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How To Change Careers When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing (3 Steps)

picture of Nigel Stevens

Nigel Stevens

CEO, OG Marketing

He had a successful “cushy” job in San Francisco, but when going to work every day, he noticed that something was missing. After shaking off a case of imposter syndrome, he’s now running a remote marketing consulting company in Thailand.

Nigel Stevens, CEO of Organic Growth Marketing Company joins the show to discuss how you can recognize if something is missing in your career and the three business traits you should have before taking the leap!

listen to this episode

We covered:

  • Why you shouldn’t let “Imposter Syndrome” affect your confidence in your abilities
  • The two big things that helped Nigel realize something was missing early in his career despite having the “cushy” job
  • The importance of social proof and security when deciding to make a career change
  • Using your professional network to set you up for success
  • Some big advice on how NOT to send a cold email
  • Why building relationships is so important to marketers
  • Why it’s important to tie your own professional story into your company’s growth
  • Reflecting back on what you ad your coworkers have accomplished in the past 1, 3, or 5 years.
  • Nigel gives a real example of why it’s important to highlight your intangibles and how you get sh*t done

Full Transcript:

Louis: Bonjour bonjour and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers dot com. The no-fluff, actionable, marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier.

In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to stop following the status quo and take some fucking risks so you can live your life the way you want to live it. My guest today is the CEO of the Organic Growth Marketing Company which drives organic growth at leading tech companies like Intercom or Profitwell. At companies like Big Commerce, they’ve driven 15x growth. At companies like Unsplash, they’ve driven millions of new visitors coming from cell tangents. And what’s interesting about my guest’s story today is that 2 years ago he left his SEO job at Big Commerce, moved to Thailand a month after, and ran and is still running a successful five person remote consulting company. So I’m super happy to have you board, Nigel Stevens, welcome.

Nigel: Thank you very much. That’s a hell of an intro to live up to.

Louis: Yeah I had to. I had to do this, you know? So why do you feel, and do people feel the need to follow the status quo in the first place? Especially in the marketing space?

Nigel: So from my own experience in speaking to a lot of other people, I think that imposter syndrome plays a pretty big role. You enter a company, people are throwing around all these acronyms. They’re talking about funnels and optimization, ARPU, every company has their own set of acronyms that they just use and assume that the whole rest of the world is going to know.

And you walk into this world, and it’s very easy to feel like what am I doing? And then when you apply that even to the job and career level, you think okay, I can barely keep up in this job. I barely know what I’m doing. How could I even take it to the next level and for example, be a consultant or something like that?

So I think a lot of it is a combination of basic fear and imposter syndrome And I say these from experience, having felt them all deeply over the years.

Louis: You said you had talked to a lot of people. So, what other type of people have you talked to and how did you realize that was quite common?

Nigel: I found it’s the type of thing that on the surface, the paradox of imposter syndrome is nobody really acknowledges it, and everybody keeps using these acronyms and sayings. And then every once in a while you have a candid conversation with someone. And they are like, “Oh no, I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about either.” Or a big thing is when I talk to really successful people, and I think that they have this magic blueprint that I don’t have. And then they say something like, ” Oh, well, I just tried this thing and it worked. Half of the time it was on accident.” And then they figured out something about the way the world works or marketing works, and they stumbled on something. And then they just do it again so it kind of lifted the veil on. There’s not this secret manual that everybody’s read except for me, which is how I felt when I first entered the workforce.

Louis: When you say you talked to pretty successful people, you don’t have to mention their name, because it’s not really the most interesting part. But what are their positions, what company are they working with or for? What’s the status or profile of such people?

Nigel: That’s everybody from sort of, when I was first starting out, director level people at my own company, companies I’d worked with. And even talking to CEOs. I’ve interviewed CEOs as part of engagements with certain companies and a lot of the time you find that companies are born from some ridiculous hypothesis that accidentally spawns a learning that you then build the company from. So, everyone from SAS founders to VPs of marketing to director level and even the original managers I had who tried to help me feel at ease.

Louis: Give me an example of a company that started with an accident. You sprung my curiosity there.

Nigel: Okay. I know I did some work with Atrium, and they’re a combination of legal services and building legal software. And their founder Justin Conn, pretty well known in the marketing space, he started – Twitch turned into this live streaming platform for video games. It started as Justin strapping a camera to his head and hanging out with his friends. And then they figured out that people don’t actually want to watch that. But one of the weird used cases of the platform was people were streaming video games. And then they focused on that niche, and 978 billion dollars later it was acquired by Amazon.

Louis: So you can play in your head about the perfect scenario, the perfect idea, the perfect problem, the perfect solution. But this example is to be a good example of until you get on with it and fucking publish something or build something or ship something, and until you see actual people using it, you can’t just invent that.

It’s just, every good idea, I think is this theory, I don’t remember who said that. I need to remember it now. But this theory that basically every crazy-sounding fucking ideas that apply to only the very very side of the population, the ages of the population, are usually the best ideas that turn into your massive cultural change, right? So like Twitch and video game streaming – what type of nerd started to fucking stream the video games a few years ago? Only a few. And what type of nerds would watch them? But then it started to fucking catch on, crossing the chasm and then moving on to popular culture.

