Tuff’s Social Ads Strategist, Nate, on the Intersection of Life and Social Media

Nate Corliss, social ads strategist at Tuff.

Meet Nate, a Social Ads Strategist at Tuff. Nate partners with Tuff clients and social media platforms to build measurable, data-driven, bottom-line growth.  

Below, he shares what he learned from studying Japanese business practices, where you can find his favorite salt, and how being a parent impacts the way he approaches marketing. 

Can you tell me a bit about your time before Tuff? What were you working on? 

I studied international business at the University of Oregon and then studied abroad in Japan learning Japanese business practices and found that super interesting. 

After that, I worked at a website company in San Diego. This was before Squarespace, before Wix, before just anybody could build a website. I was on the support side and I got my first taste of social media marketing because we had these websites and we started to explore how social media could compliment a web presence. And, at the time, it was starting to become apparent that social was becoming a critical part of the marketing mix. 

From there I became a Marketing Manager at an investment group that owned a diverse group of businesses from golf courses to car dealerships. It was fascinating and similar to being at an agency because I was deploying these marketing plans for different businesses in different geos with different objectives. I had to be able to hop in and do like a website edit really quick and then launch a social media campaign in that role. That’s when my experience with Facebook advertising first started. 

From there, I went on to a pretty large digital marketing agency where we were balancing what resources we had available as well as the capabilities our team had to serve the client. So it forced me to stretch and evolve. And, it prepared me for the role at Tuff and asking ‘what is best for our partners we’re working with?’

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

I think Tuff is special as a growth agency, we’re extremely focused on helping other businesses succeed. We’re so flexible with our flat pricing to best serve our clients. Whereas other agencies pricing are typically so piecemeal, it’s, by channel, by spend increment, by thousand dollars spend increment. And it stymies the ability to move quickly and learn quickly, which is super important for our clients who are often startups or ecommerce. By being flexible, it gives us the opportunity to test something quickly, find new audiences, try a small test to validate if a new tactic will make sense for our client.

What has your experience been like working for a fully remote team?

Along with remote work at Tuff comes a lot of autonomy to get the job done. I was happy that when I came in, I was able to hit the ground running. I was able to come in and affect change and deploy my own tactics right away. That autonomy has been empowering and I’ve been able to build on that and learn collaboratively with the rest of the team and with our clients. It’s felt like a bit of an evolution in a really good and satisfying way. 

There’s some freedom, too, to be myself that layers in perfectly. We’re not all together in one office. There’s not a person looking over my shoulder at the end of the day to see if I got X, Y, and Z done. So I’m a lot more accountable here to end results than I am to doing things a specific way. And I think that that’s critical for remote work. 

Does being a parent impact the way you approach your work in marketing? 

Yeah, absolutely. It makes me try and look a little further into understanding people and what they’re trying to say. My daughter, Juni, is too young to be able to express herself fully. But, even as adults we’re not always able to express ourselves fully. So someone may say something but mean something else. I kind of become this interpreter when Juni is trying to communicate and that happens a lot with digital marketing. When working with clients, we are often peeling back what somebody says they want. They might say they want to try the latest and greatest social channel but what they really need is that damn lead. And so there’s a little bit of a translation aspect going on there. Being a parent has boosted my ability to take a step back and truly listen and understand what’s being said.  

What is something about you that typically surprises people?

I’ve often been told I look at the world a little bit differently than other people. And I think that is because I’ve always been kind of conflicted wanting to fit in and understanding what works well for me. Over the last few years, the evolution that I’ve gone through is figuring out how I feel and how I work best. 

I’ve become a major bike rider. Previously, riding a bike was something I had just kind of ignored and was even somewhat scared to do in a city.  And now it’s something I do almost every day. It feels so good to have that human powered movement in my life and the carbon benefits are important to me as well. I also do a very mini yoga practice to make sure that I’m present in my body and not just a brain operating machine.

