Leveraging online communities and relationships to make big decisions

network imageWho did you want to be when growing up? For me as an avid sports fan growing up in New Jersey, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of former New York Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra, basketball legend Michael Jordan and renowned sportscaster Marv Albert.

As a grown adult, I still ask myself that question, though with a different lens and a bit more of a pragmatic perspective, realizing that I will never grow to 6’6 and develop incredible leaping ability.

At the end of 2013, I took the plunge – leaving the comfort of a regular job and steady paycheck in exchange for the fun and uncertainty of communications consulting. Arriving to this decision was quite difficult. There have been a plethora of individuals who have supported and advised me. I’ve tapped into my network and sought counsel and feedback from family, colleagues and friends as I weighed the pros and cons of taking the leap. I also made it a point to find individuals online who are at various stages of where I want to be as a communications consultant.

I learn so much on a regular basis from 
Gini Dietrich and many of the Spin Sucks’ contributors.  I decided to reach out to Gini to see if I could pick her brain. Gini was in the midst of getting ready to travel when she managed to take the time to respond to me with some incredible insights that influenced my decision on where to set-up my shop. If it weren’t for this exchange, I could have been writing this post from a completely different location, which in hindsight would have been a big mistake.

Chip Griffin, Co-founder and CEO of Custom Scoop and editor of 501 Central, graciously responded to one of my emails out of the blue and agreed to speak on the phone. Chip shared advice, lessons learned and kindly entertained my different questions. It was particularly interesting to hear his perspective as a communications entrepreneur who has rolled out particular products, which I hope to do one day.

Donna Papacosta, founder of Trafalgar Communications, also kindly agreed to take some time out of her schedule to answer some of my questions over the phone. She helped me think through the pros and cons of being the communications generalist or developing a particular niche within communications (which is the route I ultimately decided to take).

While Chip, Donna and Gini have been running their companies for several years, I also made it a point to reach out to someone who was relatively new to starting an agency / consultancy. Through Spin Sucks, I came across Kate Findley, CEO of Belle Communications. She provided me with positive encouragement as someone who had just gone out on her own.

Two other individuals who have been incredibly inspiring and beneficial for me are the hosts of the For Immediate Release podcast: Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson. I carefully listen to each weekly episode of their podcast, read their respective blogs and follow discussions on the For Immediate Releases’ Google Plus Community Page. Shel and Neville have kindly supported me in launching my new podcast on the For Immediate Release Network. This has been quite an honor and learning experience for me.

If you are already connecting and learning from individuals who you’ve never met and who can offer you insights about a specific aspect of your field or future aspirations, then great. If not, I encourage you to do this, regardless of your pursuit. While there are surely different ways to go about this, here are some of things I learned from my interactions with the individuals above: 

    Develop a strategy. Think through a game plan on how you would like to use new interactions to provide clarity on different aspects related to your overall long-term goal.
    Be diverse. Try to find a mix of individuals who are at various places in their journey that you want to create for yourself.
    Prepare for a structured conversation. It is important to respect your contact’s time and graciousness. Therefore, do your homework and research in advance.
    Express gratitude and keep in touch.
    Learn from those who have helped you and give back, be nice and share your knowledge and experiences with others who reach out to you.

This post originally appeared on Spin Sucks