You’ve got fantastic technical modelling skills – you’ve even got a qualification to prove it. But how do you let people know? Even if your skills are top-notch, you still need to market yourself to improve your career opportunities. Effectively communicating our accomplishments is a challenge for many of us and can lead to being overlooked within the corporate landscape. Let’s look at how financial modellers of all backgrounds can showcase our capabilities and promote ourselves online and offline, both internally and in the wider community.
Last week I was asked to lead a webinar on this topic for the Financial Modeling Institute (FMI) and here are my thoughts on the subject. These are just a few strategies that have worked for me in promoting my profile and my skills but I know it’s by no means a definitive list. If you have other strategies that have worked for you, be sure to add them to the comments below! Here goes.
Why is this important?
Financial Modelling is a great skill to have and we spend most of our time developing our skillset – let’s face it, it’s not easy staying up with all the latest technology and it takes a lot of effort. But if you think your work is going to speak for itself, think again! If you’re not actively improving and promoting your skillset within the organisation, then your financial models will not have the impact they should.
We desperately need leaders in this industry, especially from different backgrounds. By definition, financial modellers are often a reserved type of person. You need high levels of focus and not everyone is suited to the job. It’s often a solo pursuit, it shouldn’t be, but it often is. We’re happy with our own company and we sometimes aren’t the kind of person to make a big song and dance about things. We just get on with the job.
Promoting the profession
The Financial Modeling Institute (FMI) is doing a great job of promoting financial modelling as a discipline in its own right, especially with the launch of the new Master Financial Modeler (MFM) designation. The more leaders we have in financial modelling, from diverse backgrounds, the more our industry will grow. If some of the past financial modelling world championships are anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all modellers all look the same but the industry benefits from modellers of very different backgrounds and it’s important for aspiring modellers to see themselves represented.
Because modellers are good at Excel, it is sometimes seen to be a rather junior role and yet it can be hugely complex and yet good modellers are in short supply. One of the key takeaways from the last survey of financial modellers was the lack of appreciation for the discipline of financial modelling as an industry. Modellers did not feel that their clients or customers understood what was required to become a modeller and that their skills were not appreciated. Kenny Whitelaw-Jones published an article on how we’re seen as “just the modeller”, yet it’s one of the most in-demand skills in finance.
Trusting the model
People need to trust you to trust your numbers. They need to trust our work and our models don’t have integrity if people don’t believe our models are accurate. Our work will not have an impact without trust. When people know who you are and what you’re about, that builds trust.
Building your reputation
Altruism aside, you’ll get a lot out of improving your profile, not least of all opportunities and … more money, of course. Learn to be comfortable talking about money and your achievements. The cost of living is going up and we need to keep pushing rates higher. If you’re a consultant and a client quibbles about your rate, it’s difficult not to take it personally because it is personal. But the bigger your profile, the easier it will be to command decent rates.
Building your Profile Internally
We’ll begin here because that’s where most people will start; they’ll work within an organisation and then as their skills and network grow, they’ll start to build a brand and perhaps work in a more public role.
Don’t sit back, if you have something to say, for goodness sake, SAY IT. Don’t be a wafflebag, or hog the microphone but make sure you contribute. You might be tempted to sit back, thinking you’re “just the modeller” or numbers person but you’re more than that, and your perspective counts.
Showcase your Skills
Putting your hand up for projects is a great way of showing people what you can do. Share your enthusiasm for financial modelling with others, as people love its “nerd factor”. Be genuinely excited about it and if you’re not excited about it, find something that does excite you! What do you do if no one shares your enthusiasm? Try to help by finding a pain point; usually, there’s somewhere you can add value and people will be able to see what you do.
Be Approachable, but not available
Once everyone knows what you can do, do you want to be the “go-to” person in your area? Not necessarily. You’ll never get anything done if you’re constantly fixing other people’s Excel formulas! Make sure that you’re including instructions, and teaching people how to use the model and not break it.
You also need to teach people how to interact with you, that you’re approachable, but not always available. Go into the office in person where possible, don’t use jargon, don’t hide behind your keyboard and engage with people and the project.
Building relationships internally and staying in touch will create opportunities later on during your career.
Look the Part
Dressing well is not as important as it used to be, especially during the WFM (work-from-home) age. But look professional and present yourself intentionally in a way that you’d like to be shown. Wear what you’re comfortable in – I’m not talking about physical comfort (I’m most “comfortable” in a business suit!), but in a way that makes you feel like the professional you.
