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.

How to Build a Better Marketing Calendar

Calander with pencil.

I am a firm believer that every company needs a marketing calendar and should share it companywide.

A marketing calendar is a great communication device for your marketing team, sales reps, and company management. The marketing calendar also informs the marketing budget helping you to plan for expenses in advance.

Save the Date

Start by gathering the dates of all known events and deadlines. Just pencil them in on a paper calendar. You’ll be adding a lot of detail and moving things around so I recommend paper and pencil for now. Save your favorite calendar app for later.

Your company may have an annual customer appreciation golf outing—put it on the calendar. How about trade shows or conventions? Industry events are usually held around the same time every year.  Write those down, too.

Next, move on to contract obligations. Are you committed to publications? Activities like case study or white paper placement for online or print outlets have specific deadlines. Consider any speaking engagements, social media posting, podcasts or guest blogging. Make sure these dates are recorded on your marketing calendar.

This exercise may stir up some great ideas for marketing opportunities that you haven’t tapped into yet. Capture these activities as a “maybe” and research them further.

The end result is a broad view of all activities and drill down capabilities to ensure consistent branding and on-message tools and promotions.

What About Lead Time?

Lead time is important to remember. You are often working months and even years ahead of an actual “go-live” or publication date. Contracts are usually involved and stipulate cutoff dates.

For example, if you want to book a speaking engagement,  start with the date of the presentation and work backwards for your significant activities like these dates:

5.  Your final presentation is due a week before the conference.
4.  You need to do a dry run to practice.
3.  A graphic designer does design and layout.
2.  Content needs to be researched and written.
1.  The speaker proposal and outline must be written and submitted.

Know payment terms and deadlines and put them on the calendar.  Payment terms are specified in number of days before or after the event or deadline. Some vendors want payment in full before the event happens.

Stay on top of those dates so you are not stressed out and making poor decisions at the last minute.

The Marketing Calendar Visual

I work with clients in their planning cycle and use this calendaring exercise as the foundation of a marketing budget.

Once I have a rough draft of the marketing calendar, I involve other stakeholders to get their input. To get the most out of the exercise,  use the following process in a working session with your team:

  1. Grab a flipchart and some markers. You’ll need a page for each month of the year.
  2. Write the name of the month at the top of the page.
  3. Draw a horizontal line half way down each page to divide it into two sections.
  4. Write Execute in the top half and Plan in the bottom half.
  5. Fill in the chart for each month with the information and deadlines you have.
  6. Ask for input from your team of stakeholders to fill in any missing information.

In the Execute section, create a bulleted list of all the activities that must be completed and delivered that month.

In the Plan section, create a bulleted list of all the activities that require resources, contracts, payment, and decisions that month.

This sounds so simple but beware. When done properly this can take considerable time and input from other stakeholders. It’s worth the effort. Here’s just a few benefits:

  • You can spot resource overlap or gaps.
  • Your team will understand the scope of activities and timing.
  • You’ll uncover unknown expectations.
  • Interdepartmental needs will surface and be identified.
  • Communication and buy-in will improve.

What’s Next?

Take a look at the information you have compiled. Do you see any patterns or cycles in the activity?  Pay attention. Think about how activities align with the company’s business plan or goals.  Marketing activities should be leading sales activity—not at the same time, or worse, after the fact.

Congratulations! You’ve finished creating your marketing calendar. Now consider the expense of the activities you have defined and detailed. This information provides some great forecasting data for creating an annual budget.

Be sure to read my ebook 5 Easy Steps to Creating a Marketing Budget to learn more about the budgeting process.

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.

How to Ask for (And Get) More Marketing Funds

arm wrestling for money

You need funds. Your program just blew through its budget. You’re out of money but that last mile is where the big payoff finally comes in. What do you do?

You have two choices: abandon the program or seek additional funds. Either way you will have some explaining to do.

How to Prepare

Running out of money and having to ask for more is uncomfortable and can even be embarrassing. It means admitting that something went wrong, wasn’t taken into account, or didn’t go as planned.

The sooner you get over these emotional responses, the faster you can take action.  You’ll need a solid strategy for asking for, and getting, more money.

Follow these steps to build your case:

Step 1: Introspection

Take a good look at your program assumptions. Go back to the beginning and revisit how you built your initial budget.

