Nathan Ellering joins the podcast to share insight from the world of project management for marketers, including how to get more done with the team and tools you have.
Nathan Ellering is a blogger and marketer who heads up the Demand Generation team at CoSchedule, a software tool that helps organize marketing and social media projects in one place. In just three years at CoSchedule, he’s grown their blog audience from 500 to more than 250,000 monthly subscribers. He listens to vinyl, plays the drums, and loves craft beer. Find him on Twitter @njellering.
Chris Davis: 00:24 Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I’m your host Chris Davis. On this episode, I have Nathan Ellering of Co-Schedule. Co-Schedule is a project management platform built for marketers, very interesting. As we talked more and more on this podcast, I got a deeper understanding of the platform and its value. If you think about project management, there is not many tools that specifically focus on marketing, so when I caught hold of exactly what this tool does, and better yet it integrates with ActiveCampaign, I could not not have Nathan come on and explain a bit about the tool and how it’s helping marketers operate their departments and their companies more efficiently. It’s all in this episode. Enjoy. Nathan, welcome to the podcast. How you doing?
Nathan Ellering: 01:21 Hey. I’m doing good, Chris. How about you?
Chris Davis: 01:23 I’m great, man. I know we got to catch up a little bit before the podcast, and we were talking about the reality of the end of summer nearing, so I’m going to make sure I enjoy it that much more while we have it here. But give our audience some insight on who you are and your background.
Nathan Ellering: 01:46 Yeah. I am Nathan from Co-Schedule. I head up the marketing team here, and what that really means is that it involves all areas of marketing, from the widest net, from brand and buzz, all the way through creating new customers. The super smart team that I work with really helps influence specific KPIs along that journey to really make sure that we’re funneling the right sorts of people who need to get organized into a solution that helps them do exactly that. So that’s Co-Schedule in a nutshell, too, is an organizational tool built specifically for professional marketers.
Just a little bit about me, I get to nerd out every day, talk to marketers and really help them become the best marketers that they possibly can be, whether it’s through content marketing, all the way into the tool that we ultimately sell, so I feel lucky every single day that I get to work at Co-Schedule for those reasons.
Chris Davis: 02:57 That’s great, man. Now, have you always been in marketing, or did you stumble upon it like many of us have done? For instance, for me, I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this on the podcast, I’ve always looked at marketing as sleazy sales people. It’s like, those people who call you, or you’re walking in the grocery store, or walking somewhere and they’re always trying to sell you something, but that’s sales for one, and that’s not all salespeople. Marketing is different. I didn’t realize that, honestly, Nathan, until later on in life. I was like, “Oh, that’s what marketing is.” Did you always know that you were going to … Did you always have aspirations to be in marketing?
Nathan Ellering: 03:38 Yeah. That’s an awesome question, actually, because I would say no. When I got out of high school, you kind of only know what your parents do, in some ways, and what adults you hang out with. So I had a huge mentor of mine who was a teacher, so I went into school my first year of college thinking I was going to become a teacher. Luckily, for me, the college I was at put me in a classroom of kids, and I found out that wasn’t for me, but the idea of education and helping people grow never really left.
So, that really translated nicely into content marketing, so really using … Teaching people how to do marketing well through written word was a forte of mine when I first started at Co-Schedule, and even before Co-Schedule I was writing a bunch and just really trying to help people out. I think there’s a huge connection between education and marketing. One thing that we talk a lot about as marketers is that we should be publishing content that people actually want to consume. In more forms than not, it’s educational or maybe it’s entertaining, that sort of thing, so that background has really helped me out as a marketer.
Chris Davis: 05:01 Nice. Yeah, I’m a strong advocate of the role that education and marketing can play together. In fact, I just recorded a podcast, and I was talking to them about leading with learning. Don’t lead with trying to get the sale, or lead with trying to get the lead, get the email address. Lead with learning. Teach somebody something. Give them the gift of understanding in a day and age where information is so easily and lazily disseminated amongst everybody. It’s so hard to really validate what’s real and not. I think it raises the level of appreciation when a company takes their time and truly they focus in on ensuring that their prospects, their audience, their customers get understanding.
Nathan Ellering: 05:57 Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, because something that I say about that, too, is that if you help your customers or your prospects be as successful as they can without buying your products or services, in their minds they have to be asking themselves, “Man, if they’re giving all this away for free and it’s just amazing, what would it be like to work with these people actually?” As you teach people to be successful on their own, once they start using your products or services, they’re going to be even more successful. I think about that. Co-Schedule, if I can help you become the best marketer in the world, you’re going to need a marketing project management system built to help you stay organized and execute those projects better, and so that’s worked out really well for us here at Co-Schedule.
