Bad career moves, social media snake oil and content writing tips

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Stuart Hall, Founder and CEO of Avviso Media, a B2B digital marketing agency which specialises in social media and content marketing. He also started SocialDay - the UK’s largest dedicated Social Media Conference.

Biggest fuck up of your career?

Wow, now that is an opening question. It’s actually hard to pick just one. I am sure, like many, I have had my fair share of fuck ups, but most of them have served as a valuable lesson.  

From a personal perspective, my biggest career fuck up was a career choice, I went from a publishing house where I had earned the right to be listened to, had built a great team, gown a P&L from scratch, and life was really good. Yet, despite this, I convinced myself I needed a new challenge and decided to find a new job. 

I took a senior position in a distressed business (first mistake). I was young at the time, had a good career and believed I could turn it around. 

On entering the business, I found out on day one, via almost every member of staff, that the previous management team had set up a rival publishing business and had poached most of the team. Funnily enough, no one mentioned this in the four interviews I’d had. This would leave our assets totally useless.

It got worse…

After beginning to get a grip on the toxic atmosphere and trying to drag an analogue team into the digital era, I was constantly being pressured to find revenue by the board. Odd, given I was told we had the money to invest in the antiquated business, and my brief was to turn it around through acquisition.  

At this point, I was miserable, doing my best to leave the shit behind and hide it from my young family.  

Things came to a head after the business removed two CEOs in 12 months, and I had seen a shift in various board members and reverse takeovers. It was at this point I was informed about a large hole in the accounts that piss-poor management had created over many years. The result, I was asked to make 40% of the workforce redundant while we sorted the mess out, again with a view to turning it around. The HR team had to outsource HR help, which shows what a mess it was, and I ended up having to do all the interviews myself (I thought it was fair that I did it, I felt I owed them that.) 

This all happened against the backdrop of my wife giving birth to our second child. To say I was stressed at the time would be a slight understatement.

I was literally getting calls from the Group FD who was now running the business, as my wife went into labour.

I look back and wonder why I put up with the shit from various stakeholders and why I took the job in the first place. 

It did give me the balls to start out on my own journey and gave me plenty of life lessons! I did uncover some amazingly talented people within the organisation, and we launched in a 6-month window 3 new publications with digital offerings and 6 new events, so not all bad. When it went to the wall, the products we had created all found new homes and were the only thing of worth in the business. 

A short and highly stressful time, but I do not regret it. I came through it a better person, it taught me so much, and for that, I am thankful.   

Rant

I think I am passed being annoyed by things that are out of my control these days. Running a company, the buck stops with me, so the protocols in place are mine. If they are crap, I only have myself to blame. Luckily I have some good staff who are happy to tell me if things could be better. 

I do hate seeing people ripped off and having worked in media, I see social media as a great tool for personal branding, but it has given rise to a new breed of snake oil salesperson. Especially the “fake it until you make it” mob, I am not even talking about the dickheads who pose in front of yachts and fast cars.

It’s those on LinkedIn who offer to help you navigate and hack algorithms, scarcity sales, and jump on issues to “help small businesses”, yet they have never actually worked in a real company or indeed owned a registered one. 

The other thing that I used to hate was the imbalance I had in my own work-life balance. As I have gotten older, I have swapped out drinking for exercise as a way of helping me cope with the stresses of the day-to-day. For me, that has been triathlon, endurance has really helped me change my approach over the last few years. 

Useful Advice

When talking specifically about Social Media, I am going to impart some advice that has stuck with me around content.

Folk spend so long wondering what to say on Social Media, especially in a business context. No one wants to look like a fool, and while we all want to impart useful pearls of wisdom, it can be hard. I am often asked, “What should I write?”

My advice: always start by answering the question you get asked most often. It is obviously useful to your target audience. It’s the one thing that your customers/audience value your opinion on, so start with this, and you will tick many boxes. 

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