Answer these questions in detail:

  • Why are you near the end of a program and just now noticing that money is tight or gone?
  • Did you miss a key component?
  • Was the data you based your initial budget on incorrect?
  • Did new data surface that influenced spending?
  • Did you underestimate the cost?
  • Can you identify areas of overspending?
  • Was there a situation beyond your control that escalated your cost?
  • Are there funds in the overall marketing budget that you are willing to reallocate to see this through?

Step 2: Itemization

Use the information gathered in Step 1 to assess and itemize the overages. Make a spreadsheet. For each item, list the following:

  • Budget amount
  • Actual amount
  • Variance
  • Description of the item
  • Explanation of overage

Determining this information takes time and effort, but it will be worth it to uncover the true financial picture and provide insight. For example, you may find that activities or purchases were charged to the program that should not have been and can be backed out. Or, you might find that you were overcharged for an item.

You’ll also identify areas where expense control and management need to be tightened up and communicated.

Don’t just take the numbers at face value. Dig in. This exercise will make you a better planner the next time around.

Step 3: Estimation

Now that you have assessed the current financial situation, estimate the funds needed to finish. This is the time to be brutally honest, to use realistic numbers, and to check and recheck your math.

You’ll only get one shot at asking for more money. Get that spreadsheet out again and open a new tab. Plug in remaining items and their costs. List the rationale for why you need this.

Step 4: Preparation

You’ve done your homework. You have the data. Put it together in a brief for the executive or committee you are presenting to.

  • Write an executive summary that is no longer than a page and a half. The more concise the better.
  • Prepare a presentation with only the data that informs management’s decision.
  • Do not put all your background info and spreadsheets in the presentation, however, have it ready to discuss should they ask.
  • Prepare two options for moving forward.
  • Include the pros and cons of each option.
  • Be willing to negotiate on various items.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Ask your team, your friends, your family . . . ask someone to listen to your pitch. The feedback will help you frame and refine your message.
    I recommend many sources for validating your assumptions in Why Marketers Fail at Internal Communications and What to do about it.

Step 5. Ask the People That Can Make the Decision

You’ll need to get on the calendar as soon as possible. Schedule a meeting with the person or committee you need to approve your funds.

  • Have copies of the presentation and supporting information for each attendee.
  • Be very specific and ask explicitly for funding.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Own and admit mistakes.
  • Be honest.
  • Don’t get defensive.
  • Don’t dwell on failure, quickly move to discussing corrections and action plans.
  • Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Leave the meeting with an answer or timeframe for an answer.
  • Thank them for their time.

Remember These Keys

You’ve most likely figured out by now that I believe preparation and communication are  key. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be when you ask for more funds. The better you communicate the situation and the need, the more likely you will get what you ask for.

Why Marketers Fail at Internal Communication and What to Do About It

Listen to the radio

I believe that at the foundation of marketing is internal communication with your company’s key stakeholders. I’ve seen too many CMOs work strictly from their own viewpoint or agenda. Without two-way, meaningful conversations, internal silos begin to emerge and that leads to ineffective marketing efforts.

It’s just too darn expensive to ignore input from others or discourage collaboration. So put your ego, your hesitancy, your agenda, or whatever it is, aside and tap into these information sources. The results will speak for themselves.

Talk Less, Listen More

I want to stress the word listen. Notice I didn’t say talk. You are collecting data, not preaching or delivering a canned message.

When was the last time you visited the training department? Training material is full of how-to information. Spend a little time researching common questions and answers. There’s nothing like seeing your product or services in action during a training session. It can help you craft a meaningful message.

How about product support or customer service? Have you asked them for information? Which FAQ is asked most frequently? Have you communicated the marketing messages to these important customer-facing representatives? If not, you are missing a great source of market intelligence.

Take a Hike

Take a walk over to shipping and receiving. Ask about returned merchandise and common complaints. You may need to adjust your message based on what you hear.

Sales teams and marketing teams have a natural tension. Sales wants better leads. Marketing wants better customer demographics to target with a precise message. Ignore the tension and seek out successful sales people. Ask about customer success stories and specific pain points that lead the customer through the decision process. You might find a great candidate for a customer case study.

Your marketing execution team is a data source that is invaluable to your overall strategy. Make sure each team member is responsible for various types of market research. They can be especially helpful in defining measurement systems and reports.

