Episode 53 – John Ruhlin, Expert Gift Giver

John Ruhlin has no problem with being called a master networker. Because to John, networking is not some cheap sales tactic, but a vital way to connect and build long-term relationships. Which, we all need. From sales, to breaking into a new friend-group, to navigating the treacherous waters of the PTA, we could all use a little help fostering deep networking relationships.

Today, John is giving us the gift of effective networking. With his revolutionary “Giftology” approach to building connections, John and Jessica discover what it means to communicate value and deepen relationships.


Jessica: Hey there, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared podcast where we cover all things, social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. Today’s show we are demystifying what it means to network. Today’s guest is my friend John Ruhlin, who is a master networker, which you’re going to find that “networking” is not a dirty word. Networking is simply building long-term relationships. OK? So, this podcast, you are going to walk away with so many tips and tricks that you are going to be able to immediately implement.

John is the founder of the Ruhlin Group, which is a gifts logistics company that helps finance the Chicago Cubs, Caesars Entertainment, the Miami Dolphins. John was the number one salesman for a $250-million direct sales company—some of you guys know Cutco Knives—by the time he was only 23. And so, now he speaks widely about strategic gift-giving and relationships and helps CEOs and sales teams drive referrals and open doors to decision-makers. He’s the author of Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Client Retention. John spoke to us at Shine a couple of years ago, and our Ambassadors gleaned so much, I wanted to bring him on this show so you could also glean from him as well. Here’s John.

Jessica: First of all, I’m gonna get to know you a little better because I wanna hear a little bit about your background. But you are the master networker, is that OK if I say that?

John: It depends on what people’s connotation of networker is. People, sometimes … that’s a sleazy like you’re the guy passing out business cards at the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary meeting, like that doesn’t elicit warm fuzzies. But I like to say I have a great group of people that I’m connected to and I have a lot of great relationships, I guess is fair to say.


A Midwestern Boy with Midwestern Values


Jessica: Well, that’s what I wanna … we’re gonna redefine all of this because this is what I wanna get into because I experience you as authentic as sincere, but I’ve learned a lot from you just by being your friend. I really think there’s a lot of myths to break down in regards to what does it mean to build relationships that also eventually do bring value to your business and to your life. But before that—John, I know that you grew up … you’re Midwestern boy.

John: I know. I’m freezing my butt off today. Yeah, it’s like negative 10 degrees with the wind chills of negative 30. So, yeah, I’m an Ohio farm boy living just outside of St. Louis now. So yeah, go Midwest.

Jessica: Well, I married a Midwesterner. I have a serious bias towards Midwestern men. I do.

John: From our core values like we’re low-key, hard-working, honest, try to do the right thing and…

Jessica: The stereotype has played out. It has played out to be true at least in my marriage.

John: That’s great. You found a great one. That’s it.

Jessica: I found a true one. I did. Salt of the earth, salt of the earth. OK. So, let’s talk a little bit more about that because you speak pretty openly about growing up on a farm in Ohio. And you also talk about how you were fairly poor. So just tell us a little bit more about your growing up background.

John: Yeah. So, I grew up one of six kids. I grew up on 47 acres. My wife makes fun of it because she grew up on 4,000 acres. She’s like, “We forgot to plant 47 acres. That’s not a real farm.” And I’m like, “Well, we heated our house with wood. We had a one-acre garden. We had 15 acres of hay that we bailed basically by hand,” like it was basically like a survival subsistence kind of farm.

My stepdad had three jobs and one of them was farming, and it wasn’t like the glamorous like glamping, it wasn’t that kind of farming. It was just how we lived. My mom stayed at home with the six kids and made $1 go further than 100 bucks. And so, I grew up, A, with work ethic, B, doing a lot of blue-collar type stuff, and C, like I wanted to get out of Dodge because I didn’t wanna bale hay the rest of my life. And so that took me to go to school to go be a doctor.

And I end up putting med school on hold because I had a mentor, my girlfriend’s dad, who was an attorney. And he was radically generous. He was always giving things away. What I saw in him was, “I wanna be him when I’m 60,” like he was 60 years old. And when you’re poor, when you see people that are generous, and when you see people that have their priorities in order, and he did, like he always had time for like a two-hour lunch with me and I’m like … yet he still like was a Rainmaker with referrals and open doors.

And really, I started to model a lot of the best practices that he put out, not as a strategy or as a tactic, it’s just who he was at his core. When I interned with Cutco, the knife company, and I pitched him the idea of giving away Cutco pocket knives to all of his clients who are like huge company owners of lumber yards and car dealerships and insurance companies. And they’re all men and they are all into the hunting, fishing, kind of the Midwest stuff.

And he changed my life forever when he said, “John, I don’t wanna order pocket knives. I wanna order paring knives.” And I’m like, “Paul, what are you gonna do with 100 kitchen tools, like 100 paring knives?” And he got the little smirk on his face. He said, “John, in 40 years in business, I figured out one thing and that’s it. If you want referrals, you want deals, you want all the stuff, if you take care of the family and business, everything takes care of itself.”

And so that was like the Midwest moment of like, “Oh, my gosh, like Paul understands relationships. He’s this down-home guy” like he was a Rainmaker. And I applied all those principles as a college kid. I was 20 years old. It’s what took me to be number one out of a million and a half college kids and distributors for Cutco out of their seven-year history, was modeling those Midwest values of loving on people the right way and building relationships. Everybody talks about it now like it’s sexy … like Gary Vee talks about playing the long game, Paul was playing the long game before it was cool to play the long game, and he instilled that in me 18 years ago.


