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Interview with Dennis Shiao – The Art of The Career Pivot: Going From IT to Marketing to Freelancing – Episode #40
“Being out on my own is so amazing that thinking about a full-time role again…being in one job is hard for me to think of…”

Dennis Shiao is the founder of Attention Retention LLC, a marketing consultancy that works with Silicon Valley technology companies. Dennis consults with clients on content marketing, product marketing, and social media marketing.

We talked about his IT background, how he got into marketing, how he defines a “successful webinar”, his strategy for growing a personal brand, and more.

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:03  

We are now recording and 54321. Hi, Dennis, how are you?


Dennis Shiao  0:09  

Good Kenny, how are you?


Kenny Soto  0:10  

I’m doing great. So before we recorded or started recording this podcast use me, I gave you a little background on the audience and told you that there are essentially people like myself who are learning about digital marketing and want some expert advice from people like you. So I wanted to start off the interview with a very straightforward question. Why did you get into digital marketing?


Dennis Shiao  0:35  

Good question, I’ll tell you a very brief story. I won’t try not to go too deep. But first, I want to say I love the concept of your podcasts, I think when I was starting, starting, starting in marketing would have been a great resource to have. So I love the fact that you’re inviting people to share their wisdom with marketers who are just getting started off. So well done on that, thank you, my I, how did I get started digital marketing, it actually happened sort of by accident, I have a split career. 


So I’ve been working for quite some time. And the first half of my careers in it, I was managing technical teams, and I have a degree in computer science. And then the second half was in marketing. And I feel like I always had a marketer trapped inside my body. But I didn’t do marketing for the first half of my career. So 10 plus years was in it. But I could go all the way back to high school where I wrote for the student newspaper, I even wrote for the Poetry Magazine. So I was kind of like a writer back then. 


But I decided to pursue a career in I took a course in AP computer science in high school, and then I loved it. And I decided to study computer science in college and then start my career as a computer programmer. I made the move to marketing as a result of a company, the acquisition. So I was managing an IT team, my company was acquired, and the new company was not bringing the IT team over. So I had to either find a new role or a new job, or found find a new role in the new company. 


And there was a marketing position open, and I convinced the management to give me a shot, even though I had no experience in marketing. So that was where I made the shift. And ever since then, I’ve had a number of marketing roles. And really, I never thought I was a good computer programmer developer anyway, because I went into more of a managing teams as opposed to coding hands on. And I feel like marketing is where is what I’m most natural at my my personality and my skill. So I’ve, I’ve never looked back and I’m having a great time doing it.


Kenny Soto  2:39  

Very interesting. Perhaps my next question can lead into what you’re currently doing. How does your or I guess how does the skills from your IT experience transfer over in any way to what you do now?


Dennis Shiao  2:56  

It transfers in a couple of ways. One is that I just happened to be working with companies that build technology. So most of my clients today are b2b technology companies. So I at least have some grounding in understanding what the service or product they provide to their customers. Because I, I was an IT manager. So I would be a purchaser of technology in the past. And obviously, I studied computer science. So I’ve kind of built applications. So if it’s a software company, I kind of have some I mean, I’m kind of rusty, I don’t code anymore, but I at least have the foundation. 


And that helps me not only understand what they’re offering, because that’s very important for your clients, for you to understand what your clients are offering, but also to communicate the value of that offering to perhaps a non technical buyer. So if it’s, if you’re selling to developers, but the decision maker might be a director, or VP, or even, maybe the CFO has to sign off, you might have to communicate what the product really does in a way that the developer gets what the product does. 


But to get up to the business level, the line of business owner, I think it gives me an advantage to be able to take my marketing background and marry the technical know how to communicate what what does this really mean for you, the senior level Exec. So it’s a that’s a great way to help communicate that to a business buyer.


Kenny Soto  4:22  

And I saw through your LinkedIn profile that you are basically managing a marketing consultancy slash agency for more than three years, give or take. That’s right. And my question would be like, hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to start an agency, what would be like the steps one through five that I should consider before even reaching out to one client?


Dennis Shiao  4:48  

Well, let’s see. So first, I’m going to be frank here. I do I do have an agency is a currently a one person agency. So it’s me, myself and I so I don’t I don’t manage a team just yet. But I think At least I have this foundation in place where as I get new business or grow the business that I can start to bring on consultants, contractors or even employees, so it? And I don’t know exactly right now I’m really happy at the pace, I’m going just by myself. So I don’t have a grand ambition to build out a big agency. 