Another thing I’ve come to love is this very specific salt. It’s a pink salt, mined in Utah. I mean, why buy salt that’s shipped from halfway around the world that has a larger carbon footprint when I can buy salt that’s made two States away? 

A lot of these interests are driven by having a diet that makes me feel good, having an exercise regimen that makes me feel good, and then continuously getting my life dialed in and continuing to evolve and adapt as things change.

What is something you’ve been working on personally?

I’ve been trying to do a better job separating out ideas and execution. 

So, it’s great to talk about an idea. For example, one of our clients had an initiative they’re working on and I got fired up about it. I was mentally starting to go down a path of making this whole presentation, mapped out in detail. But then I pumped the brakes and thought, ‘what if they don’t even want to go down that route? So, my mental presentation, outlining everything in beautiful visual detail turned into a few bullet points in a meeting agenda. I wanted to validate the ideas and be smart about how I was using my time. I’m learning to say no to myself, while still giving these ideas time and space. 

What do you enjoy about social advertising? 

There’s all these really specific tasks I do for social advertising but it doesn’t feel like a big task list, it feels like more of a dance. And what’s kind of trippy about it is that I’m dancing with machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

So my skill set is teasing out the best of these social ad platforms, algorithms, and AI to get to the end. So it’s like layering of targeting across social platforms. Because so many people are on these different platforms, the power is in knowing what type of capabilities are on each platform and figuring out that unique mix out for each client. That’s really what does it for me.

What is your best advice for someone just getting started with Facebook advertising?

Try to just dive right into an ads manager account. Either create your own or, if you can, join someone who already has an existing one. In tandem you can do a training course like Facebook Blueprint, but then apply those learnings in a real-world platform. It’s a little bit tricky with Facebook because it’s always going to be pay to play. It’s not going to be a free platform like Google Analytics where you set up your own blog and test. But, with Facebook, getting into those ads manager accounts is important.

Also, don’t limit yourself to Facebook. Become a digital citizen and a user of social platforms that you’re drawn to or that you know the types of companies you want to work with have users on. Understanding the cadence and the behavior of users on those platforms makes it so that your social advertising will blend more seamlessly. With social ads, you’re paying for showing ads that don’t look like ads. So if you can develop a fluency in what great organic posts look like, that can be a superpower. 

Tuff’s Growth Marketer, John, on Having a Community-Oriented Mindset

John Atkins growth marketer at Tuff

Meet John, a Growth Marketer at Tuff. John partners with Tuff clients to experiment, test, and drive growth across multiple channels – from ppc to seo to email, and others. When he’s not optimizing website conversion rates or launching influencer marketing campaigns, you will most likely find him on a bike or in his kitchen.

Below, he shares clever puns, what he’s learned from Buddhism and music, and common ecommerce pitfalls when transitioning from crowdfunding to setting up shop.

Can you tell me a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff? What were you working on? 

I’ve worked primarily with early stage ecommerce startups. 

I worked with a parent company in Boulder called Eco Brands Group, which has a few consumer brands. They all use upcycled materials like old bicycle tubes or an old advertising banner to make their products. We were a small team so I was running all marketing channels and working with founders. This structure was not entirely different from an agency model, I think that’s kind of what drew me to Tuff.

Right before Tuff, I was with a company called Bullbird. They make travel accessories. That’s actually where I first learned about Tuff and met Ellen. Ellen pitched Tuff to be an acquisition agency and partner for Bullbird. I was working as Director of Marketing at the time. I was brought on to lead ecommerce marketing and get them off the ground and transition from their crowdfunding roots into a full on ecommerce brand. I was running paid acquisition, email marketing, customer service and pretty much anything that needed to be done for the brand. 

When the pandemic hit Bullbird’s products, for lack of better words, fell out of the sky. At the same time, I saw Tuff was hiring for a Growth Marketer and I reached out the same day. I remembered being impressed by the meeting I had with Tuff at Bullbird and how they talked to clients. I thought the interview process felt really genuine and natural as well. I feel happy to be at Tuff. 

