Agile Marketing for Individuals: Going Agile Alone

Andrea Fryrear on Content Marketing

The majority of writing on agile techniques focuses on how to make agility work on your team.

But recently we’ve had requests from our readers and conversations with other agile enthusiasts that have lead me to a new topic of investigation: agile marketing for individuals.

If you’re a solo marketer, should you be using agile methodologies to run your day?

If so, what exactly does that look like?

With its business benefits, stress-reducing possibilities, and the ability to market to your audience in near real-time, agile marketing absolutely has a place in the one person marketing department.

The second question gets a little stickier, but with some slight adjustments Kanban can offer a good system of becoming a more agile team of one. We’ll take a look at how you can use this methodology to get agile’s benefits.

Why Individual Marketers Should Be Agile

I’ve written before on the benefits of agility for marketing departments, and those benefits are essentially the same for individual marketers:

  • Business Advantages: regardless of the size of your organization, agile marketing methods will help you grow faster and more consistently.
  • Personal Balance: Agile marketers are less stressed and more productive than those using traditional marketing approaches. (I could probably stop with this argument for many of us, but we’ll keep going.)
  • Visibility and Communication: Whether you’re working with outside clients, other departments or just your own frazzled brain, agile marketing gets everything out in the open.
  • It’s the Only Way to Market Effectively: Our audiences are demanding increasingly personalized, relevant messages. They don’t care about what we planned out six months ago, they want something that matters now. Agile marketing helps marketers deliver this, whether we’re a team of twelve or one.

For more on how agile marketing can solve the common problems that marketing departments tend to encounter, you can check out this article.

But the bottom line is that agile marketing benefits the individual marketer and the business(es) they serve. It’s worth adopting regardless of your professional situation.

What It Means to “Do” Agile Marketing

The definition of agile marketing that we use here at MarketerGizmo is this:

Agile marketing is a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.

As you can see, this does mention teams, but you could easily swap out “teams” for “individuals” and it’s completely applicable to a solo marketer.

We should also remember that agile marketing is based on the principles and values of the Agile Marketing Manifesto. It’s not beholden to any particular approach or techniques.

As a reminder, let’s take a quick look at those values and principles.

Agile Marketing Values

agile marketing values

I love that these values are sounding more and more like how marketing just works. There really aren’t any that we need to mount a big argument for these days.

Of course it’s better to respond to change rather than blindly follow a plan.

It’s absolutely best to focus on continuous customer discover instead of static predictions.

Where things tend to become more contentious is when we talk about the how of getting marketing done.

Agile marketing principles can help here.

Agile Marketing Principles

agile marketing principles

Principle #5 is particularly applicable for our current discussion: “Build marketing programs around motivated individuals.” Clearly, this approach can work independently of a team system.

Before we move into the nitty gritty of how to use agile as an individual, I want to draw attention to Principle #10: “Simplicity is essential.”

This doesn’t just mean you should opt for the simplest way to do each and every type of marketing. It means that you’re maximizing the amount of work that you choose NOT to do.

Individuals are in the most danger of getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that needs doing, and this principle should be their guiding light. Make it into a poster or something.

Simplicity: love it, live it.

Putting It Into Practice: The Kanban Method

You’ll hear a lot about Scrum in the agile community, and it’s usually the first approach that teams adopt when they’re trying agile on for size.

The problem for solo marketers is that Scrum is completely designed for a team.

Instead, if you’re on your own and want to get the benefits of using agile marketing, Kanban is the way to go.

(If you’re interested in Kanban’s backstory, check out our beginner’s guide. For now we’re going to focus on the details of its implementation.)

Work in Progress (WIP) Limits

One of Kanban’s big benefits is that it requires you to impose limits on how much work can be in each state at any given time.

So if I have three columns on my Kanban board — To Do, Doing, Done — I need to establish strict limits for how many items can be in each column.

  • To Do: This should be a fairly large list of items that you need to work on in the short to medium term, so 10-15 items is generally a good WIP limit. It should always arranged by task priority so that you can start work on the top item knowing it’s the next most important thing to do. It can be tempting to make this a dumping ground for ideas, but if you need this capability you should set up a separate “ideas” or “icebox” column without any limits on it.
  • Doing: Now things get tricky, because the typically Kanban WIP limit for current items being worked on is two. Ouch. But if you think about the mental costs of switching tasks and their negative impact on productivity this makes sense. Be disciplined about finishing “Doing” tasks before starting on something else, and your productivity will thank you.
  • Done: As with an “ideas” or “icebox” column, you probably don’t need a limit on tasks that are done unless you want to clear it out for the sake of clarity. A monthly or quarterly purge can help you see what you accomplished (win!) and make sure you are returning to items that need iteration.

A Reminder About Iteration

Remember good ol’ Agile Marketing Principle #1?

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of marketing that solves problems.

If we as individuals want to be able to get things out early and often we need to avoid the trap of perfection.

Getting a piece of content or an email out in front of customers and then adapting to the data that we get is much better than spending twice the amount of time on something that ultimately falls flat.

But this only works if we iterate on campaigns, which involves returning to them repeatedly over time and moving them from “good enough” to “better” and finally to “best.”

It’s not iteration if you only do it once.

The Kaizen vs. The Timebox

In order to keep your Kanban board from becoming a glorified to-do list where productivity goes to die, you’ve got to implement one of two agile techniques: the Kaizen or the timebox.

Constant Improvement via Kaizen

Kaizen basically means continuous improvement or change for the better, and it can occur in two separate ways:

  • When particular conditions are met, such as two weeks have gone by or you’ve released 10 pieces of content.
  • Anytime you think the process needs reexamination.

During this improvement phase you take a brief pause to make things better. This could include examining your “To Do” column to make sure it’s still prioritized, following up on recently “Done” projects to make sure they’re performing well, or making sure the tool(s) you’re using are still serving you well.

For the individual agile marketer a Kaizen is a crucial trigger to step back and review things.

You should schedule them for yourself on a regular basis if you’re not using the second option: timeboxing.

Do You Need a Timebox?

The great thing about timeboxes is that they act just like deadlines. For many people the pressure of a due date is necessary for motivation, and that’s just fine.

Timeboxes can also ensure that you’re constantly releasing projects, be they content, emails, social campaigns, or website updates.

And, particularly if you have a WIP limit of two on your “Doing” items, you need a hard release date to get things out of that column so you aren’t spending weeks and weeks on a single item.

For individuals the timebox shouldn’t be any longer than two weeks. If you’re creating projects that take longer than that to complete, break them down into smaller user stories that you can finish in a couple of weeks.

Agile Marketing: Not Just For Teams Anymore

Solo marketers may not be able to use Scrum to run their world on agile principles, but by adopting a Kanban approach they can get all the benefits of agile while still working in their pajamas from time to time.

Do you have an individual agile marketing success story to share? We’d love to feature you on MarketerGizmo, so shout out in the comments.