Image Credit: Bobby Fisher
As anyone with a personal website knows, the hardest part to write is the “About” page.
It quickly becomes a head-scratcher. Write about…me? Everything about me? The most interesting things about me? No, you eventually realize: This page is not really about me. It’s about the part of me that’s relevant to the reader. Someone has come to this website because they are looking for something, and you have the answer. Maybe you are an expert. Or a service provider. Your job, therefore, is to tell a story that builds your audience’s trust in what you are offering to them. That signals your purpose. That makes someone say, “This is exactly who I’m looking for.”
How do you tell that story?
Well, you can start by considering a good example. Go to LewisHowes.com. Click “About.”
Who is Lewis Howes? Here’s the lifeless, Wikipedia-style version that you will not find on his site: Lewis Howes is a former professional football player who reinvented himself as a marketing expert, then created a personal brand based on how people can succeed financially, and then reinvented himself again as someone who helps people live fulfilling lives. Along the way, he wrote two bestselling books (and now a new one, The Greatness Mindset), topped the podcast charts with his show “The School of Greatness,” and somewhere in there, he became a household name to millions.
But instead of all that, here’s the story he tells on his site: Howes opens by sharing that he was “an awkward boy from Ohio,” and that everything changed on October 11, 2001. He was a college football player with dreams of going pro, but on that night, he learned that his dad — “my biggest fan, my greatest ally” — was in a terrible car accident that left him in a coma. His dad would never be the same. More loss would follow. Howes did get recruited by the Arena Football League, but less than a year later, an injury ended his burgeoning athletic career. “I was broken, broke, and deeply depressed,” he writes. Then he started to pick himself back up…
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Howes has spent more than a decade telling some version of this story, and retelling it, and revising it, but here’s the thing: For most of that time, his story began with the football injury. His dad was never part of it.
“Because I was like, I don’t know if this is relevant,” Howes says.
And it wasn’t, really. Not for a long time. Stories are our means of understanding each other, and of communicating our value to others. And the story you tell of yourself as a marketing expert is not the same story you tell of yourself as an inspirational podcaster — even if both stories are true, and are drawn from the same life. “I’m always thinking about reinventing myself,” Howes says. “Reinventing myself for me personally — about what feels right for me individually — but also reinventing my personal brand for the masses, and for the community I’m looking to attract and build based on my mission and my vision.”
And he knows: Each reinvention requires an updated story. This is why, over the past 10 years, Howes has hired three different people to help him refine that story. These people charge between $5,000 and $10,000. They sit with him, sometimes for days straight, and break his life down into a wall of sticky notes. They ask big questions like: Who are you? What do you want to portray to the world?
The last session happened four years ago, as he was trying to figure out how to expand his audience. Until then, he’d presented himself in a narrow way: “It was all about winning and success,” he says. But he wanted to expand that. He wanted to be the guy who helps people succeed more broadly. This is where he made the connection about his dad, and then wove that relationship into his story. Because, Howes came to realize, his dad’s accident was also his own journey’s precipitating event. Howes’ dad was a life insurance salesman who had told Howes there was always a place to work with him later, if he wanted. But after his dad’s accident, there was no family business to join. Howes had to find his own path.
“I wish he didn’t have to go through his accident, because I really wish I had those 17 years of mentorship from him, but I also know that I’ve found meaning from it,” Howes says. “And I feel like I’ve used my life to the best of my ability to make the maximum impact because of that. So it’s just like, how can I help other people overcome their challenges to become a better human being?”
See what Howes is doing there? He’s telling his story, but he’s also telling The Story. The story that explains him, and also explains his relevance to you. It is trained and deliberate. But it is also human and honest. It is a balance that’s hard to strike, and that can feel foreign and maybe even icky to anyone who hasn’t done it before. How do you weave personal authenticity into professional intention? How do you sell human connection?
