How to accidentally become an inbound marketer – 4 Squashed career dreams that led me to my dream job

Floyd Peyton

In January 2015, I lost my job as host of a morning FM radio show. I was crushed. A series of discarded dreams and abandoned aspirations had led me to the one thing I really wanted to do (or so I thought) and, after pouring six years into my career, it was all over.

I spent approximately four hours enjoying my newfound ability to sleep in and play video games all day before the panic set in. I needed a new gig, but I was certain that my years in broadcasting qualified me to do exactly zero things that local employers found valuable. Uncertain of my next step, I signed up for LinkedIn and started flailing my CV about. In the end, it was my Twitter account that got me off the dole—and a seemingly-until-now random collection of skills learned from other industries that kept me employed.

In May 2015 I was offered a job at Kula Partners, to my great surprise (and relief, as I’d been unemployed for four months and really needed health insurance). I had no experience in marketing. I didn’t know who Seth Godin was and thought B2B referred to a boy band from the 90s. Since then, I’ve had to Google a lot of agency jargon, but have come to understand the principles of inbound marketing, design and development, and conversion rate optimization. I’ve managed social media accounts for international companies, blogged about complex scientific topics, built complicated HubSpot workflows, sent marketing emails to millions of contacts, run PPC and lead gen campaigns, measured ROI, and started to care deeply about several other formerly perplexing acronyms.

It turns out that being a successful inbound marketer isn’t something that only comes with a marketing degree or agency experience (although those things do certainly help). Here are four failed careers that gave me the skills to land my dream job in inbound marketing.

The Early Years: A Scientist

The Dream:

The first career aspiration I remember having was to be a scientist. Granted, I was a bit fuzzy on what scientists did at the time, but after my first “experiment” (baking soda and vinegar, perhaps?) I was hooked.

I made a respectable contender in local science fairs, which is the only reason I have any medals to show for my junior high years—as the child and sibling of several athletes, it’s a bit of a sore spot for me. While some of my classmates were giggling over the reproductive system, I was teaching myself how gametes fused together to form zygotes stuffed full of self-replicating DNA and recreating the works of Gregor Mendel in my mom’s dining room (plant sex is not nearly as exciting as human sex, by the way). I built a gravity-powered water filtration system which used concentrated UV rays to destroy anaerobic bacteria. I was definitely going to be a Very Important Scientist and find the cure to some horrible disease or figure out cold fusion.

Why It Didn’t Work Out:

I’m terrible at math.

How It Helped Me Become An Inbound Marketer:

The kind of inbound marketing we do at Kula Partners is both an art and a science. The inbound methodology comes with a kind of pre-installed scientific method: you attract, convert, close, and delight, in that order. If something isn’t working, there are already hypotheses as to why. You can test them all. The art is in compelling creative writing and beautiful design.

We get even more science-y with our strategy: we incorporate advanced conversion rate optimization techniques using heat mapping, UX testing, split and multivariate testing, and more. Plus, we have a remarkable team of developers who can create software applications to solve pretty much any problem a client throws at them. I don’t need to prove that dev is a science (I mean, it’s literally called computer science).

None of this is very exciting if you don’t have an interest in the scientific method—the definition of which, by the way, is this: “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

Observing, measuring, experimenting, testing, modifying, iterating. Sound familiar? If not, you’re not taking advantage of the full realm of possibility of inbound marketing. And you should be. It’s time to, in the immortal words of Matt Damon, science the sh*t out of your inbound marketing strategy—because it’s 2016, and that’s how you win.

Plus, calculators are everywhere now.

After Taking A Realistic Look At My Abilities: A Lawyer

The Dream:

I took this career goal a bit (but not much) farther than my mom’s dining room. Ironically in violation of at least one child labour law, I took a summer job at my father’s law office at the age of 12, answering phones and typing letters from dictation.

