Horseback Lessons, Keywords, and Business Growth with Louise Bunyan (2/3)

Welcome to episode 163 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of our interview with Louise Bunyan. We’ll hear how Louise gained experience through bartering, found her way into recruitment marketing and running a blog, hear some tips on search engine optimization, and learn how her business SmartFox was born.

Original Recording Date: 02-10-2022

Louise Bunyan is a Talent Marketing Specialist with VMware. She also owns a side business called SmartFox specializing in LinkedIn training for job seekers and students as well as sales and business development professionals. Check out part 1 of our interview with Louise in Episode 162.

Topics – A Bartering Agreement; Interviews, Negotiation, and Initiative; Training and Gaining Experience; Recruitment Marketing, Developers, and Scrum; Blogging Revisited, A Deeper Dive on SEO, The Genesis of SmartFox

2:47 – A Bartering Agreement

  • Louise Bunyan is a Talent Marketing Specialist with VMware (joined January 2021). She is part of the Employment Brand team and works remotely in County Cork in Ireland.
    • Louise also owns a side business called SmartFox since 2017 specializing in LinkedIn training for job seekers and students as well as sales and business development professionals.
  • We heard last week that Louise was in New Zealand for 2 years teaching English to international students.
  • After returning to Ireland Louise started applying to various jobs but kept getting told no.
    • Many people Louise knew had gone back to school to study digital marketing because of its popularity in Ireland.
    • Louise applied at a local university and got into a 5-month course on digital marketing, covering a variety of things like Google Analytics, Google Ads, writing your own blog, etc.
    • Louise loved it. Some of the course was masters level lectures in consumer behavior, market research, and other psychological aspects.
  • While taking the course she would go horse riding for fun.
    • The guy who ran the stable had an awful website (avocado green).
    • Louise let him know she was taking a course. She offered to improve his website and help him develop a presence on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Louise asked that for every hour she spent on this to get free horse riding lessons.
      • He wanted to see what Louise could do first and was initially skeptical.
      • He referred to Louise as a diamond in the rough after seeing her work. She ended up exceeding both his and even her own expectations in the process.
      • Louise loved the work and redid his website, infusing SEO (search engine optimization) along the way. She also created a YouTube channel and took videos, becoming a content producer before even knowing what those words meant.
    • Louise began to notice new clients and new families visiting the stable. Several people bought horses and paid the stable owner for livery.
    • Parents started buying their kids ponies, and the owner had to build 8 new stables to house all of this.
    • This was the first time Louise was able to see something end-to-end (Google search to becoming a customer and seeing the results of business growth). She created a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page for the website.
    • Louise realized just how powerful marketing could be.

9:18 – Interviews, Negotiation, and Initiative

  • Upon finishing the course, she saw a job for an online marketing executive with a global recruitment agency based in Cork.
  • Interviewers told her after getting the job that what they really liked was the bartering with the horse stables and being able to show how she contributed to that business making money, generating leads, and getting customers.
    • No one told Louise to do it, but she had tracked metrics that showed progress of her work, starting with an Excel file that showed where things began. Website visits and inquiries coming in from the website were quite low.
    • Louise kept track of the changes to these metrics over periods of 3, 6, 9 months and was surprised to see the growth.
    • Louise had asked the owner of the stable if she could list the works she did for him on her resume as a job, and he said absolutely. He also acted as a reference for her.
    • When Louise brought up this experience in interviews, the interviewers found it very interesting. They understood Louise could negotiate with others and had a great deal of initiative.
    • Any time Louise brought this up in future interviews in the next several years, negotiation and initiative were referenced by interviewers as skills she had proven, and it was a total game changer for her.
    • If you’ve done something you are really passionate about, put it on your resume (i.e. turn it into a job), and see what you can get back out of it (especially if you can add metrics to show impact like year over year customer growth, etc.).
  • This is also a lesson in documenting your work. Not only did Louise do the work, she documented the work and its progress / impact. This has potential to hit an interviewer out of nowhere with complete surprise (in a good way).
    • In digital marketing, you need to know how to use a number of tools. It’s one thing to know how to use the tools but another to use them properly to generate revenue, for example. It serves as proof of work.
  • Continued education in fields where we use technology combined with proof of work is key to everyone’s continued upward career trajectory
    • In conducting LinkedIn training Louise has worked with some job seekers that might not have a degree. But even with a degree, Louise still has to train on the tools she uses to learn about new features and sharpen skills.
    • You will never know it all. Things develop and move quickly.