Building your Profile Publicly
You need to think about how you show up both in person and online, but most of this is online nowadays. Don’t feel like you need to follow a specific formula and don’t try to be someone else – you’re not for everyone and people will get attracted to you for being you, so make it easy on yourself by being yourself and do what comes easily and naturally to you. Make sure you’re the same person privately and publicly (because if you’re not, it’s exhausting).
Events (in person or online)
Turn up to events; you’ll meet people and learn stuff. There are fabulous in-person, online and hybrid Excel and financial modelling meetup groups happening all over the world. If you’re feeling confident, and even if you’re not, (especially if you’re not) put your hand up to speak as there’s no better way to gain credibility. You’ll gain more exposure from one presentation than you’d get in hours of mingling or “working the room”. At traditional networking events just find someone to talk to, push yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone and it gets easier (I promise).
Make your presence felt
you’ve taken the time to turn up to an event, whether in person or online, make sure people know you’re there! Talk to someone, put your hand up and ask questions. For online events, it’s nice sometimes to just sit back and listen anonymously but you’re there to build your profile as well as learn, so jump in the chat, ask questions and for goodness sake turn on your camera if it’s an option; you’ll actually get a lot more out of the session with your camera on as it will force you to pay attention to the speaker.
Know your Niche (pick a lane)
Think about what it is you want to be known for. What are you about? Yes, you’re a financial modeller but do you specialise in an industry? What do you know about that people find interesting? What do you have to share with the world? You’re probably interested in a lot of things but make sure it’s work relevant and suits your message. Pick a lane, pick a message, and build a coherent story that fits within that consistent message.
Own your profile
Be google-able. If someone wants to hire you, check what they are going to see about you. Even if you’re not very active online, just make sure that when someone looks you up, they get what you’re about. Social Media may not be your thing but at least have a presence.
Which Social Media channels you choose and how often you post depends on how much time and energy you have. I’d probably recommend focussing your energy on LinkedIn as that’s the most relevant for financial modellers, but you might have success on other platforms too. Don’t be a slave to it – only create content if you enjoy doing it and don’t set yourself a schedule you won’t be able to maintain. There are so many mediums such as blogs, books, videos, and podcasts, so just engage online in a way that you find enjoyable. Personally, I hate messing about with video editing so most of my videos are one-shot only😊 You don’t have to follow a specific timetable but try to post at a reasonably consistent schedule and post stuff that fits your message and that you’re genuinely interested in.
There’s a lot of great social media experts but you shouldn’t need to pay for advice. (I only made that mistake once! I signed up for an expensive coaching program which added very little value to me, or my business.) There are a lot of great people like Jordan Goldmeier, Stephanie Evergreen and Randy Austin with advice that’s relevant to our industry. A lot of businesses outsource their social media and it’s certainly better than nothing, but I think you can tell it’s been outsourced. Having a real person with an authentic voice engaging with the community is going to create a far better result.
In conclusion, here are some final pieces of advice I think will help you to promote your financial modelling skills and build your profile.
Get a qualification
There’s no better way to boost your credibility and your confidence than having those financial modelling credentials. If you’ve already got a finance or accounting degree and/or have been working in the field for a while, you probably already have some of the background needed to achieve the Level 1 Advanced Financial Modeler. Once you have it, no one can dispute you know what you’re talking about because it’s completely independent. Someone else is saying you’re a modeller which gives you much greater credibility.
Enter a competition
Check out the Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC) or the Microsoft Excel World Championships (MEWC). It’s probably the fastest (and cheapest) way to prove your skills. You can start out anonymously and if you do well, make it public! Just like the financial modelling exams, it’s an independent validation of your skills.
All the things you need to do to improve your profile involve a certain degree of discomfort. Do as much as you think you possibly can – and then go that little bit further. For me, a lack of comfort is usually about posting more often than I’d like to, publishing pictures that aren’t flattering, or agreeing to speak on a new topic. You might worry about coming across as self-absorbed or salesy, but people connect better with people rather than brands, so as long as you’re adding value rather than trying to sell, they will appreciate it.
It doesn’t pay to be humble but there’s a fine line between coming across as confident or just full of yourself. And I think the difference is knowing what you’re talking about. If you know your stuff, have a qualification to prove it, show leadership by helping others and sharing your knowledge, you’ll be a long way towards building a profile showcasing your financial modelling skills.