How to Break the DIY Curse in Your Business

DIY Tools

We’ve all been there. As an entrepreneur, there are times when you don’t have the cash flow to start a new marketing effort. Or, you just can’t afford to hire a professional.

So, you do it yourselfHow hard could it be? After all, your time is free. It’s just time, right?

Or, maybe you have an insatiable curiosity. You need to know not just the details of some marketing problem but also all of the possible options and potential solutions. You’re convinced that you can’t delegate when you don’t know the answers and how to properly measure the results.

So, you do it yourself. And, you learn something and it is fun, even exhilarating. Now you’re an expert, or so you think.

Welcome to my secret society. The Over-Achiever, Do-It-Yourself Club.

Why Being a DIYer is Bad for Your Business

DIY projects are fun and I don’t really mean to slam all DIYers. However, marketing is not the place for individuals focused on doing everything themselves.

First of all, being a DIYer means that you may not be using your skills and talents for the highest and best purpose.

I have seen CEOs, CFOs and Sales VPs at the executive level, and administrative personnel at the staff level, trying to do their real day job while juggling the complexities of marketing strategy. It’s not pretty.

Second, DIYers often develop a very real malady called Perfectionism. Or, its ugly cousin Egotism.

Rather than projects that have a defined beginning, middle, and end, DIYers get stuck in a constant cycle of beginning-middle, beginning-middle, beginning-middle. DIYers keep adding, deleting, or improving and never getting it quite perfect.

If nirvana is reached and the project is finished, DIYers become know-it-alls. If they can do it, anyone can, right?

Lastly, DIYers miss opportunities to be strategic in their marketing efforts due to decision paralysis.

DIYers gain the tactical knowledge of how to use a tool but they often miss  marketing opportunities that occur naturally when you strategically align your marketing cycle with your business cycle. DIYers can sometimes be misguided in the areas of activity tradeoffs, cost comparison, and success measurements.

How to Break the DIY Curse

Once you understand why DIYing is bad for your business, you need to take active steps to stop. It’s easier than you think and it is a repeatable and scalable process.

  1. Develop a marketing plan. It should list all you activities and initiatives for the next 18 months at a minimum. Make sure it covers the 4 P’s: products, pricing, production, and placement (distribution).
  2. Create a marketing calendar of events so you know, way in advance, what is coming up.
  3. Establish a budget that considers all the items in your marketing plan and the timing of marketing investments.
  4. Determine reporting measurements and timing.
  5. Get agreement on plan, calendar, budget, and reports by all key stakeholders.
  6. This step is really important!  BACKOFF.  Let your marketing manager, team, or agency do the work.
  7. Review activity against plan at appropriate intervals.
  8. Revise and repeat.

Fresh Insight

Like most entrepreneurs, you are too close and  it’s too hard to look at your business objectively. But honestly, it can be really healthy for both you and your company to not go the DIY route. Often an outside perspective helps you to get to the heart of the issues and find a new way forward.

Remember, you may not need a 6-figure marketing professional. You can always Borrow My Brains.

Never Be the Last Gift Opened Again

Dog with Birthday hat

How to Get Your Email Campaign Opened

I attended a large wedding shower a few months ago. To be honest, I really didn’t want to go and had a customer deadline looming. I didn’t have four free hours to spend but I went anyway.

I rushed out that morning to buy a last-minute gift from the registry. Thank goodness for the gift-wrap station in the store. I made a passable bow, taped on the card, and off I went.

It wasn’t lost on me that the gift table was brimming with gifts from the same store in the same generic wrapping paper with the same limp bow.

Still thinking strategically, I placed my gift closest to the bride. Surely she’d open it first and I could duck out and get back to my project. That was the plan – but it didn’t work out that way.

My gift sat on the table and got moved from one side to another. Present, after beautiful present, was opened to oohs and ahhs. “Please open mine. I have to get going. You’ll really like it,” kept going through my mind. I was getting antsy.

Finally, my gift was in the hands of the bride. The last gift to be opened. I think only the two of us were paying attention. She beamed at me as she held up the gravy boat I bought. I winked at her and bolted for the door.

So, What Does This Have to Do With Email?

It occurred to me that this experience is just like some of the email campaigns in my inbox. How many of you send out routine, ho-hum email blast with a boring subject line and generic content?

They land in my inbox saying “Open me.” Unless they are relevant and grab my attention, to the back of the line they go at best, and into the trash unread at  worst.

Let’s Do It Differently

I am pleased to say that I have a new strategy for giving gifts and surprisingly it works well for my email campaigns also.

Have a plan and be intentional
Stop writing last-minute content. Just stop. Instead, keep a notepad handy and write topics, outlines, and key phrases noting down the appropriate audience segment. Plan your content publication dates on the calendar.

I don’t shop last minute for showers or weddings anymore either. As soon as I get an invitation, I shop online and have the gift shipped to me. I get the best selection because everyone else is waiting till the last minute.

Give them a reason
Subject lines matter. It is critical to get it right and affects your open rates dramatically. Take advantage of your email provider’s tools that use algorithms to judge the effectiveness of subject lines. Test several subject lines on a small segment.  Use the winning subject line for your full database.

My shower gifts now give the bride a reason to open them first.

I bypass the generic wrapping paper and head for the outrageous. For a couple that had recently rescued a puppy, I wrapped their shower gift in puppy paper complete with dog tags and bones for a bow.

The paper had nothing to do with the gift inside or the occasion, but it was unique, memorable, and stood out from the sea of silver and white swirly wrapping paper with purple bows.

Know your audience and respect their time
Think about your recipients and their schedule. Narrow your focus down to one audience and one message specifically for them. Give them real value in the information you provide. Offer an Opt-In freebie such as a checklist or job aid.

