Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. A couple of months ago, I talked about The Business Benefit of Taking a Break, and someone left a comment about it on LinkedIn, which I liked very much. This year hasn’t been easy for any of us, and since we are getting closer to 2021, I thought we could all learn how to take a break and make the most out it. So I’ve decided to do a sequel on the same topic, and I want you to hear what my guest has to say.
Meet Jen Carroll, a marketing strategist at Data Dames Marketing, a consultancy she owns together with her business partner Annalisa Hilliard. Jen has been in advertising and marketing since 1996, and she has held both in-house and agency positions – all-around content, social media and media relations. Jen also owned a freelance content marketing business for ten years.
In this episode:
- How to keep the momentum in a crisis, and still enjoying the process, while adjusting a business model.
- Why it’s important to step back from the content creation process to make it more intentional and targeted.
- What are the steps that Jen and Annalisa took to get to a certain point to move forward.
- How to recognize the a-ha moment and what happens when that moment leads to a different vision.
- What is the role of having a proper messaging framework setup.
- Why it’s essential to face the fears, challenges and struggles before moving on with a new strategy.
Quotes from the episode:
“Of course we need to cover our bills, we need to make some money, but this is not just about making a profit. We needed to understand and believe in ourselves about the value that we could bring to the table.”
“I can talk about a lot of years I’ve spent in my life just being very busy, but not being strategic. And I think taking a break allows you that space you need.”
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A big hello from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. I’m doing a sequel. Yes, the sequel of my previous podcast, which I’ve never done before: The Business Benefits of Taking a Break. So I did that podcast, and someone commented on it on LinkedIn. And I want you guys to hear what she has to say.
Jen, welcome to the show. So happy to have you.
Jen Carroll: Hi Pam!
Pam Didner: I published this podcasts and, uh, obviously I took an intended break during COVID and, uh, I allow myself to kind of like simmer and the reflect and I talk about it in terms of that whole journey and how I use that time to kind of do a little modification of my business model if you will. And you commented on that; it sounds like you did something similar. So, before we dive into that, can you tell our listeners who you are and why you do?
Jen Carroll: Well, my name is Jen Carroll, and I’m a marketing strategist with Data Dames Marketing, a consultancy I own with my business partner and Annalisa Hilliard. I’ve been in advertising and marketing since 1996. I’ve held both in-house and agency positions, basically all-around content, social media and media relations. And I also owned my own freelance content marketing business for
Pam Didner: Excellent. So can you share with us why you and your partner are adjusting your business model and enjoying that time- or this time?
Jen Carroll: Well, I guess by saying that, you know, we just started as partners in business in January.
Pam Didner: Oh, wow. So it’s fairly new.
Jen Carroll: She started the business in 2018, but it just started in January in a partner/business partner relationship. So yes, fairly new, and it got us, like, you got us thinking about our business. We made some definitive changes.
Pam Didner: Such as?
Jen Carroll: We’ve made marketing strategy the focus of our business–redefining our ideal client, adding advising services, oh, and you’ll love this part, creating completely new messaging.
Pam Didner: I hear you. I hear you (laughs).
Jen Carroll: So, completely new messaging around the strategy and implementation we do offer. And then we just took a hard look. At the things that we knew we needed to eliminate if we were going to do what we wanted to do. And so the hardest decision we made was no longer offering standalone project-based SEO and content services, because that was one of our most common requests is like, “we hear you’re good at SEO. We’d like you to do some work for us, or we want you to write some content”. We just decided to eliminate that piece of it.
Pam Didner: Wow. But that’s a cash cow, right? That’s a cash cow of your company.
Jen Carroll: We’ll offer those services. But they’re only in the context of working with clients who want marketing strategy first. So we bring the marketing strategy first, and then we provide those areas of deep knowledge within the context of a strategy. And one of the things we’ve found is that SEO content, social media, data analytics, all of those things without a strategy, generally don’t deliver results. They don’t meet expectations.
And then you have a lot of churn. Also, just writing, as you said, you took a break and stepped away for some content writing. I mean, content creation is intense.
Pam Didner: Uh, talk to me about that. Yes, interesting (laughs).
Jen Carroll: So it’s a lot of intense work, and I feel like it’s, um, something that many companies don’t necessarily recognize the amount of work that it takes and don’t necessarily want to pay for it. So, I mean, in terms of it being a cash cow, I think it depends.
