Michael Roderick | 3 Steps to Accelerate Your Referrals

Referrals are one of the most lucrative sources of new business. But, says referral expert Michael Roderick, you won’t get referrals if your business and your marketing isn’t set up the right way.

Michael shares his secrets for making your brand memorable… and referable. A lot of it has to do with the language you use when talking about your business.

Michael has tips for finding and capturing the audience that will help you build your business with solid referrals. You’ll have to do some work on your mindset and your messaging.

Tune in to find out…

  • The 3 basic elements of a referable brand
  • What you must do when faced with tough times
  • How memory impacts marketing
  • Why simplicity always wins
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:

Small Pond Enterprises

Episode Timeline:

00:00 Interview with Michael Roderick.

00:11 Today Steve speaks with Michael Roderick. He helps thoughtful givers become thought leaders by helping their brands become referable, their messaging memorable and their ideas unforgettable.

01:02 Michael went from High School teacher to Broadway producer in two years. He tells us how he did this and how it lead to him working in referrals.

02:52 Michael tell us that when he hits a roadblock it’s important to not be afraid to reach out for support.

04:22 Steve talks about his own experience in not reaching out when he needed help.

06:04 Steve and Michael talk about how patterns are the precursor to frameworks in creating your own content.

09:22 Michael talks about building a referable brand. Accessibility, Influence, and Memory.

12:08 Michael tells us about how the song “Hey Ya” by Outkast became a hit.

14:27 Michael talks about Container words, Content words, and the first letter of A.I.M: Anchor

16:37 Michael talks about the next step: Influence.

20:00 Michael talks about Memory: making your message as simple as you can so that people can remember easily.

23:07 Michael talks about memory triggers and Ryan Reynolds!

26:33 Michael talks about using a layered framework to create a successful brand.

28:27 Michael tells us that the most important thing is telling a story with a message.

31:16 Michael tells us how best to get in touch with him.




Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. Today, I’m really excited. This is going to be, I think, one of our best episodes because we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite topics, referrals and referability, but in a really different way. I think you’re going to gain a ton from this. Today, we’re talking with Michael Roderick. He helps thoughtful givers become thought leaders by helping them make their brands referable, make their messaging memorable, and their ideas unforgettable. He’s also the host of the podcast, Access to Anyone, which shows you how you can get to know anyone you want in business and in life using time-tested relationship-building.

Michael, welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast.

Thank you so much for having me, Steve. I’m excited to be here.

Yes. It’s going to be fun. Just to go beyond the bio, give everybody a little bit of context for how you got to this stage of your career.

Yes. I started as a high school English teacher. I went from being a high school English teacher to a Broadway producer in under two years. A lot of people were very curious as to how I had moved that quickly, and I, also, became curious as to what was the thing that was helping me get in these doors and make all this stuff happens. I started hosting workshops where I would simulate networking experiences. I actually helped people act out, one-on-one meetings, cocktail parties. When they would act them out, I started to notice a lot of patterns. Patterns are often the precursor to frameworks.

What I did was I started to develop frameworks around relationship-building, which led to people reaching out to me and saying, “Hey, can you teach me more of this stuff?” That led to me founding a conference for connectors that I ran for a couple of years, bringing lots of connectors together. That led to the podcast.

While I was doing a lot of this work, what I found was that every single person that I was working with that had a relationship-building challenge, also had a messaging challenge. When I noticed that, I said, “Okay, what are those issues and how can we start to rethink that?” That’s where I started to focus on this idea of helping thoughtful givers become thought leaders. People that are great at giving to others, they’re great at supporting others, how do they package their ideas and turn them into referable brands? That’s brought me to where I am today.

Awesome. Well, we’re going to have fun talking about all of that. Before we dive into those details, I’d love for you to just take a minute and– I know you’ve built a successful business and I know that’s not always a straight line, easy path to success, right?


What are some of the things that you found over the years have helped you push through when things get tough?

