Happy Birthday To Me

(Listen to this post, here.)

I had a birthday this past Sunday (not that you bothered to call).

And I have to tell you, it was one of the best I can ever remember.

It began Saturday night when friends came over for dinner (punctuated by my wife Linda bringing out a delicious chocolate cake).

Sunday, we drove into Boston to catch a Red Sox game, happened to run into our friends Tom and Marie while walking through Fenway Park, and agreed to meet up afterwards.

At dinner, somebody mentioned to the waiter that it was my birthday and a few minutes later, he showed up with a free dessert.

Not that that mattered, since when the check arrived, Tom grabbed it. Again, because it was my birthday.

But the fun and freebies didn’t stop there.

The next night, I went out for a drink and something to eat with my friend Rick, who also insisted on picking up the check. And then, when the bartender overheard it had been my birthday the day before, she said, “You want a free shot of tequila?”

(It was at that point where I started thinking that maybe I should just tell everyone, every day, that it’s my birthday.)

Birthdays are funny things. You mention it’s your birthday and everyone has the exact same reaction: “Really? Today? That’s great, happy birthday!”

For some reason, it’s always said with a great deal of excitement and surprise, as if you, personally, had just invented this interesting concept and were kind enough to share it with a lucky bystander.

But why does it work this way? Why do friends, family, and even total strangers predictably react to something so ordinary with a combination of amazement and joy?

Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve given this question a lot of thought over the past few days (a free shot of tequila gets a person thinking). And I believe I know the answer.

It’s not because birthdays are so unusual. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s because birthdays are something that all of us, by definition, have.

They cut across age, race, national origin, tolerance for lactose, whatever. Everyone you meet has exactly one birthday.

The truth is, birthdays may represent the one and only thing that all humans share in common (other than, possibly, a love of George Clooney).

And so when I tell you it’s my birthday, it creates a connection. It’s no different than if we discovered we went to the same high school, or enjoyed the same movie, or were married to the same woman (maybe not that last one).

Even small similarities between you and somebody else make that person feel closer and (very important) more likeable.

Which brings me (finally) to how you communicate when marketing your professional service business.

I’m talking here about newsletters, blogs, presentations, podcasts, LinkedIn profiles, web sites, bios, etc. … everything you create and put out into the world in the interest of getting hired.

If you’re like most professionals, you naturally and logically assume that it’s the facts that matter. You need to prove that you are smart, experienced, capable.

And besides, nobody has time to read, or watch, or listen to anything anymore. So you had better talk fast and keep it short if you want to get somebody’s attention.

It makes perfect sense.

Too bad it’s totally wrong.

Word of mouth (your main source of clients) is not highly correlated with your level of expertise.

Top-of-mindedness is unrelated to how long you’ve been in business.

My willingness to trust you has nothing to do with how smart you are.

And yet, all three of those things – word of mouth, top-of-mindedness, and trust – are essential to your getting hired as a professional.

But it doesn’t stop there. All three of them are very much related to the strength of your connections with other people. So doesn’t it make sense to focus a little bit more over here?

Here’s the bottom line. We all know that you need to be reasonably smart and capable if you hope to get hired, let alone leave your clients satisfied when the work is done.

But long before those sales-focused, show-me-what-you-can-do-for-me, tell-us-what-it-will-cost, discussions occur, you’ve got dozens (hundreds?) of opportunities every day to connect with other people on an authentic, personal level.

So mention your dog in your newsletter. Tell a story at the beginning of your presentation about the vacation you just got back from. Reference that old James Taylor album you found in the basement as a way to emphasize an important idea.

The point is, the more specifics of your life you share, the closer other people – particularly the perfect strangers – will feel to you.

When that happens, the new clients – and free shots of tequila – are never far behind.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s the best thing ever given to you by a stranger on your birthday (keep it clean, this is a family newsletter)?
  1. What works best for you when adding a personal touch to your marketing?
  1. Did you check out the Nicolas Cage Bedsheets I mentioned in my last newsletter? (Don’t lie to me, I can see which links you clicked on.)

Share your comments below!

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17 thoughts on “Happy Birthday To Me

  1. Michelle Morris

    1. Free dessert!

    2. I started doing a “What I am reading” section in my newsletter where I review I book I read that month (Thank you Chris Bond for this idea & Belinda Wasser for making the idea come to life). The book may or may not have anything to do with my field (financial and tax advisor). I give away 2 copies of the book drawn from anyone who sends me an email asking to enter. I can’t believe how much buzz a free book creates. My newest client, signed yesterday, said on her initial call “Hello, I’m Marie’s neighbor, she referred me to you, she said she won a free book from your newsletter!”.

