Selena Soo on Nurturing Networks
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Selena Soo helps people connect to influencers — as a marketing and publicity strategist, she knows the value of relationships. Her signature approach to building powerful and long-lasting relationships with influencers and the media? It comes down to doing it in a thoughtful, authentic way.
In this interview, Selena discusses:
- Why the fastest way to reach your goals is through relationships.
- The leverage and credibility you gain by drawing on publicity’s reach and the platform of influencers.
- How to take advantage of the many opportunities you have to get your message out there.
- Why inspiration matters more than information.
- When to recognize a bad fit and break a connection.
Also mentioned in this podcast:
Michael: I’m Michael Bungay Stanier. Yes, this is The Coaching Habit Podcast where we get to talk to all sorts of interesting people and tap into their approach, their thoughts, their tools, their wisdom around coaching and how to be more coach-like. Being more coach-like is deliberately wider and broader than being a coach, because we’re all about the shift of behavior, how to help people stay curious a little bit longer, how to rush to action and advice just a little bit more slowly.
My guest today, Selena Soo, actually comes from a mutual connection. Some of you will know the name Rich Litvin, he is a name amongst coaches. He’s been a guest a number of times on our podcast here at Box of Crayons. I’ve been a guest on his podcast. He’s just a great guy. Rich is the one who connected us, Selena and I, together, going, “Look, you’re two really interesting people. You should talk.” And he was right. We should talk, and we are talking.
Selena is not from an area I know particularly well, because she’s a publicity and marketing strategist for entrepreneurs, and experts, and coaches, and authors who want to reach millions with their message. She’s worked with a bunch of well-known people to help them get featured in things like the Oprah Magazine, and Forbes, and Inc, and all sorts of different podcasts as well. She’s really helped her clients become industry leaders with big money businesses and fan bases, and lots and lots of followers as well. So interesting. I don’t know that much about this world, so I’m really curious to dive into with Selena and find out more about it. Her whole approach is about building powerful and long lasting relationships with influencers in a thoughtful and authentic way. I really think some of those insights about that relationship building will really come out during this conversation.
Selena, hey, welcome.
Selena Soo: Thank you. I am so excited to dive into this.
Michael: Yeah, me too, me too. We’ve talked a little about how you show up in the world, and of course at Box of Crayons, we stand for great work, having work that has more impact, work that has more meaning. So, how do you talk about your work right now?
Selena Soo: Sure. Yeah, there’s really two parts to my work and they’re interconnected. One is helping people get connected to other influencers to help them reach their goals faster. And the other one is helping them go from this, almost like a hidden gem, to becoming an admired industry leader. In terms of relationship building, I feel like with every big goal that you have, whether it’s getting publicity, or getting a big client, or getting a book deal, or maybe it’s achieving work-life balance or traveling the world, there’s someone else who has done that and can help you get there faster. So, I really think the fastest way to reach your goals are through relationships. That’s what I help people do.
And the other piece is really using publicity to get your message out there to millions of people. There are so many people who are deeply loved by their handful of clients, maybe it’s 10 or 20 people, or maybe it’s 1000 people. But they realize that there’s this whole other world of people that they could really be helping, except that those people have no idea that they even exist. I really like to help them get their message out there, get them seen, and really get other people so excited about their work. These other influencers who’ve got these media platforms so they open up their audiences of 1000, 10,000, or a million people to them, so more people learn about them. So that’s what I’m all about.
Michael: It’s probably, gosh, what? 25 or 30 years ago that, it was either Dan Pink or Tom Peters, started talking about building the personal brand. So this concept’s been around for quite a long time now, but somehow it feels more important than ever. Why does it matter to kind of build the sense of status, I guess, and kind of profile in this world?
