Why Other Departments Diss Marketing (and How to Make them Stop)

Is your team the black sheep in the company? Do other departments discount marketing’s contributions? Are your requests to other teams met with sighs and grudging cooperation—if at all?

If so, then your team has a reputation problem.

I’m pretty sure your team didn’t start out that way. Something is causing frowny faces, and you need to find out what it is before it gets out of hand.

Here are some likely causes:

Shiny object syndrome

You know what the product team hears when marketing proposes features based on “market trends” and “competitive research?”

“Let’s chase this new shiny object and hope it works out.”

Does your accounting software really need that fancy Enterprise Strategic Planner module when your customers are mostly small business owners? Probably not! But marketing must have it, because either:

  1. Gartner said that’s what the top-performing ERPs are doing,
  2. The ICFA 2019 Keynote was very convincing
  3. Competitor A just released a similar feature, or
  4. That’s what everyone is searching for these days.

Which one is the wrong answer?

All of them.

The product development and customer success team roll their eyes any time marketing votes at roadmap meetings, because their votes are almost always influenced by one of the above. It’s almost as if marketing is insecure about the company’s identity and needs validation from outside influences.

Don’t get me wrong: external research has its place. But the biggest danger about conclusions drawn from outside the company is that it ignores the people closest to you: your customers.

Don’t be everything to everyone. Narrow your focus. Serve the needs of your current customers. Don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour of what other people are doing and concentrate on marketing to your target audience.

Don’t know who your target audience is? That’s a completely different problem.

Sales isn’t happy with your MQLs

In an ideal world, sales and marketing should be best buds: two partners, back to back against the rest of the world (or your competitors).

What we get, however, is finger-pointing and back-stabbing. Sales doesn’t pick up the leads that marketing hands over, and the leads are left to rot. From marketing’s perspective, sales isn’t doing their job.

But is it really sales’ problem? There are a number of reasons that sales might be ignoring your leads, and some of them might be on your shoulders. A few possibilities include:

  • Your MQLs don’t actually qualify
  • You and sales don’t share the same priorities
  • Marketing has a poor track record

You won’t actually know what the problem is until you have a heart-to-heart with the sales team. Figure out the root cause (or causes) and put together a plan to address them. Then do a regular team review to see if your lead quality has improved.

Marketing’s value isn’t being felt

Every organization has marketing skeptics, but you know you have a problem when the people who are supposed to be backing you are the ones questioning your worth.

Like, you know, your boss.

You need to do a quick self-check the moment you notice their attitude changing.

Do they have a point? Have your marketing numbers been suffering? Have any of your recent efforts under-performed? Are the MQLs you send sales being picked up?

If the answer to any of the questions above is “yes,” then don’t wait for your boss to meet with you about it—because when he does, that’s already a reprimand. Seize the initiative and meet with him instead. Tell him you’ve noticed the numbers slipping and that you’re working to address it (and tell him how). 

If the answer is “no,” then you probably need to do a better job promoting yourself to the company. Don’t let sales hog the limelight! Show off your team’s success! Publicly congratulate your team on a job well done. Make sure others know that your team is making valuable contributions to the company.

Marketing gets to do the “fun” stuff

Trade conferences, press events, photo/video shoots and event marketing are serious work and can be a real drain on energy. But when viewed from the perspective of people stuck in the office all the time, marketing is a non-stop glam party.

And they do have a point. Some industry conferences are so over the top they’re basically paid vacations. *COUGH* DREAMFORCE *AHEM*.

So how can you conquer the misconception that marketing is all play and no work?

Give them a taste of what it’s like.

Next time you hold an event or something similar, ask for volunteers from other departments. Have them assist in everything from event logistics to crowd control. Stuff goodie bags. Greet guests. Set up and tear down. They’ll be able to appreciate the commitment and work that goes into a well-run marketing project.

Or, you might end up reinforcing the idea that marketing does get to do the fun stuff.

(Because honestly, we do.)

So basically…

“Haters gonna hate” is completely the wrong attitude to have in a professional environment. It’s poison and you need to excise it right away.

Find out the cause and do whatever needs to be done to resolve it in a positive and professional manner—whether that cause is personal, professional or both.

How to Control Frivolous Marketing Requests

“Hey, can you send me the latest copy of the brochure?”

“What was that thing we did last year?”

“Print up 500 cards for me, need it tomorrow.”

We dream about running marketing departments that function more like production companies, that churn out award-winning campaigns that convert and get kudos from all over the company and the industry at large.

The reality is that we spend most of our days fielding thousands of minor and pointless requests for business cards, asset updates and—most hated of all: “can you send me the latest version of X brochure?”

