The well of opportunities seem to be dryer than ever and full of competition — so I want to share a method for creating opportunities. It’s a bit similar to the “foot-in-the-door” sales technique, but it’s not a trick — it’s a trade designed to create opportunities. It’s called a Trojan Horse. (I’m not talking about the viruses.)
You see Trojan Horses everyday.
The free eBook is a Trojan Horse designed for the marketers to get your e-mail address, which you would usually be more protective of.
The single is a Trojan Horse designed to get you to listen to the album. The album is a Trojan Horse designed to get you out to an artist’s live show.
Food connoisseur, bestselling author, and entrepreneur Eddie Huang uses his “food show”, Fresh off the Boat, to attract viewers’ attention. (You should check it out sometime, it’s an awesome show. He also has a book.) He then explores culture and other topics or issues, and drops some food-unaffiliated topics (e.g., history, identity in a foreign country, or racism, or whatever) on the viewer. His food is a Trojan Horse to get you to hear out his thoughts and perspective.
Trojan Horses can be used everywhere. I’m going to share three stories specifically about how others have used them to create professional opportunities and “break in” to various fields much more quickly than the rest of their cohort.
A brief historical primer for those unfamiliar: the Greeks were engaged in a war with the Trojans and were laying siege to the city of Troy for a decade without much success. A Greek general (just some dude named Odysseus) decided to create a gift that would lure the Trojans into taking it into the city. The Greeks would go into hiding and it would appear as though the Greeks gave up, returned home, and left this gift in the plains outside of Troy. The Greek forces lay in wait as their gift, a gigantic wooden horse, was pulled by the Trojans into their city.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, this horse housed dozens of elite Greek warriors, who opened the gates of Troy as the Trojans were sleeping and allowed the Greek forces to swarm in and win the Trojan war. This technique was able to accomplish what ten years of assault and war could not.
While this is a bit of a malicious analogy, it’s still an extremely valid method you can use to work your way into professional opportunities (e.g., freelance work, part-time or full-time jobs, etc.). Trojan Horses can be used in many, many, aspects of life.
An extremely relevant, modern-day, publishing example of a Trojan Horse is Gaby Dunn’s 100 Interviews project. Dunn found herself without full-time work after graduating from journalism school. Rather than shotgun resumes or schmooze, she decided to do a project where she interviews 100 people she would likely have never met in her life.
At one point with my family, I complained, “I bet I could think of 100 stories I could have written for them if they had only let me!” And my dad said: “Well, why don’t you write those down?” So I did. I stayed up the whole night writing ideas of people I wanted to meet in a notebook on the floor. I realized that I didn’t need to sit around and wait to get hired by a big newspaper.
—Gaby Dunn, College Publisher Interview
As she was publishing these interviews, Dunn was able to build her platform independently of any organization, and earned an opportunity with New York Times Magazine when the editor contacted her and said he was a fan of her work.
In an age where only opportunities are the key to further opportunities, inexperienced individuals are doomed by inertia. They don’t qualify for entry-level jobs because they don’t have the prerequisite skills or previous work experience; however, these skills credibility, and experience are usually obtained through an entry-level job. What a dilly of a pickle!
The solution is Charlie Hoehn’s free work concept:
The goal of free work is not so much to become friends with the person (although that can happen), but rather to build a relationship and earn their trust. It’s harder to do that if you approach them with a sales pitch right away.
Remember, prerequisite skills and previous work experience are simply proxy measurements for whether or not your potential employer or client can trust you. By using the alternative measurement of free work, and delivering consistently, you are showing them that they can trust you and are worth their time and energy.
Hoehn used this method to make a living by working with bestselling authors like Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, and Tucker Max.
No doubt I couldn’t end this post without bringing up one of the ultimate Trojan Horses of first decade of the twenty-first century, in my eyes: Kanye West. West used his skills and reputation as a producer (he started in 1996) to connect with Jay Z and Roc-a-Fella Records. He made beats for Jay Z as a freelancer in 2000 and got signed in 2002. West waited two years inside his Trojan Horse.
When West finally turned his attention on the original prize — to become a rapper —it was his ability to produce convinced the three Roc-a-Fella co-founders to sign him. They didn’t think he was necessarily a game-changing rapper, but they figured at least they could keep his production skills close by.
We all had a conversation about Kanye and whether to sign him. No one knew what would become of Kanye. Not Dame, not me not Biggs. So we all sat down and said, “Let’s at least sign so we can keep the tracks in-house. It’s only good business.”
Jay Z, XXL Magazine via 2DBZ
The rest is history.
Even after he became an award-winning musician, West continues to use his significance in pop culture to gain access to other types of artists and visionaries — for example, chatting with Tom Ford about fashion or Bret Easton Ellis about filmmaking.
As every speaker says, It’s most important in the long-term to add value to yourself. The problem is they never explain how. Audience members roll their eyes and figure out how to make the quickest buck, because money talks.
This is one way to add value to yourself. Don’t shotgun resumes. Don’t just go to networking events and cross your fingers that you’ll connect with some interesting people.
Instead, channel your energy carefully and create a Trojan Horse: something that will not only attract key decision makers and opportunities that aren’t currently available to you. If in doubt, create a conference or a blog that will give you the opportunity to interview experts from your niche.
And — yes—my writing has been used as a Trojan Horse many, many, times. (All stories for other times. And shit, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sign up for my free eBook.)