Posted on February 6 in Communication Tools

Being a “Best-Kept Secret” is Nothing of Which to be Proud

Whether you’re a business or a business-of-one, don’t just fade into the background! Actively market yourself against the competition!


Just last week I was catching up on my business reading. My wondering eyes (and yes, they were wondering, “WHYYY?”) beheld yet another company touting the fact that they were the “best kept secret” in their industry.

Being a best-kept secret is not an asset, whether you’re a company, a service or a person! Especially a person, who needs to stand out in an army of people who are just as competent, hardworking and overall fabulous as you.

I’ve had several clients and worked for several companies who considered themselves “best-kept secrets.” But they hired me because I would change that, not because I’d keep folks in the dark. In most cases, the companies and their products filled a niche, solved a problem, or provided a great benefit. All good reasons not just to believe, but to promote the company or person.

So why do some companies or people feel fine being a “best kept secret”?

  • They already own that niche or solution gap
  • They can’t or don’t articulate why they’re different or special
  • They don’t want to invest the time and money to promote themselves or their product – being a “name brand” costs money and effort

That last point wraps up the first two. Some businesses sell to a narrow clientele, or are the only player in a certain space. So why spend the time or money on promotion? Let me clarify, with bleach.

Bleach owned the whitening business for eons. That’s what you used when you wanted to get things cleaner or kill germs (and pretty much everything else it touched). No need to advertise because that’s all there was, and it was so ubiquitous you didn’t need to ask which brand, because it was all the same.

Then oxygen-powered cleaners arrived on the market in the late 1990s and gobbled up marketshare like ketchup stains because they were equally good or better at cleaning, more economical, and arguably less harmful to the environment.

But more importantly, in the 1990s those companies used every tool they had to promote the HECK out of their products. Well-known pitchmen; two-for-one deals; coupons; millions spent on advertising, blogger outreach and social media campaigns; brand extensions—they did it all, it worked, and bleach wound up on the discount shelf.

(If you’re a person, an unattended, never-expanding skillset can be compared to bleach here.)

Yes, the biggest bleach company finally got on the bandwagon with similar products and brand extensions and caught up, but they lost a lot in the meantime, both in income and in brand equity. Similarly, you can up your skillset, but it’s unlikely you’ll catch up to the experts who entered the market behind you because they entered it knowing more than you, and continue to learn new skills that will keep them ahead of you.

Back to best kept secrets. How does being one serve you or your potential customers? On a personal level what are you gaining and, more importantly, how much are you losing in terms of promotions or opportunities because YOU are a best-kept secret?

Tips for not being bleached into insignificance:

  • Learn something new. If you’ve started noticing a lot of online chatter about an app, a new skillset or area of emerging interest, talk to or get introduced to someone who knows about it. Then ask if you can pick their brain. Learning is life-long, and you, like bleach, need to see where the future lies and be waiting there to meet it.
  • Volunteer. Whether it’s a business association or a personal cause, volunteering not only gives you something to be proud of and talk about, it offers more conversation options, opens your network and often lets you learn skills you otherwise might not learn. Plus, it makes you awesome.
  • Network, network, network. I know you know this. And I know you probably hate it. It’s not so bad when you can bring a wingman or wingwoman, because then you don’t hover by the cheese and crackers.

If you don’t have a companion, promise yourself you’ll try to strike up a conversation with at least three people. Here’s something I sometimes do when I’m by myself at an event: I stand by the door and say “Hi! I’m Margaret Lisi—so good to meet you!” when singles walk in. They almost always think I’m on the committee or a member of the host group, and start talking. I can clarify later that I’m not.

  • Listen to hear. When someone IS talking, don’t look around. Hear what they’re saying to you. Not only because it’s polite, it fuels conversation and could lead to meeting others in the room.
  • Ask questions. “How long have you been working in the industry?” “How did you get to this point in your career?” “What specifically is it you like about your job?” “You were a circus performer and now you’re a CFO?! Tell me about THAT journey!” Make them feel fascinating and, chances are, you’ll BE fascinated… and make a great contact in the meantime.
  • Offer a coupon. Ask people you really hit it off with if they’d like to get together for coffee or lunch. That’s your coupon (You always buy if you’re the asker). Have some questions about the industry or company that person works in. You’ll learn a lot, and those conversations are how you build a solid network.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. If your network isn’t one that will move you to the next level in your career (higher or in another industry, for example), ask for introductions and repay those introductions with your own introductions or other offers of reciprocity. No one likes feeling used, and senior-level people don’t have time to waste on takers. For that matter, neither do you.
  • Share what you’ve learned. Use social media to be a thought leader around the subject. Pay the lessons forward and be a networking resource for others. In other words, toot your horn! Advertise yourself as a benefit to know!

The upshot? Be absolutely SURE you’re the worst-kept secret on the planet about your subject, skills, passions and aspirations. That’s where the value and opportunities lie for you and those who get to know you, so you’re always a premium investment, not a bargain-basement afterthought.

What is your No. 1 tip for not being generic? Share it with me!


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