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Introduction

My eight-year old daughter, Misha, wants to be a YouTuber when she grows up. That probably comes as no surprise—many young kids find out what their parents do and decide that’s their ambition, too (in addition to becoming a firefighter and zoo keeper). My daughter sees me using online platforms to talk to people and build businesses, and she knows how much I love it. Of course she thinks she wants to do what I do.

What might be more surprising is that if you ask other school-age children what they want to be when they grow up, many will reply that they, too, want to be YouTubers.

Personal branding may not be an elementary school Career Day staple yet, but kids today know that making videos on YouTube, posting on Instagram, tweeting 280 characters, and snapping on Snapchat is a valid career path and that for some it can even bring fame and fortune. They dream of creating a popular online presence the way kids used to dream of becoming Hollywood stars. Unfortunately, unless they’re entrepreneurs themselves or deeply in the know, most parents will respond to this career aspiration with, “Huh?” or worse, narrow-minded cynicism: “That’s not a real job.” Even the few who smile uncomprehendingly and offer a mild, “Great, honey! Go for it!” will likely secretly shake their heads at the sweet naïveté of youth.

It’s so frustrating to me.

Obviously the first answers suck any way you look at them, but all of these responses reveal a total lack of understanding about what kind of world we live in. It’s the kind where an eleven-year-old kid and his dad can become millionaires by creating a YouTube channel where they share online videos of themselves cutting things in half.

I knew this was the way things were going to go. For someone like me with a tendency to make over-the-top pronouncements, it’s ironic that one of the most prescient things I’ve ever uttered may also have been the biggest understatement of my life:

My story is about to become a lot less unusual.

I first made it when Misha was just a newborn, in the introduction to my first business book, Crush It! I was recounting how I had used the Internet to develop a personal brand and grow my $4 million family business, Shopper’s Discount Liquors, into a $60 million business. My strategy was simple and outrageous for the time: I spoke directly to potential customers through a bare-bones video blog and developed relationships with them on Twitter and Facebook, inviting a direct one-on-one engagement that had previously existed only between merchants and customers in the tight-knit small communities and neighborhoods of the last century. By the time I wrote the book in 2009, I had branched out from my first passion—wine and sales—to my all-encompassing one—building businesses. I was traveling the world spreading the word to anyone who would listen that the platforms most companies and business leaders were still labeling as pointless time wasters—Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—were actually the future of all business. It seems impossible now, but the digital revolution was so young I actually had to define the platforms. Back then, I had to devote considerable time to explaining that Facebook was this online site where you could share articles and photographs and your feelings and thoughts, and Twitter was something like it except always public and limited to, at the time, 140 characters. Personal branding? No one knew what the hell I was talking about. It’s hard to believe it now, but not even a decade ago, the idea that more than a select few people could realistically build a business by using social media was considered far-fetched.

I now run a massive digital media company with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chattanooga, and London. I’m still engaging people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other platform that catches people’s attention. I’m still invited to speak all over the world, but I also reach millions of people through my business Q&A YouTube show, #AskGaryVee; my daily video documentary, DailyVee; my role on Planet of the Apps—an Apple reality-TV show about app development—and books like the one you’re holding in your hand. I’m working more than ever. I’m having more of an impact than ever. I’m happier than ever.

And I am anything but unusual.

Today there are millions of people just like me who have used the Internet to build personal brands, thriving businesses, and a life on their own terms. Those who are truly crushing it have grasped the brass ring of grown-up-hood—building a lucrative business around something they love that enables them to do what they want every day. But while in 2009 that “something” might have been homemade preserves or custom tree houses, today it could also include being a mom, being stylish, or having an unorthodox world view. In other words, you can use your personal brand—who you are—to market your business, or your personal brand can actually be the business. Socialites, celebrity progeny, and reality-TV stars have been doing it for years. Now it’s everyone else’s turn to learn how to get paid to do something they were going to do for free anyway.

A lot has changed since I wrote Crush It!, but surprisingly, a lot hasn’t. Anyone who follows me regularly knows she can fast-forward through the first ten minutes of my keynote speeches, because I’m just going to repeat the facts of my life and my opinion of the world in pretty much the exact same way that I have been for almost a decade. Once those ten minutes are up, though, you never know. And that’s what I’m going to share in this book—the part of the keynote that changes every six to nine months because that’s how frequently the platforms evolve. I want you to learn the most up-to-date information on how to best leverage Internet platforms to create a powerful, lasting personal brand.