Chris Davis: 06:46 Yeah. I guess that … Let’s get right into the meat, man. The big question is, why Co-Schedule, a marketing project management software tool? Why not use some other broad project management tool or some other process management thing? Why Co-Schedule?
Nathan Ellering: 07:05 Yeah. That is a perfect question for stuff like this because you had mentioned the broader project management tool. The reality of that is, if you use a tool that is built to handle any sort of project management, it’s not built specifically to handle marketing project management. If you think about that for a second, those broader tools are just … You could use them to manage a construction project or a healthcare project, or anything, so you’re hacking together ways that you might use that for marketing because it’s just not designed specifically with the marketing challenges in mind [inaudible 00:07:48] permanent organizational standpoint.
Chris Davis: 07:51 Right.
Nathan Ellering: 07:52 You can say that about project management tools. I know a lot of people come to Co-Schedule because they kind of start somewhere, and they have all these different tools like you’ve got your social tools, email, you’ve got WordPress, blog posts, or all those things, and there are all these different tools, and they’re all disconnected, so people start making spreadsheets to start to stay organized. If there’s one thing you know about spreadsheets is that it makes sense to someone who built it, but no sense to someone who didn’t build it.
It’s locked, other people can’t get in there, and so Co-Schedule is designed to integrate with the tools that marketers already use and to help them organize in a very simple and visual way through an editorial calendar view how to stay organized, ship, hit deadlines realistically, and be able to have some of those conversations like, “No, we’re not going to be able to do your project by tomorrow because you can see our roadmap here in front of you,” so that’s the reason that Co-Schedule is designed just to solve that makeshift marketing problem of all these disconnected tools, the disjointed spreadsheets, and really give you a place to organize everything.
Chris Davis: 09:11 I love the vision, man. I can’t say I’ve ever thought of niching down on project management, but as you talk about it, and even at … I’m pulling your site up as you’re talking, and I’m just going through it, it does. It makes a lot of sense, especially for marketing teams. I don’t know of any startup that does not desire to have a lean marketing team. You want the players on that team to be A-players so that you can get the most done because the reality is, you don’t need huge marketing teams anymore.
Nathan Ellering: 09:45 Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. If more marketers focused on true 10X projects and really ditched and had the opportunity to say no to things that aren’t going to provide exponential growth, you don’t need a big marketing team. A lot of people think in order to grow marketing numbers that you have to add more people. That’s not the case. Prioritizing workloads based on what will deliver the biggest results is the way to do that. The best way to make that happen is to have a clear roadmap so that everyone stays focused, and that’s one way that Co-Schedule can help with that.
Chris Davis: 10:25 Absolutely. It’s become common practice to see a project being managed in a spreadsheet, or have multiple … things exist in multiple places, so now you’re using maybe Slack or whatnot to send links, “Hey, we posted that release here, and here’s a Google Doc for that,” and “Oh, we added that on this calendar,” and “Oh, check this spreadsheet for that.” It just becomes, like you accept it. Marketers just accept this is how you run a marketing team. So, Nathan, if you could, walk us through a basic project, like the ideal marketing project with Co-Schedule.
Nathan Ellering: 11:05 Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Transitioning from something like a spreadsheet to Co-Schedule is nice because of the view. We have … If you have a marketing campaign, let’s just say that you are working on a webinar. For that webinar, you have to create a deck, you have to create speaking points for the speaker, you have to plan out emails to promote it beforehand, you have to have emails that promote it afterward to share the videos, and you have to have a landing page for people to register. You have to have a landing page where you embed that video after the fact. That’s a lot of pieces of content for one webinar, right?
Chris Davis: 11:50 Right.
Nathan Ellering: 11:52 If you don’t clearly plan it out and understand who is going to do what aspect of what piece of content within that campaign, things get lost. That’s where last minute emergencies happen. What I like to do is really truly just open up a calendar and say, “We’re going to have this email ship on this day, this day, this day. The deck needs to be done on this day,” and so forth. From there, we just kind of start with a really simple workflow to say, “If we need to send the email this day, we need to write it 10 days before it’s supposed to send, and then, someone needs to stage it on our email system, like ActiveCampaign, maybe five days before send.”
