On April 19, Donald Trump won every county in the New York state Republican primary except for one: the one he lives in. This reminded me the biblical expression “You can never be a prophet in your own land”. The expression obviously rings true for Trump, it reminds me of my own business. Many entrepreneurs tell me they experience the same phenomenon.
After my book The Coach Approach won a business book of the year award at the New England Book Festival, the public relations department at the college where I teach recommended the local newspaper interview me for their success stories feature. They declined, saying “this wasn’t significant enough to warrant their coverage”. (A week later I was featured in Forbes Magazine.)
It wasn’t until four years later that my local paper covered my next book being adapted into a screenplay for a major motion picture. They proceeded to spell my name wrong on the front page. (Apparently John looks or sounds a lot like Bob.) I’m definitely not a prophet in my home town or state considering the fact that a majority of my clients are from out of state and only one is in my home town. It validates Will Rogers definition of an expert: “An expert is a man 50 miles from home with a briefcase.”
Nationally syndicated radio host Eric Reamer, shared with me that he experienced that same phenomenon in his previous career. For 18 years Reamer toured internationally as a professional magician and he found it easier to be the in demand expert in other states and countries than in his hometown of Sterling, Colorado. He attributes it to the fact that the people who have known you the longest have a far different perception of you than strangers. Reamer explained: “Your local audience remembers you when you were growing up, learning and cutting teeth. They remember you as the person doing the things people do before they get to the level of success that the world would consider expert status.”
In my previous career as a college coach, there exists a popular theory that “You need to win the recruiting battles in your own backyard.” Coaches in fertile recruiting areas talk about building a fence around their particular state to keep the best local talent home so to speak and not let opposing coaches recruit the best players out from under them.
I didn’t subscribe to that theory back then as a coach and I don’t now in the business world. Often times the toughest people to win over are the one’s right in your own back yard. What causes this phenomenon is the law of familiarity. The law of familiarity refers to the fact if you’re around anything long enough, you tend to take it for granted. It becomes normal and you tend to be less excited about it because it’s so familiar to you. That can refer to relationships, businesses, even workplace initiatives. Familiarity does breed fondness, but too much of it often breeds contempt.
This was reinforced for me by recruiting consultant Dan Tudor who stated that “You don’t have to win the battle for business in your own back yard first. The expression only holds true if you’ve got a big enough back yard so to speak, otherwise you need to pivot.”
Tudor elaborated that when you’re the local option you’ve already been defined by the audience in your immediate market. Similar to an actor being type cast, they’ve put you in a box and defined you in their mind. Accurate or not, your business gets stereotyped as well.
The Bottom Line: When you’re too familiar to your local audience you’re not going to be nearly as attractive as someone unfamiliar who is from outside the immediate area. This is why you often need to work from the outside in. In theory it makes no logical sense. You’re either talented or not, qualified or not and you can either deliver the goods or not. However, human beings are not logical or rational decision makers, we are emotional decision makers. So, instead of fighting to change someone’s perception, play your music for those who want to hear it. If that means working from the outside inward, then so be it.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/275066