Last week I went to Hastings to visit my friend Gareth.

He’s a copywriter, blogger, author, poet, performer and sometime contributor to Digital Upstart. He knows a thing or two about getting noticed, as you’re about to see.

The idea was that we were going to talk about a new writing project. I had a notebook with me and everything.

“It’s alright, Heloise,” I said as I left the house. “It’s WORK”.

Her eyebrows went up at that.

You see, Gareth’s a bit… eccentric.

Quite often he gets me sidetracked, with comic or disastrous results.

And upon reaching his street, he didn’t disappoint.

In a street full of pastel, white and light brown Victorian seaside townhouses…

…his is painted JET BLACK.

It’s like the villain Gru’s house in the Despicable Me. In case you’re not aware of that film, here’s what it looks like:

I sat in his living room next to a replica skeleton of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex. As I tried to discuss an exciting consultancy project, he was plucking albums from a wall of vinyl – German erotic vampire film soundtracks, 1960s Pakistani dance music and gypsy folk prog-rock from the 70s.

By 3pm he was insisting on pouring us a gin and tonic. And by 7pm, I was sat in a crowd in a plush independent cinema with a pint of pale ale, watching Gareth wearing a hat, stood in a spotlight, reciting a poem about a love affair with an electricity pylon, to droning and clanking electronic music.

So that’s how the day turned out!

It’s a bit weird, yes.

Then again, there’s been weirder.

For instance, the writer Oscar Wilde used to take a lobster on a lead for walks.

But while Gareth is genuinely off-beat, he is also making something of a point – and there’s method to the madness.

His approach to his writing career stems from something he and I developed five years ago – using the fundamental business marketing principles I’ve been sharing with you in Digital Upstart, and which I cannot re-emphasise enough as vital for your success.

A radical approach to selling

Back in 2011, Gareth and I formed The Free Radicals. It was a project in which we helped businesses, publishers and new start-ups create exciting websites, blogs and emails that attracted an audience.

The idea was that we’re prove it by doing it. We’d compete with each other to create challenging, controversial or unusual blog post ideas and headlines, sending out forthright emails declaring our boredom with most ‘content marketing’ and generally making a nuisance of ourselves on Twitter.

It was an experiment to see what happened if we loosened up and just tried to be ourselves instead of what people expected of marketing ‘gurus’.

Within 6 months we had a couple of thousand followers and were invited to present talks at media events. It was a lot of fun and many of the experiments and results went into the foundation of Digital Upstart.

When Gareth went off to pursue a career in his own creative writing, he took those same principles with him.

He treated his new creative project in the same way as he and I had been insisting people should do with businesses.

  • Be passionate – he started writing a niche that he was passionate about, exploring those unusual overlooked bits of London where he walked.
  • Be original – he started mapping out bits of the Lea Valley in East London, but deliberately fictionalising them, making up stories and putting a twist on it. Whatever he did, he tried to make it weirder than everyone else.
  • Be useful – unlike most writers who endlessly pump out their own work, Gareth set up curated pages gathering other people’s writing, videos and essays, making sure he was a useful source for other people doing the same thing, a lot of whom were the sort of people who would buy his works.
  • Be yourself – Gareth filled his website, stories and essays with details of his personal life, his dog, his kids, his embarrassments and mishaps.

Within six months of starting out online he’d got a short story published. Within two years a full book was published, then a spoken work album and since then he’s has numerous short story commissions, plus invitations to do talks and presentations around the country.

“All of these were from offers that came to me – I never sent off or applied to do anything.”

When Gareth left London, he had to start a brand new project in a brand new place by the coast. He arrived in knowing nobody, with no contacts in the arts or local history scenes.

The question was, how does a writer get noticed in a seaside town?

Gareth’s answer…

Paint your house black.

Buy a dinosaur.

Wear a hat.

Say something different.

To give you an example, over our second gin and tonic he told me about an incident at a local Hastings festival.

He was asked to perform along with a bunch of other poets and speakers on a stage in the park. There were families lolling about on hay bales in the sunshine, looking faintly bemused and bored…

So what did Gareth do?

A 3-minute rant about a prostate examination, with all the grisly details!

Half the audience were wincing and complaining, while the other half were laughing. When he finished the compere came onstage and said: “Are you clapping because you enjoyed it, or because it’s over?”

“At first I was annoyed,” said Gareth. “But then I realised that the people who hated it would never like my stuff anyway, while those who liked it would remember me – it’s not the sort of thing you forget!”

Like me, Gareth believes that to make a mark you need to emphasise your quirks, be bold about your opinions, be passionate, and be prepared to stand in front of strangers, friends and crowds without fear of failure and mockery.

Really, it all boils down to being able to answer these two questions…

• How can you get noticed by the sort of people (your tribe) who will eventually buy your products and services?

• How can you make everything you do online (blog posts, emails and social media feeds) stand out in a crowded, noisy marketplace?

So let’s turn this around and think how you could use this same principle to get attention online. And by that I mean attention from the sort of people who are likely to buy from you – forget everyone else.

Here are some questions to consider…

  • What are your personality quirks? These could be physical attributes or fashion sense… or they could be habits, ticks, humour and phrases you use. Bring them out in your photos, blog posts, about me pages, sales material and emails. They make you human. They make you memorable.
  • What’s your world view? Are you dark and macabre… cynical and pessimistic… or sunny and hopeful? Be consistent. Express your attitude through everything you do. It’s what marketing types might call ‘branding’ but really it’s about giving your business and products a clear and consistent personality, which builds trust and confidence.
  • What makes you passionate? What gets your blood up? What makes you excited, even if others think it’s strange or ‘boring’? Don’t be afraid to enthuse about topics, or make regular reference to subjects that means something – even if it’s pylons or prostate glands!
  • What can you do or say that’s different to your rivals? Is there an angle you can take on your subject matter that’s different, opposite, contrary or unexpected? Or what about the design of your website? The key is to look at all the people and businesses in your field of interest and work out a way to stand out – look, sound and feel different to them in some way.

There is a lot to say on this subject, as really it’s now the fundamental way to attract an audience in this overloaded information age. Anyone can put up a blog or start an Instagram account.

But how can you make it truly stand out?

I’ll be back with more on this very soon.