Want to know one of my best allies? Unlike some marketers who view the accounting department or bookkeeper as the enemy, I find them to be one of the best allies. Keep them in the loop. In my experience, accountants are grateful for a heads up on marketing expenditures and in return, can help red flag concerns with cash flow. They can also provide cost comparisons and answer vendor terms and service questions.

Surprise Is Not Always a Good Thing

When it comes to money, CEOs and CFOs hate surprises. I think we all do. It is critical to establish a pattern of communication to build your reputation as a good steward of the company’s financial assets. You must establish trust and accountability, and create measurement reports.

Why? Because you can only go to the well so often before it runs dry. If you need to ask for more money, make sure you have effectively communicated the objectives and the status along the way, AND make a compelling case for additional investment.

Homework Assignment
These sources can help you define your initial marketing plan and budget and build in some risk contingencies. Consider it your homework to do some checking in with the different departments listed here. I’d love to hear your results. Email me at

What Happens When You Get Stuck In Your Ivory Tower?

Person working at a desk.


Ivory Tower? You haven’t heard of it? For our purposes, it’s when company executives get stuck in an environment or thought process that is disconnected from the practical concerns of the real world.

It could be living in “the good old days” and refusing to acknowledge change. Or maybe it is just plain arrogance that we are all guilty of sometimes.

Effective marketers cannot afford to live in, or even visit, an ivory tower. The constant emphasis on ROI reminds us that for every marketing dollar spent, there needs to be a healthy return.

A while back, I wrote a post about the benefits of sharing marketing initiatives interdepartmentally. I suggested marketers must take advantage of feedback loops in their own company. You can catch up on that post here: Why Marketers Fail at Internal Communication and What to Do About It.

The Ivory Tower syndrome is the opposite problem – it’s not looking outside your company. And, it’s equally destructive.

Here’s an example. An executive once told me that “everything you need to know about our products can be learned within these four walls.” And he meant it. The answer was “No” to market research, to focus groups, to marketing roundtables with outside sales reps, and so on.

Wow. Really? He knew everything? He didn’t need to ask the customer which problem they were trying to solve?

Needless to say, without market input, several expensive products were developed and achieved little to no user adoption.

Please don’t fall into this trap. Your customers deserve more and your company needs to remain competitive to stay in business and grow.

Leave the Ivory Tower and Reconnect with Customers in Everyday Life

For an eye-opening experience, leave the office and shadow a salesperson. The perfect day to tag along is one where he or she is visiting several prospects in various stages of the buying process.

Take notes on the following:

  • Which industry is it?
  • Who are you meeting with and what is their role in the decision-making process?
  • How does the customer describe the problem?
  • What is the motivation for change or staying the same?
  • Which solution are they currently using to solve the problem (if any) and how is it working for them?
  • What is the cost of not changing?
  • Which unique feature(s) of your product would benefit the customer the most?
  • How are budgets and pricing discussed?
  • Which competitors are mentioned?

Armed With Reality – Now What?

It’s time to compile and analyze what you’ve learned. Two invaluable techniques for arriving at user-focused materials are the identification of personas and a jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework.

Much has been written about these two approaches and why one is better than the other.  My belief is that the two are compatible. Choose the approach that works best for you.

A persona is a written summary of the characteristics of your buyer. The more detailed the persona, the better. It includes personal demographic information like age, education, industry experience, time in current job. It also includes less tangible items like behaviors, motivations, emotions, the experience they want while using the product, and the decision-making process. Several profiles will emerge from your data.

The value of a persona is that it becomes infinitely easier to target a particular buyer than to target the entire universe of everyone that might ever use your product.

Likewise, the JTBD approach centers on the idea that when users use a product, it is for a specific job or to achieve an outcome. The entire set of jobs results in the list of the needs the user has. Once these needs have been identified, products can be designed to solve the problem in the best way possible.

JTBD is a newer technique and popular in today’s business press and UX community. The value of JTBD information is understanding what the users are trying to get done and what are the key success indicators for the job, both functionally and emotionally.

Incorporating What You Have Learned

Okay, so you’ve left the ivory tower, you’ve had your reality checked, what’s next?

Now it’s time to do a gap analysis. Gather all the company’s existing marketing materials. Do a complete audit of all brochures and any document or slide deck. Look at the home page of your website. Does the content speak to the needs and concerns of the personas and the JTBDs you have developed? Is there a gap between where you are now and where you want to be?

