Need Customers? Here's How to Book Yourself Solid

Bestselling author Michael Port talks reveals how it's possible, even in this era of vanishing customers, to build a business that's booked solid.
CEO & Founder, The Non-Obvious Company
May 03, 2013

One of the biggest challenges facing any service-based business is creating a full calendar of work on a consistent basis. Seven years ago, a groundbreaking book called Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port focused on helping business owners tackle this challenge. Recently, the book was republished as an illustrated version. 

In this exclusive interview, Port discusses why he revisited his bestselling book, what it really took to visualize the message and how the original lessons from his first book still hold up, even after an economic downturn and the explosion of social media.  

How has the big message behind Book Yourself Solid changed since you first published the book—and how has it stayed the same?

The core message and concepts in Book Yourself Solid have remained constant since the very first edition. It’s a system based on fundamental principles. So while the tools and the technology may have changed, the process and results haven’t changed at all.

That said, I listen carefully to feedback. If I heard the same thing again and again, I considered incorporating the suggestions into the latest edition. For example, it started to make sense that the "Keep In Touch Strategy" move from being a “self-promotional” technique to being an essential element of the sales cycle.

Visualizing information is a popular topic these days. As you went through the process of visualizing the content, what was the biggest lesson you learned?

Visualizing means giving form to something that exists only in your head or in the written word. I was really lucky to get to work with Jocelyn Wallace on Book Yourself Solid Illustrated. She’s a visual strategist par excellence and helped me see my own work through a fresh set of eyes.

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If you’re doing it on your own as a business owner, the mere act of creating some kind of pen and paper diagram of your systems and processes will serve you well. You’ll be able to see the patterns that make sense and the glaring holes that only become apparent when you write them down. No matter what information you’re dealing with—whether it’s the pros and cons of hiring a particular staff member, planning an event or mapping out a new training program—creating a visual representation of it may serve you better than trying to think through it or typing out a load of words on the page.

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There was a moment as you started your own business when you realized that clients wouldn't just come to you—and that you had to be more proactive. What's your top advice for anyone facing that same challenge?

It’s never as simple as flicking a switch, or identifying a single thing you need to do to get more clients. I believe very strongly that no matter how proactive you are in your marketing activity, marketing alone will not get you clients.

I know it sounds like sacrilege, but it’s true. Marketing just builds awareness about your products and services. When your prospects have been made aware of what you have to offer, you’ll have an opportunity to showcase your credibility and earn their trust. Once trust is established, it’s appropriate to make sales offers that are proportionate to the amount of trust that’s been earned. You don’t do this by hard pitching, but by striking up relevant sales conversations with the right people.

That said, the simplest way you can be more proactive in creating awareness about your business is to cultivate your relationships thoughtfully and thoroughly. If you’re not a great user of social media, or if you don’t like speaking, writing or buying ads, then there’s little point in trying to be proactive in those areas. You need to choose strategies that you’ll actually enjoy doing.

One big piece of advice you've shared is the importance of establishing yourself as a "category authority." With the explosion of social media tools to let anyone publish anything, do you think it's easier or harder for someone to truly stand out as an expert?

It’s pretty easy for anybody to hang a shingle and claim expertise. But it’s what others say about us that truly counts.

Social media—when used properly—is a great way to build awareness for yourself and to establish yourself as a category authority. But more importantly, it can act as a useful echo chamber for what other people are saying about you.

Social proof is important. If I’m not sure whether or not you’re a true authority, first I look at what you have to say—the democratization of the publishing platform through social media, self publishing and blogs has been revolutionary in this regard. But once I’ve heard what you have to say about yourself, I’ll be interested in hearing what others have to say about you. This goes back to the importance of cultivating strong relationships.

As to whether the increased noise means it’s more difficult to stand out as an expert, I’m not sure that’s true. There is a lot of noise out there, and much of it isn’t worth our attention. When a lot of people are doing something badly, or lazily, it’s even easier to stand out from the crowd by doing your thing very well.

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Many business owners despise the idea of selling, but I'm surprised when those same owners share the same emotional resistance to networking. What advice do you share with people who are reluctant to network?

Networking has a bad rap. It’s frequently confused with getting out of the house, putting on your best shoes and attending those hideous events where everybody’s trying to hand out business cards.

It might surprise you to hear that I’m basically a homebody. I really don’t enjoy going to events like that. Despite being a bit of a hermit, I build and strengthen my network every day from my desk with the Book Yourself Solid Networking Strategy. And that’s something that’s entirely within the reach of every business owner I’ve ever met.

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These techniques are no secret: Every day, be sure to check in with five people. Share something interesting, make an introduction, display compassion. But do it in a targeted manner. It’s okay to be “selfish” when it comes to choosing who you’re going to concentrate on pleasing. 

What's the biggest mistake business owners make when it comes to referrals?

Using the “hope and pray” technique. I’m sorry to say that hoping and praying doesn’t go too far when it comes to referrals.

Instead, you should analyze your previous referrals. Where did they come from? What were they for? How were you contacted? What did the sales process look like? Then see how you can duplicate that entire cycle or, if necessary, tweak it to make it fit even better with your goals.

Be sure you know who would be a good referral, where that person is hanging out and how the introduction should be made. Then you can call up your "referral partner" and give them explicit instructions: “Here’s who I’m looking to work with and here’s how you can introduce them to me.”

The trick is you have to actually make that call and ask for the referral. Seriously! It’s like eating spicy food—it’s much easier once you’ve done it a few times. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? If you have a happy customer, they will introduce you to their friends.

It’s crucial that you follow up with both the referral and the referral partner once the initial introduction has been made. The referral will be keen to see that you act on your word, and your referral partner will be curious as to how that introduction went.

During the process of updating and visualizing your original book, what's one thing that surprised you and what lessons can you share?

I’m dyslexic, which means doing a lot of reading takes a lot of time—and I know that I’m not alone. I was really amazed at how much more accessible the concepts and strategies in Book Yourself Solid became when they were visualized.

The lesson here for small-business owners is: If you’re having trouble grasping an important concept, try laying it out differently—get it out of your head so you can see the concept.

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Rohit Bhargava is one of the world’s leading voices on creating more human companies and author of the recent bestselling book Likeonomics. After spending the past 10 years leading marketing strategy for some of the largest brands in the world, he recently founded the Influential Marketing Group and writes often about networking, business success and why likeable companies always finish first.

Illustrations: Courtesy of Michael Port