New Year, New Career Plans

What's Your Plan-

Happy New Year!

I took a longer than anticipated break from the blog, and from career coaching, after having a minor acident in late May, followed up by accepting a full time job offer from one of my consulting clients. But there's no time like the start of a new year to jump back in to the blog with both feet, on a timely topic: putting your annual career plan into play.

 A couple of months ago, I shared my career development plan template with my team, and my boss, as a tool foks could use to think about their career pathing. I'm happy to note that it was well received and being put into use, with my boss even asking me to use it to map out my career goals for the year. 

I'm sure that many of my peers, who, like me, have more than a decade of experience under their belts, may roll their eyes when asked to complete a career development plan. I've heard numerous reasons that creating a career development plan is a waste of time but I can't say that I agree. Why? Because there is always something new I want to learn, and something new I can stretch myself to accomplish.

This year, I want to focus on active participation in the content marketing community and flexing my public speaking skills. How does that flesh out in a plan? By actively pursuing opportunities to guest blog, be part of conference presentation panels, and hopefully get to guest on a few podcasts. By putting these goals into writing, and sharing them with others (in my case, my boss), it holds me accountable for keeping an eye on those goals and not letting a busy work schedule get in the way of continuing to grow as a professional.

What's on your "to learn" list for 2015?

3 Reasons You Can't Afford NOT to Attend That Conference


I’m writing this while on the plane to Chicago, en route to attend the Business Marketing Association (BMA) conference. It promises to be three days of learning and best practices sharing and networking with other B2B marketers like me. Inevitably, when I tell others I’m headed to conference, I hear variations on the theme of “Oh, I’d love to go to that conference, but I can’t afford it.”

I get that. For many of these conferences, even with early bird pricing, you’re looking at $1200 in registration fees. Plus hundreds of dollars in airfare, not to mention hotel costs. It’s easy to sink $2500 into a conference when all is said and done. But that said, I still think it’s a small price to invest in your professional development. In competitive, hyper-change fields like marketing, I think you actually can’t afford NOT to attend these events, if you want to stay competitive and employable. 

Reason #1: Conferences, by Their Nature, Give Insight into Emerging Industry Trends

Why is this important? Because although you may not be up on what’s going on in your industry or profession, chances are your organization’s competition (and the professionals you compete with in the job market) will be. Not all industry trends stick around for the long run (remember when Second Life was heralded as the next frontier in marketing and customer service? No? Well there you go.) but many of them are relevant and timely markers for shifting customer expectations. 

Adoption of social media for customer service and marketing is a great example of an emerging trend that’s gone mainstream. Companies and professionals who quickly embraced this trend, and figured out how to make it work within their customer ecosystems, saw their brand image and customer loyalty increase. Imagine how much of an opportunity cost laggards have accrued if they’re just now waking up to the impact of social media on current society.

Reason #2: You Learn More, and Have More Creative Ideas, by Immersing Yourself in a New Environment

Most of us work in the same office environment, surrounded by the same colleagues, on a daily basis. There’s comfort in this familiarity, but numerous studies on creativity and breakthrough ideas have shown that breaking out of your comfort zone and working in a new environment is a great way to spur creative thinking and creak out ideas.

Packing up and traveling to a conference not only gets you into a new physical location, it changes up your information inputs, and surrounds you with all sorts of unfamiliar people who have the potential to spark new ideas. And that’s even before the education sessions have started! 

Similarly, the trade show floor is your opportunity to have 1:1 time with suppliers of products and services others in your industry are using to be more effective. Walk that show floor and see what catches your eye. It just might be a tool that can help you work smarter and faster. And who doesn’t want that?

Reason #3: You Can Build Connections With Other Professionals With Similar Challenges, Building Your Own Personal Think Tank

Perhaps even more valuable than the best practices and new ideas you take away form conference education sessions are the connections you make with other professionals like yourself. More than just building your LinkedIn network count, these connections can start to form your own personal best practices community, that you can consult when you are wrestling with business and professional challenges of your own, or looking for recommendations for new service providers. 

I should note that I tend to “meet” a number of attendees at conferences through livetweeting interesting tidbits from sessions I attend, and from sharing my key takeaways from events in blog posts like this one, on my experience at Content Marketing World 2013. The real time conference back channels at conferences are a great way to connect with others, especially if you’re an introvert who gets hives at the thought of walking up to someone you don’t know and making small talk.

How to Make it Happen

If you’re self-employed, or your company doesn’t have a budget set aside for staff professional development, it can be difficult to find the funds for attending a conference. But often, if you can provide your boss with a concrete area of learning you’ll be able to bring back and share with the team, you can get your company to foot at least part of the bill. Some of the other ways you can bring that conference price tag down a notch include:

  • Group registering with your colleagues
  • Paying before the early bird deadline
  • Volunteering at the conference
  • Successfully applying to share your expertise by being a speaker
  • Asking partners who are exhibiting if they have a discount registration code

If none of these options are open to you, and you can’t swing a large lump sum at once, start planning a year ahead for the event, saving a little bit each week, for your conference fund. Consider starting a change jar, or skipping one fancy coffee each week and putting that cash into your conference fund. You’ll be surprised at how quickly those dollars can add up.

Creating a Weekly Social Media Tactical Plan in Support of Your Personal Brand

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It can be easy to get sucked in to a social media time sink when you're getting started building out your personal branding  social media strategy. That's why it's important to identify your top objectives for your social media usage, then formalize a plan for what activities you'll do on a regular basis in support of that plan.

