How Selling Radio Ads Helped This Entrepreneur Build Her Digital Business

Joanne Tombrakos’ corporate career started in Philadelphia selling radio advertising for a then fledgling country music station, WXTU. She only imagined being there a few years (to gain some experience in sales) but that role wound up being the beginning of a long, successful career that eventually took her to CBS and Time Warner Cable. It has been over ten years since Tombrakos left corporate roles and set off on a new career journey. As with many entrepreneurs, it has taken her several years of testing things out to discover her true business direction. In her consulting business she guides brands on getting their story straight and owning it in a multi-channel world (plus she’s the author of three self-published books and an assistant professor at NYU). And the groundwork for her digitally-focused business today started in her early career selling radio ads.

Selling Traditional Media Laid The Groundwork For Her Digital Future

It may sound counterintuitive, but Tombrakos tells me the first five years of her career selling “traditional media” (radio) was an entrepreneurial boot camp for what she does today. Here are four key lessons she draws from that early career:

  1. Tombrakos was essentially in business for herself as that first job was a draw against commission role. Handed a desk and a phone, she controlled how much money she made each month. Tombrakos notes that in order to be successful she had to be a self-starter, which is an essential skill for anyone pursuing an independent venture.
  2. Selling radio ads forced Tombrakos to quickly learn how to communicate value for an intangible and to demonstrate how she could solve someone else’s problem (something she now helps others do on a daily basis).
  3. Tombrakos quickly learned that in a highly competitive market, relationships were critical for success (more so than the product she was selling). Listening, being highly responsive, delivering on her promises and trying to make things easier for the client are relationship building tactics she learned then, and still applies today.
  4. She learned to operate on a shoestring budget when the radio station switched to a country music format and advertising sales dropped dramatically. Her other essential lesson from that particular time was the power of camaraderie, vital when you’re building something from scratch.

Even Those Who Understand The Importance of Relationships Can Make Mistakes.

Whether you’re selling a product or a service, your network is your net worth . A key lesson Tombrakos learned was the need to build for her future, by mixing up her networking activities. Focused on excelling in the role she was in, Tombrakos made the mistake of limiting her networking to people within the company and industry for a long time. Yes, she created great working relationships that enabled her to get her job done however, her narrowly focused network didn’t leave room for career expansion. When Tombrakos decided to take her ambitions in an entirely new direction, she suddenly realized the necessity of a broader, more diverse network.

Tombrakos accurately notes that too many people wait to network until they are in some sort of crisis mode (such as suddenly losing a job and getting pressure to increase sales or new business leads). For networking to really be of benefit she says, you have to look at it as a daily practice . The good news regardless of how busy you are, digital tools enable us to stay connected and network a little online, everyday.

Pivotal Business Connections Start With Authenticity And A Visible Nametag

Tombrakos believes that operating from a place of authenticity makes it easier to network and create the business opportunities you want – whether that means the clients you’re seeking or the job you desire or the project you want to bring to life.

A key networking moment in her career journey that put this belief into practice was n 2011 when she attended the BlogHer conference in San Diego. Tombrakos was just embarking on her career as a self-published author at the time. One of the panels she attended featured Agapi Stassinopoulos, Ariana Huffington’s sister. During the panel, Tombrakos made the decision to meet Stassinopoulos so soon as the panel finished she rushed up to the podium. As Tombrakos shared with me, she could barely get her name out when Stassinopoulos saw her nametag and asked if she was Greek. The first networking lesson from this encounter? When you’re attending events, wear your nametag so others can read it! The next lesson as Tombrakos tells it, is to own your story, and to be ready to talk authentically about the project you’re working on. After connecting over last names (and without immediately jumping into a sales pitch), Tombrakos enthusiastically shared details on the novel she was writing (about a Greek-American family), then without prompting, Stassinopoulos offered to make connections to help market the book.


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