Last summer, a professional colleague of mine approached me and asked me to consider serving as the interim Executive Director for The National Needlearts Association (TNNA – the trade organization for needle arts professionals). Now that I’ve concluded my work in that position, looking back I can say it was the perfect job for me. The thing is, I didn’t know that until they asked me to do the job. It’s an opportunity I easily could have missed, but I didn’t because I had been preparing for it for years.
Open to Opportunity
Ultimately, landing this job was a result of good sales; except I didn’t have to “sell myself” in the moment as a candidate for the position, because I had marketed myself so well up to that point that the TNNA president thought of me when the position became available. Instead of having to compete with other equally well-qualified candidates, I set myself up as the “natural choice” for the job, just by establishing relationships with my fellow board members within the organization.
When you can say to someone, I know you, I’ve worked with you, we have a relationship, that lays the foundation for future collaborations. The best opportunities often come from the relationships we form. Think about how many times you’ve found out about a great deal because your best friend told you about the sale, or how many times you’ve been recommended by someone else and that has helped you move forward in your career. Thinking about it this way makes it clear: it’s just as important to spend time forming professional relationships with other people as it is to work on improving your own skills and advancing your own career.
You don’t always have to keep the end goal in mind.
This job at TNNA was never on my bucket list, but it was an amazing opportunity that came up, and I took it. If you do have an end goal, great, but you don’t have to! Sometimes you don’t know what opportunities might come down the line as the result of forming a relationship with someone else, and sometimes they won’t come at all. But it’s always a good idea to establish yourself as an expert and a team player.
Working at TNNA lined up easily with all of my personal and professional goals, so it was an ideal fit for me at that time in my life, even though at the time I was focused on other projects and didn’t have a job like this lined up in my sights.
Keep surprising them
In the recent past I have worked hard to establish myself at TNNA not just as a knitter, but as a businessperson. I have transitioned away from teaching knitting classes and instead I offer business classes to the members at our annual shows. I served on the board and I brought my best “business game” with me to every meeting. In doing so, I set myself up as the natural choice to lead the organization when the former Executive Director stepped down, even though leading the organization wasn’t specifically one of my goals.
If I had focused on showcasing my work as a knitting instructor only, I probably would have continued to grow my knitting business through TNNA, but ultimately that wasn’t my goal. By putting myself out there as a business consultant and taking opportunities to showcase that skill set, I was able to further my own goals and those of the organization as a whole.
Lessons in Creative Marketing
To wrap up, here are the take-aways I hope you learn from this post:
- Put yourself in the position, whenever possible, to make relationships with people who will notice your presence and begin to feel like they know you.
- Focus as much on building relationships with others in your field (and in the professional world in general) as you do on building your own skills.
- Look for opportunities to network and connect with other people. Join a trade organization, a local board, or a leadership club.
- Showcase all your skills, especially those you want to focus on professionally, at every opportunity.
- Be open to opportunities everywhere; you never know when you’re going to find the best job you never knew you always wanted!
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