Interview With Carly Brantz, Director Of Revenue Marketing At SendGrid

I’m so excited to share today’s interview with Carly Brantz, Boulder, CO-based Director of Revenue Marketing at SendGrid. Carly generously spoke with me about the challenges and rewards of leading revenue marketing for a successful tech startup, as well as insights into increasing diversity and empowering women in tech.

Sarah Brown: What’s your background, and where are you from? 

Carly Brantz: I am a Boulder native and have spent my life in the beautiful bubble of Boulder.  In college I studied Business and Spanish with big hopes of working internationally and using Spanish.  I found myself working in tech immediately after college, working for a data analysis and visualization software company.  For the last ten years, my focus has centered around email and email deliverability in a variety of marketing positions.  I began working at SendGrid when we were less than 30 employees and it has been an adventure being part of an extremely fast growing company.  Email is constantly evolving and it makes my job interesting to stay on top of the latest changes and how that is impacting what we do.

Sarah: What’s your favorite part of your job as a revenue marketer for SendGrid?

Carly: I love having clear goals and expectations of me so the transition I’ve had over the last year of being tied to a revenue number and having a quota has been exciting.  I am so proud of my team and the extremely sophisticated programs they have created.  It is rewarding to see them in a constant state of improvement.  The executive team has given us the freedom to try and test new opportunities, which allows us to be creative about new things to experiment with.

Sarah: As a revenue marketer, how do you fit into the bigger picture of the goals of your organization? What departments/teams do you usually work with directly?

Carly: At SendGrid, we have four primary revenue stripes: Direct, Self Service, Partnerships and Customer Success.  My team is responsible for supporting each of those stripes with relevant content, lead generation, outbound advertising, nurture programs and optimizing landing pages and emails. In addition to that, I am responsible for the Self Service revenue number with clear goals and focus around growing that revenue number and making it simple for customers to sign up for a SendGrid account on their own.  I work very closely with others in the Revenue department to ensure we deploy tactics to improve conversions, close business and provide an excellent customer experience.  I work with and depend on our Business Information team to provide the details on each stage of the sales funnel to make informed decisions.  Lastly, I work closely with Finance for closed loop reporting and ROI so that I can analyze the impact of programs and our revenue attainment.

Sarah: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis working as a revenue marketer? How do you meet those challenges?

Carly: With my team supporting all four revenue stripes, it can be a balancing act to figure out the right resources to allocate to each of those stripes.  Much of that is addressed by continuously tracking and testing everything we do in order to find the sweet spots.  I am a very data driven person and I’ve never liked the assumption that marketing decisions are based on a hunch.  That being said, it is sometimes challenging to find the data or know where I need to dig in deeper to find the answers I need. Fortunately, we have great tools and people to help provide me the analysis I need but there are times that customer behavior changes or website traffic is in flux and I don’t have one clear explanation.

Sarah: As someone who blogs on the subject, what do you think are the biggest challenges women face in tech?

Carly: I have been reading a lot about women and our hesitation to try new things or take risks because we are afraid to fail or lack the confidence to take a firm position.  I can certainly relate to that as I am pretty risk adverse. I believe many women in leadership roles and in tech lack the confidence and the feeling of being worthy to try something that may not work.  There is beauty in mistakes because you learn how to improve.

Sarah: Are you connected to other women in tech? If so, what has it been like to compare roles and discuss the growing trend?

Carly: I wouldn’t say that I specifically seek out other women in tech roles to form relationships.  I am connected to other women, but it has developed more naturally. I think it is important to identify themes that women are noticing in technology, to share what we are learning.  I am always fascinated to hear how other companies break out their teams and learn from where they have found success or where they noticed changes needed to be made.

Sarah: On SendGrid’s blog, you wrote a great post about “sitting at the table.” Can you share more about what this entails?

Carly: I was inspired by Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In.  She articulated so many of the things I have felt and seen in my career but couldn’t quite pinpoint. I know personally, I have a tendency because I am grateful of everything I have in my career, to limit myself by not asking for more. Men ask for more, all the time, I see it every day, they don’t think twice about it.  We need to ask for what we want (and more!) and encourage other women to do the same.   I also find it easier to advocate for others rather than for myself.  I have been extremely fortunate to have an incredible role model and boss, Denise Hulce, VP of Revenue, who has encouraged me to ask for what I want, to voice my opinions and speak up when something doesn’t feel right.  This has helped push me out of my comfort zone.