Selena Soo: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, because it’s one thing for you to tell people that you’re the best at what you do, to have this phone call with a prospect, or to go to a networking event and say, “Hey, I’m really good at coaching. I’m really good at XYZ.” But that’s just one-on-one communication. With publicity or with influencers that have reach and a platform, you’ve got leverage. So, instead of talking to one person, you are reaching 10,000 people, or 100,000 people in one go. But not only that, but you’re getting that third party endorsement that adds more credibility.
If you’re just saying that you’re the best, that’s not really your reputation. Your reputation’s built by what other people are saying about you. And when other leaders say that you’re the go-to expert, then other people start thinking and viewing you in the same way. That’s really key. Especially nowadays, when people are deciding who they want to work with as a coach, they’re not just go onto Google, they’re going to ask their friend, “Who is the go-to expert in this area?” They’re going to look at who is kind of out there? Who are people recommending, referring? Or who are these high end clients and leaders working with? That’s how they’re going to make their decisions in terms of who they want to work with and who they view as the best.
Michael: Sales has had this long reputation of being a bit kind of slimy and horrible, the classic always-be-closing, Glen Gary, Glen Ross, all that sort of stuff. There’s a whole piece around positioning, around sales, around … actually, this is giving people permission to buy the thing that they want to buy. And I think there’s a similar kind of taint, if you like, that comes with publicity, which is like, “You know what? I don’t want to be one of those people that are all noise and no substance, all hat, no cattle.” What about the people who’ve got a degree of anxiety around, “Look, I don’t want to be the Kardashian of my community.” A bit shallow, a bit self-obsessed, a bit, ‘it’s all about me taking selfies of myself’ the whole time. I’m painting an extreme picture here, but-”
Selena Soo: “No, I get that. I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable at publicity for a number of reasons. People will say, “I’m not the kind of person who just brags about myself. It’s not my style.” Or maybe they’re like, “Well, I am not at that Martha Beck level. Who am I to think I could pursue these kinds of opportunities?”
But the thing is, there are so many media opportunities available to us. There are so many influencers that have platforms, whether it’s their blog, their newsletter, their podcast, there’s magazines, there’s TV. So there are just countless number of opportunities to get your message out there. And there’s also different types of publicity opportunities.
So, you maybe see some people getting ahead with more of a sensationalist approach. That doesn’t have to be your approach. Let’s say you want to focus more on depth and really sharing your ideas and thought leadership. Online media tends to be the best for that, so with guest post, you have the time and space to really share your ideas, your personal story, your philosophy and get people to really fall in love with that.
And then also with podcast interviews … you know what I love about podcasts? Where they’re typically 30 minutes or even an hour long, and so that’s great opportunity for people to fall in love with your work. With TV, which can be game changing for people, that does tend to be a shorter interview, sometimes it’s 90 seconds or three minutes. So, for a lot of people, including myself, they’re are looking to reach very specific niche audiences in a very deep way, I think that guest posts and podcasts are best. When you reach this point when maybe you’re looking to do … when you’re selling a book or some kind of mass product, then mass media can be better. But there’s definitely an outlet and an opportunity for you to share your ideas in an in depth and authentic way. It’s just about identifying what they are.
Michael: Nice. To turn the focus away from the work you’re doing to how did you get here? What was the journey for you? You know, one of things that we talk about at Box of Crayons and I’m always just curious about is, when people show up on this podcast, they’re at a certain level. They’ve done something. They’ve got a degree of notoriety, or fame, or however you’d like to put it. And it’s so easy to go, “Oh, they just got there in a kind of easy, single leap.” And that’s so often not the case for any of us, right? We’ve all kind of stumbled around and got there. So often there’ve been these moments, these crossroad moments, where you’ve made a decision, you’ve gone this way, rather than that way, and it’s kind of ended up shaping your life and your work.
So, I’m always just … I’m just nosy. So I’m just curious to go … Look, when you think about how you got to where you are now, that quote, “Your inspiration is when your past suddenly makes sense.” Are there one or two moments from your past, which have been formative to help you get to where you are now?
