By Nick Nanton, Esq.

“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.” ~ Richard Bach

What really ignites our passion for our business?

What fires up our ambition and causes us to make crucial decisions about what career paths we want to follow – and what level of success we want to attain?

Well, in many, many cases, it’s people who initially inspire and motivate us in what we want to do with our lives – and how we want to do it.

People like Donald Trump. Richard Branson. Oprah Winfrey. These are people who dominate their particular arena with their personalities, people who completely own their success, people who cause others to approach them with multi-million or even multi-billion dollar deals, just because they know that having these superstars’ names attached to a project or company will almost guarantee success.

When you become aware of these kinds of people and you’re at just the right moment of your life, it’s like being hit by a lightning bolt. And you think, “Whoa! This person is the ultimate. I want to be exactly like them.”

For the first time, perhaps, you clearly see what you want your future to be – a future where, if you do what these super-successful people do, you end up with the same incredible opportunities and influence that they have.

And that’s where it can get a little dangerous.

While it’s awesome to be inspired by amazing achievers who have literally changed the face of the business world, there is a risk of becoming….well, too inspired.

To me, imitation is the highest form of flattery…and one of the biggest traps you can fall into.


There’s a difference between emulating someone you want to be like – and just plain imitating them. In the first instance, you take their best qualities and adapt them to who you are. In the second instance, you actually try to do everything exactly the way they do it – even though you can’t possibly do it as well as they do.

Because you are not them!

You see, there’s a reason Elvis impersonators don’t become known by their own names. Nobody wants them to be who they really are – no, their fans only want them to pretend to be Elvis. Of course, they could never actually be Elvis – they can only bring back great memories of The King of Rock N’ Roll.

Elvis may have inspired these musicians to begin with. And these musicians undoubtedly have to have some talent to pull off a credible Elvis impersonation. But because they only present themselves as a shadow of someone famous, rather than developing their own unique personality, they’re trapped. And if they ever want to become a singer that actually reflects their own personality, they usually have to start from scratch.

You can always enjoy an outright tribute act to a great performer. However, if they have the musical chops, they can bring back some awesome memories. But when you’re perceived as ripping off a beloved icon, that’s another story. And, since I am involved in the music business, I’d like to offer another musical example that illustrates just that scenario.

Anybody remember a rock band named “The Knack”? In 1979, their first album yielded a huge worldwide number one hit, “My Sharona,” which you still hear played today. It didn’t sound like anything else at the time – so you would think these guys had it made, right?

Wrong. The band itself ended up enraging rock fans and music critics at the time – because their first album cover art was a copy of the first Beatles’ album – down to the band’s haircuts. Now, if it had been some kind of clever ‘spin’ on the Beatles’ album cover, they probably could have gotten away with it – but instead, it was almost a replica of the real deal. This resulted in a huge backlash that doomed their next effort and turned them into a footnote in rock history.

The sad fact is, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use the people who inspire you in a way that helps you succeed as an individual. Billy Joel has been a top act since 1973 – and there’s a good reason for his singular success. In a recent interview, he talked about how he used his inspirations growing up. “I’m a product of what I heard while I was growing up, said Joel. “I synthesize my take on Ray Charles or the Beatles. That’s where I’m coming from.”

Note that he never made a point of singing his musical idols’ songs. Or dressing up like them. Or duplicating their artwork. No, what he did was incorporate their techniques and their kind of showmanship into what he was doing – so he developed his own, strong personal identity that paid off for him. That’s how he became an authentic musical success.

And by doing so, he avoided being trapped by the shadows of the greats – and he also avoided a huge backlash by not ripping off those legends either. Nobody thinks of Billy Joel as being anyone other than Billy Joel. And yet, the man openly admits liberally borrowing from the musical influences of his youth. By developing his own sound, however, and staying true to himself, he created his own indelible stamp that still resonates after three decades in the music business.


What works in the music business works in any business. Because it’s still, ultimately, all about business. The best thing any business person can do is create their own strong, authentic personality that carries through their company’s image and PR. You can always make a few bucks by slavishly imitating those more successful than you – but you can never truly earn respect or huge profits unless you create and develop your own individual template for achievement.

One of my big inspirations in the business world is master marketer Dan Kennedy. That’s why I’m proud to be a business partner of his in Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club® ( – if you’re curious!) Now, if you know anything about Dan, you understand that he is a very unique personality. He drives professionally in about 100 harness races a year, purposely avoids and disparages slick-looking modern advertising, and is impossible to reach by phone. Yes, in the year 2010, the only way you can communicate with Dan Kennedy is… by fax.