For instance, as a solopreneur or small business owner, your objectives might look like this:

  • Expand word-of-mouth about my services
  • Connect with 12 new industry influencers
  • Identify and become active in 2-3 online groups/communities related to my services
  • Drive 20% of all new business inquiries from social media channels by the end of the year

So how do you translate your positioning and focus areas into your social networking strategy? 

First, set aside a couple of hours for your planning. You'll want to start by taking a close look at your bios on each of your active social networks. Does your bio consistently reflect your messaging? Before you dive into tactics, you want to ensure you are presenting yourself with the same photo and/or graphics across your channels, and using the same language to reflect your value proposition, regardless of channel.

Moving into the planning process, you’ll need to identify:

  • Your primary keywords. Pick at least 3 and no more than 5 to focus on. Examples: digital marketing, financial services marketing, financial planning, social media.
  •  Key thought leaders and content sources for your keywords, starting with what you’ve already been reading/sharing via social. Aim for 10-20 total.
  •  Your weekly goal for posting content. Content can be something new that you share and microblog about (i.e. add your own perspective to a link), or can be something you RT from the folks you follow. 
  • Your weekly goal for 1:1 interactions. This can include replying to an update someone posts, responding to a question with info or a resource, or just sharing something interesting 1:1 with a key person. 

Now that you've defined your activities, and aligned your profile content to your objectives and value proposition, go ahead and block off 15 or 20 minutes per day, every day, on your calendar to focus on your social media activities. This time should be spent on your 1:1 interactions with influencers and followers, and tee’ing up content in Hootsuite or another scheduling tool, to be shared with your audience over the course of the upcoming week.

Given a 15 min a day budget, you can aim for 1 twitter post and 1 Facebook post per day, and a couple of LinkedIn posts of interest to your network per week. This time budget should also allow for 2-3 twitter interactions and 2 Facebook interactions with influencers each week, and commenting on a couple of LinkedIn status updates or community posts per week. 

To make sure you use your time wisely each day, add the related To Do’s (interactions and content sharing discussed above) to your daily calendar reminder.  By setting your goals and having them part of your daily to do list, you’re on your way to improving your brand through regular use of social media.

3 Career Resolutions You Need to Make in 2014

3 Career Resolutions You Need to Make in 2014
Fireworks photo from flickr user wobble-san, licensed under creative commons.

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on  what's been working well and what you'd like to change for the year ahead-- both in your personal and your professional life. Thinking about your core competencies, and the goals you'd like to accomplish in 2014, I propose three career resolutions you need to make for 2014 to make them happen:

  1. Create a career development plan
  2. Get a mentor/be a mentor
  3. Nurture your professional network

Create a career development plan

Whether your top career goal is to get promoted, find a new job, or expand your solopreneur business, setting concrete goals and creating a career development plan is key to helping you get there.

Why is it so important? Because it starts by defining your career goals, assessing both your strengths and areas for improvement, and then mapping your development goals to specific, measurable activities. Career development plans are not one size fits all! Simply attending a conference and a few random industry webinars doesn't cut it either. You need to create a personalized road map that focuses on what you need to learn and improve upon to attain your specific professional goals.

Get a mentor/be a mentor

Everyone can benefit from an outside point of view from time-to-time. That's where a mentor comes in. Ideally, you want to look for someone who is further along on your career path, whose experiences would be valuable to you as you carve out your career path. Or they can be someone who is exceptionally skilled in one of the competencies you ID'd in your career development plan as being one you need to work on.

Similarly, if you are an individual contributor looking to take on a management role, mentoring is a great way to give you hands-on coaching experience you'll be able to apply with your future direct reports. And if you are an experienced professional, with decades of experience under your belt, mentoring is a great way to give back to your profession and your community. 

Still not sold on the idea of mentoring? Check out this blog post on Convince & Convert on the virtuous cycle of mentorship.

Nurture your professional network

Don't be that person who only reaches out to former colleagues when they are looking for a new opportunity! Make time each week to reach out. Grab lunch once a week with a current or former colleague you don't see very often. Drop someone an email w/a link to an interesting article you read that made you think of them. Follow them on social media and share their blog posts. There are so many small ways to reach out that don't take much time, but make a significant impact on the receiving end.

If you need some ideas on more ways to reach out, check out this list of 52 random acts of kindness (that's one for each week of 2014); not all apply, but many of them do.

Keep yourself accountable

After you settle on your career resolutions, the best way to keep on track with them is to share the resolutions with your friends, family and support network. Ask them to help keep you accountable, and to cheer you on as you go. Now you're on your way to making 2014 a year full of career success.

Ready to take your job to the next level? Create a career development plan

Example career development plan career goals, strengths, and areas of improvement.

How is it that drafting a career development plan became part of the "Wish I Didn't Have To Do" list? Is it because in many large organizations the task is lumped in with (often onerous) annual performance reviews? It's too bad they've become an unpleasant chore for so many workers, because they're actually a very useful tool for focusing in on and honing the skills you need to acquire to advance your career.

3 steps for creating a career development plan

Creating an actionable career development plan can be broken down into 3 distinct steps:
  • Step 1: Define your career goals
  • Step 2: Identify your strengths and areas for improvement
  • Step 3: Map development goals to specific, measurable activities

You don't need to wait for your annual performance review cycle to get started (although having your most recent review on hand can be helpful). You only need to have the motivation to start working on developing yourself and advancing your career.

Continue reading "Ready to take your job to the next level? Create a career development plan" »