By the time I was 14, I’d moved on to drafting briefs and conducting legal research (seriously, I should not have been doing this). I’d put in long evenings and nights after the real paralegals had gone home, leaving behind completed work like a creepy, underqualified shoemaking elf. I found it fascinating to build arguments and support them with case law, and taking my research and carefully considered points toe-to-toe with another lawyer in a courtroom seemed as exciting to me as sports didn’t at that age.

Why It Didn’t Work Out:

I realized I could never wear a suit and not swear for extended periods of time.

How It Helped Me Become An Inbound Marketer:

Sometimes I think this experience helped me more in my personal life. Don’t try to argue facts with me—I’ll destroy you. My husband hates it.

There’s no doubt that I had no business writing legal briefs before I was legally allowed to drive, but it helped curb some of that natural frustration you feel when you’re tackling a project you don’t fully understand. I learned how to separate the “I-don’t-knows” and the “I-kinda-knows” from the “I-definitely-knows” and solve for them accordingly. You can’t make mistakes in a law office so, if you don’t understand something, you had better ask. This was before Google, too, so I actually had to ask.

If you don’t understand something in inbound marketing—your buyers or your business goals, or those of your clients if you work in an agency—you can’t fake it. You need to cultivate a deeper understanding of business processes and human psychology and any relevant workflows than anyone else who could also potentially be working on the project, or you won’t be working on it anymore.

Plus, being able to assert yourself is a great skill to have. You could lay out the best inbound marketing strategy in the world but, if you can’t argue why it’s the best (and back it up with data), you may as well just toss it in the trash and go be something less exciting, like a lawyer.

OK, I Really Need To Pick Something Soon: A Journalist

The Dream:

High school graduation was quickly approaching, and coming from a family of doctors, lawyers, professors and the like, I needed to choose something to study. I had a flair for storytelling which, by the way, I credit entirely to playing what my mother characterized as “too many” hours of text-based RPGs growing up. I also had an inquisitive mind which refused to be limited by stupid things like “math” and “wearing business attire”. The obvious answer was to become a journalist, breaking important stories and drinking whiskey on the job and, I don’t know, wearing tweed or something.

I had a bit of experience. I had been the editor of our high school newspaper and also wrote for a small local newspaper from time to time. I also may have written several really, really terrible fantasy novels based on one of my RPG characters, but I’m not going to actually say for certain in case someone tries to dig them up.

Why It Didn’t Work Out:

This one almost did. I took two years of journalism at University of King’s College, but left for two reasons:

  1. I developed some fairly serious health problems in my second year of university, and
  2. I discovered radio.

I didn’t want to take a radio course. I was pretty dismayed when I found out it was a requirement of the journalism program. That was before I sat down in front of a microphone for the first time. I’ll get to that part in a minute.

How It Helped Me Become An Inbound Marketer:

I cringe when I think back to the entrance essay I wrote for the journalism program. It was So. Hilariously. Bad.

Journalism school knocked the bad writing habits out of me and replaced them with better ones. It also taught me how to properly research and cite information, how to think critically and ask important questions, and how to learn and write about something I’d never even heard of before, accurately and competently, before deadline. Kind of. I missed a lot of deadlines in school. I got better at that.

I Actually Did This One: Radio Host / Entertainer

The Dream:

As I said, my first experience in front of a microphone was transformative. I felt at home talking to no one and everyone at the same time. Within a week of taking my first broadcast class I had signed up to do a weekly show on the campus radio station, and within a few months I was seriously considering leaving university to enroll in a full-time broadcast program.

As you may have gathered from the above, when I seriously consider doing something I’m pretty much guaranteed to try it.

I took a year off and embarked on a brief career in cellular sales, which was too horrific to even mention in this post—although a bit of sales experience certainly has applications in the world of inbound marketing. Then, I began a two-year radio and television broadcast program.

