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Thank you for tuning in to episode 89 of the podcast! You’re going to really like what I have in store for you today! I spoke with Robbie Samuels about the art of the schmooze, which he has down pretty well 🙂 Robbie is a powerful public speaker who helps people understand how great networking can be for you and your business. He has something for everyone – from the introvert who is weary of networking to the extrovert who owns a room and everyone in between. Have a listen and let me know what you think!
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Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 89.
Introduction: Welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast; the podcast dedicated to helping LGBTQ professionals and business owners grow their business and careers through the power of leveraging their LGBTQ identities in their personal brand. You’ll learn how to market your products and services both broadly, and within the LGBTQ community. You’ll hear from incredible guests who are leveraging the power of their identity for good, as well as those who haven’t yet started, and everyone in between. And now your host. She teaches straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Your professional lesbian, Jenn – with two N’s – T Grace.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to episode 89 of the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and in line with the last half dozen episodes or so being interviews, I have another interview for you today. I’m so excited to welcome Robbie Samuels to today’s podcast, where we really dive deep into personal branding from a networking type of component, or from a networking aspect. So we talk about what it means to strategically network, and volunteering, and how to work a room if you will. And Robbie’s business is around helping people do just that, helping them network with sessions. So he’s a public speaker, he does a session called The Art of the Schmooze as well as a variety of other types of sessions and speaking engagements, which all focus around building great relationships and strong and welcoming communities. His website is www.RobbieSamuels.com so I’m really excited to basically just dive right into today’s episode where you will learn a lot about networking, and how that can be good for your business whether you are an introvert who might be afraid to show up to a networking event, to the very outgoing extrovert, and everyone in between. For any information that Robbie and I talk about in today’s episode, you can go to www.JennTGrace.com/89 and that is for episode number 89. And without further ado, here is my interview with Robbie.
Alright so let’s just start if you will by telling the listeners a little bit about yourself, what you’re up to currently, and then we’ll just dive into some things about personal branding.
Robbie Samuels: Thank you so much Jenn, and I appreciate being on your show. So a little bit about me. Well I am currently a work-at-home dad to a five and a half month old which is the first and foremost thing on my mind. The work part gets a little bit in quotes because I’m still working out the schedule of what works while having an infant. But also focusing on my business as a professional speaker, and that mainly is that I get asked to come and speak to companies, to nonprofits, boards of directors, et cetera to talk to them about relationship building. And my most requested session is called Art of the Schmooze. And so we can dive more into the different topics I do later, but part of building that business which I started on the side as sort of a side hustle in 2009, and then went full time in 2015, part of that is working on launching a podcast called On the Schmooze where I interview leaders from different sectors, and ask them about how they’ve built their professional networks and stayed in touch with people, and what success looks like for them. And I’m also blogging regularly on the topics of relationship building, networking tips, et cetera. That’s kind of where I’m at currently.
Jenn T Grace: Nice, okay good now I have about fourteen questions which I knew would happen. So to start, how did you come up with the topic of the On the Schmooze? Like how did that form and evolve?
Robbie Samuels: On the Schmooze as the podcast or Art of the Schmooze the session?
Jenn T Grace: The session first, and then I think the podcast we can get into next.
Robbie Samuels: Sure so Art of the Schmooze actually came about- I was running a group that I started ten years ago called Socializing for Justice, and this is a cross-cultural, cross-issue progressive community and network in Boston that really brings together likeminded progressives. And about a year in to organizing that, I recognized that there were regulars who came to all of our events. They weren’t focused on only one type of event, they came to everything. And I was concerned that this group was going to become very clicky. And we’ve all experienced coming into a space for the first time, we’ve assumed that everybody else is best friends, nobody else is new, and it’s very awkward as a newcomer. So I wanted this to continue to be a very welcoming space so I invited the regulars out for coffee and we started chatting about what it takes to make that kind of welcoming space. I asked them if they would come fifteen minutes early, and they said yes. I asked them if they would maybe help out at the front door in a more formal role of greeting or helping with nametags, sure. And then I said for that first hour, go out of your way to meet someone you don’t know. Like just try to meet some of the new people and introduce them to the other regulars, and they said, “Sure we could do that.” I said, “Okay then after that just kind of mingle and work the room,” and that’s where I got a lot of angsty responses because the room that I was talking to was filled with people who were shy and/or introverted, and so the idea of floating a room, chatting with strangers was the antithesis of a good time for them. So I started coaching one-on-one, started sharing some tips. I’m an outgoing extrovert so I wasn’t trying to teach them how to be me, I actually don’t really want the world to be filled with more outgoing extroverts. I think there’s enough people who speak with very little prompting and take up a lot of space. But I did want them to be seen, heard and respected when they arrived in a room, and to be part of creating this welcoming culture. And it worked. The training evolved from there because speaking one-to-one was not a good use of my time, and I guess that was probably around 2007, 2008 that I first created this training, this session, and it evolved until 2009 I started getting paid to do speaking engagements on a variety of topics, and that has become my most requested one. And it’s helped such a wide array of audiences really be more present and mindful and strategic about their networking too. So it’s about body language, and eye contact and business cards, but it’s also about just taking that time to figure out why are you going to this event in the first place? And then going from there. So it’s chock full of information, two hour interactive training, and I love doing it because really people clearly remember a lot of the content which is so rare in a training.