Going back to the call subject. So all of that, it sounds like this is something you like to remind yourself of every day when you get it done. And you remember this conversation. You remember that they don’t have a fucking blueprint. Just get on with it, try a new thing, and they just learn as they go, right?

So before we go into a step by step or sort of actionable way for folks to do the same than what you’ve been doing, and perhaps we can go through your story as well. Tell me more about again why other issues that arise if you have this imposter syndrome in you or if you feel like you have to follow status quo. What are the other consequences of doing this?

Nigel: I think one thing is you think linearly. If you only work out what you know, you say, “Okay, I’m in this job right now.” And then you read what other people have done. You say, “I’m going to build this checklist for the way I do my job. And then from there, if I’m an SEO specialist I can become an SEO manager, and then I can become an SEO senior manager, and then maybe someone will hire me as the Director of SEO.” When you just work within the constraints of what you know, you really limit yourself.

I know from my own experience, you had mentioned in the intro, I kind of blew it all up and to even connect it to start ups or something like that, I didn’t have the intention of building a 5 person, 6 figure monthly MRR agency. It just happened because I was totally willing to accept that I didn’t know what I wanted, and I just knew that I wanted to do something different. And sort of embracing the ambiguity is what turned into my own jumping-off point.

Louis:   Right. So, I think at this stage folks listening to this right now are eager to know more about how the fuck did you do this? And how the fuck did you manage to leave that and found the courage to do it?

Because it’s definitely not a status quo type of thinking, right? You never really had a VP or CEO of marketing type of role. It’s not as if you had a massive, massive network of thousands of people who were waiting and eager to hire you. You had a few very interesting contacts, but it doesn’t mean that a lot of people in your situation would have done the same, right?

So, there’s an interesting point here that I need to say, and I know some people have emailed me before when we talk to guests in this situation. Something called survivorship bias as you know, which is basically a lottery winner would say, “This is how I got rich. If you do the same, just buy a ticket from the fucking whatever, and you get rich as well.”

So, people might think the same. “Okay, he’s on a very particular situation, a very particular experience and context, maybe in the same situation I would not have been able to do the same.” So, let’s try to distill down the things you’ve learned, the mistakes you’ve made, into some sort of principles people can follow, where they can find the status quo and fucking take some risks, and live the life they really want to. Shall we?

Nigel: Yeah, and I think that’s a very important point. Because, for example, I’m a single guy. And if I were giving advice to somebody with a wife and four kids, right off the bat that’s going to be a red flag for them. Because the same constraints that apply to their life don’t apply to mine. Now I think that what that ends up being is how risk-averse you want to be. How much chance you can take, and then how you can plan for that. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

But going back to my own situation, I was working a job, and it was at a great company in a great role. But there was something missing, and I didn’t know what it was. Part of the problem was I was also getting slightly disillusioned with marketing as a whole. Even it was some of my imposter syndrome taking hold, and the acronyms and everything else. There were all these parts of the company that I didn’t have as much access to that I felt deep down I was qualified and able and skilled to be able to contribute in. But it was sort of, you know the way companies work, there’s just sort of different segments or everybody has their role. And that was one sort of limitation I imposed on myself.

But you know what, if I have this cushy job, I get catered lunch every day. If I feel that there is room to improve from here, it means that I really should try.

So, it was really simple. I had been to Thailand before, and I thought it was cool. And it was more about the symbolic taking the leap and breaking free, and then allowing myself to think outside the box, both in terms of my everyday life, my professional life, and everything. So, the other interesting wrinkle here is I also brought my cat with me, which was no simple feat.

But I packed up my cat, got a carryon bag, landed in Thailand. I had one gig, and then I got referred to another one. And this was one of the things I really learned, is how people often underestimate their ability. For example, becomes a consultant, and they think within what they know. So, they say, “Well, here’s who might hire me right now. Therefore, that’s the world of possibilities.” When really what I hadn’t been considering was I knew a few people who had great networks, and if they had somebody to refer to who they trusted, then they would. And that’s exactly what happened.

And actually about 2 weeks before I left, I reached out, out of the blue, to a friend of friend. I just had this weird gut instinct, like I should talk to him. I’m about to drop off the earth and go to Thailand and be a hippie, I should probably take advantage of the fact that I’m in San Francisco.

So, I had lunch with this guy, and he said, “Oh by the way, I’m talking to this one company. They want help with SEO. I don’t really have time to do it, but do you want to split it with me?” I was like, “Sure!” It was, for now, way less money than I would accept anything for, but I was so stoked at the time. I was like this is great. And then started doing that and did really, really well.

With that, that was very empowering for me because it helped me break through the imposter syndrome. Because going into that, part of me thought, “I’m not really qualified. I don’t have what it takes to do this. Job A doesn’t translate to consulting Job B. But I killed it, and 3x’ed their traffic in a matter of 6 months, enabled them to raise around, and then it was that one proof point of confidence, to say, “I do know what it takes to get here.” I had it all along, but I had to put myself in a position to be exposed to doing it, to know that. If I hadn’t left my job, that wouldn’t have happened.

