Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Email us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Want to Learn at Work, But There’s No Budget!
Dear Content Therapist: I’ve been part of a brand content marketing team for a couple of years now. It’s been a great introduction to marketing, and I’m learning a lot on the job and from my co-workers. But as I look at my career path, I realize I need more formal professional development to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and training. My manager has encouraged me to learn and ask questions, and I’m grateful for that support. The problem is we have almost no budget for online classes, conferences or certifications. I’m taking advantage of free courses, webinars, etc., but I’m worried that I won’t be ready to get promoted or take advantage of new technology like AI. How can I make the argument for more professional development funding? — THE NO-BUDGET LEARNER
Paul Chaney: Your question certainly rings true for me. I once had a marketing director job where my boss informed me that my salary was the marketing budget! There was no money for professional development unless I was willing to underwrite it.
In hopes that you can fare better, your first step should be to prove the benefit such training provides. Show the company how professional development can boost productivity, increase retention, and help you and other employees stay abreast of industry trends.
While that may open the door to a conversation, the reason there is no professional development budget may be that the company sees it as an unaffordable (or even unnecessary) expense. In that case, you also will have to prove ROI viability. One way is by conducting a cost-benefit analysis comparing training costs to the potential revenue increase.
For example, I once counseled a freelance paralegal who billed the law firm by the hour. However, because of a lack of training on the firm’s systems, she could only bill for a portion of her time. I suggested she approach the firm and tell it that it could only bill the client for the same number of hours. Both were losing money. Then, I showed her how the increase in billable hours based on the firm’s rate would quickly offset a day’s training cost. It was a no-brainer.
The difference may not be as clear-cut in your situation, but it’s worth the effort to do the math.
If the company is still unwilling to budge(t), then offer some cost-effective options, such as:
- Share the expense. Tell the company that if it will pay for part, you will cover the remainder.
- Group discounts. See if you can arrange a group discount with the training organization to reduce costs.
- In-house training. The most cost-effective approach is having the company’s SMEs conduct in-house workshops.
- You become a trainer. Tell the company that if it pays for your training, you will, in turn, train other staff on what you learned. That’s certainly a budget-friendly option.
If, despite all that time, effort and energy, your actions prove unsuccessful, what steps can you take beyond webinars or free courses? Several reasonably good options exist:
- Books. The greatest marketing minds in the world have put pen to paper and shared their knowledge in books. Names such as Ann Handley, Seth Godin, Joe Pulizzi and Marcus Sheridan come to mind. Set a time each week to read, and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn.
- Scholarships or grants. Some organizations offer professional development scholarships or grants. Research what’s available, and apply to those that interest you.
- Professional organizations. Organizations such as the American Marketing Association and Content Marketing Institute offer many training opportunities. Consider joining if you’re not already a member. Also, check out HubSpot Academy. The company provides a broad range of certification courses, including content marketing. And the best part? They are all free!
- Self-funding. That requires paying out of pocket, but it doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. Sites such as Coursera and Udemy offer affordable courses, and more expensive providers may have payment plans. You also could experience tax benefits to offset the cost.
Do everything you can to convince your company of professional development’s value, but don’t be discouraged if your efforts aren’t productive. Let your thirst for growth remain unquenched, and learn through these other avenues. You will fill those gaps, I assure you.
Help! Will You Be My Mentor?
Dear Content Therapist: I’m looking for a mentor, but clearly I’m doing something wrong. I’ve tried to connect with my managers and other experts in my past couple of jobs, but while they’ve been nice enough, I haven’t been able to form a lasting connection. And after a couple of years of this, I tend to get frustrated and start looking for a new job. I don’t want to keep doing that, but I also want to make sure I have someone in my corner. How can I find a professional mentor without bothering people? — THE MENTORLESS MARKETER
Paul Chaney: I commend you for seeking out a mentor. You can learn a great deal from their expertise and experience. However, I’m sorry you’re having difficulty finding the right one. I believe this advice will help.
Determine Your Mentorship Goals
What qualities are you looking for in a mentor? What advice do you hope to gain? What do you expect from the relationship? It’s best to figure that out before you begin your search. Those questions likely will enter the conversation at some point, and the more concrete you can be with your responses, the better.
Diagnose Your Approach
What’s your approach to finding a mentor? Coming across as “needy” (and I’m not suggesting you do) can be a turn-off. Once you determine your goals, you can be more confident in approaching a prospective mentor. In the words of the great philosopher Mike Tyson, “Confidence breeds success.”
Start Slow and Steady
Don’t come on too strong once you identify someone you admire and feel could serve as a mentor. Be casual in asking questions and seeking advice. Let the relationship develop naturally. It’s possible that the person may not see themselves as a mentor. Not that they wouldn’t welcome the challenge, just that it’s not a role they have ever played. Once you’ve built a relationship, make a more formal ask — if that’s even needed.
Look Outside Your Company
Why limit the choice of a mentor to a person in your company? Many experts in your field would likely entertain the notion of mentoring you. Having a mentor/mentee relationship with a manager or other expert working nearby has its advantages, but if that option hasn’t proven fruitful, looking outside your organization is certainly feasible.
Join a Mentoring Organization
Several marketing-related organizations offer mentoring programs. Here are a few to consider:
- American Marketing Association. Many AMA chapters have mentoring programs.
- Content Marketing Institute. CMI designed a mentoring program to help its members succeed.
- MentorCruise. This company vets mentors to ensure they are qualified. However, it charges a monthly fee, which varies based on the mentor. The lowest I found was in the $120 range. (Also, despite the brand name, no actual cruise is involved, I’m sorry to say.)
- Marketing Mentors. This organization offers free, one-on-one mentor/mentee relationships.
Although “bothering” someone you believe has mentorship qualities is not necessarily a bad thing, before resorting to that tactic, try these instead. They are much better than chewing on someone’s ear.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.