Tips on Working from Home in Marketing

Inset of steel mill painting by KroyerIn my job at “Acme,” I mostly work remotely from home. It can be difficult at times to focus on the project at hand with so many distractions at one’s disposal (and no one looking over your shoulder). Here I will share some tips that have been working for me to stay on task when I’m sitting in front of my computer screen in my loafers.

  • Get in the work mindset early. In the morning (and even the night before), try to think about what needs to be done for your work. It doesn’t have to be an intense planning session, just let your mind do some light brainstorming to get in the right groove mentally.
  • Take scheduled breaks. There’s no use in burning out by working for long periods of time. Scheduling breaks for yourself ensures you put in the right hours while also getting the rest you need throughout the workday.
  • Think about work during breaks. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it can help prevent a lapse in concentration after the break is over (or can help stop you from extending your break indefinitely by going off on a web-surfing tangent).
  • Try renting a coworking office space. This can be useful if you do almost all of your work from home. I’ve tried this myself but actually found that I can focus better at home. Nevertheless, this may work well for others.
  • Visualize completed projects. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay on point because you’re working on so many things that it seems nothing gets done. Help yourself out by taking a moment (or during a break) to imagine what a project will look like in its completed state (and the feelings of reward you will experience once it is done).
  • Track your workday. A tool like Toggl has helped me stay “on the clock” when I’m at home and has the added benefit of reporting to you on what projects you’ve worked on throughout the day (and week).
  • Set short- and long- term goals. Distractions love it when you’re not sure about what you should be working on (and how that project fits into the bigger marketing picture). Fight them off by having personal goals for the day, week, quarter, and year (whatever works for you).
  • Stay accountable to someone. If you have free reign in your work and are finding it difficult to stay motivated, commit yourself to a regular report that you share with a higher-up about the progress of your work. You’ll also feel a sense of reward when you show someone else all of the work that you have completed.

What strategies do you use to stay motivated when working from home in marketing?

Extending My Marketing Reach

Inset of Rembrandt paintingAt the company where I work (let’s call it “Acme”), my title is Head of Digital Marketing, but I am the only full-time marketing person on staff. I started there in April of this year after working outside of marketing for several years. Since then, I’ve been trying to grasp the entire breadth of what is required of marketing for a small business: from strategic planning and research to writing tweets and ad copy.

Aside from the consultants and partners that I work with on social media and web development projects, I have been trying to do a little bit of everything by myself (e.g. strategy, research, graphic design, and product launches, to name a few). I’ve come to the point where I realize the importance of extending my marketing reach by finding and building relationships with freelancers and agencies. Certain aspects of the work just require more attention (and skill) than I can devote to them as one individual (e.g. web design, SEO, graphic design, and content writing).

I will save the pros and cons of working with freelancers compared to agencies for another post. Suffice it to say that there’s a fine balance to be struck between micromanaging and trying to do a lot of work on your own compared to delegating tasks to others and overseeing their work. After considering freelancers and agencies, the next step of course would be to grow an internal marketing team by hiring full-time professionals. I hope that these opportunities will present themselves and I will rise to the challenge to take advantage of them.

Holiday Greetings for Loyal Customers

Inset of Bergstrom winter paintingI was informed by a colleague last week that it was customary in our company to send out greeting cards to our loyal customers. So I collected lists from our salespeople of accounts, and today ordered over a hundred holiday greeting cards. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to mailing each one by hand, but it’s a small act of service to the customers that make our company’s success possible.

One of the things that is easy to overlook in the marketing race to get more customers, more email sign-ups, and more social media followers is the value of existing loyal accounts. Remember that it’s magnitudes of times easier to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one (read this article for elaboration on this). It makes sense in many ways to make sure your current customers are happy.

I’m not saying that simply sending a greeting card to a customer is enough. Most likely, it will be looked at for a few seconds and thrown out. But it’s a start.

What are you doing in your marketing work to reward your existing loyal customers?

Sample Marketing Plan Outline

Inset of painting of chessLet’s call the company where I am employed as a marketing professional “Acme.” At Acme, I’m currently working on creating a marketing plan for 2017. Acme is a small business where I am the only dedicated marketing person in the company. When I started in April of this year, few processes had been in place, and I’ve had to jump-start many projects and procedures from scratch.

So to create a marketing plan for 2017, I went online, researched the topic, and synthesized several examples of marketing plans into an outline that works for me. The result of that work I will share with you at the bottom of this blog post.

