Struggling with work-life balance? Think like a marketing consultant.

Recently a female marketing phenom in my Slack group asked, “Out of curiosity, how do each of you attain work-life balance in this field?”

We struggle with this as marketers. Our jobs are tough. Multiple teams depend on us and we depend on a multiple teams. Executives look to us to drive awareness, revenue, and customer retention. They also expect us to be leaders, managers, and culture-champions. It’s a lot. It’s tiring.

To make work “work”, we give companies our early mornings, days, nights, and weekends. We even strategize and plan while we sit in traffic. It takes willpower to NOT check email when we’re on vacation. Work-life balance ends up at the bottom of our long “to-do” list.

We’re smart people. Why can’t we do this differently?

I’m doing it differently. I found work-life balance after I started my own company (where I “do marketing differently” too). Granted, the entrepreneurial journey is not for everyone, but having “been there, done that” I’m in the position to give every full-time marketing employee this advice:

Stop thinking of yourself as an employee. Start thinking of yourself as a marketing consultant (with PTO, a bonus, and benefits).
Ask yourself, “How can I do great work and deliver the most value within the
scope of work and timeframe allotted?”

This post is not the perfect recipe for work-life balance. There is no such thing. Hopefully these insights will help you reframe your thinking. Before we get there though, here’s some tough love…coming in hot:

You are 100% replaceable.

Ouch. That stings like a &%$^#. But think about it. Your company could be acquired tomorrow. The CTO could hack the corporate coffers next week and embezzle the company’s financial cushion resulting in massive layoffs. Your startup might spend waaaay too much money on a VERY EPIC summer outing, “Crap, we can’t make payroll this period.” The wind or rumor mill could shift and you might lose favor with someone at the top. Before you know it, you’re watching your HR business partner’s mouth move in slow motion before you actually hear the words, “I’m sorry but today is your last day with us.”

So WHY WHY WHY are you driving home in tears? Why are you neglecting your health? Why are you giving this company precious time that should be spent with your spouse, partner, pets, friends, and kids? Why are you putting your needs last? You put processes and procedures in place everyday as a business professional. Why don’t you tip the scales in favor of life vs. work?

You’re afraid of losing your job, right? But here’s the thing - if that happens (and it probably won’t), you’ll find another engagement. You’ve done it before. In my experience, most marketers only stay at a company for a few years anyway.

Here’s how you thinking like a marketing consultant will help you with work-life balance:

Set boundaries as a marketer

1) Set boundaries.

At the start of a consulting engagement, I outline a scope of work and a timeline and stick to it. If things start spinning out of control, I sound the “scope creep” alarm and politely push back on client requests. Together we adjust and reconfigure.

We we start a new job as a full-time employee, we’re determined to prove our value early and often. So we work nights and weekends to “get up to speed”. We’re convinced people will judge us if we come in 10 minutes late. We can’t leave until our manager is in the parking lot. This “new kid” syndrome keeps going for months, quarters, and years. We take on more and more work, which takes more and more of our time. All of a sudden, the scale is tipped in favor of work vs. life.

Now think about it - if you set this kind of precedent, your colleagues and managers will always expect that level of commitment from you. Their expectations won’t decrease over time.

On the other hand, if you think like a consultant your “scope of work” is your job description and what is realistic given your capacity and resources. “Timeframe allotted” should be around 40 hours a week for a full-time employee, right? Sure, there will be instances where you’ll need to work late or check in after hours, but work to make these exceptions… and not the norm.

Ok, Erdie. That sounds great. But I’m going 90 MPH. How do I get to 40 MPH?

Just do it. Drop your pencil at a legitimate quitting time tomorrow. Set a timer on your phone if you have to. Use that one that sounds like your submarine was just torpedoed and put the volume on high. Have a heart-to-heart with your manager. Let them know what’s on your mind. Ask to work from home regularly if that would help. If you are a manager, set new guidelines with your teams. Establish new boundaries to give yourself a clean slate.

But what if the company doesn’t like it? What if I piss my manager off? I could get fired.

Sure, that could happen. If it does, you weren’t in the right company to begin with. Remember, you’ll find another job.

You give SO much to your employer. Shouldn’t they respect you and your boundaries?

ask for help as marketers

2) Ask for help

As a consultant, I evaluate resources at the beginning of each engagement and set the scope accordingly. If unforeseen obstacles come up along the way, I escalate the issue to the client. If they can’t give me what I need to get the job done, I settle up the bill and find another client.

It’s not wimpy to cry uncle. It’s actually a very mature and effective approach. My former manager taught me this by example. First, she was a pro at setting boundaries so she could spend time with her husband and two young boys. Then if she (or her team) couldn’t get the work done in the timeframe allotted do to a lack of budget, resources, or internal collaboration she asked colleagues or management for help.

The best part? She got what she asked for. People still talk about her approach years later.

When was the last time you asked for help? Or have your asks fallen on deaf ears? Ask louder. Level it up. You’re a marketer. You’re naturally persuasive and you have more power than you realize. Tell the company what they will lose in productivity and revenue if they don’t listen. They might even lose you as an employee. That ought to get their attention.

If you decide to keep doing it all on your own, I’ll still love you, but don’t come crying to me complaining about your lack of work-life balance.

Taking risks as marketers

3) What would you do today if you knew you’d be fired tomorrow?

This question is much less morbid than, “What would you do today if you knew you’d die tomorrow?” What would you do or say if you knew your tenure at your company was limited?

Start making a list and act on it.

Now, this approach isn’t necessarily a first class ticket to the land of work-life balance, but I can tell you from experience - tackling issues head on instead of turning them over in your head will reduce your overall anxiety. That’s a big piece of the work-life puzzle.

Tell your organization what they need to do and why they’ll miss the mark if they don’t follow your advice. My clients actually expect me to do this as a marketing consultant. Man, it makes my job so much fun.

I took this approach when I was a full-time employee. I went in everyday with gusto and confidence. I outsourced work to consultants when my headcount was cut. I leveled issues up to management. When execs asked me to interview potential managers and give my feedback, I was very honest. Gasp! I spoke truth to power. I fought for colleagues - especially younger women and minorities - when their managers wouldn’t fight for them.

When you walk into work tomorrow, channel your inner marketing consultant.
Please, please, please take my advice. Set boundaries, ask for help, and take risks. If you don’t, you’ll have a long list of regrets when you’re standing in the parking lot with your cardboard box. Because remember, you’re 100% replaceable. It’s just business. That’s why you’re going to start putting life before work. Starting today fight for balance. If you can’t find it with your current employer, find it with another. Or start your company!

How would it feel to be able to say “I totally found work-life balance” a month, six months, or a year from now? I can tell you from personal experience, the grass is so much greener on the other side.

Photo credit: Cindy Tang and various artists from