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There’s a stage in any business that’s scaling where the ‘marketing team’ consists of just one person. In fact, sometimes less than a whole person as they’re tasked with other responsibilities too. If you’re a solo marketing person, you’ll be facing some unique challenges. Let’s see what they are and what you can do about it. ~ Bryony Thomas, Author | Watertight Marketing
There are a number of contexts in which an organisation has just the one person on the team responsible for marketing. For example:
- When the business is just one person! The solo entrepreneur has marketing firmly on their list.
- In an early stage scaling business. As a business is starting to grow beyond its founders, a ‘get it done and general admin’ marketing person is often an early hire.
- In a sales-led business. Where a business has a sales team, marketing as a distinct discipline often comes later.
If you’re that person, it can be really challenging to be effective and productive in your role, precisely because you’re on your own. Take a look at our quick quiz to see how close we get to how you’re feeling in your role.
10 challenges of the solo marketer
Now, there’s a difference here depending on the ambition of your business. I believe that is it is perfectly possible for a solo entrepreneur to get ‘good enough’ to run a functioning marketing operation when they simply want a lovely lifestyle business. However, a solo marketer in a scaling business with big ambitions, will always need to compromise, train, outsource, or recruit at some point. The tips here are mainly focused on the marketer in a scaling business, but many will apply to the one person business.
1) Too many hats
Marketing strategy? That’s you. Marketing activity plan? That’s you. Blog needs writing? That’s you. Website needs updating? That’s you. Understanding a new technique? That’s you. You get the picture!
‘Marketing’ is such an umbrella term. There’s a key distinction to make between a generalist (someone who has a good handle on all sub disciplines, but isn’t a master of them), and specialist (who goes deep in their knowledge of a specific area).
A generalist will typically function at three levels. Strategic; market scanning, goal setting, proposition development, etc. Planning & management; turning the strategic information into action plans with timelines, budgets & measures of success. Tactical; rolling your sleeves up and getting this stuff done. Then there are sub disciplines and areas of depth expertise. These will also have these three levels. These are things like PR, content & copywriting, SEO, web development, email marketing & automation, social media (and platforms thereof), sales support, design, etc. etc. One person simply can’t do all of this, especially if this is a blended role with other responsibilities.
Key Tip: I’m a fan of having a generalist on the team, and specialists as an outsourced resource. With a solo marketer, I’d go for someone with a couple of years experience to cover the planning and execution and in-fill with a strategic consultant.
2) Changing gear
As a solo marketer there will always be a need to move from that big picture strategy into the detail of getting it done, and from one discipline to another. It’s absolutely human to lose focus in the transition. Anyone that’s been landed with home-schooling will know that switching between teaching maths to a 9 yer old to writing an important report is detrimental to both tasks. The more transitions in your day, the more time is lost in re-setting on the task at hand.
Key Tip: Plan your time so that you can mono-task for good chunks of time. I’d say 90-minutes of focused attention on a task is a minimum.
3) Impossible skill mix
So, let’s say you’re quite happy wearing all the hats, in fact you quite like the variety. The challenge here is that even if you wanted to, the likelihood of mastering all the required skills (even in a lifetime) at an expert level is almost impossible. ‘Good enough’ is often reachable, and adequate for a lifestyle business, but for serious scale deeper expertise will be needed. Many of the skills are practically incompatible in terms of temperament and personality, and most move on so quickly that you need to constantly on it to keep up.
Key Tip: Become a T-shaped marketer (a couple of levels deep across all disciplines, and deep in a few selected areas that most naturally match your talents), and fill in the gaps with others with different depth areas.
4) Needing to up-skill
Many solo marketers are brought in to a business early in their careers, often a first job (and I’m all for that when well supported). Asking these people to set the marketing strategy is a bit like asking someone to give birth before they’ve even starting menstruating. There’s a certain amount of practical business experience someone needs to have the working parts in their toolkit to do this stuff.
Key Tip: If you have a solo marketer on your team in their first role, or working their first five years of a career, get them a seasoned mentor.
5) Forced to down-skill
Some scaling businesses take the decision to recruit the heavy hitters first. This can be a great shout, bringing them in on an equity deal and getting top brains on the task of scaling up effectively. It’s the resourcing equivalent of dressing for the job you want, you hire the person your business will need if it hits the vision you have for it. What this can mean is that a seasoned strategist spends precious time updating websites and proof-reading blog posts. These are important jobs, but not one their unique skills set is essential for.
Top Tip: If you have a solo marketer who’s a tad too senior for all the jobs on the list, consider matching them with a marketing VA.
6) Lack of objectivity
It’s said that you can’t see the end of your own nose. And sometimes, you simply cannot get perspective on your own work. You’re too close, or looking through the wrong lens to see it in context, or as others might.
Top Tip: Consider a peer group or marketing coach who can just sound you out on things from time to time.
7) No creative collaboration
Do you spark off others? I certainly do. Ideas often gain real momentum in a group where an initial thought is built on by others. You just can’t do this on your own. A lonely marketer that doesn’t have peers to bounce ideas with will always be at a disadvantage.
Top Tip: Join a peer group or regular networking session with other marketers to share and hear other people’s ideas.
8) Minimal accountability
Whilst someone wants you to ‘get marketing done’, there’s often much less scrutiny or accountability on how and when you do that if you’re on your own. When I had a six-person marketing team, I’d always ask them to show me how they’d broken down a big task and when they’d give me a progress update towards completing it. It’s hard to do this for yourself.
Top Tip: Buddy up with other marketers or work with a marketing coach to hold you accountable.
9) Astronomical expectations
When you’re the only marketer in the business, you’re often the only person who knows anything about marketing too. This often means that the leaders in the business expect you to be able to do everything… wear all the hats, switch seamlessly between tasks, and have all the up to date skills all of the time. There’s often quite an education job to be done to get them to understand that you’re only human!
Top Tip: Get your leadership team to read Watertight Marketing, and see if they’ll support you in joining our Make Marketing Happen Club!
10) It’s boring!
We’re social creatures. If you’re a solo marketer, you’re often working on projects from end to end without much input from others. Whilst this can be great for productivity, it’s not always great for energy and motivation. We all need others to cheer us on, cheer us up, and recognise a job well done.
Top Tip: Find a peer group to connect with where you’re happy to show up, show-off, rant, rave and just be a buddy.
To find yourself some good company check out the Make Marketing Happen Club. We’re waiting to be your marketing comrades, coach and cheerleaders.
© Watertight Marketing Ltd
Lunchtime Masterclass: 6th September 2021
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Author & Founder, Watertight Marketing
Bryony Thomas is the creator of the multi-award winning Watertight Marketing methodology, captured in her best-selling book of the same name. She is one of the UK's foremost marketing thinkers, featured by the likes of Forbes, The Guardian, Business Insider and many more, and in-demand speaker for business conferences, in-house sales days and high-level Board strategy days.