Louis: Okay so let me break down what you said there, which was super interesting. Because I think there’s a few things we can already talk about.

First, you have this interesting thing you said about the company you were in was typical Silicon Valley company. So, you had free lunch, catered for every lunch. You had probably very cushy puffs on the ground. You can sit and relax. You have maybe free massage every fucking Thursday. You had pizza every Friday –

Nigel: Once a month, take it easy.

Louis: Sorry, excuse me, I don’t want to offend you. You had pizza every Friday. You know, this kind of techy kind of shit. And there’s probably a lot of other perks. But yet you said there was something missing, and you didn’t exactly know what.

Now I know it’s a difficult question to answer, but now with hindsight, can you describe the emotional feeling, the pain perhaps that your brain was suffering from, when you say there was something missing. How did it look like in your day to day so others can remember or maybe realize that they are feeling the same right now?

Nigel: Maybe two big parts. One is that I felt like I wasn’t having the maximal impact in my job that I could. And I did really well there. I think by all objective measures, I crushed it. But I still felt like there was certain – even looking at different aspects of the company, that there was things I couldn’t influence that in hindsight, I think it’s part of the employability thing. Where I don’t know if I’m, I’m probably not cut out to be the best employee. In that situation I was, but where I derive my fulfillment from, comes from having more control over being able to do stuff.

To contrast that with now, for example, if I’m brought in to help spearhead organic growth, looking at SEO and content marketing, people are working with me because they want my input, and they want me to drive stuff. And I’m in the position to turn down opportunities where I don’t think I’m put in a position to succeed. So that’s one thing.

And the other thing is the entrepreneurial aspect. I hear different departments, maybe product marketing, sales enablement, sales, and I think, “Those things sound cool, but I haven’t done them.” I get imposter syndrome loop going over and over again. And then now that I’m essentially a free agent and selling myself and my team –

The thing about that, how can I position myself, what are things I can do with my website? How can I make sure that I deliver the message of what I do to people, and then convince them of it? And negotiate contracts that make sense for everybody? These are things that I was in zero, negative 10 ways qualified to do, but I knew that I had an interest. And I thought ability in it, and then when I put myself in a position to do it, I was able to fulfill that. But I didn’t realize that’s what I was missing until I got it, if that makes sense.

Louis: Describe to me a bit more the emotional side of things. You were going to work. Were you energized by what you were doing? Were you not so energized? Did you count the hours? Were you eager to leave and do something else? Towards the end potentially even, what was the emotional aspect of this.

Nigel: Gotcha. Good question. So, one of the dangerous things I think is when it’s very easy to get stuck in the things are good. Where I wasn’t going to work every day super miserable. I got really energized by ways I was able to get wins. I had a really fantastic team where I was able to have some liberty within what I was doing. To go in, have an impact, get feedback on the work I was doing was awesome. But there was this feeling every once in awhile, it would be like a Thursday afternoon. I’d think, “I don’t want to be here right now. I don’t physically want to be in this building. I want to go do something else for a little bit. But if I go take an hour and a half walk, even though I know that will improve my productivity, I’m going to fail the optics test.”

And to clarify, I was in a really cushy situation. I could more or less operate as I wanted or whatever, but it’s still a job at the end of the day. So, I think it’s that feeling where you want freedom and autonomy over your hourly life.

Those are the moments when I would be like ” Man, this afternoon I don’t want to be here. I want to go play basketball.” And then whatever, if I’m got to get something done, I’ll get it done tonight or I’ll come in early tomorrow or whatever. But you don’t always have the luxury to do that. So for people out there, I’d say if you feel that freedom and autonomy to work on your own pace and that you’re not getting fulfilled by the full potential impact, and you’re seeing what other people are doing, and it’s something that could be fulfilled in an entrepreneurial role but can’t in your job. Those are maybe things to look for.

Louis: And then you said something about moving on, taking control of your life. Basically, taking a risk and saying fuck it, leaving. And you talked about how you already had a gig going on. So, I think these two things are important to say here. You just didn’t leave without the security of at least having one consulting gig going on. And 2, from what you’re saying, you also didn’t leave in bad terms with your previous employer. And you had proof that what you had done there had worked, right? So, you didn’t just do a shitty job, expect to launch a consulting business, had no clients, right? You had some solid social proof there to build upon, right?

Nigel: Yeah. There’s two things there that I think are really important. One is the social proof side. I think a lot of people maybe underestimate. They think I’ve killed it in this job, but I’m not qualified to be a consultant or work with other companies because, I don’t know, you just think I’m qualified to do this at a job. And that’s one part of it that I think is really important, is that when I left my job, as you said, I had a story to tell. Which is we were here, things were flat, and then I was able to do work, work collaborate with teams, and someone said for our content we got 8x growth in about a year. It was a lot. And that’s a story right there that both I could tell to other people, and other people could tell on my behalf.

