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….. Do you see what I just did there? If you’re familiar with the Enneagram I hope you appreciate the irony, or if you’re still fuzzy or new to the conversation, then I invite you to read along. Yes, the Enneagram can be confusing, and at times feels like a secret language. People who know about it will quickly jump into, “I’m an 8,” “I’m a 3,” “I’m a 7, wing 6.” Which may lead you to say, “I have no idea what that means.” In short, the Enneagram is simply a map for self-discovery and personal growth. It is an ancient personality system that recognizes 9 inherently different (and yet connected) personality types that frame and describe the why behind what you think, feel, and do. Got it figured out?

The Challenge of the Enneagram

The inherent challenge of the Enneagram is that nothing with it is brief. It takes time to understand, and even more effort to utilize as a leader. Even so, I am convinced that it is a proven leadership tool for individuals and teams to lead themselves better. The hard work of leadership always begins with the most difficult person we will ever lead: ourselves. So, if you are looking for a quick fix or silver bullet strategic process to grow your own leadership and the impact your team can make, this is not the tool for you. It’s more like a long road trip that happens one mile at a time, and if you don’t understand how to read the map, you can get turned around, lost, or in a fight about the exit you just missed.

Why Does it Matter for Leaders?

Every leader has to first lead themselves, and the Enneagram will help you as a leader grow in your self-awareness by understanding the “why” behind what you think, how you feel, and the ways you behave. The wisdom of the Enneagram is that it gives comprehensive language and precise description to 9 different ways people show up. Its language describes how you experience the world and how others experience you in the world. And that is also why it matters for teams.

Why Does it Matter for Teams?

When individuals are willing to do the hard work of understanding who they are and why they do what they do, they will also begin to understand who others are and why they do what they do. I contend that leadership always begins with an individual leader and their willingness to lead themselves for the sake of others. The Enneagram is important for teams because it can tell us what gifts we have and don’t have on our team. In my approach to the Enneagram, I find that the names of the 9 different types tell us so much. What gifts does each type bring to the world? What dynamic tension are they always trying to resolve? In some ways, each number is a superpower, which is both a leadership gift and task to manage. So here they are: 9 reasons the Enneagram matters for leaders and teams (and yes, these are the 9 Enneagram types because we need all of them). One more disclaimer: There is a variety of names for the 9 types, and I think all the resources enhance our understanding of each. In what follows, I invite you to notice what these descriptions communicate about each type’s leadership gift and potential struggle. Think superheroes discovering how to use their superpower for good or ill.

Where Do You Fit?

1. The Moral Perfectionist Principled | Purposeful | Self-Controlled | Perfectionistic We see what is wrong and we make it better. 2. The Supportive Advisor Generous | Demonstrative | Loving | Hospitable We see where to help out and we say yes. 3. The Successful Achiever Adaptable | Excelling | Driven | Efficient We get stuff done 24/7, 365. What else do you need? 4. The Romantic Individualist Expressive | Creative | Authentic | Introspective We make the world and its people beautiful; make sure you let us feel all of it. 5. The Investigative Thinker Perceptive | Innovative | Curious | Objective We observe, think, and then think some more. You may need to ask us what we are thinking. 6. The Loyal Guardian Engaging | Responsible | Prepared | Practical We are reliable and consistent. You should always have one of us on your team. 7. The Entertaining Optimist Spontaneous | Versatile | Acquisitive | Confident We have more ideas and energy than all of you, and we don’t have an off button. 8. The Protective Challenger Self-Confident | Decisive | Compassionate | Resilient We are who you want to take to a fight or close the deal. Everyone should have one of us in their life. 9. The Peaceful Mediator Receptive | Reassuring | Generous | Diplomatic We smile because we believe we can all get along. All 9 of these personality types matter, and have the potential to make significant leadership contributions to any team, business, and organization. I invite you to take a one step forward your own leadership growth through the power of self-discovery that the Enneagram provides. It matters for you, and it matters for those you lead. Take a step! ….. For more information, check out Joe Graham and his Enneagram coaching.