Networking Through Surprise and Delight


Jessica: Wow, that’s so profound that it takes seeing in order to become. And so, you saw someone and then you didn’t just say, “Well, that could never be me.” But you just began to put his models into practice. OK. There’s this one story and it’s stuck with me forever, and I really want you to share it. It is the shirt story. The shirt story, it has stuck with me. The Brooks Brothers, the Brooks Brothers.

John: The Brooks Brothers, so Cameron Herold. What’s ironic is he just launched his fifth book called Free PR yesterday. It hit number one on Amazon, and I bought a bunch of copies for my clients and friends, whatever else. But when I heard him speak, it was like 15 years ago. I’d just joined the entrepreneurs’ organization, which I barely qualified, and I almost left the event because I was like so intimidated by all 1,200 of these top CEOs. But when I heard Cameron speak, I’m like, “If I could have him as a client but more than that if I could have him as a mentor, as an advisor, it would change my business and my life forever.” And he was the guy that grew like a company from 2 million to 125 million, 1-800-GOT-JUNK. He grew that company in five years with no debt. He was the COO of that company.

And so, I went up to him thinking like…and a lot of us do this, like we entertain people a lot. We take them to dinners, ballgames, golf. And I thought, “Man, he’s coming to my city, at Cleveland at the time where I was living, and he’s gonna be speaking.” And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I have LeBron lower level seats. We’ll go to a steak dinner. I hope we’ll like be brothers by the end of this night,” that’s what I’m thinking. And when I asked him to go to the game, he said, “John, I don’t have anything else going on. I guess I’ll go.” And I’m like, “John, like you’re an idiot,” like…

Jessica: Wait, wait, wait, wait, one second, one second. So how old are you at this point?

John: I’m 25.

Jessica: You’re 25. You see this guy, you’re like, “He’s coming to my town.” You meet him through EO. How did you even get him on the phone to invite him to your game?

John: So I signed up for EO. He was speaking at a university in Vegas. So, I paid…I invested like $10,000 to go to this event and to join EO. It was like the largest … when the bill became, the Amex bill, because I’d signed up … A friend of mine or new mentor of mine had said, “John, you should join EO.” And I signed up blindly without even knowing what it costs because this guy own 20 companies. And I was like, “If the guys are in it like you, like I’m in. I don’t care what it costs.” And so, $10,000 at the time … $10,000 for anything is a lot. But $10,000, you know, 13, 14 years ago was a ton of money.

So, I go out to this event, Cameron’s speaking. And I waited for an hour after he spoke in line to meet him. And then I found out from some other people when I was in line that he was coming to our chapter locally in EO like four months later to speak. And so that’s where I got the opportunity to invite him to the game. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, like it’s opening night for Cavs. It’s gonna be amazing time, like we’re gonna be brothers.” And so, yeah, I asked him like face to face. His response was the most underwhelming response ever. He’s like, “I guess I’ll go. I don’t have anything else going on.” I’m like, “That’s not exactly like the high-five I was looking for.”

And then I realized, I’m like, “He’s gonna go on 100 dinners and 50 golf outings and steak, ball games,” like everybody entertains the same way in business. They build the relationships all the same way. It’s like good-ole-boys club of like doing this and it’s like that’s not gonna wow him. So, on the spot, I’m like, “What else are you gonna do when you’re in town?” thinking I have to find another angle. And he said, “I’m gonna go shopping.” I’m like, “Oh, where at?” And he said, “I love Brooks Brothers. There’s not a ton of Brooks Brothers in Canada. That’s where I’m from. I’m gonna go shopping there.” And so, on the spot, I’m like, “Hey…”

Jessica: And this is all on the line, this is all on the line.

John: Yeah, face to face. And so, I’m like, “What’s your shirt’s…?”

Jessica: I just want a moment right here because I think there’s a lot of people online … You and I both launched books, we’ve had people wait in those lines to meet us. And I think in that moment, you can either … I think people make this mistake, and this is what today’s podcast is about is kind of demystifying what people kind of … what is networking and also where we get it right and where we get it wrong. And I think in that moment, a lot of people are like … start talking about themselves, like, “Oh, here’s what I do. Here’s my book. Here’s whatever.” But no, you find out his future schedule, and then you’re like, “How can I serve you? What can I do for you?” And that was different than probably a lot of the other people that are waiting in line that day. So, I just wanna point that out as tip number one. And then you noticed his response, which was just kind of like, “Uh, no big deal.” And then you’re thinking, “OK. Well, how can I really serve this guy?”

John: How can I blow him away? How can I show him? Everybody says they’re different. Everybody says they’re all about relationships. But what people say and what they do as a leader, as a sales rep, as a VP of marketing—there’s a huge gap. And it’s not congruent to say one thing, “Oh, I’m all about relationships” and then to send them like a Starbucks gift card, like that’s not really the big wow. But people do it all the time, and they think they’re doing something good by talking about all of these things. But then like there’s no congruency.

“Everybody says they’re different. Everybody says they’re all about relationships. But what people say and what they do as a leader, as a sales rep, as a VP of marketing—there’s a huge gap. And it’s not congruent to say one thing, ‘Oh, I’m all about relationships’ and then to send … a Starbucks gift card, like that’s not really the big wow. But people do it all the time.” John Ruhlin on how people miss the mark when networking.

So, with him, I was like, “Man, I gotta do something crazy.” And when I heard he’s a Brooks Brothers fan. I’m like, “I’m gonna…that’s my angle.” That’s what I thought. I was like, “That’s my way to love on him.” But I can’t say that because part of anything that is impactful, whether it’s with your spouse or whether it’s with your client is the surprise element, to surprise and delight somebody like the Ritz talks about it. But every luxury brand talks about surprise and delight, but most people suck at actually delivering that. And so, I was like, “I’m a JoS. A. Bank fan. I’m gonna send you a shirt. What’s your shirt size?” I’m thinking, “I need his shirt size.”

