Thinking of which skills you'll need as you start out looking for a digital marketing role? We asked Jonathan Wasserstrum, Founder/CEO of SquareFoot, for his opinion on how he started his marketing journey and what career advice he would give to someone looking to make their mark on the world...
Like many company founders, I had long hoped to someday start my own company. When that chance came around in my late 20s, to begin SquareFoot, a new kind of commercial brokerage, I was thrilled to embark on the next stage of my career. It meant taking my professional future into my own hands, and the success or failure of this enterprise was solely on my shoulders. I was excited to get to take what I learned from others about commercial real estate, especially how it traditionally runs, and to apply my own spin to it. Starting the company, it turned out, wasn’t the biggest challenge of those early years.
I had a clear sense of and vision for what I was building. What I struggled with and what I lacked, however, was the wherewithal to go find the clients that I had envisioned. I knew that if I could just get in front of them, I could bring them aboard and convince them to sign up with me and my team. However, this prospect was more daunting than I had anticipated it would be. I had limited knowledge of digital marketing at first and no formal training in how to find that first set of clients. What I did have at my disposal, though, was a willingness to learn.
What Skills I Needed To learn
So I turned to Google to learn more about everything from paid ads to organic reach. I had to be honest enough to acknowledge where my shortcomings lived and flexible enough to comprehend which gaps I could fill on my own - at least temporarily - and where I had to invest in headcount to hire experts to take hold of various areas of the business. Digital marketing, I quickly realised, was something I could get my head around. In actuality, a lot of the core principles of commercial real estate applied to this discipline, too. Because it took so long to convert a client in the pipeline, and those leads typically came about through long-term relationship building, I was naturally drawn to the basics of digital marketing. This struck me as similar enough to what I was used to, really the digital version of the science that I held true and lived every day.
In those first months after we launched, I read countless free resources available online walking me through the basics to technical SEO and why it was so valuable to an organisation like ours first starting out. I worked with the team to implement an online listings platform for commercial real estate spaces, similar to what people have grown to know and expect from the residential side. Nobody else was doing it at the time, and I sensed and spotted a chance to get more transparency and more information in front of the right people. If they could click through listings that might be of interest to them, then when the time came to go tour those spaces, they’d reach out to us, and our team of in-house brokers could take them out. We weren’t only creating high-intent leads; we were earning trust with our clients through giving them more access to information than anyone else was.
In addition, we put up a blog where we could walk people through basic ideas of real estate so that the whole experience felt more approachable. We didn’t want a divide between brokers and clients when it came to knowledge - something many had come to expect and even to believe was a better process for all - and we hoped that our clients would come to view us as partners in the searches. During this period, I began to really understand the audience and to give them more than they had asked for. We wanted to anticipate their needs and to meet them where they were.
I look back on that early-stage period and recognise more now than then that my willingness to think about the problem differently and to develop my own set of skills is what helped the company take off in the way that it did. This isn’t a truth for CEOs alone, though. Everyone would benefit from having a real soul-searching excavation of where their skills are and what additional ones they can take on to help them accelerate their growth. I encourage my team to invest time and attention into professional development that will help them as much as it helps our company to be that much better than we were last month. We look back on what has worked, and uncover what is missing, but we always push the conversation to be about growing forward.
If someone feels stuck in their career or can’t resolve a longstanding issue at work, they would be wise to step away and to investigate if there’s an adjacent path to leap onto and to learn from. For me, that was digital marketing, a field that I didn’t know anything about but wound up speaking to me individually. Being in a position like mine means wearing multiple hats daily. I push all of my team members to take ownership over their areas of expertise, and to identify spots where they might feel they’re weaker than they’d like to be. Rather than shying away from those aspects, I want them to seek out ways they can grow in their roles and their expertise. When and where you feel more vulnerable, it’s usually a strong indication that it’s time to learn.
What I Would Give As Career Advice
The career advice I give to people of all ages and at all stages of their careers is to invest in their education. This doesn’t have to be getting an additional degree, yet can be as simple as Googling for resources. It seems simple, however in my experience not everyone is a lifelong learner. Those are the people I get most excited about in interviews, who I know are the ones I should be looking closely at and hiring. They may not come in knowing everything or have all the answers, but they know how to go about finding solutions. It starts with looking inside themselves. I know from experience that that’s where it all begins.