How One Woman’s Journey Teaches Us About Pivoting in a Pandemic

Imagine being a small-town girl from Virginia with dreams of making it making it big in Corporate America. You go to college, and like many students, find that you’re really not into your major. So, you switch. 

Now you’re studying something you really find interesting in an emerging industry that seems promising. You continue to dream big. You’re going to be a major asset to some company and go straight to the top. Except. . . 

Well, let’s back up a little bit. Allow me to introduce you to Tarsha Polk, better known as The Marketing Lady. 

Who is The Marketing Lady, and how did she become so widely known as such? Tarsha Polk takes us on journey with her to discover how she inadvertently became her own saving grace when Corporate America failed her and how you, too, can intentionally turn your fears into funds during what’s quickly become a meltdown of Corporate America. 

Uncertain Beginnings 

Although she started college pursuing a degree in fashion merchandising, Polk quickly realized it wasn’t for her and graduated with a B.S. instead. What she discovered, however, is how much she’d enjoyed her marketing classes. 

In grad school, Polk decided to pursue an MBA with a double concentration in marketing and e-business, the pioneer to digital marketing. This was before social media and Google ads, when many businesses were still unaware of the significance and advantage of being online. 

While completing her degree, Polk went to work in the sales department of a major hotel chain. The company was developing a new division for ecommerce, and she was asked to serve on a special project team to help with the build-out. This was her time to shine. This also afforded Polk an up-close look at ecommerce was perceived by corporations.  

Dashed Hopes 

In addition to being assigned to the company’s ecommerce development team, Polk also received tuition reimbursement, as her grad major was relevant to wear the company was going. Yet, when a permanent position became available in the ecommerce department that she helped develop, Polk was denied the transfer.  

“My boss denied me an internal transfer without good reason. At that point, the truth about Corporate America was revealed to me,” says Polk. “What I learned,” she went on to say, “was that someone else was in charge of my destiny.” 

Polk pleaded her case to upper management to no avail. After all of the hard work she’d put in to help develop this department, she was not seen as valuable enough to increase her pay or to cultivate her growth.  

Quickly making a decision to take control of her own life and career, Polk quit her job. “I like to say I fired my boss,” she laughs. 

However, with bills to pay and student loans looming, a disenchanted Polk was still searching for other career opportunities. What she didn’t yet know was that she was the opportunity she was looking for. 

Taking Action 

The first thing she did, Polk says, was to begin networking. She networked heavily and consistently, attending chamber meetings, events hosted by the National Black MBA Association, the Hospitality Association and many other professional groups. This lead to entrepreneurs and business owners asking for assistance with bringing their businesses online. 

Although her intent was to find a job, Polk began to acquire clients who needed to transition from traditional advertising, such as the Yellow Pages, to setting up websites and reaching their customers on the web.  

“I didn’t have an elevator pitch,” says Polk. “The first thing people ask you at networking events is ‘What do you do?’” Polk says she would simply respond by telling people her professional background (marketing) and her focus (online business). There was a high demand, Polk found, for businesses needing an online presence. Most businesses weren’t digitally savvy. She was uniquely positioned to be that go-to person.  

Eventually landing a job with another hotel chain, this time managing email marketing campaigns for their wedding division, Polk continued to work with her own clients, which she’d gained from networking. She’d become known for marketing. Even when people didn’t remember her name, they remembered her for her expertise. 

Describing one such incident, Polk recalls, “I was at a networking event when this gentleman came up to me. He said, ‘Hey aren’t you that marketing lady?’” 

Polk says a lightbulb went off in her head. The Marketing Lady was born. She began branding herself as The Marketing Lady after verifying through online search that no one else was using that term. 

That brings us to final thing that Polk did to position herself in the market- personal branding. At the time, personal branding was a new term and not many people knew what it meant. “It’s about defining who you are, your skill, your talent, your expertise, and being intentional about what you stand for,” she says.  

Then and Now 

As this global pandemic sends us careening into the future of business and work, these three actions- networking, putting your skills or offerings out there, and building your personal brand – are going to be key to transitioning into providing your own financial security. One thing that Polk stressed is that all three must be consistent.  

Networking means being visible consistently, both online and offline. Join networking groups and attend meetings regularly, or create and host your own. Join industry associations related to your expertise or the expertise of the people you intend to serve. During this time of self-quarantine and social distancing, social media is your friend. Join groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Most of these same groups and organizations will have an online presence. 

Everywhere you go, let people know what you do or what your offering is. Start now. If you don’t have the perfect elevator pitch, craft one. But don’t wait for that. Frequency and consistency beats perfection every time.  

Begin building your personal brand. Personal branding is more than a name, logo, and color scheme. It is how you are perceived in the marketplace. According to Polk, you have to show up as authentically you. “What people are buying is you,” she says. 

One thing that it’s important to note here is that Polk’s business can be run completely online. And just as she was ahead of the trend in the early years of online commerce, anyone hoping to thrive in this new economy would do well to consider digital product and service offerings as core part of their income plan. 

Getting Things Done 

At this point, you’re probably wondering how to implement these things effectively. Polk helps her clients to do this in three or four steps- defining their brand, building their brand, launching their brand, and for established businesses, redefining their brand. 

Not to worry. Polk gives you all of the tools and tactics needed in her first ever published book, Making An Impact: How To Build A Powerful Personal Brand. This book teaches you how to 

  • Define your brand by conducting a self-evaluation 
  • Know your purpose 
  • Develop your interpersonal skills to become influential 
  • Position your brand as the topic of choice in the industry 
  • Boost your brand’s awareness by using social media and networking strategies 
  • Use storytelling techniques that addresses the customer’s problems 
  • Reinvent your brand into a new S.H.A.P.E. 

Polk has been a full-time entrepreneur for over a decade now, and she tells us more about the journey to building her personal brand in the book. She also shares stories of the clients her work has impacted, from a high-profile celebrity client to everyday solopreneurs, so that anyone can find something relatable to where they are in their personal branding journey.  

You can find the book- Making An Impact: How To Build A Powerful Personal Brand –on Amazon today.  

To work with Polk or to engage with her work, visit her website at themarketinglady.com. There you can sign up to her email list and receive weekly marketing and branding tips. There’s also a form that pops up on her site that allows you to perform a free brand assessment. You can also schedule a call with her.  

When asked, Polk attributes much of her success to hiring coaches to help along her journey. “I believe hiring a having a coach is critical,” she says. “You may need multiple coaches in different stages of your life.” She says she’s had four to five coaches over the course of her career. 

She says a career coach was instrumental in helping her transition from corporate to entrepreneurship. Polk asserts that a career coach was instrumental in her transition from corporate to entrepreneurship. Once she settled into entrepreneurship, she hired a business coach to help with structure and putting systems in place. When she began getting speaking engagements, again, she hired a speaking coach. 

Polk strongly believes in seeking out coaching to get unstuck in areas where you’re stagnant and to take you to next level in your career and in your personal life. She attributes life coaching to getting her through some tough times personally. In other words, always be coachable and willing to be coached.  

Oh, and did we mention she’s conquered Corporate America as well? In 2018, Polk became Director of the LiftFund Women’s Business Center, allowing her to help more women thrive as business owners.  

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