You could tell like he’s looking at me like, “Does this guy have a man crush on me?” Like, this is a weird question to ask another man within two minutes of meeting them. But he was from Canada and he was actually really nice, he didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. He actually told me the size. And so, I’m like, “Great, we’ll go to steak dinner, blah, blah, blah. I’m gonna send you a shirt.”

And so, I ended up calling my business partner. He thought the idea was horrible. He told me not to do it. And three months later, Cameron’s like texting me, “Hey, my flight’s delayed. I think I’m gonna get in late. Do you just wanna cancel?” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s trying to weasel out of the dinner and the ballgame. He could give two rips about it.”

And so, I called my partner back and I’m like, “Rod, we have to do this.” And he’s like, “Do you believe in it enough that if it doesn’t work it comes out of your personal draw 100%?” which I had to think for a couple of minutes because that was a lot of money that I was putting on the line, and I didn’t have a lot of money at the time. And I said, “Yeah. I believe in it enough that it’ll come out of my personal draw.” He’s like, “OK. I think it’s a stupid idea but go for it.”

So, I go to Brooks Brothers an hour away, I put the Amex down. I said, “I want one of everything in the new fall collection, all your jackets, pantsuits, belt, sweaters, everything.” And they go to ring it up, and I’m praying to God that the credit card goes through because it’s $7,000 in clothes.

And so, then I rushed over to the Ritz where he’s staying. I’m like … I asked for the GM, I’m like, “One of the top business coaches in the world is coming into town. Do you wanna do something impressive?” And of course, it’s the Ritz, they say yes. They said, “What are you thinking?” And I said, “Well, I wanna merchandise his hotel room to look like a Brooks Brothers store. I want sweaters here. I want jackets there.” And takes him like an hour to pull it off. And I’m downstairs like in the lobby bar. And I’m not a big drinker, but I had like a triple on the rocks of like bourbon because I’m nervous beyond belief. My hand’s shaking, I’m like sweating profusely.

And my business partner gets there an hour later. And he’s like chiming in my ear. He said, “He’s gonna think you’re a stalker. This is the worst idea ever. This is gonna blow up in our face.” And Cameron gets in, and you can tell like he doesn’t wanna go to dinner and a ball game. He just wants to go to bed, like take a shower, go to bed. And so, I’m like, “Cameron, come down whenever you’re ready. Take a shower.” And he comes back down. He said, “John, I’ve met a lot of people. When I go to Dubai and fly first-class and business-class, all these other things that treat me well, he’s like, “I’ve never had anybody that has treated me the way that you did,” like the personalization, the element of like surprise. He’s like, “Whatever you wanna talk about for as long as you wanna talk about it, I’m all yours.” And if you look, like I’ve continued to gift him for, I think, the last decade, but he’s done things for me that $10 million in advertising can do.

The reason I can charge $25 to $50,000 to speak now is because before anybody knew who I was before Giftology the book, he was … When he was double booked, we would recommend me to the CEO or the event planner and say, “You gotta book John Ruhlin, and here’s his fee.” And he would just say like 10 grand, 15 grand. I’d never charged $10,000 for a speaking engagement ever. But he started to get behind me and open doors with all of his clients. He’s become like this huge raving fan, mentor, advocate, client, you name it. If he’s sending out gifts, he’s like, “John, I wanna send out 100 knife sets, you know, like let’s do it to this.” And I’m like looking at the list, I’m like, “It’s like the CEO of a billion-dollar company, like, this is insane.” Like he’s paying money to go advertise for me, like this is the craziest thing. But it all spurred from that one huge radical generosity, you know, example and its ripple-effected into the last decade.

“[Cameron Herold has] become like this huge raving fan, mentor, advocate, client, you name it. If he’s sending out gifts … he’s paying money to go advertise for me, like this is the craziest thing. But it all spurred from that one huge radical generosity, you know, example and its ripple-effected into the last decade.” John Ruhlin

Jessica: Wow. And when you met him, were you thinking … because I’m sure he was … he had already had a successful career, but were you thinking like mentorship or were you … like strategically, were you like, “This is just a great relationship to have” or were you thinking like, “I know he’s well connected to these other relationships”?

John: I think it was a bunch of things. I think it was…


Connection—Not Manipulation


Jessica: Like why him? That’s what I’m asking.

John: Well, I’ve done … I mean, I don’t do those $7,000 experiences every day, but I’ve done other things like that. I mean, when I meet somebody who’s in alignment, when I meet somebody that’s a giver, when I meet somebody that’s well-connected, when I meet somebody who has influence … In him, I saw like four or five different opportunities. I saw somebody that was teaching things I’d never … I thought I was a PR major and I knew what PR was. And he’s like talking about getting a junk company on Oprah. I’m like, “I can learn from him. He could coach me, but I can’t afford his coaching. I need to develop a friendship with him and show him that…” like there’s a lot of people pulling at him … Like, a lot of people are in business, like there’s only so much time, and you tend to give time to the people you’re like, “Wow, They’re doers. They’re different. They walk their talk.” Like if I’m known as being a giver, I’m known as being like the Giftology guy, like I need to walk my talk.

I did it in a calculated way. I didn’t just bet on anybody. But there are times when I’ve done that, and it’s turned into nothing. And it’s not like just because you do it, like you’re guarantee … like a lot of times people do it and then they have this expectation and this chip on their shoulder that … they’re mad at the person for not becoming a client or not becoming a mentor. And it’s like, “Hey, just because you’re radically generous and you give does not…” Like if you expect something, then you’re turning it into a manipulation and putting strings attached to the gift or to what you’re doing, and that ruins it.

