Advice for being an industry analyst

Occasionally, my fellow analysts ask me for advice on being an analyst. Here’s an edited up version of one of my recent emails:

Learn how to listen to yourself, focus

You have to learn to trust your intuition about what you focus on, your own style and voice, and, most importantly for monetization, how you market yourselves. The last point is important for commercial success: in most cases, the (analyst) company you work for will do a poor job marketing you compared to how well you can market yourself.

The first points are on the core parts of being an analyst: deciding what to focus on. While you may proofer opinions about “everything,” it’s good to have a stable of things you really focus on. You’ll need this when it comes to getting things done: you need a way of deciding what to cover, there’ll be no end of offers and topics that people want help on once you’re mildly known, and you need focus. Commercially it’s good to have focus as well. It’s easier to market yourself as a specialist and close deals on that than a generalist.

Try new things without asking

The other thing I would do - depending on your relationship with your boss and management chain - is stop asking permission for anything. Since “publishing” and onion-mongering is so freewheeling and basically “zero cost” now-a-days, you have to go out there and try new ways of publishing all the time. It’s like the advice us analysts give business: stuff is changing so fast, you have to adopt and use new technologies or die! The same applies to analysts, and yet we’ve got Cobbler’s Shoes Syndrome (we experiment very little).

Just do things that seem like they will help to first promote your personal brand (and therefore “worth”) and second bring in a profit to your firm. As a self-serving example, though small, pretty early on I just started uploading presentations and “brochure” stuff to my SlideShare and, of course, my blog. Several engagements were driven by this, and it also gave me URLs to send to people. Before doing this, I’d been sitting on my thumbs waiting to hear back about getting permission to do this…and then I just started doing it. Think a podcast would help? Just start one! And so forth.

And, on the second point (bringing in profit to your firm): all the motivational crap for net-heads like us focuses too much on the building a personal brand, doing what you love, and whatnot; you have to remember to bring in money to your employer. Your firm will notice you bringing in revenue (and esp. profit!) and clients above all else; they’re a business, not a charity, and that’s what they care about.

Don’t work too hard impressing your manager, impress their manager

To that end - to give general work advice - make sure you have as good a relationship with your boss’ boss (your “second line” manager). This is good for any company, and applies to analyst work, especially where it’s easy for management to lose track of analysts (they have a company to run and can’t keep up with everything you publish - I know! Weird, huh?).

Your second line manager is the one who approves and hands out bonuses, promotions, arbitrates disputes, etc., with minimal input from your actual manager, in general. Analysts shops tend to organize along a taxonomy instead of being flat (I know, weird, huh?) so the individual analysts get lost in the upside-down tree. You, then, have to do the work to establish a relationship with the management chain above you. There are no immediate benefits, but it’s good “credit” to build up. Ask for a 1:1 meeting every two weeks or at least once a month. Just to discuss ideas, what you’re up to, and ask him what you can do to help.

As my snide aside above indicates, most analyst shops are hopelessly behind on using IT on their own. Make a bar-chart of knowledge of “Slack” vs. “SharePoint 2008” and see what it looks like. One thing you can impress (or “be known for”) the management chain with is always suggesting new tools; more than just pointing to them, explaining what they are and why they will improve the company. You know, being an analyst to the analysts.

This isn’t marriage, so date frequently

I would also force yourself to causally interview, if not formally, for new jobs at least twice a year to get a sense of what’s out there, who’d be interested, your worth (do people know you? Are they interested in hiring you?), etc. Interview at other analyst shops for sure - you’ll get a peek into how they operate that will be useful - and non-analyst companies. I find that I can only work at my current job confidently if I know I can get another job easily. Plus, you want to avoid being isolated and only understand the labor market through your current employer’s.

No one really knows what they’re doing

I’ve been an analyst, now, for almost eight years of my ~17 years working. I was (very!) lucky to be hired by RedMonk who taught me near everything I know about being an analyst, and then work in strategy/M&A at Dell which taught me a lot more. I learn new things all the time at my current job at 451 Research. There’s not really a good manual or understood practices for doing analyst work. The issue, once again, is that things are changing fast so new methods are constantly needed.

The analysts I admire don’t really “reinvent” themselves constantly - that’s madness - but they’re consistent in three primary skills:

  1. Learning and understanding, driving towards forming an opinion about the topic/technology at hand. They stay curious and will tell you what they think. Part of this is being honest about what they don’t know. If you never hear an analyst say the phrase “I don’t know,” something is probably wrong with them.
  2. Succinctly communicating and “explaining” what they’ve learned. This can be quantitative (think charts and spreadsheets) or qualitative (think prose and speeches), or in the best, both.
  3. Promoting themselves. I could dress this up in some fancy language that made it seem like less than self-promotion, but that’s what’s needed. It is less annoying “branding” and more controlling the flow of attention to yourself and, thus, driving work and monetization. Like a VC, an analyst needs to develop “deal flow” - the analyst requires a flow of information, prospects, and knowledge coming in through their network. Unless you build up and garden your own “brand,” you won’t get that as good as you need it.

On the last point: an analyst company is always going to be less interested in creating “stars.” Instead, the company wants to make a star out of its brand. This is understandable, and just fine for them (you would act the same way if you were management whose goal is to grow the value of the company, not the individuals in the company). Thus, for you, the individual analyst, you have to learn how to take care of yourself first and accept that no one is better positioned to do so than…yourself.

Don’t be a screwball

As one final piece of advice, so as not to make you into a psychotic spewer of self-promotional filth always busting up the china shop, figure out where “the line” is when it comes to behavior and activities in your firm. Who are people in your firm that have bad reputations “in front of clients” or are generally thought of as screwballs? So long as you’re operating in the company, try not to be like them, walk right up to the line of acceptability, but don’t cross it.

(For view from a different perspective, check out my recent update to “How to deal with industry analysts” talk.),, @cote,,