Are You the George Clooney of Your Market?

Seven Power Questions to Help You Become a Bankable Star

“Get me Will Smith!” “We need Sandra Bullock!” “Call George Clooney!” These mega-stars are known throughout the world. Fans love them for their big personalities and their blockbuster movies, but in Hollywood, they’re known for the cha-ching! sound studio executives and investors hear whenever they’re cast in a new film. In the movie industry, the Will Smiths, Sandra Bullocks, and George Clooneys of the world are known as “Bankable Stars,” a term used to describe an actor who can give investors utter confidence that they will achieve a return on their money by ensuring a large box-office draw. They are rare, highly sought after, and earn the highest fees in the industry.

The truth is there are Bankable Stars in almost every industry, notes Andrew Sobel. And when you can become the George Clooney of your market, it will be great for business. “Fortunately, you don’t have to be a global eminence to achieve bankable status,” says Sobel.  Here are seven power questions you must ask and answer to move yourself towards bankability in the business world:

1. Do you offer clients utterly consistent quality, again and again? You must build a reputation for consistent delivery, year in and year out. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley lead the IPO market because they are perceived to have reliably procured capital, at the right price, to hundreds of newly listed companies.

2. Are you a thought leader in your market? Some Bankable Advisors earn their stripes through writing books. “But there are other ways of building a reputation as a thought leader,” says Sobel. “You can achieve this through deep industry focus, for example—by speaking at industry forums, writing articles for professional publications, and being known as the consultant to industry leaders. A good example of this is Ernst & Young’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award.  If you can produce, every year, a slow but steady stream of thoughtful perspectives on your chosen niche, you will notice a powerful ‘flywheel’ effect that grows every year.”

3. Is your name clearly associated with a powerful value proposition? Like movie stars, Bankable Advisors have a specific value proposition that people associate with them. For actor Liam Neeson, it’s delivering an “intelligent” action film, whereas for author Jim Collins, it’s helping companies become great.  Without a recognizable value proposition, you risk becoming a commodity—just another tradable expert for hire.

4. Do you have strong name recognition in your market? Bankable Advisors are well known! And in truth, most of them work very hard at getting their name out in the marketplace. When you’re bankable and potential clients in your geographic area, market niche, or industry segment think of your specialty, they think of YOU. “There is a multitude of ways to achieve this type of ‘marketing gravity,’ ranging from publishing to speaking to getting known as the advisor to top leaders in your industry,” says Sobel.

5. Are you selective about the clients you will take on? Bankable Advisors are scarce. When you work for everyone, it dilutes your brand. This has been the downfall of some fashion designers—remember Pierre Cardin, who put his name on everything in sight? However, attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Barry Scheck (the “DNA guy”) understand the scarcity principle and won’t take on just any client. Bankable Advisors understand they shouldn’t spread themselves too thin. They turn down business that isn’t just right for them and their brand in the marketplace.

6. Are your fees at the top of your field? As a result of (1) through (5), Bankable Advisors are able to charge high fees. But there is more to it than that. “Many researchers have demonstrated that high prices lead to high perceived value,” says Sobel. “Most people think that it’s the other way around—that you deliver high value and then you get high fees. But consider this: When you buy a luxury BMW, you EXPECT it to be fabulous. So on the road to becoming bankable, you enter into a virtuous circle of ever-higher perceived value and fees, with clients experiencing what they expect. One other thing happens: Part of your value comes from the fact that hiring you reduces risk for the person who has retained you.

7. Do you ask the questions? Or are you “grilled” by potential clients who don’t really know who you are? When a film director calls George Clooney to discuss a potential movie project, who do you think is asking the tough questions? The star is. “The same applies in business,” notes Sobel. “When a CEO calls management guru and author Jim Collins, it’s Collins who is asking the questions about the CEO’s issues, his strategy, his organization, and so on. And here’s the good news: You don’t have to wait until you’re famous to put yourself in this position—you can do it right now, regardless of where you are in your career. When you’re the one with the thought-provoking, engaging questions in the conversation—be it with a brand new prospect or a longtime client—you immediately move yourself up a notch and gain control of the discussion.

“How far along are you on the progression from unknown expert-for-hire to Bankable Advisor?” asks Sobel. “Regardless of the answer, start thinking about the steps you need to take to move closer to being renowned in your particular market.”

About the Author:
For 30 years, Andrew Sobel has worked as both a consultant to senior management and as an executive educator and coach. His clients have included leading corporations such as Citigroup, Xerox, and Cognizant; as well as professional service firms such as Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Towers Watson, and many others.

Jerry Panas is executive partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, one of the world’s most highly regarded firms in the field of fundraising services and financial resource development. He is the author of 13 popular books, including Power Questions and the all-time bestsellers Asking and Mega Gifts.


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