7 Ways to Increase Productivity with a Small School Marketing Team

We all have too much to do and too little time to do it. Especially if you’re a small marketing team for an independent school. As a team leader, you may have already learned how to plan, prioritize and streamline your work. But how can you help your small team do the same? Should you dictate the tools and processes they use? How do you help people learn to not take on too much and risk burning out or continuously spinning their wheels, a very real risk when you are a small team?

In today’s complex and collaborative world, the real challenge is to manage not just your personal workload, but the collective one. Helping your small school marketing team manage its time well is a critical factor for success. As a manager, your role is to both set the strategic vision as well as serve as the “buffer” for unreasonable expectations.

Here are seven tips to help your small school marketing team work collectively and increase productivity.

  1. Work with a shared focus

Having a clear vision can give a team direction and inspiration. It can be the foundation for setting goals and action planning. But, trying to get others to “buy in” to your vision doesn’t always work.

The key is to get others involved in planning. Ensure full participation, openness and efficiency by using a process. You can act as the facilitator or hire one to help you move through the process.

If there is anyone who disagrees with the plan the group created after your initial planning meeting, speak with them privately to find out why they are not in agreement. Explore ways to connect the plan to their interests and needs.

Once everyone is on board, start working collectively to make your vision a reality. Team members and colleagues become more involved when a leader uses a shared approach. Sharing a vision inspires ownership, commitment and alignment.

  1. Use a project management tool

Managing projects as a small team can be even more challenging than doing so within a large company. Most independent school marketing teams have many campaigns and projects happening at the same time.

Since the growth of your school depends on the efficiency of your marketing department, it’s important to use a project management tool that help you maximize output while keeping your small team’s workload balanced.

There are many project management tools available that have a feature set specifically designed to work in a small team setting. Here are a few to consider:

Asana stands out as an exceptionally effective tool that supports multiple project management styles and methodologies. It is intuitive and user-friendly. Asana is a very flexible tool – there’s no right or wrong way to create your projects or tasks. Asana is free for up to 15 team members with basic features. The premium plan starts at $10.99 per user per month (billed annually).

Airtable offers a clean, ordered appearance of a spreadsheet. It’s a versatile tool that can help you manage any project, from editorial calendars to Scrum sprints for your project development. Airtable offers a free version, the next Premium level is priced at $10 per month per user (billed annually).

Trello is a simple tool that works well for small teams. It’s a very visual tool, making it easy to see and follow each flow. It’s a creative and flexible tool. You can set it up to mimic the standard Agile format – backlog, in-progress and lists. You can get imaginative and use the boards as ideation or collaboration tools, compiling, sorting and approving ideas as needed. You can create checklists, due dates, tags and attachments. The main shortcoming is you can’t assign tasks to a specific person. You can add them to a List or Card, but you can’t officially assign someone a task. Trello offers a free version that is fairly robust; the premium version is Business Class for $9.99 per user per month (billed annually).

Basecamp is an excellent online hub for small team collaboration. It’s flexible, reasonably priced and integrates with a wide variety of other services. This tool is really more of a collaboration app that lets people work together on projects, events or other assignments than a project management tool. It’s a great tool for communication, assigning and tracking tasks and uploading files. One of the reasons I love Basecamp is that it’s designed in a sandbox style, meaning it gives you places to chat, make announcements, view upcoming assignments and events on a calendar. It doesn’t come with the rigamarole of a project management software. You won’t find Gannt charts or resource management tools. If you’re looking for a freeform environment where your team can collaborate, Basecamp may be the right tool for you. Just be careful – sometimes people mistakenly gravitate towards Basecamp when what they really need is proper project management software. If you find you are managing many projects and resources, you’ll want a more robust app that offers more control and structure. Basecamp offers a 30 day free trial; thereafter the rate is $99 per month.

  1. Develop a system for establishing doable deadlines

When you are faced with a big task, it helps to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Breaking the task down will help you avoid stress and procrastination. When you procrastinate, you tend to feel overwhelmed and the task can seem unsurmountable. Setting priorities and breaking a large project into smaller tasks makes the project more manageable and less intimidating.