But obviously the possibility is there to grow it a little bit. Yeah, my, my first step is, even how I found my way into this current situation is, I was a full time marketer full time and full time roles for many years. And again, it was another company event where my company that I was employed by was acquired by a private equity firm, and eventually the sales and marketing team were let go. So I was faced with the prospect of trying to find a new full time role. And when that was, this was about three years ago. 


At that time, I was finding a lot more opportunities to do some some like small gigs, some some consulting projects. And I said, if I can continue finding more, then I’ll just stop looking for a full time role and keep doing this. And I think the key before you jumped like, the key for me was I had one friend, who was actually a vendor in the past. So we had worked together, and he ran an agency that was, has been very successful. So he’s got 20 Plus clients. And he had more work that he could fulfill meaning he was still trying to get people to help his clients, on their on their projects. This is a social media marketing agency. 


So when I told him I was laid off, and he said, Oh, let me send you some, I need some help. So let me send you some, some of my clients and you can help them. And he was like, essentially, this magical sales channel where he was a source of client work, because he was running an agency, he had the clients, and he had more work than could be fulfilled. So that was really a key for me to launch my own business was having a reliable source of new business. And then that’s phase one, phase two, I would say, because I’ve been in the workforce for quite some time, I’ve built up so many connections of colleagues over the years. 


So the biggest thing was to make it known to them that I’m on my own. Now, once I can make them know that I’m available, then if they have a project need at some point, they might contact me. So when I was on LinkedIn, first establishing myself, I changed my headline to be something like marketing consultant for hire. So if you came across my posts on LinkedIn, and you like just moused over what is what is Dennis doing now you can see, boom, he’s available, if needed.


Kenny Soto  7:46  

This, this leads into a very important topic for myself. How would you describe personal branding? And you’ve already alluded to how you like started with your personal branding strategy, but like, how do you? How do you get more clients over time?


Dennis Shiao  8:05  

Ooh, good question. I had just recently, like, just coincidentally, last week, I did a talk on personal branding. So it’s kind of fresh in my mind, but it’s a passion of mine. Because we all have a personal brand, whether we know it or not, it’s our reputation. It’s are we known or not? If you’re not known for anything that, in essence, is a personal brand that you need, might need to work on, if you so desire. So your question was, how do I? How do I define it? And then how do you? How do I think about growing it? 


I do think the personal, actually, there’s a great definition, I believe this is attributed to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, he says your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. So it’s very much like the concept of reputation. What are you known for? What, when people when you’re not in the room, people don’t have to be concerned about what you say about them. Because it’s like with other stuff, you’re sending it to other people. So that’s your true essence of what people think about you when they’re saying it without you without it outside of your presence. 


Another way I think about personal brand is what is on page what is on the search engines return when they search for your name, whether it’s Google or another search engine. Obviously, for different people with names, there could be more common names than like, my name is pretty unique. So when you do a Google search for me, you’re pretty much finding what Google sees about me. So that’s in essence, in some respect what your personal brand is all about. And as far as how to amplify it, I think a lot of it is being to be out there. And that’s kind of a little broad statement, but it’s to be out there but in a strategic way, so just don’t go posting 1000 words. 


Are diatribes on Facebook every day, unless you think that’s a key strategy of yours, but it’s figure out where your audience audience is and and what you want to be known for. And then start sharing your, your thoughts, expertise and ideas with the world. Because my belief is that every single individual has a unique perspective on life. And like your perspective is completely unique to you and is different from every other person in the world. And so there’s a lot of that uniqueness that you have to share with the world and you just need to start sharing it.


Kenny Soto  10:34  

Can you build a personal brand through content curation?


Dennis Shiao  10:40  

Yep. You can. I mean, I don’t think so content curation. So the concept here is, let’s find and select some of the best articles that are on topic x. So let’s say we’re talking about marketing. So maybe it’s, maybe you want to not just talk about marketing broadly, but maybe figure out some niche within marketing, it could be search engine optimization, search engine, marketing, content marketing. That’s a good place to start is like define your area of expertise within marketing, just because marketing is so broad. 


And if I can, let’s just take search engine marketing, which is kind of like paid search, if I can find the best articles and just start curating and sharing that on LinkedIn, Facebook, where have you, you’ll start to be become, start to build a reputation. Like if these are really excellent articles that some people that need to stay up to date on search engine marketing, wouldn’t have otherwise found, then you’re starting to get a reputation that not you up your tastemaker you can find things that are really of use of value to your audience.


