CEO Real Talk: By Gordon Fowler

Old-School Influence

I was recently invited to speak on this topic for a business roundtable. This forced me to take a long, hard look at how I value “influencers” on client projects at my agency. Additionally, how I approach building my own reputation as an influencer, which is a key piece of my business’s success.

Here’s what I know:

  • Gaining influence is hard work regardless of whether you do it authentically or just for the numbers.
  • If you’re going to exert the effort, might as well have a bigger goal in mind.

When I was building my business, I knew becoming influential would be key to survival. However, because my goal for opening my agency wasn’t just to be a successful business (although that was certainly a big goal), it was to be a business that “contributes to thriving communities.”

So, my goal for having influence was to:

Have a seat at the table when it comes to directing the future of the community where my employees and I live, work, and play.

Once I had my goal, I had to create my strategy. It’s no magic bullet, nor is it easy, but it has been successful. And because I think it matters to creating a strong business community, I hope sharing it might help you:

  • Join chambers. I joined numerous local chambers of commerce when I started my agency. From meeting and networking with other business leaders to learning how the business community works was an essential foundation.
  • Volunteer for committees. From there, I volunteered for positions on committees within those chambers. This has, over time, lead to mentoring and advisory positions.
  • Get on boards. Additionally, I found positions on small community boards, which eventually lead to roles on bigger boards. Depending on your own goals, also consider joining industry associations and business groups.
  • Be available to peers. I opened myself up to listen to, not selling to, other business leaders. From sharing hardships to offering my honest opinion on approaches to their challenges, this has lead to a solid and valuable network of not only other influencers but friends. It’s always who you know, right?
  • Share knowledge. Drawing on my own experiences and successes within my industry, I wrote training and speeches for nonindustry groups. These were specifically not “salesy,” but usable, actionable sessions that people could apply to their own businesses and work. These started out as volunteer opportunities, but have grown into numerous paid gigs each month.
  • Be an expert. First, I had to earn it. But, once I proved my status as an expert with real work examples and through participation in the above, I earned my value. This meant I didn’t have to give my expertise away for free (although sometimes I still do). One of the hardest things I had to learn about influence was: people like “free,” but they aren’t influenced by it.
  • Say no. Another hard lesson was how to say no to work to be better at it. Having real influence means walking away from sales and maybe even firing clients. This goes hand-in-hand with expertise, in that, as the old saying goes, trying to do everything means not being good at anything. Know your lane, know your goals, and stay focused.
  • Create great work. Seems obvious, but the tendency to rest on one’s laurels is not a cliche without reason. I strive to ensure my team and I create excellent work every time. As my business partner loves to repeat, “Fine is not a compliment,” meaning producing just ok work is the same as failing. To me, this means being generous in making my team and our clients part of the process without ego. Sharing ownership of the best work means more people are enthusiastic about distributing it, which leads to building a reputation for knowing what you’re talking about.
  • Give advice. I try to be as big-hearted as possible with my time when it comes to meeting with new businesses and job seekers in the region. When people want advice on how to find success in my town, I try to give it to them honestly, warts and all. I have found people remember a helping hand for a long time, especially if I sent them a great employee or investment opportunity.
  • Create partnerships. I look actively for partnership connections for clients and community friends. It’s about helping others be successful—just because it matters— rather than a chance at a sale to benefit me. This builds people’s trust, which, I’m grateful to say, has lead to sales opportunities for my agency down the road.
  • Stay informed. I try to stay on top of the latest news, trends and major happenings in my industry and region, and then make sure my network, boards, and clients benefit from any insights I can add. Even when topics aren’t obviously connected to every business, smart connections can lead to big impact.
  • Work for it. The biggest key to getting where I am today was recognizing that it takes a lot of consistent, comprehensive work every day to keep my so-called “influence” while moving toward my goals. There are no shortcuts, but there are strategic roadmaps.

This is my tailored approach for me. I hope it’s a solid foundation to help you build your influence goals. That said, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, helping others create their customized strategy is my jam. Need coaching? Get in touch.