Michael Roderick is a referability expert and the founder of a consulting company called Small Pond Enterprises. Through his workshops, classes, and events, Roderick supports solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs who are looking to accelerate the success of their businesses. He sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss why it’s not enough to think about your “why” and what you should focus on instead.
Jessica Abo: Michael, what is a referability expert, and can you tell us about the work you do at Small Pond Enterprises?
A referability expert is somebody who focuses on the idea of what people will say about you when you’re not in the room. How are they going to make it so that your content and your ideas are shared without you even needing to be there? And the work that I do at Small Pond Enterprises is to help thoughtful givers become thought leaders. Usually, the people who are very good at doing the work for their clients are the ones who deprioritize the packaging of their own intellectual property. So I help them develop those big ideas, those concepts, and build that out so that other people will be able to talk about them when they’re not there.
Why do you think the “why” is such a popular idea and why do you think that it’s not the best idea for entrepreneurs to focus on?
The reason why the “why” appeals to so many people is because it is about you. You get to have the emotional component of sharing your why, why you’re doing this thing, sharing your passion, your excitement, but unfortunately, it is entirely focused on you. It is the “you show.” So the thing is, your client, unfortunately, does not care about that. Your client cares about themselves. They care about what’s in it for me, they want to know what is the transformation that you’re going to provide for me. So if you’re spending all of your time talking about your why and yourself, it actually turns off your client because your client is listening to how are you going to help me.
If it’s not about the why, what is it all about?
It’s about the I.F. It’s about the Innovative Framework. It’s about taking the idea and making it so, so easy for other people to share it, and really breaking it down so that your audience is thinking differently. They are seeing your model, your frame of thinking, your way of doing things, and then they want to go and they want to share that with other people. That’s where we should be focusing.
What do you mean when you say there’s a big I.F. and a little I.F.?
The big I.F. is the larger Innovative Framework that you have, and usually, that is your first introduction to the audience. Because most people are not going to be willing to get into the weeds with you about your way of thinking if you don’t give them a big idea to start with. You always need an access point. So your big I.F. is you challenging a dominant narrative. It’s you saying this is the way that everybody else is saying things should be done and I disagree and here’s why. And that’s what gets them to lean in, and they say, ‘Oh, well, if that is the case, then tell me more about how that works.’ And that’s when you go to the little I.F. because those small Innovative Frameworks, those very simple ways that you use to show your idea, that’s what’s going to basically help them see how that big idea connects. That’s what’s going to give them the tools to execute the work that they’re doing. That’s when you get out the pen and the paper and you draw the graph. That’s when you get out the metaphor. That’s when you show them the three phases. All of those different elements, but you’ve got to start with that big I.F. You’ve got to start with that aspect of I am challenging this dominant narrative just to get people to be willing to pay attention.
So for people who are wondering about the benefits of having an I.F., and the importance of having an I.F., why are these frameworks such a big deal?
Basically, when people are out there, trying to decide who they are going to hire, who they are going to work with, they’re looking for somebody who has taken the time to define how they’re actually going to work. And in much the same way that if you went to a store, even though the Duane Reade version of Coke is the exact same version of Coca-Cola, you’re going to buy Coca-Cola because it’s branded. They’ve taken the time to create an experience, a way to think about it, and for coaches, consultants, and subject matter experts, it’s the same thing. You could have the best expertise in the world, but if people don’t have a way to package that and sort of referring back to you and think of you as the person who created that method or you as the person who came up with that concept, you’re just going to be in a line of other subject matter experts who are trying to sell their services.
How can people go about building these frameworks? What are some of your tips?
One of the best things is to find other people who are also working on their intellectual property because you yourself are far too close to your ideas. So you’re going to think something’s really interesting or you’re going to think something’s really powerful, and you’re going to go out there and try to sell that thing and it may not land, it may not make sense, it may confuse people. But if you get around others who can see what it is that you’re talking about and basically say to you and be honest like, ‘That’s confusing to me. I don’t understand that. That metaphor is weird.’ All of those different types of things, you’re going to be so much better off. You’re going to be able to refine the stuff so much better and you’re going to be able to understand it. But the bonus part about that as well is if somebody’s asking you all of those questions and helping you refine that process, now they understand your business even better so they’re going to be even better when it comes to referring new business because they understand it from the inside out.
You run a class several times a year to help people with their frameworks and they get to do this with other entrepreneurs in real time but could you walk us through how these classes actually work?
The way that the classes work is they’re like a writer’s room of thought leadership, where you get in the room and at the same time, you’re really sharing your ideas with everybody. They’re giving you feedback and you’re working in the classes themselves on the concept. You’re actually doing the work there, and you get that opportunity to really get the work done as opposed to just learning about something and then say, ‘Okay, well, I’m going to hopefully get to it someday.’