Pam Didner: Good point, good point.
Jen Carroll: Yeah. It depends on, on what they’re, you know, what companies are willing to pay for, so.
Pam Didner: What is your ideal customer?
Jen Carroll: For us, an ideal client would be, um, one that is, uh, employee number– over 50, and they have an in-house marketer or a very small in-house marketing team, maybe two to three, at most. So they’re the kind of place, the kind of company where they have a lot of things going, and they have trouble covering all the bases with their, with their marketing. They also might be struggling with bringing together all of their online, offline, and offsite marketing. So they want a cohesive plan that brings all of that strategy together. And then finally, maybe most, most importantly, these days, they want to tie their marketing to meaningful metrics that have business impact.
Pam Didner: Yeah. I say it in more plain English that you have to tie to some, a metrics to sales, and it has to quantify to some sort of sales contribution, um, especially in terms of revenue. So yes. I hear you loud and clear. So with that being said, can you share your thinking process. You also take, uh, some sort of business break to kind of sit back and then, and you have to think through in terms of when your business model will look like. Can you share with us your thinking process during that time?
Jen Carroll: We’re always looking at how can we adjust and make the most of opportunities or overcome challenges? We want to make our work a good fit, not just for us professionally but also personally. And of course, with all that, we want to serve clients, and we want to have long-term relationships with our clients, not just like a quick project-based type of work.
So our thinking process started with zeroing in on business friction points. We started just being like, “what are the things we within the things that we do, what do we love? And what do we dread?” One of the things we recognize is that I’ve already mentioned SEO and content without strategy does not yield good income.
Pam Didner: 100% agree with that statement. I think many people are creating content for creating content, but it has to serve a purpose. On top of that, even you serve a purpose, how you write content, one needs to be set on how to say it is supercritical. And it took me a long time to understand that, to be honest with you. Initially, when I was creating content, at least for myself, I will, like, I want to write what I like to write, but sometimes it is not what I like to write because it makes sense for the audience.
Jen Carroll: Right. And, I mean, you being so much of a proponent of messaging, you know yourself that you have to meet the clients where there are challenges are, and that may not necessarily be what you want to write about (laughs).
Pam Didner: I 100% agree with you. Of course, on the enterprise side, there’s always the buyer’s persona. You write to the buyer’s persona. But when I started, I’d like to write what I like to write (laughs). Then I was like, no.
Jen Carroll: For sure
Pam Didner: It took me a little while to make that change. Do you know what I’m saying?
Jen Carroll: right, but with that, we no longer wanted to be the order takers. You know, like “do some keyword research. Write me some content.” Again, we know that that doesn’t produce meaningful results. And we’ve been in the business for a long time, and we’re just like that just doesn’t work. That was kind of our thinking process when we were making these changes.
Pam Didner: So that’s good. So out of that, you come up with some ideas and thoughts about how you want to move things forward for your company. So what are the steps that you take to get to a certain point to move forward?
Jen Carroll: Once we stopped bitching about the things that like frustrated us (laughs). We were like, okay, let’s– so the first step is you need to define some purpose in what we want to do. And I, that sounds basic—
Pam Didner: It’s not. It’s essential. I mean, it sounds basic, but it’s super essential.
Jen Carroll: Yeah. Of course, we need to cover our bills, we need to make some money, but this is not just about making a profit. We needed to understand and believe in ourselves about the value that we could bring to the table. And so that I know, as I said, that sounds super basic, but that was the first step for us. The second step, which you’ve already asked about our ideal client. That second step was going back and coming up with that whole definition of our ideal client. I mean, we had one before, but we’re like off the table. It’s completely different; we need to refocus.
So, that led us to make lists of questions that we often use to vet our potential clients. We know now, like these are, things we need to check off before working with clients.
And then three was, uh, establishing the ways to deliver that value that we bring to the table. And I kind of wanted to give a shout out to a business coach that we have enjoyed working with. Her name is Norma Rist. She’s retired from the Pepsi Company. She was a general manager. And she has this wonderful decision-making tool that we have love you place a numeric value. You use weighted scores, uh, with each business idea you have, and as you evaluate, you evaluate them against criteria that you select that are important to you. And so basically, the tool makes the very abstract process, makes it tangible and concrete.
