The Education Center: On Making Decisions

When to experiment and when to focus

Summer of 2016 

The web of my job had blossomed out from content writing. There was nobody at the time reporting to me. I just showed up and did my work, which consisted of coming up with an idea, researching the topic, writing out the content, and publishing it on the company blog. I didn’t want to think of it this way, but I was the lowest on the totem. That all changed in a few short months. Things started moving fast. 

Before David left we were working on a few projects that I never fully understood. Now and then I would be looped into a meeting, but I was mainly focused on creating content and never had a say in the encompassing strategy. That was at least how I felt. After all, I was just a humble writer. I didn’t even think of myself as a marketer at the time, let alone a marketing manager. 

During this period, I was getting a bit tired of the content I was writing. There was only so much I had to say about credit card chargebacks, and there was only so much an audience wanted to read about that topic. 

Where I was given some freedom was when I was allowed to try different things. I made videos, infographics, and at one point even a few podcast episodes. I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to try new things for the company and I was grateful for that. In a way, I was doing growth hacking without knowing that I was doing it. I was experimenting. Throwing multiple darts and seeing what stuck. I feel I need to do that as a new employee at a young company. 

My job as I saw it before responsibility was thrust upon me was to come up with a productive way to kill time. As imaginative as I was, killing time was not hard. I had content: blog, video, and podcast to produce… along with the education center. 

The way Evan described it, the EDU was supposed to be this gated second blog that viewers had to enter their email address and sign up to before they read any of my writing. I like to believe that people would enter their emails. I’m a professional writer, what I produce has value. I like to believe that, but that is pure optimism.

In the EDU, there would be content that our users will find helpful in growing their business and handling payments. The question then for me is, am I creating better content than our knowledge base? Will it replace the knowledge base — also known as the support page — where we, at the the time, were using a service called: Userbase. It was there that all our How to’s and FAQs were. Will the EDU replace that and if it should, why would it be gated? Nobody was going to enter their email to see any FAQ page. 

David and Evan could never seem to come to a consensus on what the EDU was going to serve. Yes, we need to produce content and we needed a lead generation channel, but we were not going to be able to create support content that is better than what the larger companies that we serve has produced. We were an add-on, they were the hub. 

The EDU was aptly named because in the learning-on-the-job classroom it was my first test. When David and Evan left, the wheels for the EDU page were already in motion. Terry had spent countless hours working on it. As time went by, I began to work more closely with Terry, the front end developer. When I started in the industry, I didn’t even know what front end or back end developer was. I literally felt handicapped as a digital marketer because I didn’t know how to code. I was in a wheelchair and Terry was pushing me along. He had been a great sport the whole time and I would go on to waste more of his work hours — and that stressed me out a lot.   

I remember sitting down with Terry for at least five meetings deciding how to configure the EDU so that it made sense. 

Here was where I had to think about being a marketer in a whole new way. I started thinking in terms of resources and in terms of competition. What can we do and what are the trends? I went back to thinking, yes we needed to create content, but why did I have to split up my resources? Why should the blog have to compete against another entity? 

I would look at blogs like Hootsuite and see that they have webinars and courses. We didn’t have a team or a department to create all the content like Hootsuite. Eventually, every company will need to be a media company on top of what they build and serve. I believe that. I love that idea because it’s such a hopeful future for us content creators. 

But I can guarantee you this, before Hootsuite had their fingers in all those different projects, they had one solid blog. Before you take on another project, you make sure what you are doing is performing well. There is no reason to double down on two failing ventures. There is experimenting and then there is careless spending. I’m fine wasting my own time discovering and testing, but I’m not okay wasting others. 

The EDU, which Evan and David couldn’t even come to a conclusion on the name for — was it going to be the Education Center or was it going to be the Academy? — became the bane of my work hours for probably three months. It was the first big project I had to put the hammer down on. It was not the first time I gave up on a project, but in my position at the company, it was the first time I made a decision to avoid loss of more money and resources. I recognized sunk costs and I prevented more waste. 

I consider it one of my proudest decisions I made in my first quarter or even year at the helm. It was a leadership decision. I thought critically about what we were doing and decided it’s not worth doing. However, I would quickly learn that it is much easier to kill someone else’s brainchild than it is to kill your own. I was just at the start of my journey and it was already intense. 

