by Julia Ivy, PhD, author of “Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market: Using the Be-edge Method for Consulting Cases and Capstone Projects“
Sales of self-help books have nearly doubled since 2013, with sales reaching $18.6 million in 2019. Today, a broad range of authors can find an audience in this fast-growing sector. But marketing a self-help book on a topic beyond health and wellness can be tricky.
Like many self-help authors, I found the most effective and efficient way of doing something important and came to believe other people could benefit from learning about it. Over the past several years, in my job as a professor of strategy and leadership at Northeastern University, I developed a personal strategy for employability and incorporated it into my work with graduating students and career changers. From the multitude of thank you notes I received from former students, I discovered the assignment had become one of the most valuable investments students felt they’d made. The strategy allowed them to advance their “boutique employability” – my term for a narrowly defined job search in which individuals craft a space for themselves based on their unique life experiences, capabilities and interests.
Inspired by such outcomes and equipped with six years of having tested and refined my method, I came up with a multistep how-to instrument that graduates and career changers can use to advance their boutique employability. I branded it the BE-EDGE Method.
From using this approach repeatedly in my teaching and consulting work, I’ve acquired mounds of evidence to show that my instructions, templates and examples really get results. I began to think that my method could make the lives of students, capstone course professors, career advisors and recruiters a lot easier. So I assembled them all into a book titled “Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market: Using the Be-edge Method for Consulting Cases and Capstone Projects“. I was certain that it would be a success.
As it turns out, this kind of specialty self-help manual isn’t an easy genre for book publishers and publicists to promote. Being a firm believer in the value of self-reflection and the power of self-help, I decided to take a step back, combine my career strategist expertise with my book author experience, and think about the marketable value of my book in new ways.
I realized that when I was immersed in writing my book, all my thoughts were focused on the method and how to lay it out for the reader in a straightforward step-by-step program. This was understandable, as I’d devoted so much of my life to honing my trademark BE-EDGE steps. But, after the book came out, I found that my preoccupation with the method was getting in the way of my ability to talk about what my book had to offer its target audience.
I decided to expand the message behind the method and start by talking about the circumstances that gave rise to my book and the philosophy behind my overarching concept of boutique employability. And people began to listen.
I stopped talking about the contents and started talking about the idea behind my book, the value this approach provides, and the people I envisioned that it could serve. I also began to present the book as a career resource designed for a particular group of people who have a particular need.
While this broader angle may seem obvious, we writers often have the opposite tendency — we become attached to the details of our invention and get ahead of ourselves by talking about specific content before introducing potential readers to the general problem we set out to solve in the first place.
Lessons I learned from my experience:
1. Present the idea as a marketable product.
My core idea was that people can develop a personal strategy for enhancing their boutique employability in the same way a retail boutique develops a niche strategy. Synthesizing this idea into something that I could offer to others, I arrived at a clear definition of my product. My marketable product was “a personal strategy for boutique employability.”
Here we come to the question, “So what?” Who and why would care about this product?
2. Define and clarify who the product will best serve.
My product, “a personal strategy for boutique employability,” best serves multidimensional (i.e., multipotential) job seekers who often have a hard time fitting into, or feeling fulfilled by, traditional job classifications. Most have a sense of the broad contours of a professional situation that would fit their unique set of abilities and aspirations, but few know how to craft such a space for themselves within an organization. People who fall into this category include:
– Millennials who need to find their space in the market upon graduating from college or changing careers;
– Accomplished professionals at the “What’s next?” stage of life who don’t want to continue what they did before and want to change careers. At the same time, they want to utilize their accumulated wealth of professional expertise instead of entirely starting over. These accomplished professionals include people like midlife career changers, recent retirees, athletes and veterans.
After narrowly defined the categories of people who might benefit from my BE-EDGE strategy and understanding the kinds of challenges they face, I next needed to explore why they would value my work.