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

I think one of the things is the aspect of making sure that you are informing your network about what you actually need. I think a lot of the time, as entrepreneurs, when we are going through hard times, we have this tendency to suffer in silence and think, “Well, people will see me as being not as successful,” or, “I’m going to look bad in front of others,” but I have found that every single time that something’s been really, really rough, me reaching out and just educating my network and saying like, “This is what’s going on,” and, “This is where I could use support,” that’s always been the thing that has moved the needle. That’s really changed things.

It ties into another concept, actually, about content creation and putting your ideas out there, which is this idea of giving yourself permission to suck. There’s just no possibility that every single thing that you put out is going to be polished and beautiful and wonderful. If you stop worrying about that piece of perfection and you stop worrying about, “How is this going to sound?” and you just get out there and do it and get the feedback, you’re going to do much, much better. That’s been, I’d say, one of the biggest things for me is always just giving myself that permission to put things out even if it’s not ready and let the market tell me if it’s ready or not.

I’ve never connected those two phenomena. I’ve been through those times where life wasn’t exactly dealing me the best of cards. I think we all do as– I’m going to be 50 in a few years. The more I talk to my peers, the more we all realize that that’s just the normal course of things. Everybody goes through it. Whereas when I was younger, I probably wasn’t as willing to talk about the difficulties. What I found, though, is that the times that I’ve gone through that, the immediate reaction, immediate tendency is to withdraw and become isolated. It’s the exact opposite of what you should do, but I think it’s a totally natural, normal reaction because oftentimes when bad things are going on there’s some embarrassment, almost shame around it a lot of times.

I’ve never connected that with the second thought, which I think is brilliant, that you just have to get stuff out there sometimes. It’s almost like the same thing. Even when you’re the product and you’re not quite ready yet because of whatever’s going on you’ve got to get yourself out there.

In Broadway, we often will say many things like, “Nobody really knows anything.” People will be like “I think this show is going to be a hit or I think this show is going to be a hit,” and you never know which show is going to be a hit. You just got to put on the show and see what the market tells you and what you can learn. I’ve just always adopted that model of you get it out there and you listen and then you can refine that as you go. If you never get it out there, you’re going to have a lot of challenges.

I think that’s true with everything. I went through a period of time a few years ago- actually for four straight years I wrote a daily email to our lists every weekday, and I will tell you the ones that I am most proud of like I thought this is golden prose dripping from my fingers, nobody opened those. The ones where I did it like in a super rush and it was, “I can’t believe I’m sending this out,” those are the ones that got all the results.

You’re right. You just never know. That thought applies to so many things that we do both in life and in business that it almost takes you to a point where the most important thing is just to ship a lot stuff because in the act of shipping a lot of stuff you figure out what works. You never will know until then, right?

Yes. The other thing is that if you are consistent and you just keep putting things out there, you have a lot more to look at in regards to seeing patterns. Patterns are the precursor to frameworks. If you want to create your own content, you want to create your own material, you want your ideas to be out there in a much more significant way, you have to see what is the pattern of all the things that I’ve been talking about.

You can’t do that if you’ve only written three posts but if you’ve written a year’s worth of posts, you can go back to those and you can see, “Wow, these things really all wind up under the same umbrella so maybe I can just take this and turn this into a five-step process or create this Venn diagram or any of those types of things. Just continuously putting that stuff out there gives you that opportunity to see it in a much much clearer way.

I love that. We’re recording this at the beginning of the year. People are going to hear this in another week or two, so it’ll still be close to the start of the year. I think that’s probably some of the best advice that anybody could hear at this point because you get this fresh start with the beginning of every year. Now is your opportunity to go and create some consistency particularly around getting your ideas out there which I know is- that’s the single biggest driver in our business and I think you probably say the same for yours.

It’s awesome advice and I appreciate you sharing that.


Let’s take a quick break. We’re going to be right back with more from Michael Roderick in just a second.

