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How to Pivot from Agency to Startup

By Rochelle Ritchie, Head of Marketing at B2B SaaS startup, Particular Audience and Similar.

My last 10 years has looked like a ladder of topic specialisation and title/career progression.

People at my office joke about my life motto, which first appeared in my Grade 6 yearbook.

The motto is “you have never reached your goal”.

While it is comical that someone in Grade 6 finds it pertinent to exclaim this in a yearbook. The harsh reality of it is that it's honestly how I feel. I say this because it paints a picture for how I view career progression, knowledge exploration and levelling up. Which is what brought me from agency to a tech startup in the first place.

In this article, I’ll run through how to think about your career (spoiler: as a business), what to consider in your next role and what to do when you get there.

Thinking about career pivots (in the current landscape)

I remember when I started ‘agency side’, the narrative was that you should stick it out for a few years before you move inhouse. Specialise in a skill and then move in house where you can perform this skill with great expertise. As well as the added know-how of how to multitask (with varying success) and distribute the big picture thinking that only an agency can give you.

I think to some extent this is still partially true. Although this advice varies widely depending on the person.

Without looking at any stats, I get the feeling the average tennature at some agencies is 1-2 years, or less. With this in mind, I think it’s vital to think about your next move carefully.

While the current tech landscape (and impending recession) is making tech companies freeze hiring and re-evaluate their teams, now is the time to look at your career with just as much scrutiny.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What topics/subjects do you specialise in?

  • Do you want to specialise further or branch out to holistic management? (i.e. are you a T-marketer - where you specialise in one thing but have knowledge in many areas?)

  • Is your current workplace allowing you to do that?

  • If not, what do you have to do to level up/get where you want to go?

What to look for in a workplace

The pandemic (first and last time I will reference it) made many people re-evaluate their lives. It still is. Whether forced or otherwise.

For me, acknowledging the fortunate position of choosing to re-evaluate work/life integration; it made me think about what I wanted to focus on.

With my life motto in check, I knew I was looking for extreme growth, commitment to evolution and levelling up my skills in marketing leadership. All of which bubbled up to signing up to a startup accelerator course (Startmate) and creating a vision board for the job I wanted. And not settling for anything less.

When looking at a workplace, or what you want out of your next job, Startmate really helped me decide on what matters most. And, for those who don’t know, Startmate helps ambitious people in Australia and New Zealand level up. The course I did was the Women Fellowship, which focuses on encouraging women to level up their career.

When evaluating what I wanted my next move to be, these are the questions I asked myself:

  • What values are important to me (in life and work)?

  • What do I want out of a new job?

  • What are the ‘non-negotiables’?

  • Are there things I’m willing to forgo in the short term to get what I want? If so, what are they and for how long?

  • Does this get me closer to where I want to go in my career? (Obviously you don’t have to know where you want to go in life, but an idea of whether this will further something you are passionate about really helps).

How I try to think about my career

Look at what you’re looking for in a career, where your skills lie and where you want them to grow.

Look at joining as many networks (like Startmate) and going to as many events as you can to get comfortable with a new landscape. And then do it.

If you’re driven by a mission, focus on mission led companies. If you’re driven by inspiring people and personal growth (like me) think about what questions you want to ask of your future company/what you need to see to make the jump.

I try to focus on understanding what makes me uncomfortable (when its outside of my comfort zone or requires a skill level up) and going for it.

Fully taking the idea that we should fail fast and grow quickly.

While my career to date has included jumping roles every couple of years and focusing on leaning into what makes me uncomfortable, I’ve tried to not focus on that here.

Honestly, I do believe that leaning in (no reference to Sheryl Samburg) to what makes you feel mildly uncomfortable – when looking at a knowledge/area of focus that means you’ll need to level up, quickly – can help you in the long run. It has for me, anyway.

For my future in tech, these are some of the things I want to keep in mind:

  • Am I still growing/learning at the same rate?

  • Am I stagnant? (I have a fear of this)

  • Am I being pushed/inspired by those around me?

  • How do I ensure my team feels the same?

While I haven’t focused too much on the career pivot here, I think all of these things ladder up to the same answer.

In short, when evaluating yourself at this moment and deciding what you want to do next, treat yourself as a business.

Whether it’s your skills, knowledge or network, ensure that you’re always levelling up to make your business (that’s you) better.

Side note: if you want to make the jump from agency to startup or want to discuss what this is like/if Startmate can help you. PLEASE reach out to me via LinkedIn.

About Rochelle Ritchie

👩‍🚀 With 10+ years experience in content marketing and digital communications, Rochelle's experience spans leading the content (and then digital) unit at tech consultancy, Hotwire; owning content marketing, PR and performance initiatives for Afterpay travel start up, Play; to running performance marketing campaigns for Uber, Amazon Prime and more at social agency, Hello Social.


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