Alumni perspective: six years after graduation, by Jodie Cook

— 11.07.16

by Jody Dalton

Jodie Cook, BA Business Management 2010 Sheffield University Management School, Founder JC Social Media

In the years since graduating from Sheffield University Management School, Jodie has founded three businesses including one of the UK’s leading social media agencies, JC Social Media. Jodie was crowned Birmingham Young Professional of the Year in 2014, made the Drum’s 50 women in tech under 30 list, was named one of Computer Weekly’s rising stars, has co-written five books on digital marketing, three children’s storybooks, became a British powerlifting champion, has visited Buckingham Palace and Number 10 Downing Street, twice. She’s 27 years old.

Words of Jodie Cook June 2016

It dawned on me that 2016 would bring me to six whole years since graduating from the University of Sheffield’s Management School. It doesn’t feel like six years ago, but a lot has happened since. I’m not here to give you my life story to date, but I have learned some valuable lessons along the way, some of which I can help pass on to other management graduates.

Your first job after graduating will not define your career ​

There’s a lot of pressure on graduates to find a great first job. You might have a couple of month’s grace, maybe a year if you take a post-uni gap year, otherwise, you’re an underachieving unemployed graduate who should be seriously considering their life choices.

This same pressure had me furiously firing off application forms in all directions for wildly varying roles and sectors. That’s one of the benefits of doing a ‘versatile’ degree, right?

I ended up on a very good graduate scheme with the National Skill Academy for social care. Whilst the scheme was great, my placement was challenging. I found myself in a cash-strapped, government-funded care home management company based in Sheffield. After half of their team was made redundant, I was put in charge of their marketing endeavours in a frosty office environment. It’s not what I had hoped for my first year as a graduate. But it taught me some valuable lessons.

  1. Office politics suck
  2. Businesses that rely on government funding are always at risk
  3. I wanted to start my own business
  4. If social media marketing worked for this company, it would work for anyone.

Conclusion number three led me to take on a second full-time job, knowing that saving a little bit of extra cash would help me start a business, even if it meant working 60 hour weeks. The day after my challenging first year, I founded JC Social Media. Things have been different since then and my first job has certainly not defined my career.

Being underestimated is a massive advantage

As a young professional or entrepreneur, people’s expectations upon first meeting me are fairly low, especially if you’re a girl who looks like she still goes to college. But I like that. The moment you can impress someone with your knowledge and expertise, the minute they start believing in you and your ideas.

Enthusiasm > experience

Knowledge instils confidence, confidence instils enthusiasm, and enthusiasm sells cars and vans. My dad taught me this phrase. He sells cars and vans, but this phrase is applicable to all areas of sales. My first client, a social care charity called Blackpool Advocacy (now known as Empowerment Charity), didn’t know they were my first client. I travelled up the M6 armed with bucket loads of knowledge, case studies on social media in their sector plus five ideas I wanted to put in place. I was brimming with enthusiasm and they signed me up within the hour.

Once I had overcome the hurdle of signing up my first client, the rest were a piece of cake!

“The moment you can impress someone with your knowledge and expertise, the minute they start believing in you and your ideas.”

Jodie Cook, BA Business Management 2010

Reputation is nothing and everything

Reputation is one of the most important intangible assets you have. It doesn’t make you a better person or a better businesswoman, but it can be the difference between success and failure. Your reputation takes you a long way, so when starting out, you have to work incredibly hard to build a profile and build trust with potential clients. Once you have that credibility, you cannot abuse it. Never speak badly about people. Be wary of people that speak badly of people (they probably do the same about you to others!). Work hard and provide value. Be open with people; be transparent. Don’t be the one to cancel a meeting, don’t be the one to let someone down. Do the right thing.

People will tell you something is hard or even impossible because it is for them, not for you

I don’t have time for negativity. I’m a big believer in programming your mind for success and the huge placebo effect created by belief (and this is a book I absolutely swear by). On a daily basis, you will meet people who have something negative to say about what you’re trying to achieve, often they don’t realise they’re saying it.

This is why it is so important to surround yourself with super positive, super successful people. Their attitude is contagious and around them, everything is possible!

Don’t let yourself be confined by someone else’s beliefs on what is and isn’t possible.

HR is probably the most challenging element of management

No one tells you this. Everyone’s so concerned with helping you get a job, you rarely hear about the other side of employing people. Employing staff and keeping them happy and motivated is a real challenge and increasingly so. Millennials and generation Z have grown up in a world so different to previous generations. Encountering and mastering new technology is the norm and they quickly learn new skills. Their attitude towards work, their career and how they communicate represent huge opportunities and challenges for employers.

Decide what matters to you and what doesn’t

We live in a world where millions of people share their passions and interests with millions of other people, many of whom they don’t know. It’s easy to feel like you’re not as successful as your peers or that you need to own something in order to feel or show that you’re successful.

I regularly look at what I’d like to do more of, do less of, start doing and stop doing, all with a view to leading a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. I don’t give any value to possessions because I simply decided they don’t give me joy. Personally, I find joy in essentialism – having everything you need and nothing that you don’t. I wrote a Medium article on Essentialism in practice here.

In the pursuit of happiness and success in your career, unless you determine what those things mean to you, it’s very hard to shape your day to day. Take a long, hard think about where you find fulfilment and then find a career or build a business to match it. Life is too short not to.

You can keep up with Jodie’s endeavours at her site, where she welcomes contact from University of Sheffield students and alumni.


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