Mail programs will often tell you that Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. is the best time to arrive in an inbox. However, if your target audience is a payroll clerk trying to get time cards calculated, Tuesday morning is the worst time.

With just a slight attitude adjustment, I have a renewed respect for the bride (the audience) and the occasion (their planning and effort). Wedding showers and parties are no longer an obligation; they are joyous occasions to celebrate. I clear my calendar. I rearrange activities to allow plenty of time. Sometimes I even buy a new outfit to celebrate right along with the bride.

Review and improve
I am a big fan of picking your measurement system BEFORE you execute. To me, it is too easy to play Monday morning quarterback and attribute results to something that just isn’t valid. Metrics can be overwhelming so I suggest choosing three to start. Start with Open Rate. Over time, your Open Rate should go up. The Click-Thru rate should also go up. The Opt-Out rate should go down.

What Are the Results?

The results from my gift-giving research are in and it is statistically significant. I’ve attended at least six gift-giving occasions since that fateful shower. I began being intentional, having a plan, thinking about the recipient, and giving them a reason. And guess what – my gift was opened first every single time.

I’d like to see this method work for your email campaigns as well. Try it and let me know.

Are You Really Sure X Divided by 12 Makes a Healthy Budget?

Do the Math!

If your approach to marketing budgets is to take a lump sum of money and divide by 12 months, we need to talk. Not all months are created equal!

First-time budgeters can find creating a marketing budget to be a huge challenge. How do you know what is the appropriate amount to spend and when to spend it?  The place to begin often lies in recent history.

Take a look at what was spent last year as a starting point. Do you see any pattern in marketing expenses?  Can you group like expenses into consistent categories?

Here are some expenses I typically consider. Are any of these familiar to you?

  • Events and conferences
  • Subscriptions
  • Deadline-driven expenses
  • Industry calendar
  • Opportunity expenses

Events and conferences

Do you exhibit at trade shows? Do you present at conferences or attend to network with others?  Guess what? These events are predictable. They typically happen the same time each year. April, May, and early June as well as September and October are busy trade show months. Why? To avoid holidays and summer vacations that are typically busy tourist times.

With this in mind, you know that these months will naturally have higher expenses than other months. As you gain experience with planning and budgeting, you’ll recognize cost-saving opportunities like early bird deadlines, advanced space reservations, and hotel booking through the event.


Some marketing activities involve a consistent, predictable monthly investment and are paid on the subscription model. One such example is  deploying press releases to the newswire. You can pay for a single press release at a time or purchase an annual subscription. Annual subscriptions offer a less expensive, per-release price and will often include other services bundled in the price, such as social media outreach.

Subscriptions allow you to spread the cost across the entire year at a low monthly payment. It is worth shopping around for these services each time they are up for renewal. You have lots of choices – new technology as well as new services at lower prices make it worth your while to shop.

Deadline-driven expenses

You can forecast other expenses based on the deadlines for when they are due. Award programs are an example of this type of expense. If your company nominates new products, programs, or teams for industry awards, you can forecast the expense and timing of the expense. Costs might include writing the nomination, the submission fees, the award banquet fee and associated travel, and the award or trophy.

Industry Calendars

Certain industries schedule events and celebrations every year. Their trade publications provide editorial calendars that describe the planned content for each issue of their print or eMagazine. For example, National Nurses Week is celebrated in May. If you target the nursing industry, you’ll want to budget funds around activities for this month. Specific content requests go out for case studies, white papers, and advertising. Be ready by creating go-to-market content that is relevant, specific, on-message and timed for these events.

Opportunity Expenses

Creating a budget allows you to measure your actual expenses against forecast each month. You can keep on top of expenses and make adjustments should you need to.

I recommend leaving a small percentage of your budget for experimentation.  Your planned expenses should account for at least 98% of your budget.  If an unexpected opportunity with great potential return on investment arises, you can review your expenses to-date and projected expenses to take advantage of the opportunity.

So What Is the Right Formula?

As you can see, some months your marketing expenses will be higher than other months. Take a look at the total budget you have to work with and assign priorities to the activities. This is a top-down approach. Also, build your information for each month’s activities from the bottom up.

Approaching your budget from the both the top down and bottom up will help you arrive at a solid estimate of expenses that are aligned with your overall marketing goals.

Your Best Writing . . . Do You Start With An Outline?

Don't forget to outline first!

I started my career as a tech writer for a large software firm.  It was an amazing experience for a young 22-year old. I witnessed a well-oiled machine produce hardware and software user documentation.  Over 300 writers, editors, graphic designers, and oh yeah, um typesetters, worked to ensure that  massive documentation sets were written with one voice, tone, and style. How? By starting with an outline.

Improve Your Skills

Perhaps the skill I rely on the most from those early days is outlining. Nothing was written back then without first having an outline that was vetted by the writing supervisor and then the technical team leader.

During my years as a manager hiring content writers,  a standard interview question I used was about the candidate’s process for creating content. If the answer was vague or “I organize it in my head and write as I go along.” it was a red flag.

An outline forces a thorough thought process that continues to serve me well today. Sound too old fashioned or too constraining?  For me, it actually fires up the  creative juices.

Back to Basics

Whenever I am stuck and ideas aren’t flowing smoothly, I go back to basics:

  • What is the topic?
  • What are the main ideas?
  • Is there a logical order to the ideas?
  • What points provide supporting data?
  • Is there an obvious conclusion or information summary?

One of the best things about outlining skills is that they are transferrable to other tasks and situations. For example, when I create a budget I use the same hierarchy of thought. I use it when creating presentations, making decisions, and developing marketing plans.

Give it a try. Could an outline be the one breakthrough activity you need to get moving? Let’s talk about your marketing content strategy in a Borrow My Brains session. Schedule one now.

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