JoyHawkins

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Colan sent me this article this morning that was pretty awesome. My favorite line that sums it all up:

"The only way for organizations to ensure their workforces are fully productive and able to achieve business goals is to make sure employees are continuously learning, so that they are driving the business forward."
https://hbr.org/2016/03/to-stay-relevant-your-company-and-employees-must-keep-learning

I have found that continuing education/learning is the only way to stay ahead in this industry. Personally, I learn something new every day (minus some weekends). I read new items and make it a habit to absorb something new that could better some process that I use.

As part of my role here, I take all the knowledge I absorb and pick out the prioirty items that REALLY matter and then do a training session with our staff once a month for several hours. I also have weekly meetings with my manager to relay information and our SEO team has weekly meetings as well.

What is your process for ongoing training? How much time do you dedicate to it?
 

JustinB

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Here's my process for staying upto date:
Configure all blogs on my subjects on Weebly and read them all in the morning, lunch, and afternoon.
I use Leechblock for my browser which saves a ton of production time.
Since my trade is insurance by day, and digital marketing by night, I have to go through a bit of continuing education every year to stay current, I prefer online educators for that.
Last year we went to San Diego for an SEO conference, THAT was a great learning experience.
And of course I noticed when looking at freelancers and other digital marketers, the biggest time drain is colloboration, or a lack of it, so having a firm collaboration process in place will help free up extra hours used to study.
I never stop reading, and studying. My bookmarks only grow...
 
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I'm a pretty small shop so not sure how much my answer is worth, but I know over the last however many years it's been since I've been doing various kinds of marketing consulting, the times I've let myself wander off the continuing education have all really come back to bite me, sometimes in unexpected ways. The biggest thing for me at least, I need to keep my 20,000 foot view of the business. Especially if someone's a small business owner or part of a small partnership, it's critical not to wander off core purpose too far, and that continuing education part is where the proper goals to measure everything against come to light. Often, feeling like you don't have any time at all to spare for keeping your chops is a symptom that you should have started making better choices a little ways back on the road already... and now that stuff's hit the fan, knuckling down, putting on the blinders, and charging ahead will often just make things worse, especially in the long run.

I've been keeping my heavy duty learning time down to maybe an hour a day, but if I can't resist the urge to look at my smart phone, checking the GMB forum to take some notes is probably a better use of time than other things I could be doing...
 
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I think James nailed it. Especially in the digital marketing field, everything changes so quickly. The tools and online services, changing algorithms, and general best practices feel like they are different from month to month. You stop paying attention for a moment and you can be left in the dust.

Additionally, I think clients are becoming more informed coming into that first meeting. It's good, because it requires less education on the part of the agency. But it can also make it more difficult, because the client might either be misinformed with bad information or they expect certain results based on their limited knowledge or might look at the agency more as a collaborator than an expert.

James, what type of education do you find to be the most valuable? General topics, more specific actionable how-to's, etc?
 
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Man, there's a ton of stuff that doesn't make me money directly that I would count as continuing education... but the line really does get a little blurry. Since I'm still a little sick and feeling a little floaty, I'll just ramble here for a sec, maybe you or someone else will think it's interesting.

- technical chops
I like spending time here, and in the Google My Business official forum (plus my feedly blogs I follow). The GMB forum tends to be best for seeing a whole bunch of strange problems go by, and in the last few months after seeing a few hundred expert answers to problems I hadn't even seen before, I've started to get a good sense of things. Reviews vanishing? Check out the cached Google page, and start your research by checking which reviews disappeared, and see if the reviewer deleted it. Hours keep reverting? Check their website formatting, and see if you can find business listings elsewhere with wrong hours. Wrong driving directions after a recent move? And so on. The forum here tends to be awesome for similar (people post problem accounts here too) but there's a lot wider of a range of stuff that pops up here too. New tools, citation building tips and questions, backlink building issues, on-site stuff, new ways Google is displaying results, and so on. All good stuff, and as you said, clients sometimes know a fair bit when sitting down with you. If you happen to know the answers off the top of your head to their questions, that goes a long way to helping to create the kind of relationship you need going forward. After all, a consultant is a very different thing than an employee, and everyone needs to be on the same page with that.

- industry research
It's important to take the time too to keep an eye on citation and backlink opportunities for your industry. This is the number one reason why I'm heavily moving away from working with whatever clients come to me. Every new industry is a boatload of new work, and even if you've got an ongoing client you already did the work for, it's not a bad idea to have some 3 packs you follow, some high ranking competition you do a monthly citation/backlink check for, and so on. Does this count as education? Not sure, but it's super important to stay current and know what you're on the lookout for. I've been focus on wedding photographers lately, and there's a ton of really cool stuff that I know now that a normal local SEO guy wouldn't be able to find without sinking a good chunk of time in, especially as it relates to backlink building.