What has the experience been like to go from in-house to Tuff, where you work with multiple clients?

Yeah, it’s definitely been different. I wear a lot of hats at Tuff but not all the hats. I am able to direct my energy more fully into paid acquisition and growth. I enjoy talking with founders and working with them, I’ve been doing this in some way for most of my career. I like learning about what they’re struggling with or where they’re stuck on growth and help them understand marketing on a deeper level. 

It’s been interesting shifting to building trust while remote, just over a video call. I’ve had to learn to bring a new comfort level and intentional focus on relationship building. I want the complicated pieces of growth marketing and metrics to feel accessible. And, I focus a lot on bringing the trust level up.

How do you build that trust?

Setting up a good foundation is really important, that’s something I’ve learned while at Tuff. The team stresses this a lot. I work to be able to quickly explain who we are, where we’re strong, and how that applies to their company. We try not to be jargon heavy, just really clear on the strategy we’re presenting. When we work internally as a team, we can slip into some jargon or just get excited and passionate about this work. With founders, I try to understand the depth of information they want. Founders are often thinking about a million things and formula for cost per sale is probably not top of mind all the time. So, I pay a lot of attention to how much information they want. 

I’ve always had a community oriented mindset. And, think about how my work impacts my immediate community. I think this has helped me learn how to talk to certain people and be a good partner for them, no matter where we’re coming from.

You’ve worked in ecommerce for a number of years now. What do you think first time ecommerce teams typically get wrong?

I think there can sometimes be an expectation of flipping on a switch and making everything sell as fast as possible. That’s often why people started their company in the first place. I think it’s great to have ambitious goals but you also have to answer the question of ‘how are we going to get there?’. How do we make our sales goals work over time? 

Would you ever start an ecommerce business? 

No, not at all. 

I don’t think I would want to run my own business of any kind. I like working on people’s projects with them which is why I think the agency world is so amazing. I’ve worked really close with a number of founders and we’re working day and night to get it to work and there’s a lot of risk involved. And that’s just not for me. 

How has it been working on a fully remote team for the first time?

My personality is on the more introverted side. At work, when I do talk to people it’s for smaller increments of time over video. Like 30-minutes to an hour. And, the calls are planned. So, my energy doesn’t feel as drained. Whereas in an office, you are more likely to have anyone pop into your office for small talk. Having a remote set up, there is more structure and I can plan my week for days with no meetings. 

What is it about your work that gets you fired up? 

Every day at Tuff, I’m blown away by how quickly the day goes. It’ll be two o’clock in the afternoon and I’m shocked. 

I really like client management, talking with clients, and understanding what’s important to them week to week. I also like with Tuff that even though I’m a Growth Marketer, I also handle a channel or two for each account. So I can get into the weeds, plan days where I don’t have any calls, and just focus on working on my accounts. I also like contributing to our blog. I started out my career in a content marketer role, running a blog for a company. Getting back to contributing to a blog has been fun, especially to be writing about stuff that I’m interested in. 

Being able to focus on growth marketing while having a bunch of different ways to play into Tuff’s success is really exciting for me. 

What do you like doing outside of work?

I spend a lot of time seeing films, listening to music, checking out libraries, and exploring Denver. I also like to get out a lot, I go mountain biking and camping pretty frequently.  

Do you ever find inspiration for work in these non-work activities?

I do! Recently, I was watching an NPR series where they talk to musicians about their process. 

They were talking to a hip hop producer named 9th Wonder and he was sharing that he does something called 30 by Thursday. Every week, he tries to make 30 new beats by Thursday and that’s his way to keep himself geared into his profession. He said it can be easy to just be like doodling with different sounds, get lost and not actually make music. 

I thought that was really interesting and starting thinking about how that could work for Tuff. What could that look like from a content production perspective? I shared this with the team in a meeting and it stuck. We created a content strategy into a 30 by Thursday type sprint. Our sprint is over a few months but we’re focused on writing a lot right now.