The biggest difference between my first book and the one you’re reading now is this: mine isn’t the only voice in this one. I want to introduce you to other entrepreneurs who have met with unbelievable success by following Crush It! principles to build their personal brands. Some are internationally well known, some are still climbing their way up. All of them are absolutely loving life. Though each is unique, I suspect you’ll be relieved and thrilled to see that they are not that different from you. How can I say that when I don’t know you? Because the secret to their success (and mine) had nothing to do with where they came from, whom they knew, where they went to school, or what field they were in. Rather, it had everything to do with their appreciation for the platforms at their disposal and their willingness to do whatever it took to make these social-media tools work to their utmost potential. And that, my friends, is something I can teach you to do, too.

What worked for me won’t work for you, however, and vice versa. That’s why self-awareness is so vital—you have to be true to yourself at all times. What I can offer you is a set of universal principles. We’ll dissect every current major platform so that all of you, from plumbers (your pillar should be Facebook; see Chapter 12) to park rangers (yours is YouTube; see Chapter 11), will know exactly which platform to use as your pillar content, and how to use the other platforms to amplify your personal brands. We’ll dissect the social platforms that dominate the business world today. I talked about some of these in Crush It!, but they have evolved, and there are now even better ways to navigate them. I’ll offer theoretical and tactical advice on how to become the biggest thing on old standbys like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram; younger upstarts like Musical.ly; audiocentric platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud, and iTunes; and newcomer Alexa Skills. Those who have been at this for a while will find useful the little-known nuances, innovative tips, and clever tweaks that have been proven to enhance more common tried-and-true strategies.

If you’ve been watching me closely for years and you think you know it all, please reconsider. I talk to thousands of people every year, and I hear the same questions over and over again. If so many still haven’t perfected their game, there’s a good chance you haven’t either. Today could be the day that you finally “get” that little nugget of info that’s going to help you pulverize whatever has been holding you back. Several of the people interviewed for this book said they read Crush It! multiple times. Entrepreneur and podcaster John Lee Dumas revisits it yearly. It’s only 142 pages long, not so dense that he couldn’t figure out the gist in an hour or so, and yet Dumas admits that he listened to the audiobook three times before he finally understood what I meant about personal branding. That eureka moment led him to found Entrepreneurs on Fire, his daily podcast interviewing the country’s most inspiring and innovative entrepreneurs. Today his show is one of the top-ranked business podcasts on iTunes, grossing around $200,000 per month. I know this because he posts his monthly financials on his site and shares the details about his expenditures in his podcast so other entrepreneurs can learn from his smart moves and avoid his mistakes. That’s just one example of the kind of surprise and delight the entrepreneurs in this book regularly conjure up to distinguish their personal brands from those of the competition and earn hordes of adoring, loyal fans.

As always, I’m going to be real with you: even if you absorb every lesson and follow every piece of advice in these chapters, most of you reading this book will not become millionaires. Do not stop reading! None of the people interviewed for this book knew they’d become rich; they became rich because they were incredibly, ridiculously good at what they do and worked so goddamn hard, no one else could keep up. Most started out with modest ambitions of earning enough to enjoy the good things in life, finding stability, supporting themselves and their families, and living on their own terms. Achieve that kind of wealth, and you won’t need riches. And who knows, maybe in the process of getting there you, like John Lee Dumas and his cohorts, will discover that you do have the talent and marketing savvy to become a millionaire. There’s only one way to find out. Either way, you win. It takes pressure and fire to turn a lump of unremarkable metal into a finely crafted work of art. This book is filled with inspiration and advice from others who have walked through those flames; let them guide you so you can see what you’re capable of becoming.

Consider the experience of Louie Blaka (IG: @louieblaka), who explained in an e-mail how he went from art teacher to thriving artist by trusting his instincts and putting his passions to work.

I’m a high school art teacher but a fine artist at heart. Three years ago I decided to give my art career a shot outside of my seven-to-three teaching job. My artwork took off but not as well as I had hoped. I didn’t give up, but I did become a bit discouraged. I listened to Crush It! two years ago, and it helped me think bigger than just selling paintings. I saw a trend of wine and paint classes taking over the country. I asked myself why I wasn’t hosting these classes if I had an actual teaching degree along with the experience of a professional artist (Duh!). So I took your advice of marketing through social and held a free wine and paint class for my alma mater, Montclair State. I posted a picture of the event on my Instagram, and I started to get inquiries for booking classes. I started with a class of ten people, with maybe one class every two or three months, and I’ve grown to at least three classes a month with my next class scheduled to host one hundred people. I’ve spent zero dollars on marketing, with everything going through IG and word of mouth. I’ve been able to market my paintings (as an artist) through my wine and paint class customers. I’ve taken all the unused materials or “waste” from my classes and used them for my personal artwork.

I’ve been able to grow my personal career as an artist from selling a painting for $200 to having a painting auction for $1,300 at NYC’s Coffee Festival this past September. I started my wine and paint business with a free event with about ten people at a college campus, and I’m now hoping to reach $30,000 in sales next year (I know it isn’t much, but for a full-time teacher and artist it’s huge).

