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How I Turned My Passion Into a Career

While I'm not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense, I choose my clients, control my hours and most importantly, do what I love. Here's what I did to position myself as a subject matter expert. It all started with an invitation to speak on social media at a marketing event.
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Photo: Jim Panou

Two years ago, I was at a crossroads in my career. I had just completed my executive MBA and had my first baby (yes, I leaned in, big time). My plan was to take time off while on maternity leave and then continue climbing the corporate ladder. My last full-time role was media advisor with a Bay Street firm. Little did I know that my career path would take an entrepreneurial turn that year.

It all started with an invitation to speak on social media at a marketing event. I have engaged in social media throughout my career even though it was not formally part of my job description. In recent years, I became the go-to expert at my organization on social media tools and tactics. I was consulted on everything from showing executives how to use Twitter to setting up a LinkedIn group for company alumni.

My social media talk was well received and led to more speaking engagements. I decided to give social media consulting a shot. That year, I ended up presenting at 12 events.

I still wasn't sure I could turn my expertise into a full-blown career until I was offered the opportunity to provide social media and personal branding coaching for the executive MBA students at my alma mater Ivey Business School at Western University. That's when I secured my anchor client.

As I continued to brand myself as an authority in the social media space -- leveraging none other than social media, I received more work projects. Not before long, I landed the opportunity to teach a social media course this fall at Ryerson University's Chang School of Continuing Education, where I'll be showing executives and entrepreneurs how to use social media to build their personal brand.

While I'm not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense, I choose my clients, control my hours and most importantly, do what I love.

Here's what I did to position myself as a subject matter expert.

I set up my own website

My site is the one-stop shop about me online. It includes my bio, articles, client list, links to my social media profiles and ways to contact me and sign up for my mailing list.

I tweeted

I used Twitter as a networking tool to connect with influencers and decision makers. That helped open doors for me. For example, cultivating a relationship with a senior executive on Twitter led to a coffee in person, which, in turn, helped me get an introduction to a department head in her organization. That referral turned into a consulting project.

I used social media as a lead generator

A colleague said to me the other day: "I feel like I talk to you everyday," even though I had not talked to him in months. My regular posts on social media keep me top of mind with my network, which helps me generate new business opportunities. For example, posting about my social media course on LinkedIn led to two meeting requests from prospective clients. While sharing on Facebook about a speaking engagement at a prominent university got me an invitation to guest-lecture at another university this fall.

I wrote for mainstream media

I shared my tips and knowledge by contributing blog posts to high-traffic sites, including Forbes and the Globe and Mail. That increased my visibility and gave me credibility as an expert. To learn how I got my articles published, read my tips in this LinkedIn post.

I sought speaking opportunities

I spoke to a variety of audiences, from MBA students at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto to staff at Right To Play non-profit organization and Chinese bankers with ICBC, the world's largest bank. Some of those engagements were free but led to consulting work and helped me fine-tune my material.

I mentored

They say to teach is to learn twice. I mentor startups at the Digital Media Zone business incubator at Ryerson University. Mentoring has helped me keep my finger on the pulse with industry trends, expand my network and become a better coach.


Bookkeeping or Accounting
More than a third of business owners say they lack tax knowledge. Yet, on average they spend the equivalent of one work week filing their federal taxes every year, according to a survey by The National Small Business Association. Having a year-round relationship with a bookkeeper or accountant can relieve some of the burden at tax time and reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes being made.
Legal Tasks
Similarly, more than half of business owners admit they lack legal knowledge yet, only 7% of small business owners would opt for a lawyer if they could make another full-time hire. While not all businesses require in-house counsel, one thing is for sure -- consulting with a lawyer early on and frequently can save your business a hefty sum of money down the road. “If you are being sued, it's too late,” according to an article from Entrepreneur. “The fee a lawyer will charge to keep you out of trouble is only a small fraction of the fee a lawyer will charge to get you out of trouble once it's happened.”
Daily Office Tasks
While it may seem obvious to outsource daily office tasks like filing and cleaning, surprisingly, most small business owners still aren’t. As many as 83% of small business owners regularly order the supplies for their business, 80% handle filing, 50% handle reception duties and 63% even report that they clean their office space, according to one survey.
Many business owners report that they would like to outsource marketing but few actually do, according to a study by Constant Contact. While there is a high-perceived cost to hiring an outsourced marketing consultant, the hours lost weekly to marketing tasks can add up. When business owners were asked how long they and their employees spend on marketing, the average came out to 33 hours per week. Multiplied by the $273 that business owners on average say they’d value an extra hour in their day, the potential savings from outsourcing marketing could be significant.
Website Design
While the majority of small businesses now have websites, almost a third of business owners still maintain their company’s website themselves. With the rising number of consumers choosing to shop and get information online, the importance and potential dollars to be made from a company website also continues to grow. And as technology continues to evolve, business owners have to make a serious time investment in keeping their skills and their websites up to date. In fact, 64% percent say the time it takes to make updates is their biggest website challenge. Investing in an in-house or outsourced web designer can be an easy way to free up time.
Financial Advice
Only half of small business owners use a wealth manager or financial advisor. However, many surveyed said they want help. The areas where they were most interested in consulting with an advisor were cost controls, cash flow management, rising healthcare costs, profitability, exit strategy and securing business loans. Why don’t business owners seek financial advice? “By definition, these are people who have an entrepreneurial tendency,” said Kerry Geurkink, marketing director for Securian in an interview with “They’re used to doing things themselves.” While all business owners should have a solid grasp on their company’s finances, consulting a professional could free up time and make your business more profitable.
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