I recently finished reading a very interesting book called Rework, which essentially outlines an anti-business approach to succeeding in business and being productive.
While it’s not a comedy book, the book’s lessons are applicable to anything you may want to accomplish in your life and there were several revelations that I think are extremely relevant to comedians. I recommend you read the full book, but in case you don’t have the time for that here’s four lessons you’d learn that will help you in your comedy career.
1. Success Breeds Success
The book shoots holes in the popular theory that failure is an important step on the path to success. Here’s an excerpt:
“Failure is not a prerequisite for success. A Harvard Business School study found already successful entrepreneurs are far more likely to succeed again (the success rate for their future companies is 34 percent). But entrepreneurs whose companies failed the first time had almost the same follow-on success rate as people starting a company for the first time: just 23 percent.
People who failed before have the same amount of success as people who have never tried at all. Success is the experience that actually counts.”
Obviously, most comedians face their share of failure along the way. But what I think you can take from this is the value of finding ways to also incorporate small successes into your career along the way. Don’t just pursue long shot dreams that have a high likelihood of failure – instead focus on smaller, achievable goals that you can ultimately string together to get to where you want to go.
Success breeds success, so it’s important to find things you can succeed at in order to build momentum.
2. You Shouldn’t Be For Everyone
The book reinforced a theme I’ve often preached on this site before – you should never worry about pleasing everybody and whatever you do should alienate almost as many people as it appeals to. As the book explains…
“A strong stand is how you attract superfans. They point to you and defend you. And they spread the word further, wider, and more passionately than any advertising could.
Strong opinions aren’t free. You’ll turn some people off. They’ll accuse you of being arrogant and aloof. That’s life.
For everyone who loves you, there will be others who hate you. If no one’s upset by what you’re saying, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. (And you’re probably boring, too.)”
What’s amazing about that excerpt is keep in mind that the book is primarily written for entrepreneurs and businesses – things that you would typically expect to be more conservative than comedians. But the premise rings even more true in comedy -you better have a strong point of view and you better not worry about trying to appeal to everybody if you want to attract a devoted fanbase.
3. Give Your Audience A Reason To Come To You
When it comes to marketing yourself, Rework emphasizes the importance of reversing the process so that you can draw an audience to yourself without having to go out and find them every time you need them.
“A lot of businesses still spend big bucks to reach people. Every time they want to say something, they dip into their budgets, pull out a huge wad of cash, and place some ads. But this approach is both expensive and unreliable. As they say, you waste half your ad budget – you just don’t know which half.
Today’s smartest companies know better. Instead of going out to reach people, you want people to come to you. An audience returns often – on its own – to see what you have to say. This is the most receptive group of customers and potential customers you’ll ever have.
When you build an audience, you don’t have to buy people’s attention – they give it to you. This is a huge advantage.
So build an audience. Speak, write, blog, tweet, make videos – whatever. Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly but surely build a loyal audience. Then when you need to get the word out, the right people will already be listening.”
I talk a lot about the importance of comedians creating content on a regular basis and this passage really reflects the reasons why. Your content IS your marketing.
4. Be Transparent
Just like too many businesses are secretive and deceptive, too many comedians try to pretend they’re more established, successful, or edgy than they actually are. The book points out that it’s much more effective to let people see what you’re really about – doing that will greatly increase the chances that they connect with you and care about what you do.
“Letting people behind the curtain changes your relationship with them. They’ll feel a bond with you and see you as human beings instead of a faceless company. They’ll see the sweat and effort that goes into what you sell. They’ll develop a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what you do.
There’s nothing wrong with sounding your own size. Being honest about who you are is smart business, too. Language is often your first impression – why start it off with a lie? Don’t be afraid to be you.
That applies to the language you use everywhere – in email, packaging, interviews, blog posts, presentations, etc. Talk to customers the way you would to friends.”
People want to connect with other people and the more you are willing to be real – on and off the stage – the more likely you are to be embraced.
These lessons are really the tip of the iceberg of what you can learn from Rework. Again, I highly recommend checking it out – it’s a quick read and I think you’ll find it pretty helpful.