Lewis Howes owns a million-dollar business, and he has third-grade recess to thank for it.
After being picked dead last for a dodge ball game he vowed to become an extraordinary athlete to avoid any future athletic embarrassment. His training paid off. After college, he joined the Tennessee Valley Vipers as a wide receiver in the Arena Football League.
But it didn't last long.
During his second game, Howes was running to catch a ball and dove right into the wall. He could feel his wrist snap.
'I knew I had broken it, but I tried to brush it off,' Howes said. 'I taped it up and just kept playing.'
His wrist turned black and blue and needed surgery. But not wanting to give up, Howes taped it, iced it and caught with one hand for the rest of the season. After he finally had surgery, which came with a long recovery, Howes knew his professional football career was over. But what could he possibly do next?
Getting 'Linked In'
Crashing on his sister's couch in Columbus, Ohio, Howes had a lot of free time. This was 2008, when the job market was tightening and a guy with a full-arm cast wasn't exactly the most desirable job prospect. One of his mentors recommended using LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD), a growing social networking site for professionals, to begin making contacts in the sports business world. He spent hours on the site, connecting with sports professionals, coaches and agents. At that time, the site had about 15 million members.
Howes became a LinkedIn pro, joining multiple sports marketing groups. He started helping friends create their own profiles, who, in turn, started landing their dream jobs. He began charging $50 to revamp a LinkedIn profile. As his client base grew, he was able to charge up to $300 for consulting. But ever the competitor, Howes wanted to go bigger.
With the valuable lists and connections he'd made through LinkedIn, he began hosting free networking events at restaurants. They grew so fast he was able to charge up to $20 dollars a ticket, and even persuaded restaurant managers to give him a 10% cut of the food and beverage profit from the hundreds of people he was bringing in. Not only was he making valuable connections at his own events, his revenue stream was steadily growing.
From Couch Surfer to CEO
Howes' next move was a book on mastering LinkedIn, which he co-authored with a friend.
'I co-authored a book at 25-years-old, and I almost flunked out of English in high school and college,' Howes told Mashable's Bryan Elliot.
Between 2008 and 2011, Howes went from making a couple hundred dollars a day, to a few thousand. His company, Sports Networker, manages the largest sports business group on LinkedIn, Sports Industry Network. With three books now under his belt, he's running a seven-figure business, traveling the world and helping people launch their careers and businesses using social media.
Professional LinkedIn Advice from Lewis Howes
Howes was willing to offer some key advice to anyone looking to leverage social media to land their dream job.
'First, your LinkedIn profile should show a clear story of who you are, who you help, and how you help them. Most people think of LinkedIn as simply a resume, and then wonder why it didn't work for them.'
Next, Howes said, you should focus on the hundreds of thousands of groups on LinkedIn. From public relations professionals and tax attorneys to hair salon owners and soccer coaches, the groups on LinkedIin just keep growing.
'Do research on groups in your business world and find those decision makers,' he said. 'Even create your own group.'
Once you have your own group, you have a platform to regularly email thought leaders and decision makers in your industry. Then it's important to offer value to the members of your network. If you're a retail business, send coupons to your group. It's always good to offer something for free first.
'The more you give people, the more they feel like they want to give in return,' Howes told Mashable.
Perhaps Howes' most important advice is to never steer from the path of what you truly love.
'As long as you're following something you love and are passionate about, you'll always find a way to monetize it. Then you can work 24/7 and it doesn't feel like work,' he said.
The Long and Winding Road
Of course, even Howes got discouraged on his path from professional athlete to couch surfer to entrepreneur. It takes time to jumpstart your own business and make a profit, but his persistence and desire to 'win' definitely paid off. Howes is already working on a new web video series, and hopes to land a TV show out of it.
Now he can certainly say he's shown those dodge ball bullies how it's done.
The Investing Answer: Sometimes, the vision you have for your life just doesn't work out. But, like Howes, you can take the skills you learned from one experience and apply them to something new. Using social media to connect with industry leaders is an invaluable way to propel yourself in your field, whether you're fresh out of college or changing careers after 30 years.