A few years ago, Bruce Smith experienced a slowdown in his Salt Lake
City-based travel agency. Airlines had eliminated his sales
commissions. The recession and recent terrorist attacks also took a
toll. And because the travel industry was ultra-competitive, he knew
he had to find ways to distinguish his company from thousands of other
Then, he had a fortunate accident. His wife asked him where they would
celebrate their first wedding anniversary. When he gave her a blank
look, she set about planning a trip—but wouldn't tell him what she
was planning. Because he enjoyed the mystery leading up to the trip,
and the hints his wife gave him, he repackaged his travel service as
The Veiled Voyage, selling "destination unknown" vacations
to couples and others.
Smith's clever branding strategy was a hit. He was featured in
newspapers, magazines and radio programs and was invited to speak at a
national travel conference. A major grocery store chain also heard of
The Veiled Voyage, resulting in a lucrative co-branding relationship
that further expanded his company.
The "Slightly" Famous You
Like Smith, some business owners attract clients and customers like
magic. They don't cold call and do not rely on advertising. Yet
they're regularly featured in newspapers and magazines and get invited
to speak at conferences. Everyone knows their name, and they get all
the business they can handle.
It's almost as though they were famous.
In fact, they are, but not in the way movie stars and athletes are
famous--they're just slightly famous. Just famous enough to make their
names come to mind when people are looking for a particular product or
service. They get more business—not only more, but the right kind of
business—and they don’t have to work so hard to get it.
Want to join them and enjoy this ideal state of affairs, where
customers come to you? You can, but it may require a new way of
thinking and a new marketing strategy. Although their efforts take
different forms, underlying them all are six basic principles.
1. Targeting the best prospects
Slightly famous entrepreneurs focus their marketing to target the best
Alex Fisenko is known in the world of coffee as "the Dean of
Beans." The 60-something coffee expert started his first espresso
shop in the 1960s. Since then, he's focused his energies and now sells
his expertise on launching a successful coffee business to aspiring
entrepreneurs. Alex conducts coffee shop seminars and sells a training
course called "Espresso Business Success."
His Web site,
generates thousands of dollars a month in products sales and
consulting engagements in the United States, Thailand, South Korea,
Belgium, Saudi Arabia, and Barbados. "By targeting the best
prospects, I now make more money through book sales and consultations
than when I ran coffee shops," says Fisenko.
2. Developing a unique market niche
Small businesses with a "slightly famous" strategy establish
themselves within a carefully selected market niche that they can
realistically hope to dominate.
Dan Poynter, for example, is a successful self-publisher who started
writing books about parachuting and hang-gliding over thirty years
ago. Though it might sound as if his audience would be too small to
generate significant sales, he knew his market and where to find them.
Rather than try to fight for attention in general bookstores, he sold
books to skydiving clubs, parachute dealers, and the U.S. Parachute
Association. He developed a reputation in skydiving circles, and has
enjoyed steady sales of his books for more than three decades. Best of
all, he has the market all to himself!
3. Positioning your business as the best solution
Positioning is about identifying a key attribute of your company not
offered by competitors and that is clearly valuable to your target
When Harry Shepherd started his bookkeeping service a few years ago,
he realized that he was in competition with dozens of other
bookkeepers selling essentially the same thing. To stand out, he
mastered a popular accounting program and marketed himself as a
"QuickBooks Software Training Consultant."
Shepherd went from blending into a sea of look-alike competitors to
occupying a compelling market position. He charged higher fees, and he
did not have to work as hard to get new clients. Word spread fast
among accountants as they referred him to their clients. He even
trained other bookkeepers to use accounting software.
4. Maintaining your visibility
When was the last time your name appeared in print? Yesterday? Last
week? A month ago? Just because you remember doesn't mean a potential
You need to have your message out there, if not continuously, then
often enough to keep your name alive in customers' minds.
When Bart Baggett decided to make handwriting analysis his career, he
embraced the media, and studied newspapers, magazines, and radio and
television programs to find out what types of guests were in demand,
and then looked for ways to tie his professional abilities to specific
media. His strategy paid off.
At the height of the O.J. Simpson trial, he sent out a news release
about Simpson’s handwriting that resulted in several timely media
interviews. He later appeared on Court TV to discuss Timothy McVey’s
handwriting, and was recommended by the director of that program to
CNN. A feature in Biography Magazine led to stories in the London
Times, the Dallas Morning News, and others.
5. Enhancing your credibility
The surest way earn credibility is by establishing yourself as a
"recognized" expert with intimate knowledge of your clients,
customers and industry. Experts out-position their competitors because
they are recognized as knowing more.
Fred Tibbitts, Jr. founded Fred Tibbitts & Associates to help food
and beverage companies reach global markets. He strategically
cultivated a reputation in his industry as a well-connected and
knowledgeable global beverage-marketing expert who is fluent in all
the details of his business.
Tibbitts monitors global beverage trends on a daily basis while
staying in contact with account managers at hotels and restaurants. He
hosts a series of special events, "Fred Tibbitts Spring &
Autumn Dinners with Special Friends," in key markets, including
Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York. Tibbitts also contributes a column
to Hospitality International Magazine and numerous industry
6. Establishing your brand and reputation
Slightly famous entrepreneurs use their smallness and specialty in
ways that corporate giants can't touch. They make sure their brands
strike an emotional chord by bringing their business "soul"
to the forefront of their marketing.
When you meet Dave Hirschkop at a trade show, don't expect to shake
his hand. That's because he'll be wearing a straitjacket while
standing before a simulated insane asylum to promote his popular line
of "Insanity" hot sauces.
Dave established his brand by making the hottest sauce possible.
Instead of sensual pleasure, he promised pain, even danger. Now,
Dave's Gourmet, Inc. steps to the front of the crowded hot sauce
category because he embraced a humorous branding strategy that
resulted in fiercely loyal customers and great media exposure.
When Dave introduced his Insanity Sauce at the National Fiery Foods
Show in New Mexico, he made attendees sign a release form before
tasting from a bottle that came in a coffin-like box wrapped with
yellow police tape. His best, if unintended, publicity coup happened
when a show promoter had a minor respiratory problem after tasting his
sauce, and banned him from the show.
To enjoy "slightly" famous status, you don't have to be
insane. But, you must cultivate a brand identity that will become the
guiding star of your entire business. It will ensure that all your
marketing efforts pull in the same direction. You'll waste less time,
make fewer marketing mistakes, and stand out an increasing cluttered
Steven Van Yoder is author of Get Slightly Famous: Become an
Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort.
to read the book and learn about "slightly" famous
teleclasses, workshops, and marketing materials to help small
businesses and solo professionals to attract more business with less