It’s enough to drive one to drink.

You, like other marketing managers, have become an order taker. Your activities are controlled by the needs of others. You’ve lost control of your team’s momentum and are resigned to just playing whack-a-mole with minor requests.

Corral those frivolous marketing requests and take control of your team’s project sheet. Start increasing your value to the organization by applying a few simple changes:

Set up a queue

Internal requests are like a mob of unruly children. They come from everywhere at once: email, instant messenger, over the phone and even through the grapevine (e.g. “hey, Director X told me to tell you to print up new business cards for Employee B”).

You waste so much energy trying to keep track of them all that you won’t be able to properly prioritize these requests, let alone determine if they’re actually necessary.  

Establish control over how requests come in. Set up a process where people can make these minor requests. It could be an online request form, a specific email address, or a single contact person. The point is to direct all requests to that one channel so that they’re all in one place and easier to review.

And—this is the critical point—stick to the rules. If you are requiring people fill out a form to request business cards, don’t accept an email request even if it’s just “this one time.” Word will get around that the form is meaningless and people won’t follow your new system.

Open a self-serve lane

What do you think is more efficient: flagging a waiter every time a diner needs water, or leaving a pitcher and letting them serve themselves?

Your team needs to take the same approach.

Make as many tasks as self-serve as possible. For example, post assets in a single accessible location such as a shared drive or a digital asset management platform. Announce the location internally and tell people that they can pick up whatever they need from that library.

There are really advanced DAM platforms that can even templatize the production of digital assets, where a sales person can just type in customer-specific details like name or industry, and be able to publish pre-formatted brochures themselves.

Human nature being what it is, people will still ask you for stuff, but now you can point to the shared drive and say, “get it from there.”

This frees up your team for bigger and meatier projects that will be more worth their time.

Treat yourself like a customer

Don’t get so caught up in doing other people’s tasks that you forget to do your own. Your tasks should take just as much (if not more) importance over everyone else’s.

If you need to trick yourself into doing this psychologically, then fill out your own request form and put it as a ticket in your project management system.

Stick to your own established deadlines. Fight the temptation to shelve your tasks just to accommodate whoever is screaming the loudest.

If you managed to do the above two steps, then you should have enough breathing room to begin doing more of your own work.

Let me just mention that there’s nothing wrong with a department that functions as order-takers—if that’s what the team was built to do. It fulfills a strong tactical purpose, and that’s perfectly fine. On the other hand, if you’d rather have a self-motivated department that creates strategically valuable projects?

Time to set up the take-out window.  

Strong Starts: How to Onboard New Marketing Employees Properly

My first day at my first job was kind of a shit show (pardon my French.) 

The agency had ordered me a new desktop PC, but it hadn’t arrived yet. So I had to hot seat (literally) with another employee and could only use his machine when he went out for meetings. My training didn’t amount to much, and my early days were filled with make-work and minor tasks until they could find the time to orient me properly. 

This is an example of what you should not do when onboarding new marketers (or any employee, really.) Yet it happens way more often than it should. 88% of employees think their employer botched the onboarding process, and I know mine did. 

Poor onboarding isn’t a harmless issue. It costs the business, and it costs a lot. Companies in the U.S. and U.K. spend an estimated $37 billion just to keep unproductive employees who don’t understand their job

More importantly, proper onboarding helps you as a marketing manager. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, new hires who go through standardized onboarding are 50% more productive right out of the gate. 

Sounds good, right? So how can you get some of that onboarding magic going in your team? Especially when you haven’t ever done it before?

Read on, fair reader. Read on.

Start before their first day

Your relationship with your new hire doesn`t start on their first official day at the office; it starts the moment they accept your offer. Give them things to do well before their start date.

Now, you might think you’re taking advantage of your new hire and asking them to do unpaid work. But I view it as an extension of a candidate researching you before an interview. They don’t have to, but the best hires will do it because they know it’s smart to be prepared. 

Other companies agree with this outlook. According to Aberdeen, best-in-class companies are 35% more likely to begin onboarding before day one. 

Prep can take multiple forms. You can have them do background research on the product they’ll be marketing or read your company manual. It can be reading the company blog or going through the library of videos. As long as it equips them better for their upcoming task. 

Have everything ready the first day

I’ve seen a lot of LinkedIn posts where new hires receive oodles of swag on their first day. All that stuff is definitely exciting and an extremely shareable moment, but you don’t have to go that far yourself (especially if you don’t have any swag to share).

Just focus on making sure the employee has the essentials:

  • A computer (and the password for it)
  • A desk of their own (that’s not in the kitchen)
  • Wifi password
  • Email address

Those 4 items are mere table stakes. And yet so many managers are caught with their pants down when the new hire walks in the door, as if it was a surprise inspection or something! It boggles the mind.