That’s kind of how to make it work, is you map out when things need to ship, and you assign tasks beforehand to make sure things are due on time. It sounds really simple, but I do see a lot of people struggle with that, and that’s one thing that through content marketing on Co-Schedule’s blog, we publish a lot of stuff about that to help people get proactive to avoid those fire drills.
Chris Davis: 13:05 It’s one of those things, as you’re explaining, I’m thinking it’s one of those things that you don’t realize how much better life can be until you experience a tool that truly help you streamline and operate more efficiently.
Nathan Ellering: 13:21 Yeah. I think that’s really well-said, and you had mentioned this earlier, that so many marketers just accept that the way things are right now is the way that they will be. If you want to grow with the resources that you already have, the best way to do that is to get organized and figure out how to work together as efficiently as possible to produce the most effective projects.
Chris Davis: 13:50 Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Now, you touched on a bit about the email portion of it. Can you give us some insight on how you integrate with a platform like ActiveCampaign?
Nathan Ellering: 14:02 Yeah. It’s pretty simple. So obviously, we do integrate with ActiveCampaign, and the way that that looks is, if you’re creating an email in ActiveCampaign, we just, we’ll show that email on your editorial calendar alongside everything else, so Co-Schedule would give you a view into your emails right there in context of the deck that you’re creating and the speaking points that you’re writing and the landing pages too, so you can see everything, when those projects are all going to ship within that campaign. It makes it really easy for you if you’re working in Co-Schedule, you can just click on ActiveCampaign and go right into ActiveCampaign to look at that email.
Chris Davis: 14:02 Nice.
Nathan Ellering: 14:48 In many ways, Co-Schedule wants … We want to empower you to use ActiveCampaign even better than you might be using it today, and to really have that visual of every email that you guys are sending so that if you need to start segmenting a list or you see two emails on the same day, you can be like, “Well, let’s just make sure that we’re sending those to two different audiences.” That’s the way I see Co-Schedule as helping out ActiveCampaign users quite a bit.
Chris Davis: 15:16 I love it because it’s just … For those of you who maybe don’t have a marketing team of this size, just let me tell you of the struggles. When you start growing as a company, you’re not the only one sending emails. As a marketing team, you may be sending emails, and then another team within the organization may be sending emails, so that’s one level of, “Hey, how many times are we hitting our base,” but then as the marketing team grows, there’s multiple emails within that team. The thing that I … The word that keeps coming up that I hear you saying is visibility, visibility.
Nathan Ellering: 15:58 Yeah.
Chris Davis: 15:59 The question is, right now where are you getting that visibility? Where can you see, maybe it’s a whiteboard and that’s probably outdated, maybe it’s some chicken scratch somewhere, some outdated Excel sheet, but where are you going to easily visualize your entire marketing flow?
Nathan Ellering: 16:22 Yeah. An easy example there, Chris, is that I literally just heard that a customer of ours, last Christmas season, had multiple teams working on emails. They didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t have a way to visibly see what different teams were planning and when they were going to ship things, and they literally did send like four different Christmas sale emails on the exact same day that overlapped some of the same audience members, so a tool like Co-Schedule, once they start implementing it, gives them that ability to say, “While we might not be working on this team specifically, we have the visibility to see what they’re planning,” and then you can have that communication afterward like, “Okay, if you’re planning on sending that, let’s just talk, figure out what audiences you’re sending to, and really just get organized so that those sorts of mistakes don’t happen again.”
Chris Davis: 17:18 Yeah, because even if you think about it, it’s just different forms of communication, like the natural, the basic form of communication is direct, from human to human. As technology has advanced, we are able to go human to human in different ways. It used to be in person, then over the phone. Now we have text messaging, XYZ, but when you think of what does communication look like for teams, especially when your team could be remote, your team could be growing fast, that communication gets harder because you can’t … I may tell you something, Nathan, and I think it’s important for you, and I may not be aware of how it impacts everybody else. So, this centralized communication now becomes a theme for growing departments and companies, especially in marketing. It’s critical, right?
Nathan Ellering: 18:12 Oh yeah.
Chris Davis: 18:12 So, right after I say that, the question is, how are you centralizing your communication? How are you centralizing and visualizing your communication? Maybe I can add something at 1:00 to Co-Schedule, a platform like Co-Schedule, and I’m okay because now I know, as long as it’s there, it’s easily visible across the team, and if they have any questions, they can look at the tool and the tool can communicate to them as well as me.