Jenn T Grace: No kidding, right? So how did you take it from this free offering you were doing with your people, and then you moved it to this one-on-one coaching situation with people, and now fast forward to 2009 you’re able to get paid to be doing this. What made that leap really natural or maybe unnatural for you?
Robbie Samuels: So what’s funny is that, Jenn I love doing professional speaking because I’ve always loved doing public speaking. When I was in college I was on a speaker’s bureau, and I did a variety of trainings, and there was this gap of about a dozen years where I just didn’t have a topic. So when the opportunity came to create this and share it, I started to share it from like 2007 to 2009, I was just sharing it with any organization locally that I thought would benefit. So lots of really, really small grassroots groups I kind of met with and helped them out. In 2009 a former colleague of mine- actually not someone I worked with but someone I’d known years ago, and I hadn’t actually lived in the same state in probably seven or eight years. She reached out to me and said, “I know that you’re doing these talks on networking, and I know that you are a fundraiser,” because that was my profession, I was working a nonprofit organizing fundraising events doing major gift work. She said, “Will you come to D.C. and do a fundraising training for my board of directors?” So my answer of course was, “Um yes,” and then I went and created a training called Fundraising: Getting Past the Fear of Asking. And I went down to D.C., this organization offered me $200 which was very little money in the world of speaking but I’d never been paid before so I also was really excited. They paid my plane ticket and I shared a hotel room with my friend. And when I got there, it was actually the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association so they were doctors, and they were there for their convention, and they have to talk to people about membership. So fundraising wasn’t something they felt very comfortable with, but they were having a break and I went in, and I got a chance to meet all of them, and one by one I memorized their names and when they sat down around the table, and were about to begin, I said, “Oh we should do introductions,” and I said, “Oh allow me.” And I then introduced each of them one by one around the table.
Jenn T Grace: And how many were there?
Robbie Samuels: Eighteen or so.
Jenn T Grace: Jesus that’s awesome.
Robbie Samuels: And they sat up straighter and just were like, “Whatever you have to tell us Robbie, we will listen.”
Jenn T Grace: That’s awesome.
Robbie Samuels: So that was my first time being paid, but what I did strategically was that when I billed them, I billed them $400 and then applied a 50% referral discount, and I did this because I knew that I needed to get my own mind around the value of what I was offering. And so they only were budgeted to give me $200 but I billed them $400 and then put a 50% referral discount so that the total was $200. And for the next year whenever someone asked me about doing a training, I said, “Oh my usual fee is $400,” and then I slid it to whatever was comfortable for their budget because I was still working a lot with really small grass roots or volunteer run organizations. And then a year later this organization, I said $400, they said great without blinking an eye. I was like, okay. And I then increased it to $600 and again spent another year sliding it to whatever was comfortable for people. And then a year later it went to $800, and now it’s gone on up. So really a lot of that is that the content for those trainings has gotten better in the years since I started doing this in 2009 because they’re way more robust, I’ve presented it dozens and dozens of times. But it’s also my own belief in my own value of what I can offer an organization. So I think that’s a trick into how do you sort of move into being an entrepreneur and believing in what you’re offering. For me I had to kind of put a value out there, and then allow the dollar amount to be settled along the way.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like that’s definitely something that I find a lot of people are stuck on. Is ‘what am I worth?’ And I feel like people get stuck in how to value that, especially when you’re looking at speakers. And I know you’re part of the National Speakers Association, and I believe it says that you’re a professional member which means that you are out there speaking a lot in order to be qualified if you will for that level of membership. So I think that a lot of people, they’ll go from doing it for free and then immediately think that they have to jump to charging $5,000 for a talk. And you just clearly outlined that going from zero to $5,000 is not the avenue, but it’s a matter of incrementally going further and further with what you’re comfortable with, which I think you’ll see more success if you gradually do it, rather than sticking a flag in the sand tomorrow and saying, “I’m now charging $5,000 for this” because your mindset may not actually be caught up with what you’re asking, in my experience anyways.
