It’s interesting how life works out sometimes. While I began my professional life as a computer programmer, I’d slowly evolved my career from creating bits and bytes to instead marketing bits and bytes. And I was good at it. I’d won numerous awards and accolades including raising over $75 million in funding across multiple companies. I was part of an executive team that raised the most ever money for a software company in Canada. The only job I’d ever had to look for was my first one after graduating college. Even then I’d had multiple offers. Life had been good to me and I felt that I had accomplished a level of success for which very few ever achieve.
But life has a way of setting you straight, of ensuring your head doesn’t get too big and that your humility remains in check.
Eventually, life caught up to me, too.
I was working for an enterprise software company based out of Los Angeles. I had been there almost four years and was feeling the itch to return to Canada and rejoin the tech scene there. That was when I met David Perry for the first time. He contacted me about an opportunity with a Public Safety company based out of Gatineau, Quebec adjacent to Ottawa, Canada. With all of the events that had transpired since 9/11, the Public Safety segment represented a potentially very hot segment.
When I drilled down with David on the company, wondering what the issues were that required my specific skill sets, he explained the situation; the company was in third-place, in terms of revenue, in a three horse race for that particular industry. Even more challenging, the first and second place vendors were entrenched in their position and had been so for many years. Essentially, the objective was to package up the company for a potential sale or merger so that the primary shareholders could take their profits and move on. As part of the initiative they’d also just hired a Brooklyn-born, Chicago raised, grizzled veteran CEO who came to the company by way of California. Does it get any more interesting then that? I couldn’t resist and signed on immediately.
Upon starting my new role, I immediately began implementing the changes required. We had a plan, and a timeline, to dramatically change the revenues of the company, displace the competition along the way, and generate substantial profits for all involved. We had a good team; in fact we had a great team. The results were that we actually tripled the company’s valuation, taking it from worst to first among competitors. We did all of these 56 months ahead of schedule. The company was successfully acquired for the highest earnings’ multiple in the industry’s history. We were assured executive positions at the new company. It was another success.
And then I was laid off.
Admittedly, I saw the writing on the wall very quickly after the acquisition completed however it all happened so fast that I didn’t have a backup plan for my next employment gig. I had been so heads down that I had not returned any calls received from recruiters, nor had I been actively networking, nor had I even updated my resume. Even worse for me was that I had only recently returned to Canada full-time so my local network of contacts was not nearly robust enough to quickly find another job. On top of that, it was late spring, with summer on the horizon and hiring processes about to take a seasonally nose-dive. And did I mention that I was the primary earner for my family?
This was clearly a low point in my professional life. It was a place I had never wanted to be but suddenly and irrevocably found myself. I felt the burden of providing for my family along with the sting of my ego being bruised. Why had they laid me, and my counterparts, off? Didn’t they understand what we had accomplished? And how did I get myself into this mess? I was better than this. Arrgh.
On a personal note, it’s always a watershed moment in one’s life when you’re forced to face your insecurities and make a decision which you inherently know will dramatically affect you and your loved ones. For me, it was when I looked inwardly, in response to my doubting questions, and asked myself “Is it possible that you’re not that good of a Marketer? Have you been believing your own press?” And then you get the doubting voices that only you hear speaking to you and saying “Don’t forget Darryl, you’re not really a Marketer. You’re a programmer. You’ve been fooling a lot of people for a long time but it has suddenly caught up with you. Now what are you going to do?” Can you relate? Have you heard those voices inside of your head?
It was then that I resolved to prove to myself, and to my wife, and to my peers that I was knowledgeable and that I had skills and that I deserved to be employed. Most of all, I needed to see if I truly had the skills I believed I had. It was time to market the Marketer.
Where did I start?
I put myself in the shoes of my prospective employer. Quickly I realized two buckets of beliefs:
1. Employers received tens, hundreds, or thousands of resumes on an ongoing basis. They have no natural ability to quickly distinguish one resume from another other then skimming them and searching for keywords or recognizable and trusted past employers that may cause them to review the resume just a wee bit longer. Often, most jobs were filled via word-of-mouth candidate referrals from trusted associates. The noise for hiring managers was deafening.
2. The only way I was going to be perceived as a viable candidate, especially as a Marketer, was to ensure I created the brand known as “Darryl”. How does one do that? Well, on a corporate level, you do that with a digital presence. The brand has a reputation; it could be as a trusted brand or a knowledgeable brand or an aggressive brand or a hip brand, etc, but no matter what they had a perceived quality that made you like them or respect them. Beyond that, I had to get past the noise. The hiring managers needed to know I was available such that I quickly became the top choice of candidates.
My goal, in all that I did, was to get the job interview. If I accomplished that goal then I had overcome the noise. I had a chance to swing for the homerun. I was confident that I could sell myself in the interview. Even if I didn’t get the job, at least I knew I would be improving my interview skills. If I didn’t get multiple jobs then I would know my issue wasn’t getting noticed, but rather was failing to impress in the interview. I could fix that. But I needed to get the interview.
So this is what I did, and the money I spent doing it was nominal.
1. I had a friend take a variety of photos of myself in various poses using a digital camera. In some of these poses I was pretending to hold a sign. In others I was being introspective. In others I was laughing. We had fun with it. I even went out and bought a nice, hip shirt and dress pants to make myself look more engaging.
2. I built myself a website. The name of the site was simple – www.darrylpraill.com. I was building my brand. To do this, I had a friend help me create it. Today you can do the same thing using fantastic tools such as iWeb, on a Mac, and the cost is free.