All too frequently, our marketing and sales tools focus on the products we have and all their great features. It will become crystal clear where the rewrites are needed and which new content must be created. Get your project manager hat on and schedule the rework. Who knows, your work in defining the persona and JTBD may actually influence the next round of product development.

Oh, and remember that executive I spoke of at the beginning? He was once a struggling entrepreneur bootstrapping his company by building products based on his own knowledge and experience solving a real world problem. Over time, his passion for the products, customers, and business changed.

He was bored.

So, he left the ivory tower. He sold the business and did a lot of soul searching. He developed a totally different product in a different market. He was brought  back to his roots in listening to the  customer and success followed.

Are You a Shop-a-Holic? Stop Overspending or Underfunding Now


Overspending or underfunding marketing programs  happens when you have a shop-a-holic mentality.

If a little marketing works then let’s buy a lot, right? Wrong.

Let’s spread our marketing dollars around and experiment with everything, right? Wrong.

The result is almost always buyer’s remorse.

When Does Overspending Occur?

Overspending on marketing happens when you make last-minute decisions.

  • You can’t take advantage of early-bird discounts which are a staple in marketing.
  • You lose the opportunity to book related travel in the hotel hosting an event, costing you more in time, money, and convenience.
  • You miss out on bundled marketing packages or bulk purchases.
  • You end up with the leftovers:
    • The worst spot on the trade show floor.
    • The presentation slot at the end of the conference when everyone is gone.
    • The least desirable 1/4 page ad space positioned across from your competitor’s full-page, full-color ad.

So not only have you overspent, you haven’t maximized the effectiveness of your marketing dollars and have little to show for it.

Why Would You Ever Underfund?

First of all, you wouldn’t do it on purpose. Underfunding occurs when you don’t have enough information or experience to make informed decisions.

  • You book a trade show but can’t afford a lead retrieval system at the show.
  • You schedule a press conference but don’t hire a photographer.
  • You don’t have promotional funds for a new product or service launch because you blew the budget in the first quarter.
  • You buy one-off email lists rather than having a full campaign strategy.

In this case, you spread the money so thin that nothing is working well because it was short-changed from the beginning.


What’s the Cure?

If you know me at all, you know that the answer has something to do with a budget. Your budget is your bible. It clearly defines what you are spending and when you are spending it.

Marketing moves fast. Marketers are working months and even a year or two ahead of a product release or event. Decisions must be made and contracts signed.

When you commit to a marketing activity, you are always committing to a schedule and payment plan. If you cancel, you very rarely get all your money back.

Wouldn’t you want to make your decisions in the most informed way possible?   Take a look at my ebook 5 Easy Steps to Building a Marketing Budget.

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.

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.

Schedule Appointment

Make an Intelligent Pie and Enjoy Better Results


In honor of Pi Day  3/14/17, I want to discuss pie charts as they relate to marketing and business.

Visualize your marketing budget as a pie chart.

I like to see a healthy, colorful pie with marketing slices amply funded and in good relation to each other.

A pie chart gives me a quick picture of any concerns. Taking data and creating formulas and charts is always interesting to me. Not because I am particularly good at mathematics.  It’s not something I actually enjoy but I am a firm believer it is necessary to measure your marketing. And that,  requires math.

Spreadsheets are my favorite tool. They are great when it comes to plugging and chugging through calculations. The equations coded into the spreadsheet free me from worry that I have the information wrong. When set up properly, you can model “what if” scenarios by simply changing a few variables.

A quick audit of a client’s past budget and actual data tells me a lot. I usually organize expenses into broad categories and then make a pie chart. That visually draws my eye to the categories where the most and least spending occurs. For more on effective budgeting, check out Learn Why Budgeting Is So Important.

If your pie is only two or three colors, you are distributing your marketing budget too narrowly. You’ve probably got some great content and information to share but you aren’t leveraging it. You should be using and reusing your content 8 to 10 times!

On the other hand, if your pie has lots of colors but they are razor thin slices, you are are most likely funding too many activities. Your activities will be severely underfunded and doomed to failure from the start.

The final pie scenario is one where the balance of activities is perfect but you have only a single-serving chicken pot pie instead of a full-size pie for an entire family. In other words, the size of your overall marketing budget is just too small and needs to be expanded to perform well.

I recommend dedicating a percentage of revenues to marketing.  The percentage depends on the margins in your industry and the health of your business. You have to start somewhere so try 3-4 percent and go from there.

All this talk of pie is making me hungry. How about you?