Robbie Samuels: You know Jenn, I’ve learned so much more about mindsets since 2009. I think every training that I’ve purchased online about online business, and being an entrepreneur starts with mindset. But I agree with you, that is what I was trying to do at the time. I also think that the client list has to really change for me to be charging $5,000. And so I’m pivoting now into working more with corporate organizations versus smaller nonprofits. So like right now my client list is more larger nonprofits and corporations, and it’s exciting because it’s a totally new market for me to be connecting with, and of course their ability budget-wise is very different than a really small organization. I feel like I want to have a nice balance portfolio though, where I still can offer- particularly on a local level where it’s not involving a lot of travel, I want to offer these skills to organizations that I think will just benefit but couldn’t otherwise have me come in. And one way I’ve done that is foundations. So for me, a foundation will have me come in for a half day or full day of trainings, and they’ll invite all of their grantees, and so they’re getting to bring me in and do this sort of like assistance, technical assistance, and capacity building, and it’s great because the funding is actually coming from the foundation and the grantees just get to benefit from it.
Jenn T Grace: Interesting. So for me, I have a similar setup that what you’re describing where I do a lot of corporate engagements, and you can get paid good money for corporate engagements. So mine right now on average are right around like $9,500 for a corporate gig. That is not something a nonprofit in any way, shape or form could handle, but I feel like to some degree it’s almost like my ability to give back when I do work with that smaller audience, but just because you’re working with a smaller audience doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to capitalize on that time in the room. So you can ask them in advance if they would send out emails to their list of people, however many that might be, or if you have a book to have them offer- give you the spotlight to kind of pitch your book to the room. So there’s a lot of ways that even if you’re only making $300, or even if you’re not making any and it’s completely pro bono, there’s still ways that you can ask them for things because they’re usually more than happy to do that because they understand the value that they’re getting at no charge.
Robbie Samuels: And actually speaking of that Jenn, even when I’ve slid my training- I no longer do completely zero, but I’ve slid it to like $100 for a lower organization, or $250 or something just to kind of- I want them to be committing to having me come in as a professional speaker, but I also let them know what my top rate is so that they know what they’re getting. Because I think that sometimes when it is free, and this is also true for anyone who’s attending and not having to pay to attend, they often don’t commit the time in advance of what they want to get out of it. So when I’m brought into some audiences where they pay, I ask them if they looked ahead of time to research who I was. ‘Did you Google me? Did you get a sense of what I was going to be talking about?’ And more hands go up because they committed their own dollars, even if it’s a little bit of money. But if it’s a free event and I ask that question they’re like, “Well I was just told to be here.”
Jenn T Grace: And that’s the same thing for everything, right? So if you do someone’s telesummit online for example, and there’s all of this amazing content- because there are a lot of telesummits out there, and a lot of webinars, a lot of online content that is really amazing, but if you’re not paying for it the chances of you taking action on it are so much more greatly reduced. Versus if you’re like, ‘You know what? I just signed up for this person’s course. It’s three months, it just cost me $1,000.’ You bet your ass people are fully committed and all in on making sure that they get every possible minute of value out of that particular program. And it’s the same thing with showing up to speak, I totally agree.
Robbie Samuels: Yeah, mindset.
Jenn T Grace: Totally is mindset. So in terms of mindsets, and balancing the fact that you’re now a stay-at-home dad. So Grant is young, and so how are you finding that you’re able to grow your personal brand? And one of the reasons why I wanted you on the show is because if you go to your website which is www.RobbieSamuels.com and that will be in the show notes, I feel like you have- it’s really succinct and very clear as to what you do, who you are, the types of clients that you work with. But how are you finding that growing your personal brand is kind of balancing with fatherhood right now? Because I can’t imagine- my kids are seven and nine and I still have challenges at times. So having a five and a half month old is definitely a challenge unto its own. So how is that working for you right now?