Selena Soo: Definitely. Absolutely. I would say that this really began in my late 20s when I was having a quarter life crisis. I found myself … At the time, I was working at a women’s non-profit, making about $42,000 a year, and things were pretty good overall. I had a boyfriend, I had a job, I was living in amazing New York City, but I was feeling unhappy and lost. So, I joined this women’s life coaching group, and we would meet once a week. We’d get together in this circle and through the coach I got exposed to people like Maryanne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay. And as I continued to search and read these books and discover things online, I would learn about other thought leaders like Marie Forleo, Ramit Sethi, Danielle LaPorte.
I remember thinking, “You know what, I want the whole world to know about these people.” Because I was feeling lost and I know a lot of people feel lost in different ways, whether it’s they’re unhappy in their careers, they’re trying to find their purpose, they’re in a bad relationship, or they want to heal their health. And I realized that … I knew that for me and for others, we don’t just need more information, we need inspiration. And these thought leaders, experts, authors, coaches embodied this message of possibility, and through their personal stories and their example, and the way in which they shared their information, they could transform lives in a really big way.
At the time, I was working at the non-profit. I was thinking about applying to business school and I thought, “Do I maybe want to work in PR, maybe work in an agency where I can help people like this get their message out there? Could I be an entrepreneur?” I mean, I didn’t really see myself as that, just because I’d always been that more quieter, behind the scenes person, and I felt like, to be an entrepreneur you had to be this bold, I don’t know, gregarious person. But that really started it for me. And even though I wasn’t being paid, I would just naturally start connecting people, forwarding their newsletters, videos, trying to be helpful. So that was really the moment where things started to change for me.
Michael: Wow. That’s really exciting. I’ve got a bunch of things running through my head around this. What tempted you to actually step into being an entrepreneur about that? Because it’s one thing to go, “Oh, you know what? I like these people and I’m forwarding their emails around.” It’s another thing to say, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Because honestly, a lot of people who go … Okay, maybe Business School, I tend to think of Business School as the soul … what is it? A gathering of lost souls. Like, “I don’t know what to do with my life. Why not go to Business School? Because maybe that will show me the way.” And so often, Business School makes you go, “Okay, so now I’m going to join a consultancy or going to become a mid-level manager somewhere.” And nothing wrong with that. But to go, rather than Business School, “I want to become an entrepreneur,” what tipped you into taking that leap? Because that’s not a small thing.
Selena Soo: It’s definitely not a small thing. I found that in Business School, I had a fair amount of time, because it just became clear pretty quickly that I don’t want to work at a consulting firm, or any of these traditional Business School jobs. So, I took on a summer internship and I worked with a really inspiring female entrepreneur and I helped her build her new media company. She had previously had a multi-million dollar business and I was helping her launch something around her personal brand. I was doing both business development and operations. And as I saw the kind of value I was adding to her, I realized I’m more than just an underpaid non-profit employee. I really do have something valuable to add.
During my time in Business School, I started developing relationships with one of my mentors, Ramit Sethi. At the time, I was just a random newsletter subscriber who had bought one of his courses. But I bumped into him on the streets of New York one day and that really changed my life. He was not expecting me. He was letting his parents into a car. He didn’t even have his contacts on, but I just introduced myself and I was really excited and chatty. And he was surprised because his average reader at the time was like, a nerdy guy, and here I was, this young woman in Business School that knew his stuff inside-out.
We became friends. I started going to his local New York meetups, and becoming friends with his friends. And then one day when I was in Business School, he sent me an email saying, “I’m relaunching, or updating my website. Would love if you could take a look at these different mock-ups.” I got so excited, I left the classroom. I was actually taking … I was in my entrepreneurship class. I left the library and I spent the next 5 hours doing market research, asking for my business school classmates’ opinion on the layout, the copy, the images that I was analyzing. I wrote pages of feedback and I sent it over to him and he was like, “Selena, this is incredible.” And he shared it with his team.