Share personal/team goals and expectations

One of the biggest things I hated about starting my first job was how lost I felt. Asides from broad strokes (manage my own accounts once I’m onboarded), I had no idea what to expect, or what was expected of me. I was new to everything–the company, the industry, and even life as an employee. 

My supervisor, bless her heart, was awesome and tried her best, but she was too busy with her own duties to spend much time with me. 

One-on-one time with the direct manager is the most important part of onboarding and so you have to be ready and willing to give as much of your time as physically possible to your new hire. 

Use this time to share your team’s goals and your expectations for what the new hire will accomplish in their first few months. Have the newbie share their personal and professional goals with you as well. You’ll be able to better manage and motivate if you know what excites them (professionally).  

Appoint a New Hire Buddy

Being there for your new hire is important, but despite what I said above, you can’t be there for them all the time. 

A new hire buddy, on the other hand, will be able to show them everything from the company intranet to using Marketo to the best places to have lunch. They’ll be able to use job shadowing to speed up the new hire’s proficiency

The actual length of the buddy relationship can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how complicated the job is. But if it goes right, the new hire will have a new friend/mentor who can guide them for their entire stay on your team. 

Do the rounds of the company

Give your new hire a list of people to meet 1 on 1 in their first few weeks. This list should be composed of people from different teams. This isn’t a simple getting-to-know-you session; it’s also so they can see how the different teams work together. 

This is valuable for people who work in content marketing, so that they can get introduced to the internal resources who can help them with their projects– especially for anything involving product details or customer insights. 

But don’t just point the new hire at them and say “go!” As the manager, you have to be the one to “recruit” the people on the list to make sure they’re willing to talk. 

Make resources easily available

Company handbooks, reference materials and marketing assets should all be easily available to your new hire. If they’re not, they’ll be pestering you and everyone around them for weeks.

Solutions like SharePoint and Soaq.co are good dedicated solutions for hosting all of these materials, but you can also get away with using One Drive, Dropbox or even a shared folder on your server. 

How can you tell if your new hire is growing into the role? By feel? Anecdotal evidence? A progress bar floating atop their head?

Written curriculum with learning milestones and KPIs

60% of companies fail to set milestones or goals for their new hires, which can result in stunted or slow professional development and reduced productivity. 

Set reasonable milestones for your employee based on job proficiency or metrics. For example, you might set something like this for a new content marketer:

  • 2 weeks: Upload first new post in Hubspot
  • 1 month: Create and publish first drip campaign in Marketo
  • 2 month: Take over blog and email campaign management

Your goals should also have KPIs that tell you how well they’re doing those tasks. Social media roles could be measured in engagement, while PPC roles would be based on conversions. Keep these expectations reasonable and scale up the difficulty as time progresses and the new hire improves.

Have them audit what they’re managing

This is a fantastic exercise that will show you what your new hire is capable of. Yes, something similar could’ve been done in the interview, but if you do it now, they will have greater access to the materials, metrics and manpower that they wouldn’t have had as a candidate–which means a more accurate and useful audit. 

Have them present their new findings to the team and conduct an open discussion. Which findings were correct? Which ones were wrong? Why were they wrong? Do you agree with the proposed action items? How does this affect the company marketing playbook?

This also helps the team see the new hire as more than fresh meat. They are a living, breathing and thinking part of the company now, and will be able to help if given the chance. 

So basically…

Onboarding is more than just an email address and a welcome kit. It’s paving the way for your employee to succeed in your organization. The faster they get good at the job, the faster their responsibilities are taken off your plate. You are helping them make your life easier. 

Go forth and onboard!

Up Next: Why Isn’t Sales Following Up???

The Right and Wrong Ways to Give Feedback to Creatives (with Examples)

How to Give Creatives Feedback

“This copy sucks.”

“Your photos are terrible.”

“What the @#&% were you smoking when you designed this?”

As a marketing project manager, I understand that a creative asset needs to be reworked multiple times before it can be considered suitable for publication, and that multiple internal and external parties need to be able to voice their opinions.

As a writer, however, I understand that I am a trembling, person-shaped toothpick-tower of insecurities. I am in constant fear that the next round of edits will break my heart, shatter my pride and drive me to drink. 

I exaggerate, of course (but not by much).

