The Hitchhiker’s Guide to… standing out!

Some simple lessons learnt in his youth taught Rowdy McLean how to stand out and get where you want to be.

In order to get more traction, more clients and more business, you have to play a bigger game. The real path to success in the modern world is creating your own formula, not using someone else’s. You need to find a way to leapfrog the competition.

Trial and error

Success in business is a lot about trial and error, looking for what works and what doesn’t. The reality is, if you’re not getting things wrong, you’re just not trying hard enough. You’re not learning and discovering. You’re not at the cutting edge. Seriously, who wants to be plain old vanilla or, worse, a carbon copy of someone else? Sure, it’s good to have a core or foundation, a system or a method, but if you’re not bringing the unique you to the game, you can’t win it. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned quite a few lessons on my journey to becoming a successful, entrepreneur, speaker and leader. Some of the best lessons are found in the strangest places.

Vanilla is boring

My first experience of discovering a unique angle and finding ways to improve was as a young guy growing up on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. As a 15-year-old I had to travel the 38km from Guyra to Armidale and back each day to attend a TAFE course. No easy task, as there were no trains or buses. My only option was to hitchhike (something I wouldn’t recommend today, but which back then was – or at least seemed – fairly safe to do). The problem was it was a bit hit and miss. Sometimes I would get a ride and make it to class on time, other times I’d be hours late and occasionally I wouldn’t make it at all. The problem? My marketing!

This may sound a bit weird, but the experience taught me valuable lessons about marketing that I have never forgotten. Ideas that I use in my speaking business and all the companies I consult to. Marketing isn’t rocket science. You see, when it came to hitchhiking, I just did what everyone else did. I stood on the side of the road and stuck my thumb out. Hit and miss.

Checkpoint: Are you doing the same thing as everyone else that’s looking for clients? It’s a crowded marketplace, and same same won’t cut it.

My mum made a massive difference

My mum gave me some advice that improved my success rate. The first thing she got me to do was hold up a sign that declared my destination. The idea was, if people knew I was only going 38km they would be more inclined to pick me up. This worked! I managed to get to class on time more frequently.

Checkpoint: Your marketing needs to tell people where you are going. There needs to be a point. You are selling X. You want me to do Y. You have special offer. Whatever it is it needs to be clear, easy-to-understand and try just one thing, not three or 10. Imagine if my sign had had three destinations: Armidale, Tamworth, Inverell. People would have been confused and no one would have picked me up because there’s too much to take in. Just like hitchhiking, you have only seconds to grab someone’s attention. If you have got too much going on, they’ll pass you by.

Professional matters

The next thing my mum suggested was a no-brainer. She suggested that I clean my act up. Get a decent sign, make it easy-to-read. Get a haircut, wear decent ironed clothes and look presentable. Well, more than presentable, look professional! As professionals working in the fitness industry, people come to you for services, advice and direction to improve their fitness and wellbeing, and they pay good money to get it. Respect the work of others and pay to get things done right.

Checkpoint: Don’t go cheap on your marketing. Get someone who knows what they are doing and pay them to make your marketing look fantastic. Don’t take shortcuts. If it looks clean, tidy, clear and professional you will get picked up more often.

The heart attack was the killer

My mum had a heart attack. She survived and everything was fine. However, she ended up in hospital in Armidale and I still had no regular way to go and visit her each day. This was the best lesson in marketing I ever learnt. I was standing on the highway in the shivering cold with my sign trying to get a lift when I had a lightbulb moment. I added a line to my sign, so it now read ‘ARMIDALE – to visit my mum’. The first car picked me up. Each day my mum was in the hospital I would get picked up within minutes using my new sign. Unbelievable!

Checkpoint: Your marketing works far better with an emotional hook. What are you promising to prospective members and clients? Peak performance; the energy to play with their kids; boosted confidence; a longer and happier life? Whatever it is, you need the emotional hook to get people to react, to buy into what you’re selling.

My mum survived and lived well into her 80’s, and from time to time when I was stuck I would add that extra line to my sign to be sure I could get to where I was going. Trial and error, avoiding vanilla, getting clear, cleaning up your act and having an emotional hook that are all unique to you will help you to play a bigger game in your marketing and get you to where you want to be!


Rowdy Mclean is an international keynote speaker, author and business consultant. He provides clients with the inspiration, insights, systems and strategies to ‘Play a Bigger Game’, achieving more, being more, doing more and having more than they ever thought possible. He has spoken to over 250,000 people across the globe. rowdymclean.com