I enjoy figuring out where your outside life fits into your work life, I think that is pretty interesting. At Tuff, we make it a point to talk about what’s going on in our lives outside of when we’re sitting by the computer. And I think that makes the relationships a lot healthier. We learn a lot more about each other. 

Tuff's SEO Strategist Derek Coleman

Tuff’s SEO Strategist, Derek, on Aligning Personal Interests With Professional Growth

Tuff's SEO Strategist Derek Coleman

Meet Derek Coleman, Tuff’s SEO Strategist. Derek works closely with Tuff’s clients to audit web properties, implement technical SEO fixes, and increase organic revenue.

Below, he shares how Charlie Sheen inspired his career switch from finance to digital marketing, his experience jumping out of a plane his first time flying, and on defining yourself in the larger context of your life (not just work).

Tell us a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff. What were you working on?

I graduated with a finance degree and I was in finance for a few years. And during that time, in my personal time, I was always putting together WordPress blogs and Shopify sites. As part of that, I was trying to rank them and grow my following on Twitter.

I started off with one blog. It was Charliesheenfacts.com when Charlie Sheen was kind of a viral thing. I just kind of took that Chuck Norris style approach And, I grew the Twitter to like 16,000 followers and I started doing a lot of SEO on the website. And then I was like, you know, I kind of want to switch from finance into digital marketing.

I realized finance was not really what I wanted to do anymore. My passion was more in digital marketing. So, I took a job at a tech company and that’s really where my professional SEO experience started. I was there for three years and it was a lot of content-driven SEO. We published almost 750 pieces of content a month. I was quickly learning how to optimize all of this content for SEO on a piece-by-piece basis as well as the large funnel focus of which ones have the most opportunity.

I got a lot of experience there on the content side and then I moved to LA to work at a different startup as a Director of Growth Strategy. This role started off actually as a technical SEO strategist so I got to learn a lot of the technical SEO side working with things like tags, metatags, descriptions, coding and PHP. It was a standalone website, not on WordPress or anything.This role gave me more of a full stack SEO approach.

After that, I started freelancing for about a year and this gave me experience with so many different clients, so many different industries, so many different types of marketing.

Is there any crossover in how you think about SEO based on what you learned in finance?

Yeah, definitely. I’m more of an analytical person so that helps me with the amount of work I do in spreadsheets. Learning those Excel formulas back in the day was more helpful than taking a course to learn SEO. It was more of a muscle I developed or a mindset of analytical work and working in spreadsheets that has stayed with me.

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

I had worked with a number of agencies, both in my full-time roles and while freelancing. And, I didn’t really like the culture of a lot of the agencies. They’re very data-driven but not in the client data-driven sense. Rather, singularly focused on their own revenue targets.

And while getting to know Tuff, I felt there was more of a human approach. In the process of seeing the job description, going through the website, and interviewing, I got the sense of a small but tight-knit team. So, I think that is really what separated Tuff and helped me make the decision. I didn’t want to be just like a number somewhere, churning out work with impersonal relationships with clients.

Is there anything about you that usually surprises people when they’re first meeting you?

The first time I went on an airplane, I skydived. And then after that, I started to travel quite a bit. I didn’t really travel until I was 23 but now it is really important to me.

Tuff's SEO Strategist Derek Coleman
You’re quite passionate about traveling. Has this informed how you show up at work?

When I’m meeting people, I try not to default to ‘what do you do for work?’. If I am striking up a conversation with somebody, it’s probably about something we have in common or something we’re experiencing in the moment, like a basketball game that is on. I think it is important to recognize that we’re more than just our job.

What is it about SEO that gets you fired up?

I really love some of the more technical problem solving. I was just working on this for a client, they have like 16,000 ahref language tags and we needed to make some updates. So I was like, ‘okay, let me write a quick script and it’s just going to fix them all so quick. It’s going to be awesome’. And then, it didn’t work.