I’ve heard many marketing managers defend themselves for being “tough,” “brutally honest,” “efficient” or even “professional” (hint: it’s not), and they almost always end up with creatives whose output is listless and bland. In a word: safe

At best, poor feedback is unhelpful and won’t help make the asset better. At worst, you risk killing a person’s motivation to either work on the project, or work for you

There are much better ways to give feedback–feedback that helps the project move forward, helps the creative  improve their skils, and helps them know your own (or the client’s) creative preferences. 

I’ve included examples of the wrong and right way to do it below:

1. Edit the work, not the person

I get that deadlines are stressful, and the client is up in your business, and that you’re still working on the same thing after the fifth round of revisions. But there is no excuse for going all Gordon Ramsey on your creative team. 

Restrict your comments to the work itself. Never comment on any aspect of the person’s personality, appearance, upbringing, racial background or education. That’s called getting personal, and that’s a quick trip to HR. 

Yes: “I think the layout looks too busy.”

No: “That shit looks as chaotic as your hair.”

2. Be as specific as possible

Want to know the quickest way to anger a creative? Give vague feedback. 

Generic comments don’t help the creative fix your problem. What it does do is ensure that the next version will:

  1. Have the same problem
  2. Go completely in the wrong direction
  3. Be a complete waste of time
  4. All of the above.

Examine your reaction to the work and break down what is causing the issue. What is the source of your dissatisfaction? What would you change to make it better?

Yes: “The stock photo looks dated.”

No: “This is bullshit.”

3. Tell them the problem, not the solution

Are you a designer yourself? Then maybe don’t tell the person with an art degree how to fix a design problem. 

It’s human nature to want to pitch in helpful ideas. But unless you have relevant experience in that role yourself, your attempt to “helpfully instruct” will just lead to more problems. Worse, you won’t even see them as problems because they’re your suggestions, and you’re automatically biased towards your own opinions. 

Also, recommending a single course of action stifles creativity and eliminates possibilities of a much better solution. 

Yes: “That font is hard to read.”

No: “Use Comic Sans size 52. It’ll really make the CTA pop. AND USE ALL COLORS OF THE RAINBOW.”

4. Don’t do the work for them

Sort of related the previous point, however offenders in this case take it to a whole different level. These are the type of people who will “take matters into their own hands” because if you “want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

One of the worst project managers I’d ever met would literally sit at the designers desk and point out where the designer should retouch an artwork. Down. To. The. Pixel. 

Yes: “Here are the edits. Let me know when you’re done.”

No: “I thought it needed a fresh set of eyes so I redid the entire logo. No need to thank me.”

5. Stay goal-focused

You’re not doing this asset to make someone happy (well, not only that). You have a larger business objective to serve.

As a marketing manager you should always be ready to question the direction you’re given in service of the larger goal. Doing so increases the chances of you contributing to the bottom line and proving marketing’s value. 

Yes: “The writing’s good, but it’s not going to convert.”

No: “Yes! More dank memes!”

6. Make it a conversation

The best collaboration happens when two people are, you know, collaborating

One-sided conversations or directions are narrow by their very nature. If something doesn’t work and you can’t quite pin it down, talk to your creative about it and see what you can do to get the creative juices flowing. They will be able to give input based on other projects they’ve worked on and, even if that doesn’t work, at least they’ll understand where you’re coming from.

Yes: “How can we make this more informal?”

No: “Substitute the “Greetings” for “Yo, wassup.”

7. Allow them to push back

You hired the creative for their expertise, knowledge, and skill. If they have an opinion on your edits, then it’s worth listening to. 

You might not always agree with their opinion, or be able to act on it (especially if the edit is client-driven), but give them a voice anyway. They will respect you as a leader and you may even learn a few things along the way. 

Yes: “Good point, let’s do another version and see what the client likes more.”

No: “Shut your pie-hole and get to work.”

8. Give them their space

Creatives aren’t an assembly line that can pump out deliverables to a set timeline. Just because I can type at 63 wpm, doesn’t mean I’m actually working at that speed.

When you set a creative to a task, leave them be. Micromanaging will just stress them out and force them into doing work just to get you off their back, and not because they think it’s good. 

Yes: “How much time will you need for this?”

No: “I want this done by the time I’m back from lunch.”

9. Explain what you like

Don’t be a Negative Nancy all the time. Yes, you have to communicate changes and improvements to whatever creative gives you, but you should also tell them what you and the client like. 

Not only does this make the creative feel better about the work, but it also reinforces desirable design trends and habits, and encourages them to take risks and surprise you with new ideas. 

Yes: “I really like those Kirby Dots you put in the background.”

No: “It’ll do, I guess.”

10. Consolidate feedback

I totally get that a project needs to be approved by multiple people before it gets published (including you), but just because feedback gets to you piecemeal, doesn’t mean that your creative has to suffer through the same thing.

