Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
November 9, 2012 8:36 PM

Success And The Art Of Being A Self-Starter

Who is going where in the marketing world?

Every week, the marketing industry trade publications highlight the comings and goings of the people in our industry. Some love this information because it provides a level of gossip, others simply like to keep abreast of how people within this industry are moving. The digital marketing industry experiences a high volume of turnover. There are many reasons for this. I believe that some of it has to do with the fact that a lot of traditional marketing dollars are shifting to digital and there's a need to find professionals to get this work done. Being a fairly nascent industry, this means that salaries are increased due to demand, but it also means that we have many less senior people taking on more senior positions. The output of this is that talent is both scarce and expensive. This challenge is not be relegated to digital marketing alone, but it is prevalent in other industries. Young people (of which the digital marketing industry is primarily made up of) fall within something Fast Company dubbed Generation Flux which adds to the tumult. 

How do you rise above?

I've seen individuals transcend this challenge and I've seen individuals both stall or falter. In full disclosure, human resources, hiring and nurturing team members has never been my forte (I'm thankful that my other business partners and team members at Twist Image have these skills as their unique abilities, because they're certainly not mine). That being said, I believe there is one, definitive, skill that I see that leads to workplace success (and it transcends what I see at Twist Image)...

Be a self-starter.

Every new workspace has its own language and tribal knowledge. It's not uncommon for it to take a few months for individuals to earn their wings, but in work (and, most other things in life), being a self-starter is critical. This happens long before you accept a contract of employment and it applies well beyond retirement. Some facts about me: I was terrible in high school and dropped out of university. I never liked any of the courses and I could hardly bring myself to sit through them. In today's world, I would probably be diagnosed with ADD. Between us friends, I was bored and uninterested. Through that whole time (from as young as I could remember), I wanted to be have a successful business (or be a part of one). The math was basic: if I sucked in school but wanted to be successful at business, I would have to be a self-starter.

What a self-starter looks like:

  • Constant learning. There's a reason you're asked, "what have you read about our industry recently?" in a job interview. If you're not learning, living and constantly studying the industry that you're a part of, what does that say about you? The bigger idea here is that successful people know that they have a lot more to learn if they want to grow and get better. If the information about your industry doesn't interest, you may be in the wrong industry.
  • Willing to make smart mistakes. We all make mistakes. Mistakes are forgivable. What's not forgivable is the inability to not only learn from a mistake but to grow from them. This is somewhat of a cliché, but it's true. My old close quarter combatives coach, Tony Blauer, used to say, "practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." Mistakes happen. Self-starters don't see them as a negative but rather part of the laboratory of achieving success.
  • The ascent. I'm the furthest thing from a mountain climber, but I'm constantly gauging my ascent. Which direction am I moving in? It better be onwards and upwards. Stagnation is the enemy of being a self-starter and successful. Make a plan that is a constant ascent.
  • Life isn't about winning or losing. This is especially true in the marketing industry. Agencies think that the business is about how many pitches they win verses how many they lose. This isn't true. It's about resilience. The job is to keep on going. You're going to win some, you're going to lose some, but if you look at the agencies that have truly ascended the industry, they all have one commonality: resilience. They grow and grow and don't let the losses (which will happen) get in the way of their success. Self starters are resilient. They persevere.
  • Follow start-ups. You don't have to an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial. It doesn't have to be a job (it can be the work that you are supposed to do). We are in the middle of an explosion of start-ups. With that has come some of the best thinking on what it means to be start-up. Apply each and every one of these rules to your personal ascent. Every person who is deeply engaged in the start-up community is a self-starter.
  • Homework. Self-starters don't hate homework. Self-starters know that doing homework (the stuff that falls outside of regular business) is how they are going to lap everyone else. Whenever someone asks, "when do you find time to [insert some kind of activity here]," these people are grappling with how to become a self-starter.

Two questions for you: what would you add to this self-starter list, and/or if you don't agree with me about how important being a self-starter is, what is a better/more definitive skill-set for success?

By Mitch Joel