15:57 – Training and Gaining Experience

  • Part of the work Louise does at VMware is training and enablement. It’s vitally important for recruiters and sourcers to be stay up to date on tools.
  • When there is a new feature, her team has set a target that her team would be trained within 3 weeks. These folks will then train the sourcers and recruiters on the new features.
  • It seems like coursework, proof of work, and experience will trump a degree with no experience. For so many jobs there is not a clean degree for it.
    • Perhaps the foundations are shaking in this area.
    • It’s kind of a catch 22. You have a degree, but for a graduate it is trying to get an employer to give you a chance.
    • Getting that hands on work experience is a big win and difference maker. But trying to crack that ceiling can be very frustrating.
    • Louise knows that pain. There is nothing stopping you from freelancing or from reaching out and suggesting someone take you on as a contractor for a few weeks or some other length of time.
      • If it doesn’t work out you remain friends and walk away. It’s a very lucrative option for any employer.
    • This reminds Nick of the managers we’ve had on the show who expose some of the manager responsibilities to direct reports, allowing the person to gain some experience.

20:23 – Recruitment Marketing, Developers, and Scrum

  • Getting the job with the recruitment agency was Louise’s foray into recruitment marketing. She started as an online marketing executive and even covered for her manager that went on maternity leave (7 months).
  • At this point Louise was promoted to online marketing specialist.
    • She got to see the full scope of online recruitment marketing, working with multiple tools that needed to integrate together like job boards.
    • This covered things like how jobs are posted, how resumes get handled when they are submitted, how the resumes get put into the database / how they get to the recruiter’s inbox, managing communications, how to track candidates that got the job they applied for, etc.
    • Louise had to learn how to talk to developers, acting as a go between from business leaders like the CEO of a branch down to them.
      • She learned to ask questions about the business need for something and the metrics the company would use to track it (which often times made the idea of implementing something a competitor had just because someone thought they should do it fall apart).
      • Things like time and workload management and general business etiquette were quite new to Louise at this time.
        • Louise’s brother advised her to bring a prop to meetings (a notebook and a pen).
    • Louise began to manage the ticket queue for issues with the website and began to use SCRUM.
      • She attended a 2-day workshop on SCRUM and came back as a mini-expert.
      • Check out Episode 132 with Jonathan F for his thoughts on using this methodology.
      • John associates SCRUM with more of a project management tool for software, but it is a general product and project management technique.
      • Louise was part of the web team, and they had a team of developers with which they worked.
        • She and her team worked to capture and prioritize issues based on business needs, determining which were realistic to solve.
        • They used Jira as a tool to help prioritize, worked in sprints, and was a very organized process that Louise loved.
        • It was a great process to be able to manage work in a transparent way.
        • Louise also learned Kanban as part of this experience.
  • Louise was someone who understood the dependency chain based on what people might want in one of these tickets.
    • She said they would refer to themselves as translators. The operations side of the business (high volume sales and recruitment) was not an easy place to be and is very reactive and intense.
      • Someone needed to translate to developers, who speak a completely different kind of language, and also in the other direction to nontechnical folks (i.e. how long it might take to add features people wanted and maybe find a minimum viable product as a compromise).
    • John shares a good comparison of waterfall delivery versus an iterative delivery based on a minimum viable product and feedback loops.
    • The high volume operational environment was demanding in that everyone wants results quickly.

28:26 – Blogging Revisited

  • Louise started a blogging program at the recruitment firm (probably her favorite project).
  • Before joining the online team, that team had decided they were going to go after website content / blogging content in a big way.
    • Only about 6% of people are looking to change jobs. They might be searching for digital marketing openings, for example.
    • People might be searching for practical tips on how to negotiate a salary increase, resume tips, etc.
    • The recruiters at Louise’s company had a task to create certain blogs on a monthly basis.
    • Because of Louise’s experience teaching in New Zealand, she did a train the trainer course and seemed like a perfect project.
      • This was around the time Louise got into creative writing. While in New Zealand she had created a writing module for her students.
      • Recruiters couldn’t be taken away from their duties for more than an hour, which meant Louise had to teach them blogging for beginners in 50 minutes.
      • Her course touched on the reasons why recruiters needed to blog and the benefit to them as well as SEO (search engine optimization).
      • Louise loved it, rolling it out in Ireland and then to London. She trained marketing executives in various offices who then trained the recruiters.
    • The volume of content produced went up, website visits went up, number of resumes went up…everything just went up as a result.
  • John thinks it was an interesting approach to spread the task of writing across a team rather than have it be one person’s uplift.

