stand Out’, your most recent book, you’ve got a number of strategies for people in terms of coming up with that breakthrough idea and I know that, with the coaches and instructors and entrepreneurs in our audience, they are looking to create online courses. A lot of them have an area of expertise obviously, or some personal experience that they started from, and have some ideas about what they wanted to teach but many of them I know haven’t really found the idea that they want to focus around.

So can you speak about the key points or strategies that you’ve looked at or identified in terms of how you can really narrow down that key idea?

[Dorie] Yeah so this is a really common scenario. I think there is a cultural myth about how great ideas are formed, which is that many people assume that it’s like a lightning strike and one day it pops in your head and you have this is amazing idea that is world changing. And the truth is having interviewed more than fifty top leaders, and essentially trying to reverse engineer the process by which they developed and became known for their breakthrough ideas, what I discovered was that it’s the opposite.

It's a myth that great ideas suddenly pop into your head - Dorie Clark Click To Tweet

Instead of just having a bolt from the blue idea what happens is that you need to place yourself in a position so that you are working in this area so that the idea can come to you iteratively. Because the truth is you got to just roll up your sleeves, start doing something in the course of doing the research, being meshed in this field, having the conversations that the holes present themselves and that they are somehow in a suddenly manifest. So I think that’s the first thing is almost in an attitude change that

So I think that’s the first thing. Don’t be looking for the lightning strike, it comes from the tilling of the soil. But what are a few ways that you can begin to do this? One that I’ll suggest is the importance of doing original research, and some might think that’s hard and that you need to have a doctorate or something. Really what I mean by original research is that in this world there are lots of people who have opinions. If you are doing research, meaning you are creating an original content that is based on fact rather than opinion, you are actually really contributing to the dialogue.

Don't be looking for the lightning strike idea. It comes from the tilling of the soil - Dorie Clark Click To Tweet

So that could mean anything from conducting a survey to doing interviews for blogs to a podcast or whatever with actual experts. It could mean doing reviews of products whatever it is that it’s about adding value in a very systematic way, and if you do that consistently then you are actually going to be viewed rapidly is an expert because you have access to a lot more knowledge and a lot more facts than most people out there.

On Being Original

Greg: That sounds like a great approach. Definitely, I’ve seen that the times that I’ve done that stuff it works quite well. I know that I see people going the opposite direction where they aren’t as successful where they’re duplicating things that are already out there and rewriting a lot of topics. If you wanna build your own brand and stand out then doing things that are original are obviously quite important.

Dorie: Absolutely, especially for people who maybe haven’t totally formulated their own point of view at this point. Maybe they’re kind of new in a field they might feel like that’s a big handicap but the truth is right out of the gate you don’t have to. If you say ‘you know what I make myself an expert on this topic because I’m going to interview hundred people who are experts in the topic’, by the time you get to that hundredth interview you’re gonna have a point of view. You’ve talked to enough people, you’ve seen enough things you’ve spent enough time in putting your ‘10,000 hours’ that you are going to have a much more finely honed sense of the field and the issues or problems just for having done that and along the way you will have become an expert through talking to other experts and adding value to other people by shining light on these ideas.

If you talk to 100 experts, by the time you get to the last interview you'll become an expert too -… Click To Tweet

On Competition

Greg: What do you say to someone who is concerned about the competition out there? So they’re looking at it and saying “well I love entrepreneurial pursuits and, for me, that’s a big passion. Maybe I’ll go and interview people about that but I see that Andrew is already doing a lot of interviews there. Should I stay away?”

Dorie: The truth is, there are basically no new ideas in the world. For anything you can basically say somebody has done it before. The real question is, yes, they might be talking about your topic in a very broad sense but they’re not talking about it with your perspective. What is unique about you, what can you bring to the table?

There are no new ideas in the world. Find what's unique about you - Dorie Clark Click To Tweet

Greg: It’s a great way of looking at it and I think when you start to see other people doing something in that space is actually an indication too that there’s a demand for that area and then when you get in that niche area and you get really specific then you can even pick up more on that demand. But it’s already been proven by other people out there doing it. I actually get a little bit scared when I’m considering doing something and I see nobody doing it. You know, you hear crickets and you’re like, why is that? Maybe nobody wants to learn about it to you know that kind of topic.

Dorie: Yeah it can definitely be an ominous sign.

