5 Reasons To Start Blogging Today

You have all these great ideas floating around in your head don’t you? Oftentimes so many of those ideas wake you up during the night, so you jot them down in your phone or on a notepad. Raise your hand if this has happened to you.

How many of you spend your time commenting on stories or having discussions on Twitter? But don’t you wish you had a more long-form outlet to formulate your thoughts?

Well, start a blog! “What a great idea,” you say, right? Followed by “how the heck do I get started?” Or you may say, “nobody will read what I have to say.”

There’s so much information out there on the web and so many opinions being posted each day. How will I stand out? Who will listen to me? How do I even get started? I don’t really even have the time to blog. Blah, blah, blah.

Don’t let all these questions or doubts hold hold you back. I have a good friend who is battling this right now (you know who I’m talking about Brett!) In trying to figure out a way to kick his ass in gear, I decided to write this blog in the hopes it spurs him into action. If along the way I turn on the green light for someone else, well that will be a bonus.

I’ve been blogging for slightly over two years and I didn’t know much about doing it when I began. But I needed an outlet, so I simply set up a WordPress site and off I went. I promise that blogging can be simple and relatively easy. It can also be very rewarding. Below are my five reasons to start blogging today.

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Setup is Easy

Choosing where you want to build a blog is the first step you have to take and shouldn’t be a deterrent. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’ve heard of WordPress. This is where I host my blog and I suggest that you do as well.

WordPress is one of the biggest platforms in the world with more than 82 million active users. The platform is simple to use with countless plug-ins and add-ons. It offers tons of themes and layouts, plus there’s a massive support forum if you ever get stuck. Your blog will look sleek and functional, it will allow people to interact with you easily and your content can be shared, commented on, and so on.

Medium is also a very popular content platform, as you should know by now if you follow Front Office Sports. Medium allows anyone to publish pretty much anything and it works hard to guarantee that visitors only see good stuff. Medium is built to reward content for its quality and even if you decide to build a blog on WordPress, it’s worth also posting your blogs on Medium to help with exposure.

Connections/Networking

If you’ve been reading my recent posts, you should by now know the importance of networking. Working to connect with people and learning from their experiences and friendships is vital to your career development. It also is an important factor when blogging.

Blogging about your thoughts and ideas allows you to share these thoughts with others in your network. It helps to strengthen existing bonds and expose you to new opportunities. You should always look to nurture and expand your network and there’s no better way than to do it through blog writing.

As you begin to blog more often and have more discussions with your network, you won’t ever have to worry about running out of topics. There should always be topics and ideas percolating in your head that make for perfect blog content.

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Research/Learning

Another positive aspect of blogging is very often you need to do extra research on a topic or topics before you begin to write about them. I’ve stressed this before, but continuing to learn throughout your life is a must. You can never let yourself feel like you know it all. Trust me, you don’t.

Reading, researching and learning should be constants as you get older. Exposing yourself to new ideas, stats and ways of thinking will only make you smarter. It can also help you meet new people and expand your network.

Consider joining a book club or exchange. This kills two birds with one stone and allows you to read and meet new people. It will most likely expose you to new ways of thinking and options which at first may be different from yours currently, but will change your perspective and open your eyes to new idea. Then you can apply what you’ve learning into a new series of blog topics.

Share Your Expertise

Blogging is an excellent outlet for sharing your expertise on various topics and getting those swirling thoughts out of your head. Do you often feel like you want to contribute to a topic but don’t have the platform? Do you feel like your comments are getting swallowed up on other platforms?

Starting a blog gives you that place to tell your story and give your side. Don’t worry about if anyone will read it, or if you show up in search or even if someone else has written about the topic 100 times. If it is an outlet for you to write and write about things you feel passionate about, do it. You won’t regret sharing your expertise through your blog.

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Writing Is Good

Writing reduces stress. Getting those thoughts out of your head is a good thing. Writing these things down helps to shrink them to a point where they are life-sized and manageable. Writing also is empowering in that way. When we can manage our thoughts, ideas and other items into well-written blog, it can make navigating life much easier.

There is research out there that believes blogging might trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, similar to stimulants generated by activities like running, listening to music or playing video games. Having a platform to express yourself, as well as the ability to connect with other individuals experiencing similar circumstances, is not only therapeutic but allows for an added sense of community and empathy.

Whether it is reducing stress, changing your state of happiness or making you more self-aware, writing ultimately changes your mind. Which in turn can change your life! If nothing else, writing a blog will remind you that no one else is the author of your story. So get off your ass and set up that blog today. Tell the story you were born to tell.

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3 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

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This post was originally published for Front Office Sports.

As I’ve progressed through the ups and downs of my latest job search, I’ve often had certain feelings of doubt or said to myself, “What if people realize that I don’t know as much as they think I do?”

While I have made great strides to be more mindful and self-aware, it’s only natural that doubt can creep in when you’re going on month six without a job offer. I’ve made progress with interviews and, just last week, had four in four days (and somehow managed to survive)! But, the more you sell yourself and your skill set, the more it can feel like you may be selling something that isn’t entirely true.

I approached my wife about these feeling and she mentioned the phrase “Imposter Syndrome,” something she has read about in the past and has also experienced. I had never heard that term before but it makes perfect sense.

Coined in the 1980s, Imposter Syndrome is having the nagging fear of being “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experiences or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think.

