If it’s true that marketing agencies’ last client on the totem pole is always the agency itself, it certainly follows that a marketer’s last priority is typically also themselves. However, it is imperative for continued personal and professional growth that marketing and PR professionals invest in themselves both inside and outside of the office to advance in the future and stay sharp to handle the challenges of right now.
How exactly do you do this when the client-related things on your checklist only seem to grow by the hour? Here are a few tips on how to make investing in yourself a habit and not another overwhelming item on your agenda.
Some of the best business opportunities, learning experiences, and in-depth conversations I’ve had have occurred during chance meetings with total strangers at bars, business events, or sitting on airplanes. After an exhausting day of work, most of us are typically ready to zone out at home with the Netflix and a glass of wine. But what if you pushed yourself for one more hour and dropped by the coding seminar you’ve been thinking about attending, or that charity event your coworker invited you to? You never know who you might meet. It could be your next client, partner, or employee. If you never expand your social circle, you’re limiting the number of opportunities, perspectives and ideas you’ll come in contact with as well.
As a marketer, especially if you work in PR, content marketing, or social media, a large portion of your day is devoted to reading: client emails, journalists’ stories, bylined articles, Tweets, and that’s just before lunch! Reading for pleasure is a concept most marketers will laugh out loud at. However, reading is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to expand your knowledge base. To make a habit out of this, try taking the first ten minutes of your day before you even open your email and reading one relevant article while you sip on your coffee. It will help you start your day feeling in-control and you’ll be brushing up on important skills. Some of my favorite reading material comes from AdEspresso, Social Media Examiner, Adweek, Business 2 Community, and KissMetrics. Bookmark your own favorites, or subscribe to newsletters so that you always have fresh material on hand.
Have a Hobby
For many in the agency world, we could proudly wear t-shirts that say “work is my hobby.” However, according to Inc. Magazine, the most successful people are committed to developing skills and hobbies ex-officio. Right now, I’m rehabilitating an abused dog—something I had no prior knowledge about. It has required reading, networking, and creative problem solving over and over again. All skills that are directly transferable to my work environment. Whether your hobby is cooking, skiing, or building model ships, doing something that you enjoy and that requires time and effort is like exercise for your brain. If you only ever work it out in one way, it can grow sluggish. Stretch your thinking and your skills at home with a new endeavor.
One of the biggest obstacles to personal growth, as echoed in the tips above, is finding time. However, there are likely pockets of your day that are going unused—and those minutes when added up at the end of the week can turn into hours of personal development. Commute via train in the morning? Grab yesterday’s paper (they’re free) from Starbucks and read an article or two on the way to work. Commute via car? Listen to NPR or a podcast instead of bad morning talk radio. Like to scroll through your phone before you get out of bed in the morning? Download an app like Duolingo and learn another language instead. Waiting for your Uber? Check the news. Waiting in line at Chipotle? Talk to one new person. These little changes can get you outside of your personal bubble, keeping your knowledge and social skills sharp.
Besides working professional development around your normal schedule—sometimes it’s important to stop and work it into your normal schedule. Talk to your boss about what her expectations are in terms of your development, what your own goals are, and what you think is the most valuable use of your time in order to achieve those goals. If there is a webinar or meetup that happens during work hours that you find extremely beneficial, ask if you can take an hour or so to set aside work and focus exclusively on your skill development. Many companies offer compensation for continuing educational opportunities, or networking opportunities. It is an investment that will not only pay off in your career, but could immediately pay off if you meet a new client or are able to solve an existing client’s problems based on the connections and knowledge you gained.
With any of these habits, it’s important to connect them mentally to specific goals, personally and professionally. You can also choose to focus all these habits on one particular goal or area if you’re looking to see immediate progress. For instance, maybe your goal for the year is to learn Spanish, become a wake board instructor, sign one new client, or meet someone who can teach you Photoshop. If your goal is to learn Spanish, spend all the extra time you find on just that; listen to podcasts in Spanish; do your morning reading in Spanish. By setting goals, you’ll never feel guilty about giving time and effort to these things, because you know they are helping you get where you need to go.