On Interviewing Influencers

Greg: In all of the interviews I’ve listened to about you, a lot of the stuff that I’ve read, you really focus on the storytelling side of things. Even your book ‘Stand Out’ starts from a whole series of really wonderful interviews with some amazing people like Seth Godin and you’ve got these great analogies and stories. So it’s not just you saying ‘Hi I’m Dorie I’ve got some ideas about this’, you’ve actually gone out there and talked to experts. Can you share the specific examples of how the things have applied in life?

Dorie: Yeah. It’s interesting because my training as a journalist, to a certain extent, is very good training, but I also have to overcome it in some ways because we all have theses biases. As a journalist, the mandate is always ‘don’t talk about yourself.’ You’re not the story, keep yourself out of the story.

So I’d actually have to learn to include a little bit more about my story because people ask and they’re interested in things like that and I’ve realized that it can be powerful. It can be valuable to share your own experiences but my bias from the beginning and my training has been how do you extract stories from other people to really shine a light on them and what their experience is. Because that’s the best teacher.

I mean you know almost any business book you can actually distil 300 pages in like, a page. Like be nice to people, you should keep in touch, stuff like that. It’s ridiculous, we all know it. It’s not that business books don’t have information, they often do but the thing is if it’s a list of rules like the ten commandments no one’s going to remember, no one’s going to care, and it’s going to sound shallow. The thing that actually can change people’s lives is if they hear a story that they can relate to any they say yes that finally sinks in that finally hits me, this is for me this is the model that I’m going to use. And if you have that, that’s everything.

On Building A Following

Greg: Yeah, now that I think about it all the great books that I’ve read, especially around building businesses, as you’re going through it, you say yeah, I knew a lot of the stuff, that makes perfect sense but it’s the fact that it’s really resonating with me because there are great stories and great examples and implementation in there.

You have a great following. I think many of the people we work with, who are creating courses here come with amazing expertise and a following. Some come with the following and they are looking to create that course or share their expertise and some come with the great expertise but no following or a very small following. Any advice for people starting out or looking to grow and expand that following and I know we talked about creating great content but are there other things that you would say you should definitely be doing or favorite channels that you have?

Dorie: Well a lot of things that have made a difference for me that I try to double down is the creation of a free giveaway because if you just ask people to subscribe to my email newsletter, that doesn’t sound exciting. Because there is no value, why would we get into that? But if you’re able to tell people ‘I have this thing that can be really helpful and valuable to you, would you like it?” It gives them a reason to sign up, to give you a chance, you essentially have the ability to try and earn the right to stay in touch with them if you’re providing information that is useful and interesting enough.

And so for me, starting in around on the release of my new book ‘Stand Out’ I created this free 42-page workbook that people can download from my site, it walks them step by step through the process of developing their breakthrough idea. And as result of creating that which didn’t take that long, it was adapted from my book. I’ve been able to use that to double my mailing list from 10000 to over 25000. They can download it from my website

On Providing Value

Greg: Great I’ll be sharing a link to that as well. I’ve checked it out and I see you’ve put a lot of work into it and I see some of the free downloads where I’ve even done them and it’s sort of a one pager. Yours is forty two pages and it’s substantial and very valuable. Where’s that balancing line for you in terms of giving away a lot of value for free versus just having something small to give people? Why do you go so far in terms of giving away really good free value?

Dorie: Well I actually felt totally ok about it, because if it was something that took me 300 hours to then it’s not a worthwhile tradeoff but I’ve already done the work in my book. But then I realized if someone’s reading a book in real-time they’re not going to be necessarily answering the questions in the margin. Wouldn’t it be better for them to download it as a workbook for them to print out? It becomes a real tool.

All I did was grab the questions at the end each section, and there were a lot of them, there were a hundred and thirty-nine questions. I put it together and then had to the designers put it in a nice document, so in total it probably took me an hour and a half. So if you can strike that balance between what is valuable to your audience but in some ways a reworking or repurposing content so you’re not having to create this whole separate thing without spending so much time on it is kind of the ideal giveaway.


Greg: Ok we kind of talked at length about it but your website is


Greg: I really appreciate having you here. I think I’ve learned some and I really hope that our audience learned something about this approach to building a following and coming up with great ideas. I think a lot of the stuff that you share on your site is useful in terms of talking to people about building their brand and coming up with their great new idea, so thank you so much, Dorie!