Daymond John, founder of FUBU and co-host of ABC-TV's Shark Tank. I won't pretend that we did more than exchange plesantries and take a few photos before his presentation, but in-person he's certainly more toned down that his on-camera persona. Couldn't help but notice the gorgeous pair of diamond earrings he was sporting. A little bling is always a good thing!
John gave a 40-minute talk to our students at Babson College about their business ventures. While he talked about being a successful entrepreneur, I was thinking about how I, as a poet, can take a few of these lessons and use them in the po-biz.
I have long said that poets and entrepreneurs are cut from the same cloth: we are self-starters, we work long hours alone to develop our vision, we can take an idea and make it a reality (or a poem), and we know there are no guarantees about earning any money. In a nutshell, we are driven. Yet, the payoff--and potential for risk--is much greater for a enterpreneur. And that's where the roads diverge.
As I was tweeting a few nuggets from the session, here are a few "shark" lessons I think apply to poetry.
1. It's all about sales. In business, you have to have a product to sell, and enough people willing to buy it. In terms of poetry and book publication, your poems have to be good enough that people want to read them. Talent is not enough in the Digital Age. You have to build an audience in-person and online through readings, in journals/web zines, and with an online presence through social media, videos, networking, etc.
It's almost too much to manage, but you find what mix of all of these things works for you.
2. Love what you do is the last thing I expected to hear from a business leader beacuse it's so basic, but so true. If you're going to spend countless hours pursuing your craft, you really have to love it. You love it and in return you get a big emotional payoff ( 'cause the money just ain't there).
3. Know your brand. I know poets don't like to think of themselves as a brand, but we are. As soon as you take the mike, you have about 30 seconds to win over a crowd. Are you reading what the crowd wants to hear, or reading something you picked out earlier without getting a feel for the venue or the audience. (Are you reading your sex poems at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Is that right for this audience?) What about your appearance? Are you bringing your best self to the reading? Beyond good poetry, these are the subtle distinguishing factors that make a difference at the point of sale.
And I thought this was key: if you had to sum up your brand--or in this case, your writing--in three to five words, what would they be? In business, this is your rocket pitch/elevator pitch. As John says, your "brand" is an extension of you. Take FUBU as an example: "For Us By Us." Whatever words you choose, that's your mission statement.
So what's my mission statement?
I write poetry that celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary.