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???

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)

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