“If you expect something, then you’re turning it into a manipulation and putting strings attached to the gift or to what you’re doing, and that ruins it.” John Ruhlin

So, I think in him, I saw like, “Hey, there’s four or five different possibilities here. Maybe he doesn’t become a mentor, but he does become a client or maybe he advocates for us or maybe…” Any number of things. I’ve planted seeds with people long before I spoke or long before I had a book or long before I had multiple businesses. Just knowing that if you’re playing the long game and you’re … some people collect stamps and figurines, I feel like I collect relationships. And I collect them for the long haul. And who knows, 10 years from now what kind of business we’re gonna be in.

And I mean, think about yourself in your journey, 15 years ago, you didn’t know you were gonna be doing what you’re doing, but all of a sudden people that maybe you loved on 15 years ago, all of a sudden become really relevant based upon the challenge or an opportunity that you’re going through. And I don’t think people realize that like business and relationships is a 50-year long marathon. And who knows what bridges you’re gonna be crossing. And I think that’s where people mess up.

They’re like, “Oh, John, I don’t wanna spend money. I don’t have to spend money on gifts with you.” And I’m like, “That’s fine, but you should be building relationships for the long haul and loving on people even when you don’t…” It’s like Harvey Mackay’s book, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. Like you don’t wait until you need a relationship to ask for something. You should be loving on people and then when you do need a favor, you do have an ask, or you do need help, people are waiting with open arms, like excited that you’re asking for help because you dug your well before you’re thirsty. And I think that’s where a lot of people mess up.


How to Position Yourself to Build the Right Relationships


Jessica: It’s so true. I mean, that is myth number one I wanna demystify. But I do have to give a shout-out to EO because I met Brene Brown at an OE event and then that … I had already been building a relationship with her kind of online and I’d been sending her things, but then I just ran into her at a hotel lobby where she was about to walk in and go speak. And it was like this moment. It was crazy. And she was like, “I love your skirt.” And I was like, “Thank you.” And then I was already going to go see her speak at another event that night. And she was like, “I’ve got your tickets at the will call.” And anyway, there is something to … I finally just joined EO a few months ago, I was actually attending the event with my business partner.

So, there is something too about … let’s actually go there because …  Let’s talk about these different organizations or different ways you can actually position yourself because you also need to posture yourself in these environments where you’re gonna run into the kind of people that you wanna build relationships with. So, how have you gone about figuring out where you’re gonna invest your time and your money and actually more of this formal sort of organizations?

“You also need to posture yourself in these environments where you’re gonna run into the kind of people that you wanna build relationships with.” Jessica Honegger

John: Yeah. I mean, EO was one of the first ones that I joined. I actually joined Rotary when I was still in college. And that was an interesting one because I got to hang out with a bunch of guys that are like my grandfather’s age. They mentored me and opened doors and whatever else. I’ve always leaned towards hanging out with people that were way more successful than I was and that were oftentimes double my age. But in EO, I saw there’s 12,000 CEOs from around the world and, from million-dollar businesses to billion-dollar companies.

But I’ve always tried to put myself around people that, A, that inspire me, that make me feel small, that are in other industries that I can learn from. I think YPO is another great group. One of the groups I’m getting ready to speak for internationally for is C12, which is a faith-based … it’s a Christian CEO organization. I think they’re the largest and fastest growing. They have like 2,500 CEOs, and we’re joining that organization.

I feel like every organization has its pros and cons or has certain things that you can access. I think the EO, YPO, Vistage, it’s a bunch of peers. It’s a bunch of people that are in business learning from each other. But there’s a group that was one of my favorites, that I’ve been a part of for four or five years called “Mastermind Talks.” And it gets like 7,000 applications. The guy, Jason Gaynor, actually is a former EO guy. And what’s unique about it is it’s people that are all best in class at whatever they do, whether it’s podcasting, whether it’s writing, whether it’s supplements, like Dave Asprey from Bulletproof Coffee is a member and he’s raised…

Jessica: I love his podcast. It’s funny you mentioned him because I feel like I don’t listen to many podcasts. And I feel like it’s the most random podcast that I listen to just because he’s like this biohacker guy. So, I think it’s funny that you just mentioned him.

John: Oh, he’s awesome. I’ve gotten to spend time with him. But what’s unique about “Mastermind Talks” is it’s all givers. So, guys might be doing only a half a million dollars in business because they’re a writer or a podcaster or an author or speaker, but then you have a guy like him who’s raised like $70 million and is like taking over the world with his bulletproof coffee concept and is in every Whole Foods and all this other stuff. But what’s unique about it, they cap it at like 150 attendees, even though they have 7,000 applications.

So, everybody says they curate their events and they curate their masterminds and they curate their conferences. Jason actually does it at a really, really deep level and just does a fantastic job of attracting not only people that are world-class but that are also givers. And so, what I found is that after 18 years, I spend way more time with a smaller group of givers because if you … it’s like the book, Adam Grant, Give and Take, like most people are either givers, takers, or matchers. Most of the world are matchers. There’s a percentage of people that are takers and then there’s even smaller percentage of people that are givers. If you give to a giver, like the multiplication effect of that is insane.