Robbie Samuels: Well I think part of my personal brand is that I am a convener and a connector, and I can’t turn that part of me off. So when there was a new challenge of being a new parent, I basically dove right in. And so in August before my son was even born- he was born in mid-December of 2015, in August a few months beforehand, I actually started an online Facebook group for parents with children around my kid’s age. And it is now over 400 members and we’re hosting a monthly baby clothing swap and other socials, and cross-promoting a lot of great content, as well as having an amazing online support system. So by doing that and making an effort in the first few months to really show up with him to a lot of different parent groups, I’ve now established myself in a very short amount of time within this sort of parent network in Boston. So wherever I go, someone says- they either know me or they know of me and they say, “Oh I’m in your group. Hey everybody, this is Robbie.” So to me that was really important because as a work-at-home, stay-at-home dad I knew that during the week I was going to be around a lot of moms. And so this is sort of a weird catch 22 of being praised for being a dad for doing little things, but being ostracized on the playground on the other hand. So now by offering, by being someone who hosts and convenes people, and creates value, I’m just practicing what I’m preaching in ‘Art of the Schmooze,’ and with all my training material, and all my blog posts and the podcast that I’ll be launching, which is to offer, offer, offer before you ask. And it’s wonderful because people know what I do, they’re learning a little bit more about my business, I’m quite certain that as we get past the only knowing each other because we’re parents, we’ll start to know each other’s work and professions, and there will start to be connections there as well. And so that’s been something I’ve put a lot of energy into in the last year, is establishing sort of these foundational support networks because I want those for my family. And it’s basically me practicing this philosophy of abundance. I’m at the point now where if I can imagine something that we might need for our family, I can put it out there to these different groups, and somebody will find it for us and respond, and offer to just bring it to us for free. So that’s been a part of my personal brand; people now in this new sphere now know me. But really my personal brand has been a lot about that. Like Socializing for Justice, the group I mentioned earlier is turning ten years old this year. No one is paid to run that. We’ve had a few hundred events, we have almost 3,000 members, and it’s all run by small donations that people give at the events. And it’s been a wonderful sort of place to meet people, I met all my best friends, I met my wife through this, and again it’s been really about offering before I ask. So when I launched my business sort of formally in 2015 after working for ten years at the same nonprofit, and saying, “Okay I’m going to take a side hustle, and I’m going to go into this full time,” this was before my son was born, I was able to really do that without feeling like I was on my own because I had so much support and there were so many people who had just been like waiting for me to do this. So I think my personal brand is not just topic-based which is networking and Schmooze, I think people know me, but so many people thought that Socializing for Justice was my full time work because that’s how they knew me. They didn’t even know I actually had a very full- more than full time career that was separate from that. So I think offering is a big part of my brand.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and it makes me think about ways in which people can continue networking outside of the traditional networking opportunities. So I think that what you’re talking about is really important for people just to build more relationships that have meaning and value. And I think this probably might be specific to some industries probably wouldn’t make sense for this. So actually maybe they would. I’m just thinking about how you have your parents’ group, right? So there’s 400 people in it, it’s an opportunity for you to build new relationships with people outside of a transactional ‘I’m trying to sell you’ environment. But rather like you said, over time you’ll start to develop those relationships and if you happen to need an attorney, granted there’s guaranteed somebody in that group who’s some kind of practicing attorney for some particular part of law. So it’s kind of like a- it’s a different way of looking at networking. So I would wonder if you were to give a tip to somebody, because this obviously comes really natural to you, to be the convener, to be the person who’s putting together- putting bodies in a room and getting them to connect and work together. So for somebody who might be in introvert, or not even fully a shy person necessarily, but somebody who this is uncomfortable for, so somebody- a client, type of client that you’ve worked with in the past. What’s one or two tips that you would give to them to help them be more of a convener so they can take advantage of networking opportunities where they least expect them to be?