Nathan Ellering: 18:42 Yeah, I think that’s really well-said. With those sorts of emails, too, you’re going to be able to see who is the owner of that project so you know exactly who to talk to if you have any questions. One of the things we aim to solve with Co-Schedule, too, is those endless meetings to get on the same page where you might understand something different than someone else, and there’s just like … The game of telephone is a real thing within marketing teams, and beyond. When you are a marketing team, and you have a higher up that just wants to see things and know what’s going on and when things are going to ship, again Co-Schedule is that centralized place where you can share a simple link and everyone can be in the know.
To get nerdy, too, there’s ways to just share Co-Schedule so that those higher ups can’t mess with your email campaigns, won’t move things around on you. It just gives them the ability to see, and then they can have that conversation with you if they want something to change, but you are in control. That’s one theme that we like to talk about too, is be in control of your marketing. Instead of letting your marketing own you, you own the marketing.
Chris Davis: 19:56 Yeah, and that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that, but when I look at all of my marketing experiences up until this point, you’re absolutely correct, if there was a way for me to quickly communicate to the VP, to the CEO, exactly where we’re at as a department, as a marketing team. I’ve always had to do that with dashboards that I’ve created with spreadsheets that I’m populating. A lot of it is just numbers basically, like the editorial calendar would exist in a separate spreadsheet, and that’s over there and it’s not as visible.
It’s got names and dates, but you can’t see it all wholistically, so even as we were talking, I didn’t think about the value up. I was just thinking about the value amongst marketers, but there’s a huge value going up too because now, like you said, you can give them read-only access where they can just look at stuff. Even if they click, they can’t break anything, and whoever you’re reporting to or whoever is at the higher level can easily get in at any time and see where everything is at.
Nathan Ellering: 21:06 Yeah. It’s definitely something that I hear all the time, is “We just need a version of truth.” Something that you were talking about is like if you’ve got your editorial calendar here, and a spreadsheet, you’ve got something like your sprints that your team is working on this week on a whiteboard, those disparate things don’t allow for visibility into everything, the one version of truth. There isn’t a one version of truth, but we’ve seen that having that really can help you save a ton of time. What if you didn’t have to prepare reports, but you could just send a link to a calendar that … Anybody can understand a calendar, right?
Chris Davis: 21:46 Right.
Nathan Ellering: 21:47 It’s pretty simple. They don’t have to learn your spreadsheet. You don’t have to take a picture of a whiteboard and send it to somebody, because that doesn’t look good either, so it really helps you to be able to just focus in on what you should be doing and then using your time effectively. You don’t have to do your reporting anymore, you don’t have to have a meeting to get on the same page anymore, you don’t have to send emails and CC tons of people so that they don’t care anymore, and so that’s kind of some of the things that we are aiming to solve.
Chris Davis: 22:22 Got you. Now, what about size? Is there a certain type, a certain size of team that Co-Schedule is the perfect fit for? Is there a certain size that, hey, you guys have … you’re too big or too small? Is there kind of like a sweet spot for Co-Schedule?
Nathan Ellering: 22:39 Yeah. We have customers ranging from teams of two marketers all the way to hundreds, literally. So, Co-Schedule does scale with you as you grow, but our sweet spot is really in team sizes of two to maybe 20.
Chris Davis: 23:00 Nice.
Nathan Ellering: 23:00 I would say it really helps with that visibility. Here at Co-Schedule, we’re a team of 14 marketers, and we use one editorial calendar in Co-Schedule to manage all the different sub-teams’ campaigns and projects, and it works out really well because it gives us that chance to communicate, just see everything in one place, and if there’s doubling up on emails, like as simple as that, we can have that conversation. It’s like the conversation starter in many ways.
Chris Davis: 23:32 Yeah, yeah. One of the things when I was looking at Co-Schedule, first off, I love how you guys have split up your pricing tiers because it backs up everything that you’re saying. You’ve got individual plans, you’ve got business plans and agency plans, and one of the things that I saw in there, I was like, “Oh my gosh, these guys have covered everything,” is that you also offer reporting within the application. Can you talk a little bit about the reporting?
Nathan Ellering: 24:00 Yeah. So, Co-Schedule integrates with a bunch of different tools, so for example, we can post to your social networks for you. We have a bunch of reporting around that. You and I, Chris, have been talking a lot about teams. There are some team reports in there, so you can basically have visibility into the tasks that certain people have completed, and if for example you see that a task wasn’t completely but it was due yesterday, it gives you as a manager an opportunity to have a conversation as proactively as possible to make sure that projects don’t get off track, so the team reporting really helps with that. There are just a lot of different analytics in there, but those two are some of the big ones for us.
