Learn How to
Advocate for You
I was recently invited to speak at the YouTube headquarters in London to chat all things careers in social media, the arrival of YouTube Shorts and what's next for the industry. I sat down in front of an invited audience and was lucky enough to reconnect with Alex Whitlock, who is not only a good friend of mine from many years ago, but who's also the Social Media Director at Burberry.
Along with having such a great time on the panel and getting to meet such an amazing group of creators, there were a few questions at the end of the session that really remained with me and had me thinking hard for a few days after.
One audience member asked whether as creators we should be waiting for brands to approach us, or if we should be reaching out directly to brands to network and get to know them. Of course there are benefits to both but as someone who's spent a significant part of the last decade networking, I'd say that learning to advocate for yourself is one of the keys to success in this industry.
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Having been a lecturer at the University of Manchester and then going on to complete my PhD taught me the huge importance of communication and networking in whatever your career may be. Whether you realise it or not, any networking experience you can garner will benefit you in those moments you feel you're needing to step outside your comfort zone. Especially in a new industry like content creation and influencing, when almost everything seems like stepping outside of your comfort zone (and not least because this is a female founded and dominated side of consumer marketing) learning to for lack of a better word, brag about yourself, is a must.
There are many ways to get your name out there and into the right people's peripherals, but more often than not now, so many years on, advocating for yourself is key to meeting the right people, the right brands and the right agencies. Of course having a brand that you already love or want to get to know reach out to you feels utterly phenomenal and lets you know you're doing something right but realistically, no matter your career path, you have to learn to sell yourself.
If you were brought up anything like I was back up North, I had the importance of being nice drummed into me from a very early age. The importance of being nice, of being kind and of always taking the high road. I'm grateful I had parents and step-parents that placed so much emphasis on the importance of being myself but about 5 years into this career, when the era of the girl boss exploded into the mainstream, suddenly nice seemed like the last thing I needed to be.
Yes I needed to be myself still, but suddenly I recognised that simply wasn't enough to be a success. I quickly surrounded myself with colleagues and friends who cheered for me and for my brand and I taught myself, that however uncomfortable it might feel initially, having the confidence to sell myself was going to be the next step in my plan.
In the past there have been so many times that colleagues and friends have celebrated me and I've without even a second of hesitation, downplayed my achievements. I've muted how important they are to me, I've pushed them to one side and I've moved onto the next new thing as soon as I can. It's been a combination of not wanting to cause a fuss, sometimes not wanting to seem self indulgent and even worrying about imposter syndrome and whether I deserve the praise that someone else has chosen to offer me.
In hindsight; I want to step back in time (perhaps whack myself up the side of the head for being so silly...) and tell myself to enjoy those moments while they're happening. Just to take a few seconds to appreciate those congratulations and celebrations because actually I deserve to enjoy them. I've had so many incredible moments in my career that I wish I'd shouted from the roof tops about more or even at all in some cases and part of me, as well as my growing team, have promised never to let our achievements pass us by.
In fact we go as far to point out if someone's downplaying their achievements and not advocating for themselves with a little inside joke we've developed over the years. I won't explain what I'm sure will seem like a typical 'you have to be there' joke - but what it does mean is that we ensure that none of us go without tooting our own horn, when it needs to be tooted. We applaud, we shout hell yes and we allow each other a deserved horn toot.
Surrounding myself with people who care about my growth, who are intelligent in so many different ways and who shine at aspects of this career that I'm not afraid to say I need support in, has taught me to prioritise advocating for myself. Yes I can still be nice and I can still take immense pride in that part of my personality but I can also prove why I am where I am.
I can confidently share my hard earned achievements with pride, I can network with industry people to explain why I'm their next brand partner and I can advocate for my brand as a whole. This brand of mine that I've worked so hard to grow and that deserves to be shouted about when I get the opportunity to. And a few years ago when I was working through imposter syndrome and wondering whether I deserved to be here, a very wise community member shared that their boss had once said to them 'Only people who aren't imposters will suffer with imposter syndrome'. Read that again!
So the next time you second guess yourself and you wonder whether to submit that CV, whether to share your achievements or whether to shout from the rooftops about something you've worked so hard for, promise me something? Promise me you'll advocate for yourself, for your successes and for your future. Make it a priority and I swear you won't regret it.