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Mastering LinkedIn: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals

Are you using LinkedIn properly? If not, it could be the difference in landing your next dream job or being left on the sidelines. 

Jarrod Barnes

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LinkedIn

Our world is constantly evolving, and so is the way careers are being built.

With over 500-plus million users, LinkedIn is the largest and fastest-growing social network for professionals. According to LinkedIn Research, social professional networks are the No. 1 source of quality hires. Connections can lead to job offers and other great professional opportunities, if you know how to leverage the platform properly.

When it comes to branding yourself in the sports business industry on LinkedIn, heed the advice of social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia and Co-founder of VaynerSports, before you share your next article, post, or update: “Respect the psychology of what people are doing when they’re on the platform.”  

SEE MORE: How Social Media is the Key to Your Next Opportunity 

Baron Davis, a former NBA All-Star and current entrepreneur and investor, has personally discovered the value of LinkedIn. “I started seeing all these people, and I’m like, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect,” he said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “There were old friends, business partners, and former teammates. I became obsessed with the app.”

With over three million jobs posted on LinkedIn in the U.S. every month and 95 percent of recruiters using the platform to find talent, the opportunity is high for you to be discovered — but so are the risks.

Here are tips to maximize your personal brand on LinkedIn as a sports business professional.

Make a Great First Impression

Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Branding on LinkedIn starts by presenting yourself in the way you want people to see you. A professional headshot and a cover photo play a significant role in your first impression. When it comes to headlines, you only have 120 characters to tell your story and articulate your brand, so use your words wisely to clearly state who you are and what you want to be found for. Industry buzzwords and “value-adds” are all great places to start.

SEE MORE: 4 Ways to Making Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

Once your headline is completed, be sure to fill out the rest of your profile. Members with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. List all of your relevant work experience, education, and accomplishments; downplaying yourself could lead to downplaying opportunity. Be sure to take advantage of the summary section and custom LinkedIn URL feature as well. These are simple, yet impactful ways to optimize your discoverability and allow others to find you that much faster.

Add Value Through Content

Malcolm Lemmons, founder of the Players Point Agency, a branding and marketing agency that advises professional athletes shared that “Linkedin is the perfect platform to display your other professional interests and ambitions. With the ability to write articles and curate images and videos that align with industries and business sectors that you might be interested in, you can show that you’re multi-dimensional.”

The age-old marketing phrase of “content is king” rings true on LinkedIn. People (and recruiters) want to know who you are as a person. Your profile shows your “hard skills” and experience, but adding value through content showcases how you communicate and demonstrates your “soft skills.” Eighty-nine percent of executives say that it is difficult to find people with soft skills; organizations are compensating by making training for soft skills a top priority for talent development in 2018. Think of yourself as a news channel or subject matter expert rather than a personal infomercial.

Another hidden gem of LinkedIn are the connections, conversations, and collaboration that occur in groups. Here are a few examples of sports business groups to join on LinkedIn:

Not sure where to start? Search for your school’s alumni or former colleagues. Open the door to a conversation by commenting on recent posts or providing recommendations with those in your network. A LinkedIn recommendation is a testimony to your professional value and 87 percent of recruiters say the best channel to recruit quality candidates is employee referrals. Adding value through quality content, referrals, and connections can all enhance your professional profile.

Most importantly, follow up and follow through with your network and connections. Step away from the computer and put down your phone. Support your online networking with a real human touch. Set up calls, attend live events, and send a thank-you note in the mail to people you interact with on LinkedIn.

The internet has created incredible access to upward mobility. Mastering LinkedIn and leveraging the platform can open countless doors for your sports business career, but you still need to be the one to walk through them. Don’t allow your first impression to keep you from an opportunity. Add value through content, connections, and collaboration. Follow through with a real human interaction and allow your personal brand to be seen “as advertised.”

