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A Fun Story on Why You Should Focus Your Energy On Being Well Known To Your Tribe

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s a fact: My personal popularity peaked in mid-1983. And while I like to think of myself as an optimist, I doubt it will ever reach such heights again.

Was it because I owned several Culture Club albums? No, but I did.

Was it because I had a full head of beautiful hair? Well, that certainly didn’t hurt, but no, that’s not the reason either.

It’s because I was a bank teller.

Yes, you heard correctly. I was incredibly popular in 1983 because I worked as a bank teller at the Brookline Savings Bank, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

How is that possible?  Well, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind…

  1. In 1983, credit cards were not widely held or accepted. Sure, you could use them for significant purchases, but the local supermarket or movie theater or lemonade stand wasn’t set up to accept them. So you needed cash.
  2. In 1983, ATMs were still very much a novelty. There were a few, here and there, but hardly anyone trusted them.

Taken together, these two things meant that if you wanted to buy something, you needed cash. And if you needed cash, you had to go into the bank to get it.

And it didn’t matter who you were – student, old lady, cop, high-flying executive, local business owner, even rock stars (Aimee Mann was a regular customer) – they all came into the bank, frequently, to see me.

As a result, I could barely walk down the street without all kinds of different people waving and saying hello.

If I went into the dry cleaner and there was a line, they handed me my clothes and said, “just pay us next time.” If I sat down in the diner, they gave me free coffee. When I went to the corner bar, they knew me by name and never asked for ID.

Like I said, popular.

But here’s the thing. My (did I mention it was immense?) popularity was narrowly focused in a very tight geographic area: maybe a quarter mile radius out from the bank itself.

Within that quarter mile circle, I was a king. But if I went just a little bit farther – down to Kenmore Square, up to Coolidge Corner, or anywhere just beyond the immediate neighborhood and the people I knew well and saw every day, I became just another exceedingly good-looking man on the street.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that this experience – a king in one place; a nobody everywhere else – has influenced my approach to marketing ever since: I focus on the people I know.

You see, just like you, I know – and by “know,” I mean really know, with no introduction necessary – about 500 people on Earth.

The difference between you and me, however, particularly as it applies to the marketing of your solo professional business, is that I keep in touch with my 500 people. And you don’t.

You, and I mean no disrespect since you seem like a nice person, are instead busily worrying about your Google ranking, or your Twitter followers, or any number of other things which ignore the “neighborhood” in which you, too, are king or queen.

To me, the logic is simple. Among my magic 500 – just as it was with those bank customers in 1983 – I’m far from anonymous. I’m trusted, I’m recognized, I’m familiar. I’m someone to whom you can confidently say, “just pay us next time,” and know that there’s no risk.

That’s huge. Because while the vast majority of these people won’t hire or refer others to me today, by staying in touch with them regularly and systematically, lots and lots of them eventually will.

You’ve got your own 500; you’re just not paying enough attention to them.

Here’s the bottom line. Every day I read books and blog posts offering advice to solo professionals. They talk about “rising to the top on Google,” “getting millions of people to spread your ideas,” “becoming a blogging superstar.”

Not that you asked, but I think it’s garbage.

First, because there’s just not enough room for more than a few people at the top, whatever your industry. Most of us will never get anywhere close.

Second, because it’s the harder path. The likelihood of your getting and keeping the attention of thousands of strangers on the Internet is about the same as my being widely recognized in the greater Boston area in 1983.

It may have happened once in a while, but it happened every minute of every day outside that bank branch office.

So here’s my suggestion. Forget about trying to become broadly famous. It’s a winning lottery ticket that, chances are, you’re not holding.

And yes, you can take that to the bank.