I listened in on two presentations: Debbie Weil on business blogging and Richard Nelson Bolles on how his iconic career book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, became a brand unto itself. Today I’ll focus on the latter and tell you more about Debbie’s presentation next week.
So in 1969, Bolles was terminated from his position as an Episcopal clergyman in San Francisco. He took another job that enabled him to visit college campuses all over the Western states, where he found many other clergy were losing their jobs. The ministers asked his advice, and he ended up traveling 68,000 miles in search of answers for them. He asked people two questions:
- If traditional job search methods don’t work for you, what is your “plan B”?
- How do you change careers without going back to school?
Bolles also met a man named John Crystal in Virginia, who sent him his research files on job search methods. Dick typed the whole thing up and self-published it in December 1970 to sell to displaced ministers. He sold 2,000 copies all by himself, traipsing each day to the post office with his “orangutan arms” full to mail out his orders.
When Ten Speed Press came calling in 1972, it was a godsend to him because it relieved him of the drudgery of being his own distribution system. The “weird” publisher from Berkeley helped him broaden his focus to include the general job seeking population and the book quickly became a best-seller.
So why was the book so successful, the moderator asked. “I have no earthly idea,” Bolles replied. The two tried to come up with some possibilities:
- It was written for the purpose of helping people, not for the purpose of making money.
- There is consistency between the book’s voice and Bolles’ voice.
- Bolles became known for his own brand attributes: honesty and not being available to be “bought.”
- The book created a language the counselors and job seekers could use to communicate with one other and work together better.
- The book is very visual—not just words.
- The writing is engaging.
The book somehow became embedded in the nation’s consciousness and has sold 9 million copies. It’s now updated annually, and at age 80 Bolles is still an active participant. “I’m not an author,” he said. “I’m a switchboard. I stay accessible and people tell me what works well and what doesn’t.”
Bolles ended by offering some tips for those who want to create a book that ends up as a brand:
- Starting out to create a book that’s a brand is the wrong approach. Start with what kind of person you want to help produce as a result of reading your book (in this case, people who can help themselves find a new job or career).
- If people know who you are and that they can trust you, you are halfway to the sale.
- Watch out who you associate with and never lose control of your message and your brand.