No Time For Introspection

We didn’t have time for it. Our plate was more than full. We were onboarding new clients, defining new roles, a hiring campaign (oh, and moving into a new office) all while approaching the holidays. We just didn’t have time for it. But sometimes that’s the perfect time. As Symposia approached Fall 2018, the team was experiencing another major growth spurt. We were gearing up for a big year ahead and doing so with two new employees on the team. Introspection is important to Symposia – it’s a task we often put on our clients as well. Riley Waugh, our outgoing User Experience Specialist, had a proposition. As part of her sunsetting from the company (to heed the call of westward expansion), Riley recognized a constructive project she could take on: Conduct an in-depth report on the User Experience of Symposia Labs. Without getting into the complete blueprint, the scope was essentially to gather information through interviews with staff and clients, evaluate the data, and provide detailed analysis and suggested action steps for development. Sounds romantic, eh? Honestly, it was music to our ears. The fact that Riley, who had been with us since 2017 and experienced all the progress and success and challenges Symposia had along the way, would be conducting the research was a unique advantage. Not only would this be an internal effort but would also include client-facing components. So began the work to assess our current landscape and to define Symposia Labs 2.0.

What Is User Experience?

User experience refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects. –Wikipedia [ref.] For Symposia, this meant asking, in plain language: How are we doing? What are our strengths, our challenges? How can we better serve our clients? How do we better serve our own talents and skills? How can we prepare ourselves as a company for the best, most successful year in its lifetime? Where are the areas that need tightening up? How do we optimize? There were three categories that the research fell under: Process, culture, and satisfaction. We reviewed the tools we use, our communication, and recognitions; we reflected on journeys and longevity. Through a series of interviews with employees, clients, and interns, a mountain of data was collected. We had taken a look under Symposia’s hood. So Riley worked her magic, cataloging the complex musings of many. The result was not only an inventory but also a sort of map: where we were, where we are, and the paths ahead. From a Symposia client in the client-facing portion of the research: “As you grow and evolve, make sure that your culture is strong to find ways to always win together!”

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Beyond marketing efforts, Symposia’s purpose is to be the change agents our clients need through our commitments to adaptability and progress. As deeply invested as we are in our clients and their success, so too should we be invested in our culture and internal relationships. The digital marketing industry moves so quickly that it’s easy to get caught up in catching up. You may blink an eye and realize the organization switched programs three times over without gathering feedback on what’s the best fit. Every piece has its purpose. Whether it’s your CRM or your internal task management system, they are all components of a larger machine. As Symposia’s work for our clients continues to be more all-encompassing, whether it’s transforming how leads are managed or results are tracked, we encourage our clients to consider the whole picture. That consideration creates a synergy that really shows how transformative digital can be for organizations of any size. Your business, your workflow, your processes, deserve to be assessed not only when it’s convenient or when you spot an ad for tickets to a team-building workshop. If you expect 2019 to bring big shifts in your organization or industry, or you want to impact the way you interact with your customers or internal team, consider this advice to take time to determine how to get where you want to go by understanding where you are.

The Strange & Confusing World of Attribution

Has there ever been a time where you are combing through your Google Analytics numbers and you notice that your direct traffic seems far higher than any of the other traffic coming to your website? I know it has happened to me on plenty of occasions; and before I really understood the ins and outs of attribution, I never could figure out why.

What is Attribution?

Digging through data can be an extremely arduous process with a lot of potential headaches, especially when you can’t definitively determine the source of your numbers. When you log into your Google Analytics account and see that massive amount of direct traffic, the first thing you want to know is “why?” and “where are all of these people coming from?” Those two questions make up the biggest parts of why attribution is so important when reading data. The dictionary defines attribution as “the action of regarding something as being caused by a person or thing.” When thinking about this in regard to digital data, tracking who is coming to a website, and where they are coming from, attribution simply means knowing exactly what channel brought in a user.

