Decades ago you were able to get a decently-paying job straight out of high school. If you went to college or university, you had even greater prospects. I wish that were still the case.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. We all know that it’s harder than ever to find work. You’re up against steep requirements and fierce competition. There’s no quick fix, but there is one big truth: you need to stand out. What does Google say about you?
Have you searched for yourself on Google recently? What comes up? Is it good? (Is it bad?) Is it something that you have control over?
These are the same questions I’ve been asking small business owners for the last ten years. So many of them still don’t have a website, and they’re missing out on a ton of potential growth because of it. The same is true for the rest of us who aren’t running a business. We’re missing out on growth. The only time we promote ourselves is when we’re hunting for a new job.
But what if we thought of ourselves as more than only candidates for a position? What if we thought of ourselves as businesses? What if potential employers were our potential customers? Think of yourself as a business. There are a lot of parallels between running a small business and developing your career.
Let me explain.
Many small businesses are a single-person operation, e.g. freelance designers. They’re responsible for every aspect of their business. They do their own marketing; their own sales; their own product or service development. They’re up against stiff competition: other freelancers, larger companies, and alternative solutions.
You’re in a similar position. You’re responsible for your own career. You have to get on the radar of potential employers. You have to prove that you’re the right choice for the company. And if you land the job, you have to deliver on the work. And you’re also up against competition, e.g. new hires, outsourcing, and automation.
So what can we learn from small businesses that we can apply to our own career development?
Let’s start from the beginning.
How do businesses find new customers?
There’s a framework I’ve been working on for the last few years called Reach Teach Sell. It’s a way of thinking about how businesses find and keep their customers.
It’s seven steps, and it goes like this:
- Reach your ideal customers where they already are.
- Teach, entertain, inspire, or inform them to build your reputation & credibility.
- Sell them something useful by understanding their goals & challenges.
- Support new customers with a great onboarding experience.
- Keep customers by delivering value over time.
- Refer your customers to others and encourage customers to refer others to you.
- Reward your customers for their loyalty and ongoing business.
Now, you might be looking at that and wondering how it applies to career development. So, let’s make some tweaks:
- Reach your ideal employers & colleagues where they already are.
- Teach, entertain, inspire, or inform them to build your reputation & credibility.
- Sell them on your ability to meet their goals & overcome their challenges.
- Support your new employer & colleagues by getting up to speed on your role.
- Keep your position by delivering value over time.
- Refer your employers & colleagues to people and resources that help them.
- Reward your colleagues for their support.
The Reach Teach Sell framework, in this case, is all about finding and keeping your ideal job. Potential colleagues and employers replace potential customers. Getting hired replaces making sales. Keeping your job replaces keeping customers coming back. (You get the idea.)
Where does the website come into play? A business website promotes the business.
Your personal website promotes you.
Reach your ideal employers and colleagues by joining online communities and participating in discussions. Showcase your projects and publish blog posts that show what you’re all about. If a potential employer likes what they see, give them a way to reach you, e.g. through a contact form.
Here’s the thing: Customers research businesses before they buy from them. Employers do the same. A personal website that covers this information is a goldmine for recruiters. It provides a level of context and depth that a cover letter and résumé never could.
In other words: Make it easy for potential employers to find you!
A personal website is a long-term investment in yourself.
Your personal website is a collection of your greatest hits. You have total control over what gets published. Even when things go wrong, you can turn those experiences into stories about what you’ve learned.
And the hits keep on coming.
If you’re early on in your career, your website will reflect that. Your content will focus on what you’re learning and doing. As you gain experience, your website starts including more advice and stories. Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, your personal website is actually yours. You don’t have to worry about something beyond your control changing or happening to the platform.
Which leads me to the next point: how do you actually build a personal website?
It’s easy to get started. Here’s how you do it.
Building your personal website in 3 steps:
1. Register a domain name. Everything starts with your domain name. You’ll use it for your professional email address and for your website. Try to grab your full name if you can. But if you have a long name that’s often misspelled, you may want to come up with a variation or abbreviation of it. For example, my last name “McIlwain” is often misspelled. So, I’ve used the abbreviation “andymci” for years. It’s easier to remember. The annual registration cost will depend on the domain extension you choose, e.g. .COM or .NET or .CA. On average you’re looking at something around $20 to $30 per year.
2. Set up your email address. I recommend setting up an email address on your own domain name. It’s far more professional than a free @gmail.com or @outlook.com email address. And you can change your email provider without changing your address.
The cost of professional email will depend on the service you use. On average you’re looking at something in the ballpark of $5 to $10 per month for Office 365 or G Suite.
3. Set up your WordPress website. This is the final part of the personal website hat trick. I recommend WordPress because of its massive library of free plugins and themes. This gives you more flexibility than anything you’ll find on a website builder service.
The cost of web hosting varies depending on the plan you choose. For a personal website on basic hosting, expect to spend between $5 to $10 per month.
All told, you’re looking at a total investment around $250 per year. This covers your domain name, email, and website.
Keep it going.
After you’ve built up your website, you need to give people a way to find it, and a reason for them to keep coming back.
Aside: You may have heard of the term “search engine optimization”. It’s another beefy topic beyond the scope of this post. If you’d like to learn more, check out the beginners guide to SEO from Moz.
For your personal website, there are a few small actions you can take that don’t need a lot of effort:
Connect your website to your social media profiles. Link to your social media profiles from your site, then link back to your site from your profiles. This cross-linking helps other people find your website. It also gives Google a better idea of your presence on the web.
Update your site once a week. Your website isn’t a one-and-done project. It should be growing and changing all the time. Your site updates could include a new blog post, a new portfolio entry, or even a minor tweak to your site’s design. The important thing is that you get into a habit of keeping your website fresh.
Share your site updates on social media. You’ve given people a reason to visit your website by making updates. Now you need to let people know about it! Make some noise on social media. Ask for feedback and suggestions from your friends, family, and followers. You never know – their comments could spark new ideas for you to build on.
The bottom line? Your website is a valuable asset.
Think like a business and promote yourself with a personal website. For a business, a website is like an employee that works 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year. It’s helping them with sales and marketing (and more). Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of support?
Get out there. Build your website. Control how you show up in search engines. Give potential employers an easy way to find you and learn about you. It’s one of the best investments you can make for your career.
Andy McIlwain has spent the last 10 years helping people get online through his work in web development, training workshops, and community groups. He currently wrangles technical content and special projects for the GoDaddy blog. You can find Andy on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and his personal website.