It’s actually a quite common phenomenon and research has found that up to 70% of people have suffered from Imposter Syndrome at some point. Myself included.

It’s a solid bet that outside of super low achievers, narcissists, or someone certifiable, being susceptible to the self-doubt that feeds this syndrome is common. What matters the most, however, is knowing how to deal with and process these thoughts and fears. We can’t let them overwhelm us and prevent us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals and aspirations.

If you’ve related to anything I’ve described so far, good for you! Imposter Syndrome is very common in high achievers. It shows that you’re not ready to settle for mediocrity. You aim high and are committed to giving your very best and being your best self while striving to attain whatever goals you have set for yourself.

That said, overcoming Imposter Syndrome requires self-awareness. A firm grasp that what you’ve achieved and what you want to achieve are impressive and attainable. You’ve given your best all along the way and that is what matters. You don’t have to be “the best” at anything or have “the best” numbers or achievements to be worthy of the accolades you’ve earned in your career.

Don’t let your fear of being “found out” take hold of you in your career. Consider these three thoughts the next time you let self-doubt creep in.

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Own Your Success

Don’t let the fear of being “found out” have you start attributing your successes to external factors (luck, others involved, etc.). Never minimize an accomplishment that you truly had a hand in! Own what you have done and been a part of in your career. Even if it was a collaborative effort, you were still a part of that team. I challenge you to make a list of all that you have accomplished in the last five years. Write it all down and take pride in it. I hope you will see that you deserve the successes you’ve had.

Stop Comparing

Just as I wrote in my FOMO piece, there is nothing that lets doubt creep in faster than comparing yourself to someone else. Author Iyanla Vanzant believes that “comparison is an act of violence against the self.”Comparisons are always biased and rarely helpful. All of those “highlight reels” posted on social media do nothing but reinforce Imposter Syndrome. It leads us to think that everyone else has it easier or is having a better time in their life. The reality is actually many people are struggling just like you with a unique set of challenges. When you realize that, it may also help you to realize you may be more equipped to handle your challenges than them. Stop comparing and start realizing you deserve all that has come your way.

Stay Focused on Your Goals

Imposter Syndrome can sabotage your future success on so many levels. Don’t let it into your consciousness so much that you begin to settle for less or truly believe you are inadequate. Use the tips I’ve been sharing in my blogs to help you be more self-aware and productive. Don’t play it safe or not totally sell yourself in that next job interview. Trust me, they are speaking with you for a reason and you know your accomplishments are legit. Be confident with your delivery and be humble enough to admit that you don’t know it all. Know that you’re speaking with them because you know you can provide value and you want to accomplish your goals as a part of their team.

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When I had that run of four interviews last week I’ll be honest, I went in to each one a bit nervous of being “found out.” However, I had the confidence and awareness to realize that if I was myself and could lay my pride and vulnerability on the line, good things would happen if they were supposed to.

It takes courage to put yourself out there and go after big goals. But, don’t let these fears of being “found out” dictate your future choices or prevent you from chasing new opportunities. You’ll truly discover how much you are capable of and how much you can truly accomplish when you know you’re putting forward your best self and are completely confident in your abilities.

Your Career May Be A Jungle Gym…And That’s OK

A popular book on the #SBBX and one my wife read this summer is Sheryl Sandberg’s thought-provoking book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead. It’s a great read for working women and for the men who are married to them.

One of the more popular quotes from the book, one which we have discussed at length, is the following: “A jungle gym scramble is the best description of my career. I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today.” She attributes the metaphor to Fortune magazine editor Pattie Sellers.

She’s totally right. We grow up hearing about the “career leader” and how your career should be a “climb to the top” or at least a climb to a level that makes you happy and secure. I had this mindset for most of my early professional career. It was all I knew really. But, if I had to do things over again, I’m positive I would approach my career differently.

The era of employment for life with one company is over. Workers now switch from job to job much more frequently in search of grafter fulfillment and compensation. Today, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times (with an average of 12 job changes) during his or her career. Most workers spend five years or less in every job, so they devote more time and energy transitioning from one job to the next.

That is why approaching job searches must be done differently these days and consistent networking is a must. You also have to be agile as you track and adjust to job market trends.

So how do you go about having this agile mindset? How do you plan for professional development and not just career planning? Let me provide a few examples I now employ during my career shifts that I wish I had been more cognizant of from the jump.

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Stay Relevant I’ve written this previously, but staying relevant by learning to code, getting various certifications and learning the basics of video production and photography are great ways to stay up to date on industry trends. Many companies today look for talent that is experienced in wide areas of expertise. Always learning new things and staying relevant in the skills that industry HR people are looking for will help you as you look to advance your career.

Be Mindful of Your Social Media Presence — I have many thoughts on “personal branding” which I hope to write about for FOS soon, but I did want to touch on the topic here. Whether you realize it or not, everything you post on social media can help form people’s opinions of you. Therefore, it is your choice to either actively control and shape your personal brand, or let others do it for you. You need to be your best advocate because how you present yourself online could determine future leadership or career opportunities.

