business development, fundraising industry

0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards

Am I that naive?

How can networking result in 0 jobs and still be a success?

A little bit of background: Last year (2018), I visited the DMFA Awards meeting. I had some, I thought, relevant insights. I also attended the Bridge Conference, the Chicago Nonprofit Conference, the AFP St. Louis Gateway Conference, and the AWAI Bootcamp. And this year I attended the DC Nonprofit Conference and the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

In 12 months I’ve done a lot of travel, to meet specific industry members who do the work I do, who hire people like me.

I networked my ass off.

I met a lot of people. I handed out a lot of business cards. I collected a lot of swag.

I got a book (Unconscious Branding) in one of the bags. I read it. I reviewed it. I’m going to post a review of that soon. When I do, I’ll come back to this post and link it.

I missed my kids. And I missed baseball games, orchestra concerts, and volleyball practices. They missed me.

I collected my fair share of airline miles.

And so, one might ask, how successful was all of that “networking”? Was it worth it?

A year later, I look at the 7 conferences I’ve attended, the hundreds of business cards in my Rolodex, and the thousands of e-mails I’ve sent. What happened after all that activity?

I got 0 jobs.

Zero.

None.

No assignments. No opportunities. No paychecks.

Oh, I’ve been paid. I’ve had checks from local clients, and those in other states. I’m not starving. But out of those in-person industry meetings where I pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room an listen to everyone else tell me how to do my job better?

Zilch.

And yet, I still call all of that successful. Not because of the jobs I did or did not get, but because of the networking I did during those meetings. It paid off this year. Maybe not in a great big way, with a large retainer contract, but in starting the connections I need to build in order to make that happen in the future.

And here’s why I call getting 0 jobs a success.

This year, I attended the DMFA Awards again.

I flew to New York. Paid my registration fee, had lunch, and met two incredible people. Not for the first time … and hopefully not for the last, either.

Stephen is a copywriter, who used to be a freelancer like me. We met at the DC Nonprofit Conference earlier this year. We exchanged cards, and later, LinkedIn connections.

When I met him this year at the DMFA Awards, he had gotten out of freelance and taken a full-time agency job. Yet he knows people who will still want freelancers, and actually asked for my card to pass along my information to others when they ask. I now have an advocate out there making connections on my behalf. Success #1.

I also sat next to Tiffany. I met her the first time last year at the Bridge Conference. She works for Doctors Without Borders. This year she attended, and as we conversed, she said that she remembered me. I was a little surprised, as I didn’t think I’d made any impressions, so I asked why.

Last year, I gave her a whole packet about me, with samples of my direct mail writing. She said it was incredibly easy to hand that to someone and say, “I met a copywriter. Here’s his stuff.”

Advocate #2 (though she was advocating for me long before I actually knew it!). Success #2.

There’s a Point to All This

So, based on that experience, I have 3 networking take-aways for all those out there just getting started, or changing it up, or looking to go deeper.

1. SHOW UP. OFTEN.

You won’t get to actually meet people if you just sit at home and e-mail. Would Stephen have been asking for my card again if he had never seen me the first time? Probably not. I’d be another face in the crowd, or “just another copywriter”, unless I actually showed up to 2 different meetings he was attending. When I showed up, when you show up, you demonstrate your commitment to your craft, to the industry, and to your peers. You might not know everything, but at least you’re ahead of those who don’t even bother to put in that much effort.

Nobody’s going to hire you on the first time they meet you. Marketers know it takes 6 to 8 touches to get someone even interested in a brand. The same is true for you as a professional. Don’t just assume it’s going to happen after the first coffee conversation. Go where they are.

Show up.

2. BE PREPARED.

Know your audience. In all of those conferences last year, I knew I would be meeting professionals who work with direct mail. So, I prepared a direct mail packet, to demonstrate that I do, in fact, know how to write for direct mail.

Plus, having that packet made it ridiculously easy for someone to evaluate my credentials. I wasn’t asking them to try to remember, days and days and days later, to take extra steps to visit my website to see samples. I had done the hard work for them, and I know that people appreciate when you make it easy on them.

