If You Only Gain One Professional Skill, Make It This One
Updated: May 1
Sarabeth and I visited her family in Houston for the weekend. After a long Saturday afternoon by the pool surrounded by nieces and nephews, I ventured upstairs to spend time with Sarabeth’s younger brother.
He’s at a very important life juncture. He’s a straight-A student preparing to graduate high school next year. Recently, he has wrestled with the same question most of us faced at his age (and well beyond):
What should I do with my life?
There’s so much pressure behind that question. Everyone expects him to go to university, choose a major, and basically select his first career. It’s a whole bunch of huge decisions rolled into one.
We had a long conversation about college, working for yourself, and what it takes to put your ideas into the world. We discussed his interests, looked at a handful of related university offerings, and talked for a long time about what it takes to build a personal brand and begin selling your ideas to strangers, one of his growing passions.
That last part led us down a rabbit hole. I showed him many of the tactics I use to help clients build and grow their personal brands.
Then I shared a fact that I’ve learned from freelancing: very few people know how to effectively market themselves, their ideas, or their products.
Within freelance copywriting as an industry, there are more people and businesses in need of good writers than there are writers available to meet that need. You’d think that means every writer is absolutely swamped with work, yet many freelance writers struggle to regularly find enough projects just to scrape by.
In other words,
solution + market need ≠ guaranteed sales
You must drive attention to your solution through disciplined marketing. When anything — an idea, a business, a product — receives attention, it gains power. Good marketers make a living steering attention. That makes us literal empowerers of ideas, businesses, and products.
Once you know how to get ideas to spread, you can use that power iteratively to empower specific people and dreams. You can use that power to stand out in interviews, win clients and followers, or put wind behind the sails of your greatest passions.
I didn’t encourage Sarabeth’s brother to get a marketing degree. But I did tell him that if he learns how to market himself, he’ll have a skill that sets him apart from most of his peers in almost any competitive professional situation.
If you’re only going to teach yourself one professional skill in life, you could do much worse than to learn what it takes to be a good marketer.
Want to read more? Here’s an article I wrote recently for Foundr about one of the most overlooked aspects of marketing: content distribution.