Jarrod Barnes has served in athletics administration at Clemson University and is also a former Defensive Back's coach at Ohio State University, where he worked directly with coach Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano. Jarrod was a two-year letterman and first ever Ohio State football player to pursue a Ph.D. while on the active roster. Jarrod currently resides in Charlotte, NC and works with Rise Sports Advisors, a brand management firm for professional athletes and also runs Prime U, a talent & leadership training company for collegiate student-athletes and young professionals. Jarrod has been widely recognized by Who’s Who Magazine, ESPN, Fox Sports and The Big Ten Network as a top up-and-coming young professional. Jarrod can be reached at Jarrod@frntofficesport.com

Professional Development

Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Sports psychologist Scott Goldman discusses the struggles athletes can face in retirement from their professional and amateur careers.

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Photo credit: Pixabay

Ben Hartsock was thinking ahead to avoid difficulties following retirement.

Following a 10-year NFL career, the tight end jumped right into a career as an agent. For Hartsock, it was better than taking time to figure his life out after the structure and rigidity of an NFL career.

“There’s really two schools of thought, and there’s the school of thought you need something waiting when you’re done because idle time is the devil’s playground,” said Hartsock, who ended up realizing agent life wasn’t right after two years and is now pursuing broadcasting.

“Had I not jumped right into working, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could have downward spiraled.” 

Professional athletes, no matter the sport, leave a life of structure and must transition to a life of relative normalcy. More athletes today are thinking about it, but no matter how well-prepared the transition, it can still cause hiccups, Hartsock said. After 20 years of playing football, Hartsock said it’s almost like being institutionalized.

“I don’t know what other industry or business has a similar experience,” he said. “The shelf life of an athlete is limited in a way I can’t think any other profession is. Think about going to high school getting great marks, going to college and excelling, and after five or 10 years of being the best surgeon in the world, they take it away from you. That’s hard.”

READ MORE: As Retirement Nears, Yankees Star CC Sabathia Experiments With ESPN Deal

Athlete struggles following their athletic career’s end is not an easy topic to address, said Scott Goldman, the president-elect of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Goldman is a sports psychologist who’s worked for 20 years with collegiate and professional athletes.

Much of the conversation in post-career struggles revolve around professionals, but Goldman said it’s also a serious issue among collegiate athletes as well, as 90 percent don’t go professional. While many sports don’t have a clear path to the pros, Goldman said those that do — like basketball and football — can make inflate aspirations.

Goldman said he’s happy that leagues, like the NFL, are working intently to help create programs and guide players through their career and after to help ease the pain.

When Goldman works with an athlete struggling post-career, he said he likes to follow the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Leaving an all-or-nothing career, like professional athletics, can leave athletes in a similar depression as losing a loved one.

“For some of them, it’s as much a shift in identity as dealing with a tragic loss,” Goldman said. “Most of these athletes get up at 6 a.m. and their day is largely accounted for and scheduled. It can be really intense when they leave.”

Goldman said he believes more potential employers are realizing that while athletes mostly don’t have lengthy business resumes, the commitment and dedication to their careers and being successful can often easily translate to the business world.

Often times, careers ended because of injuries are worse because they’re sudden. For careers like Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, players get a goodbye tour and can ease into their retirement through a grief-like path.

Beyond the personal-identity struggle, Goldman said athletes also often struggle with their financials following retirement. The general public has a perception of multimillionaire contracts, and while some athletes are set for life, those contracts are in reality few and far between. More common are the sub-million dollar contracts with athletes averaging less than three years as a professional athlete. Add on trying to ensure that money and whatever post-retirement career the athlete ends up pursuing to obligations, and the stress can be high.

READ MORE: Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

“It’s amazing the demand of the million dollar athlete,” Goldman said.

Former athletes balancing a dwindling bank account with their lack of direction can experience a perfect storm for emotional troubles. That’s where people like Goldman and companies like Priority Sports, Hartsock’s former agency, and its Preparing for Life After the NFL, or P.L.A.N., come in. 

Leaving a professional sports career often doesn’t have a ceremonial ending like other transitions in high school to college; college to the working world; or even a long TV series finale. Goldman said he doesn’t often like to use cliches, but can’t avoid one in this situation.

