Reinventing your career without leaving your job

Previously on Newvine Growing (read that in the Battlestar Galactica opening sequence voice) I’ve profiled people who’ve reinvented themselves by changing jobs and starting down a new career path.

That’s all well and good, you think, but when unemployment is hitting double digits in some states, maybe this isn’t the best time to make that big switch. Not only are jobs not so plentiful, but if you do find something and then layoffs come, you’re the new guy with relatively little experience and thus not as valuable as your peers.

Some of the best career advice I’ve gotten came from Al Cotrone, head of the career services office at Michigan Business School. He suggested using your current job to develop the skills and experiences you’ll need in your dream job.

How about taking that one step further? What if you transform your current job into your dream job, or something close to it, by building in new activities?

Most professionals have at least some flexibility in how we spend our day. We have some choice when it comes to the projects we take on, the committees we join, how we execute our assignments. What if you used some of that discretion to make your job into something that excites and challenges you more?

I’m really excited about social media, so here are two examples of people who transformed what they do not by getting new jobs but by using new tools to do their old jobs in new ways.

Case study #1: Gary Vaynerchuk, Wine Library TV

Gary’s parents owned a liquor store, and like many people with a family business, he was put to work early. But just punching the cash register while people came in to buy hooch didn’t excite him.

Instead of rejecting the family business, he found a way to make it more interesting. His Web site tells the story:

Gary’s roots in wine tasting come honestly – his Russian immigrant parents owned a liquor store when he was growing up. Bored at the cash register, Gary began reading Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate and realized collecting wine offered an allure similar to his previous hobby of collecting baseball cards. As a teenager, tasting wine was legally impossible, so Gary set out to train his palate “backwards”. To study various flavors associated with wine, Gary tasted obscure fruits and vegetables, along with earthly influences, including grass, dirt, rocks, tobacco and wood. “I probably consumed more New Jersey grass in my teens than any lawn mower.” By familiarizing himself with the numerous tastes that contributed to a specific wine, Gary was able to detect subtleties that an ordinary palate wouldn’t recognize.

With a wealth of knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit, Gary spent every weekend of his college years at his parents’ store, rebranding the family business as Wine Library and establishing himself as a respected expert. As the store’s only wine buyer, he sampled every wine that entered the store. Customers depended on Gary for his advice and within a five year time period, Wine Library grew from a $4 million dollar business to a $45 million business.

His restlessness with doing things the old way boosts business tenfold. Even if he wasn’t working for his parents, the bosses probably would have liked those kinds of results.

Selling more wine in his local shop wasn’t enough, though. Gary realized that his unpretentious way of talking about wine connects with people and he expanded his reach with Wine Library TV. Here’s Time talking about the inspiration for his empire.

“I can’t write, so I missed the whole blog thing, and I was pissed,” he says. So when he saw Andy Samberg’s Saturday Night Live video Lazy Sunday explode on YouTube, he got himself a video camera and started Few people look quite so excited to be talking to a camera. He’s more hyper than Emeril, more cheerful than Rachael Ray, more street than Bobby Flay and cockier than all of them combined. “Do I think I have that much charisma? I think I have more. I know I could be the host of SportsCenter in two years if I changed my show today to sports,” he says.

Only on the Web could Vaynerchuk review wine, not just because he describes one as the “kind of bottle you want to take on your date and hope she consumes the entire thing, and then it gets interesting” but also because he’s trying to sell wine on the very same website where he’s rating it–which, despite his deep knowledge and spot-on nose, reduces his trustworthiness.

Wine Library TV has developed a tremendous following, and having a taste for what that kind of audience can do, Gary keeps on expanding. Now it’s a show aimed at women, just announced this week. From TechCrunch:

Gary Vaynerchuk is going after the Oprah set. The wine wholesaler who launched a career as a Web video celebrity talking about wine and marketing just launched Obsessed, a new video talk show hosted by Samantha Ettus. With Obsessed, Vaynerchuk hopes to move beyond niche programming on the Web to appeal to a mainstream audience.

