Welcome Aboard: Life Lessons and Joining a Digital Team

[Originally in an onboarding email]

Welcome aboard! A few pieces of encouragement and advice as you head into your first full week:

You'll do a million different things – and there are lessons in all of them.
Even the most mundane tasks will come in handy somewhere down the road. If starting my own business has taught me anything, it’s that nothing happens without the details. Life runs on phone calls, appointments, and logistics that are not always exciting, but the lessons they provide could become the most important.

Excellence outshines speed.
Triple checking, proofreading, pausing to consider how to make your work its most exceptional – all of this is worth the time and energy it demands. Whether it’s losing time to redo your work or regretting the route you took, the real world never fails to make us pay for moving too quickly. Your best work will always eclipse your fastest results.

One of the most important things that you'll ever learn is how to teach yourself.
Don't be afraid to ask Google, to watch YouTube videos, to tinker and to experiment. That's how we figure stuff out. There is no shortage of information out there so if you find a better way of doing something, share it! We are always learning.

We have a lot to learn from you.
You are bringing fresh perspective to the table. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas or how to think differently. The great thing about working with a team is that new ideas and feedback can actually shape the way we do things.

Remember that what we do matters.
Sometimes what we're doing will help someone sell a car. Sometimes it will help a non-profit reach people in Rwanda with clean water. Whatever the service or product or message, we're making an impact on someone, somewhere. The business owner and the consumer are individuals with their own personal stories. Even if all we do is make someone’s day a bit better by responding to them quickly or sending them what they need in the mail, it all matters.

Timothy Haines
Designing for a Mobile Landscape
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Ashley Navarre
Graphic Designer, Symposia Labs

It's no secret that people spend hours a day on their phones. Of Facebook’s 1.15 billion daily active users, 56.5% log in only on a mobile device. With information being displayed on small screens, designing clear content for an easy experience is crucial.

A major challenge many companies face is their customers’ aversion to commitment. Until they have experience with a product or service, the average customer is still “shopping around.” Your job as a designer is to focus on connecting a customer’s needs to a business driver. Use design to tell the brand’s story and you’ll connect them to the brand itself, not just a product or service. That’s the relationship. That’s how the door is opened to commitment. Build trust with branded content.

Business design is vastly differently than it was even a decade ago. Designing requires looking at the business as a whole and from many angles. 80% of consumers are more likely to evaluate brands they follow on social media. Creating specific solutions for the brand as opposed to showcasing an isolated product or service, can help a company flourish.

The model for mobile success relies on design skills and experimenting. Simplicity, fluidity, and minimalism are three focal points to drive the best results for most businesses.

Cut the fat and give the customer a well-designed, clear experience.

Timothy Haines
What I Now Know: A Student's First Year in Digital Marketing
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Faith Bischoff
Marketing Assistant, Symposia Labs

When you hear the word intern, what are the first words that come to your mind? Busy work, coffee runs, unpaid hours, paperwork filing, grunt work, lowest on the totem pole, etc.? Without further knowledge of the company an intern is working for, these are all safe to assume apply. However, none of these apply to an intern at Symposia Labs, a Digital Marketing Agency. This past summer I had the pleasure of coming on board to the Symposia Labs team as their Marketing Research Assistant. I had no idea what was in store for me or what expectations I would be held to. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of respect, accountability and faith I was given as soon as I stepped into the office.

Symposia Labs is a company that values their hardworking employees, has a strong foundation and mission, and culture that people can naturally fit into. It is a company that understands the true value of a positive work environment and those within it.

Before I started working for Tim and Symposia Labs, I had some experience in the “real world.” I had been a lifeguard for five years, a waitress, and intern, but none of these jobs really tested or overwhelmed me. I always jumped right into whatever task needed to be done and I did it with ease and without much challenge. That all changed when I started working for Symposia. I was challenged because I needed to learn how to self-manage, and to learn the in’s and out’s of the digital marketing world - a world that I was intrigued by, but knew very little about.

Symposia Labs has taught me how to work in an environment that exceeds the four walls of our office. I’ve learned that what I do affects my coworkers, our clients, colleagues, competitors and more. Symposia has made me feel valued, as the young college intern that I am, through being given a multitude of responsibilities that have a significant impact on our company. This kind of responsibility and pressure is something I had never experienced before.

A majority of interns my age fly under the radar, do not get paid, and run errands before they get the chance to even touch content or work in the field they want to, and that is the complete opposite of what Symposia has given me. From day one I have been managing email and print campaigns, completing URL audits, attending and managing networking events, leading workshops and presentations on how to mange social media, updating our company’s website, doing market and competitor research, and much more. I have learned how to master these tasks and find new ways to improve as I have moved forward in this position, and that is something I will never get from a 50-minute lecture or an internship that utilizes my time by having me fetch a latte with no foam.

Symposia has opened my mind and helped direct my path to what I want to do with my career in the marketing world. It has taught me what it means to be held accountable, to contribute, and to truly be a part of a team. I could not be more blessed as a student to be working my own hours, having an office just five minutes from campus, enjoying the ability to telecommute, working with incredible and thoughtful people, and to do what I love. I am thankful for all that I have learned over these past months at Symposia Labs and I cannot be more excited to see what lies ahead.

Timothy Haines
Surprises from the Middle of the Brain: A Fit for Each Size

Kristen Haveman
Digital Marketing Manager, Symposia Labs

The never ending debate of Creative vs. Data is a rabbit hole many of us have found ourselves headed down. Clashing opinions can turn to noise as you look for that one true answer to this ongoing question. From my experience, the reason why this answer seems elusive is because it may not exist.

