26 Sep Guest Interview Former NFL SS Jajuan Harley
Recently, we got the opportunity to sit down with Jajuan Harley, current NFL free agent and former safety for the Buffalo Bills. In addition to Jajuan’s impressive athletic career, his resume also highlights his entrepreneurial efforts and experience as the owner of Made2Enhance, a personal training business geared towards young athletes and fitness professionals. We set out on a mission to discover Jajuan’s thoughts on his personal brand and the future of athlete branding and marketing.
Colman: I’m just trying to go out there and really show other athletes and other people out there the difficulties and struggles with being an athlete. And [also] trying to do your everyday life, growing your athlete personal branding and trying to do what you do. So, let’s get into it a little bit here.
Tell us a little bit about your story and where you are at today.
Jajuan Harley: My name is Jajuan Harley. I’m from Tallahassee, Florida. It’s a fairly small town. But the story is, I catch myself. So I realized at an early age that my story will be proving to others that is possible. Despite the odds, I came out to be one of the top athletes in the country. I play safety. At one point I was ranked number one of the best safeties. I was ranked in the top 100. I received a scholarship from everywhere you can think of and I chose Florida State.
Jajuan Harley: I was fortunate to be raised in a two parent home. Unfortunately, my dad got lung disease at an early age. So that’s another way that my perseverance and my strength came. I witnessed him going to work every day to provide for us. At an early age, I realized that I had to step up to the plate and become a man at an early age. I feel like had to learn that you have no excuse, no matter what, keep pushing. Later, I had some difficulties with my health. I got a heat stroke and had problems with my kidneys.But I kept pushing. The thing is, I feel as a young athlete going to college, you have to learn about yourself.
Jajuan Harley: You have to learn what you eat, how to drink. And I wasn’t guided at that time, so I turned to Harley. So throughout the story, you will figure out that I learned through my trials and tribulations, not by choice, but it’s something I realized, that the purpose is always bigger than me. So now I teach youngsters how to take care of their body and get to where they want to be, the next level. So I went there for two years and then I transferred to Tennessee. I was there for two years. It wasn’t easy. It’s tough. I remember in college, one of my coaches said, I’m going to break you. You’re going to play how I want you to play.
Jajuan Harley: I had a great performance. So the year that I actually played college, I started on a few games, but, never really finished a game. I always got pulled out towards the end… then I opted out. I dropped out of school and II became my own agent. Not by choice, but it’s something if you have to do it, you have to do it. I learned a lot by myself for six years… If you want something bad enough, you will find a way.
Jajuan Harley: So things were getting rough…. I needed some money. So I worked at Walmart, in the toy department and slept in my car at times. Then I got signed by the Buffalos… then worked my way up. But, unfortunately, it was bad times… So I had to keep grinding.
Jajuan Harley: Now I’m still grinding throughout this whole process. I went back to school. I got my degree… And I’m all business. You can’t go nowhere in life without making some adjustments, there’s no excuses. That’s how I brand myself. So I’ve been running my own business since 2015 and right now I’m working on my higher education and to become a doctor. Perseverance. You know, another part of my story is that my mother beat cancer. That’s one of the greatest achievements and I’ll be able to witness that. My pops had passed; his lungs were deteriorating because of asbestos. And less than a year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she beats that. So as you can see by my journey, my life is built on perseverance and that’s pretty much who I am.
Colman: Perseverance. I see that being I think it’s hard for the fans to understand the backend portion of it. They just see it as athletes saying, hey, we’re making a lot of money. They’re making a lot of money. They can go through it. When in reality, it’s hard. Yes, you could make a decent amount of money, but you work really hard to get to that level and you really need to push yourself a lot of years with very little return before you kind of get to that point you want to be. And it’s all about learning and growing. I see the same thing in the business aspect. There’s, so many schemes out there that say, you know, get quick rich. You know, and if that was the case, everyone would be a billionaire, you know? So with that said, let’s talk about now.
Jajuan, what are you most excited about today?
