How to Apply the Inbound Methodology Across Business Units: Attracting, Engaging, and Delighting Customers Across Marketing, Sales, and Operations

I’m in the process of renewing my Inbound Certification. Here’s what I’ve learned from the first module “Understanding the Fundamentals of Inbound”.

Your marketing team thinks your salespeople are short sighted. Your sales team thinks marketing is a group of glamorous bureaucrats who plan, but never execute. And your operations team can’t be bothered to form an opinion on either team, but they’re convinced they do all the work.

At the end of the day, everyone within an organization is on the same team. Marketing needs to grow market share, sales needs to close the deals, and operations needs to make sure the organization can fulfil what it sells. In dysfunctional organizations, these business units work against each other instead of working with each other.

Why?

It’s because there is no unifying framework through which they can conduct their day-to-day activities and work towards their goals.

The Three Stages of the Inbound Methodology

The Inbound Methodology, famous for its focus on engaging with prospects as opposed to interrupting prospects, (e.g. blog posts versus banner ads) focuses on aligning all of these functions. It fancies itself as more of a business growth philosophy rather than a marketing paradigm.

According to the Inbound Marketing methodology, customers move through three stages:

  1. Attract
  2. Engage
  3. Delight

The proponents of the Inbound Methodology, Hubspot, portray these stages as a flywheel and understandably so. A flywheel efficiently stores rotational energy. When the inbound methodology works correctly, each stage powers the next, producing more energy and therefore fueling growth. This movement is initiated by three key business units that interact with customers.

  1. Marketing
  2. Sales
  3. Operations

What happens in each stage?

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The Cross-Functional Utility of the Inbound Stages

As Hubspot points out in their Inbound course, attracting isn’t just the job of marketing, engaging isn’t just the job of sales, and delighting isn’t just the job of operations. It is a framework that can be applied across business units. The chart below illustrates how.

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In other words, ever business aims to become an expert and every expert aims to turn every role into a knowledge broker.

The information in this blog post is from the Hubspot Inbound Certification Course.

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I Often Tell Myself My Writing Sucks

I often tell myself my writing sucks.

Hear me out.

I regularly call myself out on my own bullshit whether it’s how I act towards my family or how much I’ve been slacking on a project.

Now, I can’t say for certain whether this habit has made me a better person. What it has done is made me a better writer and freelancer.

Not the best. Just better.

Before I’ve hit send on a blog post, I’ve already thought of half a dozen criticisms the client will have and you can bet your typing fingers that that list of six was whittled down from a list of sixty before I decided to shut the critical voices up and just hit “send”.

“This is boring.”

“There are a hundred other blog posts like this out there.”

“This entire article is too simple.”

“These sentences are too wordy.”

There is usually much more cursing involved.

With the exception of minor revisions, most clients have been happy, but this doesn’t make me any less critical. In fact, it makes me convinced that since I dodged the bullet this time I’m that much closer to the day I get verbally assassinated.

So what do I do?

I read. I read as much as possible about how to write better and how to come up with better ideas and what other content writers do.

Last night, I spent an hour reading about how to write better sentences. My most recent source of self-consciousness has been how basic my sentences seem. Or, on the other end of the spectrum – but just as cringe-worthy – is the fear that they sound too pretentious.

(Related, but unrelated: Last night, Douglas Preston of the Pendergast series writing duo Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child followed me back on Instagram while I was reading that article about writing better sentences. I wish I had been quick enough to get a screenshot of the banner notification, but I was too stunned.)

I am always improving and learning new skills because of this tendency to pick my work apart. It also helps me confirm when I’m doing things right. 

This habit does have its downsides. I spend much longer than I should on a project with a scope and budget that simply doesn’t justify it. I’ve even put off sending a simple email because I obsess over the tone.

Constructive criticism that mutates into analysis paralysis will do you absolutely no favours.

One thing that proved helpful over the last year is blogging. Committing to a certain number of blog posts pushes you to hit “publish”. It also serves as writing cardio that forces you to practice in a low-stakes environment where you don’t have to maniacally edit and proofread.

Another helpful habit has been remembering the purpose of a piece of writing:

  • Does the email respectfully and clearly get your message across? Yes? Stop wasting time and hit send. 
  • Does the 500 word article meet the project requirements? Yes? Proofread and hit send. 
  • Is your friend really going to screenshot this boring conversation about what time to meet up and share your typo with the world? No? Stop being a paranoid narcissist and hit send.