Robbie Samuels: I think it’s wonderful. One thing is to realize that networking is just a matter of being in the world, and present, and aware of who’s around you. So it doesn’t have to be at a formal event. Someone I know wrote about their experience of having a conversation like online with the DMV, and that it dawned on her in that moment that that was networking. That they ended up into a whole conversation that they actually discovered a connection in the time they were standing around together, and it’s just being open to that experience is a piece of it. The other thing is that I actually think convening and being a host for me is actually a way to overcome a fear that I have of not belonging. So I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like, ‘Hm I’m not sure if these people are going to like me. I don’t know whether I belong here.’ And particularly in the context of being a dad in a new parent space knowing that there aren’t going to be a lot of dads wherever I go during the week. That convening parents in this way was a way for me to become known, and for people to appreciate what I have to offer because I am giving them a space to connect online, and then by hosting these monthly baby clothing swaps, I mean we’re all benefitting from those resources being shared. And similarly with Socializing for Justice, by starting that it gave me a reason to talk to other people wherever I went in Boston because I had this resource to share, and all the regulars started doing that as well. It gave them sort of an opening of something to talk about. ‘Oh you’re new to Boston? You might want to check out this group. Oh you’re looking to promote your events? Oh here, this group can help you.’ They would be very clear ways into the conversation. Now you don’t have to start by launching a whole huge group or anything like that, but you can whether online or offline create sort of these niche conversations. And one way to do that offline is something that I’ve done a lot with my good friend Dorie Clark, and I know you interviewed her earlier on this podcast. But we co-host dinners together, and she’s really taken this to an art form. But we started doing this years ago, and we each would invite three or four colleagues and go out to dinner, and just like have a loosely- sort of loosely defined conversation that allowed people to bring more of their full selves, and that’s the important part. Is that it’s not so strictly business because when people find shared passions, they’re both really, really into yoga, that actually can break down barriers much faster than finding out they’re both lawyers. So creating opportunities like that are great because as the host of that small dinner gathering, even if you’re a shyer person and have a hard time really kind of wandering into an open networking event, this is different, these are people that were hand selected to be here with you, and your whole role is to help them feel welcomed and comfortable. And so it really shifts things in your head, you become that host which is I think a mentality that we can all bring with us wherever we go.
Jenn T Grace: I could not agree more. I was thinking about- when you were just talking about being a host, I remember when I first started learning about chambers of commerce, which is now an actual ten years ago, and I remember going to events and being somewhat frozen in fear of like I didn’t know where to be, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know who to talk to, I didn’t know anybody, I had travelled halfway across the state to get there, and it was all very awkward to me. But within a couple of months I’m like, ‘You know what? My happy place is sitting behind the registration table because now I’m in control and I’m able to talk to every single person who comes in the room, but I have a purpose and a reason to be talking to them.’ So I feel like for me it was just a matter of like how can I take this really awkward situation and find a way to network with people in a way that didn’t feel threatening to me? And it happened to be helping people find their nametag. It seemed so simple, but for me it was a complete game changer because then you’re able to follow up with people after the fact and say, “We only got a quick chance to say hello when you checked in, but I’d love to have coffee with you.” So I think it’s a matter of finding little ways to take yourself from being completely frozen and afraid of the situation that you’re walking in, and making it easier and more attainable. And I think your idea of just having a couple people together that you don’t know, and then- like you said it really comes back to mindset of being like, ‘Okay my job here is not to be networking. My job here is to make sure that everyone else is networking.’ But really when you’re helping other people network you are yourself too, and it’s just completely like you’re fooling yourself, but it works.
Robbie Samuels: Yeah Jenn, I talk a lot about the difference between inviting and welcoming. So as event planners we sit around and talk about who we wished attended our events. ‘Oh I wish there were more of X people,’ and we brainstorm where those folks might get information about our event. And so we send the invitation to new list serves, or post it on new bulletin boards, et cetera. And then those new folks and other folks arrive, but no one actually greets them. You know they sign in, they get their nametag, they circle the room, they look for an opening, they don’t really find one, they stand around awkwardly, and then they leave shortly after. And then the next time we get together as the event planners we talk about retention, and how- well what can we do to keep these people that we made this effort? What could we do? And the answer to what we could do is put more of an emphasis on the welcoming than the inviting, and that’s where ‘Art of the Schmooze’ was training our regulars to be hosts. Because it can’t just be me, the person who booked the room, who greets people because often the person who booked the room is also dealing with AV, or catering, or some- getting a banner hung up. They’re distracted in that time period when the first awkward newcomer arrives, which is usually even a few minutes before the official start time. So that’s why we ask our regulars to arrive fifteen minutes early so that the event was sort of already happening when those first few newcomers arrive not knowing where to stand and what to do. And re-coach them to talk to those new folks and introduce them to the other regulars in the room. And just by doing these couple of things, and asking them to play this host role, it awakened within them this like sense of purpose in the room. Like I now have a role, and so matter how shy they were or how introverted and exhausted they found this sort of being in a space with a lot of people, they started to see, ‘Oh there’s someone standing off by themselves-‘ and they used to ask me permission at first. They’d be like, “Robbie should I go talk to them?” And I was like, “Yeah, that’d be great.” Now they just do it. They just go over, and they chat with them, and then they introduce them to someone else. Now that’s really different than if you really are that brand new person. If you’re a guest and you’ve never been here before and you go and talk to the wallflower, you might have a great conversation, but neither one of you knows anyone else in the room and that’s going to be a really difficult ending to the conversation. So I always ask people to be really mindful when they walk into a space, are they a guest like as in they’re brand new, or have they been there a few times? And I think if you just show up three times within a space, within an organization’s events, or within an industry’s events and you kind of get to know people. At that point you can really start to think of yourself as a host, and the way you kind of mingle in that room is going to be different.
