After more than five years in the corporate environment, you are hungry for change.
Marketing trends seem like tectonic plates shifting beneath you, but you stand still right where you were a few years ago. Professionally, you feel the need to join a startup – because of its speed and ambitious OKRs, its culture lessons, its need for experimentation, its actual customer and user obsession, its everyday mentality.
In your opinion, your career depends on these experiences. You have the feeling that your career could stall otherwise. But there are a few things you should know before joining.
Feel the turbulence in your bones
In your past jobs at market giants, most of the days and weeks felt the same. Aside from a historic deal that was won or lost, a tough week or month has a similar emotional tenor as a good week or month. At the start, your experience will mimic the dynamics of a concert: euphoric highs mixed with some heartbreaking lows.
Most days, however, will be exciting. You will affirm that the work can actually be fun and meaningful, and that your work can really make a difference. At startup, the entire company applauds your content project through Slack; Conversion data on your marketing dashboard changes like a slot machine; and you will see unprecedented demand for your product and brand. You will get dozens of social followers every few days, hundreds of brand searches every week, and thousands of organic visits to your website every month. It will be addicting.
But the rare day at work will be borderline demoralizing. Some days your nervous system feels like it has suffered a power outage. You will question your ability to complete even the most basic content marketing tasks. You will wonder if you really should have become an accountant. Those days – assuming the startup has a generally healthy, supportive culture – aren’t reasons to quit. Don’t despair just yet. What you will learn is that these days signal how close your role is to the engine of the company. Go closer. The only way out is as they say.
You won’t have the wallet that previous employers had. And that will benefit you in the end. Most likely, you don’t have the budget to buy everything you want or need: that expensive keyword, that sponsorship opportunity in a well-read trade magazine, this new tool that promises to increase engagement, that length of time from freelancers with years of experience Industry experience.
Yet in these limitations lie the opportunities that you left the corporate environment for, the opportunities that you can build a differentiated career on. Without the limitless credit card or national brand awareness built in, you have to earn every single result. They do so with fun and educational content that corporate marketing teams cannot create with speed, branded narratives that can freeze social scrolls, and decisions based on business results rather than artistic whims or legacy thinking.
Put results above the process
In the corporate world you know, the process seems to be just as important to content marketing projects as (or sometimes more than) the project results. Projects of all sizes require panties. Senior stakeholders need to sign everything. Campaign concepts need to be scrutinized with the same vigilance that is normally reserved for ads that appear in the middle of Times Square on New Years Eve. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to attract internal stakeholders instead of prospects and customers.
When starting it is the other way around. The process is important (it will provide some stability), but you are not celebrated for following the workflow perfectly, accurately writing every sentence in AP-style error-free, or making sure that every department has the article they want to publish , has checked.
Proper compliance with the process does not matter. In fact, most likely nobody will notice if you do. What your teammates and executives will notice is when you move the organization forward, hit your numbers, and make your teammates’ jobs easier. The item with a few typos that convert 10 percent more visitors than normal is worth more than the item with exquisite mechanics and aesthetics that doesn’t convert at all. As you will learn, content is a means to an end. It doesn’t just aim to move people, it aims to move the company.
Be in awe of your teammates
In your company jobs, you love your colleagues. They impress you with their differentiated industry expertise and their skillful ability to build business relationships. You joke with them. You have lunch with them. They celebrate their birthdays and the birth of their first children. They are very good people, many of whom you consider friends.
Your startup teammates will be different. On those tough days – when you’re caught in the bind of business demands – you’ll be your lifeline, as well as being fun coworkers. In the midst of an increasingly gritty content project that drives revenue for the month and your employer attractiveness to investors, they will (thank goodness) be your most respectful but benevolent critics. You will be a mix of marketers who are hyper talented in their respective roles. And you will be the only source of the most explosive professional development of your career to date.
When you talk about it later, after you leave, you sound like a retired teammate talking on old, grainy video about your experience on a championship team decades ago. So appreciate the talent of your teammates, their zest for action, their selflessness and their authenticity in the time you have at the startup. You never know when you will see this combo again.
First take a breath
The corporate environment often feels like a marathon. The company’s market share, brand awareness, and reliable sales provide a steady, sustained pace for most weeks. Since a large part of your working life looks like templates there, time management and work-life balance are easier to find.
The start will be less predictable. Most days it will require an all-out sprint of 100 meters; there is no acclimatization to a cadence. While patience, instinct and diplomacy are valuable soft skills in the corporate world, concentration, communication and “project economy” are valuable in startups. Because what you have to achieve at a start-up in one week would take you a month in a corporate role. Without the matrix environment of a large employer, you can publish almost four times as much – and that’s expected. (These extra reps will make you better, however.)
Therefore, exercise during the day, rest on the weekend, distraction in the evening and now and then during the holidays are unavoidable. They are, so to speak, your off-season, the time to replenish your energy and rest your tired mind. If you can, avoid “just” checking Slack and emails over dinner or on a Saturday morning, because it will never take a few seconds. Shut down, recharge and sprint again in the morning.