My son is a busy kid. In his 10 years on earth he’s been enrolled in baseball, basketball, tennis, ice hockey, karate, dance, pottery, chess, piano, architecture, Lego robotics, archery, music, and traditional summer day camp. Each program has had a lot to offer, but the one thing they could all benefit from is learning how to stand out to avid online researchers like me.
(Update, March 2019: This post was written over four years ago, and I am no longer encouraging my son to develop an online brand.)
I’m not an overly warm and fuzzy mom, and sometimes I feel bad about that. I don’t put my son’s artwork on the fridge, or brag about his baskets scored, karate belts earned, soccer goals, grand slams, and perfectly played piano notes. (OK, maybe that was a brag – he’s an awesome kid.)
I just figure it’s my job to pay for the activities he wants to try, and encourage him when he feels like giving up in the middle. To say, “great, I can see you tried really hard at that (thank you, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman). What else can you do?”
Or, “no, you can’t quit chess in the middle of the semester, because you committed to it and I paid for it already.”
The way I see it, if I do anything right as a parent, my kid will grow up with the same work ethic I did, and the tools to hustle and market himself for whatever life throws his way.
So when I received the following email from the grown child (24 years old?) of a colleague recently, I jumped at the chance to send her my two cents on personal branding:
I hope all is well by you. I was speaking with my dad earlier about my job and how I’m not being challenged enough and there’s no real room for me to grow with my current company.
He mentioned that you started your own company and you may be a good person to contact. I would love to sit down with you sometime just to hear how you worked your way to this point.
I followed up with this:
Nice to hear from you. It took a long time to get to where I am, and like all humans, I still struggle with knowing what the next step is. I was in marketing for 16 years and hated it, until I found a reason to love it. A lot of that was a matter of the marketing world catching up to how people really want to be sold to, but that’s a longer story.
That’s when I decided to create a personal brand and set clear goals for the next phase. So my advice to anyone feeling “stuck” is to work on her personal brand: create a website, start blogging about what you know, and create consistent social media profiles that are relevant to that goal. Go to meet-ups that pertain to your goals so you can network with the right people.
And then sign up for the free trial on this site and go through the “picking an idea” course: http://fizzle.co
Hope that helps!
She replied quickly and said thanks, but she isn’t ready to start a personal brand because she doesn’t know what she would write about.
Your Personal Branding SEO Will Replace Traditional Resumes
This January I quit my 16-year marketing job at a NYC IT staffing company, where every incoming resume looked exactly the same, and they’re all filtered through an applicant tracking system. Trust me: if you don’t know how to “SEO” your resume, you’re screwed and the recruiters don’t see it.
The future of recruiting belongs to smart job candidates – young and old! – who show real effort through online personal branding and community building: self-hosted blogs, code reviewed on sites like Github, active social media profiles relevant to their industries, content published on the right LinkedIn channels, etc.
Teach Your Kids About Personal Online Branding
When my son was 7 and started second grade, every day I picked him up from school the conversation home started with “mom, when can I have my own website?” or “mom, when can I have my own checking account?” He didn’t have enough money in his piggy bank to open a checking account, so we started brainstorming website domains.
I won’t know for many years if I’ve made good parenting decisions, but one thing I’m confident about is giving him online real estate (password protected for now) where he can blog about anything he thinks of. It’s not a “sharecropped” site on borrowed land like Facebook or Tumblr with evolving privacy policies — it’s his own domain that he can own for the rest of his life if he wants it.
My son’s first blog post was a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” from the wolf’s perspective. Yeah, my kid is pretty freaking awesome.
I’d like to share a little story about how my “day job” went from page 13 to page 1 on Google for our market three years ago, and how we continue to outrank competitors with no advertising budget. I’m not an SEO expert, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.
In late 2011 I stumbled upon HubSpot, because I needed to know how to create a Facebook business page. I went to Google with my problem, and HubSpot had a great blog post on how to get it done. I didn’t even need to talk to a sales person … it was fast and perfect.
I started devouring HubSpot’s ebooks, and they emailed me helpful information (as if they could read my mind about what was going on with my job at the time) about business blogging and making sense of B2B social media. In February 2012 they called and asked if I wanted to know what our “marketing grade” was. My heart started pounding because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know — I hate being graded!
It was 23 out of 100.
Clearly this wasn’t acceptable, but I explained that I had no marketing budget — our trading software division had been sold to Thomson Reuters two years earlier, and I was left with nothing. I’m not even allowed to expense my Adobe Creative Suite.
But I was determined to fix that grade, so I scheduled a meeting with our CEO, downloaded HubSpot’s “how to convince your boss” PowerPoint template, and spent the weekend customizing it (making it a LOT shorter). He was indeed convinced that we needed to transform our marketing, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
The HubSpot CMS & Keyword Tool
Our old website was a piece of crap built in Dreamweaver. It was ugly, and I’m sure the source code was giving Google a headache. Not that Google ever had a reason to come back and index our site, since nothing was happening and there were so few pages to crawl.