Jenn T Grace: And now how do you think connectors fit into this? Because I know for myself, and so since I’m networking primarily in LGBT environments it’s a much smaller community, even in a larger city like Boston. But for myself I know that my style is usually if I just start talking to somebody random, which I typically have very little problems just going up and starting a conversation with somebody. But if I hear them say something that triggered a thought about a conversation I just had, I will walk that person from where I am to that other person and be like, “They two of you have to connect,” and I will just go through the room and continue to do this, because I feel like to a certain degree you have to be mindful of your time, and there might be 100 people in the room and you want to be making sure that you’re having conversations that are helpful to further your own agenda if you will. I don’t like using that phrase but you know what I mean. How do you find that people who are natural connectors, or people who aren’t natural connectors but would like to be, how do they fit into this equation, and where is their role?
Robbie Samuels: Well so Malcolm Gladwell talked about connectors, and they know a lot of people and they like to connect them. And so some of us very naturally fall into that category, and you and I both do. And so exactly how you described the scene, I do that but I also have introduced two people who are just standing next to each other, and they assume that there’s a reason I did that and they ask each other questions until they find that connection, and then they’ll come running over excitedly saying, “Oh how did you know we both went to southern California schools?” You know so I think that it’s interesting that I created a space where people are looking for those connections. On the other hand I think everybody has the ability to be a connector, and I’ll give you a quick example. I was at a huge conference, 18,000 people, there was this like after party / networking event with like loud music, dark lights, not conducive actually to networking. The first person I chatted with was a college student, I haven’t been in college in a decade or longer, so on the surface we had very little in common. And we chatted for a few minutes and at the end I said, “You know I don’t know very many people here. Is there anyone you think I should meet?” And he got really excited, and he told me someone’s name, and I said, “Oh that’s great. I’d love to be introduced.” And he grabbed my hand, and he dragged me through the crowd up to his intern’s supervisor who was the Communications Director of a nonprofit that I’d wanted to get to know. And he introduced us, and I said, “Thank you so much,” and I turned to the Communications Director and started chatted with him, and the student walked away all peacocked, ‘I just did that. I just made that connection.’ And how many people did he need to know in the room to be a connector? Just the one. And the other piece of this story is that you can’t discount people because they’re students, or assistants, or receptionists, et cetera, because they’re all working for important people who have interns, and assistants, and receptionists. So he got super excited to make that connection, and it helped me leapfrog in this very large, loud crowd over to a good conversation. Like you said, you want to try to talk to the kinds of people you want to talk to. And that is my philosophy. I want to- that’s my way of ending a conversation, if I’m in a room and I don’t know a lot of people I ask that question, and otherwise I’ll ask the reverse. If I’m hosting I’ll say, “You know, I know a lot of people here, is there anyone you want to be introduced to?” And I’ll just offer that, and that’s a nice way to wrap up a conversation gracefully, but also help them or you kind of leapfrog to what hopefully is going to be another meaningful conversation.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. I love the direction that we’ve been going in this conversation. One of the things that I’m thinking about is the fact that you grew your brand very organically, and I feel like mine was the same way. Like it just- there was very clear this led to this, which led to this, and now here we are. For someone listening to this who- so you know it’s the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast. So in thinking about personal branding, and then also thinking about the LGBTQ community, how has the LGBTQ piece influenced what you’re doing or not influenced what you’re doing?
