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Taking Control of Your Schedule: 5 Tools for Better Planning and Time Management

I’m taking a little detour today from my usual topics of branding, marketing, writing, and social media. Today I want to talk about a universal problem that all marketers face, whether they are solopreneurs wearing many hats or marketing professionals working in large, global companies: a lack of time.

The number one lament I hear from my clients – small business owners to the marketing directors of multi-million dollar companies – is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Everyone is overwhelmed, overbooked, and overworked. They feel like they are being simultaneously pulled in sixteen different directions, which makes juggling their workload of projects and tasks pretty darn challenging.

Almost all of my hard-working clients are guilty (as am I on occasion) of dipping into personal time to ensure that everything gets done. More than once, I’ve sent an email out after midnight only to get an immediate response from my client. Same goes for weekends.

This isn’t how any of us want to live. We want a more manageable schedule, but how can we tame that beast?

I don’t pretend to have The Answer, but I would like to share my answer with you. I recently wrote a two-part series on the tools and techniques I use to plan my projects and manage my time. I originally wrote the series for the readers of Live to Write – Write to Live, a collaborative writing blog where I am a founding member and regular contributor; but the information is applicable to anyone who needs to get a grip on a schedule situation.

So, without further ado, I’d like to share my two cents on how to get the most out of your twenty-four hour day – sanely and humanely. I hope you find these ideas and tools helpful and would love to hear your tips as well.

Here’s to wrangling your schedule and To Do list into submission!

 

5 Tools for Smart Planning and Time Management – Part 1: In which we talk about the Big Picture approach

5 Tools for Smart Planning and Time Management – Part 2: In which we talk about the nitty gritty, day-to-day details

 

Image Credit: iam_photography

Marketing – Where to start

How do you feel when you think about tackling your marketing?

Excited? Empowered? Enthusiastic?

I didn’t think so.

 

Most people find marketing intimidating, overwhelming, and somewhat confusing.

Partly for that reason, many people tend to bump marketing to the bottom of the To Do list where it languishes with the dust bunnies. Poor, neglected marketing.

 

I get it. Marketing can seem Too Big to tackle. Where do you even start?

It’s like standing at the bottom of an imposing mountain and wondering how the hell you’re going to get to the top. You feel very small and ill equipped to handle such an adventure.

 

However, just like climbing a mountain, you don’t have to tackle the whole thing in a single bound. You mount your attack one step at a time. For beset results, you need a solid plan. Without a plan, you risk a lot of false starts that waste time, resources, and effort. Without a plan, you might hike around and around the bottom of the mountain without getting any closer to the top.

So – how do you develop this plan?

Here’s a simple, high-level, four-step approach to getting your marketing headed in the right direction:

 

STEP 1: Define your goals (The peak)

What are you trying to accomplish? What business problem do you need to solve?

Do you need more traffic to your site/offer/store? Do you have plenty of traffic, but no sales? Are you having trouble keeping your existing customers?  Are you constantly losing sales to price cutters? Are you battling uphill against a negative consumer perception?

Your marketing goals should be simple, but detailed. They should be quantifiable so that you can measure against them. “More sales” is not a good goal. “5% more sales from referrals” is a better one. “Standing out from the competition” is not a good goal. “25% higher brand awareness” is a better one.

“Engagement” is not a good goal. “50% more shares of brand content” is a better one.

 

STEP 2: Identify your assets (Take stock of your supplies)

What resources (human, financial, technical, network, intellectual property, content, etc.) do you have to help you reach your goal? As you compile this list, notice any gaps. Where do you need to supplement your existing toolbox? Be creative about how you can fill in those needs. Can you partner or barter with another company? Can you cultivate certain skills in-house, or do you need to outsource?

 

STEP 3: Craft strategies (Your general direction)

Now that you know where you want to go and what tools you have at your disposal, it’s time to brainstorm ways to reach your goals. It’s important to remember the difference between strategies and goals. Strategies are the Big Ideas, concepts, possible solutions. Tactics (coming up next) are specific actions that help you carry out a strategy.

So, for instance, if your goal is to increase referrals, your strategy might be to incentivize customers to recommend you. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, your strategy might be to expand into new verticals or establish a strong presence at major industry events. As you can see, strategies are not detailed. They are broad brushstroke directions. In the case of our mountain climbing metaphor, your strategy would be “up.”

 

STEP 4: Choose tactics (Your detailed plan)

Now that you have a general direction, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty with specific tactics. If your mountain-climbing strategy was “up,” your tactics will include all the details of HOW you are going to go up: what kind of climbing technique you’ll employ, what apparatus you’ll use, the route you’ll follow, how many stops you’ll make along the way.