Sarah: SendGrid is an active ambassador with NCWIT. What is the organization working on and why should people learn about their efforts?

Carly: Since our inception in 2009, SendGrid has partnered with NCWIT—the National Center for Women and Information Technology. NCWIT is an incredible organization that provides resources, research, and community outreach that help to create more opportunities for women in technical roles.  Over the past few years, we have sent groups to NCWIT’s summits and we are committed to continuing to participate in discussions that will create more opportunity for women in technical roles here at SendGrid and at our fellow tech companies as part of their Entrepreneurial Alliance, Pacesetters program, and their “Sit With Me” initiative.

Sarah: Anything else you’d like to share or elaborate on?

Carly: As a mother of two young girls, I have learned a lot over the past few years about treating myself with understanding as they grow up and as my career grows.  I think all moms have guilt one way or another and I was someone who was limiting myself because I was a mom and I was judging myself if I wanted more in my career because I didn’t want it to negatively impact my kids.  I think it is really healthy for women to have passions outside of their children and I believe that my kids benefit from seeing me in a successful career and having a focus in areas that are not centered around every move they make.

Carly Brantz of SendGrid featured on Sarah Brown MarketingCarly Brantz is a veteran in the email deliverability space working to make email simple and easy for developers by regularly writing whitepapers, research briefs and blog posts about email, technology and industry trends. Follow Carly Brantz on Twitter.

Boulder Startup Week 2014 Recap: Hacking Diversity And Growth

This year, I was fortunate to attend Boulder Startup Week (May 12-16, 2014), an annual celebration of all things startup-related in this beautiful Colorado mountain town. I’ve lived and worked in other startup-filled metro areas including NYC, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and after living here for almost a year, I’ve discovered that Boulder has some pretty unique tech culture that isn’t typically found elsewhere (as far as I know).

Why is Boulder’s startup scene so unique? I think it’s because “giving before you receive, without having the expectation to receive” is exemplified here (for more on this check out Brad Feld’s Boulder thesis). So many companies and individuals in the community are committed to this, which I believe is why magical things happen within our startup community.

I’ll touch more on this idea of giving back to the community later in the post, but first, here’s a recap of the events I went to. I should note that I tackled a full client workload this week while fitting in events, and so I chose to prioritize attending diversity events and events on startup growth.

The first event I attended was the Startup Crawl, in which ten offices in Boulder opened up their spaces to meet and give out booze and refreshments to entrepreneurs and community members. The offices that participated: Simple EnergyShipCompliantPivotal LabsGalvanizeSendGridPivot DeskMobileDay/ JumpcloudKapostMocavo and Slice of Lime. I didn’t get a chance to visit every office, but the ones I went to, Mobile Day/Jumpcloud, SendGrid, and Galvanize, were a blast. I loved meeting awesome new people, and walking into noisy, sometimes raucous, rooms filled with great people laughing, talking, and toasting to our work and our community.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

SendGrid's beautiful view. I got to see their awesome new office during the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s beautiful new office view. Photo taken during the Startup Crawl.

Amazing vegan lemon gelato served at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder. Enjoyed during the Startup Crawl.

Lemon gelato enjoyed at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder.

SendGrid's brand new swinger lounge was a star of the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s brand new swinger lounge.

The next event I went to was a discussion of a new book soon to be released by Foundry Press, Jane Miller’s Sleep Your Way To The Top* And Other Myths About Business Success. After holding leadership positions at food industry giants like Heinz London, PepsiCo, and more, Miller stepped in to helm Boulder’s Charter Baking Company, bakers of Rudy’s Organic and Rudy’s Gluten Free. Miller’s book, and the lively discussion, focused on the lessons she learned during her career. Miller also discussed how she became involved with Unreasonable Institute, leveraging her vast corporate management experience to help make a difference in the world. Peppered with advice and anecdotes, the talk was definitely entertaining and informative.

Sleep Your Way To The Top: * and other myths about business success

Brad Feld and Jane Miller discuss her new book on being a successful female CEO.