Pam Didner: Basically, there is a metric stance and process to follow and a guide, your thinking process along the way.
Jen Carroll: Yes. And then, in the end, it lets you sift by score. Like you have a weighted score, you’re immediately like your best ideas rise to the top. And so it helps you just, again, it’s just very tangible and concrete, as opposed to always like abstract “what, if” or “I kinda like this” or whatever. It’s a very useful tool.
Pam Didner: So her name is Norma Rist, right? Norma R-I-S-T. Okay. Very good. After you did the whole process, what is the aha? What is the biggest takeaway, and how does that? Is that biggest takeaway very different from what you’ll originally envision?
Jen Carroll: We had probably one big aha for us. Uh, when we first, you know, went into partnership, we had this idea that we would make, I won’t say, great money, but selling, um, audits and assessments. You know, a lot of agencies and consultancies do that. And as we went through her decision-making process, we realized that they did not fit with this new business model that we wanted to have at all.
Pam Didner: Really?
Jen Carroll: Yep, and we just, we just literally threw it off the table. We were like, “Okay, nope. We’re not doing those. They are very time-intensive, and they often don’t yield the kind of long-term client relationship we want. So off, out.” So yeah, that was a pretty big change for us.
Pam Didner: So now talk to us one more time after that was done. What was the next step?
Jen Carroll: Okay. So the next step will be your favorite. Now, I don’t know if it’s your favorite, but it was messaging. We reworked every word on our website on social media. Um, and again, I honestly love the templates and frameworks that you’ve provided. And so those were great guides.
Pam Didner: Thank you so much. I appreciate it to hear that feedback. Yeah. That blog post is probably the most popular blog post on my website, How to Create Messaging Framework. And many people used that template and came back to me and said, yeah, they liked that. I think if it’s on the B2B side, it works well. For B2B marketers, they look at my template. They will like, okay, I get it. I understand. I know exactly what needs to be done. (laughs)
Jen Carroll: Well, yeah, just well-directed and just incredibly helpful. And so that’s what we, that’s what we used and redid our messaging completely. And then the last step was to establish exit plans for the things that we, you know it had to be gradual because we have a, you know, we have a mix of client still client.
We still have a mix of clients, and we love our clients. We love the people we’re working with, but we just know, like with any new client, we were going to do certain things without– we certainly do some of our work without the strategy piece.
One of the things that we stopped doing was sub-contracting to other agencies. So we decided that that was also off the table, not something we were going to do. So that’s, that was kind of the process. We expect that all to be complete by the end of 2020, so.
Pam Didner: That’s amazing. There’s the one thing you say about messaging I love, and you just said you reworked every word on your website and your social media. That is the core of the messaging. Once that messaging framework is done, I always tell my clients, you have to go back and rework your web copy on your social media. You rework every single word of it. Oh my God. Music to my ears! That just sounds sexy, okay? (laughs)
Jen Carroll: (laughs) It is!
Pam Didner: Obviously, you know, the next question I would like to ask you, you’re probably gonna say budget and resources, but what are the challenges you encountered during the implementation? We all encounter tons of challenges when we try to implement. It doesn’t matter if it’s doing a content audit or redo our website. And now you are talking about the biggest thing: you are seriously reshaping your business models. So what are some of the challenges you encounter?
Jen Carroll: So the biggest challenge, honestly, is saying no, saying no to the kind of work that we previously had said yes to, and I don’t know that anybody needed more fear in 2020. I think we just have a shit ton of it (laughs). But then also having people come to you and you’re telling them,” no, that’s not what we do anymore.” We’re referring them out. There was a lot of fear and some self-doubt that creeps in, doing that.
Pam Didner: I hear you. I think you all walking that journey, and all of us have that self-doubt. I mean, I remember when I left my corporate world, right? And I was like, a corporate junkie for like 20 years. When I left, I kind of left without a parachute. Right. It feels like I’m jumping off the cliff, right?
Jen Carroll: Right.
Pam Didner: And that whole first two years, you know, when I have a client, I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m the King of the world.” When I don’t have the client, and the pipeline is kind of dry, I was like, “Oh my God. Nobody loves me! Oh my god, they all hate me!”
Then you have less self-doubt, and I completely understand. And I dared not to turn, not any projects. I think Jen, you and I are kind of in a position that we need to say no. It’s not like we are busy all the time. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is we know what we want. Yes. Yeah.