I put the script in PHP, but it’s on big commerce and they don’t accept PHP. So next up I’m on different forums trying to figure it out. And, I think I got it now. I tested in a sandbox and am getting ready to push it out live. So the challenge of fixing technical SEO at scale is really rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in SEO and client management?

You have to build trust and become a teacher to help people understand SEO and the importance and impact of this work.

If a company has hired you to do SEO work, they will hopefully have some level of understanding that there’s not an amazingly quick win in this work. Like, you can’t guarantee first-page results in a few weeks. With that being said, I think it’s good to tackle the quick wins first so you can come back to your client, share, and create energy around the work. Like, ‘Boom! 16,000 errors fixed in like day’. It’s good to give some quick results at the beginning while also setting expectations that SEO work is a marathon, not a sprint.

What advice would you give someone starting out at Tuff?

The clients are great. I think there is a good process for making sure clients are equally the right fit for Tuff where we can build a relationship and communicate transparently. This lets you really focus on the results you’re able to get for them and do a great job in that work.

Tuff’s PPC Strategist, Chris, on Designing an Intentional Career Path

Chris Alarcon

Meet Chris Alarcon, Tuff’s PPC Strategist. Chris works closely with Tuff’s clients to identify, test, and scale profitable paid channels. 

Below, he shares how he got so clear on the steps he wants to take in his career, why remote work has helped reduce anxiety, and what advice he’d give to someone new to working in PPC.

How did you get started working in PPC?

It’s almost been exactly five years since I started doing PPC. Once I graduated college, I knew I wanted to do more digital focused marketing. It was 2013 and I could tell that’s where everything was shifting toward. I wanted to learn more hard skills that I really didn’t learn in college. When I got my first opportunity to be in an in-house digital marketing position, I really wanted to learn more PPC. 

Why’d you make the switch from in-house to agency?

I got bored of working on the same account, the same campaigns over and over and wanted to gain a bunch of experience and work in a bunch of different types of industries.

Then, I was looking for a more growth focused agency. I think a lot of agencies that started out as more traditional marketing agencies scrambled to get involved in digital when it became obvious they needed to get on board. This is me generalizing but they never really had to have a laser scope focus on performance metrics. For example, say 1,000 people drive past this billboard a day. Then, multiply that by 30 days and you’ll get 30,000 impressions on this billboard. And what did that really ever do? In digital marketing, you can actually see the analytics behind everything. 

More modern and client-focused agencies care more about these analytics and seeing growth rather than the perfect revenue model to get the most money for the least work. When I saw the posting for Tuff, I was like, ‘Oh, this, this is more in line with the growth marketing focus I want to do rather than just like a traditional agency’. And it was aligned with what I wanted in terms of my lifestyle and autonomy in my job. So once I saw the job posting, I applied and thought let’s give it a shot. 

You mentioned autonomy being important to you in your work. What else? 

I’ve always had a good balance of work and life, that’s always important to me. So, I’ve chosen to work at places that allow that. I think, for me, it’s been more so about learning skills to get to where I want to be. 

When I first started in my career, it was your general marketing coordinator job. And I knew that I wanted to do something with more impact, I wanted to go deeper. What I found was that, in order to do that, I had to learn a specific skill set. So that’s when I started learning digital marketing on my own time. Learning specific skills helped me get my first digital marketing full time job, which opened up more doors for me to go where I wanted.

You’ve been very intentional about your career path and proactive in learning skills to get you there. That can be really hard! How do you identify what you want and then take action?

I knew that having a specific skill set would open up the door to more opportunities and it became about taking the right opportunity rather than just kind of, well, they called me back so that’s where I’m going to work. 

It’s important to me to be able to pick where I want to move rather than have to fall back and say, ‘I’m going to apply to 50 jobs on LinkedIn and if they like my resume, they’ll call’. I want to be specific and selective. So once I found the skill set that let me do that, I was able to narrow it down into that niche.