The next morning, I attended coffee hour/ talk on “Controversy of Diversity,” which focused on strategies for increasing diversity in technology startups. This was probably my favorite event of all of startup week. While enjoying Ozo Coffee and BronutsTara Calihman and Julie Penner kicked things off, followed by Ingrid Alongi, CEO of Quick Left, who talked about the big data behind the issues and Dr. Wendy DuBow, a NCWIT research scientist, shared tips on becoming a male advocate. I learned some startling statistics about how gender inequality around technology starts super young, as girls are often conditioned to think computer science is more for boys. Over time, the numbers of women angel investors have increased, and there are more women in tech, however startup management positions are still 96% male, according to Alongi in her fantastic, statistic-filled presentation. I was inspired by Alongi’s mission and company, as well as her passion for increasing diversity in the startup tech world.  

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder's QuickLeft

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder’s QuickLeft spoke at the Controversy of Diversity panel.

The NCWIT presentation was another highlight; DuBow said in addition to adopting gender neutral hiring language, there are specific strategies companies can do once women are on board to help them succeed alongside their male peers. This includes mentorship across gender, which I found to be a very important point and something I’ve personally benefitted from. There was also a Q&A session that included more discussion about the subtle ways startups can either encourage or discourage diversity, including creating during-work social events to avoid penalizing parents who aren’t interested in building company community at a bar, and trying to call on women during meetings, as men are still statistically more likely to speak out.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

Startup growth panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

“Early Stories At Big Companies “panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

The final event I attended was “Early Stories At Big Companies,” on the final day of Boulder Startup Week. It was amazing to listen in to founders and early employees of big startups like Github, Twitter, SendGrid, and more share some lesser known stories of how they grew, challenges they faced, and how they overcame adversities. Some of the takeaways: “if you aren’t unhappy with your product when you launch, you’ve waited too long to go to market,” “take initiative and ownership of what’s important to you and the company,” “focus on what you really care about and what you’re spending your time on, and correct any misalignment on an ongoing basis,” and “don’t have an air gun fight in a parking lot outside your startup unless you want local police involvement” (you had to be there).

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve been really inspired by our community’s “give before you get” mentality. Startup Week diversity events solidified my interest in helping to build community and support around a community I personally care about and am aligned with, which is why, with ally Brad Feld and other startup community members’ blessing, I’ve started Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Startup Meetup. Our group already has its first event scheduled, and is open to all. We’re also looking for a business sponsor of the meetup.com dues and possibly some events, so please drop me a line if you are or your company is interested in getting involved.

Thanks for reading my recap of Boulder Startup Week 2014! I’d love to hear in the comments if others attended these or other events and/or what your impressions were of the week.

 

How Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare You To Work For Startups

Liberal arts grades can do very well at startups.

The Internet is filled with articles featuring college dropouts who’ve achieved impressive successes in the startup world. There’s this piece from Mashable, this one from Upstart, and this article from Forbes, just to pick a few. There have undeniably been those who do well outside of the confines of college as they prepare or launch their startup. However, while it’s certainly not the right choice for everyone, I’ve recently noticed how my liberal arts education profoundly prepared me for daily life working with startups.  I had some startup-relevant experiences through work and internship opportunities during college, but I’ve also found immense value return down the line even through just what I gained in the classroom.

Here are a few of the ways that I’ve found liberal arts colleges prepare you to work for startups:

1. You learn to go to the source.

source

My alma mater, Vassar College, has a saying, “go to the source.” This means getting to the source of an issue in order to find answers. It applied just as well in history classes as it did when solving issues as part of student groups or through community service projects. When you go to the primary source to solve a problem, you can often find new insights that you’d miss if you only checked out secondary or tertiary sources. My friend Cordelia, also a Vassar grad, wrote a fantastic piece on how she sees her role as a developer at Salesforce as that of an archaeologist. Cordelia writes that she often excavates old code, and must learn to understand it before she can build upon it in new code. This “go to the source” attitude applies to startups that are attempting to make an impact or disrupt existing industries by offering new value in the marketplace. Going to the source also involves questioning previously held beliefs about what will work best through doing multi-variate testing of landing pages, social campaigns, ads, and more. By being trained to get to the source to find solutions–including through understanding the experiences of your customer and his/her pain points–you’ll be many steps ahead of your competition.

2. You learn how to create compelling, data-based arguments–and, if needed, adapt them.

Using data to make arguments in startups.