Take Advantage of Lateral or Downward Moves — This one may seem counterproductive, but career opportunities come in all shapes, sizes and directions. This is really what can turn your career path into a career jungle gym. During my time searching for new employment I’ve spoken with many people who arrived to their current position by moving laterally within a company or even down, to then progress in a different department. These moves also allow you to see the bigger picture of your business or brand from another point of view. Always stay open to the opportunities that present themselves. You never know what move, no matter the direction, may be the next key to your career success. Trust me here, I can pinpoint a specific lateral opportunity with a previous employer that I wish I had pursued. I don’t dwell on it, but I do look back at how foolish I was for not even entertaining the thought of trying a different route during my early tenure in athletics.

Apply For The Position Anyway — I can’t tell you how many times professionals hold back from applying for a position because they don’t think they have the skills needed to succeed. It’s OK if you don’t, as long as you have the drive, motivation, and resourcefulness needed to get the job done. Be calculated in your risk taking. Honestly assess where your skill gaps are and get advice from a mentor to help you determine if the position is a right fit for your development plan.

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These are just a few things to consider as you move around on your career jungle gym. It’s perfectly OK to not always climb upward as you move to each new career opportunity. You have to move in the directions and in the positions that will bring you the most joy and give you the most career fulfillment.

Just because the move may not be in the direction that your father, mother, sister or brother made in their career path, doesn’t mean you’re not advancing your career.

By considering the steps above, continuing to network and build relationships, and knowing it’s OK to make career moves every few years, you’ll ultimately find that progressing through your career like a kid on a jungle gym is perfectly normal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Important Groups to Follow on Social Media

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I don’t claim to be a Marketing and Social Media expert. In fact, I shudder when people use that word or any form of that word (ninja, guru, etc.) to describe themselves.

It’s not that I’m downplaying my skills or anyone else’s, but I think we all can be continual learners and never stop growing in our chosen field. There are some people more knowledgeable than others on certain topics, but nobody is an expert in my mind when it comes to social. It moves too fast for someone to have all the answers.

Do I have strong options on digital and social? Sure! But, I don’t claim to be an expert. I do love to have ongoing discussions on topics that are important to marketers. I’m always trying to read the latest articles from thought leaders, peers and industry executives to stay relevant. As I stated, things change so rapidly with social, it’s important to have these conversations to stay relevant.

That’s why it has always been important for me to follow four certain groups on social media. It’s critical to follow this diverse group of people and brands because you need to make sure you are keeping up with all the current conversations taking place in the industry.

So, what are these groups you ask? Here are my four group to follow on social media.

Professional Connections
This is a group that I have mentioned before in my my writing. You have your subsets of connections (core, lost and acquaintances) that you should be reaching out to consistently. These “living” lists should evolve, but you should make sure that you are connected with these folks on social media so you always have a touch point.

You may find that communicating or keeping in touch on social media is the easiest way to foster certain relationships. During these last few months, I have made a better effort to follow and connect with all levels of my “living” connections list. Keeping consistent conversations on social will allow you to learn about new opportunities (seminars, job openings, etc.) and keep you plugged into the latest news.

You never know where a conversation may lead or how a conversation will help you make your next career connection or advancement. Similarly, by extending your knowledge and expertise, you may help someone else to do the same.

Employers/Potential Employers
This segment is important from a personal branding and messaging standpoint. Following your current employer(s), and your potential employer(s) helps you share and amplify their messages. I’ve also found it incredibly useful to follow the Human Resources accounts for companies that I’d like to work for.

This comes in handy when writing cover letters, answering questions in their online portal and when speaking during an interview. If you can speak the language of your current and potential employers, you’ll have a greater advantage over those that don’t.

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Clients/Competitors
What drives your business to be successful? Other than the hard work of your team, it’s your clients and competitors. Following these groups will keep you focused on their needs and core messages. If you’ve ever worked for a marketing, PR or advertising agency you know that retaining your current book of business is critical.

A good way to make sure their messages are being received (even if you are in charge of their messaging) is to follow them yourself and view their social content against others in the native setting. Another critical part of any business is monitoring your competitors for the same messaging.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of industry messaging will help you to serve your clients better and make sure they’re either keeping pace or leading the race when it comes to their company goals for marketing, advertising and PR.

People You Disagree With
This last segment is a hard one for me and I promise I won’t name any names. But, if you truly want to broaden your social media network and your personal network, you need to follow some dissenting opinions from your own. Now I don’t mean to follow these people if they’re only going to make you mad or you’ll argue with them online. That won’t look good for you or for them.

What has been healthy for me is finding someone who you agree on most things with, but not on all things. Personally, this has brought about provocative and positive discussions that opened my eyes to how other people view certain topics. Even if you never come to an agreement on a certain topic, knowing you can have a serious conversation and remain friends is important.

You will get too insulated and susceptible to group-think if you don’t enter into discussions like this. Trust me here, I’m sure you already know a person or two who fits this description. I urge you to follow them and have discourse on topics that matter to you in order to open your mind to a new way of looking at things.

Following these four segments on social allows me to keep in touch with the current “hot topics” in the industry and foster some great relationships. I can’t tell you how many Twitter, phone, email and LinkedIn conversations I’ve had with people who I consider close friends and colleagues, yet I’ve only met a small portion of them IRL (“In Real Life” for you non-millennial types).

By following a diverse group of contacts from the segments I defined above, I’m confident that you will continue to get value from your social media interactions.

 

Engage, Engage, Engage…Invite

This article was originally published for Front Office Sports.