And so, I try to surround myself with my inner circle in the events I go to where I’m hanging out with people, and we basically have a competition with each other. It’s like my buddy, Scott Faye, who’s partners with John Maxwell, like we try to out-give each other. I’ll like comp like $5,000 worth of gifts and then he’s like, “Hey, John, I got this ticket to go golf with John Maxwell and hang out at his house for the Super Bowl. The tickets are $25,000 apiece. I can’t go. I made the donation to his charity. Do you wanna go, no cost?” And I’m like, “Scott, how am I gonna out-give you, like you keep … one-upping me like times 10.” But when you surround … like he doesn’t keep track. He’s not keeping score.

“I spend way more time with a smaller group of givers. … People are either givers, takers, or matchers. Most of the world are matchers. There’s a percentage of people that are takers and then there’s even smaller percentage of people that are givers. If you give to a giver, like the multiplication effect of that is insane. And so, I try to surround myself with my inner circle in the events I go to where I’m hanging out with people, and we basically have a competition with each other.” John Ruhlin

And so, when you surround yourself and find the groups of people where you’re surrounding yourself with people that are best in class, that share your values but they’re also a giver, that’s right … If I could go back and do things again, I would seek out and spend way more money on the Cameron’s of the world, the givers, versus trying to convert somebody that’s a taker into becoming a giver.

Like in my business, like people hire us to do all their gifting for them. And I used to take it as a personal pride of like, “I’m gonna convert this person who doesn’t see any value in loving on relationships and convert them into being a giver.” And it just doesn’t work. But if I take somebody who’s already a faith-based CEO that’s running a $20 million company and said, “Hey, I can help you gift your employees and your clients better,” that’s way better resources. And I enjoy being around them that much more. And when I give to them, like whether they give back to me, they’re probably gonna pay it forward to 10 other people. And so, like my investment of time, energy, resources, and gifting is gonna go a lot further. And so, I would be a lot more protective if I could go back 18 years and start over again and surround myself with those givers. But the groups that are out there, if you can find your tribe, or for me, I have a couple of different tribes, it depends upon what I’m looking for, like that’s where I have seen the multiplication effect for us.


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Givers Versus Takers


Jessica: How do you identify the givers versus the takers then because…? And I have to say, I related to you because, John, I have spent a lot of my energy because I am someone who believes the best in others. And so, when I see someone, I want to convert them because I’m like, “No, come to anti-competitive.” So, I’m like, “I wanna convert you.” So, I spend way too much energy on people that I just need to move on from as opposed to going and finding those givers. So how do you sort of like identify the givers?

John: Well, I think that asking around. It’s like one thing for somebody to say that they’re a giver or to put on a front. But when you talk to … it’s amazing how many groups just cross over and you start to ask people about other people. And you can just tell like what other people are talking. Are they going out of their way to advocate for other people or are they just talking about themselves? Are they the ones offering value and then following up on what they said that they’re gonna do?

I mean, there’s a lot of talkers, but there’s very few doers. And there’s even fewer of the people where other people are like … when you hear somebody’s name four or five times, you’re like, “Wow, they obviously are walking their talk in a lot of different circles.” But there’s times when I send a gift to somebody or I do something and I’m like don’t hear anything or whatever else, like there’s times where I’m sure I waste some resources. So, I’m not like overly like, “Oh, I gotta spend a year trying to like segment this person and figure out if they’re a giver or not.” No, I’m not gonna open up all my relationships and my network to somebody until I feel comfortable. And I think that’s part of the benefit of some of these events.

As you go spend three or four days with somebody, you get to see how they treat the waiter, the waitress. You get to see how they treat the hotel staff. You get to see how they treat other people. You get to see like how are they late at night with alcohol involved or whatever else. Like, if you spend three or four days with somebody and over the course of a year, I can kind of get a sense on who somebody really is—how are they when they’re away from their spouse, all that kind of stuff, whether or not they’re gonna be in alignment with how I wanna roll and just seeing how they really are, not just rose-colored glasses. That for me has been huge, but I didn’t realize that until the last number of years.

I, like you, wasted a lot of time trying to convert people. Which, by the way, have you … I think Sara Blakely from Spanx is an EO member in Atlanta. Ain’t she fantastic? I spent time with her…

Jessica: I mean, I don’t know her. I don’t know her, but I love her online. I’m a big Instagrammer, and I just love how she shows up.

John: Her husband, we brought in to speak for EO, St. Louis. And I spent a morning with him and just taught a course for Jesse Itzler who owns the Hawks. I’m assuming that she’s the same way because he’s the most down-to-earth billionaire I’ve ever been around, like he was kind…

Jessica: She’s a giver. She’s 100% a giver.

John: It was crazy.

Jessica: I will be friends with her someday. You know those people you’re just like, “Someday…” I don’t know. I’m not even strategizing about it, but I’m just like, “Yeah, that’ll happen.” I have that about just certain people. I’m like, “I love them. We are kindred spirits. And someday we’re gonna just like hang out and hit it off.”

John: We’re gonna hang. I know.

Jessica: So, we’re gonna hang.

John: I feel the same way about her. But her husband is awesome. And I’m hoping that I get to hang out with both of them at some point in time because, yeah, the way that they show up, the way that they give, their kindness, their humility. But they also don’t use it as an excuse to not be first-class and world-class in what they do. It’s just a cool … yeah, they’re an inspiring couple, to say the least.


Keeping Networking Interpersonal Rather Than Personal


Jessica: Absolutely. Well, she’s such a bootstrap success story. That’s one of the reasons she’s such an inspiration to me. OK. So, find some tribes to join. Take the long view and find givers. Don’t waste your time on just trying to convert takers. I wanna ask you something. I don’t know if you’re even prepared to answer this but I … Men seem to get networking a little bit better than women. I don’t know if this is … I hope I don’t get a bunch of pushback for saying this, but I think sometimes women we take it personally. We take things personally, and so the first bump in the road or the first little side eye that we get or maybe the unreturned DM or whatever, we just give up whereas I feel like dudes are just like … it just does not get personal at all. Have you seen that and like, can you speak to that? Can you encourage our listeners?

