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222: How to Survive Q4 Without Losing Your Mind

Posted by Austin Brawner on October 22, 2019


We’re in the midst of the busiest time of year for eCommerce. Will Q4 craziness get the best of you, or will you come out on the other side with your sanity intact?

Today we’re sharing five tips that will help you keep you from losing your mind this holiday season.


Episode Highlights

  • 5:36 Tip #1: Communicate holiday availability expectations early for both your team and your family.
  • 8:55 Tip #2: Plan, plan, and plan again.
  • 10:11 Important components of your marketing plan.
  • 14:13 Tip #3: Evaluate your success based on execution, not outcome.
  • 17:29 Tip #4: Be nice to your service providers.
  • 19:11 Tip #5: Lean into the season.

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the eCommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. How are you feeling, my friend? How are you doing? I know you've been hitting some calls all over the world recently. People have been wanting to get on the phone with the Brawner.

Austin Brawner: Dude, it's been exciting. I love the global ... ECommerce Influence is going global, is how I feel. It's been a lot of fun. My morning call's in Bali. I've got some afternoon calls in Australia. Middle of the day calls going on in the US. Then we're planning on, I'm spending some time in Australia, down at the beginning of the year. So yeah, man, it's getting crazy. Thing's going global.

Andrew Foxwell: That's awesome, yeah. I feel like more of the discussions I've had recently have centered actually in Europe and Australia more often. So it's cool. It's interesting. The thing that's interesting to me about it honestly is that, the internet is insane. You can sit here, and I mean one, people are listening to this in different parts of the world, I think is cool.

The other thing that's insane to me is, that I'm sitting here at my desk in Wisconsin, and we'll be talking to someone. They will have just started their day, on the other side of the world. There's really no interruption. I feel like we're having a nice chat, convo. That's why when people are like, "No, you know what? We don't allow our workers to be remote. Everybody's got to be in the office," I'm like, "Have you seen video conferencing lately? It's doing great. It's doing really good."

Austin Brawner: Yeah, it's booming.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean, you don't need people to physically be there. Arguably they'll work better when they're not there. But anyway, that's a whole other diatribe, and not really what we're talking about today.

Austin Brawner: No, it's not. It's not what we're talking about today. But it is an interesting dive in, and one of the things on my newsletter that I've been talking about over the last couple weeks. But today we are putting together kind of, I mean it's a topical episode. Which I feel like we sometimes like to go into. But right now we wanted to go into it, because it's the right time. We're going to be talking about some strategies to help you get through Q4 without losing your mind. That's the goal.

Andrew Foxwell: That is the goal, right? It's here. It's a busy time of year. We all know that you have the pressure of work. We all have the family obligations. A lot of this hits kind of a breaking point. We have, in all of the post mortem type stuff after Q4 with people in January. You and I have gotten together in the last couple years and said, "What are the big themes?". It's always around, "That was a lot. There's a lot there."

So that's why we wanted to talk about this. Some of the things about how to get through this without going crazy. There's some tactical and strategic pieces here, right? Because we've been in the trenches, you and I. I mean, you used to run an email marketing agency. I manage ad spend during the holidays. So that's really what we're going to be getting into today.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, so we're just going to go through our list and share some things. So we'll kick it off. I'll kick it off with number one. I think this is really really important, and that's communicating holiday expectations early. That can be, hear this podcast. Go think about it right now.

For non-retail jobs, holiday vacations are pretty straightforward, right? Everyone has a decent idea. Retail and eCommerce is a lot different. Things to start thinking about now and planning are, what days are you going to be working? What days do you want your team to be working? Will you be working on Thanksgiving evening, when things kick off? What about the weekend after Thanksgiving? There's no right or wrong answer here. It's all 100 percent up to you.

But this is really important to communicate. For a long time, my family didn't totally understand what I did for work. That's still somewhat the case. So you've got to imagine that a lot of your team is in the same position. So it's just important to make a plan, communicate it so that they can set expectations with their family about when they're going to be able to work. When they're going to be able to be 100 percent available during the holidays, and when they're not going to be available.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean, and this can even go on the other side too. There was a story that I heard last year from one of my close friends who runs an eCommerce business. All that her employees had been saying to the other employees was, "Man, it's crazy. It's going to be nuts. It's going to be out of control," right? She had never gone and said explicitly, "This is what the expectation is."

She did eventually. But it wasn't in advance. It was I think maybe 10 days, two weeks beforehand. It can be the other side of it too. Where if you don't hit this off with your employees or yourself or your family, I mean ideally it's all of those things, then it can build, and there's a nervousness around it.

So, making sure you say, "This is when I expect you to be there. This is when I expect myself to be there. This is how I'm going to have to deal with this," I think is really important.

The other thing too is also defining on the expectations, what you mean by the work. The work can mean, to you it may mean, I'm not going to be working, but you are going to be looking at your Shopify numbers, and you will maybe be looking at your Facebook numbers. Well, you do need to communicate that that's also part of it. You can't just say, "I'm not going to work."

