6 Things Sports Have Taught Me About Life in the Professional World

As some, not many, of Mountain Media’s clients know, I’m a former high school and college athlete, a swimmer, working my way through the professional world after having survived four of the most physically strenuous years of my life known as my collegiate career. While my former athletic glory ended several years ago, there are still plenty of times throughout a normal work day when I actually stop and think about something and realize, “Hey, I learned this from swimming all of those years!”

Unfortunately, there are some things I never learned, and will never learn, about the real world from my sport – like the fact that I cannot, actually, eat whatever I please and drink whatever I please and never gain a pound, that working out isn’t as easy to fit into your daily routine as it once was and that not every man I meet will look as good as a Division 1 swimmer in a Speedo (bummer). But there are some truly amazing life lessons that I’ve learned from sports that I will never forget, and that have helped to shape me into the young professional that I am today. I figured my company’s lovely blog would be as good a place as any to share these lessons with all of our loyal followers, and all of you athletes with bright professional futures out there!

Problem Solving is Like A Competition

You know that feeling that you get when you’re in a game or competition (or, in my case, a meet), and you glance over at one of your competitors and just stare them down because you want to beat them so badly? That competitive drive isn’t a bad thing – it’s something that good athletes are born and bred with, and it’s something that I’ve found really helps me in my problem solving skills, believe it or not.

When I’m faced with a problem or situation that I don’t know how to solve, I feel that same competitive drive within me to challenge myself to be better than I think I am and solve whatever problem it is I’m facing. I dig deep, I mentally pep-talk myself into believing that I know the solution, and I do things that I sometimes never thought I was capable of doing. That’s the competitor in me – no problem is too big to beat, even at my job.

Nerves Are Good

When you’re preparing for a big competition, the butterflies and knots in your stomach are natural, because you know how badly you want to win and you know the work that you’ll have to put in to accomplish your goals. When you finally get to game day, the nerves get even crazier, then turn into great energy that propels you to win.

The same is true in the professional world. When I have a big presentation or meeting that I’m preparing for, I feel nervous. I want to sign new clients and impress existing ones, and I can relate that feeling back to the way I felt when I would step up on the blocks to race. I turn my nervous butterflies into internal energy that drives me to put in my best efforts to prepare the right way for whatever it is I have coming up. Then I use the nerves to my advantage – they give me more external energy during presentations and meetings that show an excitement for what I do, and that excitement shines through to current and potential clients.

Teamwork is Awesome

Probably one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in a sport is that sense of family that you get from your teammates. My teammates were my family – we lived together in college, we trained together, we ate together, we partied together. They were my life. And when I would be in a race, I would see and hear their cheers the whole way through, knowing that they were there supporting me while I struggled to beat the girl in the lane next to me.

Even though swimming was an individual sport, I learned so much about teamwork because I could never have swam the races that I did without the encouragement of my teammates. The same is true here at Mountain Media – I couldn’t do what I do without my team. Everyone contributes, everyone’s ideas count and everyone is there to support each other when one of us is struggling. That’s the only way that we succeed, that we win, as a marketing department – when all of us work together. Thanks, swimming, for teaching me how to be a part of a team!

I’m Really Good at Math

To be honest, I was a broadcast journalism major in college. I studied writing and interviewing and I learned how to speak well in front of a camera. I always thought I was terrible at math, but I’ve been wrong all along, and it took working here at Mountain Media for me to realize that.

As a swimmer, we train on interval times, and our workouts consist of “sets” of repetitions of specific distances. Long story short – there’s a ton of math involved in a swimming workout. I never realized this until suddenly I started breaking down numbers at my job like it was nothing – things like hours on a project, hourly rates, the amount of work that should be done under a given client budget, analytical numbers, ROI statistics, etc.

My point here is that my sport taught me about something that I never considered myself to be good at, and it took me until my fourth year in the real world to realize all of the skills that I possess that I’ve never really put to use. Don’t sell yourself short in any aspect of your professional life. Your sport might have taught you something you never knew until you try it at your job!

It’s OK to Have Good Days and Bad Days

Every athlete has good days and bad days, both in practice and in competition. And it’s hard not to walk away from a bad practice feeling frustrated and disappointed in yourself for not performing to your usual standards. But despite that feeling, you go back the next day for more, without missing a beat.

Even in the professional world, it’s perfectly fine to have good days and bad days, and everyone has them. What sports taught me was how to move past the bad days and keep on the track towards totally rocking at my job. Nothing can bring me down for more than a day at a time.

Early is On Time!

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my swimming career came from one coach that I had from the time that I was about 11 years old all the way through my college career – “Early is on time.” As terrible as it was to drag my tired self out of bed at 5am for morning swim practice, I knew that I couldn’t be late, because if I was, there would be a treacherous punishment just waiting for me when I finally arrived at the pool (have any of you ever done 1,000 straight yards of butterfly in a pool? A recommendation – if you don’t know what it’s like, don’t find out!).

As a result, I was never late. Ever. Not for practice, not for classes in college, and now not for work or meetings or presentations or anything else. In fact, I’m usually 10 or 15 minutes early to the things that are most important to me (social events aside, since we all know that being fashionably late is way cooler than being the first one at a party – duh). It’s this engrained little seed in the back of my mind as a result of that one coach – being 15 minutes early to everything means that you’ll always be on time.

While I may not be quite as ripped as I used to be in college, and I can’t eat my way through rough days without facing the consequences, I can still relate a lot of what I do in my professional life back to my sport. I’ve grown up since my major swimming days (I do still train and compete, but it’s for me now, not anyone else) and I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I know that the majority of elite athletes out there have futures in something other than their sports. So take what you can from your sport and learn from it. It’ll make you a better person, and a better professional, in the long run.