Why Does it Even Matter?

This question is the most obvious, but also the most important, when thinking about attribution as a whole. Because at the end of the day, every digital marketer needs to know why attribution is so critical to understand. Let’s go back to the direct traffic I was talking about earlier. When we see direct traffic in our Google Analytics data, we don’t really know what that means or where it came from. Even when you click into the traffic to see where exactly the users are landing on your website, you still have no idea where they came from. As you can imagine, if you are running a massive AdWords or Facebook Ads campaign, it is extremely important to you to know if one of your ads is what brought a user to your site. If you don’t know where they came from, you don’t know where to spend your advertising money to help bring in more users. This is where different types of attribution models start coming into play.

Deciphering the Data

In order to best understand exactly where your website traffic is coming from, you can use a number of different attribution models depending on how you want to view your data. Inside of Google Analytics, there are seven different default attribution models: Last Interaction, Last Non-Direct Click, Last Google Ads Click, First Interaction, Linear, Time Decay, and Position Based. Each of these models has a very specific purpose and can be used to weight the importance of the traffic flowing into your website. Digital marketers will want to choose a model based on the goals of a specific campaign. Let’s break down each model and how to best use them. Last Interaction: this model is fairly self-explanatory, in that the last thing a user touches/clicks/interacts with before getting to your website is given 100% of the credit for bringing them to you. Using Last Interaction: this particular model is not used very often in Google Analytics just because of the fact when using this model, a massively high percentage of your website traffic will be credited as direct. In a marketing situation, that is never very helpful because we always want to know exactly where website traffic is coming from. Last Non-Direct Click: this model is almost identical to the Last Interaction model with the exception of, you guessed it, direct traffic. Using Last Non-Direct Click: if you are still interested in what the last known campaign or interaction a user had immediately prior to visiting your site, you can use this model to help filter out all of the direct traffic. This model is usually best used in situations where you are seeing a fairly quick conversion cycle. Last Google Ads Click: this model is also fairly self-explanatory. If you are running a Google AdWords campaign, the attribution model will give 100% credit to the last ad campaign the user clicked on. However, this won’t give you any information about other interactions a user may have made after clicking on your Google ad. Using Last Google Ads Click: since AdWords has such a clear cost per click available, this model can help you see the return on the money you spent on a particular AdWords campaign. First Interaction: the same as Last Interaction but instead of focusing on the very last interaction a user had before getting to your site, it focuses on the first. Using First Interaction: for all intents and purposes, this model is the default for people who want to know how exactly a user heard about their business. Seeing exactly where people are first hearing about you is critically important to building a brand or business. Linear: this model gives equal credit to all interactions that a user has during their journey to your website. Using Linear: this model can play a big role for any business that has a typically long conversion cycle, because over that long period of time you want to make sure you know each and every interaction a user has so that you can fully understand their entire journey to your website. Time Decay: this model will give the most credit to the interaction that occurred most closely in time to when the conversion or sale on your site happened. Using Time Decay: this model works similarly to the linear model, but will give far less credit to interactions with campaigns that occurred further away from when the actual conversion or sale happened. Position Based: this model gives 40% of the credit to the first interaction a user had, 40% of the credit to the last interaction a user had, and splits 20% of the credit between all of the other interactions a user had prior to coming to your website. Using Position Based: if you like the idea of knowing how a user first heard about you while also knowing what potentially finally brought them to your site, this is exactly the model you want to be using. Custom: once you feel like you really have an understanding of how each of the default attribution models work, but they all leave you unsatisfied and sad inside about their limitations, you can create a custom attribution model right inside of Google Analytics to help you design whatever kind of model you would prefer to use.