And so even though he’s never been a formal client of mine, there have been many a times where I could’ve gone above and beyond for him because I feel just genuinely excited and honored to contribute in some way. And so, he’s been able to be someone who can support my work and tell people about me. And as someone who’s purchased so many of his courses at this point, about 10 of his programs, I’ve become a star student. And so anyways, while I was in Business School, I had to do interviews with people about, I don’t know, my strengths and where I see myself going. And at the time, I didn’t really know where to go next. I thought like maybe would I work for like a Tony Robbins? Or would I work in HR doing women’s initiatives, or something like that? And Ramit said to me, “You’re so talented. You could really do anything. There’s so much more than what you’re thinking of.”
And I guess around that time, Marie Forleo had reached out to him saying that she was looking for help with PR, and he was like, “You have to talk to Selena.” And so we connected.
Selena Soo: And she became a huge fan of what I was doing. And Danielle LaPorte, who I had been nurturing a relationship for years, also connected me with Maria because she had wanted to connect me earlier. And so at a certain point, I had Ramit, Marie and Danielle LaPorte seeing me as one of the best people at what I did, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. If they see this in me, why don’t I see it for myself?” Sometimes it takes other people seeing your potential to make you realize, “I’ve got something here that’s worth pursuing.”
Michael: That’s fantastic. I mean, that’s a great story. We’ve had Danielle on the show a couple of times-
Selena Soo: Oh, amazing.
Michael: Ramit … actually, he and I shared an editor together for our first book. So I know these folks pretty well, and it’s wonderful that you made these connections. And for the folks listening in, there’s something here around the enthusiasm of going above and beyond to be noticed for sure. But I think just to your point, Selena, there’s something about the power of actually seeing role models. Because so many entrepreneurs, I’m one of them, I didn’t really grow up with an entrepreneurial role model. My parents worked for the government in Australia, my brothers both worked for the government in Australia, and actually it was only by accidentally getting my first job and finding myself in an entrepreneurial context, I was like, “Oh.” That’s kind of awakened the fire of that entrepreneurial within.
So there is something for those of you who are sitting here going, “What am I going to do with my life?” in that very broad way. A good question to ask yourself is, “Who are the people I know who are potential role models for potential powers for me.” Because you’re hearing Selena’s story, just the power of what those role models can actually provide for you.
Hey, Selena, just let me build on the story you just been telling, as well as that exciting crossroads moment that you’ve just shared with us, it’s a great story. One of the things, and which I believe with people, as they become more expert in what they do, is they have a degree of self-knowledge, self-awareness, and that comes in part from learning your lessons, doing your work, sharpening your saw. And I do tend to think that most of us have just a few lessons that we need to keep learning and keep practicing because we all got our old familiar patterns, and it’s about becoming more and more masterful about tackling those patterns that may not always serve us.
So I’m curious for you as you think back on your path, what’s the hard lesson that you’ve had to learn, or maybe you have to keep on learning?
Selena Soo: Sure. So there is this saying that the success of your business is determined by the quality of your clients. I know that Marshall Goldsmith has said that before. And there have definitely been times where there’ve been people, students and clients, where I get really excited about them. They’ve got a lot going for them, and I see their potential. But there are certain red flags and these red flags come up after already falling in love with them and I’ve gotten so excited about their work. I just let them linger for a while but I find that it’s just so detrimental to have clients that are not a right fit, maybe they have got a bad attitude, they’re not willing to do the work, or maybe they have a lot of mindset issues around being seen, or getting publicity, or asking for help. And then sometimes their personal issues can become something where they turn their frustration or anger towards you as a coach, or the program, or whatever it is.
So I’ve always been the kind of person who … I love to go above and beyond for people and be that person that finds these hidden gems and helps them become big, but certain people, we’re just not a match for each other. And so it’s always … I think that’s probably the most painful thing, is when you’re working with people and you do everything you can but you can’t help them, and it’s helpful and clarifying when you’re working with like, which I typically am, multiple people at the same time and it’s like, okay, one person is taking this material and running with it. The other person is just having issues. So, that is a painful lesson. I mean, I definitely do feel like I’m getting better at it because it is so painful to have problem people in your community, but yeah, that’s definitely a big lesson for me.