Here is one way to break tasks down into doable steps:

  • Take some time to think about the task from a big-picture point of view. What is the end result or deliverable supposed to look like? When does the project need to be completed? Are you leaving enough time for a final review?
  • Examine the parts of the task. Think about how you will go about completing the task step-by-step. Sometimes it helps to start at completion and work your way back. What needs to be done before this step can be completed? And before that? And before that? And so on. Remember we all work better when we have specific goals.
  • Put the steps into logical order. What will you do first? Second? Third?
  • Create a timeline with deadlines for each step. Having a deadline helps you stay motivated to complete each step. We do better when we receive regular feedback about our work.
  • If needed, build in rewards at certain milestones, even if it’s just for the team to order lunch in together. Humans do better when they don’t delay gratification.
  • Make a plan for how you will complete each step. Put the time you plan to spend on each task on your calendar so you know exactly when you will be working on each task. Stick to your plan. A plan is only good if you see it through.
  • Be sure to recognize your efforts and the efforts of everyone on your team.
  1. Clarify decision-making roles and responsibilities

Making decisions quickly is the hallmark of a high-performing small school marketing team.

Unfortunately, in most small teams there is ambiguity over who is accountable for which decisions. As a result, the entire decision-making process can stall, slowing the whole project down.

The most important step in unclogging decision-making is assigning clear roles and responsibilities. Good decision makers recognize which decisions really matter to performance.

One strategy for clarifying decision roles and responsibilities is an approach called RAPID. The letters in RAPID stand for the primary roles in any decision-making process (not necessarily in this order).

R – Recommend

The people who make recommendations about a course of action are responsible for making a proposal or offering alternatives. They need data and analysis to support their recommendations as well as common sense about what’s reasonable, practical and effective.

A – Agree

The people who agree to a recommendation are those who need to sign off on a decision before it can move forward. If they veto an idea, they need to help come up with an alternative or elevate the issue to the final decision-maker. People with veto power are usually those who have legal or compliance responsibilities.

P – Perform

The people who perform the decision need to see that the decision is implemented promptly and effectively. No matter how good the decision is, if it’s not executed well it won’t be as effective as it could be.

I  – Input

People with input responsibilities are consulted before a decision is made. They need to provide insight and relevant facts that relate to the decision.

D – Decide

Eventually, one person will make a final decision. The decision-maker is the single point of accountability who must bring the decision to closure and commit your organization to act on it. The decision-maker needs good judgment, a grasp of the relevant trade-offs and the ability of the organization to execute the decision.

Some schools use this approach for only the most important decisions, while other schools use it throughout the organization for clarifying decisions and avoiding decision-making bottlenecks.

  1. Create a meetings-free day

Chances are, you have too many meetings to go to. Research has found that, on average, 31 hours (per person) are spent in unproductive meetings a month. The result includes lost productivity and wasted time, not to mention burned out and overworked employees.

I don’t suggest you give up meeting altogether because they do help us get work done and make decisions. However, we can all agree the need to reduce the number of meetings we attend.

One strategy is to adopt no-meeting days. Some schools have a no-meeting day once a week or even once a month. Other schools establish a “don’t expect an immediate answer on Slack” day or “email only in emergencies” days. You get the idea.

  1. Identify tasks you can automate

Interestingly, many schools have realized that despite its “miracle-worker” status, task automation isn’t always as simple or easy as we may have originally thought. For instance, automation requires coordination throughout the organization for schools to realize the best results.

School marketing professionals spend countless hours performing tasks that can be automated with the right technology. Here’s how to get started:

  • Research the latest in machine learning. Chatbots, for instance, utilize knowledge base content, therefore building an intelligent knowledge base will help you prepare for the future.
  • Document or create processes in order to identify which tasks can be automated, specifically repetitive activities in which automation will improve the customer experience.
  • Select technology solutions that will replace mundane tasks, so you staff can focus on more enrollment-generating and worthwhile activities. For example, tools like Hootsuite allow you to schedule social media posts in advance, so you don’t have to manually post every day.

The goal is to automate whatever you can, allowing staff to focus on more valuable activities.

Here are some tasks you can consider automating:

