A.J. Wilcox was terminated by Domo.
Five months later, the Utahn was at an after-party with an idol and making significantly more money than ever before.
Now, 40 percent of his work involves public visibility, with perhaps a full one-third of that in the super-sexy spaces of public speaking, advocacy and podcasts. Over the past two years, he was a speaker at at least 15 different events, as of last month.
The secret, Wilcox said: having an exclusive on industry knowledge.
“I was really blessed by the fact that I found a very narrow niche,” said Wilcox, founder of B2Linked. “I could have started another ad agency of Google keywords and Facebook ads and not been as successful, but… because (LinkedIn ads) is niche and deep… I essentially don’t have competition around this topic.”
A Quick Shift
Wilcox had been an online marketer since 2007. He was introduced in 2011 to advertising on LinkedIn. He did that for Domo until late 2014, when he was let go.
“Frankly, I figured that it likely wasn’t a good platform because I hadn’t heard of it before then,” Wilcox has written. As he told me, “the deeper I went with LinkedIn advertising, I started realizing how cool it is.”
Wilcox didn’t appear to reveal any LinkedIn advertising knowledge in our interview. But he did talk about being an advocate, or “evangelist,” for LinkedIn advertising, where he has five employees helping him.
Wilcox would spend 12 hours writing a blog post but could record a podcast or video in much less time and get many more leads – as many as 90. That came after Wilcox was on the podcast Entrepreneur on Fire. John Lee Dumas is the host and that’s who Wilcox partied with after being a fan of the podcast before his company took off.
Wilcox was terminated by Domo in Oct. 2014.
“I am very grateful,” he said. “It’s the best thing that happened to me in my entire life.”
In month one of the five, he tried to find people on Upwork.com who would benefit from his services; in month two, he attended many in-person networking events, asking how to meet people and pitch. Month three marked his first speaking engagement.
But he still applied for other jobs after that. He got four offers that paid 30 and 40 percent more than other positions.
But he turned them all down, he said, as a result of his religious beliefs. He would pray about the offers with his wife and family.
“The answer would be ‘nope, turn it down,’” Wilcox said. “Finally, when we prayed about starting our own business, the answer was ‘yes, that’s what you have to do.’” (“That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he added.)
Tensions boiled when he and his wife got into a fight when she bought a Kraft item from the store, rather than a generic brand. The five months were part of an 11-month period that the couple figured they could get by without a stable paycheck that would come from a non-entrepreneur job.
But at month five, Wilcox saw the total number of invoices eclipse the amount he made in a full-time job. It concluded a period that Wilcox, who has run 10 half-marathons, said “was probably the most stressful time of (his) life.”
Evangelizing LinkedIn advertising through speaking engagements was a major part of Wilcox’s marketing and personal branding because “I grew up in digital marketing,” Wilcox said.
“The people I looked up to were the people I learned from,” Wilcox said, “and they were always speaking at events.”
Wilcox also had friends who were “doing entrepreneur-type stuff” who downloaded podcasts, and Wilcox has listened to podcasts for three years. He started by listening to Dumas’ podcast.
“I… got appreciation for sharing your stories; I fell in love with the medium,” Wilcox said.
Then he noted that it’s a “common practice” for someone starting a business to try to get into a publication like Forbes or Inc. But being a “slow writer,” he sought to promote his work through video or audio, rather than text.
“Then I got on one podcast through a connection,” Wilcox said, adding that it opens up other podcast opportunities “until it’s kind of a cascading thing” and that speaking engagements and podcasts have gone “hand-in-hand.”
When Dumas had him on, “it was a dream come true,” said Wilcox, a self-described “kid (who) just never grew up,” who drives a go-kart around his neighborhood.
Wilcox said the following when asked about being an evangelizer of evangelizing:
“As a marketer, you have to think and approach things like a marketer. What I do is a specialized skill set on LinkedIn. The same mindset applies to personal branding: reach the right people at the right time,” he said. “Even though I had no mentor for how to get on stage, I (knew) how to get on stage, because I know principles of marketing. I’ve been able to (get on stage) myself.”
Advising entrepreneurs, “find that focus that’s narrow enough to build your business around and still support your family, but so narrow that there’s no competition,” he said. “And be the best in the world at it.”