“It’s more of a transition than a severance,” Goldman said. “When you exit one room, you enter another space. Sometimes we focus on what we’re leaving and other times, it’s what we’re entering.

“It’s important to accept what we leave, and see what’s coming next and find meaning.”

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Professional Development

Navigating Negotiation: 3 Tips to Effectively Handle Your Next Crucial Conversation

What’s the difference between those who succeed at negotiation and those who don’t? You might be surprised by the actual answers.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo credit: Unsplash

Regardless of your role within sports business — whether it’s a raise, sponsorship activation, contract, or expanded opportunity — at least one aspect of negotiation is involved in our daily job descriptions.

According to a recent study, only 29 percent of job seekers negotiated their salary at their current or most recent job. All the while, according to the same report, 84 percent of those confident enough to ask for higher pay succeed in getting it.

What’s the difference between those who succeed at negotiation and those who don’t? Some sports business professionals offered their best tips to effectively handle your next crucial conversation.

Effective Preparation and Practice

“One thing that people tend to do when they get to those crucial conversations in life, no matter how good they are at what they do, they think they have it all in their head, and they wing it,” says sports agent, author and well-known negotiator Ron Shapiro.

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

Negotiation begins with knowing your worth. Gathering the most relevant information to reinforce your position, whether it’s current salary ranges or market analysis, can lead to a more holistic perspective. While it may seem easy to think your position is correct (which it may be), the market doesn’t care much about what you think you’re worth; at the end of the day, hiring managers or customers are going to offer you what they think you’re worth.

Shapiro would go on to say, “a critical step in preparation is weighing alternatives. Alternatives make you less dependent on one option or customer and therefore create leverage, which is particularly useful when negotiating from a position of relative weakness.”

Embrace “No”

While fear of rejection is common when navigating a negotiation or crucial conversation, a strong reality is that negotiation doesn’t actually begin until someone says “no.”

“No” signals an opportunity to problem-solve the conflicting and overlapping interests both parties want to serve and figure out how both can get as much of their desired outcomes as possible. Our reluctance to negotiate past “no” may keep us from obtaining the “yes” we truly desire.

“Whoever you’re negotiating with is a person just like you. Don’t overthink it or assume it needs to be more than it is. Make sure to level the playing field and refuse to let your worth slide, especially your non-negotiables. Be overly clear,” says Connor Dietz, director of sales & strategy for Train Up First.

Listen and Respond

When preparing and practicing for a conversation, it can be easy to allow our emotions to overtake us if things don’t go according to plan. Yet, being “hijacked” by our emotions sabotages our ability to make good decisions or to react skillfully.

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

“It’s not only what you say; it’s how you say it. Because as a negotiator, you want the other side to feel your confidence,” claims Shapiro.

It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations, but the more conversation you have with those involved, the more natural it feels. Start small when the stakes are low, try negotiating with your colleagues, at a garage sale, or with family. There are countless opportunities to practice. Negotiation begins with knowing your worth and ends when you’re willing to walk away.

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Professional Development

Inside Julianne Viani’s Whirlwind of a Broadcasting Career

The broadcaster has made a name for herself, thanks to a tireless work ethic and covering everything from college basketball to the NBA and WNBA.

Bailey Knecht

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Julianne Viani might be the busiest analyst in sports.

The 33-year-old originally from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is constantly on the go, working as an analyst for major networks like ESPN, CBS, NextVR, Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network. Between games, travel and preparation, Viani has a full slate, bouncing from city to city for the majority of the year.

“Some people only cover men’s college basketball and only focus on that,” Viani said. “I cover everything, from men’s college basketball to women’s college basketball to the NBA and WNBA. I have to keep tabs on what’s going on, on all platforms. It’s a lot of work, and you don’t have to know everything there is to know, but you have to know enough about the big picture on every single platform.”

Even on her off-days, Viani spends her time studying teams and taking conference calls with coaches.

“People are too smart and can pick up whether you know the game,” she said. “You can tell when someone isn’t prepared, and my biggest thing is, I never want to not be prepared. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to happen, but the bottom line is I need to make sure I’ve studied up.”