If you’re around me long enough you will surely hear me say, “you have to look out for №1.” What I mean by that is if you’re not looking out for your best interests, it’s not guaranteed anyone else will either. You have to be mindful and make sure you’re bettering yourself mentally, emotionally and professionally. By doing these things daily, it will allow you to improve in many areas and help you become the best version of yourself.

Another component of working to better yourself is being selfless and offering help to others when possible. Balance your efforts between looking out for yourself and finding ways to help others. If you don’t pay it forward from time to time, there will be no favors to come back your way.

So, what do I mean by all this? I mean that it is possible and actually quite easy to both look out for yourself and others at the same time. You can do that by using a method I like to call “engage, engage, engage . . . invite.” Engage with your core contacts, lost contacts and acquaintances frequently and consistently. It’s only after you’ve maintained ongoing contact that you should invite them to help you in some way.

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All too often we reach out to folks only when we need something and just “ask, ask, ask.” While it’s OK to ask for things, it’s pretty selfish to do it right out of the gate if you haven’t established a rapport or built solid relationships. It just comes off bad if you immediately go for the ask and make it apparent the connection is all about you.

You need to make sure these connections are beneficial to both sides. That’s why it’s important to engage consistently when you reach out. Reach out to others and ask how they are doing. Ask how their latest campaign turned out or what initiatives they have been coming up. It’s also OK to ask personal questions when you reach out to these contacts. Ask about their family, ask about their hobbies, establish what traits you have in common that aren’t just work related.

Integrate this line of questioning and conversation as the dominant theme in your emails and phone conversations. You will find that many of your connections will grow deep in nature when you take this approach.

Only after you have engaged consistently should you go in for the ask. Get it now? Engage, Engage, Engage . . . Invite.

After you’ve made it clear it’s not all about you, then it’s OK to do the following. Invite them to help you if you need it, whether it’s for an endorsement or otherwise. Invite them to that panel you are hosting. Invite them to meet another connection you’ve made in which you feel they may also like to meet. Invite them to discuss career development with you. Invite them out for drinks. The possibilities can be nearly endless if you follow this method.

You’ll notice a difference right away how things change in your life both personally and professionally when you take this approach. It’s a refreshing and rewarding way to approach relationship building. I can tell you first hand it has changed my life dramatically. I’d love to see it do the same for you!

 

 

3 Easy Ways To Strengthen Your Network

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This article was originally published for Front Office Sports.

Networking and relationship building should be a continual process in your life. This means you should consistently strive to foster your existing connections, build new ones when you can and work to “play the connector” where it is applicable.

I’ve shared some of the following thoughts in the past, but it’s important to reiterate these tips and emphasize their importance. I realize we all have busy weeks with a lot of moving parts. However relationship building and networking should always be a focus.

By elaborating on these processes, I hope to make them less intimidating for you. Here are my three easy ways to strengthen your network.

Consistency In Outreach
First, develop your “core” list of mentors, influencers, or whatever you want to call your most coveted contacts. These are the people who you keep in contact with the most and reach out to when in need of help or guidance.

This can be about 10–15 people. Keep these individuals close and reach out to them often. Ask how they have been and be mindful of what’s going on in their lives too.

Next, identify “lost” connections, or those that you’ve developed a relationship with but over time have lost contact with. Work to keep these people more top of mind and converse about what each of you have going on. This number may fluctuate, but try to identify five of these to begin with.

Finally, make a list of “acquaintances” that have been influential in your career or that you have developed even a small relationship with. This can be an evolving list of 10–15 people as you expand your network. By identifying your core contacts, lost connections and acquaintances, you will have a “living” list that constantly gets updated.

Select a core contact, lost connection and acquaintance to reach out to each week (at least) to make sure you’re always maintaining and growing relationships, while reinforcing the friendships you have.

Play The Connector
If you’re like me, you’ve either received an interview, received a recommendation or maybe landed a job because of a previous connection you’ve established. Something that’s just as fulfilling is repaying those favors and “playing the connector” for other individuals.

Don’t just network for selfish reason, network in order to help your connections out when they need it as well. It is an amazing feeling when you can make an introduction or recommendation and it ends up helping out a close connection or acquaintance.

Networking is a two-way endeavor and playing the connector is immensely fulfilling. If you think playing the connector is daunting, here are a few ways you can get started.

  • Join professional networks associated with your profession and attend meet-ups, mixers, etc.
  • Start a diverse reading list. Come up with the five or six things you like and pick out a book in each topic.
  • Also, read blogs on these topics, follow folks on twitter discussing them or look at local seminars focusing on them.

These are excellent ways to nurture and expand your network and learn about ways to help yourself and others. You’re never too old to stop learning new things and meeting new people.

Give Thanks
This is also not a new topic for FOS, but it can’t be stated enough. It really can’t. Being thankful should be a mindset that is adopted all year long. It is nearly impossible to advance your career without the help and guidance of others.

Everyone who you interact with in your career (both good and bad) has an impact on you whether you realize it or not and for that you should be thankful. Always be thankful for the moments that helped you improve and for those teaching moments when things didn’t go your way.

When it comes to networking specifically, thanks can come in many forms, but for me it usually means a hand-written thank you note. Make this a part of your weekly outreach. Strive to reach out to those tiers of connections mentioned in point number one above with hand-written notes.