I’m not a data expert. I can research, I can track, I can calculate leads – but I cannot tell you the why behind many bumps or declines in a campaign’s action. When A/B testing results surprise me, the numbers aren’t what pull me in. At all.

For me, creative content has always come organically. I enjoy tearing down and rebuilding a paragraph, word by word. The whole process makes sense to me, even when it doesn’t. (Which is in itself a sentence other ‘creatives’ might relate to.)

The same could be said of left-brainers. Like a chemist closely observing test tubes in a lab, every team needs their analytics guru. Data specialists may as well wear lab coats in my opinion.

But there is a sweet spot that neither side can always expect. It can’t be calculated while one frame of mind smothers the other.

Here’s an example. Our team was working on an email campaign for a client. The language had to be very specific. The intended audience was not going to respond to flowery copy, eye-catching design, even traditional buzzwords. As a copywriter, I couldn’t use my usual tools, making this a particular challenge. The finished product looked like somewhat dolled up plain text emails.

And the results exceeded expectation.

The message was received clearly because every part of it was curated so specific to that audience. The readers responded to their version of the perfect balance of creative and data. It may not have been what either side of my own brain found 100% pleasing, but it spoke to the right balance in the context and generated incredible leads.

Every campaign, every detail, every goal, is different. There is no one-size-fits-all, but there is certainly a fit out there for each size. It just takes the right balance, and the fine-tuning to get there.

Timothy Haines
Letter to My Younger Self
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Dear 15-year-old Tim,

You've probably locked yourself in your room again to play Roller Coaster Tycoon until 3:00 AM. Take heart! You have purpose. Someday you'll start your own business and discover a passion that will be the perfect combination of technology, sociology, and education. On your way there, please remember a few things:

Don't Be Afraid to Fail: Just because you didn't make it past level three of swimming lessons doesn't mean that you can't become a good swimmer. Many will tell you that starting your own business is a mistake. They'll tell you that you're taking the wrong route, doing things in the wrong order, and being unrealistic. Ignore them. Do it anyway. Don't be afraid to fail at the things you love.

Never Stop Learning: The best part about your future career is that it will never cease to evolve. Marketing moves at the speed of light, so make sure you keep up. Stay hungry. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts. Learn from your peers and predecessors. Talk to people who are smarter than you and don't be afraid to say "I'm not sure" out loud. There's joy in the discovery.

Make It Personal: There are those who will say, "It’s business, not personal." They are wrong. As a small business owner, you'll wake up every morning earlier than you want to because you believe that what you do is a gift. You'll work sometimes while on vacation because you consider your clients to be part of your extended family. Your passion is what fuels you, so it’s natural to be heartbroken when you let your team down, just as it’s important to celebrate when the team succeeds. Knowing when it’s time to move on is essential, but don’t be afraid make your work personal. It is.

Be Honest at All Costs: There are those in the advertising and marketing world who believe that lying is acceptable, that stretching the truth is unavoidable. Don't be one of them. Clients would rather hear "I'm not sure" or "that was my fault," than stories and fairy tales. Honesty will cost you, but it will always be worth the price.

Know When to Say “No”: Just as some relationships and partnerships will succeed, others will not. There are times when walking away from something you’ve started is not only okay, but necessary in moving forward. Develop an appreciation for the power of “no.” Be honest about your constraints. Time is not limitless, and you’ll find doing a few things well is more rewarding than doing many things half-heartedly. In business and in life, know that more opportunities and exciting ideas are yet to come. Whether it’s a person, a project, or simply an idea you’ve held onto tightly, go with your instincts and know when to part ways.

You Can't Take It with You: When you enter the startup world, you'll get sucked into long days and late nights. You'll become obsessed with "doing" and you'll sometimes forget about the "living" part of the equation. Remember that no matter how many awards you receive or how much money you make – you can't take it with you. There are weddings, new arrivals, and lazy afternoons at the beach I’ve regretted missing. Make the time – you’ll never regret spending it with family and friends.

Timothy Haines
15 Signs That Your Digital Marketing Agency Deserves a Red Card
Red Card

Flimsy digital marketing agencies aren’t always easy to recognize. They come decorated with empty buzzwords, unbacked methods, or senseless deliverables. Yes, you want followers. But you need customers. Yes, you hire agencies for their expertise. But they should be able to communicate why Best Practices are just that.

Fret not. Refer to this list we’ve composed of red cards. If two or three of these sound familiar, we have advice. RUN!

 Your digital marketing agency deserves a red card if...

1. You don’t have ownership of your web domain and hosting.

2. You’re missing a username or password to anything.

3. Frequent references to Hubspot.com and Seth Godin are made.

4. You can’t answer the question “How many phone calls did we receive?” or “How many people took action (clicked, purchased, emailed)?” with data from the advertising campaign.

5. Someone created a Facebook page for you then pretended you didn’t need an advertising budget.

6. You’ve never actually seen your Google Analytics and you don’t know how to log into it.

7. You’re preached to exclusively about vanity metrics such as Facebook page likes.

8. You’re told this or that is good for SEO by someone who isn’t actually an SEO expert. (Hint: Designers and developers are rarely SEO experts.)

9. You can’t easily edit your webpage content yourself without advanced training, or worse - you have to pay your developer for every update.

10. Your email newsletter and website are not mobile friendly.

11. You’ve never heard the phrase “Limited keywords are allowed by Google” used in a sentence.

12. You’re working with any “We’re a news media company but we've also mastered the Internet” sort of organization.

13. Someone just offered to rent or sell you an email list.

14. The followers you're attracting don't look like potential customers, donors, stakeholders, or supporters.

15. The words “viral video” are used without air quotes or eye rolls.

Brian Workman