Because then if you're at your mom's house and you're pulling up your numbers, and you haven't told her, or you haven't told your significant other or partner that, that can create its own tension as well. I mean, and by the way, this is an Andrew Foxwell story. 

Austin Brawner: This is, yeah.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, I've always communicated with Gracie really clearly. But I don't think we in the past have communicated as well to those surrounding us during this period of time. So I think that's important to think about.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, great tips. Mixing in the family is always the part that can get confusing.

Andrew Foxwell: Totally. Yeah, I mean the second tip we have is plan, then plan again. Then you should go ahead and plan some more. You know, the more clear you are with the marketing plan, the easier that execution will be. We have done Q4 courses, and the number one thing we mention right out of the gates is, "Do you have a plan? When are you going to spend your ad spend? How are you going to budget? How are you going to bid?" etc.

Mapping out all of that in coordination with when your sales go live. Then on the other side, what success looks like to you is really crucial. That has been something that I've seen a million times. Where people will say, "You told us to spend." If the return on ad spend was over a certain amount, the agency will say that. Right? The person will come back and say, "Well, my budget's only X." You know?

So just making sure that you're lining up each part of this plan. Austin, I know you've been doing a lot of the intensives, and you're talking a lot about Q4 as it relates to the plan. What are the other things that you're helping those business put in place?

Austin Brawner: Yeah, well I think that, an Austin Brawner story about this, similar to what you were saying around checking stuff around the holidays. In my mind, a lot of the stuff we put into place is, when sales are going to be going live. If you are going to be participating in Q4, what days? What are you going to market? All those types of things.

The toughest thing is thinking, for me at least, is always thinking through all the components of putting a campaign live. That may mean, okay, you can start and visualize what that's going to be. Maybe you're going to do a 20 percent off sale from this date to this date.

But what actually goes into launching that? Are you going to have custom overlays on your website? If so, who's responsible for that? When are your emails going to be going out? Are they going to be plain text emails? Are they going to be image-based emails? Who's responsive for the creative? Who's responsible for scheduling them? When do you want them to be scheduled? These are all the details involved in a campaign launch.

The difference between having a stressful holiday season, and holiday season that goes off without as much stress, is going through those details and making checklists. Making it really clear, so that your team and you can work seamlessly, and everybody knows what the expectations are beforehand.

Andrew Foxwell: Totally, and a lot of it has to do with dates too. You know? Making sure that the dates are outlined specifically. The way that I've done this most successfully with clients previously, had people take our Q4 course. They will come back and say, "Okay. I want to get through this. But help me roadmap it even more in relation to, like you said, emails, other things."

I've actually just said, "Here's what you need to do. Sit down with a piece of paper, and actually just draw a flowchart." The first thing is just, Here's what we see in relation to thinking in phases. That's how I start to define it is, phase one is before the Black Friday, Cyber Monday holiday. Phase two is that Black Friday, Cyber Monday time. Then phase three is after Giving Tuesday, going into the holiday. So having the plans for each of those laid out.

Austin Brawner: It's also good to know whatever your limitations are. I'm quite good at whiteboarding things out. I feel that in my mind, once it's on the whiteboard and mapped out, that it's done. That's done in my mind. But that's, for a lot of other people it's not, that's not done. So I need to get help to take it from the whiteboard, to something that everybody else can look at and move forward. Just knowing where your level of expertise, and how comfortable you are working without all the details. Just knowing that that may not be the same for your team.

Andrew Foxwell: Right. I think what we're trying to get to here, as we kind of talk about all these different pieces of a plan, is at a minimum, have a plan. Then when you think you have a plan, go into the details and plan even more. Because that's where we've seen people fall before. Where they have an outline of a plan, but they've either not really gone into designing exactly what that means.

Like you said, scheduling the emails. We had an instance where there wasn't an understanding of who was going to be turning on ... I mean, you can schedule ad sets, or you can have them run and then be approved and turn them off. So who's going to actually go in in and turn them on? I mean, it's stuff like that that your agency might do. But if you're doing it in house, maybe you don't know.

Again, just getting the nitty-gritty details. Also, coordinating with the first tip, in terms of understanding the expectations around it. So planning, and then aligning expectations along with those right away.

Austin, let's get to tip three. Which I think is huge.

Austin Brawner: Yeah. Tip three is, evaluate your success based on execution, not outcome. There's a lot of FOMO this time of year. Fear of missing out. Already I've been getting a bunch of questions about trying new channels for the holidays. "Should we use SMS for the holiday? Should we use Facebook Messenger? Should we start sending pigeons to people's houses, dropping coupons?"

Andrew Foxwell: The CPM on pigeons is cheap.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, exactly. You train the pigeons, they last for a good couple years. No, so basically what it all comes down to is, this is a time of year when you can catch what I call "the Q4 fever." You want to, you see all these cool things people are doing, and you want to dive in and do more. More, more, more. So my takeaway on this is to really resist ... Plan out what you want to do, and then resist the temptation to try a bunch of half baked ideas that you see happening. Because often they just lead to more stress.

