Marketing teams must drive revenue, increase awareness and inform product and service teams. It is an essential function within any organization, yet marketing teams are often asked to do a lot with a little. Sure, certain industries are notorious for large marketing teams or huge budgets to hire ad firms, but the majority have tight budgets, small teams, and large expectations.

According to sbecouncil.org and sba.gov, firms with fewer than 100 employees make up over 98% of U.S. businesses and marketing teams for this size organization are typically one to four people. I can attest to this after nearly two decades of experience with small marketing teams for both products and services companies.  

Small marketing teams can still be incredibly effective, it just takes creativity, an understanding of priorities, and the right tools. This article is the first in a series that offers tips for small marketing teams to increase efficiency.

Tips for Small Marketing Teams Series:

  1. 10 Tips for Small Marketing Teams
  2. Marketing Processes You Need to Automate
  3. Where and How to Augment Your Small Marketing Team

Working Smarter, Not Harder

The landscape of marketing has certainly changed in 20 years. During my tenure, I saw the introduction of websites and ecommerce and the voracious growth of social media. My goal has always been to stay on top of trends and learn the newest ways to reach potential customers where they are, but marketing is challenging. Finding your audience these days is complicated enough, then you also have to deliver what they need before they know they need it. Plus, marketing strategies and tools are constantly changing; new modalities pop up leaving marketers scrambling to become a master – or at least fluent – in dozens of techniques.

There’s a myriad of marketing channels and content types marketers must have a strong understanding of to be effective in today’s landscape. Staying afloat with a small team is no easy feat. It’s therefore critical for small marketing teams to understand the breadth of marketing expectations then be strategic about which ones they can focus on. 

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed and understaffed, remember, even a large agency most likely won’t cover ALL marketing needs. Consider that the “marketing mix” (yes, the old term applies here) is unique per organization and you may not need to be an expert in all channels. Be smart about where you focus the team’s efforts.

10 Tips for Small Marketing Teams

As Director of Marketing, I’ve learned a lot about how to be efficient and effective with small marketing teams. Here’s my top tips that your small marketing team should absolutely be employing. Check the list to make sure you’re doing these, and if you’re not, no time like the present. There are some common sense activities that will pay dividends by getting your team organized and operating efficiently.

1. Invest in an integrated sales and marketing platform.

If you have everything in one place it will be easy for your team to automate processes such as email sequences, paid campaigns, assigning leads, reporting, etc. This will allow your team to cover more tasks, making their precious time as efficient as possible. Yes, it’s an investment, but money here will actually expand your team’s marketing efforts.

2. Create a content calendar.

Get organized! And use an actual calendar format. Ensure all your marketing activities exist in one place. Email sends, ad deadlines, social posts, webinars, conferences, and even holidays. Otherwise you’ll find yourself sending outreach July 4th when everyone is in their backyard having a hot dog or impossible burger.

Color coordinate categories so you can easily see what is happening in a given week or month and how it impacts everything else. This is especially important if you are marketing to multiple industries, products or services. Colors will allow you to quickly see if you have a gap in outreach or if you’re too focused on one area.

example content calendar

Pro tip: this is something that you should not be spending money on. There’s no reason to have yet another platform to learn and manage, so just use the calendar with your email service. For me, it’s Outlook.

Utilize the tools your calendar offers, things like categories, locations, the ability to add links or attachments within the calendar item and even assign/invite others. It will become your new favorite tool if you don’t have another means to manage projects.

3. Time box activities. 

Once you can easily visualize when things are due it’s time to plan out your days and weeks accordingly. Work your way back and mark your calendar for every initiative you plan to work on from tactical activities to strategic planning.

Plan recurring activities, like weekly reporting or optimizing an ongoing campaign. Live by your calendar and be honest about the amount of time it takes to do things. Be sure to schedule blocks to answer emails and review tasks you’ve asked others to complete.

Managing your time this way creates clear and realistic expectations on what you can get done. Also, if you allow others access to view your calendar, it provides transparency. Often marketers have their hands in so many things it hard for colleagues to understand what they are even up to.

4. Join a marketing group.

Find a regional or national group that you can tap for industry insights and benchmarks. You’ll have a trusted resource at hand when you want to try a new channel or technology. They can also help with industry-specific questions and identify potential roadblocks. Take advantage of having subject matter experts at your disposal. I belong to the American Marketing Association, Chicago Chapter. It’s the largest professional chapter in the US and is known for its quality content, networking, and educational events.