Heck, that’s the only reason I read Unconscious Branding. It was ridiculously easy to find; all I had to do was look in my bag at the DC conference, and there it was. In the same way, all Tiffany had to do was to grab hold of whatever I’d already given her, and then give that to her colleague who works with copywriters. That professional, too, is going to be automatically able to see my credentials, without the hurdle of visiting my website, because I was prepared for my audience.

3. BE MEMORABLE.

Tiffany remembered me. Because I showed up and I was prepared. Stephen remembered me. Because I showed up, and I was prepared. I was also professional, not amateurish, and I had my “story” ready to go. I am memorable to them, because I have something unique about me. I have a good story to tell, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I know what sets me apart. All of these mean that I’m not “just another copywriter,” but I’m actually quite unique.

Knowing why I want to do what I’m doing is a great help when figuring out how to present myself at these networking meetings. If you’re not memorable, you’re not … memorable.

This doesn’t mean you should show up in a pink clown suit, or stand up on top of the dinner table and announce your availability over the next 3 months and your prices, in a loud (okay, probably also drunk) voice. Those are the bad kind of memorable.

It does mean that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why that’s important. That’s the good kind of memorable.

Look, I’m Not Saying It’s Easy.

In fact, it’s downright depressing sometimes when I think of the number of times I’ve been groped by TSA for virtually no return.

But, then, I think about those two conversations in New York, and I know it’s worth it.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not tomorrow.

But … someday, those networking connections are going to pay off.

Big time.

Because networking is not about getting a job right then and there. Networking is about building a network.

If you build it, well –

You know the rest.

business development, Uncategorized

Best Rejection Ever?!?!

Do you ever get that feeling? That one where, despite all your best attempts otherwise, you just can’t hate the person who rejected you?

Maybe it was the girl next door whom you’d been crushing on since age 6. Maybe it was that boss who declined to transfer you, because you were so integral to the projects at hand. Whatever it was, we’ve all been there.

Rejected. Turned down. Heard, “I can’t that night, I’m washing my hair.”

And while rejections may sting, there are some things you can do when delivering a rejections to still maintain a sense of decency and respect.

The Setup

As a freelance writer it’s up to me to source my own work. I have to go out and hustle. I have to spread my name far and wide, like dandelion seeds scattered in the wind, and hope that they land somewhere fertile where they can grow. It’s on me to cultivate opportunities, make them work, and bring them in when they’re ready, so that I can keep paying the bills and planning for the future.

One element of that is applying for some jobs in my industry. Content creation, content management, and the like. I’d love to have 2 or 3 firms with whom I’m a regular contributor, perhaps working a set # of (less-than-full-time) hours each week or month.

One of those came across my radar recently from BizLibrary. I hadn’t heard of them before, so I read their website and liked what they do. Creating content for them could be right up my alley, so I applied.

The Action

Immediately (using an autoresponder, as all good companies should do) I got a response. “Thanks for your interest. We’ll be in touch!” (Paraphrased, of course, but you get the idea.) Based on my history with job applications, I prepared for a long, quiet wait.

I full expected at least 2 weeks to pass before ever hearing from BizLibrary again. This seems to be the modern experience, doesn’t it? You apply, you wait, you wait, you wait, and if you’re lucky the recruiter will get back to you in about a month. Well past the time you’ve given up and moved on to the next opportunity.

And that’s if you’re lucky! Most of the time those applications seem to go nowhere, and you’re left wondering at the existentialistic meaninglessness of shouting into the void. You wait for a response, you hope, you pray and…

Nothing.

But this time was different.

The Response

The day after I submitted the application, I got another message from BizLibrary. A response! Whaaaaat? So soon? Must be they need more information, I thought. But when I read it, I realized they’d made their decision already. In one day.

In case you didn’t see that, let me emphasize. THE DAY AFTER I submitted that application I got a response. Not a month later. Not a fortnight. Not a week.

ONE.

DAY.

DECISION.

