When You Feel Overwhelmed Or Fail

Marketers (just like you) are overwhelmed.

There’s so much to do to be successful.

Or is there?

The noise is so intimidating:

The list goes on and on. ^ And that example is just for writing a blog post. What about writing, designing, publishing, and promoting e-books, hosting webinars, starting your podcast, and beyond?

I’m sure you see my point.

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But what would your life be like if you were to focus on doing fewer things extremely well?

  1. You will create more effective projects.
  2. You will build skills and subsequently boost your efficiency.
  3. You will improve a process you can delegate, and subsequently scale your results.

Intense focus on doing work that actually makes a difference will eliminate the overwhelm. And subsequently, you will fail less frequently.

Do one thing well. Then embellish upon it.

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A big mentor of mine told me recently:

If you look at that blog post you want to write as an example here, that means:

  1. Write the dang thing.
  2. Ship it (imperfections and all).

^ At first, you don’t need to optimize it for search engines. It doesn’t need to be extremely well-edited. You may not need graphics at all. You don’t need to optimize it to capture email addresses.

Because if you don’t focus on doing one thing well at first—and let yourself become overwhelmed with #allthethings you could do—you’re probably spreading yourself too thin. You’re doing many things just alright without doing one thing extremely well.

All of the fringe things that make up a well-rounded project will come over time. But, as Seth Godin says:

If you don’t ship, you actually haven’t started anything at all. At some point, your work has to intersect with the market. At some point, you need feedback as to whether or not it worked. Otherwise, it’s merely a hobby.

After you nail the core skill that will make your project successful, you can optimize it further.

Nail Down the Most Important Skill First

As you think of projects in terms of little experiments, you won’t waste time writing an entire strategy around something that is actually a big huge guess.

Ship. Learn. Iterate.

9 Things We Tried That Didn’t Work Out So Well… At Least At First

And with that… here are a number of experiments the (mostly) marketing team at CoSchedule has tried and failed. I’m sharing these stories so you can implement a similar approach of testing + agility in your marketing operations.

Also… learn from our failures so you don’t have to experience them yourself.

#1: Executing Without A Solid Plan Is Kind Of A Bad Idea (Really Bad, Actually)

Last year, I got really excited about launching an editorial strategy course. We had just added a couple new friends to the marketing team. So I wanted to refocus my time on something completely new and exciting.

I jumped into creating content without telling anyone.

The goal, the game plan, the sprints, the tasks—everything existed in my head and was not communicated well with the team. I didn’t even ask them for their thoughts on what a great course would look like for the CoSchedule audience.

The result?

I had to scrap a lot of work and restart.

This is why I remind myself:

Fail fast. Fail once.

Now we have a brainstorming meeting for big ideas like this where I ask the team one question:

What would a project like this look like for CoSchedule?

Everyone helps shape the project. Everyone has a stake in the strategy. Then I pare down the ideas into realistically achievable sprints.

#2: More Meetings > Fewer Meetings

A lot of people think fewer meetings are better than more meetings.

They’re wrong.

A lot of people think fewer meetings are better than more meetings

Our Product team often uses meetings as a method to get more work done faster.

For example, they’ll touch base in the mornings. Then they’ll set up another touch point that day in mid-afternoon for a show and tell of what they’ve completed so far.

This gives the product owners a chance to review the progress and see how things are looking. So if anyone is off track, they can course correct without wasting a lot of time working on something that would be changed anyway.

More touch points like this keep us focused. The key is these meetings are focused on execution + creating effective work quickly.

They’re like deadlines. And they work because nobody wants to show up for a show and tell and have nothing to show.

#3: Data-Driven Decisions > Assumptions

It’s easy to let assumptions guide your work. It’s another to use data to understand what really works.

We tested sending well-designed emails to our audience with the assumption that more people would click through. After testing the designed emails against plain text, the results were not even close. Plain text emails get way more clickthroughs with our audience.

But if we hadn’t tested, we would have never known.

Test. Measure. Learn.

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#4: Plan Way Ahead For Video Content

We recently launched #OverheardAtCoSchedule, a new video series. It was a brand new project without a defined process.

Snags included sketching, video length, and editing in post-production.

^ Essentially, a better plan + over-communication is the best way to resolve those challenges with video, especially because it’s really hard to change video content after it’s been recorded.

A big lesson here is that this was the first time doing it. To build a skill and a solid, repeatable process, you need to start, hone, and optimize.

We won’t make the same mistakes again.

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#5: Start + Improve

In October 2016, we launched a weekly podcast called The Actionable Content Marketing Podcast.

Like any skill you build, I started by first concentrating on finding amazing guests and sharing helpful stories other marketers would love.