In liberal arts college, every thesis you argue needs to be backed up by supporting references and sources. Learning how to stake a position based on data is what I do all day long working with startups. Why should a startup post in LinkedIn groups at a certain of day? What is the optimal number of blogs to publish per week to fuel the inbound lead generation funnel? What budget should a b2b startup allocate for display advertising, and on and on. All of these questions can and should be answered by data. Additionally, data changes over time, and it’s crucial to be willing to go back to the data and continue to test your hypotheses to see if they still hold true. In liberal arts environments, we learn to question as new theories, studies and data emerge. This is crucial to being effective and agile in the startup world, as well as keeping up with the ever-changing digital marketing landscape.

3. Learning ethnography prepares you to study the experiences of your startup customers.

Learning how to address the needs of your customer in startups.

Many liberal arts colleges have an anthropology or sociology requirement that teaches you how to do ethnography, which Wikipedia defines as “research method designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.” Ethnography training has helped me immensely in learning how to collect data and survey responses in order to understand and address my startup clients’ needs, fears, and goals, as well as those of their target customers. By studying ethnography, you can also gain valuable insights into bias and how we often project our own experiences onto others. When startups don’t assume what their customers want and instead actually take the time to truly understand their customer’s experiences, they are usually rewarded with customer loyalty and increased success in the market.

4. You gain an understanding of how to approach and deliver constructive feedback.

Constructive feedback is very important in startups.

In my college nonfiction writing seminars, we had a concept called the “feedback sandwich.” Structuring criticism with what worked, what didn’t, and what was good but could be slightly improved (sharing some negative feedback betwixt positive feedback–hence, the sandwich) is incredibly effective. Sometimes feedback has to be 100% constructive, but often, there’s great stuff mixed in with not-so-great stuff. When editing writers’ blogs, I try to always highlight what’s good as well as what needs improvement. It usually helps us all focus on the constructive criticism without taking things too personally.

5. You learn how to lead small groups that can effect big changes.

Tribes by Seth Godin.In college, student groups I was involved in rallied together small groups of students, faculty, and staff to organize service projects, bring speakers, plan events, and more. Learning how to mobilize small groups to effect change is an invaluable startup skill. Seth Godin calls this phenomenon of small, strong groups making an impact “tribes,” which you can learn about in his book and Ted Talk on the subject.

6. You learn to recognize and understand societal inequality.

Inequality still exists in startups.

The liberal arts classroom offers many opportunities both through coursework and class discussion to unpack and recognize societal privilege and inequality among diverse populations. In the startup world, there’s still an undeniable lack of diversity at the leadership levels. Being aware of inequality and why it’s existed throughout history through the lens of a liberal arts education can help us move towards embracing a more equal startup world. Brad Feld, MIT grad and local Boulder VC, wrote a powerful article about increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles in tech.

7. Liberal arts colleges teach you how to write well.

Writing well is crucial to startup life.

This is the single-most important thing I learned in college: how to write a damn sentence. It behooves each of us in the startup world to learn how to express our ideas through cogent, clear writing. I took it for granted that I could write during school, but after, I’ve found it is pretty much crucial to my everyday life: writing social media strategy plans and social media posts, website copy, client proposals, startup client blogs, creative briefs, content marketing maps and, of course, emails.

8. You learn how to think broadly in order to solve problems.

Businesses need to think broadly to solve problems.

Liberal arts degrees are all about interdisciplinary thinking, and you have to think across silos in order to be effective in startups. I really like this Customer Success Summit talk by Jeanne Bliss on how startups can solve problems across departments. In order to address your customers’ needs, you’ll need to think broadly and across your startups’ departments.

Concluding Thoughts

Nothing can replace real-world startup experience. That’s why groups like Tradecraft, which train smart people to work in high traction roles at startups, are so great for those starting out, as they immediately immerse participants in real-world startup work. And, of course, in technical roles, it’s crucial to find people with technical skills above all else. But, for anyone worried their liberal arts college education isn’t helping to prepare them to achieve their goal of making a difference at a startup, I’d encourage them to reconsider. I’d also suggest strongly hiring liberal arts grads for your startup!