I’m so impressed with this action that I’m going to post the whole response here:

Hi Stephan,

Thank you for your application to BizLibrary’s Content Writer/Editor role. After reviewing your work and experience, we’ve made the decision to not move forward at this time. I hope you don’t mind if we reach out to you in the future when a position opens up that may be a good fit.

We appreciate your interest in BizLibrary and wish you success in your job search.

Best,

The BizLibrary Recruiting Team

Where’s that [LOVE] emoji?

The Reaction

Okay, so why am I so enamored with this response? Why am I writing about it, and proclaiming my “loser”-ness for you all to see? Well, I have 2 big takeaways from this that I think many more could benefit from.

1. Decide Quickly

This came in the day after I had submitted the application. This means that they didn’t sit around waiting for two weeks to look all those who’d applied in bunches. They reviewed quickly, and they decided quickly.

Frankly, this speaks to a well-honed process. We can argue whether that’s “good” or “bad” later. But, the point is that BizLibrary has their process, they followed it, and they did what works for them.

What good would waiting do? You’ve got a set of criteria that you’re going to follow, you know what you’re looking for, make the decision and move forward.

2. Communicate Quickly and Clearly

Not only did BizLibrary decide quickly, they responded quickly. Frankly, all they had to do was push a button to send me an automated e-mail. That doesn’t take a lot of work. Plus they didn’t try to blow smoke up my butt and pretend that I’m an awesome candidate, and they really wish they could, but, gee, something else just kind of got in the way. You do hear that when people “don’t want to hurt feelings.” You know what? Being lied to actually hurts more than the truth. And we can see it. It’s not fun.

BizLibrary, on the other hand, told me the truth.

It demonstrates a lot of respect on their end. Respect for me, as an applicant. Respect for me, as a potential advocate for them. (See? I’m doing it now!) Respect for their other candidates, too, who will receive their own quick decisions and communications about their own applications.

I admire that.

I take it to heart. I’ve been guilty of the other method, of lamely waiting to see if that vendor goes away. I got some bids for subcontract work once, and rather than giving those vendors the respect that BizLibrary showed me, I just let them languish without even so much as a “Hey, I’m going with someone else.”

That’s my bad, and seeing how much better it could be is telling me I can’t do that any more. I won’t.

From now on, I’ll communicate quickly and clearly when I’ve made a decision.

Props to BizLibrary for being honest, up-front, good people. I may not agree with their decision, but I whole-heartedly endorse how they told me about it.

The Aftermath

Now, all that said, I do wish the hiring process was different. I wish there were more phone calls and fewer paper rejections. I wish there was more time taken and less use of software to screen for just the right key phrases. I wish there was more dialogue and less one-directionality. More feedback.

I wish there were more temp-to-perm jobs, where you did something for a month and if it didn’t work out, you move on. No harm, no foul, no bad marks on your resume because you’re now labeled as a “job-hopper”.

I wish there were more part-time jobs, in which people could practice or try something for 10 hours a week, or some small # of contributions each time. Then, employers would be able to fill smaller needs with skilled candidates who want to contribute in a specific way, rather than having to either: ask someone unqualified who’s already on the team to take on more, or go without until there’s actually enough work to justify a whole position.

Yes, some of those “wishful” positions may exist and are called “internships”. Why aren’t they more ubiquitous? And why do we treat interns like dung when they’re there, if we really are interested in helping them to understand what it’s like to be a part of our workforce in whatever capacity we’ve got available?

I recognize that this essay isn’t going to spark a revolution in the workplace. The current environment is a legacy holdover from the good old days. Those conventions around “work” are part of a bigger conversation, a cultural mindset that we all learned due to the primacy of the the assembly line model of employment for a hundred years. We’re not going to change this battleship with just one tugboat.

But, I’m willing to gas up this Scuffy here, and see what I can do. How about you?

The Take-Away

Sorry for getting a little off-topic there with that miniature rant. I really just wanted to say, when you’re rejecting someone, be more like BizLibrary.

Follow your criteria, and then communicate quickly. Your applicants are asking you out on a date. Clearly you’ve got qualities which are attractive to them. Be respectful, and treat them like the people that they are in your response. Everyone will be better off when you do.