“Tell me about yourself.”
This is how 99% of my conversations with prospective clients begin. It makes sense. You want to know a little bit more about who you’re hiring, and the “about” page of a website can only communicate so much. I’m always happy to give people the abridged version of my professional history, but many of my clients are surprised when I tell them that before I got into marketing, I taught high school English — 8th, 10th, and 12th grades to be exact.
I credit my year teaching as one of the most important work experiences in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but during my year as a teacher, I was constantly learning about management, professionalism and believe it or not, marketing.
Here are eight ways teaching made me a better marketer today.
1. Teaching new material taught me basic sales skills.
If you think selling a potential client on a month of marketing service is difficult, try convincing a 16-year-old that their essay won’t work properly without a thesis statement.
I’m mostly kidding.
But in all seriousness, guiding students through new material required some tactical sales maneuvers. Similar to the type of approach I often use in content marketing, I “sold” students new concepts by showing them examples of how they worked and demonstrating value.
Again, take thesis statements for example. Selling students on the idea that they absolutely needed to use a thesis in their essays required me to show them lots of different examples of essays, both good and bad, to prove that it would help make their writing that much stronger and more efficient.
Recommended Reading: To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink
Just like a sales cycle, getting some students to buy-in to this concept took a lot of hand-holding and one-on-one workshops to finally persuade them to commit.
2. Listening is the most important thing.
Developing a relationship with your students is similar to developing a relationship with your customers or clients. It needs to be one of mutual respect, understanding, but also one in which they trust your expertise and guidance.
In teaching, that sort of relationship takes time to build through one-on-one conferences, something I always did with my students when preparing for a big assignment, and a-ha moments in the classroom. In marketing, it can be built through things like content, social engagement, and accessibility.
I’ve always considered myself a good communicator, but it wasn’t until I started freelancing that I realized just how important it is to be prompt, transparent, and tedious in communicating with your clients. In order to practice good listening, you have to first make yourself available to listen.
3. When juggling multiple projects, you can never be too organized.
With three different grade levels and five different classes, my life as a teacher was a constant stream of to-do lists and calendar items. As a freelancer, it doesn’t always feel much different.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching was keeping so many things afloat at once. While you were teaching a unit, you simultaneously had to be prepping for the next one. To give quality feedback and effectively grade assignments, you might take hours to mark student, work, but never at the expense of your current day-to-day lesson plans.
Diving into that sort of environment right out of college was so good for me. It taught me time management and helped me learn how to prioritize — two skills all marketers should handle well. People often tell me that one of my strengths as a professional is how I don’t let stress or high-pressure jobs rattle me.
While my close friends and family might tell you otherwise, I tend to agree with my clients. I’ve learned how to calmly navigate multiple projects at once, and no matter how I feel on the inside, I always strive to remain calm, cool, and collected on the outside.
4. Be open to change.
Just because you plan something, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change. This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way as a teacher.
When you spend hours prepping lessons and units, it’s disheartening when something doesn’t resonate as well as you thought it would. Certainly, over time, you begin to observe trends and teaching methods that “stick” better than others, and you can incorporate those into your plans. But overall, to be an effective teacher, you must be flexible, quick to pivot, and open to feedback. The same is true for marketers.
Marketing teams too often fall prey to “because we’ve always done it that way” syndrome. This is not only terrifying, but communicates that no one is willing to even make an effort to fix what’s broken. We’ve all had that teacher, right? Who no matter what students or parents said, refused to change their outdated teaching tactics to something more engaging.
Don’t be that old-school marketer. If something isn’t working, hack it. Nothing is worse than a dysfunctional status-quo.
5. Delivery of content matters almost as much as the content itself.
The way I taught certain material in my classes was very dependent on how I presented it to the students. Sometimes, a socratic seminar was the best way to digest our latest short story. Other times, we worked on study guides, put together mini-presentations, watched a video, or made a competition out of who could use the most literary devices in one paragraph.
Overall, my students had a better chance of real learning when the material was packaged up in the most engaging, effective way possible. I think about this a lot in content marketing. Sometimes, material is better served in an infographic than blog post, or as a short two-minute video rather than a whole whitepaper. Be sensitive to the type of information you’re putting out into the world, and make sure you’re delivering it through whatever vehicle gives it the greatest impact.
6. Be willing to admit you don’t have all the answers.
When I was teaching, I always astonished at the number of teachers who were nervous their students were going to find out they didn’t know the answer to a particular question or problem. To me it was so simple — let’s look it up, together. Sure, I was technically the one teaching, but I was learning just as much, if not more, than my students every single day.
If you’re not willing to learn, as a teacher or as a marketer, how can you ever expect to grow?
7. Do your research.
Because you don’t know all the answers, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for a unit or campaign with the proper research beforehand. If you’re not armed with examples, evidence, and facts behind a particular topic, you simply don’t have grounds to be teaching it or selling it. Your students will call you out on it. Your customers will, too.
8. Just ship it.
Starting a new unit with my classes, especially my older kids, was always little bit nerve-wracking. In hindsight, I wasted a lot of time because I was so hesitant to just start. I felt as if I had to have all the details worked out, every nuance of the unit planned, before I truly dove in.
I forgot that nothing is set in stone. We could make in-flight adjustments as the students and I both learned together, a method that typically works way better than the alternative (ahem … see #4 above).
Marketing is no different. Just because you start a campaign doesn’t mean you can’t change it as you go. While it’s nice to have a “final” product, a website or landing page or platform is rarely truly final. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it won’t be, but whatever you’re working on, just get started. That’s often the hardest part.
Are there any other teachers turned marketers (or vice versa) out there? How did teaching influence marketing for you? I’d love to know in the comments, or send me an email.
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