READ MORE: Bartending, Country Music, and Kay Adams’ Relentless Path to Success

Viani is a basketball lifer, having played Division-I basketball on a Marist team that made multiple NCAA tournament runs and then played professionally overseas. When she returned to the U.S., she was presented with an opportunity to break into broadcasting, starting with high school games.

“When you produce long enough, you just know right away,” said Steven Fenig, ESPN remote producer and director who has known Viani since covering her as a player at Marist. “It’s weird, I mean, a lot of people that play the game and coach game know it inside and out, but not everybody that’s played is able to take what they know and communicate that to the average viewer and break it down easy for the viewer to understand. Right away with her, I saw that she was really talented.”

Viani worked her way up, and now, one of her main jobs is with the NextVR, where fans can experience NBA games in virtual reality. Her experience with NextVR puts her at the forefront of a branch of the sports industry that most analysts have yet to delve into.

“It’s a full-blown broadcast like regular TV, but it’s fusing technology with the sports industry and broadcast world,” she said. “It’s all about catering to the public, so they can turn their head to the left and right and experience the game. It’s different.”

Matt Drummond, coordinating producer at NextVR, explained why Viani has been so successful in her role there.

“I think it’s her diverse experience and relaxed nature, which are the two ingredients that we look for from everyone involved,” he said. “She’s willing to do whatever to get the job done, and she has the experience to draw from and work through it. We’re always problem-solving on the run because things rarely go to plan, so we need someone with a cool head and calm voice to work through it.”

When it comes to NBA games, it’s still relatively uncommon to see women in the broadcast booth, but NextVR has made it a point to hire diverse analysts.

“The chance to call a full slate of games as a color analyst as a female — it’s really rare,” Viani said. “NextVR has given me a lot of opportunities, and they’ve been good about having women and former players do this. It’s amazing to see the technology out there and be on the front lines and gain experience at the highest level.”

“It’s great having a female voice in our group, and that was something we were looking for,” added Drummond. “She’s brought everything we need to the table. Her work ethic is ridiculous. I don’t know how she puts in that much travel. Every day, she’s in a new city.”

Viani is transparent about the challenges of her job — she admits that the jam-packed schedule takes a toll on her.

“It’s hard,” she said. “During the year, I do get burnt out by the end of the year. By April, I’m really drained and ready for the beach and downtime. I need a whole month to recover. It goes from late October through April nonstop. December, January, February and March are bananas.”

Viani also acknowledged that the scheduling challenges stem from her involvement with a variety of networks, which makes for an inconsistent routine.

“For me, it’s hard to work for a lot of different networks,” she said. “Being an independent contractor is not easy. I get paid by the game, so you’ve got to hustle, and you can do well and make living if you’re getting opportunities, but not having the protection of being with one network is tough.”

Viani is able to keep her spirits high throughout the season, though, because she genuinely loves what she does.

“She just does a spectacular job — there’s always a smile on her face, she’s easy to work with, she’s got a great attitude, she gets along with everybody,” Fenig said. “She’s worked hard to improve her craft, and you can see that by watching her and listening to her.”

She also leans on her faith to get her through the grind of the basketball season.

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“My faith in God is the most important thing that drove me as a player and now in broadcasting,” she said. “I know every door has been opened because God has opened it, and I’ve walked through it and worked because He’s given me talent, so I want to give him glory.”

Although travel and working with multiple networks has become second nature to Viani, she has dreams of locking down a deal with one network and developing a steadier routine.

“I think my goal would be — I love doing a variety of things, but I’d love to be married to one network and focus my attention to just one, whether it’s ESPN or CBS or whatever,” she said.

And even though analyst jobs are in high demand, particularly at the top networks, those who have worked with Viani have faith that she has what it takes.

“For Julianne, the sky’s the limit for her, and as long as she’s willing to stay with it, she’ll get that opportunity as long as she’s persistent,” Fenig added. “Her work ethic and attitude is certainly there, and the talent is there. Hopefully she’ll get that opportunity, and if she does, she’ll nail it.”

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