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From Ukrainian Immigrant to Self-Made Digital Marketer

I may be biased, but I think immigrants that come to this country go harder then anyone in terms of business and reaching goals.  They’re usually coming from less than favorable situations, where they went through many tribulations that the general US population has not been exposed to.  I’d like to think I have a similar story to Gary Vaynerchuk, but my story is still being written.

I came to the United States in March 1990 from L’viv Ukraine with my younger brother, parents, grandparents, and aunt.  At that time Ukraine was still under the USSR and we had to get sponsored to leave to come to the United States.  That was a time of waiting for hours in bread lines, power being shut off, and being sent to Siberia for even going to church.  Before leaving we were only aloud to take what we could carry, and basically had our citizenship stripped before leaving essentially starting our journey without a country.   Before coming to America we had to stop in Vienna, Austria and Rome, Italy.   That was the way you immigrated to the United States back then.

We arrived in the United States in March, stayed with our sponsor family for a month, and then had to move 7 people into a 2 bedroom apartment.  My grandparents were already retired in Ukraine. When we came here, they had to work, and continued to work for another 20 years.  My grandfather worked in roofing till his seventies.  He would be on a roof in 110 degree from 8am to 6pm six days a week.  He did not complain, or say I’m tired, or this is beneath me.  He held it down, and provided for his family.  People in their 20s that came here to work would get hired and quit after a few weeks, while this man would do this day in and day out from his late 50s to his late 70s without complaint.  We were taken off Medicaid after 2 months as well, even though we still needed the assistance, but every adult worked.  I started kindergarten where I was put in ESL (English second language) because I did not speak any English.   My parents saved up to eventually get our own place and continued working hard to provide and progress in this great nation.

When I was in school, we didn’t have a lot of money.  The clothes I had weren’t the best, and kids made fun of me. Which is cool, because at that point in my life I’ve been through more things then most adults have in the United States.  I began flipping sports cards in school, selling candy, running lemonade stands, and anything else I could do to hustle.  I remember I got a necklace for 50 cents from one of those vending machines and sold it for 20 dollars in school before Valentines Day.  That has to be to this day one of the highest ROI yields I’ve ever had.

In high school I was not really interested in marketing.  It was still the days of AOL dial-up, and I never thought digital marketing would be a thing.  I graduated high school and went to college at Rutgers University.  College is cool and all, but I believe kids are brain washed to go with the idea planted in there minds that if they don’t, then they won’t be successful.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-college, but in 2017 you can self teach anything you want online.  Granted some fields you absolutely need a degree.  My point is, if you want something bad enough you will learn with or without an educational structure that puts kids in dept right from the jump.   I was a pre-business freshman year and later changed my degree to criminal justice, thinking it would be cool to be in law enforcement.  I even had an internship with the Secret Service on the counterfeit currency squad.   I also was considering going to Marine Corp Officer Candidate School, but right before leaving got very sick and almost died.  Fast forward to graduating in 2007-2008 when everything crashed.  No one was hiring. I applied for jobs day in and day out.  Felt hopeless.  And eventually felt depressed and like a failure.  A friend I met at the gym introduced me to digital marketing.  I spoke to him several times about looking for a job.  He told me his business needed search engine optimization and other services.  He told me to take a month, learn the basics, and run his digital programs.  I accepted the challenge.  Worked my butt off learning and began to get the hang of it.

After that opportunity, I applied to a company called Lexis Nexis to their legal division for a seo analyst role.  I got the job and spent almost 4 years working up to a senior seo and social media specialist.  There I really hustled and got a lot of hands-on experience running hundreds of campaigns, eventually managing elite client campaigns with a portfolio totaling 5 million dollars.  I read, tested what I learned on client campaigns, went to meet ups, and every conference I could.  At this point I saw the digital landscape was changing, and wanted to get working knowledge of all digital marketing disciplines, so I could become a more effective digital marketer.  I got all the major industry certifications. Which personally speaking, a piece of paper doesn’t demonstrate your expertise.   It was at Lexis where I knew I was talented enough to start my own agency and become a digital thought leader.  Others were doing it, why couldn’t I.  I received other job offers while I was there, on of which was after I made a prediction that Google would role out the Panda update that and that company would suffer.  And so it happened. I left Lexis, and held 3 director roles at 3 different digital marketing agencies, where I saw all the positives and negatives of agency life.  All the ways not to run a company.  All the ways not to treat your employees. And some of the good things employers did as well.  I diversified the types of clients I worked on, gained a lot of experience with fortune 500 clients, and saw how agencies worked with internal marketing teams.  Hundreds of clients and many different business structures have molded me into a digital savage.  After that my reputation grew, and I was referred by former colleagues for projects based on my past results.  My holistic approach and a not a one size fits all mindset really delivered results for clients.

Moral of this story is not to brag, but highlight the unique journey immigrants take that set them up for success.  Many of today’s top marketers and entrepreneurs are immigrants.  The journey has given me a unique hunger and perspective.  Never to be passive.  Constantly redefine and reinvent even if it isn’t the in thing to do.  Never become complacent.  I believe prosperity breeds complacency, which is something I didn’t start off with in life.  It is a blanket statement, but I’ve seen it first hand. Complacency is also the killer of innovation.  Being an immigrant has basically built a hunger for success inside me which no one can take away.

 

 

About Roman Prokopchuk

Have been in the digital marketing vertical since 2009 in which I've helped hundreds of businesses and brands take their campaigns to the next level. Born in Lviv, Ukraine and currently reside in the New York tri-state area. Always glad to share my knowledge on all things digital.
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