I know email is easy and convenient, but the extra time and effort it takes to write a note won’t go unnoticed. It may even prompt someone else to take up this extra-special step of gratitude!

By following the simple tips above, I have gained many valuable friendships and relationships, which have been critical to me both professionally and personally.
Every interaction you have while networking is a way to showcase yourself and your skills. Take advantage of all of these occasions and encounters to learn new things and expand your horizons.

You’ll be amazed at what will come your way and happen in your career when you are consistent in your outreach and work to improve the lives of others just as much as you seek to improve your own.

 

 

4 Ways to Stay Relevant In Today’s Marketing World

This article originally published for Front Office Sports

As we approach graduation season, a popular topic that’s appearing on my social feeds is advice for those about to graduate. While this post is being published around the same time, I try not to wait until just this time of year to help those who may need it. I strive to set meetings, write blogs and join discussions all year long, focusing on self improvement and career development.

As many of you know, today’s marketing and communications landscape is changing rapidly. So rapidly in fact, that seasoned professionals sometimes find it hard to stay sharp and keep their skills up-to-date with the latest trends.

As a way to help both young professionals and those with a little more “fungus on their shower shoes,” I would like to offer some tips on how to stay relevant in today’s ever changing marketing landscape.

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1. Get Certified — There are many FREE certifications available to marketers today designed to help keep your skills sharp. The one that I recommend to most is the Inbound Certification from HubSpot. HubSpot is the world’s largest and best Inbound Marketing software platform and the authority on educational inbound marketing resources. Many of these resources include training videos which are categorized into a series of Marketing Certification courses. Of the five total courses offered, the Inbound certification is far and away the most completed course and the most comprehensive. The Google AdWords Certification is another increasingly popular online certification. This particular certification allows individuals to demonstrate that Google will recognize them as an expert in online advertising. Additionally, Hootsuite offers a series of social media marketing courses that are also defined to drive real business results. I can’t stress this enough, retaining certifications by any of these outlets will ensure you’re keeping up with the latest marketing trends.

2. Learn To Code — There was a time when knowing how to code or program was only for IT professionals or those that “are good with computers.” As you well know, if you’re going to hold nearly any professional job these days, you better know more than just the basics of using a computer, tablet or smart phone. I may be dating myself, but I definitely remember the times when this wasn’t the case. Any entrepreneur, marketer or freelancer will tell you today that coding can help you succeed and separate you from your competitors. As with the certification tips above, there are many FREE resources available online that can teach you the basics of coding and programming. If you’d like a handy list of places that offer coding for free, I’ve got you covered.

3. Learn Video Basics — I should probably take my own advice here. I mean I just wrote a post about how video marketing is the hottest trend right now, yet I’m not much help with a camera or editing. If you want to add value and separate yourself from the employee in the next cubicle, learn to shoot and edit video. It’s that simple. I reached out to my good friend Chris Yandle to discuss this tip, as he is a recently self-taught videographer and photographer. His new role allows for great flexibility for career development and Chris immediately began to improve his value by learning these two skills. He says he watched a lot of YouTube tutorials and edited video while he watched them. To quote him “We live in an amazing time when information is everywhere and YouTube is a prime example. It is free and offers may hours of online learning.” Some employers and universities may also pay for certain photography and video courses, but start with YouTube videos and you can construct a realistic timeline to learn more about video production.

4. Never Stop Learning — This is a mantra that I try to live by. Don’t ever get set in your ways or think you have all the answers. Learning can apply to many things too, not just your professional career. Start a reading list and try to read as much as your free time allows. Make the list diverse and don’t just read about work or careers. I try to mix in books about marketing, sports, religion, fitness and mindfulness. But that is just me. Come up with the five or six things you like and pick out a book in each topic. Also, read blogs on these topics, follow folks on twitter discussing them or look at local seminars focusing on them. Also make sure to consistently network and connect with friends and colleagues. Come up with a list of your top 10–15 “core” connections and make sure to touch base with them regularly. Always look to nurture those relationships. Finally, join professional networks associated with your profession and attend meet-ups, mixers, etc. These are excellent ways to nurture and expand your network. Making these new connections allows you to learn new ideas and new ways of thinking. You’re never to old to stop learning new things and meeting new people.

It sometimes can feel daunting when a new app, new feature or new platform is seemingly announced weekly. It doesn’t mean that you have to learn a new skill or change your whole marketing campaign. But, it does remind us that innovation never stops and therefore we must keep learning and trying new things.

Following the tips above can help you remain agile and relevant. They will help you expand your skill set and learn new things to help you advance your career. But, this is just a simple list to get your mind going. I’m sure some of you could add to this list and think of even more ways to add value to your employer. We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions below. Drop us a line or tweet at us with your ideas.

Professional Development Q&A With Mark Hodgkin

This post is the seventh in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

Name: Mark Hodgkin (@Mark_Hodgkin)
Profession: Director of Product Development
Degree: BA in History, University of Texas at Austin; MBA, Bryant University

Mark and I connected via twitter (which isn’t that uncommon in this day and age). I would say it was in 2015 or so and again it was via my guy Chris Yandle. We traded some comments on Twitter for a while, and then in 2016 Mark reached out to me to discuss careers and other items.

