Guest AuthorPapa CJ

THERE IS NO BOX: Value creation & karma as guides to personal brand building & success

By | Papa CJ | Comedian • Executive Coach • Author • Oxford MBA • HBR Writer • • WIT of the Week newsletter on LinkedIn, & • I uplift others & help them be the best version of themselves

“How much?”

I was recently asked by somebody what my ‘rate’ was. Don’t let that trigger a response. For the large part I have been known for working in a profession where I go to a licensed premises, charge by the hour and perform in front of strangers. Add to that my last show was called Naked and I take multiple layers of clothing off during the performance. You’d be right in thinking that these aren’t the dreams my parents had for me when I was a child or when they were saving up to invest in my education. Yet the question wasn’t a rude one given the context. 

An artist management agency wanted to get a quote for a professional fee from me so they could send an email blast to a large database. They obviously wanted a preferential rate, lower than what a client would have got had they called me directly. My answer was, 

I can’t give you a rate because I don’t know what it is!

Value and a Sanskrit lesson

When I speak to a client, even if it is a client that has called just to enquire about ‘a comedy show’, I enquire about what the entire event is, what their objectives are, what they are doing, what their pain points are and what the problem is that they are trying to solve. Once I understand their key challenges, I let them know the multiple ways in which I can add value. And only once they decide how they would like to use me can I possibly get a feel for the work required and then quote a professional fee. 

Earlier this month an organisation contacted me for a stand-up comedy performance. As always I had my exploratory conversation and learned that it was a four day conference, four hours a day, spread over two weekends. I suggested that I could best be used as a sutradhar for the event. This is a role I love to play at both corporate and private events and is one that can add immense value in ways that very few people understand. While the English translation of the word is host or compere, that does no justice to the role. Sutra meaning thread signifies connectivity. Dhaar is the one who holds it. Dharayati is to hold, keep in control, support, or my favourite – to nourish. The Sanskrit phrase dharayati iti means that which upholds, sustains, and even uplifts. 

In my book a sutradhar is the person who guides you through the entire journey, nourishes the event and who’s primary task is the management of energy. They are also the friend you turn to whenever anything goes wrong. The one who stays calm and steers the ship no matter what.

At this particular event, I did get signed on to host the entire conference and here is what their CEO had to say at the end of the four day event (30 second video):

Who got the better deal?

I expected this gig to be a 16 hour job. However I ended up spending more than 35 hours working on the event. Over 7 hours were spent talking to people in the organisation in advance to learn about the organisation, their practices, challenges, aspirations and people. An additional chunk of time was spent learning about every single session and key messages. In addition to hosting the event and doing stand-up comedy, I had customised introductions for each speaker, fun anecdotes about specific people in the organisation, entertaining content about their business practices, aspirations and challenges as well as stories related to the different sessions over the course of four days. I also read an excerpt from my book. Did I feel that the scales had been tipped against me because I ended up working for more than twice as long as I expected to when I closed the show? Not at all. For starters I got to interact with a wonderful group of people and I learned a lot. 

Also I strongly believe in karma both within and outside the workplace. No matter what a client pays you, they should feel they are getting more than what they paid for. That you are batting on their team. When I work with a client, I never want them to think of me as a vendor. I want them to think of me as a business partner, a member of their team, and I will do whatever I can in whatever capacity I can to make the event a success. Even if it isn’t a part of my official job description. At the end of day one of this conference the organisations social media team asked me to help get visibility on their hashtag. I got the event team to put the hashtag on the digital stage, pushed that agenda repeatedly and we ended up getting over a million social media impressions by the end of the second day itself.

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There is no box

Now while others find it convenient to put us in tiny boxes with borders, descriptions and price tags, we are often guilty of doing the same thing ourselves. I have taught myself to not do that over time. Today my clients just come to me and tell me the problem that they are looking to solve and trust that I will suggest innovative ways of how best I can help them with it. And if I can’t help them personally, I’ll try and help them find someone who can.

I’m currently talking to a range of different clients about a kaleidoscope of interesting projects:

  • A few clients have come to me because they want to raise morale in their organisations. I’m creating customised solutions that require me to draw on my past experience in coaching people around managing stress and handling change along with wearing the hat of a consultant, motivational speaker, comedian, storyteller and laughter yoga instructor.
  • Another client has told me about leadership challenges and I’m creating customised training modules for them around personal branding and persuasion strategies. 
  • A third client has launched a technology solution in the marketing space and I’m dusting off my Oxford MBA certificate, combining it with my comedy skills and writing a script to help them market it.  
  • Another huge organisation is absorbing 125 employees from a different organisation and continent into their workforce. They need to run a culture change programme and we are exploring how I can help them use comedy to facilitate the same. Their transition programme is based on Michael Watkins’ book and as it happens, over a decade ago I used to run training sessions based on the very same principles. In preparation for our conversations, not only have I brushed up on that, I’ve also studied the two other models they are working with – The Culture Map by Erin Meyer and The Cultural Dimensions by Hofstede. 
  • At another online fundraising event, after I completed my contractual obligations, I offered to perform for an extra 10 minutes for every additional lakh of rupees raised. We raised 5 lakhs more during the show and I performed for an additional hour. 
  • An embassy has invited me to perform content customised for an international conference that is looking to forge relationships and facilitate technology transfer between companies working within the same industry across different continents. I’m also in talks for a virtual show for a global audience of over 10,000 people.
  • A bank has asked me perform a series of customised engagements for their High Net Worth clients. Messaging about certain products and the bank’s digital offering is being incorporated into the performance.

I’m sharing all of this with you so you can take a few key lessons away from my experience.


  1. Don’t let people define you by just one thing that you do. Furthermore, don’t let them attach a rate to it.
  2. Focus on solving your clients problems and helping them meet their objectives in any way you can, even if it is outside your official remit. 
  3. Give your stakeholders more than they expect. Don’t behave like the hired help. Behave like a member of their team. Own their problems and create value wherever you can.
  4. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Draw on all your education, skills and experience to create bespoke solutions. Help others understand how they can get the best out of you.
  5. Let your work, character and attitude be your reference. There is nothing more powerful than word of mouth. 
  6. Karma has tangible value. The basic accounting rule is, ‘Goodwill account debit. Asset in the balance sheet.’ That asset is your personal brand.

You don’t want to be the person people come to because you are the lowest cost.

You want to be the person people come to because you are the highest value. 

Republished with permission and originally published at Papa CJ’s LinkedIn

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