Bonfire Effect
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How to win when you’re a marketing department of one

Read time 7 min
Do you find yourself carrying the entire burden of marketing for your company—either as a founder or as the first marketing hire in your startup? You’re shouldering some big expectations and responsibilities and you’re going to have to be smarter, faster, and more creative than the mega-competitor in your market who has a marketing staff of 25.
How to win when

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My daughter’s favorite movie last summer was The Wizard of Oz, and she convinced my son that it was his favorite too. Between the two of them, they’d ask to watch it every day.

Every. Single. Day.

For my daughter, a brave four-year-old (though she’d want me to tell you she’s almost five, now), most of the scary scenes didn’t phase her. In fact, there was only one scene she wouldn’t dare watch without Daddy by her side—the part where “the man behind the curtain” is revealed. I’m not sure what made the scamming pseudoscientist from Kansas so much scarier than his larger-than-life alter ego (or the flying monkeys, for that matter), but she got wigged out whenever he came on the screen.

How to win when

And now to reveal to you a deep, dark secret of mine…I felt the same way as my little girl!

You see, I saw a lot of my former self in this Midwestern profiting prophet: a scared man from the middle of the American plains (I’m from Nebraska, not Kansas…and I can get a little haughty about it, so watch out), trying to pull a bunch of levers that are barely cobbled together so he could appear larger than he really was and manipulate influence society…all while feeling more than a bit overwhelmed.

More succinctly put, I was a corporate marketing department of one—at multiple times across multiple industries, within companies of all sizes. And as a one-man marketing band, believe me, I’ve known the challenges of staying up all night to get a webinar ready and carrying a laptop to Disneyworld, “just in case.” So needless to say, I have some scar tissue to share with you.

Do you find yourself carrying the entire burden of marketing for your company—either as a founder or as the first marketing hire in your startup? Perhaps you’ve come with a lot of experience in larger corporate marketing environments…or maybe you’ve just been obsessed with Gary Vee since he started hawking wine on YouTube, and this is your first “real” marketing gig. Either way, you’re shouldering some big expectations and responsibilities and you’re going to have to be smarter, faster, and more creative than the mega-competitor in your market who has a marketing staff of 25.

So if you’re feeling triggered by the man behind the curtain, just have courage (get it?), and implant the following strategies in your brain (eh?). You’ve got this, as long as you show a little heart (See what I did there?).

Strategy #1 – Decide what NOT to do

You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle (also known as the “80/20 Rule”)—80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. As cliché as it has become, applying it to your marketing is your fast pass to appearing wicked (sorry, not sorry) smart. You will find that your initial to-do list is unmanageable right out of the gate…and that list becomes sanity-sucking once others start to see you get results and decide they want to add their own pet projects to your plate.

The only way to remain sane—and keep your productivity and ROI up—is to avoid doing all of the stuff that isn’t producing big results. You must identify the MOST CRITICAL objectives for your marketing efforts, and then ignore everything else. Ideally, you need to find three to five initiatives that will drive the clearest and most compelling results for your company.

For example, let’s say your top objectives are to 1) build a webinar that converts well to demos/sales, 2) build several paid cold traffic sources to that webinar, and 3) launch a simple website that starts building domain authority and easily converts visitors to leads. Then you would table requests to write white papers and speak at conferences, for now.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But the more you maintain your focus on the few biggest-impact initiatives, the bigger your department will appear.

Strategy #2 – Leverage other departments

While you might be a marketing department of one, you’re not a COMPANY of one. You’ve got a virtual Munchkin village of colleagues in sales, customer service, product development, operations, human resources, and even executives, all with skills, expertise, and passion that are waiting to be tapped. But you have to be realistic about what you ask for and how you ask for it.

There are several ways to activate these cross-company resources, including:

  • Asking subject matter experts (SMEs) to write blog posts about industry trends, recent conferences they attended, how-tos, or even general leadership-related posts.
  • Finding one or two SMEs who can write and present your webinars.
  • Asking a few social butterflies to monitor the company’s social media accounts, look for great content to share, and seek out existing conversations to jump into.
  • Recruiting a “conference team” to share conference attendance duties.
  • Finding a couple good writers/editors/proofers to help develop all of the content required by a modern marketing operation.

A word of caution: realize that you will care more than anybody else about marketing initiatives. Your coworkers all have full plates and it isn’t fair to expect them to prioritize your needs above their own. So you need to make their participation as easy as possible. Some ways you can make it easier for others to contribute include:

  • Having a kick-off meeting/party for your “extended marketing team,” where you brief them on the overall strategy and communicate that their participation is invaluable.
  • Avoiding the temptation to offload decision-making onto them. Solicit feedback and ideas, but be the leader who makes the final decision and gives clear directions.
  • Giving them clear deadlines and setting realistic expectations.
  • Explaining things and providing step-by-step processes. Remember, they aren’t marketers so they may not know what you mean when you say “send me a copy outline for your webinar” or “compile SEO keywords for your blog posts.” But they CAN learn if you are patient and walk them through it.

It is true that sometimes delegating is more work than just doing something yourself…the first time. Eventually, you will increase your capacity to get things done. And you will also find it easier to get buy-in from other departments when pitching new marketing initiatives or increased budgets.

Strategy #3 – Bringing in reinforcements

Even with a focused set of objectives and help from other departments, you will eventually find yourself tapped out. You will need to bring in additional help, and there are plenty of times when a freelancer or agency are better options than pitching for a new headcount.

Adding another full-time team member can feel permanent and inflexible to executives, and for good reason. You are putting all of your eggs in one basket, and you often only get a very specialized set of skills. Plus, finding a good Jack of all trades can be difficult and expensive, especially when you discover that they really aren’t as well-rounded as their resume led you to believe.

So the best solution is often to add contractors, which allows you to increase or decrease your costs based on need. You can find specialized skills that fit your current needs like a glove. The big question then becomes “Do I need a freelancer or an agency?” There are a couple ways for you to decide.

Hire a freelancer when you need a very specific skill on a very part-time basis:

  • Copywriter to turn your SME’s blog drafts into polished thought leadership content a few times a month.
  • Graphic designer to make a couple of graphics a month.
  • Social media maven to write a few posts a week.
  • PR pro to help you pitch a few stories a year.

Hire an agency when you need more holistic guidance, integrated campaigns, or ongoing support:

  • When you need a strategic marketing plan for breaking into a new market, launching a product, or raising your game to the next level.
  • When you have a major campaign with lots of moving pieces that need to be integrated and work together.
  • When you want to implement marketing automation and you’ll need all of your marketing assets and initiatives to work cohesively.
  • When you want cutting-edge tactics that have been tested across multiple brands.
  • When you need to move fast or tackle a smattering of projects at once.

What’s next?

As you journey down this road (I spared you the “yellow brick” reference…you’re welcome) of leading a one-person marketing department, you’ll spare some sanity by implementing these strategies:

  1. Deciding what NOT to do
  2. Leveraging other departments
  3. Bringing in reinforcements

If you want a little more help thinking through your process, connect with us at Bonfire and we’ll point you in the right direction…because we know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

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