And then there’s the security aspect. So actually, it’s kind of funny you mentioned that because when I left with one gig lined up, there was a part of me that was really upset at myself for that. Because I kind of wanted to fulfill this stoic vision of, “I’m going to go there with literally nothing lined up and figure out what I want to do.” And that’s the only way to do it. Then obviously it sounds ridiculous to be complaining about that.

Oh, I had work lined up when I left my job. It was a great position to be in, but the thing is, I didn’t really need that. And I’ll never know how things would have turned out, because I had the piping, which was I could a certain type of work really well. I had a story to tell, and I had people to advocate for me to tell that story. Whether it’s them being referrals or if I’m talking to someone. And they say, “you don’t even have a website. Who are you? Who can I talk to, to vouch for you?” And it’s somebody who could hop on a referral call for me. So, all of those things.

Louis: So right here we are talking about one of the key call for the mantle of business, of life, of human interactions which is having a fucking network, of people who trust you. And having a story to tell so others can remember it. I mean, touching on very, very key fundamentals of human psychology was there, and psychology in general.

So, breaking that down and transposing that to someone listening to this right now who’s really eager to jump as well. Because he feels or she feels the same thing that you were feeling at your job. How do you make sure that you’re not making the same mistake. That you’re fighting imposter syndrome. That you’re fighting the status quo. How would you advise people to then get started, right? To actually do what you have done.

Nigel: So, identify the people in your network who other people go to for advice or direction. A lot of the times, and this can take a couple of forms. One good friend of mine I have who’s played a key role in me jump starting my own career is building organic growth marketing. He’s the CEO of a startup, and he’s well known for SEO. So, he doesn’t have any skin in the game, but people go to him, and he’s a trustworthy person. Now that might not be who you think of, but who do you know in your network that either fills that role or is that person, or knows somebody in that role?

So another thing is having a good relationship with your boss. Because you never know where they’re going to go, and you never know who’s going to talk to them. And odds are your boss has a better network than you just strictly based on the fact that maybe they’ve been around longer or they’re in a more senior position. Or it’s part of their job to talk to somebody.

And there’s also a way, I’m going to anticipate a question of getting imposter syndrome about networking. And the really ironic thing is I’ve done so much more networking from my computer in Thailand and the Caribbean and Europe and Australia traveling around than I did when I was in San Francisco. But I just got one or two key relationships down. And I really believe that it comes down to the fundamental if you can do a job well, and you have a story to tell, and you have anybody with credibility who can speak to that story and is also someone who talks to other people and will be a natural referral source. That’s who you need to get started.

And in terms of your story, people probably really underestimate their own story. They take it for granted. I know I did. If other people hadn’t told me. “Dude, these numbers aren’t normal. This is something other companies would want.” I would just think, “Oh I’m doing my job and that’s what I’m qualified to do.” So, surrounding yourself with people who can remind you of that and then also be that network to introduce you to other people. And again, you can talk to 100 people who won’t do anything for you, or you can talk to the 1, 2, 3 people who can fundamentally change the trajectory of your life. And that’s what happened to me.

Louis: So the 3 elements you mentioned are: You have a story to tell. You know 1 or 2 people who are very well connected. And the third one?

Nigel: You can do something well. So, you can actually do the thing.

Louis: Exactly. Which is also something. I understand if you’re listening to this and you want to become a marketer, you might not have gone through the motions right now, then the advice here is pretty clear. You can’t just become a consultant right away or do something on your own. You need to be very good at something, which entails going through motion, finding a job, doing it for a while, getting trust, getting some good results, right? I think that goes without saying, that you can’t just go and expect to be seen and credible. Which is, by the way, the reason why I said that right now is because I have made this exact mistake.

I had a job in marketing in a starter. That was my first job for 2 years and a half, 3 years. I hadn’t achieved much there, and yet I expected when I left, launching my first business, that others would actually trust me enough and recommend me to do something. Like commercial optimization. Which just didn’t happen. And I struggled for 2 years to do this because of this exact reason. So, I’ve made the same mistake. Which is why I’m repeating it to others.

What you said is gold, because you need the expertise. You need to have some results. You need to turn that into a story that is easy to tell. Like in business, the story of a 8x or 15x growth of whatever is a pretty good story. So, you need to work your ass off to make it happen. And then having contacts. In hindsight all of those 3 things I did not have. So, it’s pretty clear that when you don’t have those 3 things, it’s just very difficult to go on your own. And you can try, but it’s much more difficult than in your situation for example.

Nigel: I think the flip side of that really quick though is that it’s easy to underestimate all of those things. So, on the one hand you don’t want to not do something very well, not have a good story to tell, not have anyone to help you tell it, and then expect cash to rain down upon you and opportunities.

But on the flip side, I’ve talked to friends who I think are some of the most talented people in their field at what they do, and they’ve utterly convinced themselves that they’re not qualified or that they don’t have what it takes or something like that. So, I think the flip side is also true, that getting other people’s feedback on, hey, I worked at this company. Here’s the company before and after. Here’s what I owned metric before and after. What do you think about that? And if you get positive feedback on that, that’s a very good directional signal to get. I just caution people against taking themselves for granted too much. And then the flip side, like you said, is, “Oh, I’ve had a marketing job title for 7 minutes. Where are all the clients?”