At the time Mark was in career transition (or at least contemplating it) and he was picking my brain about my decision to leave college athletics and enter the private sector. He was genuinely interested in hearing about my story and also what I was up to in my career at that point. I never forgot the feelings I felt when he reached out and wanted to talk to me. I was humbled to think that I could help someone out and also excited to make a new connection.

Since that time, we stayed in touch and often discussed sports, brown drink and other common interests we shared. Mark was one of the first people I reached out to recently as I began looking for other career opportunities. He has been gracious in recent months to stay in touch to discuss careers, networking opportunities and of course bourbon. With that said, by the end of this blog I’m confident you will realize why Mark is such a great resource for me. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Mark Hodgkin.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
It’s hard to point to any direct relationship between my degrees and my current role. Late in my undergrad career I realized I wanted to work in sports. That led me to a graduate assistant position at Bryant University doing marketing while getting my MBA. I had never considered an MBA until then, but believe it has been useful in my career. Even my BA in History, which doesn’t seem terribly practical, definitely helped my writing and reasoning skills. That was very helpful with my MBA and in a general sense after my career.

My shift to digital came after taking an internship at Boston College, which came just as schools were starting to hire digital-focused people. That was a bit of good luck and timing as it led to a seven year stint at the Big East/American Conference and my current role at NeuLion.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
I credit one of my mentors, Dennis Coleman, for suggesting that working in sports could be a viable career path around the time of my junior year in college. Until then, I was drifting along assuming I’d do something like teach, work at a bank or perhaps even go to law school. So I got a late start, but as Dennis told me, he “could open the door, but you have to prove you belong.” Ever since then I’ve been full into sports, but have been able to find my niche in it with digital media.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
It’s almost cliche at this point, but Network, Network and then NETWORK some more. Opportunities to advance will almost always correspond with relationships you’ve built. Relationships I’ve worked to cultivate have led to every job I’ve ever gotten. If you want to work in sports, it’s especially important as it is a very small, close-knit community.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
The thing I like most about college sports are the passion of its followers and the community of people. I always try to take a moment to think about how many people pay to attend events that we call work. That’s not to say that it is easy or without serious challenges. But at the end of the day, most people have to work and I think what we do is special.

I also think people in college sports have been amazing to connect and learn from. I can’t speak for every other industry but am amazed at how many people take the time to talk shop and trade ideas in this space.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Currently, it’s adjusting from a chair on a school or conference side to life at a tech company. While I interacted with digital partners in my last two jobs, the challenges on the inside are totally different. You’re trying to build a cutting edge platform that suits the needs of hundreds of partners, while living within the confines of a business. I’ve always worked with a broad array of people, but going more to the technical side has its challenges.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
Thankfully for me, college sports has really gotten more focused on social and digital media. There are full-time positions everywhere and many now at a more senior level. What you’re seeing today from schools on the digital front is staggering. Take a look at the graphics today as opposed to just 3-4 years ago. It’s amazing and now something that almost all administrators and coaches see value in.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
Speaking from a college sports perspective, a lot of people leave because of the hours and often low pay. It can be hard to have that elusive “work/life balance” and I see people get burned out. The economics of the system obviously push the big bucks to head coaches in revenue sports and the long line of qualified applicants keep wages low for many others.

As far as why people leave, I can’t agree or disagree. We each have our own journey and I understand the desire to spend more time having “a life”. Though I do think it can be done, many struggle with the so-called balance.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Absolutely not. A former colleague of mine always referred to what we do as the “toy section” of careers. It’s hard work and plenty challenging, but at the end of the day very rewarding.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
From a usage perspective, it’s Twitter followed closely by Instagram. I love the connections with strangers who have often become real life friends. I love how we can talk about common interests as well as follow along with news and sports stories in real time. I do think there are some scary addictive symptoms of too much social media use so I try to keep that in check. A few months ago I got off social media completely for a full month and really enjoyed it. Now I try to be more mindful of the time I spend and how easily it can distract me from more important tasks.

From an observer of the space I have an amazing amount of respect for what Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) has built and run. When you stop to think how Mark Zuckerburg took a fairly run-of-the-mill idea and built it into a globally transformative company (as a 20-something with no business background) really is staggering. I tend to think what Facebook is today is just the start and can’t imagine what it will look like in five years.

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I read a ton. Typically a few books at a time. The best one I read recently was “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by a very interesting writer named Cal Newport. His book “Deep Work” was also very interesting to me even though he’s a strong critic of social media. I don’t agree 100% with everything he says but think his perspective is important – especially these days.

11) Where do you receive your news and information?
I don’t subscribe to a print paper or watch much TV. Most of my information comes from Internet sources be it social media or curated feeds via something like Pocket or Feedly. I also have a subscription to the Washington Post on my Kindle and find that useful.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
For a time during my college career I seriously considered dropping out and pursuing a culinary degree so cooking is still a great hobby for me. I also read a ton and love playing golf when I have the time.

Professional Development Q&A With Troy Johnson

This post is the fifth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

Name: Troy Johnson (@TroyJohnsonAU)
Profession: Director of Communications & Marketing, Auburn University Raymond J. Harbert College of Business
Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations/Journalism from Troy University; Master of Technical and Professional Communication from Auburn University

Troy and I first met in Auburn around 2015 when I was looking for new opportunities. Though he and I were both members of the local PRCA Chapter, we weren’t close friends at the time. However, I reached out to form a better relationship in hopes of picking his brain as I searched for new opportunities. We’ve remained close since then.