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The Rise of Web Marketing

In today’s whiteboard Friday segment by SEOmoz, Rand Fishkin talks about how SEOs can no longer just be SEOs anymore. Rand suggests, that as an industry, we broaden the definition of SEO by incorporating web marketing techniques like unique content, social media and branding into our daily practice. And I would have to agree. This is a hot topic in our industry right now, and something I felt the need to delve into a bit further.

Old School vs. New School SEO

As an Internet marketing agency, we’ve seen a lot of companies rely on SEOs to keep them at the top of search results. For ecommerce sites especially, it’s a constant struggle between the latest Google update and outperforming peers. As a result, some of our best clients have gotten hung up on old SEO tactics simply because they worked in the past. However, it’s our job as the professionals to tell these clients that buying links and keyword stuffing is no longer appropriate practice.

If you are considering hiring a SEO company to improve your search engine rankings and you plan to measure their worth solely on how high they get you in rankings, you may want to reconsider your short-term and long-term business goals. For example, a spike in search engine rankings is a short-term fix for any struggling website, but creating high-quality content and posting it regularly will ensure long-term SEO growth. Also, if a SEO company tells you that they have easy “tricks” to increase your rankings, don’t fall for it. Nothing compares to natural links and original content.

Focus on Creating Quality Content

Now, back tracking a bit, I mentioned in February that Google has made significant changes to its algorithm to ensure quality websites outrank their inferior counterparts. While keywords are still important, Google now rewards websites that create great content for the benefit of the reader. As SEOs, our objective should be to create better content, not climb the search engine rankings.

Utilize other sources of organic traffic

In addition to high-quality content, search engines also value other sources of organic traffic like social media, blogs, video, and email marketing. These sources can also drive substantial traffic to your website. More important, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have transformed into customer engagement platforms.

SEOs should become brand communicators by listening to customers and understanding what’s important to them. Customers today are bold enough to go directly to a Twitter handle or public forum to engage directly with a business. And they expect brands to communicate back. What SEOs can do is encourage customers to place reviews on social media and other websites. These reviews will serve as their public endorsement of a brand. When a customer shares your content through their social media profiles, they are providing quality inbound links to your website.

Leverage Your Online Authority

I’ve talked a lot about thought leadership as a powerful SEO tactic, so I won’t bore you with all the details. However, when a customer already trusts you they will come to you for professional advice. And one way you can do this is through content management.  Creating SEO-friendly and engaging content is the first step. If you sell all natural health products and you write a blog post about “5 Natural Ways to Heal Acne,” SEOs can ensure that when a consumer types “natural ways to heal acne” into the search field, your blog will show up in search results. Whether it’s through blogging or email marketing, the goal of content management is to get customers visiting your website.

Over the years there has been a lot of “black hat” or shady SEO practices, and search engines are starting to catch on. Regardless, SEO is still a valuable tool when building your business. Therefore, if you can do it the right way and take advantage of these web marketing techniques, you can naturally position yourself as an industry leader and the search engines will graciously reward you.

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Social Media 101 for College Graduates

someecards.com - Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and find out their profile is public, I'm like a kid in a candy store. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!Ah graduation season. The best time in a young person’s life; between leaving a place of independence and stepping into the real world for your first chance at building your professional career. While many college students are currently preparing for the real world at this point (hopefully), most seniors are more focused on acing their final exams before graduation as opposed to cleaning up their act in the online world.

So, what’s the problem here? Well… since just about everyone has an online history, that means that everything you’ve done, especially in the past four years in college, is probably readily available with a simple Google search. Before beginning your full-time job search, here are some critical steps you need to take in order to clean up your online presence.

Understand your privacy settings

The first key step to preparing your online presence for the professional world is to have a good understanding of what your privacy settings are. Not only are there a variety of settings on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but you need to think back to any profile you’ve created online throughout your entire life. While that might be a hard task to tackle, it needs to be done.

Another important tactic when changing your privacy settings is to make sure you don’t completely block out anyone from seeing anything about you. It’s important to find that happy medium between showing just enough about you for potential employers to see but not everything. Employers like to see that you’re involved in social media and have a positive presence, but we don’t want to see anything inappropriate that could show bad judgement. Keep it classy and find your happy medium.

Make appropriate updates to your profiles

Once you’re about to graduate from college, I would hope that you have a composed resume ready to go. With that said, everything that’s written on your resume should also be reflected in your online profiles. From your age to where you’re graduating from, make sure that your profiles are fully updated. By having social media, it’s also a great way to endorse your skills. Whether you’re a designer and upload images often or you’re a talented writer and like to share your latest blog posts, use this to your advantage!

Be aware of your content

The most important thing I learned in my senior year of college was to be extremely cautious of what I was posting to my social media channels. Not only is it important to monitor what friends are posting about you, but you also need to be aware of your tone in the content you’re posting. I hate to break it to you, but employers don’t want to see you complaining about how much you don’t feel like studying for your next exam or worse, how difficult it is for you to work on a group project. Think of it in terms of the professional world. Would you want to hire someone who complains about having to work hard or work with others? The answer is no, so don’t portray yourself that way.

Change profile pictures

You might love your sorority sisters to death, but once you start job searching, it’s probably a good idea to change your profile picture to one of just you. Having a profile picture of just yourself will help curious employers identify who you are, as opposed to trying to guess from a group of people. If you don’t have any pictures of yourself that you think would be appropriate for the professional world, have a roommate or family member take a picture of you.

The Internet is an amazing place, and as hard as it is to believe that employers are actually looking for you online, it’s happening. With that said, it’s time to stop pretending that you’re invisible online and start realizing how much about you is lurking out there in your online portfolio. Finally, congratulations to all those graduating in 2013 and good luck!

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