Will People Come Looking for You, or Should You Pursue Them?

I was just thinking about “positions of visibility” that many people have. Broadly, what I mean by that is any scenario under which a person serves in a capacity of a certain level of importance, notoriety, public view, authority, and/or perhaps some other related term that escapes me now. It could be almost anything, though — professor, public figure, actor, business leader, etc.

Specifically, I’m talking about the kinds of roles out there for which there seems to be two paths of attainment. On the one hand, there is the “work toward it” path where basically you pursue it as a destination, no doubt dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s along the way. On the other, there is the “they pursue you” path where you’ve been asked to serve in such a position, recruited and/or wooed often regardless of any traditional qualifications you may or may not have.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. Corporate CEO

  • Under the “worked toward it” group, the path is usually something like: traditional college / university, entry-level position, regular staff position, manager-level position, director-level, VP-level, and then maybe CEO.
  • Under the “they pursue you” position, the path is usually: (1) you’ve become known / respected / desired, (2) you’re pursued, regardless of any stated qualification requirements. Authors, successful entrepreneurs, niche celebrities— all examples I’ve seen of this in the business world.

2. University Professor

  • Under the “worked toward it” group, the path is usually something like: traditional college / university, Master’s degree, Ph.D. / dissertation, non-tenured teaching, tenured professorship.
  • Under the “they pursue you” position, the path is usually: (1) you’ve become known / respected / desired, (2) you’re pursued, regardless of any stated qualification requirements. Authors, musicians, business leaders — examples I’ve encountered at universities.

From time to time, I’ve not only ruminated on such scenarios myself, but have encountered clients and colleagues with their own views on this subject. What I hear a lot is something like, “Well, I didn’t ask for the position because I figured, if they want me, they’ll ask me.” It’s tough to argue against that because it’s 100% true. If a person or group is in charge of finding someone to fill a role, if they have someone in mind for it, they will probably ask that person.

On the other hand, plenty of “unknowns” do actually find success via the “worked toward it” path. I suspect that what a lot of people forget about when it comes to the “they pursue you” scenario is that critical item #1 — you’ve become known / respected / desired. In other words, notoriety. And, as we all know, notoriety can happen in several ways. It can come out of the blue (e.g., if you have a video go viral or something), it can come after many years of effort, it can elude us long-term via good old-fashioned bad luck, or it can be a reflection from the universe that you’re just not good at whatever it is you think you’re good at.

(Of course, if you absolutely suck at something, but nevertheless love it, who am I to recommend you quit? Most of my golfer friends fall into this category, after all.)

As you are reading a marketing-oriented web site at the moment, the advice you’ll find here is that you probably DO have a modicum of control over the situation. So, if you’re not working the traditional “work toward it” path (preferring to be invited over asking for something yourself), and you’re also not yet “notorious,” as it were, I would assert that you probably have it in your power to make it all happen sooner rather than later — and, yes, I’m talking about marketing yourself out of the obscurity you currently loathe (if, as I assume, you’d rather have a taste of the limelight).

One other possibility, of course, is that you’re one among several candidates who are already notorious. So, in that case, who are they going to woo — the well-known one who isn’t calling them, or the well-known one who is?

Your Business or Web Site

Many entrepreneurs (myself included) sometimes fall into the whole “if you build it, they will come” mentality (which by the way isn’t a direct quote from the movie “Field of Dreams” but is basically close enough). Quite commonly, business people envision launching a product, service, or web site, and then being inundated with customers having the need (or the want) they’ve just addressed. And from time to time, that sure seems like exactly what happens — only that isn’t what usually happens.

For example, if someone launches a really great restaurant and in a trendy, high-traffic area, chances are the rest will take care of itself. But, this ostensibly organic growth is not really organic at all. Rather, the reason great restaurants in trendy locations take off is because the trendy location IS the marketing. This is precisely why retail leases cost more in busy locations. (Your food also has to taste good to be successful; let’s be clear on that one. A prime location, alone, isn’t going to cut it.)

Bottom line: You’re left with two choices: (1) Work toward something via the traditional path, or (2) Work on becoming notorious any way you can, and then be open to whatever responds favorably to that. Either way, marketing is involved in some way, guaranteed. One potential advantage of true notoriety, by the way, is that it can be self-sustaining. Hell, in today’s world, we have celebrities who are famous for basically just being famous. So, it’s no wonder the not-always-rational concept of marketing can be confusing to a lot of well-educated people.

Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. Photo atop piece is adapted from “Winning the Race” by starmanseries, Flickr, Creative Commons.