“I figured it out. I want to work in food and beverage marketing,” I said to my college career advisor as I slid my new resume across the table. It was formatted like a menu, and I was feeling confident.
“With the job market like it is, it could be limiting to search in just one field,” she said. “I know people specialize in fashion or technology, but I haven’t had anyone come in here insisting on a path in food communications yet. It’s a risk, but it could be worth it. ”
I like my eggs two ways: over medium or all in one basket. So I went for it. I drug that menu resume to countless networking meetings, blindly pursuing this “food marketing” path that didn’t seem to exist, especially not in the classroom.
That was in 2011. It's been a wild five years as "the food marketing girl" turned business owner.
I get a lot of questions about my "personal brand journey" (cue The Bachelor music), so I thought I would share how the heck I ended up here with my tips for developing your own personal brand.
First, you've got to get all Gandhi on yourself and dig deep. Ask yourself:
- What is it that I truly like doing?
- What do I find myself doing or thinking about when nothing else is on my plate?
- What do my friends ask for my help with?
- What do I read/watch/do/listen to in my free time?
This can be as formal or as informal of a conversation as you'd like. If you're a all-in, type-A seminar and worksheet lover, I suggest this one. If you're a more casual, lets-just-see-where-this-goes Type B-er, I would at least encourage you to ask 2-3 close friends or family members the following:
- What do you think are my tangible skills?
- What do you trust my opinion on?
- What do I know a lot about?
I'm one of those lucky people that has had a pretty good idea of what I've wanted to do since I was very young. But, in 2011 when I was having a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life-after-college crisis, I had a similar conversation with myself. In 2015, when I was planning this business venture, I got my parents and friends involved. And I came up with this:
What is it that I truly like doing? eating out, cooking, writing, hanging out with my friends, traveling, giving advice
What do I find myself doing or thinking about when nothing else is on my plate? the plot lines of my TV shows, what I'm going to eat next, where I'm going to fly next
What do my friends ask for my help with? restaurant recommendations, relationship advice, editing papers
Seeing a pattern here? I obviously have other interests, but after talking to myself and my friends, common themes emerged: food and storytelling. But, as we all know, passion isn't enough.
2. GAIN RELEVANT IDENTITY CAPITAL
In one of my favorite books ever, The Defining Decade, the author Meg Jay discusses the importance of 20-somethings gaining valuable skills in whatever they choose to do. She calls those skills "identity capital." Jay says that it doesn't matter what you do with your internship/after school job/career, as long make sure that you're gaining a valuable skill that will help propel you to the next opportunity.
So, my interest is food and marketing. It's not enough to just like eating, I needed some relevant skills to back that up. So I took every marketing internship that I could, and if I needed extra money, I made sure my side-gig was food related, even if it meant handing out pimento cheese samples at a grocery store (which I did). I took a class on food writing for no school credit. I petitioned UNC to let me create a food marketing class after.
No matter your interest, the best thing you can do is consume as much content about it as humanely possible. Become an expert! There are books and blogs and podcasts and classes and youtube videos and shows galore about anything under the sun. Read up, kid.
At every career crossroads, or even if it's something as small as choosing an extracurricular activity, ask yourself: "Is this getting me where I want to go? Will I learn something doing this that will help me get where I want to go?"
3. SHOWCASE YOUR SKILLS
After defining our passion and consuming all we possibly can about it, the next step is creating your own content. Would you rather hire the photographer who's taken a couple of classes or the one that's taken the classes AND is able to show you their work?
After reading as much as you can (which never ends, by the way. Step 2 is forever! And if you're not into it, you should probably revisit step 1), time to show other people all you know and all you can do. Start a blog. Post other people's relevant articles on LinkedIn or Twitter. Build a portfolio. Having a tangible X to point to when people are asking how much you know about Y pays off in the long-run. Trust me.
In 2012, I started The 5th Sense. At the time, the name was a nod to the fifth sense "taste." It was a (very basic) food blog, posting about what I was eating abroad, recipes, restaurants and food industry news that I found interesting. When I started applying for jobs, I had this solid, multi-page portfolio to back up my claims as a "food marketing expert," although I had just graduated.
4. MONETIZE YOUR PASSION
Get a job in your industry. I'm sure you want to hit me for making that sound easy. This isn't always an easy path, but it's a worthy one! Take all that you've gathered in steps 1-3 and use it to get a job that makes it possible to monetize your passion. If you have that portfolio and knowledge already established, the rest should fall into place. If not, make some connections with other people in your field through your blog/podcast/whatever it is and go from there. If not, side hustle it at night after your "job!"
It might not necessarily be exactly what you want at the beginning (ie. I worked in a restaurant as a hostess and in a restaurant marketing department as an assistant), but if you're getting some identity capital that will get you where you want to be, it's worth it.
5. EVOLVE STRATEGICALLY
Always make decisions with that end-goal in mind. I always knew that my end goal was to own my own business, and I took the steps along the way that I needed to get there. But what happens once you reach it?
When I decided to take the leap and open my business in July 2016, I had to re-evaluate steps 1-4 all over again to work towards a new goal. I had to make new decisions like "what will I name my business?" and "how do I even run a business" and "who is the right client for me?" Because I set new goals like: become a thought-leader in the space, help more restaurants get recognized, become a profitable small-business owner and hire employees down the road, it helped guide those decisions. It ultimately lead me to keep my original business name as The 5th Sense, as a nod to my taste journey and a practical realization that when I have employees they might not want to work for "Alexandra Palmerton Communications." Having that foresight is saving me a MAJOR headache down the road. With as many hiccups that come with working, looking ahead and minimizing those from the get-go is worth it. Building my personal brand around a name that incapsulated the food industry just helped solidify that underlying passion for me, and I hope ultimately for my clients.
What's your passion? How are you going to make it part of who you are?
Let me know in the comments, or let's ham it up on Twitter.