John: Yeah. What’s interesting, I think that you’re right, guys are more linear, they’re type A just in general. They’re more aggressive. But what I found is that if you can combine the emotional intelligence and relationship building abilities of a woman and just add a little bit of like thicker skin, a woman is actually better positioned to build long-term relationships in my opinion, like when I talk about Giftology principles like when we help people do gifting, oftentimes, I’m working with a director of marketing or a CEO and their spouse or assistant. The woman in the equation is a way better gift giver and a relationship builder and understands giftology at a deeper level of personalization and the packaging and the handwritten note and all the little things that we teach. It’s almost like part of their playbook already, but they’ve never had data to back it up or they’ve never had like whole books. And yes, you should invest all of your money instead of it marketing and advertising and crap stuff like everybody else, you should redirect it towards loving on your relationships.

“If you can combine the emotional intelligence and relationship building abilities of a woman and just add a little bit of like thicker skin, a woman is actually better positioned to build long-term relationships in my opinion.” John Ruhlin

Women, I think, are wired to be better networkers if networking means connecting and building long-term relationships. So, I would say that a lot of females out there probably are not … they don’t realize how equipped that they are, and so, what I’ll say is that I think that the women out there could actually be way better at building long-term relationships and networks if they’re just willing to say, “You know what…” Like if somebody doesn’t respond, it doesn’t mean it’s because they don’t like me, or they’re pissed off, or they’re offended. It might be because their kid’s sick, or they’re having marriage issues or like their car broke down or they got in a car accident. I mean, there’s a million … Like it’s amazing how many times when I’ve reached out to people and I didn’t hear something, and then I find out what was really going on behind the scenes or why they gave me that look or whatever else, it’s like, life happens. So, I think that, to your point, like I think women sometimes maybe take personal offense because they put themselves out there, and they take the relationship really seriously. If they could get past worrying about what other people think and just go do their thing and love on people and use their emotional intelligence, I think they could dominate most of the guys that are out there, they check the box just tear through things … Like the biggest relationships to me are the ones that are handled really delicately and built for the long haul.


Showing Up When It Really Matters for People


Jessica: Well, I love how you keep saying that. And you just defined networking for us, by the way. You said, “Networking is connecting and building long-term relationships.” And that just kind of like makes everyone wanna take a big exhale because it’s like, “Well, that sounds fun.” Who doesn’t wanna connect and who doesn’t wanna build long-term relationships? So, I think that’s a great way to just sort of set up this next part of the conversation. So, let’s talk about a little bit about this idea of long-term relationship building because at what point … I mean, you’re just so good, John. You’re good. I mean, we met once at a business conference years ago. Before you know it, I’m like buying your Giftology books, you’re speaking on my stage. Now you’re on my podcast, and I don’t even know how this happens, but you are. You’ve shown up for me. You’ve kind of like … tiny little speaking events that I did years ago. So, let’s talk a little bit about taking that long-term view. And at what point do you say, “You know what? I’m not gonna keep following up.” And then how do you find different ways to follow up? So, it’s not just the same old, “Hey, how’s it going? Or “I heard your podcast and it was great.” You know, how do we go about building these long-term relationships?

John: Yeah. Well, I think that … a couple of things. One is showing up when it really matters for people, and that could be on their best day or their worst day. And I think, oftentimes, I try to find people … If they’re just coming out with their first book, like that’s one of the most fragile times for somebody. And when you show up and say, “Hey, I’m gonna buy 10 books or 50 books” or “I’m gonna write a review” or “I’m gonna buy one for all my team,” like people don’t forget that.

And when you show up … like I came and spoke at your event. I was blown away by the mission of what you guys were doing. And instead of charging a fee, I was like, “I’m in. I’m just gonna come, love on these people,” and because I believe … I knew where you were going and where Travis was going and where your tribe was going. And it’s when you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is and say … everybody says they believe in your mission and your cause, like show me with either your pocketbook or your calendar, like that’s what your real priorities are. And so, everybody can say things but unless you’re willing to show up with your time, which is an asset that most people waste … they waste other people’s time. And that’s something … It’s one thing to waste somebody’s money, it’s another thing to waste their time because their time is something they’ll never get back to spend with their kids or their business or themselves. And so, I think that showing up for people when it matters, either on the pro … the positive or the negative.

I mean, one of the reasons why we built the gifting company is I have people I’ve sent gifts to and I haven’t talked to them in 10 years, but because it was like this … like Cutco to this day is still one of our top gifts on the planet and people are like, “Hey, what’s the hot new sexy gift? I’m like, “I still sell millions of dollars of knives.” And here’s why. I can include a family, and they’ll use it every single day. And when I reach out, oftentimes, they’ll say like, “John, I haven’t talked to you in 10 years, but I’ve been thinking about you and so has my spouse every day for the last 10 years because we use those stupid knives.”

And so, in networking, the people that get the referrals, the people that get the phone calls, the people to get the deals are the people that are liked, trusted, and most top of mind. Now, you might be really liked, you may be really trusted, but unless somebody remembers that you exist … And what’s beautiful about doing gifting well and handwritten notes well is that if there’s a tangible reminder that you exist, there’s a tangible reminder that triggers in their subconscious that you thought of them, that you care about them. That’s why gifts … that’s why you go into the Old Testament and go into like biblical times, kings would give other kings huge gifts based upon the value of the relationship. And Proverbs 18:16 talks about, “A gift ushers you before kings.” Why? Because we’re all humans, and we all like deal in the tangible and the visible. Most of us are visual people, and we have so many things to distract us with texts and Snapchat and Facebook messages, whatever else.