Jajuan Harley: Uh, I’m excited. Each and every day, I feel like, is an opportunity to enhance lives. That’s basically what it’s about. My family gives me encouragement. So each and every day I can wake up and show them that, okay, if they’re okay, let’s keep pushing, let’s keep persevering. And that’s what it’s like each and every day because I’m a personal trainer as well. So each day I get to wake up and help somebody get better, physically, mentally, spiritually.
Colman: Helping people. No, I totally agree. So how do you define, a really good attempt at athlete personal branding? You can use [yourself] as a reference. How do you see yourself as an athletic brand? And what is the main goal that you’re trying to achieve? In regards to, I guess perseverance? But, how would you kind of relate that to your fans out there?
How do you define an epic athlete brand?
Jajuan Harley: Well, you know, every athlete has a brand. Everyone looks at an athlete and says, wow, they get a little extreme. Truth is …they get to do things no one gets to do and they can have fun doing it. I feel like as a brand, you want to use that to help. You know, a lot of times you don’t do on that stage. It’s really a stage. As a brand, what you want to do is, make sure that each and every time that you have that stage, that’s used to build credibility to help. It’s not about you. The purpose is always bigger than you. But whatever that brand is, you want to make sure that you’re helping others.
Colman: One of my words that I like to use a lot is leverage, like to leverage the brand power that you’re kind of getting on and off the field that you’re enjoying doing. And use that as sort of a freeway of marketing to kind of bring yourself to a point where you’re being able to reach a larger audience than the normal person was. Cause you do have a lot, yes. It might come up about being with stats and stuff is the first way you reach these fans. But why can’t you leverage that to bring into your story in a way that can kind of bring people, hope and joy and motivate them. And why not leverage that at the same time to grow a business that you’re doing?
Colman: Personal training is a huge step in that direction, I think. Because that kind of helps people see you. You’re helping people. You’re helping people feel motivated. You’re helping people grow. Some of what I try to do with my business is, I’m no professional athlete. I still consider myself an athlete. But, it’s bringing both your passions together. How do you do this and how do you work with people? So what would you say you took a lot of your motivation from?
What’s your favorite athletic brand at the moment or your favorite athlete, and why?
Jajuan Harley: Uh, man. Uh, so many athletes come to mind… As for athletic brands, there isn’t one brand in particular. One brand I’ll speak about is my own brand. Which is, no excuses. That’s something I really want to push out. Nothing will always go your way. We always have to make a left turn. We wanna make the right turns while keeping straight. You have to make adjustments. But that leads to the athlete side…an athlete I really admire… I’m a big fan of Jack Johnson, Sir Archie Moore, James J. Braddock, aka Mr. Cinderella Man, and Muhummad Ali. You’ll probably ask me why I’m a big historic fan.
Jajuan Harley: But these guys, they had it the worst. It was during the recession that James J. Braddock, aka Cinderella Man, lost everything. He was on top at one point. He lost everything due to the recession. All this way back, everyone counted him out he became the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Sir Archie Moore, who was almost 40 years old, kept the Light Heavyweight Champion Belt for about 12 years. Paul Robeson was an athlete, but also he was an activist, an actor, a musician… He had so many things going on. So these athletes, I look up to so much because I want to be able to push this to the next generation, that you can be more than an athlete.
Colman: Yeah, that makes total sense.
When you look across the athlete brand landscape, what’s the one thing you think more athletes should be doing?
Jajuan Harley: Get them connecting with the fans, converse with them. You know, you have fans that sometimes they send you a message or something, or a comment on your picture, or something like that. Then feel free to say something to them, even if it’s just, hey, how are you doing? Or just a thank you. Or something. Make them feel like you are connected to them. Because honestly, let’s be honest now, if it wasn’t for the fans, who would pay attention to athletes? You know that’s what helps with the salaries and that’s what keep it going in the sports world, are the fans. So you do have to pay attention to them. Even you’re going out in public, going to shake their hand. You don’t have to do a picture or nothing like that. Just make them feel like aren’t above them, that you are right there with them. You know, seeing [them] eye to eye. That’s the main thing I always preach. As a little kid, I was raised [to believe] that a custodian gets the same respect as a CEO. So therefore you never above no one and no one’s below you. Treat everyone the same. I feel like athletes [need to] do that right there, with their personal branding and things.