Louis: One thing that reminds me of a good idea for people listening right now to do, is if you feel like what you described, if you feel like you’re not good enough, or if you have imposter syndrome that says others are much smarter than me, and I don’t feel qualified to do so. Send an email to the 15, 10 people that you are the closest to, that you’ve maybe worked with or just friends you haven’t worked with directly but know you very well. And ask them, according to you, what do you think is my unique ability, or the things I am the best at? You’re going to get some pretty fucking interesting answers.

And that’s going to help you to fight this imposter syndrome from within and really realize from an outside perspective that the way you see yourself and the way others see yourself is completely different. So again, I’m not giving you this advice without having done it myself. I’ve done it myself, and it really opened your eyes to the things that you have in the back of your head that you’re good at. But at least having them in front of you so that you can leverage them better. So, I don’t know, Nigel, if you’ve done it yourself, or if you’ve done something similar. What would you advice in this, to fight it, to make sure you understand your true worth?

Nigel: Yeah, first of all your idea is really good. I kind of want to steal that. I haven’t done that, the send in the email and asking what your special, unique ability is. Honestly with my own experience I think there is a lot of ways I could have expedited my break from imposter syndrome. But one of them was just putting myself in a situation where I could succeed without any other ways to think that it was bullshit.

In my job, I had successfully given myself imposter syndrome. I thought, “Oh well, this just went well because it would have went well anyway. And I was just doing my job.”  But when I did it for another company, that’s where it was even impossible for my super negative self to construct a negative storyline there. So, part of it just exposing yourself. If you ask yourself the question of here’s why I can’t become a consultant or do my own thing or get better at my job, and you realize there’s one big thing, is address it head on. So, for me it would’ve been, I feel like I’ve never just worked at a company from scratch and by myself led a bunch of organic growth. And then when I did it once, and then twice, and then three times, I built up that confidence that, oh, I can do it again.

So, part of it is getting feedback, and the other part of it is just disproving your negative voice by exposing yourself to the real world and getting results.

Louis: So, when you say from zero to x, so you’re talking about working with clients who were in a position where, basically at zero or very close to zero is your traffic, and bringing that to high growth.

Nigel: Yeah where they’d had low growth, or even if it’s a site that naturally gets a bunch of traffic but it would have to do something terrible to not get traffic. And a curve that basically is somewhat flat and then shoots up and to the right. So for me that’s what it was. It’s something where there was a flat trajectory, and then I made that a lot more up and to the right. For lack of a better scientific term.

Louis: So we’re not going to talk about SEO, search engine optimization, on this podcast, or at least not the technicality of it. So therefore I don’t really feel we can really talk more about the expertise per say or that you want to nail. What I want to keep talking about though is what you mentioned about the relationship building and networking, and the fact that you’ve done more networking in Thailand and traveling around than you did when you were in “the place to be.” (air quotes) In the world of tech, right, Silicon Valley and San Francisco in particular.

So you talk about having those 1 or 2 connections that really made a big difference. I can share a similar story where if just a handful of people absolutely just changed the trajectory I was on. And having those folks really helped me to get connected with others such as yourself for example, Nigel. So, what do we advise people listening right now who don’t necessarily feel they have a network, or feel that they don’t necessarily have this 1 or 2 person who are actually on top of their game, to get connected with them and to build a strong relationship. Where should they start?

Nigel: Gotcha. Yeah so, this is again a thing that’s speaking from my own experience. The word networking to me, I feel a little bit of bile building up in my throat. I kind of want to vomit in my mouth a little bit. It just seems like this thing where you put yourself out there in a fake way to try to only get something. And I actually tie networking to imposter syndrome, because I didn’t go out and try to make connections and have conversations with people because I didn’t think I had that much to say, or had that much to offer. And then after I started having a little bit more success, I convinced myself that I had something to talk about and then I could be more confident getting introductions.

So, one thing is, don’t overlook everyone you already know. And then asking if they know somebody. And it’s this thing where, I didn’t get it, where I thought if you just reach out to someone you’re asking for something, I regularly now just ask for introductions to people that I think are interesting. Or tell people I know to introduce me to people that they think there might by synergy. And this is going to sound like one of those corny, sort of life hacky things, but if you really have no expectations and you just go in and you talk to people, and you tell them what you do and what’s working, you’re going to have some conversations with people where – okay that was kind of interesting. Probably never going to talk to them again. That was not that great. And then you’re going to talk to people where you just really hit it off and have a human connection.

And to go back to your question how you make it happen? I will cold email people and just say hey I like the thing you’re doing. I’ve been trying to knowledge swap with people. I’ve done a couple cool things that hopefully I can share. Some people reply and say thanks, no thanks. Some people don’t reply, and then some of those have turned into amazing relationships, maybe even some business comes from. And sometimes it’s just, you get to know that person, and then they make an introduction to somebody at this company. And then that person’s CMO talks to a CEO of another company.