If you go back a few generations, people spent their whole careers at companies they hated. I feel really blessed that I’m working in a time period where something like remote work can be possible and it is easier to at least have an option to take my skills and work in a place that I feel happy to be. I think that was the catalyst for me. Growing up, I decided I didn’t want to dread those five days a week. 

Why is remote work a priority for you?

I’m really obsessive about certain things and little details. I have OCD, so I do have real anxiety about a lot of things. I don’t have as many noticeable ticks anymore or anything but being in a comfortable environment really helps reduce a lot of that anxiety. 

I have been lucky that I’ve never worked in an office or a company that did make me feel anxious. But I could imagine if I had, how drastically different I would behave. But luckily, one thing that I knew even from college was that I wanted to work at places that were culture focused first. I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I always felt comfortable, even if it wasn’t working from home. 

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

The message and the mission stood out to me. I liked the idea of being more transparent and growth focused and having a really close eye on actually delivering positive results rather than just worrying about getting campaigns up. I think a lot of traditional agencies focus more on ‘how many campaigns are you getting?’ and ‘how much money are you getting the client to spend?’ and lose focus on if the work is actually having a positive outcome. 

What is it about PPC that gets you fired up? 

I really love digging into data and analyzing it and trying to figure out the immediate results and long term trends. So that’s one thing that really drew me to PPC over any of the other digital marketing disciplines. With PPC, you can make changes that have noticeable effects in the stats right away. And, that’s what really drew me to it. 

At Tuff, our clients are really fun to work on. Every single one of them is unique so there’s a lot of data to work with. I like the diversity of our clients. 

What advice would you give to someone working in PPC at Tuff?

Be willing to try a lot of different things. And even if you haven’t tried a specific channel before you know more than you think. So like, if you’ve never done a YouTube campaign before you still know the basics of what makes a good campaign. Don’t be afraid to test a lot of different variables and try small experiments to learn. It can be a little intimidating at first but new challenges are what makes work fun. 

 

We feel so grateful to have Chris on the team! And admire the steps he’s taken to design the career he wants. Chris helps other marketers go remote by running semjobs.io. If you’re a marketer looking for a remote role, check it out!

A growth marketing team working at a table.

How We Created a Career Framework For Growth on a Small Team

A growth marketing team working at a table.

At the time of writing this, we’re a 5-person team. 

As a profitable but bootstrapped company, our growth is intentional and focused on the needs of our team and clients. We’re excited to grow in the next few years but not rapidly.

With that in mind, not everyone can (or wants to) be a people manager. We’ve been asking ourselves, “What does a career path look like for someone at Tuff?”.

We have awesome clients and certainly, we’re learning every day when it comes to our areas of expertise. One of the things we love most about growth marketing is the constant experimentation and diversity of client needs and growth channels. This has brought us to our second question, “How can we reward role expertise in the same way management is rewarded?”.

To try and answer these questions explicitly or, at the least, facilitate conversations about them as a team we’ve created a Career Framework for each role at Tuff. 

Our Career Framework serves the team in two ways:

  • A system of Levels and Steps for each role means teammates have the opportunity to grow in flexible ways
  • Each Level and Step has a role salary assigned that serves as a variable in our compensation model

Creating a Career Framework

Let’s dive into the Career Framework! Here are the steps we took to build ours:

  1. List out your Company Roles
  2. Create your Career Framework matrix
  3. Define the Levels for each role and the Steps for your company
  4. Calibrate with your team and make sure everyone knows what Level + Step they are in

Okay, now for the nitty-gritty. Here’s how to apply each step and what it looks like at Tuff:

1. List out your Company Roles

At Tuff there are two core roles on the team. At the highest level, they are:

  • Growth Marketer: Looks holistically at a client’s existing condition, finds the bottlenecks preventing them from achieving their goals, and corrects them with innovative improvements
  • Channel Specialist: Focuses exclusively on one platform or channel (i.e. PPC Specialist, SEO Strategist). They have a strong marketing foundation and specialize in one or two areas

2. Create your Career Framework matrix

Once you have your company roles listed out, the next step is to create a company-wide career progression chart. In the following steps, you’ll customize for each of these roles you’ve now listed out but you want to start from the same set of Levels and Steps for each role. 