The explosion of YouTube and Instagram, the emergence of podcasts, the ubiquity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter—all have led us to the tipping point I predicted nine years ago. You already have the tools to build the kind of powerful personal brand that can change your future. If you’ve been at this for a while and haven’t gotten where you want to go, this book will explain why. If you’re a D-lister with your eyes on the A-list, I can help you climb that ladder (and I empathize—I was on the Z-list for years and know what the view is like from down there). If you’ve been making excuses, you’ll be exposed, at which point you can decide to stop dicking around and achieve what you set out to achieve—or admit that your version of crushing it looks a little different than you originally thought it did.

See, this book is for two audiences. The first is people who know to the depths of their souls that they are born to build something great. Natural-born entrepreneurs should find all the information they need to improve their current efforts or start making plans of their own. The second audience is everyone else who wants to work. Not just the young, not just the tech-oriented. Not just professionals in established careers or those looking to renew themselves because they’ve outgrown their industry or, worse, their industry is shrinking. It’s in everyone’s best interest to build a personal brand, even if they have little interest in becoming rich or famous. You’re not computer savvy? Get the computer or tech skills you need to do this. It is not hard, and many of the people we talked to for this book had as little experience with computers as you do. In case you haven’t noticed, no job is particularly stable anymore. Imagine the security you would feel if you had something going on the side that you could blow up big if you unexpectedly had nothing but time (meet Pat Flynn in Chapter 5). Desperation can be a great motivator, but it’s a lot less stressful if you plan ahead so that you never know the feeling.

If you’re earning what you need to live the life you want and loving every day of it, you’re crushing it. That’s all I want for you. I think of the friends I grew up with who loved video games but whose parents forced them to stop playing because the games were new and scary and distracted them from their studies. Those kids may have grown up to make a decent enough living, but by doing something they tolerate or even hate. If only their parents could have seen how the world would evolve. Maybe the child who became a lawyer to please his or her parents could be earning the same amount now as an eSports (competitive gaming) promoter—or earning millions as a professional e-gamer. Either way, that lawyer would be infinitely happier.

Parents are trying to get their children off Pokémon Go when augmented-reality gaming is going to be huge for generations. They think their daughters should make less slime and do more algebra. Slime may be a fad; slime could also become the conduit through which a girl learns the dynamic of supply and demand on Instagram and builds a million-dollar personal brand and company. The crazy thing is that she wouldn’t be the first. Karina Garcia did it. She used to be a waitress; now she’s a successful YouTube star famous for making, you guessed it, slime. How successful? With six-figure earnings every month, she was able to retire her parents.1 In August 2017 she took a seven-week, fourteen-city tour to meet her fans. People paid $40.00 to $99.99 for VIP passes.2 Stories like that are no longer uncommon, and they illustrate why we need to give our children as much freedom as possible to gravitate toward what they love doing. Because in their world, nothing will be off-limits when it comes to how you can make a good living and build a stellar career. When I was a kid making straight Ds and I got caught reading baseball card catalogs in class so I’d know how much to charge for trades, everyone said, “You’re going to be a loser.” Today they’d say, “You’re going to be the next Zuckerberg.” When it comes to professional opportunities, this is the best time to be alive in the history of humankind. I don’t want anyone to waste it.

If you take away anything valuable or helpful from this book, I hope you will give a copy to someone you care about who is not happy in his or her current job or career. If you are a parent, please give it to your children as they start to imagine what and who they want to be. I say this not because I want to sell more books. Get it from the library; I don’t care. I say this because I want everyone to know that these opportunities exist, so that if someone is struggling or miserable or scared, they can do something to change that. If you care about the people in your life, you want them to be happy doing something they love. Life is short; its brevity and unpredictability is the one thing that scares me. It is also long; a fifty-year-old could still look forward to another forty or even fifty productive years. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be as fulfilled and thrilled as possible every day so we are always ready to share our best selves with each other. There is so much in life that is uncontrollable, but our happiness doesn’t have to be, nor do our careers. We can have all the control. Every damn bit of it. The sooner we realize that, the better off everyone will be.

I cannot do anything to make you more creative, but I hope that I can put you in the right frame of mind so that when you’re ready to unleash that creativity, you will succeed. We are often told we have to make a choice—settle and do something tolerable to make money, or follow our passion with the expectation that we will be poor. There are still people out there who believe that it’s a rare person who loves his or her job. That’s bullshit. Our choices are infinite when we understand today’s digital environment, as are our opportunities. We just have to find the courage to reach out and make them. You’re going to hear the stories of people who were scared, just like you. Who had obligations, just like you. Who were told they were being foolish, or reckless, or irresponsible, or immature. They did it anyway and reaped the rewards. If there’s anything this book should teach you, it’s that the only thing stopping you from achieving lasting career and life happiness is you.

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