Chris Davis: 24:49 It’s huge. I think that in marketing just in general, I think there’s an imbalance of focus. If anything that catches somebody’s eye, it’s talking about how someone else made money. That’s just catchy for everyone. Dare you put a million dollars anywhere in your sentence, and everybody’s like, “Oh my gosh, who is that?” So, just inherently, people focus on the outbound, the outcome of marketing. What I like about Co-Schedule, as I’m learning along with everyone else, is that it’s a focus on the internal part of marketing, which is just as important.
Nathan Ellering: 25:33 Yeah. Something that I say is that we shouldn’t, as marketers, exist to produce content. We exist to produce content that produces results. It goes back to that whole thing, like let’s focus on creating the most effective projects that will result in like that monthly recurring revenue growth and just really making sure that we are doing it as efficiently as possible. Co-Schedule aims to help you with that prioritization and the execution of the projects that will result in growth.
Chris Davis: 26:10 Yeah. Listen, I love what you guys are doing. Like I mentioned earlier, I would’ve never … The way that technology is just enabling creatives is just amazing. I would’ve never even thought of project management software for marketers, but it makes so much sense, and I’m kind of kicking myself. Just like, it’s so clear. It’s so evident. It makes too much sense, so I hope that anybody listening right now with a marketing team or has had any of the pains … We talked about a lot of them. I guess if I missed any, feel free to highlight, Nathan, but having your marketing, your internal planning of marketing Frankenstein, that is very much a reality and it’s very painful. I just don’t think we’ve been given the serum for the pain to go away to realize, “Oh, wow. Life without all of those spreadsheets are … “
Nathan Ellering: 27:19 Yeah. I think that’s really well-said. Marketing project management and organization can help you just basically feel more productive, and when you feel more productive, you are more productive. That’s a huge area of need, I think, for marketers. It goes back to the very first thing that we talked about, is we’re just using whatever is available to us to do these things, but there is a way to do it better. Marketers have unique needs for staying organized, right down to having a project tool and organizational tool that integrates with the marketing tools you already use, like ActiveCampaign. How much simpler is life when that happens and you don’t have to copy and paste? So, that’s all the stuff that we aim to solve.
Chris Davis: 28:16 Yeah, yeah. Great stuff, man. I appreciate it. I’m rooting for you guys. Nathan, if someone wants to find out more about Co-Schedule, where can they go?
Nathan Ellering: 28:26 Yeah, definitely checkout coschedule.com. That’s our website. You can find tons of information about the product there. If you want to learn how to manage projects better or anything around growth marketing, check out coschedule.com/blog. Our blog manager, Ben, makes sure to publish some of the most actionable marketing on the internet, so definitely read up there.
Chris Davis: 28:54 Nice, nice. Thank you so much. All of those links, of course, will be in the show notes of the podcast, activecampaign.com/podcast. Nathan, thank you for coming on the podcast, man, giving me some time of yours to talk about the tool and even about yourself, man. It’s greatly appreciated.
Nathan Ellering: 29:13 Yeah, Chris. This has been really fun. I really appreciate this. Thanks.
Chris Davis: 29:16 Yeah, no problem. I’ll see you online, Nathan. Thank you for listening to this episode of the ActiveCampaign podcast. One of the things that wasn’t in the podcast that Nathan and I caught up afterwards was the fact of how small their marketing team is at Co-Schedule and how much momentum they have. I asked him, I said, “Nathan, well how are you guys growing so fast staying so small?” He attributed it highly to the ability to execute efficiently on the marketing projects, so I just want to leave that with you all. If you are an individual marketer or a small team or a larger team, really think about how you can be getting one up on the competition or really penetrating the market or being more effective with all that you do with perhaps being a better manager of the process using the right tool.
So whether you agree or whether you’re operating at your highest capacity or not, I think it’s definitely worth some thought. Think about it, check out Co-Schedule if that’s something that’s really been appealing to you in this podcast, and listen, if this is your first time on the podcast, this happens every week. Every week, we drop episodes just like this that gives you insight on tools that are available or just strategies and success stories, so do me a favor. Come on over. The door is open, join the family of listeners at the ActiveCampaign podcast. iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Google Play, Sound Cloud, anywhere where you can subscribe for a podcast or to a podcast, we are there.
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