There are a bunch of reasons to consolidate feedback:

  1. Edits from different people might contradict each other. Resolve that before handing it to the creative
  2. You might be taking bad suggestions from someone you should be ignoring. I was once told to ignore edits from a CEO who was only included “to make him feel involved.”
  3. Drip-feeding edits slows the creative down. Instead of banging out the edits in one go, he has to open, fix, save, publish/render, and upload multiple times. 
  4. A constant stream of tiny changes is frickin’ annoying.

Side note: This is how you get filenames like *_final1.pdf, *_final2.pdf and *_final-final.pdf

Yes: “I marked the PDF with all of the edits from the client’s team.”

No: “Disregard the edits from yesterday. I have a new round of edits from the big boss.”

11. Be direct and honest

From all the above tips, you might think that I am telling you to treat creatives with kid gloves; to be careful of their feelings and avoid upsetting them. Treat them like the special snowflakes that they are.

Nope!

Be a straight-shooter. Tell it like it is. Don’t dance around the point. Tell them exactly what you need to tell them and be honest with your assessment of their work. 

Just don’t get personal or emotional when you do.

Yes: “I know you put a lot of effort in this, but you’re gonna have to do it all over again.”

No: “Yeah, um. Maybe it needs, um. A bit more work? BUTI’MNOTTELLINGYOUIT’SHORRIBLEIT’SACTUALLYPRETTYGOOD.”

Bonus: Have your team’s back

Your team will be much more open to your feedback if they’re confident you will back them up when needed. 

Defend their work to the client or stakeholder. Protect them from terrible design decisions. Insulate them from unnecessary meetings. Be mindful of their creative sensibilities and encourage their career growth. 

In other words: be an awesome boss.

Up Next: Why Isn’t Sales Using My Marketing Leads?!?!?

Should Marketers Hire Freelance or Full-time?

Freelance or Full-time?

We’ve already established that marketers need help. 

But what form should this help take? Are marketers better off hiring freelancers? After all, over 59% of businesses are already hiring freelancers to support their operations. 

Or should marketers look for full-time employees instead? People who can grow within a team over a long period of time?

Before we can answer this, let’s take a closer look at the key differences between full-timers and freelancers, as well as their benefits and risks. We’ll use a handy acronym I call S.C.A.T.G.R.A.L. 

… Okay, maybe that needs more work. 

Anyway! Off to the differences:

Skill/Experience

Who is more likely to be able to do the job, especially if it requires specialized skills like SEO or graphic design. 

Full-timer: Depends on a career employee’s job history, but employees are more likely to have had on-the-job training or may have been sent to paid courses by their employer. Risk is that maybe they learned all the wrong things at the job, or are lying/mistaken about the experience they gained in previous roles. I’ve known people who had jobs with fancy titles that essentially did nothing. 

Freelancer: The best ones have specialized in a single service type or market for years, and have built up a long history of clients. Their portfolios and client list are usually sufficient to gauge skill. Watch out for freelancers who talk a big game but are actually just new and inexperienced. Stay skeptical until they’ve proven themselves with actual work. 

Cost

What will hiring this person do to your budget?

Full-timer: Oy. Hiring a full-timer is expensive. A full-time employee is going to take a huge chunk out of your marketing budget, and that doesn’t even take into account benefits and equipment. Try to cheap out on them and pay lower than the going rate, and your new hire won’t last very long. They’re also expensive to fire due to severance pay. Consider this an investment rather than an expense. 

Freelancer: Hiring a freelancer is normally cheaper than a full-time employee, but there are also larger projects that cost more. Generally, you have to pay for the level of service you expect (e.g. more money = better service), but price doesn’t automatically equal quality. Screen your freelancers carefully. Low-balling your freelancers at ridiculous prices ($5 per blog post anyone?) is a no-no, though. 

Note: headcount is sometimes dictated by management, and might have nothing to do with your own marketing budget.

Availability

Are these people going to be around when you need them?

Full-timer: That’s a no-brainer. You’re paying them to be in your office (or online remotely) 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. They are completely devoted to your business during those hours. They will also be able to help out with a bunch of tasks that might not be directly related to their job description (within reason). 

Freelancer: Freelancers value you and will want to make you happy, but they also have other clients that they need to keep happy. Any work you do will have to be scheduled according to their workload. If you have an urgent need, you’ll have to pay a rush fee or have a retainer arrangement or something similar. 

Training

How fast does it take to get them productive? 