Undoubtedly, some small business such as Acme operate without an annual marketing plan. But what are some benefits of having one? They are numerous, and I will only name a few. First, it’s a chance to step back and reflect on the marketing (and company) operations from a distance, which will likely uncover numerous useful insights. Second, it gives an opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses for the company in relation to the marketplace. Third, it allows for setting of SMART goals. Finally, key performance indicators (KPIs) can be identified as part of a marketing plan to measure performance throughout the year.

So without further adiue, below is the link to my sample marketing plan outline. It’s a little on the long side since I sought to capture as much relevant information as possible from the sources that I found online. Feel free to trim it down (or add to it) as your needs require.

Download: Sample Marketing Plan Outline

Dealing with Uncertainty in Marketing

Uncertainty painting insetIn a previous post, I talked about some tips for overcoming mental blocks in marketing work. Along similar lines, I want to focus today on the topic of uncertainty in marketing projects. Uncertainty can arise for many different reasons, and it proves difficult to deal with sometimes. Perhaps there are not enough analytics available to truly measure performance of a project in a meaningful way. Or, maybe you’re launching a campaign using an untried new media outlet. And sometimes just the ever-changing nature of the 21st-century marketplace can cause anxiety because of the unknown.

Here are some tips for marketers facing such scenarios that have helped me in the recent past to deal with uncertainty (though I’m no expert on the subject).

  1. Overcome roadblocks in a systematic way. If you’re stuck on something, make sure to identify what the “pain point” of that project is. Then, list steps to overcome those obstacles. Finally, note the next action that would be required were you to start tackling those problems. Now you have an idea of what has to be done and where to begin working.
  2. Know when to focus and when to walk away. Drilling into a task and entering a pace of “flow” is very helpful to make rapid progress on a project. But if you’re feeling stuck with a certain task–like a hamster on a wheel–working on something else to clear your mind can be a helpful tactic.
  3. Communicate effectively to management. If a project faces uncertain results for a variety of reasons, tell this to your higher-ups so that both you and your bosses are viewing the situation under the same lens. This goes a long way to avoiding situations of misaligned expectations.
  4. Seek to quantify and stay accountable. This may seem counter-intuitive, but more accountability can help reduce uncertainty if structured in a productive way. Whether they are budgets, project statuses, or KPIs, metrics and realistic goals shared with others can help induce a positive feedback loop of motivation and recognition of your work (when set targets are achieved).
  5. Just work through it. Keep in your mind that “this is a difficult, not an easy situation” and to not expect easy results. Knowledge of that fact alone should help ease the anxiety of expectations that you may set on yourself.

What ways have you found to deal with uncertainty in your own work?

Improving Marketing Skills

bookshop-200x200To round out 2016, I wanted to share three marketing-related books that are on my reading list. It’s important in any career to keep one’s skills sharp, and marketing is no different. I’ve identified four areas that I want to focus on as my own personal strengths in business. They are (1) Writing, (2) Design, (3) Analysis, and (4) Project Management.

To facilitate my self-improvement in these areas, here are three books that I’m planning to read in the near future.

  • The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. Design is important for many collateral projects in marketing, from designing flyers to facilitating web projects. This book has one of the best overviews of design principles.
  • How to Write Copy That Sells by Ray Edwards. Writing in the digital space takes many forms, from tweets to PPC ad copy. But the fundamentals of writing to sell remain the same, and Edwards’s book seems like a good place to review them.
  • Marketing 4.0 by Philip Kotler, et al. Staying abreast of the latest trends in the marketing world pays dividends for digital marketers, and this book to be released next week should be ample food for thought.

What marketing skills are you working on and how?

Overcoming Mental Blocks in Marketing

Everyone experiences this. You’ve planned your day. You move on to the next task on your schedule. You pull up all your supplemental files and programs. And then you’re stuck — an imperceptible but nonetheless powerful force is preventing you from proceeding with the task at hand.

So what can you do about this problem? I want to share a couple of tricks that have helped me recently overcome such mental blocks.

Oftentimes such moments of indecision lead to procrastination, which may be rooted in some “pain points” related to the task. My first trick is to write out the subconscious points of pain that are making me want to avoid whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. The simple act of acknowledging these avoidance areas and setting them to paper (or screen) will at least propel them out of the realm of the subconscious mind.