That’s a very real example that happened to me last week, where last time I was in Dublin I went to see somebody. And then they told their CMO about me, and then that connection happened. And I really went in with zero expectation about it. I had no desire for that to happen. I just wanted to meet cool people. And good things just happen. So, don’t look beyond your immediate network, and don’t be afraid to just hit people up and be confident. Part of it is just being confident that you think if you hop on the phone with somebody, that you can share something valuable with them. Everybody has something valuable to share.

Louis: Yeah. So there’s one thing that you should not do, right? It’s contacting someone and say, “Hey, can I pick your brain for 30 minutes?” Please, for the love of God, don’t fucking do this. This is just so annoying, non-specific. It just makes zero sense. So instead, how would you talk to someone in an event or in a normal setting, social setting, in a pub, how would you talk to this person? You wouldn’t say, “Hey can I pick your brain” straightaway. You just fucking get to know them, who they are and help out. You offer something before you ask in return anything without expectation.

So one thing that worked well for me when people contact me, and that worked for me when I’m contacting people, is simply just ask a very specific question about something. “Hey, Nigel, I know you know your shit about SEO and SAS. I’m struggling with this search consult issue. I know you’re an expert. What do you think of it?” That’s it. Just start this way. And again, as you said, if he doesn’t answer or they don’t answer, then fuck it. It’s fine; just move on. But if they do, sometimes you have a good feeling about it.

No later than 2 weeks ago, I got an intro from someone I know who said you should talk to this guy on the podcast. I had an interview with him for an hour or so, and then an hour after that we were still talking. Because we just hit it off. And here, this is where the demographics don’t matter, right? I don’t really give a shit whether you’re a consultant or marketer in house or whatever. What unify us as people are the psychographics, the things we believe in, right? This also works really well for your marketing. Who are you marketing to? What are the things they believe in and don’t believe? When you hit it off on your values and what you believe in, that’s for Everyone Hates Marketer’s it’s pretty clear, then it’s just easier to have conversation.

So, I think another thing I would advise, and I know it takes time, but it’s to have a point of view about something. What do you stand on? What do you stand for or against? What are the things that you hate in your industry, the things that you love? And therefore where are the people who believe in the same thing, because it’s much, much easier to have the same conversation with those people.

Nigel: Yeah, I completely agree with all that. And to be clear, I would also 100% not recommended open-ended questions, like, “Hey, can I pick your brain?” That’s also the great thing about getting introductions is you don’t need to do that. This is where the principle of social proof comes in. Where if you, Louis, and I, Nigel, know one person, and they say, “Hey, Louis and Nigel, you should get to know each other.” There’s no need to do a sort of “Oh here’s what we’re going to get” about us. We both trust that person and their judgment. So, I try to make introductions between people who either I just think they’re smart and they’ll hit it off, or I see some potential for them to work together. Or just, “Hey, I like both of you. You should talk when you have time.” And I try to put that out there, and then be the recipient of it.

And then to your point about asking questions, I’ll also do the same. If I’m reaching out to somebody in the SEO space, say, “Hey one thing I’ve been thinking about is featured snippets. And here’s some thoughts I have on it, and I’m curious if this is something you’ve been working on.” And just by tapping in, people get excited about what they work on. And that’s also a great way for you learn from them. So just by asking a specific question about that to your point is a great place to start.

Louis: Another thing I hear quite often from people when I talk about this concept of actually contacting people if you want to contact someone. Big people who you look up to, that you’ve been reading books about and whatever, are just people, right? And I know it sounds simplistic, but it’s the truth. They might by busier than you think, but they just manage their time a bit better. But people love to talk about themself. People love to be seen as a thought leader. People love to be trusted and feel like they’re credible. So do send them an email and reach out and ask a specific question. If you’re a big fan of their work, it’s even easier because you know what they believe. You know what they stand for. You know what they’re good at. Just don’t be afraid to reach out.

I remember a few weeks ago actually, I was speaking at a small event in France. And there was this young lad coming to me, looking at me like I had 3 heads. And I couldn’t understand why. And he was just very impressed. And let me just tell you one thing, right? I had nothing impressive on me. I wasn’t wearing a 3 piece suit. It’s because I had spoken in front of an audience for an hour, he had associated me with someone who is a big deal, which is not the case. And I told him, “Listen, you can talk to me normally. There’s no problem there.” And he wanted to ask if he could interview me on his blog or something like that. I was like, “No problem, that’s fine. We can do that. ”

And I could see that it was tough for him to do, but I’m pretty sure the second time, or the third time, he’ll do that, it’ll be much easier. So, the first few times, it’s probably a bit difficult to get out there and risk to be ignored, which is the worst thing that can happen. But I think it makes a lot of sense. And I remember the last few years when I started to do this. At first it does feel incompatible, but then it gets fucking energizing, exhilarating, and it just gets normal habit. Then you’re not scared anymore of contacting people. You just don’t give a shit. You just contact people.

