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4 Ways to Bullet-Proof Your Entrepreneurial Career

Even entrepreneurs have career paths, despite the fact that said paths wind far outside the bounds of traditional employment. When was the last time you thought about yours?

To be honest, I hadn't really thought about my own business in these terms until I read the book, "Guerrilla Marketing for a Bulletproof Career," by Andrew Neitlich and Jay Conrad Levinson (the man who coined the term "guerrilla marketing").

But it makes sense. "When it comes to their careers, people need to realize that they can be ambushed by any number of factors outside their control," Neitlich says, speaking to me from his Sarasota, Fla., home. The same is true for entrepreneurs who, at any given time, might face the kind of unexpected hurdles that threaten to bring a business to its knees.

So how do you prevent that? As the title of their book suggests, Neitlich and Conrad Levinson think you can borrow some career lessons from the guerrilla marketing toolkit. Here are some of their tips:

1. Be indispensable in 2 areas: technical expertise and relationships
"If you lack valued functional expertise as well as valued relationships, you're basically what we call a 'sitting duck,'" says Neitlich. In other words, you have neither the skills nor the pull to be indispensable. At the other end of the scale are what the authors call "double spikers," or those who have developed both to such a degree that they are able to meld the two to create highly successful businesses. That's what you want to aim for.

2. Test yourself
Neitlich suggests asking yourself a series of questions to see how far you are from being a "double spiker," including:

  • What skills do you need to be truly valued in your industry?
  • How does that compare to where you are now?
  • What can you do to bridge that gap?
  • Who are the movers and shakers in your industry?
  • How well-connected are you to them?
  • What can you do to meet more of them?
Answering these, and then acting on the answers, will move you into a position of being able to take advantage of the best opportunities that arise.

3. Guerrilla market your expertise
A book with "guerrilla marketing" in the title would not be complete without addressing this technique, now, would it? Here's one of my favorite tactics from the book: Develop the three marketing messages every entrepreneur needs to communicate her value to others:

  • Frame a one-sentence hook that describes exactly what results you produce, and for whom.
  • Develop a concise but powerful "war story" that describes your most "jaw-dropping result." The difference between this message and the first is that this second one will have concrete results in it, e.g. "by doing X in Y time frame, I got Z results."
  • Devise a third, "complete" marketing message that builds on the previous two, that you can use on your website, marketing materials, and so on.
Quite the quiver full of arrows, you might say. But I don't mean to sound facetious; far too many businesses put far too little emphasis on creating good marketing messages, more often than not choosing to wing it, in my experience. Neitlich's technique forces you to craft something purposeful, which I'm pretty sure is better than what you have now if you've been winging it.

4. Grow your "power base"
Interestingly, the authors tell you to stay away from the "six degrees of separation" theory. Instead, they want you to be one or, at most, two phone calls away from the power players.

Here's how to do it:

  • Figure out how many phone calls away you are from people like: a billionaire; a millionaire; the president of the most important professional development association in your company; a CEO of a major bank; a news anchor; and so on. This is your power base.
  • Every few months, analyze your power base. Who provides you with value? Who could provide you with value? Whom do you provide with value? How? And so on.
  • List the 20 people you don't know but should.
  • Develop a way to meet these 20 to start building a relationship.
  • Categorize your power base from A-D, "A" being the most influential and powerful, and "D" being on the periphery with little proven value but some potential.
  • Develop a system whereby you contact each of these people on a regular basis; you'll reach out to your "A" list most regularly, and your "D" list least regularly.
Does this sound a little Machiavellian? Yes, but if you think about it, this is what you're doing on an intuitive level anyway. Now you have a way to systematize it, understanding that the core of relationship-building (which Neitlich also stresses) is in being authentic and reciprocal in nature.

A last word
While "Guerrilla Marketing for a Bulletproof Career" has ample doses of motivational stories and self-help lingo, it's not cheesy, primarily because of the numerous practical exercises and template you are given to put to work for yourself -- if you choose to do so.

Book cover image courtesy Andrew Neitlich

Shonali Burke is Principal of Shonali Burke Consulting where she helps turn businesses' communication conundrums into community cool. She opines on PR and social media at Waxing UnLyrical and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media.

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