Full-timer: A new hire with the same level of skill as a freelancer will still need to be trained on the company product/service, internal procedures, brand guidelines, and other supplementary functions of their role (e.g. reporting to management, working with internal teams). They will also need to be trained on whatever systems and apps you’re using. According to Training Industry Quarterly, it takes 1 to 2 years for a new hire to be fully-productive. But then again, they will learn fast if they have access to the right internal resources and industry specialists.

Freelancer: Freelancers turn productive much sooner. You just need to brief them on the essentials of the job (brand guidelines, personas, target keywords, etc) and let them loose. Much of this is because their role in your team is very limited and they don’t have to worry about most of the stuff full-timers do. They also have experience bouncing between brands and can pick things up quickly. Freelancers that specialize in your particular industry might be more difficult to find and more expensive, however. 

Growth

What will an extended working relationship do for this person (and you)?

Full-timer: If you pick the right hire, the full-timer could easily grow into the role and beyond, developing into much more than their original function. Full-timers that show potential can be given increased responsibility and may even be promoted into more senior roles in the company. 

Freelancer: Over time, your freelancer will know your brand like the back of your hand, and will be able to predict what you need and when. Working with them will be a breeze, but they’ll only ever be a freelancer. 

Reliability

Can you rely on this person to get the job done? And get it done right?

Full-timer: Hard to ghost someone when you work in the same office. Marketing managers have the advantage here, because they are around the full-timer all the time and can ensure they are at their desks performing the job you’re paying them to do.

Freelancer: They are most likely off-site and have other priorities. The freelancer is working with the best of intentions, but there are many circumstances you will not be able to control as a manager. I myself have occasionally been ghosted and ignored by freelancers I hire (come on people, don’t pretend it doesn’t happen). 

Accountability

What can you do when the shit hits the fan?

Full-timer: It’s easier for marketing managers to hold employees accountable for their work due to the close proximity and the nature of the relationiship. Monthly reviews, corrective action and performance metrics help keep your employee effective at their job.

Freelancer: Freelancers sometimes oversell their services and skills, and you have little recourse if they underperform. You can try to manage them and provide feedback, but the problem persists you don’t really have any other option except to fire them and find another freelancer. 

Loyalty

How likely are they to stick around?

Full-timer: Full-timers are more likely to stick around long-term for a stable job. Provided, of course, that you have a good working environment, you’re a decent manager and you use their skills effectively. Easy, right?

Freelancer: Freelancers aren’t total mercenaries. Yes, they have no ties to you and could conceivably quit whenever they feel like it. But if a freelancer finds a good client, they will try to keep that client around for as long as humanly possible. 

So basically…

Ultimately, the decision on hiring a freelancer or a full-timer depends on three things: budget, timeline and goals. 

Budget is the biggest factor by far, and I’ve met many marketing managers who resort to hiring freelancers only as a stop gap until they can afford someone full-time. On the other hand, marketing managers who need to hire a large number of creatives can only do so at scale if they hire freelancers, as a team of in-house creatives would be hideously expensive. 

It takes a long time to find and hire a full-timer, and in that time deadlines still have to be met. Freelancers are pretty much grab-and-go, and you can easily fold them into the timelines of whatever projects you have going on. 

Companies who need immediate help, like startups, might be able to make the most out of freelancers in this manner. Agencies who don’t have a consistent amount of work to keep a full-timer busy could also leverage freelancers this way. 

Lastly, you have your own goals for the projects and the team. Do you want to grow your fledgling marketing empire? Or are you intending to build an internal agency composed of rotating freelancers? Sometimes they do both (one primary employee supported by a team of freelancers). 

I can’t dictate the right answer to you. It all depends on your own situation. But if you want to talk through the problem with someone who won’t insert a sales pitch every second paragraph, send me an email or a DM and I’d be happy to talk through the problem. 

Seriously, no sales pitch. 

Next Post: 12 Ways to Give Feedback to Your Creatives (Without Making Enemies)

How to Wow With a Short-handed Marketing Team

How to Wow with a Short-handed Marketing Team

Ever feel like there’s too much work to do and not enough hands to do them?

Join the club!

Over 80% of marketing teams number five or less, with a whopping 42% being solo operators. 

That’s five people (or less) to cover SEM, SEO, content marketing, website updates, product marketing, public relations, social media, and event marketing–just to name a few. 

Is it any wonder that marketers are stressed?

It may feel like you’re constantly losing ground, but there are ways to improve your work process and organization so that your team can still meet deadlines, achieve goals, and bring in leads–without doing any overtime. 

Here are a few secrets to making that happen:

1. Set priorities properly 

Task priorities are simple on the surface. Just do the most important things first, right?

Nope! Reality is a lot messier. 