In 2016, Troy and I also formed an agency/client relationship. The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business is a client of Verge Pipe Media‘s and I was the main point of contact for the account. Troy and I worked closely on strategic digital marketing efforts and further strengthened our relationship.

Even though I am no longer with VPM, Troy and I remain close friends and he is still a sounding board for me when I need one. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Troy Johnson.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
While I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, the profession has experienced dynamic changes since my initial graduation in 1992. Portable technology and social media were as fanciful as the flying DeLorean from “Back to the Future” at that point. The Internet wasn’t accessible to the masses yet. It was another three years before I worked in an office where we were able to receive e-mail, and that was to a departmental address rather than a personal inbox. While the foundational elements of public relations I learned as an undergraduate remain relevant, there is little resemblance between what we were being prepared for then and what I experience now. The media landscape is very different, for one. We still place value on earned media, but we’re frequently able to bypass the traditional messengers these days and share information directly with our publics through social media, e-mail, push notifications, and other means. The biggest change I’ve experienced is the ability to collect relevant data and to be nimble in making necessary changes. We now have the ability to monitor the success of a campaign in real time and move to Plan B with minimal discomfort. All of those wonderful algorithms in the social media and software as a service universe also enable us to be far more targeted in our communication. A process that may have once resembled a shotgun blast is now a laser pointer.

I recently completed a master’s degree (while working full-time) in technical and professional communication. I selected the program because of its emphasis on web usability and accessibility, as well as design and rhetoric. The latter component is surprisingly relevant to what I do now. Part of my function is helping the public understand the value of academic and industry-focused research. Often, you have to simplify complex information in a way that makes it easily understandable for the masses.

The latter component, the focus on rhetoric, was particularly interesting and applicable as well. We studied Aristotle, among others, and examined the rhetorical moves they executed in attempting to persuade others. That’s useful for any PR or marketing practitioner.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
It took me a while to settle on public relations as a career choice. That was my initial plan, to do PR in the non-profit, agency, or political realm. But, as a double major in college, I was offered a six-month journalism internship at the Birmingham News (now better known as AL.com). They treated me like a veteran reporter, even assigning me to interview Michael Jordan during the height of his athletic fame. I loved the adrenalin rush of competing against other media and digging for news. That led to a 16-year career in which I covered everything from Southeastern Conference sports to the Olympics for various newspapers in the Southeast. I left that industry in 2008 because I didn’t like the uncertainty plaguing it. I had worked as a columnist for the last half of my career, which probably connected to PR in more ways than I realized. You’re the face of your news organization, for better or worse, but have opportunities to engage the community in ways many reporters don’t. One day I’d speak at a Rotary Club, the next day I’d be a guest on a radio or TV show.

In making the transition to public relations while initially working for Auburn University’s College of Education, I’ll admit there was a learning curve. In journalism, deadlines are often managed in minutes or hours rather than days. The focus is on immediacy. But people interact differently with the academic side of a university than they do with its athletic teams. At the same time, journalists are conditioned to be observant, to be resourceful, and to be multi-taskers. Those qualities are important for public relations practitioners, too. Coming from journalism, you may be well prepared to handle the tactical materials — the deliverables — that your organization or client needs. But there is an adjustment in terms of understanding the value of primary and secondary research before a project and conducting research on the back end to evaluate. You have to ensure that what you do is purpose-driven.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
When you apply for a job, show that you have done your homework. Have you visited the organization’s website, looked through any of its print materials, taken inventory of its social media, experienced its product or service in some way? Having been on a number of search committees and making various hires, I can say my biggest pet peeve is when an applicant misses the mark in a cover letter. So many write about how being hired by the university fulfills their dream or objective. That’s nice, but I want to know how you are going to add value to my team. A lot of people view cover letters as a formality, but it’s a chance for you to tell your story. How does your skillset align with the job opening? That’s what I want to know — not that you’ve been an Auburn fan since you were 5 years old.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
I love the problem-solving component. You’re trying to drive action, change perception, build awareness, curate existing relationships and foster new ones. There’s no better feeling than seeing your work result in a national media placement, or being able to see that you have helped persuade previously disengaged individuals or groups to invest their time, talent or treasure in your organization.

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5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Managing the flow of data. It’s referred to as Big Data for a reason. There’s more of it than there used to be, and it can be overwhelming. We’re fortunate in that we have a Data Scientist who is helping us build a better framework for managing the flow of information and helping to ensure the right people know the right things at the right time.

6) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
In my professional circle, most fellow practitioners are long-timers or are just beginning their careers. If they’re not leaving because of retirement, you may have some who start their own firms or set up an LLC and do consulting work. They may leave an organization, but they tend to remain connected to PR and/or marketing. In the corporate sector, you see some departures due to downsizing or restructuring.

7) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Not at all. I wish I had made the transition to PR sooner. I also enjoy working in a higher education setting. You come to work feeling good about who and what you represent.

