Friday, November 9, 2007

Richard Bolles on How His Book Became a Brand

Yesterday was the much-anticipated It’s a Brand You World Global Telesummit on personal branding. For 12 hours, 24 of the foremost experts on personal branding conducted free seminars over the phone. I was lucky to be among the 100,000 expected participants, and I learned a lot for free!

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.


Laurence Shatkin said...

What Color Is Your Parachute? was a great help to me personally and in fact is the reason that I'm working in the career information field. When I was futilely trying to become an English professor in the late 1970s, the advice I kept hearing was to read this book and choose some other career.
After doing the exercises I realized that what I enjoyed most and was most skilled at was not teaching, but rather researching and writing. At about that time a research-writing job came open at Educational Testing Service, and by chance it happened to be in the field of career information. (It was for developing career information for the SIGI PLUS computer-based system.)
This is what got me started in career information and also in technology. Now that I am working in the low-tech field of writing books, I continue to be inspired by how Bolles was able to accomplish things in a book that you can't accomplish online.
I also agree with his pointers about building a brand. I'm glad to say that I associate with some truly fine people.

Krisan Matthews said...

Thanks for posting about the teleseminar, Lori! I had planned to listen in yesterday, but ended up having a busy day. I am planning on listening to the podcasts once they are ready on Monday. I'm especially interested in the session on blogging for business.

Lori Cates Hand said...

I took good notes at the Blogging for Business session, so I'll write that up on Monday. There were tips that I think you will find relevant.