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Welcome to Inspired Marketing, where we find creative CMOs (and future CMOs) and grill them about all things marketing—data, social media, those annoying buzzwords—but mostly about how they stay inspired.

For this first installment we spoke with Simon Worsfold, Senior Manager, Content & Research at QuickBooks. Previously, he worked at the small startup TSheets—when it was acquired by Intuit, he joined his current team, which he now leads. Here’s what Simon had to say.

1. Your team is responsible for a customer’s first experience with your brand. What’s the impression you most want to make?

That we’re here to help. In content marketing, which is the work my team specializes in, long-term relationships are almost always more important than short-term results, because if you get that right, the other will usually follow. Trust and reputation are the true measures of our success.

2. What’s your most valuable skill as a marketer?

You’d have to ask my team for an objective view, but the thing that comes most naturally to me is connecting what’s happening in the outside world—what really matters to people—to what’s happening inside the business. I love to find the hooks that make our work relevant and engaging. 

3. What’s a tool you rely on now that you didn’t 3 years ago?

Only one? I love data, so I confess, I use a lot of tools—especially for SEO—but if I had to narrow it down, my Swiss Army Knife is BuzzSumo. It’s a quick source for ideas. It tells me what’s trending, reveals what our competitors are doing well (or not so well), and it helps me track the performance of our content. No tool is perfect, but this is usually the one I go to first for information and ideas. 

4. What’s a tool that doesn’t exist yet, but that you really want in the near future?

I’d love a single tool that could manage our entire workflow. I know there are great tools already out there for this—Contently is a good example—but they all have their limitations. If I could combine the SEO insights of a specialist tool like Ahrefs with full-funnel performance data and analytics in the same software that gets multiple teams aligned around campaign goals, roles, and deadlines—including content promotion outreach—that would be a game-changer for me.

5. What’s the key to getting good work out of creative people and teams?

Knowing what gives them energy. If you can get your team to spend 80% of their time on projects that use their natural skills, the things they’re most passionate about, then they’ll want to come to work every day. People who want to come to work—and have the resources they need to do it—will do the best work of their lives. That’s my goal for my team. Looking ahead, it’s also important to never lose sight of where people want to be in one, three, or five years. What’s good for your team today may not be good tomorrow.

6. What’s one thing creative teams need more than anything?

The freedom to create and the freedom to fail. As a manager, it’s natural to want to protect people from failure, but it can be the best lesson in life. I’d also advocate for teams to have as few meetings as possible. Once your goals, roles, and metrics are set, let people run.

7. What’s your least favorite buzzword? Why? Which buzzword do you secretly love? 

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I actually think it’s fine to use a buzzword, provided that it’s a technical term and everyone in the room feels comfortable putting their hand up if they don’t understand it. If you ever find yourself using a buzzword to obscure meaning, or use it in an environment where people are too scared to admit that they don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s a sign that you’ve got a communication problem. And potentially a trust problem, too. My least favorite buzzwords are any that could be better said in plain English—phrases like “core competencies.” Just say, “the skills you need for the job.”

8. What’s the biggest threat to creativity?

A lack of energy. Anything that drains people’s energy will likely do the same to their creativity. Creative people need to be able to focus on the things they love.

9. What’s an unusual attribute or experience you look for in candidates? 

I have a lot of respect for life-long learners. To me, this can be just as valuable as having a fancy college degree, because it shows a strong work ethic and a true commitment to your craft. This is probably not that unusual, but I also value people who know how to hustle. It’s not a skill that can be taught, but I do think it can be learned. Some people have it naturally. You can always rely on people with hustle to get results—often when you least expect it. 

10. How much of your day is spent worrying about social media?

None at all. Maybe I should, though! Our starting point for every campaign is that we aim to create high-quality content that people want to share because it’s helpful, and reveals something new that they didn’t know before. Maybe we’ve just been lucky here, but I haven’t seen any negative reactions to this strategy… yet. If we keep our focus on quality, there should be no reason to worry.     

11. Think of one of your favorite brands. What are they doing well to market to you as a consumer?

I have to confess, I don’t really have a favorite brand, but I do pay close attention to what companies stand for and how they demonstrate those values. REI is a good example. I love how they close their stores on Black Friday and encourage their employees to go out and enjoy the outdoors.

12. When did you realize you were good at this?

These days, I’m a manager, but at heart, I consider myself a writer, first and foremost. I knew from a young age that writing was my future, but it was only recently, when I started working in content marketing and promotion, that I found a way to channel this ability most effectively.

The “a-ha” moment came when I realized we didn’t need to sell products in our content for it to be effective. And, in fact, the less we tried to do so, the more effective our content tended to be. It knitted together almost 20 years of experience into a coherent content marketing and promotion strategy. I’m no Keanu Reeves, but it was a bit like Neo seeing The Matrix for the first time.

13. Tell me a marketing story with a happy ending.

Before I worked at TSheets, I worked for a British nonprofit called SportsAid. We had a tiny team and an even smaller budget, but we always seemed to punch above our weight. I was lucky enough to work for them during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, where two-thirds of the British Olympians were previous recipients of our support.

It had always been hard for us to compete with the major sponsors, but after the Games, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge became our Patron. Total game-changer. I have a huge amount of respect for Kate Middleton because of what she gave us—and continues to give—to help young people achieve their dreams.

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