In real-life, task priorities are a dizzying combination of factors that constantly change in weight and scale. You could, in fact, say that prioritization is an art form

When you prioritize, it helps to remember that your marketing team is part of a larger organization. If there is a task that multiple people are waiting for, have your team get that out the door first so that the ball is kept moving. Don’t be the bottleneck! 

Also try to prioritize tasks for projects that drive the business goals forward. Remember, marketing’s ultimate goal is to make the business money, not cross items off a to-do list. Understand where your projects fit into the grand scheme and triage accordingly.

2. Get your team uber-organized

Organization is the best tool you have for successfully wrangling all those marketing tasks. Even the simple act of writing down what you and your team plan to do for the day sharpens your focus and helps eliminate distractions.  

Of course, you’re going to have to do a lot more than just daily to-dos if you want your marketing department to make an impact. 

For this you’ll need to double-down on project management strategies like having a Kanban board, using Gantt charts to display dependencies, and forecasting the use of resources. You don’t need to have a PMP to do any of this; you just need to know what you want to do, when you want it done, and who’s available to do it.

All of this information can be codified and visually represented in a project management tool. There are many, many, many project management tools available to choose from, each with its individual strengths and weaknesses. 

I suggest trying out several before making your decision. You may also want to check with the rest of the organization to see if they’re already using a project management tool, and if you can take it for a test drive. 

3. Work in blocks

Many people I know jump from one task to another over the course of a day hoping that, if they do a little bit of every task at a time, they’ll be able to keep everything afloat. 

They can’t though. Because multitasking doesn’t work.

It really doesn’t.

Seriously.

Your brain needs time to build up momentum (YSWIDT?), and it can only do that by running on a single track. 

Time blocks are a perfect way to organize yourself. Not only can you use time blocks for individual activities, like writing or editing or research, but you can also group blocks by theme, like brands or campaigns, to ensure your day remains cohesive. 

So your calendar will end up looking something like this:

Use the same technique for your team, as well. Encourage them to create their own blocks of time and share them on a public calendar so others on their team can either coordinate efforts or properly manage resources. 

I’m a fan of the Pomodoro method, which encourages you to break your work day down into 25-minute blocks. There are plenty of Pomodoro web timers and apps to choose from, each with their own collection of extra features and cutesy quirks

My current favorite is Pomodone, which links your pomodoro timer with your tasks in other apps like Trello.

4. Automation is amazing

Many people watch in fear as robots take on more of our jobs. But for marketers? It’s the best thing ever!

Marketing automation allows a one-person marketing team to do the work of ten. Think of any frequent, time-consuming task that wastes your entire day, and there’s probably a dozen (more) marketing automation tools that can take over.

Just look at these examples:

And those tools are just basic solutions. There are online services like Zapier and IFTTT that let you connect different apps together to create complex, time-saving workflows. For example, you can set up a rule that lets you automatically add people who DM you on Twitter to Salesforce as opportunities. 

This leaves you with more time and energy to deal with tasks where you’re providing real value, like setting marketing strategies or analyzing campaign performance. 

But I’m not gonna lie to you and say all this will be easy. An automation tool is only as good as the person setting it up. You have to learn how to set up the rules and conditions that the tool will follow to run a campaign, and you still have to write the content that the tool will eventually use. 

So no, automation isn’t an easy-breezy answer to your problems, but it’s still way better than sending 3000 emails across six campaigns all by yourself.

5. Outsource

If you need help and the company isn’t willing or can’t afford to hire someone on staff, you could always hire outside help. 

The beauty of today’s gig economy is that you can outsource damn near anything.

Need someone to do admin work? Hire a VA. 

Need a new logo? Hire a graphic designer. 

Need someone to keep followers engaged? Hire a community manager. 

Need a freelance writer? Ahem.

The main consideration here is whether you need to hire a freelancer, a consultant, or a full-service agency. Each option has its pros and cons. 

Freelancers are great for when you have a specific tactical need already in mind. A blog, a video, or a pitch deck to glam up. 

Consultants are best suited for situations where you need some additional brain power, like coming up with a digital marketing strategy or streamlining your internal workflows. If you need help executing, they’ll probably hire their own freelancers or source some for you.

Agencies are self-contained teams that have large goals. Major campaigns for instance, or long-term management of your marketing operations. They answer to you, but they drive most of the ideation and execution. 

Who you eventually hire depends on your available budget and the required need. Prices for each can scale depending on the outsourced resource’s experience, expertise, and specialization.

So basically…

Don’t drown in your task list!

Take stock, get organized, and get some help! You may need to spend some of your hard-earned marketing budget on tools and external manpower, but they’re still way cheaper (and, in their way, more effective) than hiring a new employee–which your Finance department will appreciate. 

