I think it was back in 2010 when I met up with an old high school classmate. Let's call her "T," and she was in between marketing jobs. I reached out to her because we had an opening for a CMO at my old engineering firm and thought she would be great for it. She had recently worked on some really cool NGO campaigns and I liked her forward thinking. I eventually convinced her to throw her hat in the ring for the CMO gig but that's not the most important thing I learned from our get together.
We met up for drinks at Mustang Harry's on 7th Ave and 33rd Street in NYC and after we caught up on where all our old classmates were and what they were doing, we got to the subject of Marketing and the Internet. She said one thing that is seared into my consciousness to this day, she said "Tom, you have to manage your digital profile before someone does it for you."
Bang. Right in my head.
Manage your Career
I've always told my direct reports (when I had them) that they need to "manage their careers." I always wanted them to be aware of what they were doing and if it fits into their bigger picture of what they wanted to be when they "grew up." Why do I bring this up? I was working in engineering at the time and getting your professional engineering (PE) license was always a big deal, but what it really was was a great leveler. Everyone began at the same starting line.
Everyone was at the same point in their career if they got their PE license, it was up to them to go as far as they want to go after that. Some went into very specialized technical areas, others went into management, and even some in academia, but it was ultimately up to them.
Managing your career always felt so mechanical to me. Every silly employee evaluation was always an "if X then Y" flow chart and it often meant that you could easily be lost in the crowd. I often saw engineers on the technical path become one of those ubiquitous engineers squirreled in a cubicle somewhere. I often saw an engineer get into project management only to become another ubiquitous project manager who was getting hammered for not making his or her budget.
Sometimes, someone rose to Vice President or even the "C suite." Those "lucky" few were the ones that stood out from the rest of the 1000's toiling away. All those 1000's have great ideas and a lot to contribute to the company but NO ONE NOTICES THEM! No one realizes they're even alive. They are just an interchangeable "labor unit." What a shame.
I quickly put 2 and 2 together from T said and realized that I needed to stand out from the crowd. So, I got to work.
Leveraging Social Media
In 2010 LinkedIn was just becoming the behemoth it is today and T told me to build out my profile, start a group, get recommendations, do everything I could to show people that I have something valuable to contribute to what I like to do and want to do. In essence, become a thought leader.
Not only did I take her advice and pimped out my LinkedIn profile, but I attacked writing this blog with new content. I didn't create a LinkedIn group but last year I created Meetup group for Big Data. I actively managed my career from engineering into the startup world, a place I feel at home and super happy. You have to pinch me sometimes because it still feels like a dream to me!
Without sounding like a "self-help" commercial, I believe you too can stand out from the crowd but it will require effort. Tom Wentworth really hammers on these points here in his latest post. Most notably:
Ditch the excuses and start writing. I’ve heard them all: But there’s no time. No one is going to read it. I’ve got nothing important to say. Wrong. The truth is that no matter where you are in your career, someone will benefit from the lessons you have to share.
Leverage tech vendors and industry conferences to expand your reach. Tech companies are always looking for customers to speak at their customer conferences, roadshows, and webinars. Nearly all of the “top marketers” you see on those lists use their vendor to increase visibility. They will be thrilled to hear from you. Connect with the account management team at your favorite tech vendor to get started.
Host or attend a local networking event. Peer groups and networking events are a great way to gain reputation and share knowledge. I’m a member of a small peer group of marketing leaders in Boston, and even though we only meet for a few hours or so a quarter, I’ve found the time incredibly valuable. I always walk away with actionable learning, and it’s helped me build a positive reputation among my Boston marketing peers.
I would suggest to Tom that your digital profile is a big part of this as well but I'm sure he already realizes that it's baked into a lot of what he blogs about.
How To Get Started
So how can you get started?
- Start a blog. Tom and I agree here, you have to write about something you're passionate about and genuinely interested in.
- Pimp out your LinkedIn profile. If you don't have one, make one and spend the time to fill it out. This is your online resume and presence.
- Update your LinkedIn profile annually. Enough said.
- Create a group or join a group. Start or join a group on the topic you're really passionate about and then share your expertise. Provide value and people will refer to you as an expert before you know it.
- Always accept an invitation to speak. Remember my post about Toastmasters and writing? Learn to speak in public and you'll go a long way in your life.
- Don't be scared to stand out. Standing out from the crowd was exciting, dangerous, and scary all at the same time. We are so conditioned to go with the status quo and not try anything different.
- Ignore the haters but accept constructive criticism. Once you do something different or start standing out, you will get pushback, and that's to be expected. You will be in the firing line of the critics, the nay-sayers, anyone who feels safe in their status quo.
- Always invest in yourself. Spend quiet time thinking and trying new things. A successful person thinks differently than all the rest.
Now go forth and manage your profile, manage your message, be passionate, and stand out.