But when you send something to somebody, and they use it on a frequent basis … It’s like sending somebody like one of your leather handbags, it’s personalized, whatever else, like whether they really wanna think about you or not, Jessica, they’re thinking about you as they use it because it’s just how we are as humans. And so that’s the beauty of showing up for people, appreciating them for their time, showing up with the handwritten note that’s not just like one line. But like, if you send somebody a really thoughtful handwritten note that pours out your why they matter to you, the likelihood of that note getting stuck somewhere and kept for a lifetime is really high because we all crave acknowledgment, we all crave to be treated VIP, we all crave to matter.

And so, I think for me, my budget last year for gifting went from like when I was a college student $500 a month 18 years ago … So last year we were about $400,000 in gifts. And people are like, “Why would you … like you already have a gifting company. You already have the relationships, why would you invest $400,000?” And the simple answer is, because I wanna continue to stay top of mind and love on people. And I wanna do gifting and love on people because I want to, not because I have to. When a gift shows up to somebody because you thought of them and you wanted to send it to them, not because you had to send it because a deal was closed or because it was their birthday, it matters to people differently.

So, for me, I’m continuing to plant seeds and acorns that hopefully a few of them are gonna turn into oak trees. And they already have for us. And I think that if you’re willing to show up for people those ways and willing to put your money and your calendar on the line, it stands out and shouts volumes to people.

“I’m continuing to plant seeds and acorns that hopefully a few of them are gonna turn into oak trees. And they already have for us. And I think that if you’re willing to show up for people those ways and willing to put your money and your calendar on the line, it stands out and shouts volumes to people.” John Ruhlin


Giving More by Giving Strategically


Jessica: And you truly do it with an attitude of no strings attached, which I think, when you take the long view, it’s easier to do things with no strings attached because it’s like, “OK. Well, maybe this year was a crazy year. I didn’t hear back from that person…” but you just stay at, which I think is so important. I think people really give up too soon on relationships, and people don’t stay in front of people. It’s true. I mean, Instagram’s like a good example of—they monitor what comes up in your feed or not. And if someone doesn’t come up in my feed in a while, I kind of forget that I’m even following them. So, it’s like you’ve gotta find those ways to stay connected and stay in front of people. So, let’s break it down really quickly because you’ve talked a lot about gifting, and in the intro, I talked about Giftology. But let’s really give your gifting strategy because it really is unique, and it’s impacted me and it has impacted our ambassador community as well.

John: Yeah. I mean, at a core level, Giftology … what’s funny is the next book that we write is probably gonna be … I’m hopeful that Gary Chapman who wrote, The 5 Love Languages will co-author the next book because really Giftology is just a form of love. You know, gifting is one of the five love languages, but at a core level, like nobody’s ever written the book of 5 Love Languages applied just to business, business relationships. We all crave love, whether that’s somebody doing an act of service for us, which would be like a referral. We’ve just mastered the idea of doing tangible gifting because most people confuse … they think they’re doing giftology, but what they’re really doing is marketing and promotional and swag. And there’s a big difference between sending somebody a Starbucks gift card and sending somebody an artifact. There’s a big difference between sending a jacket with your logo on it and sending something to somebody that they will treasure and pass down to a future generation.

Giftology is really just taking and saying that relationships matter and we’re gonna put it in a tangible form. And I’m going to love on that person based upon the value of the relationship. And I’m gonna make the gift about them, not about me. Most gifting in corporate America is like, “Oh, I’m gonna give a gift. I’m gonna put in my company colors” or “I’m gonna put my logo on it.” I don’t put one logo on any gift that I give out or that our clients give out unless the logo adds value. So, for you, Noonday is kind of a tribe. It’s kind of like going to Harvard. Like, if you’re part of Noonday, you’re proud of that. You could probably get away with putting Noonday on some things because people feel honored and privileged to be a part of the tribe.

“Giftology is really just taking and saying that relationships matter and we’re gonna put it in a tangible form.” John Ruhlin

Jessica: It’s like funny you say that because I’m wearing a Harvard t-shirt today because I went to a Harvard training with EO, and I’m wearing a Harvard today.

John: You’re rocking the Harvard because it makes you feel good. A regular t-shirt isn’t as valuable as a Harvard t-shirt. But most people’s logos, when they give it to somebody, it takes value away. It’s like getting X, Y, Z accounting firm on your hat or your jacket, even if it’s a Lululemon jacket, and it has X, Y, Z accounting firm on it, are you likely to wear it? Probably not. You’re probably gonna re-gift it or maybe you’re just gonna wear it like on Saturdays, like clean out your garage. Like it feels tacky to wear a brand that’s just like this written, like “normal brand.” And even the high-level companies that we work with—we work with a lot of small entrepreneurs and do their gifting for them. But the Cubs are a client, and I tell the Cubs like the highest-level people you give a gift to … Notice like Gucci, oftentimes, Gucci, like you can’t even see the Gucci logo, it’s like tone on tone or doesn’t exist. People know it’s Gucci because it’s Gucci. Putting the logo as small and as tasteful as possible on it if you’re giving it out to higher level people because the affluent, they don’t wanna be an advertisement for your brand.


Real Networking: Gifts, Loyalty, and Love


The key is that when you give a gift and it’s part of a thoughtful strategy, just like you would do in any other part of your business, the employee that receives it is like, “Oh, my gosh, like this is so cool. Like this is for me and my family,” not, “Oh, my gosh, like the company had some jackets left over and they gave them to me because it was left over in the closet or they’re trying to turn me into an advertisement.” Like there’s a big difference in the whole core of Giftology, is loving on people in a way that deepens the relationship, that inspires them. And we call it active loyalty.