Here are a couple things I read and watched this weekend about improving your writing:

5 Ways to Write a Damn Good Sentence via Copyblogger

Declaring War on Bland: Copywriting as Fresh Literature via TEDx Talks

Do you have any recommendations for educational books, blogs, or videos? I’m always learning and I’d love to hear what’s helped you become a better writer, marketer, or business owner. Comment below 🙂

P.S. Don’t worry. I spend way more time gassing myself up, but that’s a blog post for another time.

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5 Ways I Improved My Freelance Writing Career (That Didn’t Involve Writing)

The best thing you can do to improve yourself as a writer is to write. Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

But over the last year of working from home, there have been a few non-writing related activities that have helped me become a better freelancer and grow my business.

Regularly Stretching

I suffer from intense pain in my right shoulder that, when left untreated, makes working at my computer for longer than 20 minutes unbearable.

Buying a new desk and chair simply wasn’t an option, so I obsessively started following stretching videos on YouTube and eating turmeric to reduce the inflammation.

By taking preventative measures like stretching, exercising, and sitting properly in your chair, you can reduce your chances of damaging your muscles.

Pain will get in the way of a lot of things and growing your business is one of them.

Doing Chores

Writers don’t just deal with writer’s block. Anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and more are all regular houseguests.

When these became a constant thorn in my productivity, I started breaking up my workday with manual chores. I’d work for fifteen minutes, fold a pile of clothes, work for another fifteen minutes, and then wash dishes.

It may sound like an unproductive, interrupted day of work, but it actually makes me more focused.

When my thoughts are racing and I can’t focus on the task at hand because I’m obsessing over something unrelated to the work, I can focus on what I’m doing knowing that at the end of the fifteen minutes I have some time for guilt-free stressing.

What makes it guilt-free? Two things.

One: the fact that it is scheduled time.

Two: the fact that I’m doing manual labour, which makes me feel productive. Since it’s impossible for me to do client work when my mind is elsewhere, I can wash a stack of dishes while stressing. (So long as I snap back to attention while washing the knives.)

Flipping Through a PHYSICAL Thesaurus

Before I started writing professionally, I thought I was one wordy motherfucker. Once I had to produce blog post after blog post I started rolling my eyes at the words I kept repeating.

Clients obviously wouldn’t notice this meta-pattern, but I saw the repetition between pieces.

If I find a word boring while writing I’ll quickly click over to an online thesaurus and look for alternatives. But as part of my general professional development, I’ll take the time to flip through my paperback thesaurus in the morning or before bed.

Pursuing a Specialization

Pursue designations or certifications if you can. Carving out a niche for your writing makes you extra valuable to clients who are desperate for a writer who can make their dense, uninviting topic enticing to readers.

I stumbled into writing content for tech start-ups, but I haven’t taken that fortunate entry point for granted. I’m aggressively reading as much as I can about the industry as well as looking for affordable coding for beginners resources to make myself more knowledgable.

Surrounding Myself With Other Writers

Go to networking events. Talk to friends who are also writers. And if you’re not a fan of networking or you don’t have a lot of friends who are going down the same career path, read the blogs and watch the videos of other freelancers.

I’m sociable, but I find networking exhausting and I always leave those events feeling low, so I’ve started to avoid them. My substitute has been using social media to create a digital network of people who inspire and influence me.

Writing and reading are both vital ways to improve your freelance writing career, but if you’re in the industry, you already knew that. Sometimes, activities totally unrelated to creating can help unlock your potential and boost your motivation.

Happy hustling!

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A Quick Introduction to Buyer Personas

As a kid, I always ate my veggies before the meat and potatoes. In drama class, I insisted on learning the lines before looking for costumes.

Not because I’m disciplined, but because I like to enjoy my steak and my box full of fun outfits without a bunch of boring obligations. I’m still like this as an adult.

Currently, I’m trying to introduce some structure to my piecemeal knowledge of content strategy.

Enter Hubspot Academy.

Their blogs helped me a lot when I started freelance content writing and they have a great blog post that outlines how to create an effective content strategy. The very first item on their list of what to do? Create a buyer persona.

In this scenario, the chance to create a pretty content calendar in a colourful spreadsheet is my meat and potatoes. My vegetable is the buyer persona.