Welcome back this is Steve Gordon and I’m talking with Michael Roderick. Michael, I appreciate what you shared with us before. I think it ties in nicely to the work that you’re doing around building a referable brand. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means when you say referable brand?

Sure. The idea really came from the fact that I was reading this book called Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz which is one of the top books that you can read if you’re learning about copywriting, understanding the concepts of it. One of the things that he brings up is this idea of sophistication of the market. In the early stages if you have a market that doesn’t really know about the product and you say it’s 50% off, people are just like, “Great I’m going to buy.”

Then as more products come in and as more people get it, all of a sudden, now you need a little advertorial, and now you need a five-page sales page in all these different types things. What I noticed was that in the messaging world, people have become even more sophisticated. We’re starting to hit this point where because so many people have tried to teach others how to be different, all of these presentations of different is actually starting to become the same and starting to sound the same.

Building a Brand People Talk About

I started to think about this, “Okay, how do we think about our markets now that they are more sophisticated?” What I realized was the one thing that is not going to change and has never changed throughout history is people being willing to talk about our ideas and put our ideas in the hands of others. That’s where the idea of the referable brand came from, where I was basically, like, “How do you take an idea or a concept, and how do you make it easy for people to share and bring to other networks?” The more I dug in, the more I found that there were three factors that kept popping up again, and again, and again. That was accessibility, influence, and memory.

In many cases, we don’t take the time to think about how we’re actually making sure our message is accessible to people outside of our industry. In many cases, we don’t think about the language that we use and how that can actually influence others and the network that we have and how that can influence others to share our stuff. What’s often forgotten about, I would say the most, is what memory devices, what mnemonic tools, have we given somebody so that they can very easily just walk away and share our ideas.

For example, accessibility influence in memory spells the word AIM. If I do that, and somebody is listening to this, they are going to remember those three things because I’ve packaged it in such a way that it’s easy to share. That becomes in and of itself, a referable brand.

That sounds so simple. Why aren’t we all doing it?

The most interesting thing is that, simplicity is actually the hardest thing to accomplish. We have a tendency to overcomplicate the things that we do because we want to be seen as different. We want to be seen as cool and out there and all these different types of things, but when we try to be the trendsetter, to be the disruptor, and all of these different types of things. We lose the very first thing that actually gets people to the point where they trust us in the first place, which is accessibility.

There’s this really interesting story about the song Hey Ya!, and it was covered in the book, Power of Habit.Basically, what happened was, the song when it first came out, everybody was turning the song off right away. It was because the sound was just too new for the audience, and what they learned, was that any time that we listen to artists whose songs kind of sound the same over and over and over again, we will listen all the way through.

What they started to do, which was genius, they played Celine Dion, then they played Hey Ya!, and then they played Maroon 5. What happened was over time, with sandwiching Hey Ya! between these two very familiar songs eventually, Hey Ya! became a familiar song and that’s why it became a hit. It’s too often we try to sell our Hey Ya! before we’ve actually given anybody our Celine.

We have to find our Celine, that aspect of figuring out, what is going to be the accessible hook, the thing that’s going to get somebody to just listen, before we introduce this new idea or this new concept. Is the thing that I see so many people miss out on and not think about because they don’t want to sound like everybody else. How are you going to hook your- How are you going to get your audience to understand what you’re talking about if everything’s too new? You have to give them something familiar to start with.

That’s the first piece that I- It sounds like the accessibility piece. Can you make that practical? Is there an example you can share with us where somebody could look at it from a business perspective, how they might incorporate that?

Why the Way You Talk About Your Business Is So Important

In many cases, there are container words and then there are content words. Container words help us to understand which direction you’re going into. Let’s say, you work in the field of leadership, but you’re doing something very different in that world. If you try to come up with some random term to call yourself like, “I teach leadership through magical thinking,” or something completely random, what’s going to happen is people are going to be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” You have to give them an anchor, and you have to say something along the lines of, “Have you heard of servant leadership, or the concept of servant leadership?”