They may seem easy to you. But then you start, every time you go from an idea that you have, to somebody else, it complicates it. If you have even a larger team, it complicates it even more. That can, even if it may squeeze a little bit more out, it's better to just focus on your success. On what your plan is, and executing that plan. Because that is what you can control.

Andrew Foxwell: Right, yeah. I mean, I think there's a sense. You have to remember that the companies that are good at marketing to eCommerce companies, talking about, "Oh, you've got to try this new feature, or this new thing", right? Probably not the time to try it necessarily. Unless you know one or two really good friends that have actually tried it, and it's worked.

It's easy to build hype around stuff. I mean, an example is, Facebook Messenger is a great example actually. We should talk about that just to get into a tactic really briefly. But that's one that, man, I mean how hot were people on Messenger? I think that Messenger is just like anything else. You get out of it what you put into it.

You look at the way that certain companies have done it, it's integral to what they do. But if you think that you're going to hop in, which I dumb, maybe shortsightedly did last year. Help a company get growing on Messenger, and just try to do a VIP bot type thing, which is what we did, "When the sale goes live, we'll let you know."

I think it added maybe two percent of the bottom line incremental revenue. It wasn't ... The time that I spent setting that thing up, it was a total inverse flop. I think it's really important to consider in this time, that phrase that you may have heard me say on this podcast before, which is, it's really about understanding how to not complicate simple problems, but rather simplify complicated problems.

Austin Brawner: 100 percent.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that's important, yeah. The fourth tip is one that I really hold true to my heart. Which is pretty simple here, but hard for some people to get. Which is, be nice to your service providers. Okay? Honestly, there is an asshole tax. Let's be honest about that. It's real.

Facebook agencies that you're working with, and Facebook advertisers that you're working with, that are my colleagues, we're all overworked during this time. It's nuts. Because everybody's freaking out, and the expectations are so rocket sky high. If you can, send something nice at the beginning of the quarter to them. Show appreciation for their work in some way.

You will be literally surprised if you text the person you're working with, or the agency you're working with, and say, "We really appreciate all the hard work you're putting in right now." We just never hear that. I'm not saying we need to get an award just for doing our job. But my point is that there's a ton of pressures and demands, especially on Facebook in 2019, that are on us as Facebook advertisers and agencies. Even maybe your email agency. So any sort of, not just Facebook. Yeah. But any sort of thing that you can do.

Austin Brawner: If you could send a participation trophy to Andrew.

Andrew Foxwell: That's, I'll put it on my Wall of Mediocrity.

Austin Brawner: No, but yeah. Not just service providers. Also employees. It's just a time of year where, if you can show some appreciation, it is very very very needed and helpful.

This goes into tip number five. This one is one that took me a little while to learn. That's to plan, I'm going to say lean into the season is tip number five.

One thing that I've learned from working in seasonal businesses, a lot of different seasonal businesses, is that it pays off to lean into the season. That means work hard when you need to, and then when the season slows down, relax and pull back. Don't try to squeeze juice out of a rock. Maybe that's not ... There's probably a different way to say that.

What I mean is, in January if your business is going to be slow, and you went crazy hard during Q4, it's a good time to take some time away. Maybe don't work on the business. Take a vacation. Work really hard when you know that it's a good time to work. Then don't try to jack up your expectations when it's a slow time. Just take that time to rest, recuperate, and replenish everything you put out during that Q4 time.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean I think this is, if we think about 2018. In January I went really hard on trying to plan basically the whole year in one month. I tried to get proposals out, and I tried to get clients signed. Honestly, it was pretty ill sighted. It didn't make sense, what I was doing. I was actually trying to squeeze juice out of a rock at that time.

I like that phrase. It sounds actually like an '80s ballad. You know? "Don't try to squeeze juice out of a rock," or something like that. Anyway, but I think that I was trying to do that and forcing it. I didn't, one, align my expectations for that time. So plan to take time. Take care of yourself. That's really, this is a self-care note as it relates to Q4.

If you do these things, I think you will help your sanity, and stay intact. Again, communicate the holiday expectations early, tip one. Tip two, plan. Plan again and plan some more. Tip three, evaluate your success based on execution, not outcome. Remember that the goal is to make profit, not just drive more sales. Tip four, be nice to those service providers and your employees. Tip five is, lean into the season.

Anyway, we hope you have found this helpful. We hope that this little flash episode has been awesome for you. Austin, any final words for you?

Austin Brawner: No. I mean, I'd love to hear from you guys on Twitter. What you're doing during the holidays. If you have any other tips around Q4. I think it's important also just to remember that it's all, it's a good time. It's a time when people are hardwired to want to buy more. But it always comes down to, whatever you set for yourself and what you want, that's the most important thing.

If you want to take off the weekend after Thanksgiving and be with your family, and that's important to you, do it. If you want to work and push hard during that time, do it. Totally up to you. You've got to set the expectations for yourself.

Andrew Foxwell: Exactly. All right, my friends. Well let us know if there's anything we can ever do for you. Otherwise, thank you for listening. We look forward to your glowing reviews on iTunes.

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the eCommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. How are you feeling, my friend? How are you doing? I know you've been hitting some calls all over the world recently. People have been wan...

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