Michael: Yeah. You know Marshall says exactly that, which is … And somebody taught him this, he said, “Look, your problem is client selection,” because Marshall, his whole business model as a coach is to say, “Look, I’m going to coach you for three months, or six months, or for a year. And if you don’t see the results at the end of this time, you don’t have to pay me.” And so that’s a bold statement. It’s a call to action for that person, but honestly, it’s a call to action for Marshall to go, “Look, I’m only going to work with people who I think are going to do the work to get the results because otherwise, I’m going to be working hard and not getting paid for it.”
So that way of framing it, even if you do this, not literally but metaphorically where you go, “If I didn’t get paid, if this client didn’t make progress, would you take this client on?” And that’s a pretty bold criteria by which to judge, “Yes, let’s work together,” or, “No, let’s not work together.”
Selena Soo: Wow, powerful stuff.
Michael: Yeah. Hey, Selena, so you work with coaches, you work in this world of self-development. I mean, Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, Remit Sethi. Probably none of them would actually call themselves coaches but they certainly work in this world of self-development.
Selena Soo: Sure, yeah. Well, some of them started off as coaches. Marie was a coach for years, Danielle did some coaching. But yeah, their businesses have evolved more to being authors and more thought leaders.
Michael: And teachers and the like. You’re absolutely right.
Selena Soo: Exactly.
Michael: I’m curious for you, because the people who are listening to this, some of them are coaches for sure, but there’s lots of people who wouldn’t call themselves coaches but they’re looking for strategies, and tools, and tactics to help guide people to have more impact and do work that’s more meaningful and kind of higher … makes more of a difference in this world. So drawing on your tool kit around helping people to raise their profile, build authentic relationships, is there a tool or two that you use when you’re work with people that’s a favorite one for you, something that you go, “I love this process, I love this tool, I love this model because it always seems to move people along the path.”?
Selena Soo: Absolutely. So my number one tool is to get people to develop their influencer list. So this is a customized list of influencers who can help you reach your goals faster. And when I say influencer, I’m not talking about Oprah Winfrey or Richard Branson, even though I guess you technically could put them on your influencer list. But I’m talking about people that can help you reach your goals in the near future. So these could be mentors, paid or unpaid. It could be colleagues who are a couple steps ahead of you, people who are super connectors. It could also be people who are your super fans and your star students, or people that just want to be helpful.
But the first step is really getting clear on what your goals are. And I think in the world of coaching and online business, a lot of people think their goal should be a list building, and sometimes it is but sometimes it isn’t. I run high end masterminds and I’ve gotten people purely from referral or individual outreach. So it may not be your email list. It could be something else. Maybe it’s, you want to write a book one day, maybe it’s, you want to figure out how to create leverage programs. Like get really clear on what are the top two biggest goals that will move the needle for your business and life.
And then the next step is to identify who are people who can help you reach these goals. They’ve already achieved the goal. They’re on their way to achieving it. They’re connected to people. And those will be people on your influencer list because … I think it’s a very valuable exercise because sometimes the people that can help us the most, are people who are in our own backyard but we just don’t see them. We just forget they’re even in our network. So that process of identifying what you really want, what will move the needle, and then writing the names of those people down, it’s just a very eye opening experience for people.
Michael: Do you have a suggestion on how many people to put on that list? Because part of what I find is a really useful discipline is to always impose limit, because I don’t think that you can just go, “Look, here is 400 people that I’ve written down because I just googled stuff, and I went to ..” whatever. Well, do you feel like is it 10, or is it 15, or is it 20? Just so that you go, “Look, if I’m going to try and nurture these relationships, these …I have only got so much time on the planet-
Selena Soo: Absolutely.