Does your startup hire liberal arts grads? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Interview: Bidsketch Founder Ruben Gamez On Business, Freelancing And Teamwork

A while back, I reviewed the wonderful service Bidsketch, a tool for creating successful, highly professional bids. Today, I’m thrilled to post an interview with Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez. While working full-time as a software developer, Ruben harnessed psychology principles to build tools to help create bids to close seven- and eight-figure deals. Ruben eventually built Bidsketch as a premium tool to help take the pain away from the proposal process, and turned it into a full-time business. Ruben answered my questions about how he got started, why Bidsketch is so cool, and what he’s learned in the process of building his successful company.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez

Sarah Brown: Why and when did you start Bidsketch? Was it a sudden decision or had you been thinking about it for a while?

Ruben Gamez: I was working full time when I started Bidsketch. A friend of mine asked me about web design proposals. He had never written one and was about to go to his first client meeting. I searched for templates online and found a product that allowed web designers to create proposals. Unfortunately, it was an old-school downloadable software plugin for MS Word. I couldn’t find anything that was web based so I decided to build it myself after doing some keyword research to measure demand.

Sarah: My blog focuses on b2b digital marketing news and insights. Why should marketers use Bidsketch to help get clients?

Ruben: Customers tend to use Bidsketch to cut down on the time it takes to create proposals and help them land more clients. We build Bidsketch with those things in mind. Of course, it’s not a great fit for all businesses, but if you’re creating client proposals (instead of product proposals), I think it’s worth checking out.

Sarah: Is your team made up of contractors? If so, have any of them applied through Bidsketch?

Ruben: Most of the people that I work with are technically contractors (and one full time employee), though I treat everyone like they’re part of the team — because they are. I’ve actually worked with several people that first started out as Bidsketch customers. Often, I’ll get into conversations with customers and sometimes that results in us working together on important projects.

Sarah: How do different types of freelancers/agencies/etc. use Bidsketch differently?

Ruben: Freelancers generally tend to send out less proposals than Agencies. So often they’ll use it in batches — heavily for a month and lightly for a couple of months after that. Some agencies send out proposals on a daily basis so there’s a major need to collaborate and cut down on the time it takes to write them. In all cases, they benefit from the online features like electronic signatures and instant notifications when a proposal is viewed.

Sarah: What’s the best success story you’ve ever had from a Bidsketch customer?

Ruben: There have been some great success stories, but my favorite is a customer that used it to close his first million dollar deal. He emailed me and was very excited and mentioned how Bidsketch helped him close the deal. It’s great to know that people are paying a few dollars a month and are closing deals in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands. I love that.

There have been some great success stories, but my favorite is a customer that used it to close his first million dollar deal. - Ruben Gamez, Founder of Bidsketch

Sarah: How has being a part of Bidsketch changed you as a person?

Ruben: That’s a good question. I think I’ve always had the attributes that I have now; the biggest change is in how I get to spend my time. Nowadays I spend my time working on things I love, and get to spend a lot more time with my family. My schedule is much more flexible than when I worked for someone else.

Bidsketch founder Ruben Gamez currently resides in Spokane, WA.

Ruben Gamez: “Stay focused, take massive action, and you’ll get there.”

Sarah: Do you have any life philosophies or strategies that motivate you?

Ruben: I think the biggest thing for me has been to stay focused. New opportunities come up all the time. That’s why many of my competitors have gone out of business. They get distracted and start doing something else then wonder why their business suffers. This works for pretty much anything that you want to get really good at: Stay focused and take massive action, and you’ll get there.

Sarah: Where do you currently live, and are you active in your local tech community?

Ruben: Right now I live in Spokane, WA. There’s not much going on as far as tech is concerned here. That said, I do go to tech conferences and have a couple of mastermind groups that helps me stay connected. We’re also going to be moving to the Seattle or Portland area soon.

Sarah: Anything else you’d love to share?

Ruben: Since we’re on a blog that focuses on b2b marketing, readers might be interested in checking our free eBook that goes over several simple marketing tactics that will help them get more clients.

Thanks again to Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch for taking the time to share his insights! If you haven’t already, definitely check out Bidsketch and see if it’s right for helping your business. Follow Ruben Gamez on Twitter: @earthlingworks.