Colman: Definitely. And I think, not even going out into public, but just with the way the trends are and technology is growing, and the way that digital marketing is growing in general. I feel like it makes it that much easier for athletes to be able to reach their fan base. Why let ESPN and nfl.com, you know, be able to go out and say all these stories? Say these stories yourself. You can go out and you can say these stories yourself and have fans interact with you. And let them understand, especially younger athletes that are looking to really push themselves. So I totally agree with you on that one.
What’s your best advice for athletes who want to leverage their personal brands?
Jajuan Harley: You know, we have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, so many things…. I truly believe in LinkedIn. I really feel like using social media is a great aspect. I encourage everyone, athletes, even those that are in business, [to use] LinkedIn. You know and just spreading the word using it.’
What’s the number one tool you’re using right now?
Jajuan Harley: Yes, yes. I definitely will. Um, of course I use gmail. That’s the first thing, I’ll say that. It’s just really advanced. When I was able to get in touch with NFL teams before, I started off with the handwritten letter stuff, typed it up, and I sent and uploaded that. To get in touch with scouts after that, I sent personal emails. Then I was told by my wife that LinkedIn is more professional and it’s more connected to those you need to connect to. I still use social, Twitter and Instagram and stuff like that. But once I did LinkedIn, it connected to who I need to connect to, outside of football for work, life, and business. Cause you know, outside of sports, you need to have some life. And it’s grooming me to get to where I need to be. So I encourage everyone, not just athletes, to learn yourself with LinkedIn, especially the right people.
Colman: Yeah. LinkedIn to me is one of those under utilized platforms right now for athletes themselves. And I’ve actually thought the same thing as you when I’ve been trying to reach out to work with athletes. Because I’ve noticed that it is more professional and it’s made to be professional. So letting them know, hey, I’m not just coming after you as a fan, you know, I’m coming after you because I want to work with you and help you grow. And I think it’s a great spot to kind of drop that first guard on saying, Hey, I’m definitely a fan of you and all that, but at the same time I’m definitely willing to work with you and I want to be able to help you grow your business and what you’re trying to do in the field. So last question…
Based on your knowledge and expertise, what’s the future of athlete branding and marketing?
Jajuan Harley: Man, the future of it? Wow. You know, actually, the future is everything’s in the athlete’s hand. It plays right into their hands. If I want to get in touch with someone and say, Hey, I’m hosting a camp, most of the time, I really don’t have to have anyone push it out for me. Once I feel my followers are up, I just post I’m having a camp… Let’s be there, or be square. And they’ll be there. So with the social networks, it’s making everything easy, easier than it would be 10 years ago or 15 years ago. Because then, you really had to go by word of mouth. Now, just click a button and everything you need is out there.
Jajuan Harley: You know, you have control of it. It shows your personality. However, that’s the pro of it. But the con of it is, that if you’re not smart with it, it could really damage a person’s brand. It definitely can if you push out the wrong things. So [at the] end of the day, having these pros and cons, I love it personally because no one knows me better than myself. The pro is, I can post what I think fits me. And then the con is, a person who is still trying to figure out who they are person can really harm themselves in some type of way.
Colman: Oh, perfect. Well, I wanna thank you again for being on the show. If you want to say again, maybe announce some of your handles that you use to get yourself out there. And let me know if you have any more questions for me.
Jajuan Harley: Absolutely. I just wanna thank you for the invite. You know, this is a great honor. This really is a great honor. You know, I have lots out there that really shows my testimony of going through trials and tribulations on my website www.jajuanharley.com and it can encourage you in different ways and that’s always awesome. Go enhance lives! So like I said, I really thank you, Mr. Colman, for the invite of the year and hopefully this energy helps someone in some type of way.
Colman: I definitely agree. And thank you again for being on the show!