Breadcrumb audit: Is your story leading people to your best work?

The other day when I was doing a podcast interview about Body of Work with Tom Capone of the New York City Distance Learning Association (NYDLA), I realized an important consequence of counseling people to be continually improving, creating and building new skills in their career:

You need to consistently and continually update the story you tell about your body of work.

And if you don’t, then you will face the challenge of having people around you who like you a lot, but don’t really know what you are doing.

Or you will have people around you who still see you for that work you were passionate about 5 years ago, and have no idea you have a whole new set of skills.

Or you will work diligently on new projects for a year or two, finally bring them out to the light of day, then hear crickets.

Telling the story of your career is not as easy as it used to be.

It makes sense to update your LinkedIn profile if you get a promotion, move to a different company or make a big change in your business.

But what about if you are in the early stages of developing new products or programs?

Do you announce that you are a coach when you are still in the middle of coach training?

When do you articulate an unequivocal stance on your values and principles? (Note: contains a few swear words).

Each choice has consequences.

  • If you communicate job or business changes all the time, you will confuse your audience (“What newfangled thing is Ariel doing this month? She changes focus so much, I am lost!”)
  • If you wait too long to communicate changes, people will not understand the context for the changes (“Well this sure did come out of the blue! I had no idea that Jim was quitting his accounting job to become a fitness expert!”)

There are times when it makes sense to do make a big statement about the shift in your body of work. You can make these statements:

  • In blog posts
  • In Facebook updates
  • In a special announcement to your newsletter list

Conscious, deliberate breadcrumb trails

But in the interim, on a very conscious basis, you want to leave a trail of ideas that are always pointing in the direction your work is going.

Whether you were conscious of it or not, your personal, professional and social media interactions have all been broadcasting messages to your audience. I call this your “breadcrumb trails.”

My friend Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You to be Rich did a good job of this as he gradually shifted the focus of his work from personal finance for college students to the many facets of living a rich life.

If you followed the focus of his blog, newsletter and social media updates throughout the last 12 years as I did, you will see that he very deliberately introduced new themes and ideas into his content stream, far before he announced a new program or product.

You leave breadcrumbs through:

  • Sharing the work of other people through articles, videos and podcasts
  • Writing your own articles and updates as you develop your ideas (for example, this is one early post I wrote on Escape from Cubicle Nation as I was still vetting ideas for my new book, that ultimately led to Body of Work.)

Breadcrumb trail audit

What kind of clues to your new work have you been leaving along your trail?

Grab a notepad or open a document and assess the topics of your content on the following channels (ignore anything not relevant to you):

  • What were the topics of your last 10 blog posts?
  • What themes were in your last 30 days of:
    -Facebook updates (both personal and business profiles)
    -Twitter posts
    -LinkedIn updates
    -Instagram posts
    -Snapchat posts
  • What were the topics of your last 10 newsletters?
  • What were the topics in your last 3 presentations?
  • What were the topics of conversation in interactions with your last 5 clients?
  • Who do you feature in your updates? Do they reflect not just the people you are currently working with, but also the people you want to work with in the future?
  • What do you talk about with your neighbors?
  • What do you talk about with casual acquaintences at places like the grocery store, on sporting fields or at your local café?
  • How did you introduce yourself at the last 3 networking events you attended?

After noting the content themes in each of these areas, answer these questions:

  1. What themes do you find in your breadcrumb trails?
  2. How are these themes aligned, or not aligned, with the work you are excited to do this year?
  3. What kind of emotional state does your breadcrumb trail point to? (Mad, sad, glad or scared?)
  4. How are these emotional signals aligned, or not aligned, with the leadership profile you want to hold in your community?
  5. If you didn’t know you, based on the content you have seen, what would you say you hold as personal values?
  6. Are these values aligned or not aligned with the mission and vision you have for your work in 2017?
  7. If your breadcrumb trails are not fully communicating the work you want to position yourself to do, where are the gaps?
  8. What content do you need to create, and which channels would be good places to share them in, to clearly and compellingly draw your ideal clients toward your ideal work this year?

Drive your own story

Remember that whether or not you choose to audit your breadcrumb trail, you are telling a story to your ideal audience.

What you say, or don’t say, paints a clear path to your future.

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