As both a marketing tool and a sellable product, books can do wonders for consultants, cementing your rep as an “expert” and putting you on the map. As Girl Friday’s self-publishing division has grown, we’ve seen an increase in thought leaders looking to publish their own philosophy in book form. It’s not just the experience of making these books for clients that turned us into believers—we were hooked by the same tactic.
Five years ago, Girl Friday was at a turning point. We’d expanded into new areas and were poised for big growth. Instead of trying to navigate that growth spurt on our own, we tapped business consultant and poet Libby Wagner, the author of The Influencing Option, to help us with visioning and culture. Read on to hear from Libby on how publishing her book has affected her professional reputation and her work with clients like us.
LESLIE (“LAM”): You have self-published your work and gone through traditional publishers for other books. What influenced those decisions?
LIBBY: For entrepreneurs and thought leaders, a traditionally published book is still the platinum standard—a publisher vets your idea, puts a stamp of approval on it, and, sometimes, helps you promote your book. But more and more, your commercial appeal is dominated by what you can promise the publisher in terms of sales: what’s your marketing platform like, how many people you’re in front of (who might buy your books), how active you are on social media, etc. They are looking not only to recoup their investment, but to make money. I choose the self-publishing route when I want to get a book out quickly, it’s contributing to the body of work that is my intellectual property, or it’s a purely creative venture with value to me apart from a money-making standpoint. I like both.
LAM: How do you incorporate your books into your consulting work with clients?
LIBBY: I think of my books as extensions of my work and my value to my clients, so I might use a book with a team or group because we are going to learn specific mindsets and tangible skills for bringing about change. I’m also very pragmatic, so I want people to have tools, ideas, language, and ways to commonly enter into conversations that are important to them. I also use my books in leadership development forums and academies, where we utilize the book chapters or ideas as conversation starters.
LAM: How do your books function as marketing tools?
LIBBY: I use my books to introduce myself to a prospective client or group. I regularly give them away and am happy to do so: It’s the ultimate $20 business card. I never worry about my books being out there in place of me . . . nothing is like the real thing! People who hire speakers love the fact that I have books, because it lends credibility to my ideas and demonstrates my thought leadership. Sometimes I include my books as giveaways for people at a speaking event, or we have a book table where I can sign and interact with participants at events.
LAM: When you first consulted with GFP, we used The Influencing Option in our work together. The book is still on our shelf, and the ideas are part of our company values. Does it usually work that way?
LIBBY: Yes, I think so. People often contact me and tell me that they are still using my book and offer it to others as a helpful tool for creating positive, productive work environments. One of my favorite experiences with a client was returning after a few months to do a check-in and tune-up, and I said, “So, how did it go as you practiced the new skills with each other?” One woman’s hand shot up: “Holy crap! It works!” It’s hard for people to remember everything they say and experience with me in person, so the book gives my advice the longevity to help clients really shift (if they want to!).
LAM: You bill yourself as a “boardroom poet,” a role that, according to David Whyte, combines “the power of the artist with the sheer practicality of a sound business mind.” Clearly you love language. But what would you say to a consultant or thought leader who doesn’t consider themselves an author? Would you still recommend publishing?
LIBBY: In my circle, lots of people have published, so we might think it’s not a big deal, but it is. Not very many people will take the time and energy to organize and express what’s important to them to put out into the world. Your book makes you four-dimensional, creating greater value for your clients and audience. That said, there are some great books out there and some terrible ones. Because there’s no barrier to entry anymore, it’s not just about writing the book; it’s about writing a book you’re proud of. Don’t do it alone! GFP is the perfect sort of partner to work with, because subject-matter experts need help, whether it’s with editing, navigating the publishing terrain, or even help sorting and writing the ideas in the beginning. A book is a commitment, and sometimes we need a chaperone.
LAM: In the last decade, we’ve seen readers’ willingness to digest text contract from book length to white paper to blog to Facebook post to tweet. Do you think there is still room for the book in modern marketing and thought leadership? What does a book do that a blog can’t?
LIBBY: Well, as much as I’m trying to be digitally savvy, I’m a Luddite when it comes to books. You know what people are doing on the subway in NYC? Reading books. Real ones. You know what I’m handing over to the green-eyed waitress who’s been on her feet too long, and I just know she needs what I’ve got tucked into my bag? A book. The book. There’s certainly a place for articles, white papers, blogs, etc., though frankly, we need less of 7 Tips for This and 10 Steps for That. A book is a place where you can follow an idea or ideas all the way to the end, where you can go deep and wide and fling the net of language out to catch us all up in it.
Libby Wagner, poet, author, and speaker, is a trusted advisor for presidents, CEOs and executive directors, and her work has shaped the cultures of numerous Fortune 500 clients, including the Boeing Company, Nike, Philips, SAP, Diageo, and Costco. An award-winning faculty member, Libby holds a master of fine arts in poetry and is a graduate of the prestigious Million Dollar Consulting College—a perfect symbiosis for the poet pragmatist. Her monthly column, “The Culture Coach,” is a fantastic resource for thousands of business owners in the retail industry. She is the author of the Amazon bestseller The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business; poetry collections Like This, Like That and Somehow; and 2016’s What Will You Do With Your 90,000 Hours? The Boardroom Poet’s Thoughts on Work. Check out her inspiring TEDx talk, “Own Your Voice.”