The format of the show is an in-depth 30 to 40 minute interview with guests that appeal to 25 to 55-year-old women. The first interviews on the site right now are with food writer Mark Bittman and floral designer Preston Bailey. Future guests will include Today Show travel editor Peter Greenberg, TreeHugger founder Graham Hill, and BlogHer founder Liz Stone. (They are working on some bigger names as well).

Are you not in awe yet? Check him out talking at Web 2.0 in New York this past fall. He’s like the poster child for career transformation. Warning: if you’re easily offended by the f-bomb, Gary is not for you, but he’s got passion:

Case study #2: Ariel Hyatt, Ariel Publicity

I first met Ariel when our mutual friend, Rachel Masters, put Ariel up to talking about her company to a bunch of Michigan BBAs and MBAs with an interest in entertainment and media. Ariel graciously said yes and invited us her offices to learn about her approach to helping musicians make money without going the traditional route of pursuing a mainstream record contract. At that point it was about touring and street crews and other heavy-lifting routes of generating a fan base.

We got a peek at the pre-Cyber PR Ariel, before she had the a-ha moment — if she really wanted to succeed at promoting her musicians, she had to figure out a new way to not only promote them but to get the word out about herself. Her old Web site was sort of an online business card. Now she’s a multimedia empire — she’s got a blog, she’s got a book, she’s got an e-Zine, and her Web site links to all the social media places you can find her. And she challenges her clients to follow suit, as in this Twitter pitch contest she’s running.


This background about her new book is like a call to arms:

Running my music PR firm is a lot like running your music career. Like you, I need to build my story and my brand, get fans, and earn a living.
I struggled for years and I had decent success but at the end of every year I noticed the same pattern – I was not GROWING and I was frustrated.

This led me on a journey to figure out how to boost my own business.
I spent the next two years attending workshops and I flew all over the country to study with some of the biggest names in Marketing and PR and Sales. In these seminars I learned about new technology and how really successful business owners create sales and PR.
While attending these Internet Marketing seminars I was amazed at the people I was meeting.
I was meeting people who were earning hundreds of thousands of dollars online. Some of them were earning millions.
People who were NOT NEARLY as talented and interesting and creative as my artists were getting rich online.
I could not believe it!
I could not understand why not a single person in the music business seemed to understand any of these tactics or techniques.
In fact I never ran into a single musician or music industry person at any of these events.
I slowly began to implement what I was learning at all of these seminars and workshops me and my business REALLY began to take off!
I created a program that combines social networking and Internet marketing techniques and it was becoming so successful for my business I decided to write out a  step-by-step program for my PR clients. 
Then I realized this information is exactly what all artists need to know.

Ariel created a new path for herself by recognizing a need and by turning herself into the expert. She didn’t just keep doing the same thing more or harder, or lamenting that some other thing might be fun to do if she didn’t already have a job. She flung herself head first into a new area with a focus on how to marry that up with her existing knowledge and passion for indie music.

That’s part of what’s so powerful about both Ariel and Gary — they were already experts in an area, and they didn’t give up that knowledge and credibility by transforming what they did. They developed new tools to do their jobs in a radically different way.

Instead of being one of a gazillion PR people out there who can help musicians with a press release about their latest tour, Ariel differentiated herself by offering something new, and in the process, she became part of the story. It’s a brilliant way to both get a leg up on the competition and get free publicity for your business. For example, here’s an 85-minute audio interview with Ariel on her Web 2.o techniques.  What would it cost to buy an hour of time promoting yourself, if you even could?

Granted, this kind of transformation might be easier when you’re an entrepreneur. You’re the boss so who’s going to say no?

Here’s the challenge: how can you adapt this idea to a 9-to-5 reality? Does it mean doing it on your own time, as Gary suggests? Or could you carve out a little time each day or each week to begin to change your existing job into something new? Or both — maybe learn the skills at home, then make a pitch to your boss?


Categories: beer and wine

Tags: , , ,

4 replies

  1. With thanks to Mike for pointing it out, here’s a link to a NY Times story today about Gary, and how to do what he does to improve customer relationships:

  2. Thanks! I appreciate the feedback.

  3. Phenomenal article.


  1. Running off to join the circus « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally

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