It’ll take some effort to find and set yourself up with these solutions, but the payoff is a much more manageable workload. 

So get cracking!

Up Next: How to Ride the Post-conference Reality Check

The Art of Setting Marketing Team Priorities

Marketers need to set team priorities intelligently

“What should the team tackle first?”

It’s a loaded question with a supposedly obvious answer.

“Prioritize what’s important.”

But “important” is such a catch-all term that it’s useless in actual practice. Everything is important to someone in an organization. And when everything is important, nothing is.

When you’re setting team priorities, you have to take multiple factors into account. Does it impact other people? What is it for? Who is it for? When it is due?

All of these considerations are balanced against each other to determine the final ranking of team priorities. Some managers have an innate sense of this and can easily pick out the critical items. The rest of us, however, need a bit of help.

Below I’ve listed the different factors involved in prioritizing a team’s task list and how much weight it should add to your scale.

Strategic Goal

It’s easy to get caught in the minutiae of a task and in the urgency of a deadline, but as managers you’re supposed to remember the larger view.

Ask the big questions. Is this task part of a project that will drive the business forward? Or is it a project with little actual impact? Does this project’s goals align with the overall business strategy? Or is it an outlier?

Generally, you will want to prioritize tasks that fulfill corporate objectives. Also, projects that have a tangible and measurable goal will demonstrate marketing’s value to the rest of the company, and are worth pursuing ahead of loosey-goosey, flavor-of-the-month projects.

Of course, a lot also depends on your team’s actual purpose within the organization. If you’re the equivalent of a marketing service desk, fulfilling requests for business cards and ecommerce site changes, then the meaty strategic stuff is probably going to be handled by a different group. Don’t stray from your team’s actual function until you get permission from upper management.

Weight: 4/5

Urgency

I hate setting priorities based on urgency. If I do, then it either means that a) something in my plan went awry, or b) someone dumped a task onto my pile.

The worst thing about it is that urgency is often manufactured or arbitrary. How many times have we moved heaven and earth to meet a deadline, only for the other person to take their sweet time responding?

The bitter truth is that urgency can be gamed.

Everyone knows this, deep down. That’s how a co-worker can convince you to pause your work on tomorrow’s pitch deck and email them the latest brochure just so you can get rid of them. It’s false pressure to get you to comply.

A skilled manager will know the difference between true urgency and manufactured urgency. True urgency is when there are tangible and real consequences to missing a deadline (e.g. missing a product launch date). In these cases, even a day’s delay can affect the project’s critical path and make life more horrible for other people down the line.

Weight: 2/5 (manufactured urgency), 4/5 (true urgency)

Which brings us to the next factor: dependencies.

Dependencies

Are people waiting on you to finish a particular task before they can do their jobs? That’s called a dependency.

Dependencies also have deadlines, but they are different from manufactured urgency in that any delay on your part will have a domino effect that impacts the entire plan.

Let’s say you have a simple task–order a demo unit from the warehouse. Your photographer is going to shoot photos, which the graphic designer will put on the packaging, which will have to ship in time for Black Friday.

Instead of ordering the demo unit, however, you decide to spend the morning researching keywords. Keywords are important and valuable, but not the most urgent thing right now. The warehouse misses the courier and the photographer doesn’t get the demo unit for another week. The graphic designer is forced to use older photos and the product ships with the wrong item on the box.

There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. And probably a reprimand mixed in somewhere.

Dependencies should absolutely be one of your top considerations when setting priorities. Use a Gantt chart to visualize your project plan and see how your team’s individual responsibilities affect other parts of the project.

Weight rating: 5/5

Personal Enthusiasm

If you read the section title and said to yourself, “I’m totally professional. I don’t prioritize based on personal preference,” then you are a liar.

A person will always set loathsome tasks at a lower priority, even if they know they’re important. Granted, you may still do that hated task first, but only if you can’t justify doing something else.

Keep this in mind any time you assign unpopular tasks to your team. There’s a chance that person will either wait until the very last moment to do it (forcing you to follow up several times) or speed through the task in an effort to “get it over with quickly” (forcing you to check their work).

Being aware of the problem will help you plan around their expected behavior. It will also help you course-correct when you fall into this tendency yourself (and you will, because we’re all human).

Weight: 1/5 (but plan around it anyway)

The Final Formula

I don’t expect you to actually produce an actual formula out of what I mentioned above (although the Excel geeks among you are welcome to try).

Each business will value things differently based on their corporate culture and current situation.

But be aware of the different elements and considerations when you set team priorities, so that you can both increase your team’s productivity and provide maximum value to your organization.

Up next: How to Wow with a Short-handed Marketing Team