Malcolm Gladwell said it. So did Seth Godin before him. You need 10 years (or 10,000 hours) of practice to be really good at something.
But what do you do during those ten years? Ten years is a long time. Here are some ideas for activities to do while you're practicing your profession.
- Work at a large company. If you can't rise over above your entry level at a big company - you're probably not going to rise on the outside either. Second, find a way to be responsible for a budget. Treat it as your money. People will take notice. Third, at a big company there are a lot of people who are just like you. As you rise through the ranks of your profession so will these colleagues. There's nothing like having a network of people who know you and know what you can do as you move forward.
- Work at a small company. A boutique firm will stretch you. You'll answer phones, get coffee and get caught up in the crazy lives of the owners. The flip side - you'll get to have your thumbprint on every project that comes through the door.
- Do an outside project after hours in your field. True story: While working at AT&T, I partnered with one of my vendors and we created a home video. It did so well that it partially paid for a down payment on our respective first houses. I learned a lot too.
- With every single person you have meaningful contact, get their name, email, address, birthday, kids' names and where they went to school. The more you know about your contacts - the more helpful you can be to them. And vice versa.
- Learn enough about the process and craft of what you do so that in a pinch you could do it all. I am a video writer/producer/director. I've also learned how to shoot and edit.
- Create partnerships with people who complement you - not duplicate - what you do.
My first business was with an out of this world editor. After three years we grossed over $1 million in sales.
- Work with the best people you can find. My work is collaborative. My work gets better and better because of the people I choose to partner with (that includes DPs, editors, and graphic artists).
- Be nice. Say "Please" and "Thank You". When you're working for that big company and you start hiring a bevy of freelancers. You never know which of your freelancers will become your partner down the road. And when the job is done, write a note to them congratulating them on what they did.
- Keep learning new things in your field. Easier said then done. But blog reading is a great first step.
- Never miss a deadline and always come in on budget. Trust-building is what your first ten years are all about.
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