    OK, never mind that I’ve shaved thousands off Marie’s investment expenses and tax liabilities, or prodded her to finally figure out who gets her stuff when she’s dead, or convinced her that she is NOT going to become a bag lady — a $13 free book was top of mind!

    3. Indeed I did. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who checks who clicked which links! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I love your #2 example, Michelle! And I’ve seen the same thing over and over: People expect us to “do our job,” so it’s hard to be memorable by simply doing (in your case) what a good financial planner does. But doing something nice and unexpected – a free book – is what stands out, even though it’s a small gesture and has nothing to do with your capability.

      (I hope your Nick Cage sheets are comfy…)

  2. Gina Longo

    1) Nothing that I can think of, because I don’t tell anyone it’s my birthday. Once you’re over 21, they’re pretty much redundant, don’t you think? Except I think I told you, Michael, because I’m Jonesing for one of your cool birthday e-cards this year. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2) My newsletter is all personal — it’s about my UK travels with my dogs with lots of cheeky facts and history thrown in for fun.

    3) I did, just now, and I have to say… ewww. Tom Hiddleston sheets, yes; Nicholas Cage sheets, not a chance. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Gina! Yes, you are on the blue penguin bday card list. I’m no longer shy about sharing it, for reasons described above! Ditto on the sheets.

  3. Dianna Huff

    1. A free six pack of beer when I turned 21 — the guy at the liquor store gave it to me. ๐Ÿ˜€

    2. I like to talk about all the stuff I buy that’s made in the USA. Today, some mailbox numbers arrived from Modern House Numbers. Very cool!

    3. Nope. I did not check out those sheets.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Wow, either you grew up in a different state than I, or I’m way older than you! For me, it was 18. When I arrived at the liquor store that day, the woman behind the counter said, “It hasn’t been very long, has it?”
      2. Like that!
      3. There’s still time.

  4. Bruce Horwitz

    Wow, your birthday is the 20th… mine is the 21st. I feel closer to you already ;^)
    In terms of getting loot from strangers, this year was a bonanza: 6 bagels from Rosenfeld’s in Newton Center, $10 off a purchase of $10 or more at Godovia (my secret vice), and $25 off a purchase of $25 or more at J.Crew.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Bruce! Imagine how close we’d feel if it were on the same day. Hope you had as fun a day as I did!

  5. Stacey Shipman

    Happy Birthday

    1. I don’t remember for a birthday but I do remember for my honeymoon. Free bottle of wine on our flight and a seat upgrade!

    2. Speaking from the heart. The video I shared still sweaty from a run hit a real nerve with folks. I do best when the words flow from my own experiences and I don’t think too much.

    3. Pretty sure I did not.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, I thought your “sweaty video” was a great one. There’s definitely something about connecting in the moment like that.

      I’m guessing you were a no on #3. It’s not something you can unsee – you would have remembered!

  6. Sari

    My husband talks about his “birthday month.” BARF. I am definitely a birthdays are fun but no big deal kind of person. So imagine the arguing that occurred when my 40th was approaching…I INSISTED on doing NOTHING. But my husband almost jumped off a bridge at that suggestion. He KNOWS family and music are my favorite things in the world so he arranged for my sister, husband and nephews to fly in, and then we had a big shrimp boil with friends and a big sing along at the piano. PERFECT. But now his 40th is looming. LORD HELP ME.

  7. Tammy Gooler Loeb

    1.) free dessert
    2.) Since most of my marketing is by word of mouth, I always thank people for referrals, sometimes by sending them a modest gift that is customized to their interests. I think this supports my marketing efforts as I seem to get repetitive referrals from certain people.
    3.) Confession: I googled Nicolas Cage sheets because I just couldn’t believe they existed and I didn’t want to be tracked and appear to be a sucker by clicking on the link. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Michael Katz Post author

    1. Never a disappointment.

    2. So easy to do, so hard to remember. Thank you for the reminder.

    3. I guess your cover is blown!

  9. Barbara Johnson

    This is a terrific post Michael. I love your style-it is personal. As if you write these articles just for me!

  10. Barbara Johnson

    I just had a wonderful birthday yesterday. I am now 87! We went out for breakfast at a little restaurant in town. They went hung ho! When someone to,d them it was my birthday! Al, the staff sang to me! And they took pictures and they are on Facebook! Love your story.


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