Well, what I do is I teach people how to get into the mind of the servant. It’s like, “Now, I can follow the thread,” but if you start from the aspect of, “I am a structured servant leader master who teaches people how to live a more aligned life,” or whatever the heck they’ve learned how to package, people are going to look to you, and say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” We need an anchor to start with. Without an anchor, we are probably not going to listen to the rest.

I used to talk about copywriting and used the metaphor of if you do it really well, and you craft a message that somebody can latch on to, it’s like they are walking along on the beach, and you walk up beside them. You walk together for a little while, and then you slowly convince them to change their direction.” That’s almost like what you are talking about because you’re walking up with- matching the direction that they’re going, and their thinking is going, and with something that’s familiar. Then you are taking that, and then starting to take a nice easy turn towards where you want them to go.

Yes, and another–

You got it?

Yes, I think that’s perfect. Another thing is pay attention to when somebody says what they think you are even if you disagree, because that tells you what the anchor is. If you’re describing the work that you’re doing, and they are like, “Yes, that’s like personal branding.” Don’t stop them and be like, “No, I don’t do personal branding. I do dah, dah, dah.” Say, “Okay, that’s an anchor.” That’s something I can use. I can say, “Have you heard of personal branding? I think about it this way.”

Yes, I love that. That’s the first piece. That’s, A, accessibility.

That’s accessibility.

All right. Where do we go from there?

With influence- if you have ever read the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, he points out a lot of just fascinating things that cause us to act the way that we do, often without us even realizing it. There’s the idea of scarcity where we feel like there’s not enough. We’ll be more likely to go for it. There’s the concept of social proof where if it looks like somebody is associated with Forbes or Inc, we’re more likely to go on their podcast. There are all these things that influence us, that cause us to want to do something.

Most of the time when we are thinking about our ideas and our content, we are not thinking about how are we structuring it in such a way that they will actually do something? If we do this, and we really think about, “What do I want somebody to do when they read this material? What do want somebody to do when they read my email? When they listen to what I’m creating?” Then we can start to layer in those elements that influence people, and that cause them to want to do something, to want to create some kind of action.

A lot of the time when people are putting their message out there, they are doing a talk, or they are doing a presentation, and people listen to it and say, “That’s kind of nice,” but if there is nothing that causes you to say, “I need to tell that to my friend,” or, “I need to do that for myself,” then that’s a talk that you can just throw away. It was interesting. It was a cool little story, but what am I going to do with this? The more that you can build in elements of influence, and really think about how do you get people to do something with the material that you’re giving them, that’s what’s going to actually move the needle, make more people share it, make more people actually move forward.

Even to your point where you said, “Can you give us a concrete example of accessibility?” that instantly makes the description of accessibility more influential because now people are going to go, and they are going to look at their tagline, they are going to look at the way that they are presenting themselves, and they are going to ask, “Am I doing that?” They are going to do something with this information, which means they are going to be influenced to actually make something happen.

When you think about how you are going to build this messaging to engineer it to spread, and be shared? What are some of the influence triggers that you lean on the most?

A lot of the time what I do is I lean on the aspects of how easy is it going to be to share. The metaphor that I like to use is the pile of apples versus the bag. If I hand you a pile of apples, and I say, “Walk across the room,” you are very likely going to drop an apple, especially if I’m giving you a large pile. If I take a bag and I put all of those apples in a bag, and I say, “Walk across the room,” there is no way that you are going to drop the apple.

Simplify Your Message for More Referrals

Most of the time when we are creating a message, what we do is we overcomplicate it in terms of how much people have to remember, so when we simplify it and we make it a simple thing for them to remember and share and send over to their friends and help their- what happens is, it becomes that much more influential and that much more easy to spread. If we want folks to actually share our material, we have to give them something that they can walk away with, and actually just do. The example that I have used in the past is if you’ve ever seen the Simon Sinek, the famous Start with Why talk.