The 8 Best Marketing Books I Read In 2013

Reading is one of my favorite activities, and reading marketing-related books allows me to constantly evolve both my marketing philosophies and practices as I help my clients better engage their online stakeholders. In no particular order, here are the eight best marketing books I read in 2013. These books made this list because they changed my perspectives and made me a better digital marketer and/or human being.

1.Hooked By Nir Eyal Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover.

Hooked just came out this week, but I got the privilege of reading and providing feedback/revisions on an advance copy of the manuscript as part of a crowd-source editing project (how cool is that?). Delivered with humor, Hooked explores the human psychology behind habit-forming products and technologies. Why do we log in to Instagram or check our e-mail? Why do we use one keyboard and not another? What makes us loyal to our favorite brands and turn up our noses at competitors? I absolutely consider this essential reading for digital marketers, or anyone who really wants to understand (and better serve) their target audiences/markets in the ever-changing digital age.

2. Designing For GrowthDesigning for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

Design thinking incorporates a unique, collaborative process to determining whether an idea or product will work in the marketplace. What Is? What If? What Wows? What Works? Are the crucial design-driven  processes outlined in the book and in a Coursera class, Design Thinking For Business Innovation, which I participated in as a companion to the text. The book contains incredibly practical strategies for testing assumptions and using an iterative approach to developing business and marketing ideas.

Letting Go Of The Words3. Letting Go Of The Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish

Letting Go outlines an easy-to-digest approach to creating  “marketing moments” and building user trust and confidence across all web content. While the book doesn’t address the flat design and mobile responsive elements that companies typically seek in website designs nowadays, the philosophies it contains on what converts on the web are timeless and valuable. Redish suggests using concise copy that entices users to take a clear action. A must-read if you’re doing web writing, editing, or run a business that includes any of the above.

Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App on The Web

4. Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App On The Web by Erica Sadun and Steve Sande

What so many app developers don’t realize is that developing and pushing out an app is just the first step–promotion is a crucial part of the process that can’t be underestimated. This book offers a lot of great advice for those who want to launch apps, optimize landing pages and SEO for the iTunes store and Google Play store, as well as create the ideal PR materials to support products. The authors’ best advice? Position your app well among existing apps in the marketplace and  build relationships with key bloggers and influencers in the space.

Persuasive Technology by BJ Fogg 5. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers To Change What We Think And Do by B.J. Fogg

In 2002, working out of his Stanford Persuasive Technology lab, BJ Fogg anticipated how deeply our lives would be changed by technology–even before smartphones, Facebook and many other modern technologies were around. Fogg’s research shows how technology can be used to persuade us to take action–sign up for a newsletter, install anti-virus software, drive slower, and influence user perceptions of a company or product. I paid particular attention to the ethical concerns related to persuasive technology section–one that’s quite timely in the wake of NSA surveillance and other potentially invasive applications of available technology.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook6. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk has a big onstage personality and equally big credentials to back up his stage bravado. After building multi-million dollar wine business WineLibary.Com, Vaynerchuk established Vayner Media, a successful (and profitable) digital marketing agency with home bases in San Francisco and New York City. His latest book explores the nature of each social networking platform, and discusses how brands can leverage each to support their marketing endeavors. While Vaynerchuk’s signature foul language and off-the-cuff style are present in this book, the information shared is top-notch and should be required reading for any marketer or company leader serious about getting a return on investment on digital marketing campaigns.

Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) 7. Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter) by Christina Wodtke and  Austin Govella

Information architecture is one of the most important aspects of a website, and this textbook introduces the core concepts of information architecture: organizing web content so that it can be easily found, creating user-friendly web interactions and interfaces that are easy to understand and use. It’s useful for marketers to understand information architecture philosophies and best practices as well as user experience (UX)–whether overseeing web development or not.

Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords8. Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords (3rd Edition) by Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd

This is a no-nonsense guide to Adwords, great for anyone who needs to set up a new campaign and/or wants to learn more. I appreciate how it outlines “peel and stick” best practices to get the best results and optimize ad ROI. There’s a lot of nitty gritty details that can make or break a PPC campaign’s success and budget. This book is one of the best in class for anyone working with Adwords on a regular basis.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what books you read and loved in 2013 and why they made an impact on you and/or your business. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Six Ways That Being An Independent Contractor Transforms You

I was drinking my coffee with almond milk and stevia this morning and was thinking about how I have changed a lot since becoming an independent marketing contractor several years ago. After chatting on the subject with some of my fellow independent contractor friends, I’ve confirmed that there are indeed some universal things that we all go through when we make the transition into being full-time freelance. Here’s a short list of ways that being an independent contractor transforms you:

1. You begin to think and exist in multiple time zones.

Working remotely and simultaneously thinking in various time zones.