A Brave New World

Now that you know the ins and outs of attribution models, you can start to gain a much better understanding of where the users on your website are coming from and what they are seeing to help them decide on choosing your website over someone else’s. Understanding attribution is a giant leap forward in your marketing knowledge and will propel you into an entirely new world that didn’t even seem possible before.

A Startup’s Growing Pains

As I stood on the deck surrounding the small indoor lap pool with 7 of my coworkers, reading off notes about job roles marked up on poster board, the spring of 2014 flashed in my mind.

That was when I met Tim Haines. He was a consultant who was tasked, in part, with training me in a social media manager position I had taken with a local city department. By summer, I would find myself with the opportunity to join his budding digital marketing agency later known as Symposia Labs.

The work started out as part-time and I shared one room of a small office with the only other employee, another social media manager. She and I did the same type of work on separate accounts: content creation, social engagement, lots of Excel sheets and Photoshop files. Tim would rush in and out between meetings, check in with us, engage and encourage us with questions.

Many hats were worn between the three of us. There were contractors here and there, many of whom I never met or sometimes knew existed.

Our client list grew quickly and the needs expanded. We took on the lease of the entire office we’d been sharing with other agencies. We welcomed in-house designers, paid media specialists, marketing assistants, interns. The growing pains were real.

We met with development coaches. We explored our share of diagrams and flowcharts in efforts to determine how best this new machine would work. And we worked to define and develop our strengths as individual experts.

A swim lane… distinguishes job sharing and responsibilities for sub-processes of a business process. When used to diagram a business process that involves more than one department, swim lanes often serve to clarify not only the steps and who is responsible for each one, but also how mistakes are most likely to occur. [ref.]

How We Define Swim Lanes

Since the early days, one of Symposia’s values has been to empower and trust each other in our areas of specialty. We believe in the power of individual experts, and that trusting those talents helps the machine operate at its best.

Too often we see agencies fail to prove their strengths because they’re trying to be all things to all people. Our experience has been that great work is done when the experts are allowed to do what they do best.

That’s where the swim lanes concept comes in.

For Symposia, swim lanes indicate one’s area of expertise. We believe that in a perfect world a paid media specialist is not writing all the ad copy on the spot when setting up a campaign. In a perfect world, a project manager understands metrics and how to track them, not necessarily the ins and outs of how to test them. And whenever someone is seeking guidance, they know whom to ask.

This is not to be confused with a “don’t touch my stuff” mentality. On the contrary, it’s about a team leaning on each other to get the best results. There exists plenty of overlap between roles, whether it’s design and photography, or copy and PPC. Swimming in your own lane involves understanding how to navigate this.

Consider this example:

A project manager briefs the team on a new campaign requiring photos and ad copy for Facebook and Google.

The photographer and graphic designer work together to determine the raw photos needed which will provide the groundwork for the final designs. The graphic designer doesn’t direct the photographer, but having the designer’s input is crucial for the photographer to be efficient.

Meanwhile, the copywriter speaks with the paid media specialist about what types of ads will be run to determine any platform-specific constraints or keywords. The paid media specialist doesn’t have to worry about creating the ad copy, but knowing pertinent PPC-related details helps the copywriter to provide the right thing on the first go.

Creative and copy are put together in mockups and boom – the project manager has a first round of creative and copy with less chance of needing revisions before going live.

This is of course a simplified scenario. A million other tweaks can be happening here and there behind the scenes. But understanding whom to partner with is an excellent example of where swim lanes may overlap (or “touch”) but remain separate.

Working together and leaning on each other for support or information during the process helps the process to run smoothly.

The Whistle Blows

I won’t bother trying to put my sentimentality aside. It was quite a vantage point, standing there around the pool (all of us fully clothed, I might add) with 7 of my now 10 in total coworkers, discussing our swim lanes in that humid metaphor just a few weeks ago.

We’ve grown so much and not just in terms of staff or clients. Adaptability is crucial in digital marketing as we learn this industry’s evolving trends and tools. And Symposia understands firsthand why adaptability is so important internally for a growing team of specialists.