Michael: -which are the ones that I’m going to actually put time and focus and energy to?” And before you answer I’m just going to say to everybody listening, this, by the way, is a wonderful tool regardless of whether you’re building your own business, or trying to build your own profile in an entrepreneur way. If you work internally, if you work in an organization, it is super smart to know who your influencers are there because in the same way, you make progress in this life through relationships and through stories. So this discipline is wonderful no matter where you are in your career, no matter what type of work you do.
But Selena, to you, give us a number. Is it five?
Selena Soo: Yeah, absolutely.
Michael: Is it 25? Is it 105?
Selena Soo: I recommend 20. Five is too little, and even with 10 people, there are already people on your influencer list who you find are now hard to get in touch with, or maybe they’re immersed in projects that they are just busy. But with 20 people, I feel like you have to push yourself a little bit to come up with that list, but also it’s enough people so that if you don’t get much of a response from someone, you can always move on to the next person. Now, while you’re brainstorming, feel free to have a longer list. If you have 50 people on the list, go ahead. It can be helpful to go through your cellphone and see whose name show up that you feel compelled to put on your influencer list. Scroll through LinkedIn or Facebook. So you can have a longer list, but then pare it down to the top 20 people that you want to focus on and put that in Excel spreadsheet or some kind of Google doc.
And another tip that I recommend is to add this to your calendar entry, one time a month. Maybe it’s the first Monday of every month, you spend 30 minutes taking a look at your influencer list and thinking about how can I circle back with any of these people? Do I want to go onto Facebook and see what they’re up to? Should I check what’s happening on their blog? That’s just a good touch point to make sure that these people are front and center. You don’t have to contact them all, but every month think about your influencers and how you could be helpful to them.
Michael: How long do you need to be helpful before you can ask for something in return?
Selena Soo: I mean, it really depends on what you’re asking for. This is a tool that my mentor Ramit Sethi has, it’s called the Straight Jacket technique. And so really imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes in this straight jacket. What does it feel like to be them, to be the person receiving the request? For me personally, I don’t like to make requests unless I think that the person is likely to say yes. My natural assumption is that people are extremely busy, they’re stressed out. They’ve got a lot going on with their family, their friends, their business. They’re short on time. They want more time, and so that’s the space where your request is coming into. And so you always want to make it easy for someone to say yes to you. You want to show them why this could be in their favor. And so those are some things I keep in mind when I’m asking for a testimonial, for an introduction, a client referral.
A lot of times, like let’s say if I’m looking to be [inaudible 00:26:31], but like introduced to someone, or I want them to share some information about an offering or something, I always do the heavy lifting. I offer to write something up for them, I give them materials. I also give them an easy out. I never have this expectation that someone is going to say yes, but I could go obviously more in-depth in terms of how I craft my emails, but kind of high level, those are the things that I think about. Just make it easy for someone to say yes and also put yourself in their shoes. Why would they want to say yes? Is this too big of an ask? Is it an appropriate ask? Because if it is, then it’s something that I would hold off on.
And oh, one more tip around that is I often will say, “I want to run an idea by you,” because then it’s kind of light, “Wondering or would you consider this? Does this make sense?” Versus, “Will you do this for me?”
Michael: So this has been a great conversation. I guess I do know a little bit about this world just through thinking about how we promoted The Coaching Habit book over the last couple of years and the like. But actually bringing the discipline in the inside, how you think about it, has been really useful for us. So thank you. For people who want to find out about you and about the work you do, I know you run a big annual program, where can they find more about you?
Selena Soo: Yeah. They can go to selenasoo.com, that’s my website, to learn more about me. And like Michael said, I have an annual program called Impacting Millions, you can go to impactingmillions.com to learn more. If doors are open, you’ll need to check out the program and if not, you need to sign up for the waiting list. Those are two of the best places to learn about me.
Michael: Selena, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
Selena Soo: Thanks for the opportunity.