Julie Niehoff, Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact
Julie Niehoff, Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Julie Niehoff, Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact.

Julie is a celebrated educator, writer and strategist with more than 20 years in technology marketing. She joined Constant Contact in 2006 as one of the company’s first Regional Development Directors. She has coached more than 500,000 small businesses and nonprofit professionals on best practices for online marketing.

Today, Julie oversees program development and presenter training for the company’s local education program. Which provides free, live, local seminars to small businesses and nonprofits each month across the US, Canada, and the UK.

Read on to learn more about Julie and her small business tips from the field.

Tell me a bit about your background and your role as Director of Education & Development? How does your role differ from other RDDs?

Well, if we’re going back in time, I have been online quite a while — before AOL. And my love of technology kept finding its way into my marketing career.In every job I had, I would volunteer to teach classes about email at the lunch hour (not email marketing, literally email — it was brand new back then).

Later, when I worked at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, I did the same thing — teaching my co-workers about the internet. While there, I had the chance to overhaul the city’s online presence and back-end systems, marrying web content management with sales, marketing, and convention services. It was while I was at the CVB that I started using Constant Contact as a customer. Our emails got such a reaction from the members that I found myself again teaching classes at lunchtime. Our members demanded to know how we built such nice emails, so I was teaching Constant Contact to every restaurant, museum, photographer, and in every tourist destination in the city.

Fast forward to 2006 when I joined Constant Contact as the first Regional Development Director in a major market (Dallas/Fort Worth) and the third RDD in the company. The program was successful enough that we developed more regions and hired more RDDs. Over time, I was tasked with training new RDDs on our content, and on how to get involved in their local communities in a meaningful way. Today, we have 23 RDDs and almost 300 Authorized Local Experts teaching classes, engaging their communities, and helping small businesses grow. It’s kind of hard to believe, but we are teaching 20-30 thousand people in free marketing classes every month across the US, Canada, and in the UK.

I still manage a territory, by choice — I’m based in Austin, TX — and I do it because I want to keep my ear to the ground for what is really happening for my colleagues… and because it’s fun. I still help develop the curriculum and training for our speakers, but today I also get to work with some of our strategic partners. We have started to bring in other companies who serve small business, to co-host educational events with us. These are legacy brands that have a big impact on all small organizations today.

I feel lucky to get to work with so many amazing people. To help shape our events and provide training for their presenters about the kind of helpful content our participants expect and our service-first approach. My personal mission is to help bring down barriers to technology for small businesses and nonprofits so that they realize they can do what they need to grow. This role at Constant Contact allows me to keep on that path and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Next month South by Southwest (SXSW) will take over Austin. What are you doing to help small businesses prepare for and take advantage of the city’s largest event?

I recently learned that SXSW added $190 million to Austin’s economy last year. 2014 will likely be even bigger — and most small businesses in Austin do not do anything special to leverage this influx. Whether that is because they are not located downtown, near the festival, or maybe they think they aren’t the right kind of business to get more out of it. But the reality is that there is opportunity here — and not just to market to visitors, but for locals as well.

We are doing several things to encourage local businesses to make the most of it.

First, we’re hosting a special series of free workshops in advance of SXSW to help small businesses in the area learn how to plan a campaign around the festival. For example, what kind of deals and offers work well, and how to have a game plan for keeping it all going while they manage the influx of business during the event. In addition to this ramp-up, we’re going to host our 3rd Annual Next Best Thing, a mini SXSW for local small businesses and nonprofits on March 6th. This is a free half-day conference with various topics, presentations, panels and demonstrations, and probably most importantly, we give people a chance to network.

We’re sponsoring two great events during SXSW. The first is BASHH, an annual unofficial kick-off of the festival held on 6th Street and hosted by Benn and Lani Rosales of AGBeat.com.

The second is called East Side Escape. Just a few blocks down from the festival crowds, this event will feature artists, musicians and performances from around the world. There will be an outdoor gallery, and performances from popular local and international musicians on the Constant Contact stage. All of the shops and restaurants up and down the street are engaged with our ramp-up educational events. They will be offering specials on food, drinks, and more. We’re excited to be part of something that celebrates the growing East Side district. Offering locals a chance to partake in the excitement of SXSW without the stress of parking or walking crowds in the central business district.

Can you offer any tips or best practices that small businesses and nonprofits should embrace to ensure marketing success?

I’d actually like to give you my simple definition of marketing, if that’s OK. I’ve taught a lot of classes and realized a while back that when we say the word marketing, we very often mean something different from what the person next to us means. So in our classes, we have started to define marketing, just to make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning of the session. It’s a nice, easy to use definition and if a small business or nonprofit will use it, they will never wonder if they are doing the right thing by their business or their organization.

Marketing has three steps:

  1. Define An Audience: You should decide on a group of people who you want to target and who have something in common – maybe the area of town they’re in, what they last bought from you, or maybe just that they are your customers… whatever it is, decide on an audience.
  2. Reach out with something specifically for them: This can be anything you choose– an update, an offer, information, special deals or access–so long as you are clear that it is specifically for them. So, if you decide to market to a group of your members, speak to them as such (use their names, just reference that they are your members and they are getting this special thing BECAUSE they are your members).
  3. Elicit a physical, measurable response: This is the part that makes it marketing. Up to this point, it was really still just communication. When you have physical, measurable response – now you’re marketing. A physical, measurable response can be a click, a purchase, a phone call, showing up at your event, referring a neighbor who tells you it happened, printing a coupon, or redeeming a special offer. Whatever it is, it must represent a human, making a decision to take action as a result of your message. It doesn’t have to be the action you want, but it does need to be measurable. If you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing. And that’s not to say that communications isn’t important — it is. But if you want growth for your business, real marketing is the fastest way to get it.

When you’re really marketing, you eliminate assumption from your decisions. You aren’t assuming people will react one way or another. You are calculating, seeing what works and doing more of that. Seeing what doesn’t work, and not doing that anymore. It’s read and react and you cannot fail at it because a no is no longer a fail, it’s really good information that you didn’t have to pay too much for.

What is the best piece of marketing advice you’ve ever given or received?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was simple and I wish I had really heard it sooner in life. That advice was simply, show up. One of my bosses at a job long, long ago told me to be there, be present and shared with me the fact that most people don’t. She told me that a lot of success really depends on just showing up. Now that I depend on getting people to show up — to classes and events — I realize how important this piece of advice really is. And it goes way beyond that, but I’ll leave it there.

Just show up.

Do you have any questions for Julie? Post them in the comments below.