Secondly, I find for me that oftentimes a task seems more difficult than it is because I am lacking some knowledge related to it (or just need a refresher course). Taking a break, reading some blogs, or watching some tutorial videos on a site like Lynda.com can go a long way in dispelling the feelings of avoidance related to a task. Learning also contributes new ideas and sources of inspiration, which always tend to cast a fresh ray of light on even the most seemingly odious task.

Marketing Blogs That Inspire

Amid the constant hum of everyday work, it pays to sit back and appreciate the broader impact of one’s vocation and how it relates to one’s life in general. I did just that today. For inspiration, I found three marketing-related blogs that take a broader view of business apart from the usual “10 Tips on How to Boost Your Social Media Presence” type posts. I’ll share them with you below.

The first is Seth Godin’s blog. What I like about Seth is his pithy philosophical approach to work. I also admire that he posts an article each day, almost as a discipline. That’s something I’ll try to aim for — divided between my three blogs (personal, academic, and vocational).

The second blog is A Learning A Day. Similarly, Rohan, the writer of the blog, posts once a day, which makes these first two blogs continual sources of inspiration to come back to on a daily basis. He even mentions Seth as a major source of influence in his own life and work. Such thoughtful, dutiful blogs are refreshing (to me, at least) amid the hustle of everyday work and an ever-changing business climate.

Finally, there is a classic: Signal v. Noise. This blog is from the founders of Basecamp, a company from my hometown of Chicago. I was first exposed to their work via their book, REWORK, which triggered an awakening in me about the possibilities of different types of work cultures. I will return to this blog, though they post less often than others.

Transactional Email Marketing Guide

email-icon-200x200Today, I finished reading through a guide about email marketing that I found via a tweet from one of my sister’s techie friends. It is a very long guide that is especially useful for SaaS-type companies, but I’ve gleaned some useful tips for my B2B marketing work as well. The post is by SendWithUs.com and is called “How to Send Email Like a Startup: A Guide to Making Every Email Count.”

There are several things I learned (or reinforced in my mind) from this resource. First, it’s important to consider every piece of collateral that a customer comes into contact with from your company. Even such seemingly mundane things as a confirmation email for signing up for an email list have immense marketing potential within them.

Second, the guide talks about the Pirate Metrics model: AARRR (Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue). In the context of the guide, it’s a useful breakdown for helping to understand how different, non-intrusive transactional emails sent to a customer help reinforce every step of that AARRR funnel.

Third, I picked up valuable ideas for my own marketing practice. One of them is the value of including links to surveys in email campaigns. After all, why not use one’s base of customers to generate feedback about the company and find potential brand champions? I never thought of this opportunity, and I’m glad the guide clued me into it.

Overall, email campaigns are a fascinating part of marketing because when they are done well, they can be a beautiful thing (done poorly, they’re as ugly as spam meat is disgusting). The guide from SendWithUs.com puts it well: “email is a place to test and reinforce who your company is in spirit, content, and design.”

Vocational Inspiration for Marketing

Sushi from the film, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"Marketing is difficult to do well. There are whole industries of inspiring marketing tools to fuel the creativity of the professional marketer: social media outlets, project management software, marketing automation utilities, analytics packages, and much more. But what about broader sources of inspiration for marketing as a vocation?

I have found several documentaries on Netflix to be personally inspiring. They are not about marketing per se; rather, they exhibit individuals who are wholly devoted to their craft. The first two feature prominently the Japanese culture of work and how seriously certain craftsmen approach their trade: Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Birth of Sake.

From these two documentaries I learned the importance of the long-run view of work. Marketing success is rarely something you can capture in the first few years of work. It takes many years to master even a new craft such as digital marketing. Expecting an immediate windfall of prosperity in marketing can lead to disappointment.

A documentary literally closer to home is Crafting a Nation about upstart craft beer brewers in America. From this film, I grew to appreciate the amount of obstacles that lie in the path of most professional endeavors and how much hard work is required to overcome them. This is true of marketing as well. Sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the value of work when many of one’s digital campaigns (especially in the early phases) are underperforming. It’s one thing to say to oneself that marketing is an iterative process, it’s another quality entirely to convince oneself that things will improve in the long run as one perfects a craft.

This brings me to my final question: how does a professional marketer improve their craftsmanship? Well, marketing is both creative and analytical work. To the former end, radio personality Ira Glass (of This American Life fame) describes in this interview the process required. Nothing else is a substitute for hard work and perseverance to bring eventual results in creative projects.

If you’re looking for sources of vocational inspiration, check out the ones I listed above. What others resources have inspired you to keeping your marketing chops sharp?