I had to learn a brand new process complete with the foundation/structure + outreach + writing questions + actual interviews + audio quality + promotion + a lot more.

My early interviews were a little rocky. The audio could have been better. But I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable, and now I just edit out my awkwardness (ha).


Now that we’re covering lots of different marketing topics, we’ve also changed the name of the podcast to The Actionable Marketing Podcast. It’s a matter of focus. And you can listen to my thoughts on that here.

The lesson learned here is starting, shipping, iterating.

#6: Spend Money To Make Money

We started dabbling in AdWords and Facebook Ads to reach a larger audience. At first, I was spending next to nothing and getting next to no results.

For projects like paid advertising, you need to invest a significant amount up front because you have no idea what kind of ads will convert (and which won’t). Which means, especially as you start, you need to spend some money to understand what’s not working to know where you can improve.

Ad creative is a big huge guess until you look at the data. Some of my favorite ads never converted while some ads I would have never guessed would do so well are still among our top-performers today.

Again, personal opinion should never get in the way of measuring real results.

Personal opinion should never get in the way of measuring real results

#7: Customers > Traffic + Email Subscribers

Profitable customer action. That’s the reason marketing exists, right? To drive profitable customer action.

For about two years, the Content Marketing team at CoSchedule focused on building traffic. Once the traffic was on our website, we optimized the content to convert that traffic into email subscribers.

That is still an approach I recommend starting with.

But we’ve recently made a pivot. What we used to call our Content Marketing team is now the Demand Generation team. It’s a matter of focus: To provide the most helpful marketing content on the internet that attracts an audience of marketers who are interested in organizing their marketing execution with CoSchedule.

Description of the Demand Generation team's purpose

We’re using data to understand what content we publish influences the best kinds of customers for our business. Then we learn the qualities + topics that help us attract the right audience. And we use that knowledge to ship more content that aligns among our best performers.

^ I’d definitely recommend doing this for your own marketing.

#8: Stop Doing What’s Not Working (RIP #CoChat)

For about six months, we hosted a weekly Twitter chat. Six months deep, I wrote a quick survey and shared it with our Twitter chat participants.

Optimize Your Social Media Strategy

I really wanted to know if any of them were more likely to buy CoSchedule because of the chat.

The results were a resounding no. Not a single participant was more likely to purchase CoSchedule because of participating in the chat.

At least, that’s what they told me. Literally.

So, as a matter of focus, we shut down #CoChat. It was sucking our resources into a project that was not delivering measurable results to our goals.

Stop what’s not working to refocus your efforts on what does.

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#9: Reward Yourself For Providing Value

CoSchedule concentrates on providing value in every project we ship.

When we launched our Headline Analyzer the first time, we didn’t have a way to capture email subscriber leads. When we saw the tool take off, we provided a content upgrade in exchange for an email address.

The tool was valuable for our audience. For free. So we wanted to also have a way to continue to communicate with those folks.

That’s fair.

Here’s another example: We knew our audience loved getting free PDFs. Then we started experimenting more: Wouldn’t editable spreadsheets, Word docs, and slide decks be even more helpful? And what if we bundled more of those things together so instead of giving one thing away for free, we’d give away three, five, or heck, even 10?

^ Every time we gave away more helpful stuff, we converted more people.

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When you provide something valuable, you, as a marketer, deserve to be rewarded in some way. Think about the conversions, the desirable action. You put in the work, you deserve something out of it.

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Don’t be afraid to make the ask.

How To Overcome The Overwhelm (Or Failures)

So what have all of those stories + failures taught us about overcoming the overwhelm?

Plan Your Work. Then Work Your Plan.

People who write down goals are more likely to make them a reality.

Plan how you will execute a project. Then follow the plan. Leave out the frills and focus.

Start With Minimum Viable Tests (Then Optimize Further)

Garrett likes to say:

The simplest approach is often the best place to start.

Nail a core skill, then optimize further.

Doing Less Is Often Doing More

You don’t have to do everything to be successful. Instead of spreading yourself too thin, master a 10x project. Then scale it.

Being really good at one thing is better than being mediocre at many things.

Embrace Frameworks

Thought processes are easy to pass along to your team when you embrace easy-to-remember frameworks.

For example, the framework that drives our entire Demand Generation strategy is:

  1. The right content
  2. The right audience
  3. The right amount of effort

If we do those three things incredibly well, we win. Everyone on the team can repeat that framework to you if you were to ask. Could your marketing team benefit from a simple framework like that?

Ship + Learn + Iterate

Don’t shoot for perfection.

Create something just good enough to produce the desired result. Learn the skill. Then hone it. As you improve your process, optimize it with additional opportunities for growth.

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