Everybody says they have loyal clients and loyal employees and I’m like, “Really? Are your clients and your employees actively sending you referrals and filling the seats on your bus when you have an open position?” If they’re not, then you have a loyalty problem. Loyalty, like you think about the people you’re most loyal to, your husband, your kids, your favorite sports team. The people that you love, you’ll go to the ends of the earth to open doors for them and to love on them and to take care of them. Like there’s a big difference between being passively loyal and just sitting there and somebody that’s actively loyal and is an advocate for you. And when you love on people, not because you had to, not because they sent you referral, when you love on people with our “Giftology” system, it shows the other person, A, that you really care about them and that they matter, and you inspire them to become actively loyal.

“The whole core of Giftology, is loving on people in a way that deepens the relationship, that inspires them. And we call it active loyalty.… The people that you love, you’ll go to the ends of the earth to open doors for them and to love on them and to take care of them.” John Ruhlin

That’s at a core level like, who cares, like it’s not just check the box once a year to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Christmas gifts and business are the worst times to send gifts. It’s saying like, “You matter year round. I’m gonna love on you. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna personalize it to you. I’m gonna include you in our circle.” Like at a core level, what we put into the Giftology book is our entire methodology and system of how we’ve built our relationships over the last 18 years for ourselves and for our clients. None of it is rocket science, but most people cut corners. They’re not willing to do all the little details that make it really resonate.

Jessica: Well, and I think one of the distinct things in Giftology is you really talk about gifting the full team. And I mean, I think that’s been such a huge takeaway for me as I’ve been building more and more relationships with people is I have, because of you, I started sending meaningful gifts to the people that are supporting because every leader has a tribe that has her back. And that’s just the way this works. And so, by loving on that tribe and by loving on those people that are supporting that person, that person feels so loved, you know.

And I think as a leader of my company, when my people get supported, I notice that. So, I think that’s such a distinct idea that you put forth in Giftology. OK. I have a question for you. This is like personal question. But we are about to launch our spring line, and we do gift our line every year, every season, to certain people. Now, would you give an artifact in addition to a gift certificate because it’s hard because jewelry is so personal. So, it’s like I wanna give the artifact that I pick out specifically for that person’s style but then in addition like, “Hey, I want you to be able to shop on your own or buy it for people,” like do you have any advice there?

John: Yeah. I think that the more customization and work you do on the front end, it’s like for me like when I … I could give my wife a gift certificate to Athleta or Lululemon or I could make sure I know her size, and I could go pick out 20 things I know that she would want and that she wouldn’t have time to try on at the store and I can bring it home and create an experience for her where she gets to pick out what she wants and can try it on as long as she wants and … So, I would try to figure out ways, whether it’s your own product or whether it’s pairing your product with some other things that would allow for somebody to not feel like, “Hey, here’s a gift card,” but it’s like, “Hey, like you’re a VIP. You’re this person.” And maybe it’s saying, “Hey, go pick out what you want online” or “We’re gonna send you all of these things, you pick out what you want and send the rest back” or… There’s probably some ways that you could create a VIP kind of Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons experience with it. And it probably will cost not that much more, but it’s just some extra thought processes and making it feel like, “Hey, I didn’t just send out 200 gift cards to people,” but make the person feel like an individual and make them feel like … that they’re almost like an owner in the business and getting treated like one. Does that make sense?

Jessica: Totally. That’ll be our next conversation offline.

John: Fabulous.

Jessica: Well, I said this was so rich, I mean, so many great takeaways. Let us know, how can we learn from you? Be our teacher, where can we find you?

John: Yeah. So, one of the things we take all of our clients through when they’re hiring us to do their gifting is a lot of people wanna just know like, “What are the gifts I need to avoid giving if I’m gonna try to do some of this on my own.” And gift cards are on there, food is on there. And we talk about the reasons why they’re the worst gifts to give if you want long-term impressions and long-term impact. Your tribe can go download it for free if they want at the giversedge.com, is the 10 worst gifts to avoid giving if you want to build a network and want referrals without asking. And it’s a one-pager, simple.

And then we share some of our best kind of insights and secrets and tips on becoming a world-class relationship builder through generosity. And so, the giversedge.com is kind of the key place. It’s free. And then if they wanna dive into Giftology, and buy a copy of the book, that’s great. But start with a free resource first. And then, of course, you can find me on Twitter and all those other kinds of places if you google John Ruhlin or Giftology. But I like starting with a free gift since I’m the Giftology guy first.

Jessica: So good. That Brooks Brothers story, guys. I have never forgotten that. I’ve actually implemented a lot of John’s strategies, and whether you’re in business or not, it’s just really good to have some tools on how to build relationships, because we all need relationships, we all want to be connected. So, definitely go check John out.

I wanted to thank you all so much for leaving a review. I just got on and read some of your latest reviews. I love what kbear17 says: “Jessica is one of the most inspirational women in my life. She’s funny and convicting. She cares deeply about people. This podcast is a chance to get a regular dose of courage and conviction while she leads us on a journey of a lifetime to change the world. Don’t miss a single episode.”

Thank you so much for your reviews. iTunes loves reviews! And don’t you want more people to get to hear these kinds of valuable conversations? Guys, we gotta be givers, and we create so much content for you, would you be a giver for me today and go and leave a review. I would appreciate it so much.

Thank you so much for tuning into today’s episode. Our music today is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. And Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. I’m Jessica Honegger and until next time. Let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.