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The Smartest Man In Business Today

We all have people whose every word we follow, hanging on to each and ever utterance out of our personal gurus’ mouths as though they were . . . well . . . gurus.

Much to my surprise, even I have a few followers who look to me like a seer of some sort. I’ve never been comfortable with that; I remember when I was doing TV and radio as The Computer Answer Guy and the occasional fan would contact me gushing compliments my reaction usually ran along the lines of mumbling “it’s just what I do . . . ”

Ladies, and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce my personal business change guru. And despite his status being on my mind, you might never have heard of him.

Copyblogger Brian Clark -- Business Change Guru

Brian Clark is a recovering attorney who saw the light a few years ago and pivoted into marketing. No, there’s no natural connection there, except that lawyers sell ideas all day every day and the good ones are also good with words.

I’ve watched Brian speak a few times. I’ve listened to him being interviewed. He sounds nothing like an attorney or a marketing person—ever. Brian Clark, the more-well-known-every-day Copyblogger, feels like as regular a guy as you’ve ever come across.

Here’s why I’m telling you about this:

As many times as I’ve invoked the names and approaches of other so-called “gurus”, in most cases I’ve been picking in them. Sure, I think Dilbert’s Scott Adams is just plain smart. Chris Brogan, a guy I’ve picked on in the past but recently have been saying nice things about, is getting better even as his fifteen minutes feel as though they’re drawing to a close, and I have nothing but nice things to say about Brogan’s writing partner Julien Smith. But Gary Vaynerchuk misses the mark on most things that don’t involve self-promotion, Fred Wilson is an amazing venture capitalist but has a story that plays too narrowly to mean much to “the real world”, Chris Pirillo—a guy whose Lockergnome persona I once owned, by the way—means nothing outside the world of pure geekdom, and Seth Godin, the most brilliant marketing mind this side of Steve Jobs, is just that; he’s a pure marketer.

Clark is different.

Brian Clark is quietly putting together an empire, based on a phrase that’s beginning to be overused to the point of confusion. The Copyblogger is all about content marketing, which, credit where it’s due, is snazzier sounding and easier to explain in a fifteen-second elevator pitch than long-tail marketing.

This is just one small reason Brian Clark is Brian Clark and Jeff Yablon is gushing about him.

In a past business life, I was one of two owners (along with Ken Rutkowski, speaking of guru types) of a media company that produced a bunch of technology-related content. We were a bit ahead of our time, frankly, and because of that a deal I negotiated with Dish Network to put our 24-hour technology television channel on their satellite television network never went anywhere.

That content was created by a team of contributors from across the globe, using a combination of old-school and new media ideas that yielded content we could repurpose for broadcast or Internet distribution and sell advertising into regardless of the medium. And our content contributors were unpaid; their compensation came in the form of the exposure that being associated with us provided them.

Yesterday, Brian Clark tweeted this. The title, “Don’t Be a Digital Sharecropper”, caught my attention, and I followed it, intending to comment. I landed on a piece that Brian’s business partner Sonia Simone wrote almost a year ago. It’s a great piece and I recommend it highly.

And ironically, it says that the business model Brian and Sonia are following at Copyblogger is one that isn’t actually very good for anyone except the owners of Copyblogger. It’s the same business model Rutkowski and I were using back in 1997; get people to do things under your umbrella.

But Brian doesn’t say that, exactly. What he says is that you need to own your own umbrella and put everything you own under it. This is great advice. It speaks to my consternation with advertisers redirecting people to their Facebook pages instead of their own web sites, or setting up a blog at Weebly or on WordPress.com where it’s “free” instead of on your own server where it will cost—if you really need to cut back and do just a bit of research in pursuit of that—maybe $50 per year.

What I wanted to comment on was that irony, though. Brian Clark is telling people that they should write for Copyblogger for nothing more than the (potentially huge) traffic that Copyblogger can send them, even while saying, believing, and owning the truth that doing anything anywhere other than under your own umbrella is a fool’s game. “Don’t be a digital sharecropper”? Cool.  “Don’t be a Digital Sharecropper unless I’m the farming overlord”? Brilliant.

And here’s the thing: for most people trying to garner attention, writing for Copyblogger would be a great, great play. Brian Clark is showing how exceptions prove rules. And he is the exception, and is openly encouraging you to break the rules he’s given you. Because when you do that, you’ll benefit, and if you do it with him, he’ll benefit even more.

If you read me regularly you’re expecting a pivot out of me right about here. I’m either going to change the tone of this piece and start picking on Brian Clark or his methods, or I’m going to say something self-promotional, right?

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Stop waiting; I got nothin’.

Brian Clark is a business change master, and I’m heading into my weekend knowing that I’ve said so openly.

Now, you go enjoy yours . . . right after you take a look at your umbrella.

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