I’ll skip most of the detail (I could write a book about the radio industry, which would be fascinating to four or five people, at least), but my career trajectory went like this:

  • Remote broadcast technician for a top 40 station
  • Fill-in newsperson for the same station
  • Segment producer for a syndicated Canadian countdown show
  • Afternoon host on a different top 40 station
  • Morning show co-host for a modern rock station
  • Anchor host for the same morning show

At the same time, I was padding my often meagre radio income with MC gigs around the city—hosting conventions, festivals, concerts, comedy shows, doing live commercial broadcasts from car and motorcycle dealerships, and more.

For a while, I had people tricked into thinking I was pretty cool. There was a t-shirt with my face on it and everything. And after fighting tooth and nail to establish myself as a respectable broadcaster, I got to be the host of my own morning show—a job which, unfortunately, is usually reserved for male broadcasters.

Why It Didn’t Work Out:

Radio. It’s a heartbreaker. The evolution of radio makes sense—just about everyone has the ability to stream whatever music or other audio content they want, wherever they want. Auto manufacturers are phasing out FM transmitters. The radio industry is responding to this perceived threat by pushing the “more rock, less talk” (or whatever the format equivalent may be) philosophy and removing all traces of personality from the airwaves. Some legacy stations still value talent and keep amazing jocks on the air. They even pay them well. I did not work for such a station.

After seeing all of my coworkers get canned (seriously, I was the only original employee left standing), they tried to push me out by doubling my workload and slashing my salary. And it worked. I could have stayed and accepted my fate and kept going for the love of radio, like a lot of my industry friends did. But I just didn’t have it in me anymore. Plus, I was about to get married and wanted something more stable and less mentally exhausting. So I let them push me out. I did sue them, which is another hilarious story, but probably not appropriate for my current employer’s blog.

How It Helped Me Become An Inbound Marketer:

One of the things I took the most pride in was writing my own material. Some (certainly not all) radio jocks do rip’n’read shows, meaning they subscribe to a prep service, download bits a half hour before their show, and read or play them on the air. Others avoid the prep services, but do a half-assed job of grabbing the top five stories from Reddit or another news aggregator service and reciting them back during their breaks. I never did that. I spent hours every day researching, writing, practicing, rewriting, recording, and producing my own bits.

I did this because I knew that my listeners could get the content (music) they were looking for literally anywhere else. They came back to my show every morning because I was providing something different—fresh, original, personality-based content, which fit into the context of their lives. I knew they, like me, were waking up too early to go to work in the same city I lived in, and facing the same daily challenges. If I was really lucky, they found the same things interesting and funny as I did. If not, I could at least try to make them care.

I didn’t even realize how relevant this was to inbound marketing until I was in my second interview for the job at Kula Partners. Of course! Radio was both a B2C and B2B product—the listeners were our consumers, and our advertising sponsors were our business customers. It wasn’t a unique product but, with a little research into who was listening and what they wanted, I could create engaging content to keep them coming back for more and earn their listening loyalty. I never mapped out their Buyer’s Journey, but I knew where they were in the journey of their day—just waking up and getting started, piling coffee into their faces and looking for the information they needed to get to work on time, stay abreast of local issues, and have some idea of what was going on in the world.

Of course, as radio faced down the internet in the entertainment arena, radio hosts had to be social media savvy—I Facebooked, Tweeted, and blogged everything I did on the air to draw more people in. I learned how to stand out from the overwhelming social media noise. My own Twitter account was a careful extension of my show and my brand. Turns out, my future bosses were already listening.

All my experience hosting events and meeting with listeners and being the voice of their morning taught me how to talk to people and really connect with them, even if I had no idea who they were beyond my demographic research. And every day, I was creating content for them, even if I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time.

Becoming an inbound marketer was an incredibly steep learning curve, but after I learned how to tie all these skills together and do something useful with them as a whole, it seemed like I’d been training for it my whole life. In a way, I suppose, I had. I’m still a beginner. I don’t even know all the things I don’t know. But I’m part of an incredible team which nurtures my abilities, teaches me how to use them, and floors me with their collective brilliance every day. I can’t really call any part of my career a failure, I guess—it led me here.

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