3. Outline the benefits the product offers to the people for whom you wrote the book.
My personal strategy for boutique employability enables multidimensional job seekers to shape their own space in the job market. While, for the most part, my potential readers have a general idea of the kind of work future to which they aspire, they often don’t know how to get from here to there. The concept of boutique employability provides clarity by giving a precise name to the type of employment this target group can only vaguely conceive. The “personal strategy” aspect of the product equips them with a means for identifying and then gaining entry into the “boutique.”
Those who invest in their boutique employability won’t bother to pursue any traditional, big box store-type pool of applicants. Instead, they can determine for themselves, with precision, the organization(s) best suited to their unique profiles.
Finally, I must answer the question: “How do they make it happen?” Only now do I begin to talk about the content of the book.
4. Present the book as a guide or an instrument.
In my case, I’ve now come to the point where my audience is ready to hear how, using the instrument in my book, the multidimensional job seeker can develop rapport with a key player inside a targeted organization, create an opportunity to gain that person’s trust, generate value for the organization and, ultimately, convert their personal, social and professional capital into the job of their dreams.
My BE-EDGE method guides them in elucidating the core of their multidimensional profile and connecting this core to a company of their choice through consultant case writing. The book makes this happen in four E-D-G-E steps that lead to BE: Boutique Employability.
5. Share proof of the effectiveness of your approach.
You might not need it, but it’s a good idea to any proof on hand. Providing proof of its effectiveness is a sure way to sell your product. I have more than 600 college graduates and other professional job seekers who have utilized my method and developed 150-plus consulting cases for real-life organizations from 22 countries. I have testimonials stating how the personal strategies they developed helped them craft their edge and successfully manage their careers. Numbers works best, but any kind of evidence you can lay out to show the proven success of your product will convince your audience of its concrete value.
6. Combine these points into a pitch.
When you bring these points together, you have the outline of a coherent marketing pitch. Be sure not to start with the material inside the book, but the situation that you witnessed or experienced that inspired to write it. Present your idea as a product that a particular group of people will appreciate because it provides a real-life solution for a real-life problem.
In my example, the pitch involves:
– I strongly believe that my product of “A Personal Strategy for Boutique Employability” will be highly marketable and appreciated by readers (the product).
– Millennials and career-changing accomplished professionals are multidimensional in their skillsets and interests and often cannot or do not want to fit themselves into a one-dimensional job situation (the target audience).
– They need to be able to formulate a personal strategy for boutique employability and follow it to craft their edge in the market, capitalizing on their unique set of acquired skills (the benefit).
– The BE-EDGE method in my book provides a four-step guide, complete with instructions, examples and templates, to help readers get from where they are in their professional lives to where they genuinely want to be (the book).
– And, by the way, 600-plus of my former students and clients have already used the method and provided many testimonials and completed cases that prove how well the method works.
Your pitch template.
1. I believe that the __________ (the product or service you offer) will be highly marketable because it will lead
2. __________ (the group of people that would buy your group), who face the challenge of __________ (the problem that your book addresses),
3. to solve the problem by achieving __________ (the solution your book offers).
4. These readers stand to benefit greatly by using __________ (title of your book) to guide them in finding a solution to the problem, revealing tangible outcomes at each stage of the process.
5. And, by the way, I have __________ (proof that your method works).
When authors of self-help books reach the marketing stage, we must communicate as business owners who have a new product to roll out. We must share how it targets a specific group of people who stand to benefit from what we have to offer. By sharing the circumstances that led us to write our books and describing the real-life situations our work is designed to improve, we will inspire more prospective readers to want to look inside.
Julia Ivy, PhD Psych, PhD Mgmt, is a strategy and international business executive professor and faculty director at Northeastern University. In addition to her academic work, she acts as an executive coach for those facing the “What’s next?” challenge. Her new book is “Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market: Using the Be-edge Method for Consulting Cases and Capstone Projects” (Emerald Publishing, Oct. 7, 2019). Learn more at be-edge.com.