We’ve recently welcomed another project manager and an automation specialist (meet Andrew and Adam in their blog posts!) and as we face toward all that’s ahead for 2019, things are looking great.

How to Use Dynamic Creative Ads on Facebook If you run an e-commerce store or if you like doing a lot of testing when it comes to advertising, Dynamic Creative Ads are the way to go. If you have used a tool, such as AdEspresso for example, you are aware of the multiple creatives they set up when you launch a new campaign: Split testing (also called A/B testing) is the act of running similar ads to see which performs better. Using ads that differ in copy, graphics, call to action, etc., allows you to identify which element is helpful to the performance. This can be done with Facebook ads using the following campaigns:
  1. Traffic
  2. Conversions
  3. App Installs
Symposia tested ads using all three of these campaigns. In this blog post, we will show you how to take full advantage of Dynamic Creative Ads. Dynamic Creatives Ads are the way to go when you run an e-commerce store. You would typically use it for remarketing purposes after users visited your website and you want them to come back. However, we have also tested it at the beginning of our sales funnel for an app install campaign and it gave us great results as well. (We were optimizing for in-app purchase and mobile app purchase.)   How to Set up Your Dynamic Creative Ads First, this is typically what you will see when you have already created a Traffic/Conversion/App Install campaign at the ad set level: Now, this particular ad set is already using dynamic creative but I am going to show you how to create a campaign from scratch. We’ll start by creating a conversion campaign for this test but remember that you can also create a traffic or an app install campaign to be able to use the Dynamic Creative Ads. For this tutorial, I am using Ads Manager via Business Manager. After clicking on + Create at the top (the big green button), you’ll see this: Enter the campaign name, the Ad Set name and the Ad name. Then click on “Save to Draft”. Now click on your campaign name, you will be at the ad set level, hover to your ad set name and click on edit. This is what you will see: Switch the button and you’ll see this: Click Continue. Now click on the ad set name and you will be at the ad level. First, make sure to “select images.” You can select up to 10 images and I would advise to actually pick 10. When you have selected them all, click on Confirm. Now that you have selected all your images, it’s time to “add your text.” Start by typing your first text aka copy. Then click on the + Add button to add more: You can add up to 5 texts. Again, I advise you to add all of them! The next A/B testing you’ll be able to perform is the “Headline”, again you can add up to 5 and same goes with the News Feed Link Description. Once you are done with this, you need to select the “Call to Action”, this one is probably one of the most important thing to add! Again, you can select up to 5 but I would probably advise to test “Learn More” and “Shop Now” if you have an e-commerce store, or “Play Game” and “Learn More” if you do an app install campaign. Now that everything is set up, it’s time to look at all the variations! Now click on “View More Variations” and you’ll be able to see them all. As you can see, Facebook will create a lot of them! It’s now time to publish your campaign and in a couple days you’ll begin seeing some results.   How to Check the Results Go back to your ads and select Breakdown (on the right end side). Now select “By Dynamic Creative Asset” and you can select them one by one: For example, we are selecting “text.” As you can see, two different texts are working much better than the other three, so it will be easy for us to then work on a Single Image Ad to add to our campaign. The goal here is to find which creative is working best and then be able to create either a Single Image ad or a Carousel ad to see if it gives even more results than the Dynamic Creative one! Over the past 2 months, we have been able to create different Dynamic Creative Sets for very different clients. We have been very happy with the results! Every time we find a great combination, we add it to our Single Image ad set and work on more Dynamic Creative sets to test more variations. This will save you a lot of time when doing A/B testing and you won’t have to create 5 ads within the same ad set anymore! Remember that you can only test 5 variations so if you need to test 15 ads then you will have to create 3 different Dynamic Creative Sets. Tender, juicy and flavorful. Custom cuts. Thigh meat. Bone-in or boneless. I was recently tasked with writing about products for a meat supplier. I wrote about filets and flavors with language implying in-depth and first-hand knowledge of Western culture’s favorite protein. I love writing and I loved writing this. I ate it up, so to speak. And I’ve been a vegetarian since 1997. Copywriters often need to find a balance between feigning expertise and simply doing the right research. I didn’t have to sample each of these carnivorous delights to complete the task, just as I haven’t needed to learn how to haul a trailer to write about the trucking community. “Write what you know” is excellent advice and a commonly misunderstood phrase. It’s certainly a great place to begin writing but it can become an excuse to insert oneself into the narrative. A piece of advice I was once given is to remember that Memoirs of a Geisha, a popular novel about a geisha in