One of the main reasons why that talk is so easy to share with people is that everybody can draw that circle and look smart in front of their friends. That is a very quick cocktail party napkin kind of thing. That’s not a complicated diagram. That’s not a 14-step process. That’s something super, super simple, that people can easily just share. Most of the times when we think about our content and our material, we are trying to overload people with too much information,

I could go miles into the world of accessibility with you. We could talk about all sorts of ways that we’re able to think about accessibility. I could talk about all sorts of different ways to think about influence. I could talk about all sorts of different ways to think about memory. If I went through five or six different examples of accessibility in this interview, and I went through a bunch of different examples of influence, and I went through a bunch of different examples of memory, what happens? People won’t remember it, and people won’t use it. If they have something super simple example that they can use, and something easy for them to remember and share, like pile of apples versus the bag, they’re significantly more likely to pass that information on and to talk about it.

It’s funny. We all want all the strategies. We want to know everything, but if you don’t have any around this particular topic, all you need is one.


Dear listener, you just need the first one and Michael’s giving them to you. It’s a great place to start. I love that. You got me thinking here. We just started publishing a whole series of articles, and I’m like “Oh, no, I’ve got to go back. I’ve got to edit.”

There’ll be some editing work coming up here for me. This is really good. That’s the second piece is influence. Tell us about the third piece.

Yes. Memory, the thing that we often forget about in regards to memory is that we only remember things because we create anchors for ourselves. Right now, if you were to look around the room, there are items in your room that when you look at it, you’re going to remember all sorts of things that happened in your life. It’s going to trigger all sorts of thoughts for you. If you have a favorite coffee mug, that coffee mug is going to remind you of that meeting that you had, that dinner that happened, all these things are going to blow up in your mind.

We create anchors all over the place. Sometimes it’s a TV show that brings back tons of memories. Sometimes it’s a song that brings back tons of memories. Sometimes it’s a place that we’ve been to that brings back tons of memories. If we are trying to get people to remember our material, what we want to do is we want to get them to have memories. We want to get them to feel certain emotions.

The thing is, I can say, “How to be better–” I can write a subject line that’s like, “How to get better at marketing?” And nobody cares, because that’s boring. You’re not going to remember that. Everybody’s going to think, “Fine. How do I be better at marketing?” If I have a subject line that says, “Why Ryan Reynolds is winning?” Then, I talk about the fact that his latest commercial for Aviation Gin is an absolutely genius way to comment on the industry, which very, very few people have done.

Then, all of a sudden, you’re thinking about the time you watched Deadpool, you’re thinking about the Kevin Smith movies. All of these things are bubbling up for you, because I just triggered all of your memories about Ryan Reynolds, so you’re going to remember my example. You’re going to remember what I talked about, because now it ties to you, now it’s about you. So often we don’t get specific when it comes to the memory devices that we give people.

If we give them something that triggers a bunch of memories, then they are much more likely to share our ideas and share our content. In fact, you go back to the Simon Sinek example, he didn’t talk about, “I’m Simon Sinek and here are my ideas.” He talked about, “This is why Steve Jobs was successful and this is why Martin Luther King was successful.” For every single person in that audience, they were thinking about their own memories of Steve Jobs and their own memories of Martin Luther King. Of course, they wanted to go and talk about it at a cocktail party, because somebody’s going to mention Steve Jobs. At that time, somebody was going to mention Steve Jobs at a cocktail party, somebody was going to mention Martin Luther King, they weren’t going to mention Simon Sinek at that time, but now they were, because of that association.

Well, and what’s interesting in that example is, you’re not just creating the memory effect that you talked about, but like in the Simon Sinek example now, it’s not Simon’s idea. It’s got the authority of Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Which ties back to your influence. The thing that is most important to understand about this particular framework, is that it is a framework that you use as a way to layer, to create more compelling messages. If you’re trying to create a referable brand, you want to look at, “What are the elements of accessibility that I’m using? What are the elements of influence that I’m using? What are the elements of memory that I’m using, and how you layer those things? What you do more of? What you do less of, to see what’s really taking off. What’s really working?

