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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