WWII-era Japan, was written by a Jewish man from Tennessee. Research is vital. But so are emotions. There’s a chasm of difference between a traditional classified ad in a newspaper and crafting a story around your CTA. Author Nathan Englander says that writing what you know is about emotions. Do you know what it means to have a passion? To care deeply about a cause, a community, and yes, even a product? Then you have it in you to write compelling ad copy. Below are 4 tips for writing about subject matter outside of one’s own personal scope or experience:   Research and research again. To compel the reader to take an action when you’re unfamiliar with the subject, read what you can. Challenge what you read and follow up on those challenges. Ask questions. The answer is often hiding in the research. Don’t let ignorance keep you from writing skilled content. Listen to your audience. Say you’re writing blog content directed toward a niche community or fanbase. Start by asking the obvious (i.e. where do they live?). Then listen closely to them: What are their values? What is the vernacular? Use the right tone. If you write about auto repair using the correct terms but sound like someone who’s never set foot in a garage, you’ve missed the mark. Worse, you may have pushed the reader away for good because you’ve lost their trust. Give them cause to trust you and they’re more likely to trust the content. Tap into a common emotion. Details are necessary to support your cause (correct terminology, up-to-date statistics, etc.), but details are not necessarily what makes content compelling. I don’t personally know what it’s like to be on a search for the best poultry products in the Midwest, but I do know what it’s like to be frustrated with trying to track down the right products to provide your customers. I want to help this audience by showing them that I have the answer they are looking for. Remember to forget. It’s easy to take your own experience too far and insert yourself into a narrative. It’s only human. One of my personal challenges in writing is that I tend to essentially write to myself. Sometimes writing this way works, but ask yourself if you are in the target audience. If not, remember to forget yourself a bit.   Bon appétit. “Where do I start?” is a common question heard among the ranks of would-be entrepreneurs and small-to-medium businesses. Although many believe that a business plan or strategy is the place to start, these documents outline actions that should only be created after you’ve identified your purpose. A purpose is an individual’s or organization’s reason for being. It is a clear intention that identifies the audience to be served and why. A purpose defines what is truly unique about an individual or a company. It is about this time when people start thinking or even saying “Well, our purpose is to make money,” and the discussion ensues. Money is a result. It is not your purpose. Companies who take the time to clearly define their purpose, outline a plan to support that purpose, and define goals with metrics that measure performance against the purpose, are the ones who are profitable. In fact, a 10-year study of the financial health and growth of 50,000 brand conducted by Millward Brown Optimor, showed the top 50 brands were focused on pursuing their purpose ahead of profit, yet they outperformed the S&P 500 by 400% over this 10-year time period. A compelling purpose is the path to purchase. Back to “Where do I start?” Whether you are an individual or an organization, your path to purpose will require the use of your rear view mirror as well as your clear vision, looking forward. There are three things you need to do to start your journey.
    1. Gather Stories To uncover your purpose, draw upon defining moments and examine them to find the connections. The more specific the memories, the better. Rediscover the details, feelings within the conversations, the lessons learned – these will offer clues to why you are successful. The more stories you recover the better, because that will provide more data from which to start identifying recurring themes. If you are finding your company’s purpose, enlist a diverse group of employees and ask them to provide details about their memories of your company at its best. Focus on the stories that made the biggest impression on your life or in the business. Try to gather at least 10. Jot down enough detail so you can convey the stories to a group that is assigned to look for connections.
    2. Identify Themes – If you are working on a company purpose, assemble a small group to review the stories. This team should work together to probe for more details. As you share the stories that were gathered or identified, themes will start to emerge. You may see connections that you’ve never realized before. As the process unfolds, one or two recurring themes will start to rise to the top. You’ll be thinking “that’s it.” Be prepared to tell your story. Storytelling humanizes and adds emotional appeal.
    3. Draft and Refine Your Purpose Statement – The themes that emerged in the storytelling session will be the basis for your Purpose Statement. This is a simple statement that is clear, actionable and focused on others, using positive language. It looks something like this: WE EXIST TO (your contribution) SO THAT (the impact you’ll make).
  ADDITIONAL PROMPTS TO HELP FIND YOUR PURPOSE:
  • Think of your best day. What happened? What made it so good? Did you help others? What makes it stand out?