 I happen to think that that’s a great start, I do think if you want to take it to the next level, like you really want to be known, then you have to complement the curation with some of your own original thought. Or actually, there’s midweight step, which is curate, but she share your own perspective when you’re sharing it. So if it’s like an article on Search Engine Marketing, that is some new tactic to use, you definitely want to read and digest the content. So I know I’ve seen some people just curate everything, and they might not have even read it. So understand it deeply. And then say here is why I’m sharing it with you and why I found it so valuable, such that maybe they will find it valuable to so that’s like curation with commentary.


 And then maybe to take it to the next level, you can start to craft some of your own original content around strategic marketing that makes you become even more known.


Kenny Soto  12:42  

We’re going to move in next to a softball question. What makes a successful webinar?


Dennis Shiao  12:49  

Oh, what makes for a successful webinar? Well, we all know that there. The 2020 was all about getting on Zoom and other platforms, right. So all that we had in 2020 was basically online experiences. Because we weren’t, we weren’t able to meet in person. So there’s the whole concept of webinar resume fatigue. So one thing that makes for a great webinar these days, just because the bar has been raised for everybody, because the old slide based presentation of years past is just not going to cut it anymore. 


So I think something that’s unique or distinct in terms of what you’re the the topic of you’re presenting and the style that you do it. So I might not have all the answers but like just figure out a way that when somebody takes the time to tune in, they’re going to say to themselves, Oh, this is different than any other webinar I’ve seen before. I think definitely be different these days is something that might not have said years ago when there was more or less inventory if you will, less less supply. I think it’d be be distinctive in the experience you create for your viewer.


Kenny Soto  14:05  

Our webinars a good tactic for b2b companies only or can direct to consumer and b2b. b2c companies also leverage webinars in any capacity.


Dennis Shiao  14:19  

I think there’s an opportunity for b2c I think what I’ve seen is that if you think about the potential customer of b2b versus b2c b2b tends to be more of a considered purchase that takes days, weeks, months, if not years to decide. So if it’s a multimillion dollar investment, but at the end, there’s going to be a team behind it. 


So there’s the buying committee, so they might You might spend a year just deciding what product to buy if it’s like a multimillion dollar investment, whereas b2c tends to be like the immediate sale like my coffee my self seltzer my what have you. So it’s an it’s usually like an individual or the head of household or do you know consumers buying stuff on? What have you. So it’s a much quicker decision. 


So on a b2b, where it’s the multimillion dollar sale, I could see somebody sitting through a 60 minute webinar just because they want to figure out if this company’s product offering is should be even be in the mix. Whereas in b2c, you’re not going to have like a webinar for even 30 minutes to talk about the latest coffee. It’s more going to be like a quick hit direct response deal. In which case a lot of the b2c brands, they instead go to the shorts, the quick hits the social media posts, the photos on Instagram, the I don’t know, maybe even a tick tock video. So it’s like a really short experience that surfaces the brand in some way that they want. 


They want it to and tries to lead to that direct sale. I’m not ruling it out. Like there’s possibly there’s possible based on the type of b2c product that a 30 minute webinar behind a form might make sense. But it just tends to be the nature of b2c versus b2b as to why things happen the way they do.


Kenny Soto  16:13  

You worn no pun intended, because you’re wearing one right now you want worn many hats in your career? Yes. What would you say, are the consistent skills that you’ve had to leverage from beginning of your career up to today in order to stay successful?


Dennis Shiao  16:34  

Okay, so I’m gonna give you some like foundational things, not like a skill as in project management or time management, I find, and I’m still developing all these things. I’m like getting on in my ears a little bit. But I’m always learning some of these foundational things. One is, let’s see, there’s three things. One is the quest, the curiosity or the quest for learning. 


So I think I’m generally a curious person. So I just love to read stuff about marketing these days. And never get bored. It’s almost like if I was not working as a marketer, I think I’d probably still be reading about marketing stuff. So it’s that curiosity. And I would argue that like, if you find yourself, you’re not that curious about the job you’re in, maybe this is a different job for you to pursue like you, you always want to be in a role, where you just love what you’re doing. And you’re very curious about learning more about what you’re doing. 


So that’s one, two is the, I almost want to call it it’s like the soft skill of understanding people and or what’s called Emotional intelligence. So I think it’s understanding yourself, but also understanding other people and what a situation what’s a situation is all about. So if you’re in a meeting, and someone cuts you off, and maybe they’re just having a bad day, and they’re just totally rude to you, one, one response you might have is to just be rude back and like, not disengaged from that person. So you don’t give them the time of day next week. But it’s like dig deeper, maybe, maybe it’s there, they have kids at home. 


