John Hall is the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a company focused on helping brands and individuals extract and leverage their expertise to create, publish, and distribute content to gain influence, visibility, and credibility with their key audiences. In less than three years, John has grown Influence & Co. into one of the largest providers of high-quality expert content to the world’s top publications, ranking No. 72 on Forbes’ “Most Promising Companies in America” list and named Empact’s “Best Marketing and Advertising Company of 2014” at the United Nations.
John has a weekly column for Forbes and Inc. and has contributed to more than 50 publications, including Business Insider, The Washington Post, and Harvard Business Review. He is the author of the best-selling book, Top of Mind: Use Content to Unleash Your Influence and Engage Those Who Matter To You.
Tell me about your background.
From a very early age, I started showing signs of entrepreneurialism. In third grade, I sold my lunch for money, then I moved on to being a door-to-door popcorn salesman when I was a teenager. When college rolled around, I found a way to make money throwing parties and charging entry. When I graduated, I got into real estate, particularly student housing, and then we started Influence & Co. It was about five years ago and there was a lack of trust in different industries, which we knew would create a need for a company to help key leadership get past trust barriers and create high-quality content. In just three years, we’ve become one of the largest providers of high-quality content and I just published my first book, Top of Mind. But, above all, I am a father and husband, which are roles I value the most.
How did the concept for Influence & Co. come about?
Kelsey, Brent, and I all saw opportunity in helping key employees at companies create and distribute content to influence their audience. We wanted to come at it from a thought leadership side of things so there would be more of a focus on education instead of promotion and selling. The idea of thought leadership was really just forming, so we saw a need to fill.
What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
In the beginning, we hadn’t yet built our own brand, so there were credibility and trust barriers, which was funny because those were the types of barriers we were trying to help our clients with. But, as we practiced what we preached, it became easier to attract the right clients and talent, improving our credibility and trustability, proving that our service works ?.
Did you have a lot of competition?
No, and honestly, we still really don’t have exact, direct competition. There’s certainly other companies out there that do things similar to us, but they don’t fit exactly what we do. It’s very hard to build the publication relationships that we have built, the proprietary technology we’ve built that compliments our services, and train a staff on this industry to become at the level of expertise desired.
What was your marketing strategy?
Content is at the hub of our marketing strategy. We believe that content is vital to any marketing strategy and we’ve created our entire marketing strategy around it. We strive to create valuable, engaging content because when doing so, people will naturally be attracted to you and your brand. Even if you do outbound sales like conferences, etc., content is key to nurturing those leads and providing them with the type of education they need to really understand what your company does and why it can help them.
How fast is the business growing today?
Pretty fast ?. Last year, we grew almost 50% to our bottom line, along with some massive growth in terms of new employees.
How do you organize your day?
I plan each day out the night before, then memorize it so it’s top of mind the next morning and I stay on track with everything.
What has been your primary source for new clients?
Conferences, partnerships, and our own content marketing efforts.
What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
This sounds a bit vague but I’ve made it a daily habit to make sure I’m interacting with people who have contagious worth ethics. I believe that you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with, so it’s important that I’m deliberate about who is around me most and that I value their work ethic and style.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“You control your own success and happiness.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Top of Mind, because I wrote it, but also because I believe it’s a wonderful book ?. I also like Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
How do you define success?
It depends on each individual person, but I answered it below.
What is the key to success?
Establishing your own expectation of success and happiness, then working hard every single day to get closer and closer to that expectation.
Did you always know you would be successful?
Yes. As I mentioned, I think we control our own definition of success and my vision was to create value for people and surround myself with good people. That has happened and the money has followed, so I deem that as successful.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Whenever I’m going through something tough, I tell myself that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and there usually is.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to always, always help others around you. And, to invest in yourself.
What makes a great leader?
For me, a great leader is someone who leads by example, creates opportunities for his or her company, and empowers other companies to grow within those opportunities.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day as an entrepreneur was probably when we first started Influence & Co. We were three months in and I thought we were going to fail. We weren’t seeing the kind of results we wanted and were experiencing a lot of roadblocks. I finally just broke down and cried to my wife, telling her my fear that we were failing.
How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
It always helps to have a good support structure. I’ve been fortunate enough to always have that, especially with my wonderful co-founder, Kelsey. I’ve also always tried to have confidence in myself and my company, and that despite the hardships, we would prevail. A positive outlook does wonders.
What is your vision for the future of Influence & Co?
My vision has always been that we be THE COMPANY that helps people and brands influence specific audiences through creating and distributing content that highlights their expertise and insights.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I’d tell them that there are going to be a lot of moments of uncertainty and where they think they’re going to fail. You have to keep at it and make sure you are taking on this challenge with people you really trust and value. Don’t give up because the reward is totally worth it.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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