We all deal with the problem of needing to build support for our ideas. Maybe you’re trying to sell your boss on a new program, maybe you’re trying to get a loan or grant to start a small business or to undertake a research project, or maybe you’re just trying to get a job. What do you have to do to convince your audience, whoever they are, that you’re ready and able to handle whatever’s thrown at you?
Writers face this all the time. In publishing, the quality of the writing alone rarely speaks for itself. Publishers need some assurance that a new title will sell, and alas, that involves far more than just whether a book is any good or not. Readers don’t know a book is good until they’ve read it, which means quality doesn’t play much of a role in getting them to read something. Instead, reader’s choices are made on the basis of perceived expertise, name-recognition, and familiarity — the same factors we use to make most of our other decisions in life.
In publishing, the combination of all these factors is referred to as an author’s “platform”. In Bill O’Hanlon’s book Write is a Verb, O’Hanlon (author of 28 books)describes the following elements or “planks” that are part of a writer’s platform:
- marketing abilities
- marketing channels
- mass media presence
- media abilities and experience
- track record in publishing
- unique topic or slant
- borrowed planks
While not all of these apply beyond the publishing world, with a little tweaking we can adapt O’Hanlon’s description to just about any situation where you need to show others that you are capable of taking on a task or project.
The Planks of Your Platform
- Your credibility: How much relevant education or experience you bring to a project. If you have a PhD in physics, you probably have a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about lasers — but not so much when it comes to talking about fashion design.
- Your willingness and ability to push a project: Your passion and desire to stand behind a project, your leadership qualities, your demonstrated competence, and your skill at promotion all come into play here. If you are lacking in any off these, you run the risk of seeing someone else given control — even when the original idea was your.
- Your network: Who you know and, more importantly, can draw on to advance your project. The channels — marketing, word-of-mouth, influence — you control and can exploit.
- Your media presence: Outlets to the public, whether as a whole or in your niche, that you control or have access to. If you have a TV show, a monthly magazine column, a popular blog, or a series of books, you can easily get the word out about a new project — attracting attention, financial investment, and other resources to move your project forward.
- Your track record: Your demonstrated record to get projects done, and done well. If you’ve launched a dozen successful marketing campaigns, you are going to be more desirable to start the next one than someone who has launched a dozen failures or someone who has launched just one successful one, all other things equal.
- Your reputation: What people know or have heard about you. If you have a reputation for being brilliant but lazy, hard to work with, or disloyal, people will be hesitant to work with you. On the other hand, if you always get your work in on time, are easy-going but professional, and bring a single-minded focus to your work, people are going to want you on their team.
- Your celebrity: The fame and recognition you bring to a project by your involvement, even though your fame is derived from another field. People want, say, self-help books written by pop stars, even though most pop stars don’t have much of a background in psychotherapy. This probably doesn’t apply to most people, but it’s worth including as food for thought.
- Your uniqueness: Brilliance, insight, an off-beat sensibility — the value you add to a project simply by your own unique talents and abilities. In writing, it’s your unique slant on your topic; in, say, design, it might be your distinct style.
- Borrowed planks: The support of others with big platforms. Endorsements, recommendations, awards, outside research — anything from other people with credibility, reputations, celebrity, etc. that supports your idea.
How Big is Your Platform?
As you think through this list, consider how your own experience and life details can be described in a way that contributes to your platform. How can you describe your own experiences in a way that shows how credible, well-connected, successful, or unique you are?
Consider, too, the gaps in your platform — what can you do to add planks that aren’t already there, or build up the ones that aren’t particularly strong? It’s not necessary to have every plank above — most people do well without celebrity, for example, and those with celebrity often do well without many of the others — but the more planks you have, and the stronger they are, the more likely others are to see you as someone they can trust to get the job done.
And that means they are more likely to support you, whether by hiring you, promoting you, putting you in charge of a big project, offering you a contract, buying your product, investing in your business, or whatever. In the end, this is about confidence — give people a reason (or many reasons) to have confidence in you, and leverage that confidence to do the things you want to do.
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