Robbie Samuels: Well I wanted to work- when I moved to Boston in 2002 from New York, I wanted to work for a mission driven progressive organization that hosted multiple annual events. And I did a lot of contract work in my first couple years in Boston working at a number of different LGBT and HIV/AIDS healthcare organizations before I ended up at GLAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, formerly Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders based in Boston. And I think that the strategic volunteering that I did to get those first few jobs was really important. Volunteering for the health organizations doing outreach, volunteering at the AIDS walk, and this was all before I actually moved to Boston. I was coming every other weekend to do some sort of volunteer effort. So I think strategic volunteering was important, and then here I had this job where I was working at an LGBT mission driven organization, and I did that for a decade so I didn’t feel like I needed to focus the rest of my life within that sphere. But for me I guess the way it influences me is that I’m an out trans man who is out online, I’m out when I do my trainings I talk about it, I talk about it in the context of feeling like a unicorn, and that we all know what it feels like to be a unicorn. You know like, ‘Wow I didn’t know unicorns existed. Can I ask you lots of questions? Hey what’s it like to-‘ and there’s a downside to being unicorn, to being sort of put under that spotlight, and that we don’t want to do that to other people when we meet them. We want to avoid questions that are actually about something that someone can’t choose. Like height, or skin color, or hair texture. But we want to more focus on things that people do choose, like their funky sunglasses, or the scarf they’re wearing, et cetera. And so I do talk about it and I feel like my activism around LGBT, queer, trans politics has actually been to being an out professional, and to be out as a person who’s organizing a cross-issue progressive community movement in Boston so that it wasn’t like a singular focused issue-based organization when I started Socializing for Justice, but it was this like multi-faceted space that was extremely welcoming to queer and trans people, but it wasn’t exclusively about queer and trans people. And we host an annual dating while progressive event on Valentine’s Day and we use the exact same networking tags that we’ve used at our other major events. One says, ‘Ask me about,’ and the other says, ‘I’m looking for.’
Jenn T Grace: I love it.
Robbie Samuels: There’s no like check these different boxes if you’re this and this, and if you’re looking for this and this. It’s like you throw a bunch of people in a room and they meet people, and they find connections, and they find friendships, and I love that like we’re co-hosted by a number of progressive organizations including the Queer Poly Women Organization, and I just think like part of my activism is creating these spaces that allow so many different kinds of identities to be present. Because for most of us, most of the time when we’re out in the world, we’re only really able to be seen for one of our identities, and we’re not able to really bring forward the complexity of who we are. So I want to create spaces where we can bring more of our full selves and share that, because that’s actually how I think we form really strong connections.
Jenn T Grace: And in that vein I guess then, that’s really being authentic. It’s being authentic to you, it’s being authentic to your brand, and because it’s authentic I feel like that’s probably why you’re seeing the success you’re seeing because they get what they get. Like you are who you are, you’re not trying to adapt or modify for different audiences, you’re just kind of all in everywhere. Is that a fair statement?
Robbie Samuels: Yeah I think about this also, about what do I post on Facebook? And my Facebook is public so you don’t have to be friends- I don’t know all my friends anyway is my thought pattern, so I thought why close it to friends only? So I get involved in some political conversations, I get involved in some issue conversations online, and for me I’m of the vein if you’re not going to work with me because of my points of view, then that’s okay.
Jenn T Grace: Amen to that.
Robbie Samuels: I don’t want to like twist myself into a pretzel just because that’s the pretzel you were looking for, if that’s not how I’m feeling. And so it calls to me some people, and I’m sure that it repels other people, but it makes it a lot easier though to sort of choose who you want to work with because they’re choosing to work with you.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. I always say that going by the Professional Lesbian is such a gift because it weeds out people that would not resonate with me to begin with. So I don’t ever have to worry when I get on a sales call, or a potential client call, and they are the ones who requested, I know that that’s not going to be an issue and that’s not going to be a barrier. And mind you half the time they are- more than half the time they’re hiring me for something LGBT-specific, so one would imagine that wouldn’t be the case. But for the times where I’m working with an ally helping them write a book for example, knowing that I go by Professional Lesbian, they know automatically that it’s going to be a safe and welcoming environment for them and whatever identity they may be bringing to the table that may not actually be part of the LGBT community, but they have something that’s making them fearful. So it gives people some kind of sense of comfort if you will.
So I think that’s great because it’s really a matter of not wanting to work with people who are disingenuine, right? Like who wants to- we have our own businesses for a reason and it’s not to be working with people that we don’t like, which is what happens when you’re working for someone else. So let’s see, so we have probably about five minutes to go here. So for someone listening to this who isn’t yet where you are, or yet where I am in terms of developing their brand, what would be the one action step you think that they could take today, right now, as soon as they’re done listening to this they could go do X. What do you think that might be to get them at least thinking or headed in the right direction to help really kind of build their personal brand?