Again, that’s the difference between– Everybody else is doing 50% off, and you are writing a seven-page sales letter because you were coming up with this ultra-complicated way of breaking everything down and really coming up with your own thing that you can say like, “This is my intellectual property,” because you were piecing those things together in a way that nobody else is going to piece them together because nobody else has had your experiences, nobody else is seeing the world in the same way that you’re seeing them. If you start to layer these ideas and these concepts on, then all of a sudden, your stuff is just so much more easy to refer because you’re using all of these tools as opposed to just one.

It occurs to me there’s a danger with the memory part. You tell me if I’m overblowing this or not, but you brought the example of Ryan Reynolds. I can’t remember the last Ryan Reynold’s movie I saw. Now, you’re talking to my wife instantly, she would know, right?


But if you were using that to try and sell to me, I know who he is and maybe I’ve seen the commercial, is there a danger in which triggers you choose?

Teach a Lesson, Tell a Story

There’s not necessarily a danger in the triggers, but there is a level of effectiveness that will hit in regards to that. It really comes down to this idea of how sophisticated is your audience to the things that are unimportant to you? I’m a big, big comic book fan. A lot of the people that read my stuff, know that I’m going to geek out over certain Marvel ideas or old school comic concepts, et cetera. The thing is, I’m not just writing an email, where it’s like, “Here is this comic book story.” I’m writing a story and I’m teaching a lesson with that story. It doesn’t really matter if the person isn’t a fan of that character or that particular thing because there’s always the possibility that they’ll be a fan of the message that comes out of the story.

I always tell, “If you want to build a following, the most important thing that you can do is tell a story and teach a lesson,” because so, so often we don’t take the time to help people understand why are you reading this thing in the first place? There are many instances where we’ve read an article, we’ve gone through something we’re like, “Why did I even read that? What was the purpose?” When you start to tie things up for people, it also becomes memorable.

Think about any moment where you’re watching television, let’s say you’re watching a series and all of those little threads and all of those pieces that you were watching start to come together towards the end of that season. Think of how satisfying that is. Think of how exciting that is. When you’re tying those things together for everybody, and they’re seeing that, they’re going along for the ride in some cases. In some cases, they’re like, “Wow, you know what, I’m going to go watch that Ryan Reynolds video to see what I can learn.” Even though I don’t really know him or understand what he’s about because there might be something there that I can learn for my own marketing or for my own messaging.

It’s almost as if you- For those who it doesn’t hit home with immediately, if you do it well you create curiosity.


You can almost go build that memory, in a different way you can go build that memory for them.

Yes. Exactly.

Very cool. Michael, this is fascinating. I think I could probably sit here and talk with you the rest of the afternoon on this.I doubt our calendars will allow that.

Yes, right.

Where can people continue the conversation? How can they find you, learn more about what you’re doing?

My website is Smallpondenterprises.com. If they go on there, there is a download called Hang With Your Heroes. That breaks down some of this like as you’re reaching out to people how do you think about this particular process? When you sign up there you get an invitation to sign up for my daily email. On my daily email, I dig into all of these topics. I talk about a lot of these different frameworks and new things I’m thinking about. They’re also welcome to check out the podcast accesstoanyonepodcast.com, lot of fun stuff on there as well. I’m pretty accessible. I’m on all the socials. I’m on The Book of Faces. I’m on Twitter. They can always feel free to reach out there. I’m more than happy to chat.

Really good. We’ll link up to all of those locations as well in the show notes. If you’re driving and you couldn’t write that down just go to Unstoppableceo.net, look for this episode with Michael and we’ll have it all linked there for your convenience. Michael thanks for being here. This has been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a ton. You got my wheel spinning for sure and I know you’ve done the same for everybody listening. Thanks for being here.

Thanks so much for having me.

There are many ways to build your authority in business, but the very best way is by authoring a book.

If you've had "write a book" on your bucket list for too long, why not join the next "Write Your Million Dollar Book"
Free 5-Day Accelerator
for entrepreneurs?