I ask Howes this question. And he is blunt. He says, look, every entrepreneur operates in a crowded marketplace. If you sell a product, many competitors sell a version of it. If you engage in ideas, other people have expressed similar ones. “There’s only so many arenas to play in,” he says. “Is there really an original thought? Is there really an original idea? As an entrepreneur, I’m always thinking strategically: How do I be a leader in the industry that I’m in, in terms of messaging, marketing, and branding?”
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He recalls a conversation he had with former advertising executive Sally Hogshead, and a phrase she uses: Different is better than better. That got Howes thinking: Instead of trying to be the best at everything, what if he just focused on distinguishing himself from others?
“I said, ‘OK, how can we elevate the things that we can control?'” he says.
You cannot control what other people do, or what they say, or whether they do something better than you. But you can control — and therefore, elevate — yourself, and your experiences, and what you put out into the world, and perhaps most important of all, the story you tell about it, which is really the explanation for why anyone should care.
That means getting personal. Which isn’t easy. Howes knows something about that, too.
Image Credit: Bobby Fisher
At first, Howes had a simple mission: “The goal was to make money.”
It was 2007. He’d lost his football career to an injury. He was broke and sleeping on his sister’s couch, and he needed a way to get off it. So he utilized the sports marketing degree he’d gotten — starting with hosting networking events around the country, and eventually building an online marketing business that was pulling in north of $500,000 in annual sales by 2010. That led to other opportunities: affiliate marketing, hosting weekend-retreat masterminds. And he developed a persona. He was the marketing guy, who talked in metaphors and cofounded a company called Inspired Marketing.
But in 2012, as Howes neared the age of 30, some disagreements with his business partner prompted big questions. “I was like, What do I really want to do, now that I have some money, that would excite me every day?” he says. Truth be told, it wasn’t online marketing. So he sold his share of Inspired Marketing to his business partner and decided, for a year, to try being a podcaster. Howes had a small online following at the time, so he faced a question: How do I get anyone to listen to this?
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“What I learned from internet marketing was to really listen to what people’s problems are — to their pain points,” he says. His first episode featured Robert Greene, a bestselling author who specializes in power and strategy. Once it went live, Howes thought to himself, I want to find at least 100 people that might like his message. He searched through online groups and social posts, sending out personalized messages, pointing people to the moments in his episodes they’d find most interesting. Then he repeated that the next week, and the next, and all year long — continually optimizing headlines, and picking episode subjects based on trending topics, until he hit more than 750,000 downloads by the end of his first year.
Howes was encouraged, but he didn’t see the podcast as a business by itself. Instead, he kept selling webinars and masterminds, and he treated the podcast like a marketing vehicle for those things. Within a few years, though, he had reached maybe 30 million downloads of the podcast, and his new fan base wasn’t just thinking of him as a marketing guy. They saw him as something bigger. What was it? Howes needed to figure that out.
But first, he needed to figure himself out.
Howes wasn’t always pleasant to be around. He’s open about this. He’d pick fights. He was obsessed with winning. It eventually led him to therapy, where he confronted a fact that had haunted him since childhood: At age 5, he says, he was sexually abused by his babysitter’s son.
The first time he said this fact aloud, he was at a therapeutic workshop in a hotel ballroom with about 40 other people. “I ran out of the room after I was done,” he says. “I was sobbing, weeping, crying.” He was embarrassed and ashamed, as victims often are. He assumed people would see him as broken or pathetic. But a bunch of men followed him out, and revealed that they, too, had been sexually abused. It was a revelation: He wasn’t alone.
Over time, Howes started to share his experience with family. Then friends. He was afraid each time, and relieved anew when they embraced him and shared their own inner wounds. The process wasn’t just healing; it was connective and instructive. “When you become vulnerable with others,” Howes says he learned, “typically if they’re in a good space of receiving, they want to open up and be vulnerable as well.”
A few months in, someone suggested that he talk about this on his podcast. “And I go, ‘There’s no way,'” he says. “My business will be ruined.” But he spent a while thinking about it, and came to a realization: “In order to reinvent myself and really get to the next level, I’ve got to be willing to be free internally, and not worry about what people think of me externally. And let go of this mask — the image of this, like, all-American athlete guy who’s got it figured out. That was a big fear of mine.”