If your strategy was to increase referrals by incentivizing customers, your tactics might include a tiered rewards package, direct mail letter, email campaign, and internal competition amongst your sales reps.

Tactics involves all the details of your “plan of attack” – the audience, the message, the creative, the channel, the delivery mechanism, etc.

 

 

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 … and just like that you’re ready to tackle that marketing mountain:

You’ve got a destination (goal – the top of the mountain), supplies (assets – tools and skills), a strategy (general direction – up), and tactics (detailed climbing plans). All of these elements work together: your tactics are driven by your goal, inspired by your strategy, and constrained by the assets in your toolbox. All the pieces make sense in the context of the Big Picture, each has a specific purpose, and they all work together towards one goal. You aren’t going to waste any time or energy. Doesn’t it feel good to have a plan?

 

Now, if only you had the time to make it all happen.

That’s a topic for next time.

😉

Image Credit: gigi 62

Sometimes, marketing makes me cry

This is not the post I meant to write. In fact, it’s not a post I meant to write at all.

I had another piece prepped on the foundational importance of a strong brand, but when I sat down at the keyboard I just wasn’t feeling it.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the importance of a strong brand. I believe in that like I believe chocolate should be its own food group.

 

My problem is that I’m being forced to face some demons and I’m not loving the experience.

It has been one of “those” weeks. Delays on two major projects left my carefully integrated schedule in shambles. Chaperoning a field trip for my daughter’s third grade class (something I’d committed to a month ago) meant losing a whole day of work. Not chaperoning meant letting my daughter down. No way. Earlier this week, I lost a half a day with the lifesaver of a plumber who spent two afternoons sorting out a busted boiler. Just now, my tea bag burst and I broke two nails.

I just want to cry.

 

Is it too much to ask to be able to manage my business and have a life?

Apparently so.

I feel like I’m being punished for taking some time for non-work pursuits. You see, in addition to the scheduled field trip and unscheduled boiler crisis, I was a rebel and took a couple hours to share hot drinks and shop talk with a fellow writer. I also took Tuesday evening to hear Susan Orlean speak about her latest book.  Enjoying those things meant sacrificing some working hours. Taking life up on her offers of expanded perspective meant shelving (yet again) my own marketing intentions.

Now I’m paying the price: late hours, rushing through work, endless multi-tasking, and a long list of to-be-done marketing “shoulds.” I’ve backed myself into the corner where I suck at everything – bad mother, bad writer, bad business owner, bad girlfriend, bad me.

Why does it feel like I constantly have to choose between a lifestyle that’s all work and no play (making Jill boring and resentful), and a lifestyle that includes some play, but extracts the cost of that play from my hide (making Jill cranky and dysfunctional)?

I can barely keep up with my deadlines, let alone do the proactive marketing that I prescribe for my clients. Each time I utter the timeworn excuse, “the cobbler’s children have no shoes,” I cringe.

 

There has to be a better way.

And it dawned on me that what that I’m feeling – this angst, this frustration, this discouraged and downhearted dismay – is the same feeling that plagues other solo business owners just like me. I am not the only one drowning in the sinkhole of guilt and anxiety. I’m certainly not the only one pulling all-nighters or having to choose between my marketing and my life.

 

… choose between my marketing and my life …

 

Wow. That kind of says it all.

The thing is, I’ve been working for the last three years on a marketing framework and approach that is all about meshing marketing with life and creating an organic, holistic marketing “groove” that’s custom tailored to each person – working with her strengths and the realities of her life. I think about this work each morning when I get up, while I’m out for my morning walk, and often as I’m falling asleep. I don’t begrudge my ideas their persistent place in my thoughts. I’m energized by them.

And I just realized that I’m not crafting this framework solely to help my customers.

I’m creating this framework to save my own life.

Duh.

Isn’t it funny when life suddenly smacks you upside the head with a two by four and then palm slaps her own forehead in exasperated relief when she sees you’ve finally gotten it?

The next week is still going to be chaotic and intense as I barrel through some tough deadlines, but I’m more excited (and committed) than ever to carving out the time I need to bring this solution to light. I have three years worth of notes, almost two decades of experience, and a burning desire to find a better way … for me, and for you.

I hope you’ll stick around for the (r)evolution. Thanks for listening to my rant. I feel better now. Hope you do, too.

 

Care to share what makes you want to cry? Go ahead. Don’t be shy. We’re all friends here.

Image Credit: Alex Proimos

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