(Note: This is based on one of the questions asked in Ron Elsdon’s book How to Build a Nontraditional Career Path: Embracing Economic Disruption.)
“What can’t I do?” is a question I’ve asked myself fairly often over the last 18 months or so. Since being laid off, as I’ve searched for full-time jobs and worked to build up a freelance practice, I’ve had plenty of occasions to evaluate my skill set and find opportunities for improvement. In that time I’ve taken online courses through Hubspot, LinkedIn and other portals as time has allowed and as interesting topics have emerged.
While there are various things I could be better at there was only one are where I truly identified a shortcoming: Paid advertising.
It’s something I’ve touched every now and again in my career, but the focus has almost exclusively been on organic content. The few times I’ve been involved in paid campaigns it’s largely been in a support capacity, working with another agency to give them access to the social profiles I managed and helping them optimize the campaign they had planned. I’ve bought a half-dozen ads for clients over the years, but that’s about it.
Throughout the years it always seemed to be that paid and organic responsiblities were clearly defined and seperated responsibilities. You did your thing, I did mine. Almost no one I knew in the industry who did organic content marketing also got seriously involved with paid advertising. The two sides of the fence might argue ocassionally which one owns the term “content marketing,” but that was more about claiming budgets than anything else.
As I scoured job opening listings and did other research, it seemed the streams were being crossed much more regularly than I believed. Or at least companies were looking to hire someone with capabilities in both areas. You needed to have experience with both paid and organic responsibilities – as well as be Hubspot Email Marketing Certified, a Google Analytics-verified power user and more – to be considered.
To some extent that’s a reflection of how social networks have positioned themselves and the value proposition they’ve presented to brands and how those have evolved over the years. Even before the new cruelty recently introduced by Facebook, that platform was increasingly becoming a paid-only outlet, at least if you wanted to get anything out of it. You needed to pay to play, so it made a kind of sense that companies would want someone versed in those details and best practices.
So I focused on that in much of my continued education, largely finding that I knew a lot of it already just through the industry reading I’ve done over the years. In addition to formal courses, I researched topics like programmatic advertising and more to educate myself enough to be somewhat knowledgable. I still didn’t have hands-on experience I could point to, but I could have a conversation, and that was a step in the right direction.
There are other gaps in my experience I’ve sought to address recently, but when I decided to fully embrace the life of a freelancer I backed off on some of that. I still keep up and take advantage of opportunities to learn something new when they’re presented, of course, but I’ve also decided that being great at a few things presents a stronger image than being kind of alright at several things.
More than anything, I lean on one skill I have that’s applicable to most any situation: Being able to work with anyone. I know enough about web design and development to be able to work effectively with people who are really good at that. Same with advertising or other specialties. Having the ability to communicate effectively and understand their needs and perspective is even more valuable in many respects than being able to code or make an ad buy on your own.
That being said, I still think more experience in this area would be helpful. It would let me do more. I don’t need to achieve expert-level as a paid advertising specialist. But I now know enough that if I were called on to manage a campaign I could.
Finally, I’ll say that while that experience or certification may seem like an awful lot of hassle to go through for one small line on your resume or entry on your LinkedIn profile, it’s absolutely worth seizing those opportunities as they surface. You never know when you’ll get the call, and you’ll want to be able to step up in a meaningful way.
Identifying where I was weak and taking steps to correct that shortcoming has put me in a position to do just that.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.