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He asked a friend to interview him on mic about the abuse. He had the author Glennon Doyle listen to it first, to get feedback on how to present both the episode and an accompanying article as thoughtfully as possible. Then he held on to it all for months, afraid of releasing it, until finally publishing it one night in 2014. “I went to bed and I was just like, this might be the end of me,” he says. “And what happened over the next two weeks was a beautiful and emotionally draining experience.” Hundreds of men wrote to him to share their own experiences of assault. The article became, and remains, one of his most-read pieces of writing.
“It was a big wake-up call to my identity and my life,” he says. “And after that I was just like, I’m going to be completely open to being vulnerable whenever the time makes sense. Because there’s some people who are just vulnerable all the time, and it feels kind of inauthentic — when it’s just, vulnerable, vulnerable, vulnerable. There has to be a balance of connecting with people and being vulnerable, but also not making this my identity.”
So what was his identity? To answer that, Howes realized, he first needed a mission.
Image Credit: Bobby Fisher
Lewis Howes has a magic number. It is 100 million.
As in: “I want to impact 100 million lives weekly, to help people improve the quality of their lives.”
That’s what Howes told me during our interview, and I’ve seen him say it many times before — on his podcast, on social, on his site. But in preparation for my conversation with Howes, I stumbled upon an interesting earlier version of that answer. It came from a 2015 interview he did on the podcast “The James Altucher Show,” where Howes described his mission this way: “I have a vision that is to serve 100 million people, to show ’em how to make a full-time living doing what they love.”
Note the evolution. In 2015, the line was wordier and work-focused. He helped people “make a full-time living.” Today, the line is both sharper and broader: It focuses on life.
What’s the story there? In this single sentence, you can track the evolution of a career.
Howes says the line dates to maybe eight years ago. His podcast was growing, and he was getting more personal with his audience, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted out of it. “I feel like without a clear vision, it’s hard to accomplish something,” he says.
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This is true for anyone, which is why so many entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs create mission statements. Want to build one? Try articulating your mission in a single sentence, in which every word is carefully selected because it is not anchored to something that can easily change. For example, “I bring out the best in people to solve complex problems” is a more powerful statement than “I am a project manager at Google.” This way, you understand your transferrable value. It’s about where you’re going, not just what you’re doing.
For this reason, Howes did not make his mission specifically about podcasts or books. That’s too limiting. “So I was just like, Where am I heading individually and as a business, and what would get me excited every day to stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of?” he says.
He thought about how people say they want to change the world — but realistically, will he reach billions of people? No, Howes thought. He needed something that felt enormous but achievable. Back then, his podcast had been downloaded a total of maybe 30 million times, so, he thought, What about 100 million people? Weekly? “It seems like a massive goal,” he says, “but maybe in, I don’t know, five, 10, 15, 20 years, I could actually do it — with the right team, with the right mission, with the right resources.”
To start, his mission was about impacting 100 million people’s work — or, as he said, “to show ’em how to make a full-time living doing what they love” — because that’s what people trusted him to speak about. Back in 2015, he was leveraging the authority he’d built as an internet marketer, and then going one step broader to talk about all work. The next big step wouldn’t come until 2018, when he rethought his business.
By 2018, his podcast and personal profile had grown substantially, and he had written two bestselling books. But he was operating with an old business model: Instead of focusing on monetizing his podcast, he was still using it to sell courses and mastermind trips. This was good money; he pulled in around $5 million a year. But it was also exhausting. It meant Howes felt endless pressure to put on extraordinary events for a small group of people, which drew energy away from making the podcast. Here, he realized, his mission could also be a guide. “Impacting 30, 40, 50 people a year at a high level is pulling me away from impacting 100 million lives,” he says. “So I said, ‘What do I need to do?'”
With a consultant friend, Rory Vaden of Brand Builders Group, he broke down every aspect of his business. By the end of the process, they’d reached a verdict: For Howes to grow, he needed to abandon his old model and figure out how to monetize his media presence. How could the podcast make money? Where else would revenue come from?
