The next title I’m aiming for at Spin Sucks is chief technology officer.
We joke internally that I’ve gone from junior programmer who could add a few plugins to our website and then to VP of technology as I start to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to help us improve our repetitive tasks.
Of course I want to be CTO next!
That doesn’t mean I should be CTO…it means I can’t stop breaking things so I can fix them.
It’s a real problem.
And while you may not be as obsessive as me (or make your team roll their eyes every time you say, “I figured it out!”), you should still increase and improve your professional skills.
They don’t need to be technology skills, but you absolutely should invest in yourself.
And, let’s be real, I have no business breaking our technology so I can fix it. I drive our tech partners mad.
Professional Development is the Bomb Diggity
The point is…you should never stop enhancing your skills—and professional development should be at the top of your list.
The best way to learn any skill is to practice it.
I know we all know that one person who can look at an instrument they’ve never touched before, pick it up and play it.
Or that other person who seems to be naturally good at everything they put their hand to, from cooking to bookkeeping.
While it is appropriate to hate them (but don’t they always seem to be really nice, too? It’s infuriating!) most of us aren’t them and need to spend time learning about and then practicing a new skill.
Everyone has a slightly different learning style, but whether you gain understanding from reading or watching or doing, once you have the basics down, you need to DO the thing again and again and again to get better at it.
So here are my top suggestions for what you should make an effort to learn, practice, and keep on improving.
Professional Development Goal #1: Networking
We’ve talked a fair bit about networking both here and on the Spin Sucks podcast, and it never stops being important.
Go to events, meet people for meals and/or drinks, engage on social media, join groups and associations.
This is important for business growth, generally, but extra important for those who hate networking, or don’t like talking to strangers.
As it turns out, just like anything else, it gets easier if you do it a lot.
As an introvert, it’s not my favorite thing to do, but every time I force myself to get out there, I think, “I should do that more often.”
I almost always get content ideas, too, so double whammy!
Professional Development Goal #2: Financials
A lot of us got into communications with liberal arts degrees, but that’s no excuse to not understand financials.
I often say that part of the reason we (the PR industry) don’t have a seat at the proverbial table is because we don’t understand how a business makes money.
Even if you’re not the leader, you need to understand financials.
Make friends with someone in the accounting department and ask them to take you under their wing.
I promise you.
Once you begin to understand it, you’ll start to see new, and creative, opportunities for your communications efforts.
And, if you are the leader, you need to be able to forecast income, create budgets, allocate resources, and talk to investors and/or lenders.
If this is giving you the willies, get thee to YouTube and watch some videos on basic accounting.
Or let me know you need some help.
Our Agency Jumpstart program might be perfect for you.
Then book some time and give your financials a good once over.
It’ll pay off in the long run.
Professional Development Goal #3: Estimates
And along with financials is the ability to provide accurate estimates.
You need to be able to predict how much time and how many resources you’re going to spend on a project to make sure you’re getting paid for it—and that it’s profitable.
It’s really easy, and therefore really common, to overservice clients—giving them more than they pay for—but that translates into you and your team working for free.
This is no way to service a client, keep employee morale high, or grow a business, so start making an effort to look critically at what you’re offering versus what you’re doing, and make sure they’re aligned.
Professional Development Goal #4: Boundaries
This often leads to another skill you should be working on: communicating and enforcing boundaries.
We used to have (and “used to have” is the operative phrase here) a client who took two hours of your time every time she got you on the phone.
It didn’t matter if she just needed a quick answer. You would lose two hours of your life.
The first couple of times, I was accommodating, even though it set me back personally.
After it kept happening, I had to set some boundaries and I scheduled a two-hour, bi-weekly call with her.
The idea was that she would save everything she needed for those twice a month calls.
Nope. She still called—and I, of course, ended up putting her to voicemail every time.
This didn’t make her happy. I got a lot of, “I thought you were here to service my account.”
And, even though I explained every, which way that she was not paying us to be at her 24/7 call and I was actually running a business that would be out of business if I spent all of my time on her account, she still attacked me.
Hence, a client we used to have.
Sometimes the best estimating and financial skills don’t help you in the long run and you have to lean on a client firing skill, but I would still focus there because the awful clients are few and far between.
Professional Development Goal #5: Patience
In business, as in life, not everything works out the way we want it to, or at the pace we want it to—and that’s just an unfortunate thing we have to deal with.
Some of us are better at waiting patiently than others, but everyone can get better at being calm and graceful while waiting.
Remember to step back, think big picture, and breath.
Professional Development Goal #6: Communication
Well, duh, Gini, that’s literally our jobs. But hear me out.
Communications professionals are well versed in external communication, but maybe not so much in the internal/interpersonal kind.
No one thinks, “I’m not good at communicating with my team!”
But if everyone is as good at it as they think they are, who do so many people feel like their colleagues don’t listen to them?
The single most important part of effective communication? Effective listening. Really listen.
It doesn’t mean listen to respond—it means listen to HEAR what the other person is saying.
It takes some practice—LOTS of practice.
I always say the best meetings are when the person you’ve been with says, “Wow! You’re so smart. You made me think about so many things differently.” And all you did was ask a lot of questions and listen.
Funny, I didn’t talk at all, but hey! If you think me smart because of it, who am I to change your mind?
So learn about effective listening, practice it, and reap the rewards.
Professional Development Goal #7: Negotiation
You might think that negotiation only matters for people at the top—the owners, and executives talking to clients and suppliers. Right? Nope!
Negotiation comes up at all levels of an organization—talking about timelines, compensation, workloads, how to achieve goals—pretty much any scenario where two or more people might have different ideas about how to resolve a situation.
One of the things that drives me absolutely batty about hiring is that, in my experience of hiring for my agency in the last 14 years, women NEVER negotiate their job offer.
Men always negotiate.
I’ve never had it happen any other way. That makes me crazy. Women, stop doing that! Even if it’s the ideal job offer and you’re getting everything you want and more, NEGOTIATE.
This is one time in your career that will demonstrate to the hiring manager how you might behave when a client pushes you into a corner or asks for something your team can’t deliver.
If you won’t negotiate on behalf of yourself, what happens when a client asks you to work a weekend show for them without increasing budget?
You will never, ever have an offer rescinded because you negotiate.
So please, please, please make that a life skill that you practice.
And, like I mentioned, it doesn’t have to be just for a new job. It can be with clients, your colleagues, or even your five-year-old (you can tell what I spend a good amount of my personal time doing).
Professional Development Goal #8: Learning
And finally, for absolutely everyone: learning!
At the risk of getting a little meta, learning is both a habit and a skill.
If you get out of the habit of taking in, synthesizing, and applying new information and skills, it’s harder and harder to do.
If you constantly expand the reach of what you know and what you’re able to accomplish, you’ll always be ready to adapt to what’s happening in your work.
And, as always, the Spin Sucks team is here for your professional development or ongoing learning. We have something for everyone, no matter where you are in your career or agency’s growth.
Let us know in the comments below (or the Spin Sucks community) where you are in your professional development journey.