In other words, he pretty much breaks every business rule there is in the world and makes it work for him – because he is very much his own person. And yes, I follow many of his precepts – but only in terms of what I want to project about myself, my business and my image. By absorbing his ideas through my own filter, I’m still Nick Nanton – and I don’t end up being seen as Dan Kennedy Jr.. Trust me – I have zero interest in trying harness racing!

Many of the business people that I work with and I meet through what we affectionately call “Planet Dan” (this is the network of businesspeople who attend Dan’s seminars, read his books and generally are fans of his teachings) – go through what I call “the 4 Stages of Kennedy”. I think this progression is incredibly similar to anyone else’s who suddenly stumbles upon a personality that they desperately want to mimic in their professional life.

Stage 1 is simply…”Dan Kennedy is insane!” When someone first sees Dan’s “No B.S.”, punch-to-the-head style of copywriting, looks over Dan’s rough, unpolished marketing materials and finds out that….wait, this guy only takes faxes???…., they immediately think Dan’s a psycho, I’m a psycho for promoting Dan and everybody in our Glazer-Kennedy marketing group is drinking something they shouldn’t be. But something lures them in…

….and then comes Stage 2”Dan Kennedy is God!” The person suddenly understands how effective Dan’s approaches are, how he’s attracted all these followers with his incredible, instinctive marketing talents and how his methods can make money for any viable business. Their mind is completely blown and they have the burning fever of the recently-converted. And yes, now the convert seems like he’s ‘drinking the kool-aid’ too!

That fever takes a long while to cool down, because Stage 3 ends up being, “I will BE Dan Kennedy!” Instead of becoming an Elvis impersonator, the person decides to become a Dan Kennedy impersonator (one advantage is you don’t need a sequined jumpsuit to be the latter). So he begins modeling his entire modus operandi on Dan’s. Being only in touch by fax? Amazing idea! Telling people what to do and how to do it without pulling any punches? Outstanding! Hey, who knows where the best place is to learn harness racing?

And then brutal reality comes knocking on this guy’s door. He realizes Dan Kennedy can get away with a lot of his quirks because he’s been regarded as a marketing genius for decades; Dan’s earned his “street cred”, so he knows he can do as he ‘darn well’ pleases. Our Dan Kennedy newbie, on the other hand, is usually in the beginning steps of establishing himself and his business. He finds out he can’t afford to solely use a fax machine instead of a cell phone, nor does he really want to. He actually enjoys communicating with customers, prospects…and even friends, on a regular basis!

(Oh, and he stinks at harness racing.)

So, if he’s smart, he now progresses to Stage 4 – “I’m just going to LEARN everything I can from Dan Kennedy.” That means personally adapting and integrating Dan’s rules and techniques – but still remaining who you are.

Just as Billy Joel integrated the work of the greats who inspired him into his own authentic music, our new Dan Kennedy disciple has learned to likewise funnel the Dan Kennedy marketing magic through his own filter. And nobody looks down on him as if he’s just a pale copy of the real Dan Kennedy.


Obviously, Stage 4 is what you want to shoot for whenever an impressive person inspires you. But how do you avoid merely imitating the greats – when what you should be doing is integrating what they have to offer into your own persona?

First and foremost, you have to figure out who you are and what you want. You, your personality and your passions are the foundation for your growth and development, both as a human being and as a business person. “To thine own self be true,” goes the Shakespearean maxim and that still holds true 500 years later. I won’t be around in another 500 years, unless science has some really amazing breakthroughs, but I expect that thought to still be quoted then.

Second, break down what works for you and what doesn’t; where you need either a complete change of direction or where you just need to make adjustments to improve your results. To realize your ambitions, this is essential.

Finally, decide how to add needed value to who you are and what you do. This is where you should search for the proper coaches, mentors and role models who have already achieved what you want to achieve. Analyze how they made that magic happen – then see how their different methodologies apply to what you do, how you do it and the areas where you need to make adjustments.

The big lesson here? Never try to play someone else’s game. Instead, fit theirs into your own.

That’s how I help my clients achieve celebrity status in their fields. Obviously, they have to offer something different to stand out – and, to properly brand them, we employ proven strategies used by some of the most successful business people of all time. But we use those strategies to support and promote who our clients are, not to make them into something they’re not.

When you integrate instead of imitate, you eliminate a lot of self-imposed limitations and open up a world of possibilities. So don’t be an Elvis impersonator. It’s always better to be your own King…and that’s how you can ignite your business and transform your world, as well as the worlds of so many more people who you’ll now be able to help – because they see you as the real deal, not merely an impersonator.