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“It might be a painful year of transition where you make a lot less,” Vaden told him, as Howes recalls it, “but you build a foundation, you reinvent, you rebrand, and you focus on the consistency of media and membership, and you start going all in, and you gotta trust the process.”
That’s what Howes did. Customers were disappointed. “Some people were like, ‘Hey, if you do a smaller mastermind of 20 people, we’ll pay $100,000,'” Howes says. “And it’s hard to say no to 100 grand a year to coach someone! It’s really hard. But I was just like, Is this serving the mission? Yes or no? The more I would look at it, it’s not serving the mission.”
Image Credit: Bobby Fisher
When Howes cut out his main sources of revenue, it forced him to think creatively about how to build something more sustainable. By this point, he’d already made a few key changes. He’d stopped presenting himself as a work expert, and had started talking about impacting 100 million lives, which he’d earned from his audience: His work-focused talk had already bled into discussions of ambition, drive, and personal desires. He’d also already accepted that his strength was in creative direction, not operations, and had brought in an old friend to help run the business. They’d been building a team of writers, producers, and marketers, to help grow the business.
Now, how to capitalize? Some opportunities were staring them in the face. Brand partnerships, podcast advertising, and more speaking engagements were obvious. He also hadn’t taken YouTube seriously. For years, he posted videos of his podcast interviews solely to drive listeners back to the podcast itself. But his team started experimenting with ads on YouTube — first on just a few videos, then on the whole catalog. Today YouTube ads bring in about $2 million a year, he says, and his team has begun expanding into foreign languages (first Spanish, then Portuguese) by overdubbing his videos. “That is going to allow us to scale without me having to do more content myself,” he says. He also created recurring revenue products like the “Greatness Academy,” an online education membership group.
This past year, Howes says, his company broke $10 million in annual revenue.
Now Howes, ever the rethinker, is already thinking about what comes next. I spoke to him in January, just after his new-year kickoff call with his team, and he said he told them that, as far as he’s concerned, the real work starts now. The past 10 years were about experimentation, and now that they have a winning formula, it’s all about growth. And he’s especially excited about a big, counterintuitive idea: What if the future of Lewis Howes contains less Lewis Howes?
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The way he sees it, he hasn’t just clarified himself over the years. He’s also built an audience and an entire media ecosystem, all centered around the idea of “greatness.” So what if his personal brand can spin off into…well, a brand?
“I remember five years ago, I was like, this isn’t gonna last,” he says. “I can’t just build everything under LewisHowes.com. That’s not a sellable asset. It can grow quickly by building a niche and building an email list and getting traffic and building a community, but it won’t expand beyond a certain level if it’s just my personal name. I need this to become something bigger than me. It has to be a symbol of inspiration that doesn’t revolve around whether I’m, you know, saying the right things, or whether people like me, or if I’m trending or not.”
Howes isn’t the first creator to get into brand building or merchandising. Emily Weiss went from popular blogger to the founder of cosmetics company Glossier. MrBeast launched the restaurant brand MrBeast Burger. The list goes on forever. But for Howes, this isn’t about starting a totally new business, or finding another revenue line. It’s about the continual refinement of the story he tells — which has always been driven by a desire to reach more people. Now, if he gets it right, he can even expand his audience beyond people who like Lewis Howes.
This plan is still in its infancy. He purchased Greatness.com a few years ago (it didn’t come cheap), and has hired a team to build out long-form inspirational content that is mostly unrelated to him. His new book, The Greatness Mindset, doesn’t have his face on the cover, because he wants it to reach beyond his own audience. And he’s exploring other ways to expand his brand without relying on his own personality. “Then eventually it will become bigger than me,” he says. “Because it’s a symbol bigger than a name.”
That’s the funny thing about building a personal brand: Yes, it may seem strange or inauthentic to build a person into a brand, but what is business, really? Business is about connecting with others. It is about building trust and understanding needs. It is an inherently personal pursuit. So once you master the business of getting personal, you can do a lot of both
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