5. Repurpose content.

One of the best ways to expand your marketing efforts with limited resources is to recycle old content. For instance, you can turn a blog post into a newsletter, social media posts, a video series or even a webinar. When you’ve put the time and energy into creating an educational webinar, turn that in to downloadable content. Then break that up into smaller blogs with accompanying email outreach and social shares. Just be aware of all of the formatting requirements in the beginning. Be smart and strategic with the resources you have.

6. Audit your in-house skills and abilities, then deputize others.

Marketing may have a hand in product or service design, demand generation/awareness, lead gen, nurture, sales enablement, customer retention, HR/recruiting. Whew! You can’t do it all or be everything to everyone. Most importantly, you can’t be an expert in everything, so complete an honest review of your strengths. Once you know what your team can produce, review what you should.

Small teams must be realistic about what they can produce. Do you even need to produce downloadable content if it doesn’t help your audience convert? Is there someone in your organization that has a technical skill you lack? Can they spare a few hours to teach you, write a blog or provide a content review? Also, consider what your competitors are doing and be strategic about where to go toe-to-toe and where to leave them alone.

7. Master prioritization.

Ever been elbow deep on a campaign and someone from the C-Suite asks you to throw it all away and churn out something for their priority that’s due “yesterday”? Avoid the painful 180 switches by requiring leadership input on company priorities. From there you can drive marketing priorities more efficiently. Marketing should not be the last to know if there’s a new product or service that should take priority. Be proactive to avoid becoming an afterthought. List out your initiatives, including research and strategy, gather input from appropriate parties, then invite all relevant leaders to a meeting. Pro tip: always make sure there is a tiebreaker vote.

Once you have that plan, quarterly reviews of your goals will keep everyone on track. Leave those priorities where people can see them, and continuously report on your progress to keep it top of mind. Once you wrap up major projects (or at the end of the quarter) report on success, failures and plans for improvement. This transparency will benefit you just as much as anyone else.

8. Don’t rush!

Just because you have a small marketing team doesn’t mean you can let quality assurance fall off. Yes, there’s an occasional need to move quickly to capitalize on something topical or time-sensitive, but those cases should be the exception.

Create a clear approval process to deliver in expected time windows. This is a great opportunity to get stakeholders involved. Sales will want to know what a whitepaper looks like if it’s meant to drive lead generation and your delivery or product team will want to know what an email looks like if it’s being sent to customers. Utilize these colleagues for QA! Not only will you get buy-in, but you’ll get valuable feedback that will improve the overall quality of the marketing assets you are creating. Which in turn improves your organization’s reputation. Combined with mastering prioritization these steps will be the difference between feeling like you’re constantly running around, and feeling in control.

9. Know your goals and how to track them.

Before considering a new marketing strategy or initiative, define your department goals and make sure they align with your sales team’s needs and the organization’s overall strategy.

If someone is requesting a certain content type or channel to be a part of your marketing plan, consider these questions:

  • Which stage of the funnel will be impacted? (lead gen, awareness, sales leads, etc.)
  • How can that be measured? (clicks, downloads, page visits, registrations, etc.) What is your benchmark data?
  • What resources will be required?
  • What’s a realistic timeline for completion?

The answers will offer a better idea of how much time to allocate – and if it’s even realistic to pursue with your team size and skill set.

10. Hire dual roles.

At Adage, roles that would be divided up among several people at most agencies have been strategically consolidated, allowing us to maximize efficiency and workflow. If you work for a small team you are used to wearing many hats, just be very clear during the hiring process what these hybrid roles will entail – it’s the best time to set those expectations.

Here’s some successful skills combinations that have worked for me:

  • SEO and website – whoever is adding content to your website should already be considering SEO so this is an easy one to search for.
  • Copywriter and social media – hire a strong writer that can produce and effectively share it on your social channels. Sure, you’ll need to set a strategy, tone, and best practices, but with more and more digital natives entering the workforce social media is second nature to many.
  • Design, video, and photography – this sounds like a lot, but I have come across many designers that dabble in videography and/or photography. Look for creative types that are solid generalists and can do a little bit of everything.
  • SEM/PPC and social – this is actually pretty common; you’ll find a plethora of “Digital Marketing Specialist” roles that combine PPC, paid search, display ads, and paid social. I’m merely suggesting this person covers organic social as well. 

Next Steps

Remember, marketing is constantly changing, and there’s always something new to learn. Plan to learn as you go. Many C-level marketers were not traditionally educated on social media – it did not exist when they were in college – so be open to learning.

Check out the next two installments in my Tips for Small Marketing Teams Series and subscribe to Adage communications for more industry resources.

2. Marketing Processes You Need to Automate

3. Where and How to Augment Your Small Marketing Team

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