Robbie Samuels: Well I think having some clarity about what you’d want that personal brand to be is important. I was following on Twitter a very well-known woman who works in the intersection of technology, and nonprofit, and mission driven organizations, and every couple of tweets was a cat video, or something like that. And she one day sort of sent out a note and asked people for their thoughts and whether she should separate her Twitter accounts so that her sort of tech, and nonprofit, and mission drive content was separate from her cat jokes content. And the overwhelming response was yes. And so she did that, and so some people follow both, and some chose one or the other. And I thought that was such a good example of being aware of the fact that you have an audience, and as you build that audience they’re gravitating to you because of something that you’re sharing to the world, but that sometimes the content you’re sharing doesn’t resonate with everybody. And so starting to be a little more focused or create separate channels for interests that are very varied and not having enough overlap. So I think that’s also true on my Facebook page, for instance there’s a wide array of what I talk about, but it’s within a very progressive frame. You know? I also don’t write hateful things, I don’t write anti things, I don’t allow people to post anti messages. You can write anything for anyone that you want to talk about, but you can’t write nasty things.
Jenn T Grace: It has to be respectful.
Robbie Samuels: It has to be respectful. I’d rather everyone talk about what they’re for in the world, and so many of us are framing our thoughts and our positions based on what we’re against. So I think getting some clarity about what is it that you want people to see you for, and then curating what you put out in the world more as you go forward. Start to be a little more curated about what you share publicly, and maybe creating separate channels that have different sort of foci, that’s what it is that you are feeling very divergent in what your interests are. People will then start to see what you’re talking about and either gravitate towards it or not; that will be how you create an audience. Because I’ve read about this needing to have 1,000 fans, that’s it. If you had 1,000 people who were truly committed to the work that you’re doing, and would buy anything you sold them just because you’re offering it to the world, then you’re fine, you’ve made it, that is success. No matter what you do, you’ll be successful. But it’s hard to find those 1,000 devoted fans if your content is a little bit all over the place, because you don’t have 1,000 fans in one topic, you have 1,000 fans for three different topics, and that’s not 1,000, that’s a third.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah that is such good, good information. I feel like we could talk for hours just on this- kind of go down a rabbit hole here. But just thinking about even my content, you would think that LGBT marketing, communications, business would be specific enough, but even with me it’s not specific enough. I have- it’s very broad, and there’s a lot of different people who come to it for very different reasons. So even what you’re saying in terms of kind of segmenting things out, even I run into that and you would think that my niche is niche enough, but it’s far from. And I think that most people actually have that type of challenge where they think that they’re talking about technology, but really when we break down technology just because somebody wants to hear about this type of technology, by no means means that everyone wants to hear about it. So that is definitely a long process I think for people to fully kind of wrap their head around, but to your point, if they’re mindful of that from the onset then that’s a really good starting point. So as we wrap up, do you have anything that you’re working on, and the listeners will be hearing this on July 21st; so is there anything that is on your radar right now that you want to share with the audience, explain to them how to get in touch with you, and whatever means or fashion that might be?
Robbie Samuels: So I am working on launching a podcast called On the Schmooze where I interview leaders from different sectors and ask them questions about what does leadership mean to them, how do they build their professional networks and stay in touch with people they’ve met across their career, what does work life balance look like? And I had the good fortune of interviewing about ten people prior to my son being born, and I’m now finally re-focusing my energy and effort to launching that this summer. So about the time that this comes out, I will be either having launched it or will have a timetable to be launching it shortly after, and that’s www.OnTheSchomooze.com and it’s also on my website, www.RobbieSamuels.com which is the best way to reach me. I post blog posts and great content that I just give away. I think it’s important to share a lot of value up front, so I have a lot of really great, very practical, implement them today kind of tips on my website that if you’re interested in sort of being more thoughtful and strategic rather than wasting your time networking and just randomly collecting business cards; if you want to be more strategic in how you build relationships, I have a lot of great resources and content on my website to help you sort of do that and be more thoughtful in the future.
Jenn T Grace: Awesome, thank you so much for being a guest, I really appreciate it. And for anyone listening, I highly recommend checking out Robbie’s website, and of course getting in touch and listening, especially as podcast listeners, go check out his because I’m certain it’s going to be awesome. So thank you so much and perhaps I’ll have you on as a guest a second time and we can go into some more depth on some of the things we covered today.
Robbie Samuels: That’d be great Jenn, I’d appreciate it.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. If there are any links from today’s show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.