At any given moment, I know what time it is in Palo Alto, Dallas, Calgary, New Delhi, Johannesburg, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and, of course, my hometown, Boulder. I cannot help this. After repeatedly coordinating with contractors and companies spanning multiple time zones and continents, your brain begins to automatically convert to various times even without consulting world clocks. I have discussed this phenomenon with various independent contractors with whom I’ve worked, and they have each had the same thing happen. You can’t shut it off, and you wouldn’t want to if you could, because it’s so useful.

2. You become more in tune with your natural rhythms.

morning13n-1-web

Are you a morning person? I am. I vaguely sensed this during my years when I was working in-house for companies and nonprofits, but now that I set my work schedule, I’ve discovered that I do some of my best work far before the 9am crowd sits down to get to it. I also get a second wind in the early evening. Instead of being forced to end my work at 6pm like I did before becoming an independent contractor, I can pick up where I left off for an hour or two when I feel my freshest. The result? I work primarily when I am totally focused and on, because I have the freedom to allow myself to take off when I need a break to grab a bite, hike a mountain, or go to the gym. Marie Forleo has a great post on the subject. Other contractor friends need to wait until the sun goes down to transition into high gear productivity.  Because I am committed to working when I naturally feel inclined to, clients benefit because they get my best work, all the time. It’s a win-win.

3. You form meaningful connections with people you’ve never met in-person.

Online friends

I have many clients and fellow independent contractor friends I’ve only ever “met” on Skype. I’ve shared the joys of a new puppy adopted by a graphic designer co-worker in South Africa via Go-To-Meeting; I’ve shared genuine laughs (and done great work!) with a website designer based in Calgary; I regularly talk about local events going on in the Bay Area with a client even though I haven’t lived there for several years. I worked with a client in Los Angeles and finally met most of the office team after several months working with them remotely. When the company flew me out to meet the team, it felt like I already knew everyone–because I did. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to work in the same office to share a deep respect for other human beings with whom you co-work. That’s a weird thing to explain to those who are used to only networking with in-person offices, but you learn how to work around it and genuinely connect with those you haven’t met face-to-face.

4. You learn to become very skilled at conveying what you do and why it’s valuable.

Value proposition is something independent contractors must convey

Every single successful independent contractor I know has had to learn how to convey the value of what they do with others on a frequent basis. Though I’m versed in digital marketing and showcasing the value of the solutions I deliver to clients, and most of my work comes from referrals, each of my successful graphic designer, UX/UI and developer friends have had to learn how to sell themselves and their work services. It’s another thing that comes with the turf. I like Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers blog post on the subject.

5. Your beliefs about retirement change.

Retirement

I believe in investing for retirement and planning for it in the traditional sense, but when you’re an independent contractor, life doesn’t feel like it’s leading up to an eventual goal of being able to retire to finally do what you want–that’s our reality, right now. It’s a powerful place to be in and one that changes you on a deep, and I’d dare say even spiritual, level. FastCompany’s recent article is a great long read on the subject.

6. You develop a great sense of self-reliance and also learn how and when to ask for help from others.

Getting help as an independent contractor

It can be daunting and somewhat unnerving to not rely on anyone else to take care of everything for your work concerns. As an independent contractor, you have to figure out how to set and keep a budget, do your taxes (and plan for them), find and purchase health insurance, host and maintain your portfolio and website, manage your billing and schedule and client relationships and tackle various other tasks most people in traditional work settings don’t have to think about. You learn how to manage each challenge, and when you have trouble, you learn that you can and must seek help and guidance from trusted sources and fellow contractors who’ve been through the ropes. With Freelancer’s Union and other free resources available online, it’s not too difficult to solve challenges. You just have to be willing to ask for help.

Closing Thoughts

This list isn’t exhaustive–I wanted to share a few ways my independent contractor colleagues and I have changed, and would love to hear others’ thoughts about this topic.

Are you an independent contractor or business that hires independent contractors? Have you noticed anything else that should be on this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.