  • Creating reports. For example, you can set up a simple Google Analytics report that tracks website traffic statistics that appear in your email inbox instead of wasting time logging in and generating a weekly report.
  • Share calendars. This may not seem like automation, but if you share your email calendar with your coworkers they can easily see when you’re free, allowing them to plan to meet with you without wasted hours replying to complicated email threads.
  • Eliminate annoying emails. Take the time to set up automatic folder forwarding (all your emails will be in one place when you’re ready to tackle that folder), a tool like Sanebox or Unroll.me as well as unsubscribe you to junk mail. Read more: How to Get Your Email Inbox to Zero and Keep It There in 14 Days or Less
  • Email signatures. It may seem small, but having your title, contact information and social media links in your email signature will save you time adding this information to your email.
  • Your to-do list. ToDoist is a great app for organizing tasks into categories and sending you automated reminders. If you already use project management software, look around to see what other automated reminders you can use.
  • Social media posting. Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite, Buffer, CoSchedule or Sprout Social to write and schedule social media posts in advance and then publish throughout the week or month ahead.
  • Email opt-ins. Common email automation forms include newsletter sign-ups, interactive (i.e. take a quiz) and lead magnet opt-ins. While it can be tricky to get people to give you their contact information, if you want new inquiries, you need a way to get leads.
  • Email responses, signatures and sorting. You obviously don’t want to send out a robot-generated email to every email you receive, but if you find yourself frequently getting the same questions over and over, it’s easy to set up a canned response through Gmail, which you can customize with details before you send.
  • Word processing functions. Use automated editing operations such as correcting typing, spelling or grammatical mistakes, moving deleting or copying or inserting text. These features make word processing a powerful office automation tool because it can decrease the time needed to prepare a new document or rework an old one.
  • Data mining. Does your school have loads of data collected from families? You might want to consider using a software program to boost and refine your marketing strategy mining that data and stand out from other independent schools in your area. Data mining might include cluster analysis (identifying market segments and providing marketing that speaks to each one), regression analysis to identify changes, habits, satisfaction levels or other factors related to marketing and advertising campaigns, recognizing recurring patterns, anomaly detection and other data mining techniques.
  • Templates for proposals. There are tools available to automate RFP and other proposals automatically.
  • Login credentials and automatically filling out of form information.
  • Write and schedule blog posts in advance and then set them up to publish automatically.
  • Set up Google Alerts or other social listening tools to automatically conduct research based on keywords
  • Event registration email follow up sequence.
  • Birthday or enrollment anniversaries are a nice way to recognize parents, faculty, staff, administrators or other stakeholders. These can be scheduled in advance using a database.
  • Backing up files. Set up a cloud-based back up like Dropbox and establish a daily or weekly time for a background back up. No more setting aside half the day to save files to an external hard drive.

 7. Build trust and work together

Trusting one another means you rely on someone else to do the right thing. You rely on their integrity and strength, which sometimes means you put yourself on the line at some risk to yourself.

Trust is essential for an effective team because it gives everyone a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe, they feel comfortable to take risks, open up and expose their vulnerabilities.

Trust enables innovation, collaboration, creative thinking and productivity, all essential for a well-functioning small school marketing team.

Here are ways to foster trust within a small work team:

  • Set a good example

This is not just for leaders, although it is important that the leader lead by example. Everyone needs to be a role model for each other, thus creating an environment of trust among each other.

  • Communicate openly

Everyone needs to communicate with each other. You need everyone to be honest and share their thoughts, ideas, fears, hopes and expectations in a meaningful way. Team building exercises can help with this as can communicating the importance of helping each other solve problems.

  • Believe the best in each other

Too often we tend to be suspicious of other people’s motives. And while believing this can be a defense mechanism we don’t even realize we have, it can have a negative impact on our work performance and how the effectiveness of the team. Successful relationships – even work relationships – are built on trust. The more you trust the stronger the relationships. Especially when it comes to conflict, it’s important to come to the discussion with the mindset that the other person is trustworthy (until they prove otherwise).

  • Get to know each other personally

Without overstepping the bounds of privacy, take the time to get to know each other personally. Find out about their family, hobbies or other interests. Try having casual, non-work coffee or lunch time together to bond. You can even spend some work time learning about each other’s expertise, skills, personal history and interests.

  • Don’t place blame

It is normal for miscommunication, misunderstandings, mistakes and disappointment to happen when working in a small team, and it’s easy to blame someone when these things happen. However, when everyone starts pointing fingers it can lead to an environment of distrust and productivity can quickly spiral downward.

Instead, encourage everyone to think about the mistake in a constructive way. What can everyone do to fix what happened and move forward together? How can you make sure this mistake doesn’t happen again?

  • Discourage cliques

Sometimes cliques can form within a small team, often between team members who share common interests or work tasks. However, cliques can make others feel left out or isolated, undermining trust between members.

If you think this is happening, try starting a conversation about this with everyone to see what they think about cliques and the impact on the team as a whole. The only way to combat cliques is to have an open communication about them and why they are damaging to the group.

  • Discuss trust issues

Unfortunately, trust issues can happen. If they do, it’s important to find out what caused them in the first place and come up with a strategy to overcome them.

Consider asking each team member to fill out an anonymous form. Ask them about the trust level in the group and why they think there’s a lack of trust. Once you’ve read the results, get everyone together to talk about the issues (without breaking anyone’s anonymity of course).

In many ways a small team is better than a large department. Without the bureaucracy of a large department, employees can feel empowered to take ownership of their work project, build integral relationships across teams and work together for an ultimate goal. When success is driven by every single person on a team, it’s essential to keep them productive, motivated and efficient.

What strategies have you found helpful when working in a small team environment? Please share your experience in the comments below…

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.

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