Nigel: Yep. And I think there’s a very applicable use case to marketers overall in their job. Because a part of marketing is either building relationships with other companies, brands, people, whatever. And that’s again, it was sort of an imposter syndrome thing that I had to break down. Where I thought, well if I email somebody well known, why would they reply to me? And then through one gig I was working on, I got an introduction to Ashton Kutcher. And I ended up interviewing him. And that was an easy way to break down barriers of, it’s not like I had to cold email him or something, but I couldn’t believe I was on the phone with Ashton Kutcher. But then it made it easier. Oh, what would talking to anybody else be like?

And then I was able to leverage that to when I would reach out to other people. I cold emailed David Heinemeier Hansson, I think, DHH, founder of Basecamp. I just said, “Hey, I’ve interviewed Ashton Kutcher, so-and-so, and so-and-so. Will be able to get a bunch of visibility for your new book that you’re working on.” Because I looked him up, and I saw he was working on that. “Do you want to hop on a 30-minute call, and we can turn it into a piece of content?” He said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

And a year earlier it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could do that and get a response. But then when I broke it down to show why I’m worth talking to or have any credibility. To be clear, that’s not like I think I’m super special or amazing, because I got one conversation. It’s just think about from that other person’s perspective. What’s one thing you could say to make them keep reading the email? Or see that you’re legit in any way? And then I looked up something about him, and I basically offered the value. You’ll be able to promote the thing you’re working on.

And then I’m associated with this other brand that’s starting to get well known. And then from there I wasn’t even that surprised that I got a response. But again a year earlier I would have thought that was impossible because I couldn’t have put that equation together.

Louis: Yeah that’s a good example, right? The same thing for me and Seth Godin for example. If you had told me a few years ago I would have talked to him, it’s the same thing, right? We’re not special in any way. I think it’s about keeping things simple as well, like a few lines on an email, but focusing on them. No one gives a shit about you. Not in a bad way, in a way that they care about themself. I mean a way that, if you want to send an email to someone and get them to react, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

That’s kind of the first rule of marketing as well. When you launch, send an email out, a newsletter blast, social media update, whatever else, no one gives a shit about your brand or you. They care about themselves. How do you make it about them, you know? So, your copy, instead of saying I, I, I, should be you, you, you, etc. So that’s kind of the basics of marketing. But this is why relationships and what we’ve discussed in the last few minutes is so important. Because it’s the basis of pretty much everything when it comes to life and marketing and business.

So, to summarize what you talked about, we said you need to have some expertise somewhere, driven some results. You need to have a story to tell that is easily memorable for others. You need to have connections to have at least 1 or 2 people you know who can vouch for you.

Maybe you can go to the 2nd step again about the story. I know it’s fairly simple from your side, where your story was basically I helped Big Commerce to multiply by 8 the number of organic visitors coming to their site in less than a year or something like that. But from going out of the SEO side of things and talking more in general terms, because as you know, listeners could be consultants, marketers, what not. What do you advise people to focus on in their story, in the things they want people to remember?

Nigel: So one thing is if you know what they always say about finding a job – that where you work is more important than your job or your title or whatever? Which is, there’s obviously exceptions to that, but there’s a lot of truth in it as well. If you’re working at a company with an exciting trajectory that’s growing, it’s easy to underestimate your value, one.

And two, just think about how you can tie your own story into the growth of the company. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody who ever worked at Uber should walk around saying Uber grew riders 1000x from 2014 to 2016 because of me. But so much of it is in the story you tell. It’s not about taking credit over everything, but at the end of the day, people hire people because they want to believe that you can do for them what you did for somebody else. So just telling that story of – here’s what worked for this other company. Here’s what I did. Here’s what I learned. Here’s how I’m going to help you do it.  – is all it comes down to.

And even if you’re in a job where it, first, once you think it’s hard to quantify your impact, I would look at company metrics. So, what are company growth metrics? You know you always hear really well-known people saying, “He drove x increase in MRR or x increase. Do you think it was that one guy that did it? Of course not. They were smart enough to intertwine their own narrative with the growth narrative of a company.

So, whether it’s growth, or I guess we’re all marketers here, so it’s probably going to be some type of growth, whether revenue growth, user growth, any type of growth. Look at how the company’s succeeding, and tie your growth into that. And if you’re in a company that’s not moving any metrics, then one, probably you and other people aren’t going to have a job for much longer. And two, maybe it means that you should challenge yourself to put yourself in a position where there’s more risk, but there’s more upside. So, you can create that narrative for yourself.

Louis: So ultimately it’s about what change have you made in the position you’re in? As you said, from the initial situation to the end, what change did you bring to the table? What did you enable to change? What do you improve? What did you help to grow? Because it could be many things, right?

As you said marketing could be growth. Usually that speaks to a lot of people, right? Revenue growth, MRR, as you said, growth, in SEO it could be organic growth, in pay it could be number of sign ups or conversion rate. In CRO it could be this. Anyway, that’s plenty of shitty acronyms I just shared there. And you actually said it’s about results.

