I spoke to Bruce Kasanoff, who is a ghostwriter and LinkedIn Influencer, about how he went from being a Partner at a consulting firm to a ghostwriter, why he could never just be a ghostwriter, the importance of helping people, how he's built a large LinkedIn audience and his best career advice.
Bruce is the co-author with Amy Blaschka of I Am: Escape Distractions, Unlock Your Imagination & Unleash Your Potential, the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk and Never Tell People What You Do. His day job is serving as a social media ghostwriter for highly accomplished professionals, including CEOs and entrepreneurs, plus leading consultants, speakers, and authors. Earlier in his career, Bruce was an original partner of Peppers & Rogers Group, where he helped popularize the strategies of 1to1 marketing and personalization.
Dan Schawbel: How did you go from being a Partner at a consulting firm to a ghost writer? Why did you decide to make the change and what did you learn as a consultant that helped you become a better ghostwriter?
Bruce Kasanoff: Writing has always been part of my life; as an MBA student, I was the Features Editor of The Wharton Journal. As a consultant, I started one of the first email newsletters and grew our circulation from zero to over 70,000 in about a year. Consulting also taught me to focus on the client's goals, which easily translates to: focus on your readers' goals. Especially in business, too many people focus on what they want to promote, rather than on what will be helpful to others. After I went out on my own, I wrote my first book in 12 weeks, and when a ghostwriter fell apart three months before her deadline for a high profile client, a friend told the client that I was a very fast writer. The project was fascinating, so I accepted and delivered on time. Fast forward a few years and content marketing became a thing... others saw my ghostwriting credit and started asking for help. At first, I resisted, but then it occurred to me that writing for fascinating people might be a lot of fun. And it is.
Schawbel: As someone who has built a name, but is also a ghostwriter, when do you decide to put your name on a project or not?
Kasanoff: I could never just be a ghostwriter... I have too many ideas and interests. Instead, I established a simple rule: when writing for a client, I am 100% focused on my client's goals and needs; when writing for myself, I am 100% focused on my goals and needs, plus what interests my readers. So I pursue the subjects that grab my attention, and put my name on those pieces.
Schawbel: You wrote a recent post about helping people. Why do you think that you should immediately be thinking of helping others when you meet them and how has that affected your life?
Kasanoff: I have written numerous articles that suggest that every time you encounter another person, the first three words in your head should be "help this person". No other mindset will have such a profoundly positive impact not only on your life but also on how other people perceive you. It's the difference between aggravated because the overwhelmed barista is taking too long... versus being the person who gives her a giant smile and removes some stress from her side of the counter. People can sense whether you are out only for yourself, or genuinely interested in their needs, too. This mindset has enriched my life immensely. It creates a circle of people around me who are highly successful, but who also want to help others. You might call this a gritty group, those who are willing to work hard and persevere to reach goals that matter; their presence helps me to do the same.
Schawbel: You've build a considerable audience using LinkedIn as a platform. Why do you think the site is valuable, what impact has it had on your career and what do you think makes for an engaging post?
Kasanoff: I have two fundamental principles about social media. Number one is serve, don't sell. Share posts that actually help others, rather than those that brag about your accomplishments. Number two is to limit each post to one message, and no more. Every reader should be able to state what your message was. The vast majority of social media posts violate one or both of these principles. LinkedIn has become an incredibly rich and rewarding community. It's grown from a "talk at you" site with a few of us writing for millions to a true community, where millions interact actively. For the most part, it is also a highly respectful community, which is all too rare on the web today. My theory is that people always have in the back of their mind they might need LinkedIn to help them find a job, so they keep everything civil. One last point about LinkedIn: it is a place where lightning can strike, in a very good way. Posts and articles can go viral, and that will never happen when all you do is write on your own blog.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
- Tell yourself better stories about your capabilities, potential, and future. The stories you tell yourself are like software for your brain, and most people tell themselves things like "I am... overworked and under-appreciated." That sort of programming is negative and destructive. Amy Blaschka and I just wrote a book called I Am to help people tell themselves much better stories.
- Help other people. Do it every day. No other strategy will have a more positive impact on your career.
- Listen more than you talk. It's a bit of a cliche, but it's also the most important skill I use.