31:46 – A Deeper Dive on SEO

  • Louise is the 3rd person we’ve spoken with lately who has mentioned SEO as a component of content development.
  • John has interacted with some basic SEO plugins in WordPress, but that is about it.
  • Louise is a words person, so it comes down to words. She’s a marketer, so it comes down to people also – user behavior, what people need to know, etc.
    • What questions are people putting into search engines?
    • What information are they looking for?
    • Suppose you want to find inexpensive flights to Greece. What should you type into a web search?
      • John says "cheap flights Greece."
    • Why not make those part of a blog title since that is what people are searching for? This is part of meeting people where they are.
  • You need the things people are looking for on your website. Google will help you.
    • One of Louise’s favorite tools is Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
    • When hooked up to your website, this tool allows you to download the top 1000 search queries people put in and use for your site.
    • The list allows you to see number of clicks per query to see ranking, number of impressions (number of times it has appeared in Google search results), a click through rate, and then position.
    • Downloading the search queries is a great way to see what you’re appearing highly for, what is low searched, visualization of the really good keywords that represent your brand, etc.
    • Louise likes to color code phrases and keywords based on the results.
    • Once you have these results you start to go to work on your site, looking at meta titles, meta tags, etc. to see if they would be click worthy.
    • You can drive up the occurrence of certain words on your site, but it has to be quality.

38:03 – The Genesis of SmartFox

  • At one point Louise was made redundant and could not get a job. She started freelancing.
    • A training company got in touch and mentioned she had done a lot with LinkedIn and digital marketing. They asked if she would want to be one of their trainers.
    • Louise agreed to work for them (despite a little impostor syndrome). One of the first trainings was a full day LinkedIn training. She found out she was doing it 2 weeks before it took place.
    • Louise thought she would get a slide deck and some other materials. She ended up getting 4 slides total (one was the title slide) and an attendance form. She had to create an entire day’s worth of content.
    • Louise ended up with over 90 slides in total, but since she created the content, it was hers and not the company’s content.
    • She was able to use later use this as branding for SmartFox.
  • Louise continued to do work for the training company (who where highly rated in search engines). The content Louise delivered was well received and also in high demand.
    • She did some work on the SmartFox website but wasn’t getting gigs. The majority of her work came through the training company.
    • Louise found out she was not getting paid near as much as the training company was for what she delivered. She asked for a raise of her rate, and they told her if she wanted they could just end her contract right then. She continued to work for them but was pretty upset.
    • Louise started asking the people who took her training classes how they found out about the training company. People told her it was through a Google search.
  • Knowing she knew how to leverage SEO to change things, Louise spent a weekend writing a series of 4 blogs and re-branding her own side to highlight LinkedIn training.
    • Slowly but surely her site began to climb the rankings, eventually bypassing the training company in search rankings. Then she started to get more phone calls about training opportunities directly.
    • Louise stopped working with the training company. Their LinkedIn business dried up. She had carved up a huge reputation for herself through work on her site and through building her network through speaking at events and conferences.
      • You have to do all the things. It’s not just the website stuff.
  • A couple of years ago Louise realized she needed to write more how-to content, especially around the time the pandemic hit and the #opentowork hashtag became popular.
    • Louise was getting questions about this, and her brain immediately started wondering what people might be searching for around this topic. She wrote a very extensive blog on the topic.
    • That article was getting thousands of hits per month, and she wanted to see if another page was referring to it from elsewhere (i.e. a big brand).
      • When doing a Google search for LinkedIn #opentowork her blog had an entire section up at the top above any search results.
      • She tried this in an incognito tab on multiple computers to make sure it was the same search results.
  • Blogging is powerful, and for Louise it is search engine optimization.
    • It’s not about WordPress plugins. It’s about having the awareness and the knowledge to know "this is a frequently asked question" and "this is a problem people have on scale." Combine that with knowing what people will type into Google to search for the information, and then you can focus on improving the quality of your answer.
    • It may take time, but the traffic will come.
    • When something is high enough quality, Google can start referring to something you’ve written as a canonical answer (which in Louise’s case was more helpful than even content than that developed by LinkedIn).
    • It’s not about stuffing search terms into metadata. It’s about quality of content.
    • Louise says people are at the heart of that blog. It’s for helping job seekers.
    • Louise thought to herself – "If I wanted to know all about this tool (what it is, how to turn it on, what impact it has, and how I turn it off), where would I go to learn how to do that?"
    • Her content was published right around the time the pandemic hit and really resonated with people.
    • On the other side of the great resignation, this is still relevant.
    • People consistently want to know about privacy on LinkedIn and if something will appear on the newsfeed as well as if their employer will know.
    • There’s a great link between learning, writing, and curiosity here to consider.

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