  • What was a day at work where, at the end of it, you could say, “I would have done that for free”? What about that experience did you love?
  • What was an experience that taught you a valuable life lesson or changed the way you look at the business?
  • What has been a pivotal moment in your life or your business when you realized nothing would be the same again?
  • When was a specific time you collaborated on something that was impactful?
  • What was something you did or the company achieved that makes you feel proud?
Do you feel like you need some additional inspiration? Take a cue from some purpose-focused companies and their statements:
  • Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” – Southwest Airlines
  • “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” – Starbucks
  • “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (everybody is an athlete).” – Nike
Take time to think, plan and commit to creating a compelling purpose. Be prepared to live your purpose and reinforce it regularly. Finally, activate your purpose across all critical touch-points. Use your purpose as your compass for decision-making. If you take these steps, you will be energized and your company will be better positioned to create exceptional experiences for your customers who, by the way, pay you that money that you desire. Kathleen Curtis Wolf is the founder and Chief Experience Officer at The Purpose Partners, a strategic brand, marketing and communications consulting firm that lives by the purpose: We guide clients, discovering connections to address and solve challenges that get in the way of creating exceptional experiences. Kathleen can be reached on Twitter @kccurtis or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kathleencurtiswolf Everyone knows the pain. Sometimes clients unknowingly interfere with the design process. It’s not their fault, and design is just one of those things that not everyone understands. But it can cause for a difficult interaction between designer and client. “Can you put that above the fold?” “Why is the type so small?” “It’s not modern enough.” This may sound familiar. While moving past uncomfortable experiences is one thing, it can become taxing to continue losing budget or compromising design integrity as a result of seemingly endless change requests. So what can we do?   Build Relationships The ultimate objective when working with a client is to make them happy with exceptional work that achieves their goal. More often than not, this means producing less than the best possible design… Which is okay. (Did I really just say that?) As a designer myself, I know that this is inevitable, but there can be a good balance between the two. Taking the time to vet the client and ask questions up front can make a world of difference. If you know what they want from the start, it is much easier than jumping right in and hoping for the best. Gather as much context from them as you can early on and your odds of producing something that exceeds their expectations slants heavily in your favor. Not only will this leave you both satisfied but it will also prove as a solid foundation to keep working together in the future.   Say No, and Communicate Sometimes you have to push back. Nobody likes being told “no,” but it is important to remember that you are the expert in this situation and if you feel deep down that what they are asking is a problem, then explain your reasoning. Do the client the service of educating them on why you may be pushing back. There needs to be give and take, and clients will respect that as long as you give them reason to. Just remember to be polite and professional. This may mean referring back to the contract you worked so hard on, clarifying the amount of revisions you are comfortable with, and explaining what is considered outside of scope.   Feed off of Criticism Quite frankly, design is not for those that are sensitive and fragile. If that is you, then at this time you need to put that part of you away. Criticism is your friend and you need to listen to it and learn from it. It is very important that criticism is handled in a professional manner, and in the end, it provides the best opportunity to suit your client’s wants and needs.   Promise Only What You Can Deliver First interactions with a client can be very exciting. There is drive to sell your services and to get clients thrilled to be working with you. It is important to remember that your reputation is on the line. Something you don’t want to hear: “But [designer name], you promised…” If you do find yourself in this situation, promptly take responsibility and do all you can to repair the damage. Not all is lost at this point, but take measures to go above and beyond to fix what is broken.   …………..    I think it can, at times, be far too easy for a designer to place blame on the client for causing problems with a design process. But I also believe it is very important to take a step back and really ponder how you handled the situation from the start. As stated above, there are many things that can be done to prevent a great project from becoming subpar. And remember that your job as a designer is create the exceptional design that helps to achieve the client’s goal. This is the win. Note: A version of this post was originally published on 10/24/2016. Digital changes daily, so we updated this post for 2019. 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. We present to you this handy list of warning signs to help identify weak or phony “expertise.” If two or three of these sound familiar with your hired agency, reexamine your relationship with them.