3. I created content on the website that tried to reflect my professional thoughts and experiences. I called this content my “Opportunity Matrix”. I encouraged visitors to check it out and see if they could relate to any of the scenarios, and my recommended advice to counter those scenarios. This was my subtle way of building credibility prior to the visitors ever talking to me.
4. I built a blog using Blogger. I quickly created many simple posts to show my more human side. Visitors could see my opinions and my perspective. Before we ever met live, they would already have a good idea about who I was and how I thought. By doing this, if they didn’t like my way of thinking then I fundamentally created a situation where they wouldn’t be inclined to contact me. If they did contact me then I had confidence that they liked what they saw and any live interviews could continue the persona they experienced online.
5. I created multiple Calls-To-Action (CTA) on the site. Each CTA is designed to encourage an action, such as “Take Darryl for a test drive” or “Meet Darryl for Coffee. He’s buying.” I didn’t just want people visiting my site, I wanted them to engage with me so that we could build a relationship and develop a trusted connection.
6. I called all of my friends and trusted peers and asked them who were some of the hot up-and-coming companies that could use my help. From those few phone calls and emails I created a summary list of 11 target employers
7. I then wondered how I would grab the employers’ attention. That was when I invented what David now dubs The Coffee Caper. I would invite my targets for coffee. That’s really code for I wanted to have an interview. To do that, I needed to get their attention. I needed to stand out above all of the other resumes that were on the hiring manager’s desk. I needed to get past the gatekeepers.
a. I created sub-domains for each of my eleven target companies. I didn’t know how to do this but the hosting company I had selected (www.mediatemple.net) had great FAQs that made it simple to do. Each sub-domain was bold and aggressive (I thought that would grab their attention). Each sub-domain was customized. An example would be something like “AcmeNeedsToHire.darrylpraill.com” or “OvercomeYourRevenueShortfallWith.darrylpraill.com”. I would then create content on that sub-domain that would simply say something like “Glad to see you here Acme. Check me out. I’ll be in touch. We’ll have coffee. I’ll buy.” and then it would auto-forward to my main site www.darrylpraill.com. I didn’t know how to auto-forward a webpage but a quick search of Google and I had the instructions and had it configured.
b. I then did a Google search for an open-source Paint program. In other words I needed something that was free. Once I found one I liked, I imported some of my photos and superimposed a white rectangle between my hands so it became the sign I was pretending to hold. I duplicated this image eleven times; once for every target. I then wrote text on each rectangle that was consistent with the sub-domains. An example would be like “I’ve read of your recent challenges. I can help. You can OvercomeYourRevenueShortfallWith.darrylpraill.com. Let’s meet for coffee to discuss.”
c. I then took each of the saved images to Wal-Mart and printed out 4×6 glossy photographs for pennies each.
d. I wrote personal notes to each target recipient using card stock that looked like wedding invitations. On these notes I again told them how I could help them. I invited them out for a coffee.
e. I then went to a major coffee chain and physically bought 20 of their paper cups. It wasn’t easy. They don’t sell them. It took me three different locations and ultimately a $20 donation to a kid’s camp before they would give them to me. I then bought 20 coffee coupons worth $2 each. Why twenty and why not eleven? It’s simple. I didn’t know if eleven target companies would be sufficient so I had some in reserve.
f. Finally I put all of these together inside the coffee cup: the photo, the personal note, and the coffee coupon.
g. The next challenge was to figure out how to get past the gatekeeper. I knew from experience that they intercepted normal mail, and phone calls, and direct mail. However, things that are irregular, which is out of the norm, get taken directly to the target recipient. And then they encourage the recipient to open the parcel because it’s natural human curiosity to know what’s inside the unusual package. To accomplish this goal, I decided on a 6 inch by 6 inch by 6-inch box. I sent the packages via two-day courier (it’s cheaper that way).
h. Next – I waited. My web site hosting service has free basic web analytics where you can see how many visitors have been to specific web pages. I used this to monitor the visitor-count to each of the eleven sub-domains I had created. I had also recorded the tracking numbers for each of the eleven couriered packages. So, I waited and monitored the delivery status for each package, and the visitor count for each sub-domain. Guess what happened? I literally could see when the package was delivered and I could see when then visitor count increased by one, or more. And once this happened, I started calling them and asking them when they’d like to schedule that coffee. Ironically, most of them beat me to the punch and called me first.
Of course, that’s not all I did.
I also teamed up with some of my former colleagues. We formed an executive team. We proactively chronicled our efforts with a series of radio-quality podcasts. We issued press releases to the local newspapers talking about our efforts. We distributed unique white papers to CEOs. We actively started doing public speaking gigs anywhere we could. We updated our resumes with eye-catching graphics and colors and personality. We researched our efforts using some fantastic services like ZoomInfo and LinkedIn. And – yes – it all took time and effort. Finding a job became my job.
So what were the results?
Overall, the Coffee Caper resulted in 7 callbacks and 3 job offers. Combined with the other tactics, we achieved 11 callbacks and 7 job offers.
As David likes to point out, we never read a newspaper, surfed a job board, or went to a networking event. We never blindly sent a resume in to any prospective employer.
It was a great lesson for me. It turns out I’m not such a bad Marketer; however the biggest lesson I personally learned was to never stop networking. I continually work on the brand known as Darryl Praill. The workforce has changed. You simply don’t know when you’ll need to become a Guerrilla Job Hunter again.