I was chatting with a friend about going to work for startup companies, and told her that career development really came down to two simple things:
1. Do you know what you do?
Do you offer a clear deliverable, best suited for a particular segment of customers or clients, that aligns with their near term goals?
In other words, do you "do marketing" or do you "help seed and Series A backed companies test and optimize their marketing content, deploy it across multiple channels, and analyze the customer acquisition analytics to create a plan to scale future marketing budgets?"
In the latter case, if someone said, "We're thinking of putting a little bit of money to work to figure out where we should be marketing and to prove to future investors that we can spend money wisely to grow," then you'd be the exact right fit for that.
Sometimes, figuring out what you do means doing a lot of interviews to figure out what people's needs are, so you can tailor the message and understand that the product you're delivering--you--is what the market wants.
2. Do other people know what you do?
Here's a trackable metric: How many people know enough about your work to make a great client intro and can tell the client exactly what they need you for?
Growing that number over time will result in direct leads to more work opportunities.
You can do that by creating thought leadership content on sites like Medium, or writing for other professional publications.
You should be a leader among the relevant professional Meetup groups, perhaps organizing one yourself.
Curating a newsletter of helpful professional content, occasionally adding your own perspective will help.
Also reaching out to a wide range of potential customers and connectors to customers with free help is also a way to get people hooked on your professional talents. You've just got to figure out what kind of free help is manageable at scale. Maybe it's a lunchtime seminar for the portfolio companies of a VC. Maybe it's quick user research feedback on the front page of their site.
The other key to this is whether or not other people have seen what you do and how you do it. I have a lot of smart friends that tell me they have a certain skill, but honestly, I've never seen it. I've never seen a presentation of theirs, and they've never commented intelligently to be on their craft. I really can't be sure that they wouldn't succeed if I made a work recommendation for them.
You've got to know specifically what you're offering, and so does everyone else.