SMB leaders are continually looking for ways to level up their marketing. They often turn to the latest expert, a bestselling book or a new platform, but the best way to level up might be by investing in your current team. There are some concrete actions you can take right now to give your marketing team an injection of new ideas and energy.
Time and money for training
Training is going to seem obvious, but you need to be proactive about planning it, because it isn’t just going to magically happen. Investing in training will help young marketers learn from more experienced professionals and will help seasoned marketers stay abreast of the ever-evolving technology and tools. Each year, I recommend you do these three things:
1. Identify critical training needs
2. Determine a specific budget for training
3. Actually put dates on the calendar or block it off by quarter
Formal training can range from $3500 or more to attend a conference to $50-250 for an online course. There are also tons of free resources on the internet for people who are good at self-based training (not everyone is good at this, and not all free training on the internet is good…so beware!)
Training courses can also differ significantly in their time commitments. They might be over the course of a three-day weekend, every Tuesday night for months or a one-hour lunch and learn.
The training may include intermittent assessments, final exams, projects and even certifications. If you are working with a new employee, I would recommend finding training that has an assessment component to evaluate how well they respond to these opportunities.
I like people to be excited about their training, so I coach them on specific company goals or needs, but then have them do their own research to identify training opportunities. I ask them to find a variety of options in terms of both time commitment and cost. This empowers them to take control of their own advancement and leads to a higher level of commitment. I listen for enthusiasm or sparks when they go over the options. More than once that has swayed me to buy into longer or more expensive programs.
Training isn’t the only way to help your team grow and develop. There are several additional ways to get help by simply encouraging staff participation in certain types of “outside” activities.
Industry trade organization membership
Industry trade organizations are also great resources for your marketing teams. They usually include monthly meetings with timely topics and educational speakers, the opportunity to build a peer network to share ideas and challenges, competitions and awards to help benchmark and level up, as well as leadership opportunities.
There are too many organizations to list here, so I’ll just start with the ones that I participated in when I was starting out: American Advertising Federation (AdFed), American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and American Marketing Association (AMA). These are large, national organizations with local chapters. You will also find smaller, local groups that vary from place to place.
It is also worth looking into industry-specific groups, some of which may have marketing-specific opportunities.
Mentors are another great way to help your team grow professionally. While mentor relationships can be a naturally evolving arrangement, there is a lot that business owners can do to encourage staff members to find a mentor.
To begin, talk to your employees about mentorship, what it means, and how it works. Describe any mentor relationships that have helped you grow and evolve in your career. Then encourage or aid them in identifying possible mentors and allow them time to meet with their mentors on a monthly basis.
You can help your marketing team look for mentors both within the company and outside the company. An internal mentorship can help a new or less experienced person get to know your company, your culture, your brand, your operation and your team. They don’t need to be in the same department. There is great value in helping someone ramp up quickly. If your team is large enough to have junior and senior roles, providing a junior team member with a senior team member (who is not the direct manager) can help them more quickly advance in their role-specific skills.
External mentorship becomes more valuable at higher manager and director levels because it helps your middle management leaders gain access to outside perspectives. It provides them with a sounding board to talk through the more challenging aspects of management, as well as a seasoned second opinion on tactics and programs.
Peer groups & meetups
There are a variety of industry-specific, design-specific and marketing-specific peer groups. They typically meet monthly and have anywhere from 6-12 members. If you can’t find a local group in your area, you may be able to find one online that offers virtual meetings.
This places your people in a group of peers to share challenges and grow. It helps them build a network and provides an extended team to share tools, training, tactics, and experience. Over the years, I have solved numerous business challenges with a quick email or slack message to one of my peer groups.
Meetups vary in their attendance from one to the next, and attendance isn’t mandatory, so you won’t have an instant network the way you would with a peer group, but for a personable person with interpersonal skills, meetups can be a great way to develop their own peer network.
Peer groups vary in cost depending largely on the host organization. Meetups are typically free or very affordable. The gift of time to attend these is critical from employers.
Encouragement to volunteer on a nonprofit marketing committee or board
For mid-level marketing employees, another great opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain extra experience is to serve on a nonprofit board or committee. Marketing and communications committees are regularly seeking volunteers, so these opportunities abound.
By encouraging this participation, which may require time during business hours, you can strengthen a corporate relationship with a nonprofit that you support as a business, or you could allow the employee to serve an organization that is deeply meaningful to them personally. Either way, you are strengthening important bonds both with your employee and the community.
At the board level, your employees will gain a front-row seat to the interworking of an organization from finance to HR to marketing and strategy they will have the opportunity to expand their leadership skills, preparing them for deeper levels of participation in your business.
With committee-level participation, your employees will have the chance to develop peer connections and will also typically have more hands-on tactical opportunities. If they have limited work experience, this can help them grow exponentially. They can get double the hands-on experience, expand their skillset, refine existing skills and have twice the data and reporting to compare and contrast. They will also be learning from their peers on the committee.
Budget to hire experts
With limited budgets, it can seem like a good idea to keep as much as possible in-house. If you have a seasoned team or can devote time to learning and experimenting, this can work out just fine. However, if you need results quickly, give your team permission to work with outside experts. They will get a front-row seat to the processes and tools. They will get the chance to interact with people who they can learn from.
Permission to experiment and fail
This last one is hard. As a business owner, you NEED to have an expectation of results, but new marketers experience a learning curve before they can consistently return repeatable results. They will need to have coaching to continually test, evaluate and improve their performance. Starting out, consistent management is key to their growth.
Once marketers have solid experience, they should be able to operate more independently. They should also be able to clearly communicate whether initiatives should have predictable outcomes (and what they are) or whether there will be a trial or testing period. Owners should be able to manage risk during testing periods with clear up-front communication. If you can establish some agreed-upon budgets, benchmarks and review periods, everyone should start and remain on the same page.
How many of these opportunities are you providing to your marketing team? Are you investing in their growth and seeing a return? Do you have creative ways you are inspiring your teams and helping them advance? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
About Robot Creative
Robot Creative provides fractional CMO services, marketing plans, branding, an outsourced marketing team and consulting advice to small and mid-sized companies. If you are looking for leadership or staff augmentation, please reach out for a consultation.
About Lara August
Lara August is the Founder and CEO of Robot Creative. She writes, speaks and consults with clients to improve their branding, marketing and marketing team development with the ultimate goal of business growth.