8) What is your favorite social media platform?
Probably Facebook, although I understand why it wears down so many people. It’s a versatile platform, and it’s more personal than, say, Twitter. In my personal use, I probably treat it the way I would a barstool at a local pub. It’s the place where I pontificate, try to make people laugh, occasionally argue, and share news I consider important. Because I work for a College of Business, I can say LinkedIn is an important platform in my professional role. You’re able to conduct research there on alumni or industry partners. I also value the ability to target specific companies or industry sectors. Some of the applied research conducted by our faculty offers relevance to executives in a variety of industry settings — banking, supply chain and logistics, management, accounting. We’re able to connect and share news with corporate leaders who may not be part of our alumni network.

Lately, I’m finding myself becoming more active with Instagram. It is becoming more vital for our organization since we serve individuals in their late teens and early to mid-20s.

9) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
Not counting what I read to my 5-year-old son at night … my recent reads have included “Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations,” a non-fiction account chronicling the life and career arc of the firm’s namesake, and “Headed for Home,” a fiction/humor book by a friend, former Auburn University professor Mary Helen Brown. In terms of web-based learning, it runs the gamut. The Public Relations Society of American offers an abundance of resources. Also, as someone who works within a College of Business, I find value in checking out occasional webinars offered by Harvard Business Review. That sometimes helps me in understanding the common language or our faculty and industry partners.

10) Where do you receive your news and information?
It’s a mix of print and online newspapers, TV, and Facebook. I tend to read the following newspapers online: The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Opelika-Auburn News (local). I also have access to print issues of the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I watch local TV stations, and will occasionally check out the weekend morning shows like “Meet the Press,” but rarely consume cable news. I tend to monitor on Twitter rather than engage on the platform. I find Facebook to be useful in finding useful stories that may surface throughout the day, but tend to be very selective about what I read or view from it.

11) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
I love spending time with my family. I have a 5-year-old son who is into a bit of a polymath. He’s taking lessons in everything from tennis to acting to ceramics to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I love to travel. My first time outside the U.S. was covering the 2000 Olympics on assignment in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been making up for lost time since then.

And, finally, having been an athlete in my fading youth (football and soccer), I love to exercise and play sports. Right now, because my creaky joints don’t hold up well running full-court in basketball, my primary diversion involves weight training and power lifting. I like pushing, pulling and moving heavy things. I refer to myself as an AFG — Athletic Fat Guy.

I’m trying to make time for other pursuits. I serve on the state board the Public Relations Council of Alabama and have just recently started as a board member for Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.

Did Higher Education Embrace Inbound Marketing in 2016?

Higher education institutions continue to lead many industries in the size of their social media audiences. This potential reach makes social media an easy and natural way to spread various messages to prospective students, current students, parents, and alumni.

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Social media is also a key component to a solid Inbound Marketing strategy. So, you may think that higher education institutions are a leading the way when it comes to Inbound Marketing. But did higher education embrace inbound marketing in 2016? You may be surprised to learn they still have some work to do.

According to a recent Inbound Marketing study of 11 top industries, higher education institutions ranked 7th when it comes to using Inbound Marketing as their primary approach to marketing. It barely out-paces industries such as financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Need more proof they could improve? In terms of marketing priorities for the next 12 months, below are where higher education ranks among the same 11 induries in various strategic categories:

10thGrowing website traffic
10th – Providing Return On Investment (ROI)
10th – Increased revenue from existing customers (alumni)
9th  – Reducing costs of contacts (in-person visits, etc.)

So What Does This Mean?
It means that even though higher education institutions are beginning to see the value in Inbound Marketing by even participating in a survey such as this, they still have work to do. Their top priority was converting leads into customers. In fact, they ranked that priority higher than any other industry surveyed.

But, these days it’s increasingly more difficult to convert leads into customers without growing website traffic and adopting simple Inbound principles. You really can’t afford to go part of the way when it comes to Inbound. You must take a hard look at what adopting Inbound will mean and craft a strategy to do so.

How To Make The Switch?
If higher education institutions think making the switch will be too hard, they can always look to seek help from an Inbound Agency. Or, they can follow these simple tips below to get started.

  • Start with Personas – Craft buyer personas that fit your ideal conversions/customers. Those “c words” usually scare higher education professionals, but they shouldn’t. For higher education, it could be prospective students you are recruiting or key industry leaders you want to speak at graduation. Regardless, figure out who you’re trying to reach and then construct your content around what they would want to read and on the proper platforms.
  • Align Platforms with Goals – Select the social media platforms that offer the most potential to meet your goals. They all don’t play the same role. Twitter is for conversation. Maybe start a regularly scheduled Twitter chat so prospects have a chance to talk with a live person from your school. LinkedIn is alumni-focused. Post relevant information about school rankings and the importance of a degree from your school.
  • Track Metrics That Matter – Not all metrics matter, so track the ones that help you define your ROI. If you’re looking to increase traffic, tracking URLs can tell you what piece of content brought a visitor to your site and the social media site where they found your link. In general, the most actionable social media metrics will be those that indicate engagement such as click throughs, shares, comments, and the percentage of community engaging with your content.

It’s apparent that higher education institutions are still hesitant to embrace Inbound Marketing. It is hard for us to figure out why when it’s been shown that following Inbound Marketing principles leads to 54% more leads and a huge savings over traditional marketing.

Inbound marketers can only continue to have conversations with the key stakeholders at schools and help dispel any myths that still exist about Inbound Marketing.

For more information about inbound marketing, subscribe to my blog here.

This blog was originally published for Verge Pipe Media.