And they’re like, they’re, it’s, it’s a situation you’re not in, like, let’s say you don’t have kids at home, but they do. And they’re trying to juggle between their job and watching their four year old because everyone’s at home now. So like, give them cut them some slack for cutting you off, and maybe talk to them and see how they’re doing. And, and in that way, you’re kind of, instead of making it a really non productive situation where you’re disengaged from one of your colleagues, you try to dig deeper, understand, give them some slack flak, and maybe over time you build a relationship that proves to be very valuable. What was the third? So it was curiosity, emotional intelligence. And similar to the second one is just the concept of listening, understanding. 


So I always, some people think that I’m a quiet person, and I kind of am quiet. But what quiet means sometimes is that I’m doing more listening than talking. Because you you whether it’s like hanging out with friends at the bar, or in a Zoom meeting, there is naturally going to be the people in the room that are always talking, even if they’re just like, mindlessly moving their mouth and you’re like, what, I don’t even know what this guy what this guy or gal is really saying. And then there’s others that are going to be more of the listeners and I think sometimes the list like in a meeting or in important personal conversation, the more you can listen and understand what the other person is saying the more you can figure out what the right next move is. So I guess for me, it’s always my personally, I love to listen more than talk.


Kenny Soto  19:57  

What are some extra Words and resources that you use to stay up to date with marketing today.


Dennis Shiao  20:06  

Some expert and resources. Let’s see, I’ll name a couple of marketers that I respect both for their expertise and for the fact that they teach me a lot. One is a guy named Andy Crestodina. He’s at orbit Media Studios. He writes on topics like SEO, content marketing website, he runs orbit Media Studios is a web design agency in based in Chicago. So he also has a lot of expertise on building websites, because that’s what his agency does for lots of clients. So he’s, he’s a go to guy, I had a chance of meeting Andy a couple years ago. 


And I before that I was just been a big fan of the content he publishes. Let me think, who else do I follow in marketing? There? There’s a site? I don’t do. I need to know about SEO in my role, but I’m not a direct SEO practitioner, although we kind of all have to know about it if we’re writing content. So there’s a site called Moz, up to Mozi. And there’s a former work. Yes. So Rand Fishkin is no longer with Moz. But he was a original, I believe, co founder. So I followed rands content quite a lot. He did this amazing Friday video called Whiteboard Friday, which is now others have picked up. And I think Rand has left in foreign launched his own company called spark Toro. So and he still continues to produce a lot of content. So he’s really a prolific writer, but not just prolific for volume. He also, he does share a lot of really valuable, useful insights.


Kenny Soto  21:48  

Last question, and this is hypothetical. If you had a time machine, and you can go back 10 years from today, knowing everything you know, now, how would you use what you know, to get to where you are even faster?


Dennis Shiao  22:11  

Can you repeat? Can you repeat that question?


Kenny Soto  22:13  

Yeah, if you can go back in time, 10 years from today, knowing everything you know, now, how would you use what you know, to get to where you are even faster?


Dennis Shiao  22:23  

Oh, good question. Let me think about that for a second. How would I get to where I am even faster? I’m gonna try to piece this answer together, because I don’t have like a brilliant answer. But obviously, I got to where I am based on different company events like acquisitions and such. So it’s, it’s, it’s kind of weird to say I wish to those company events would have happened quicker.


 I guess I don’t know if I needed it to happen any quicker. Because where I am today, kind of just I evolved, I evolve or adapt based on things that happen. So you might think of like, your company being acquired and being laid off as like really bad, a bad event. But what I think my lesson is, I turned it into a good event because I use that to actually find consulting it which is become where I am now I probably will never look back and ever consider Well, I don’t want to say never. I being out on my own is so amazing that thinking about a full time role, again, where I’m like going into an office or being in one job all the time is hard for me to think of. 


So I guess I don’t know if I would want to have got there gotten there quicker. But the big thing is like, I’ve learned to take possible disadvantages and turn them into advantages. The big lesson.


Kenny Soto  23:52  

Amazing, Dennis, if anyone ever wanted to say hi and connect with you online, where can they find you?


Dennis Shiao  23:58  

I’m most active. As far as on social media. I’m most active on Twitter, my handle is dshiao. So feel free to tweet me or follow me, I’ll follow you back and then definitely invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn. Just search for my name. Just one thing if you want to mention this podcast, please do that because I do get some like occasional random invites. So if I know that you’ve heard me on this podcast, I will connect back with you.


Kenny Soto  24:24  

Perfect. Thank you so much for your time today, Dennis, and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. This is actually episode 40 If you can believe it or not, and we are now one year into this podcast. So really appreciate your time and learning alongside me. And as always, please connect with Dennis after the show and I hope you have a great week. Bye


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