But it’s also about the change you made, right? What impact did you make beyond the result? What impact did you make on the team? What impact did you make on all matter of stuff? Another advice I would give actually is while you’re on the job, while you’re working there, to reflect on the things you’ve done in the last year, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years. Because people have a tendency to forget, right? It’s fast paced. You work fast, you move on fast. You don’t even remember what you did last week.

So it’s a good exercise to reflect back and doing a massive retrospective on what you’ve achieved, and also a good excuse to reach out to your members, to your colleagues, to your team. And say, “Hey, let’s just recap what we’ve all done in our 3 years together.” That should give you some proper resources to use for your own story, right?

Nigel: And I think another good part of any story is, people, they’re sort of, I can say I did these specific things, and then demonstrate intangibles. And one intangible is if you’re flexible and you figure out a way to get shit done. Because ultimately that’s what people want, or that’s what companies want, hiring managers, VPs, whatever. They want people that can get shit done. And being able to tell part of your story that, here was this obstacle I had to doing my job, and I figured it out.

Ultimately when anyone hires you they want peace of mind. References, growth stories, skills – these are all ways to try to assuage their fears and just give them peace of mind. So telling anybody you want to work with about a time when you basically had to figure something out- and there’s kind of a corny hiring question. Tell me about a time when – along these lines. But I think getting one level deeper, and most good marketers have a story about this.

I know one that I’ve told before is there were some long-tailed scale pages we wanted to launch. And we needed to get a designer and a web team manager to do something and then them to do something else. And somebody else was supposed to do copy.

There was this whole process, and I figured out how to use the CMS. I found images, and I wrote the copy because I’m an English major. And if I couldn’t write 250 words on a relatively simple landing page then I should have my degree stripped from me. So, I just did all of it and got them up, and it turned out to be successful.

And that’s something I told other companies.  Not because I was trying to pull something out of my ass, but to show every company has areas that are slow or dependencies, and I think something of value I add is being able to work within the constraints and be autonomous to get shit done. So that’s sort of having one of that be part of your story is pretty crucial.

Louis: That’s a good point. I think it’s a great way to end this kind of step by step methodology there. I appreciate you, Nigel, too, sharing your story the way you’ve done. And I think those are tips and advice that people can use regardless of their job, regardless of their situation, whether or not they have 4 kids or married or single or living in Thailand. Just like you.

Before I let you go, though, I have 3 questions I want to ask you. First one being, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?

Nigel: Analytics. A lot of marketers don’t have basic, even knowing how to use Google Analytics skills, something like that. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are really smart and really good at their jobs. And when it comes to analytics, they kind of play dumb. They say, “oh, well, that’s the analytic person’s job. Can someone help me pull this report and get this dashboard together?”

Everybody should be extremely competent when it comes to analytics, not to just put together their own reports. But to actually interpret data, make hypotheses, and pull follow up reports. In full transparency, I don’t know SQL or anything like that. I couldn’t build a full database report. But you give me a Google Analytics account, and I could give you a bunch of insight into that. And again, I have a writing background and got into SEO, and that’s something I sort of had to figure out. And that’s again an imposter syndrome then that taught me anybody who’s smart and curious can figure out analytics by googling around and learning stuff.

Louis: Great one. So maybe on the back of that. What are the top 3 resources you’d recommend listeners. So it could be anything from a podcast, a conference, a book…

Nigel: Gotcha. Bryan Balfour has some good resources to just help learn about different channels. So even if you say, “Oh this is my specialty.” He’s a big proponent of the T-shaped marketer. Get really deep in a couple things and then learn other ones. I know getting even base level competency in other channels has helped me. So that’s one thing.

Another one is, what is the Cialdini book?

Louis: Persuasion?

Nigel: Yeah. Everybody probably says that, but it’s totally true. Everything comes back down to those few principles.

And another one is, I’m going to totally pull one out of thin air, but Shoe Dog. Phil Knight’s autobiography, the Nike guy. Because that’s another one where it shows you that this big behemoth of a company, just so many things happened by chance. There’s a bunch of other books that could play that role, but I’ll go with that one because it’s one I’ve recommended to many friends. And it sort of reminded me, “Oh, I can build something even though I don’t have an MBA or a business plan or any of that stuff.”

Louis: Yeah, I actually haven’t read the book yet. I’ve never heard of it, which is surprising in a sense. So, I’m going to fucking buy it. Thanks for the recommendation, man.

Nigel: I got you.

Louis: I know you do. Last question for you. Where can people connect with you and cold email you to pick your brain?

Nigel: So I don’t have a twitter because I’m a self-destructive marketer, apparently. I guess Nigel Stevens on LinkedIn, marketingog.com. You can shoot something on the contact form there. And yeah, I always like, as I’ve said, like connecting with people, so feel free to reach out.

Louis: Right. Once again Nigel, you’ve been fab. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for being so practical with people. I think a lot of folks got a lot of value from it. And probably already sent a resignation letter to their boss after listening to your shit. So once again, Nigel, thanks so much.

Nigel: Yeah. Thank you for having me and love the podcast.

Next: check out the 500+ marketing resources mentioned on the podcast over the years (sorted by the number of mentions and format).

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