- know your metrics. If you have a lot of clients in the same industry, any time you spend getting super clear on your money keywords, your on-page conversion factors, and your client's clients main desires and pain points... that stuff is gold, and will help give some easy wins when bringing in new clients while you're grinding the gears of Google into starting to move.

- know your audience. Every hour spent talking to your target audience about their business, how they view marketing, what their goals are for the year, what's worked for them in the past, etc. etc. etc is all time super well spent. The more you know their language, where to find them, and what's most important to them, the easier it is to talk to new people, and ultimately lets you start creating automated marketing systems that handle the lifting for you. To do that though, you need to know your audience really well, and that can take a lot of time. I'm also very interested in copywriting and marketing psychology, but my time spent learning about that stuff is kind of on the back burner, and I'd call it more of a hobby. Still good to have a few Clayton Makepeace, Dan Kennedy, or Perry Marshall books on hand though to add to the mix.

Some of the 'higher level' learning I mentioned comes out most in that 'know your audience' piece. After all, it's starting to look like my most valuable service (optimize your Google My Business profile, set up your website properly, build citations, etc.) might be best as a supporting benefit, with the headline being the backlink building (get your past work published in blogs and wedding magazines x, y, z that you've been jealously reading for the last 3 years, wishing you knew how to get in there too). That hasn't played itself out yet, but I wouldn't have even expected that to be the case before starting to talk to more business owners. There's an old adage... sell them on what they want, and give them what they need.

So... yeah. Part of this last year for me too has been getting committed to staying specific about what I'm spending time learning. I know way more than I should about css and php and all that, considering my paygrade and focus. All those hours in the past were kind of wasted. Always hard to know what to learn and what to outsource... all hours spent learning aren't created equal. C'est la vie.
 
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James - what a wonderful rant! I found myself nodding my head as I progressed. What your thoughts really impressed upon me (especially regarding the Local SEO ecosystem) is how valuable being industry specific can be as a consultant.

I agree that there's a ton of practical knowledge within the forums we frequent. It's like using stackoverflow for web development problems. Being able to post a specific issue and receive great advice from knowledgable and helpful experts in the field has more value than a generalized blog post, for instance.

You make some great points about knowing your audience and industry. I can imagine that if you've invested a ton of time in specific industries, like you're currently doing with Wedding Photography, you're more likely to stand out against competing firms with your specialized knowledge.

I'm curious if your clients find you due to your specialization or your overall authority in the field? I'd imagine that larger businesses with more resources would look for a specialist, but does that happen in more 'solopreneur' industries like Wedding Photography? Are your clients looking for a Local SEO specialist in Wedding Photography or still more general and are pleasantly appreciative of your expert knowledge?

When it comes to continuing education, I concur that it's tough to know what type of knowledge will be beneficial long term and what's a waste of time. As a marketer, it's essential these days to have a working knowledge of CSS and HTML. And as a content marketer, I feel spoiled with the amount of amazing content that companies like Hubspot, Copyblogger, CMI, Buffer, PostPlanner, etc are all cranking out. But it definitely feels like content overload.

I also empathize with the 'hobby' of education. It's just fun to learn about what other people are doing in the periphery of our industries and related industries.

Thanks for the reply. Very much appreciated.
 
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I spent most of my professional career so far working with the older established clients and not doing a whole lot of new client attraction... this is kind of a recent change for me, so I'm a little early in the game to say how things have been going. Suffice it to say though, my target audience doesn't find me yet, and I figure I'm a good ways out from having that kind of a business. Still cobbling my new website together and getting my starting content organized. Even when I've got all that starting to move though, based on what I've learned so far about photographers, it's looking like I'll be relying more on outreach than attraction style marketing. The kinds of customers I'll be looking for (established business owners booking $200,000+ a year or more) is a fairly small percentage of that market, so the phone, USPS, and Facebook PPC I'm expecting to be a lot more useful than 'industry reputation'... though if I'm still doing this in a year or two, I'm sure it'd be really easy and kind of fun to get into speaking at trade events for that audience. Either way, we'll see. Part of the fun of focusing in one single area, there's a whole lot of things you can play with and test, and if you don't limit at least some variables, you never get around to all of it.

Either way, for now I'm just rolling with a few starter clients. Enough to support my lifestyle while I'm learning the industry ins-and outs (beyond general best practices I already know) and get the testimonials and case studies that'll back up a larger launch.
 
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Love it! Best of luck with your new endeavor and please keep us posted with how it progresses. I'll check in in a year ;)

Sounds like the continued education is that much more essential as you move into a completely new demographic.
 
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