Jen Carroll: Yeah. So true. I was thinking, didn’t you recorded a podcast? I feel like it was maybe even, was it your new year’s podcast, or I’m trying to remember when, but you were just very transparent about some fears and struggles you had and self-doubt, and I wish I had it right up in front of me, but I love that podcast.
Pam Didner: Oh, thank you.
Jen Carroll: I feel bad. Like I don’t, I don’t know the name of it right in front.
Pam Didner: Don’t worry about it. I think it’s something related to New Year’s resolution.
Jen C: And I think you, and I think you recorded it before the impending doom. (laughs with Pam). But I just remember that was actually in addition to the messaging, the messaging podcasts you’ve done. That one was very meaningful. So thank you for being so transparent.
Pam Didner: So sweet, Jen. I mean, seriously, when I did, that messaging framework is so freaking dry. You know, I was like, I was doing that podcast, and I was like, “Oh my God If anybody listens to this podcast, they’re going to freaking fall asleep.”
Jen Carroll: But your podcasts are short. So, you know, I mean, we’ve been like 30 minutes long. I’ll read the transcript, but no, it was short. They were very doable. They were helpful.
Pam Didner: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Very, very good. So, um, will you continue to take a break? to figure out your business moving forward?
Jen Carroll: Um, yes, actually, I am discovering the beauty of taking breaks. Because I’m a person that’s very guilty of being busy all the time, I can talk about a lot of years I’ve spent in my life just being very busy but not being strategic. And I think taking a break allows you that space you need. Um, insights can happen in an instant, but yeah, you can’t get those kinds of insights if you’re constantly busy. So I would take more breaks.
I think the one thing that we did on– so I said there were two kinds of breaks, so, so the first break was back during COVID time and just like rethinking our business model completely. However, we’ve recently taken a break to talk about some new income streams that are still very, very new and just kind of an idea for them. But we left our break very unstructured, and we spent some time being outside, like, uh, biking and hiking, which you can’t get better than being out in nature, to be honest. And I think that’s unstructured time was very fruitful for brainstorming, um, and just having a good conversation.
The next break, the third break we need to take, would be more structured solution planning time as business partners. So I would recommend another break with more structure.
Pam Didner: Excellent. Excellent. So obviously, you were talking about taking a break. There’s a structured approach. There’s an unstructured approach. And I think you hit the core. If you are looking at a brainstorming session, you want to look into a business model. You don’t know what that is. Everything’s kind of mushy. I think unstructured of actually helps. And then over time, and, but at the end of the day, you still have to bring some sort of structure thinking to move it forward, to reshape it, to formalize-
Jen Carroll: You have to have a strategy, right? (laughs)
Pam Didner: Yeah, exactly! So tell our listeners where they can find you and how you can help them.
Jen Carroll: Well, you can find out more about Data Dames marketing at DataDamesMarketing.com. We have a business page on LinkedIn. If you want to be more conversational, I always welcome people to reach out to me by message on LinkedIn. And I’m also on Twitter @jencwriter.
Pam Didner: Okay. Very, very good. Excellent. So I have one funny question, a silly question. I would like to ask you. And so what is the most useless—seriously–the most useless talent you’ll have?
Jen Carroll: I have to be honest, that is a hard question because I believe all my talents are very useful. Um, I, if I look back to my younger days, um, I used to be good at playing the alto saxophone—
Pam Didner: Wow!
Jen Carroll: –and singing solos in Italian, both of which have turned out to be completely useless in my life. So there you go. I enjoyed them. Well, I did that but as not translated, into much of anything now.
Pam Didner: Well, okay. Yeah, those are kind of, I have to say. Yeah, on the marketing side might be useless to get clients in Italy.
Jen Carroll: Well, the bad thing is you sing in Italian, but like, I don’t know anything that I’m saying. (both laugh)
Pam Didner: Alright, the truth comes out!
Jen Carroll: No, no, just it’s just something that you did when you were taking voice lessons. Sing songs in Italian, and I’d be like, “Oh great. I don’t even know what I’m singing. Fantastic.”
Pam Didner: It’s so wonderful to have you, Jane, thank you so much for coming to the show, and I wish you the best of luck with your new business and thrive!
Jen Carroll: Thank you, Pam. I wish the same for you.
Pam Didner: Thank you so much.
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