Once our contract was signed, HubSpot’s migration team moved us to their content management system (CMS). The look didn’t change much, but it was a lot easier to change page layouts and add a variety of “modules” to sidebars and footers.
When we went live on the HubSpot CMS, I went straight to the Keywords tool and entered the phrases we wanted to be found for in search engines. With this done, the software was able to point out “low hanging fruit” SEO fixes to help improve our rankings: page titles, URLs, meta descriptions, heading tags, image ALT text, and body content.
Evergreen Blog Posts
Anyone who uses HubSpot knows their training is outstanding. For me the most valuable section was on blogging, because I learned that when done right, business blogs are the most cost-effective and best sales person you’ll ever have. They educate website visitors 24/7, never take a sick day, and they’ll never ask you for a raise (I hope it goes without saying, please pay your content creators well!).
Blogging also has a huge effect on search rankings, because the more often you post, the more content you give Google to index. The more pages Google can index, the more they think you’ve got going on. The more they think you have going on, the more often they’re going to come back to your site.
As a one-person marketing department, I knew we needed as much “evergreen” blog content as possible — content that would keep working for us during the weeks and months that I was pulled away for other projects.
So we started an “Ask the Super Recruiter” campaign. It was a simple call to action (CTA) with a masked/caped recruiter that when clicked, job candidates were directed to a form where they could ask for advice on anything.
We made up our own questions for the most part (always related to our target keyword phrases), but we did get a few good ones from real job seekers. The point is that every blog post was posed in the form of a question, which is how people search online.
My boss didn’t think we would generate revenue from HubSpot or blogging. After all, candidates don’t pay the bills, so how could blogging about them help generate client traffic to our site?
We did reach the clients. When we started out with that embarrassing 23/100 grade from HubSpot, we were on page 13 of Google for IT staffing firms in NYC. Within six months we moved to page 1, and we’re still there today. Oh, and in the same amount of time our marketing grade went from 23 to 85.
I haven’t had time to blog lately, but our posts are so evergreen — how to write an IT resume summary is one that’s viewed every day around the world — that I can be pulled away for a project and know that our search ranking is safe.
We regularly get cold calls from hiring managers who say they found us on Google, and we’re outranking some of the biggest staffing firms in New York City, all of whom have marketing budgets that I can only dream of. But that’s not all …
Within 7 months of using HubSpot, we generated enough new business from organic search traffic to pay my full time salary for the year.
HubSpot is the gift that keeps on giving.
In May 2013 I attended a HubSpot webinar hosted by Marcus Sheridan, the former owner of a Virginia-based in-ground pool company and now a TED speaker and content marketing specialist. The webinar, titled “The Honest Economy & Instructional Selling,” centered on Mr. Sheridan’s story about how trying to make payroll when the economy tanked in 2008 shifted his marketing strategy forever.
With homeowners suddenly upside down on their mortgages and skittish about luxury purchases, he had to do something drastic to see his pool company through the recession. He and his partners started a blog full of honest answers to every question they’d ever received from prospects — even laying bare the negative aspects of their products.
By adding this educational value to their website, they were able to cut their annual $250,000 marketing budget by 90% and generate over $2,000,000 in sales. The idea that transparent, educational content could yield results like that fundamentally changed my view of marketing, and the line that pulled it all together was “be the Wikipedia of your industry.”
This week I “kind of” fired a freelance client I’ve worked with for 12 years. Not because I don’t like him — he’s quite likable — but because he’s stuck in a mindset of outbound marketing and afraid to embrace change, even if it would be easier on his budget.
He’s mentioned the challenges of his evolving industry many times over the years, and I’ve offered inbound suggestions that he was excited about, but there’s never been any movement.
The work I’ve been doing for him over the years has mostly included designing email invitations and blasting them out a few times each month via MailChimp. They’re pretty much the same formula each time, with little variation. The information in the emails is also added to his website, but there’s nothing else to it — no blog, no expert advice, nothing interesting to offer the hundreds of people that click through to his site when they purchase tickets to the events advertised in his emails.
His list has declined steadily with each mailing, and what my (former) client has always said he wants to be known for is not what he’s being found for on Google — something that could be easily corrected through blogging and social media. He also has people lined up on LinkedIn wanting to connect, but doesn’t see the value in the platform or accepting their invitations.
I say I “kind of” fired him because I offered two options to give a final nudge toward Inbound:
- a modest retainer which includes the usual email campaigns plus a simple blogging strategy — which I explained in detail with a current Google Webmaster Tools keyword report, and a snapshot of his website against his main competitors using the HubSpot competitor report
- or the status quo at a much higher premium starting in January
He said he was sorry, but he was electing to go with a local company that actually uses the term “saturation mailings” on their home page.
So his marketing insanity — the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result — will continue, but I feel relieved because my insanity is ending. Doing those repetitive emails the last year or so, I felt like I was betraying the Inbound movement. I think a small part of me thought I’d eventually convince him to come along for the ride and see how transformative it could be for his business.
The funny thing is, not an hour after he let me know his decision to go with the “saturation” people, another opportunity landed in my lap that looks like a really good fit.