This has been based on my personal experience. Details and names have been changed in respect for privacy.

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Sparking interest

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Talking less and asking more will make you more interesting

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

Every person in the world is filled with his or her own experiences, problems, and knowledge; therefore, everyone in the world is interesting. However, in a social environment we are often put on the spot and are required to present ourselves in the most “interesting” way possible. That’s a lot of pressure. After all, we are all so interesting, and life is but a competition.

It’s natural to list off the most unique things about yourself—things other people wouldn’t have done—in an effort to appear interesting. You’ll talk about the places you’ve traveled, all the cool hobbies you have, and even the accomplishments you’ve made. While it’s important to be entertaining, you must also remember that your interests are one-dimensional. In a conversation, it’s not something you can truly share.

It’s reflex to talk about yourself when you are in a crowd, because that is what you know best. You may feel like the celebrity of the party, but in reality, you are probably dominating the conversation. You’re keeping everybody hostage, and that may taint their engagement with you.

The best way to appear interesting is not to stand centre stage, but rather to sit in the audience. Yes, your backpacking trip to South America is interesting. But learning about your friend’s new computer program may be as interesting, at least to him.

An interesting person is not one that goes off on a tangent, but rather connects interesting topics together, so search for ways to segue into your topics from theirs. While there may not seem to be a link between your vacation and your friend’s computer program, there is, because we are all part of this planet, we all follow human customs, and we all kill boredom with interests. “How does he work on his computer program when he is on vacation?” you may wonder, and therefore, you should ask.

A great way to be interesting is by being around people who are different from you. It may feel like you are on the verge of an argument sometimes, but that is perhaps just a passionate discussion. So you are not religious, but you want to learn. Find someone willing to share his or her faith with you and don’t just talk about how you don’t believe it.

Life is full of little mysteries and each person is a clue. The more people you meet, the more you learn, and the more interesting you become. Being interesting is not the experience that you have alone, but rather what you can learn from other people. Appear open minded, with the capacity to acknowledge other people’s interests. That is more interesting than dressing funny, buying expensive items, and surrounding yourself with people who agree that you are awesome.

Like a pro

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Why there is only one real measurement for professionalism

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. October 6, 2015

What makes someone professional? That is a question all up-and-coming employees want to know. They spend hours fine-tuning their resume, they buy a new wardrobe, they practice their handshake over and over, and they even show up 15 minutes early for meetings and interviews, but, in the end, none of that matters except consistency.

Being professional is not a switch you turn on and off when you are working. Being professional is an attitude towards all things, regardless if there is a paycheque at the end or not. The ability to treat every task—whether it’s finishing a report, communicating a business plan, or meeting a friend for lunch—with equal importance is what makes someone valued, and therefore professional.

There is nothing more prized in the workplace than an employee who is consistently accountable. If you say you’ll do something, it’s your job to make sure it is done. If you can’t accomplish the task on your own or in time, don’t feel bad. Being professional does not mean that you have perfect foresight.  And being accountable does not mean doing everything yourself. A professional needs to meet hurdles with competency, not expertise. When employers are hiring, they are rarely looking for specialists; rather, they are looking for those with the capability of asking for help when they need it.

If you think being a professional is being a perfectionist, working overtime, and straining over every little detail—like what to wear and what to say—then you will never operate at your fullest potential. The pros know that, given time, opportunities, and experience, skills will undoubtedly form and gaps will fill in. There is raw talent, sure, but in a workplace, repetition and routines rule, and learning a task and accomplishing it with consistency is often what makes you a pro.

Yes, you hate your job and you are finding it harder and harder to apply the same amount of enthusiasm you had the first few weeks after you were hired. I have one suggestion for you: quit. If you can’t apply consistency to your craft—and you should live in a world where every job is a craft, where improvement is as important as completion—you are harming yourself. If work ethic were a tangible object, you’d be smashing it into a thousand pieces.

You hear it every day: the job market is a scary, volatile place. Only the best get hired. That is not true, or in a way, only semi-true. When we think of the best athletes, we think of those who are consistently showing up to every game or tournament. They might be scoring goals, stopping shots, or just making par every time, regardless, you can always bet on them. When people look at you will they bet on you to succeed? Where’s your track record to show it?

Being professional does not start after you graduate or get your job or receive your first paycheque. Being professional starts the moment you wake up every day.