Making one of these doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, but I like to do things right and the thought of creating an entire content strategy only to realize I’m targeting the wrong people is exhausting.

I mean, you gotta know whose attention you’re trying to get instead of shouting into a loudspeaker and hoping the right people don’t cover their ears.

This chore makes a lot of sense.

What’s a buyer persona?

A buyer persona identifies who your ideal customer is. Making one is a combination of creative writing and market research where you put together a profile of your ideal customer.

Hubspot helpfully outlines what your buyer persona should look like and what it should include:

  • Semi-fictional character (i.e. small business owner, talent acquisition specialist)
  • Description of a day in their life including everyday challenges
  • Demographic and biographic behaviour
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Pain points and obstacles
  • Preferred method of contact

You can find several buyer persona templates online.

So how do you get the information for your buyer persona?

The best way is to speak to existing customers.

And if you don’t yet have any customers to speak to, Trent over at Bright Ideas shares a method called “audience jacking” where you do a little sleuthing to analyze your competitor’s customers. Trent’s not playing around.

At present, this audience jacking method is what I’m going to focus on because I don’t have access to the content information of customers anywhere.

Down the road it’ll be interesting to take a look at how you develop customer surveys and which questions are important to ask.

Currently, I’m practicing by creating buyer personas for companies that I’ve written content for.

If it helps me come up with on-point blog ideas to present to them, that’s more writing projects.

And if they’re like, “That’s cute, but we have someone making these for us already” it’s just more practice for me.

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From Student to Content Writer to (Hopefully) Content Strategist

It was only in my last year of university that I finally realized I wouldn’t be happy unless I was writing.

Fuck being practical. I’d avoided pursuing English, writing, or marketing because like some kind of masochist I thought pursuing what I wanted was self-indulgent.

I eventually realized that I’d be happier writing take-out menus for crappy pay instead of earning six figures elsewhere so long as I was writing.

(This is a hypothetical. I have never earned six figures, so there’s a possibility I would have liked that better. But I digress.)

So there I was in my final year of International Studies at York University and I had come to three key conclusions:

  • I was not gonna be a diplomat
  • I hate bureaucracy, so there’s no way I was going to work in government despite the benefits and security (suuuuuuuure) and blah blah blah
  • A law school would “looooool” for days at my transcript

I didn’t really feel like writing a novel, so I explored content writing and sponsored content jobs. I started applying to stuff: no luck. But some noteworthy things happened that got me started:

  • A fantastic woman who worked in the office where I was a work/study told me to grow a spine (in more professional terms) and start putting my writing out there
  • I enrolled in a phenomenal professional development program at Ryerson University called Adapt that was geared towards helping university students acquire the skills they need for the workforce (i.e. coding, Excel)
  • I couldn’t get a job anywhere, even as an admin assistant, despite my over 5 years working in offices and call centres

So I went on Upwork, starting pitching to prospective clients, and thanks to the business writing skills I learned at Adapt improved my pitches and instantly saw a spike in my response rates.

A year later, I’ve significantly increased my freelance rates, but I’m ready for a transition. You see, I started off willing to take anything so long as the client seemed like they would respect my time and communicate effectively. My first gig? 800 word articles for $7 a pop.

But I’m far from stable and I have definitely hit a wall. Right now, I refuse to enroll in any graduate programs, certificate programs — anything with tuition!!! – until I have paid off my current student debt.

My mind may change, but right now the thought of paying for school feels stupid.

Now I’d like to have a better understanding of how to develop successful content strategies. I believe I have the intuition for it, but not the skill.

So last April was about landing any writing gig that would pay me. Now that some people are paying me, here’s the new goal:

BECOME THE MOST KICKASS CONTENT STRATEGIST POSSIBLE

How do I do that? Well, I’m not really sure. And I hate diving into things without a plan. I’m the type of person who looks up what things you’re allowed to bring in to Canada’s Wonderland before even packing a bottled water.

So I’m currently at the present stage:

  • Identify the skills required to be a fantastic content strategist
  • Gain a high level understanding of digital marketing and content strategy
  • Improve my writing and analytical skills
  • Figure out how colour schemes work because my Instagram game is weak and content is becoming more and more visual
  • Develop at least a basic understanding of the world of tech and how it intersects with content

Are you trying to develop your career in digital marketing and content strategy? I’m a firm believer that you learn a lot through conversation so please share any tips, comments, or resources below!

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