When it comes to online marketing, you probably have a general strategy you follow — right? Where does that strategy come from? My guess is it’s what the “thought leaders” in your vertical recommend?

Those industry thought leaders undoubtedly are (mostly) smart. I know it’s tempting to just do exactly what they tell you — and hope it works. But the fact of the matter is there’s something to be learned from those succeeding in every vertical.

Those that really know their craft are constantly pushing the envelop to get better. Sure, most thought leaders follow and interact with leaders in other verticals because they’ve learned this lesson, but there is still no replacement for learning straight from the horses mouth rather than through an intermediary. Which means YOU need to learn from thought leaders in not only your own vertical, but others as well.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a few experiences that reinforced the importance of spending some time outside of you primary vertical (real estate in my case). First, I met for a Chiang Mai business meetup with about 15 expats, most of whom I’d classify as travel bloggers. Second, I attended a photo book workshop talking about how to get a photo book published. Third, I went to Thai cooking lessons and met someone who runs a Thai restaurant in a small town in Alberta, Canada.

Why were those experiences helpful?

From the travel blogger group, I realized that the web has reached a saturation point of blogs in the travel vertical too. And, just as in the real estate vertical, most of them are not making any money. Why? It takes time, and people aren’t willing to put in the work needed to see it through. The photo book workshop reassured me that what I know about the web and publishing business holds true – you need to find the right publisher based on the exact type of project you are working on, it’s all about relationships, and getting published is damn hard work. And the guy that runs a Thai restaurant in Canada? I learned that EVERY smart business person, no matter how small, is thinking about how they can use social media and the web to find customers.

By themselves, these three learnings and reassurances may not seem like much. But they are part of the larger picture, all relevant to growing ESM Exec Designs over the next five years.

Are you learning from those in other verticals yet? If not, you’ve got some exploring to do…

Online, start by following Fred Wilson (Venture Capitalist), John Battelle (runs an ag agency), and Jodi Ettenberg (travel blog) and figuring out how they are running their businesses/blogs.

Offline, make it a point to go to one or two networking events in the next month. Go out of your way to talk to someone in a COMPLETELY different vertical, and ask them about their business.

[Photo via Brainzooming]

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