Your digital marketing agency deserves a red card if…

  1. You don’t have ownership of your web domain and hosting. (I mean, they’re yours, right?)
  2. You’re missing a username or password to ANYTHING. (If it’s yours, you should have access.)
  3. You’re unable to measure your ROI using the ad campaign’s data. (The data should hold the answers to your questions, be they “How many phone calls did we receive?” or “How many users took action?”)
  4. Someone created a Facebook page for you then pretended you didn’t need an advertising budget. (You have a car, great. But you need gas to drive it.)
  5. You’ve never actually seen your Google Analytics and you don’t know how to log into it. (Again – if it’s yours, you should have access. You should be also educated on why it’s important.)
  6. You’re preached to exclusively about vanity metrics such as Facebook page likes. (Likes are nice, but do they translate to sales/leads?)
  7. You’re told what’s good or bad for SEO by someone who isn’t an SEO expert. (Hint: Designers and developers are rarely SEO experts.)
  8. You can’t easily edit your webpage content yourself without advanced training, or worse – you have to pay your developer for every update. (Check your contract. You probably shouldn’t have to beg or pay extra for necessary maintenance.)
  9. Your email newsletter and website are not mobile friendly. (Mobile first. Mobile first. Mobile first.)
  10. You’re told that “Display and Search are enough. You don’t need a Remarketing campaign. (Someone visits your website but doesn’t take the action you want? Get them back with Remarketing.)
  11. You hear something resembling, “We’re a news media company but we’ve also mastered the Internet.” (They haven’t. Work with the specialists.)
  12. Someone just offered to rent you an unvetted email list. (There are a number of reason this is a bad idea, including being harmful to your IP reputation or email deliverability.)
  13. The followers you’re attracting don’t look like potential customers, donors, stakeholders, or supporters. (See an expert immediately to fix your audiences before you spend more money on reaching the wrong people.)
  14. You don’t have a Facebook pixel or Google Adwords remarketing script on your site. (This applies regardless of whether you’re currently running ads, as this is a critical step to take for any future ads to succeed.)
  15. You’ve never discussed the importance of a CRM (customer relationship management) software. (For many organizations, its CRM is its brain. Kind of crucial.)

    Bonus Warning Signs…

  16. Your digital creative is being made with InDesign or some other program that’s designed for print instead of digital. (ProTip: We recommend using Sketch!)
  17. You’re not using Google Tag Manager or Google Data Studio. (Google Tag Manager allows you to track countless events and actions. Google Data Studio is the customizable, easy-to-use way to manage your analytic reports. Also, they’re both free.)
  18. You see the WordPress plugin “The Divi Builder” being used. (This means the code sucks. Unless you were charged less than $2,000 for your website, you were probably ripped off.)