Here’s the template we use for each role at Tuff:

Tuff career framework

Levels

At Tuff, there are 5 Levels for every role: Entry, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert, and Principal. Levels are distinct jumps in terms of area knowledge, role complexity, and scope of work. 

Steps

At Tuff, there are 5 Steps housed within each Level that are meant to mark smaller milestones of growth. They are defined by Ownership and Initiative, two behaviors that we believe are important to encourage on our team. Steps are defined company-wide, not dependent on role.

3. Define the Levels for each role and the Steps for your company

This is where you put your Company Roles and Career Framework matrix together, it’s where the magic happens! 

Using our structure of 5 Levels of growth, we’ve defined benchmark responsibilities and what performance looks like based on Knowledge, Role Complexity, and Scope of Work at each Level for both the Growth Marketer and Channel Specialist roles at Tuff. 

We’ll share our Growth Marketer Levels so you can see it in action:

Benchmark

  • Look holistically at a client’s existing condition, find the bottlenecks preventing them from achieving their goals, and correct them with innovative improvements
  • Manage a team of channel experts to enable them to achieve client growth goals 
  • Develop and implement a testing process to collect data and fast learnings to make improvements 
  • Have 5+ years experience in marketing, working across SEO, growth marketing, paid acquisition, conversion rate optimization, content strategy, link building
  • 2+ years experience in client management 

Tuff careers framework

Step Chart

At Tuff, there are 5 Steps housed within each Level meant to mark smaller milestones of growth. We’ve chosen to define them by Ownership and Initiative because, for us, these are behaviors we want to encourage and build on. They might be different for your company. 

Steps are defined company-wide, meaning they are the same for every role:

Tuff careers framework.

How this connects to our compensation model

We wanted to create a compensation model that was flexible enough to adjust for factors like experience and location but broad enough that it didn’t require in depth calculations and research every time we bring on a new team member. 

It was also important to us to use a data source and apply structure to our salaries to reduce bias and hold us accountable to paying people fairly. We wanted simplicity and objectivity. Enter: Compensation Formula.

By creating our Career Framework, our compensation model then becomes a formula with two inputs: 

  • Role Salary [Level, Step]
  • Cost of Living Multiplier 

The Role Salary [Level, Step] comes directly from our Career Framework. Using this Career Framework, we’ve entered early-stage company salary data at each level of experience for every role at Tuff. 

Here it is in action for our Growth Marketer role:

Tuff careers framework

This is based on market rates for San Francisco. Then, depending on our team member’s location we adjust the salary based on cost of living. For more on how we calculate the Cost of Living Multiplier, check out this blog post

Continue Reading

We’ve worked closely as a team to develop our Career Frameworks. It’s always a work in progress so please reach out if you have any feedback or questions.

While building our own version that works for Tuff, we’ve also leaned on some great existing resources. If you’re interested in learning more about Career Frameworks, here are some of our favorite reads:

How We’ve Connected Salary to Both Personal and Company Growth

Comp.

Whether you finish the rest of that word with -ensation or -licated, compensation is an important piece of running a business and hiring a great team. 

We are dedicated to creating a great place to work where team members understand how they can grow and develop at Tuff. Also, as a bootstrapped team, it is important for each of us to understand how our spend impacts our overall profit and ability to help our clients grow. 

To support these behaviors, we compensate our team in two ways: Base Salary tied to a Career Framework and Profit Sharing

Base Salary through a Compensation Formula

We wanted to create a compensation formula that was flexible enough to adjust for factors like experience and location but broad enough that it didn’t require in depth calculations and research every time we bring on a new team member. 

It was also important to us to use a data source and apply structure to our salaries to reduce bias and hold us accountable to paying people fairly. 

We wanted simplicity and objectivity. Enter: a compensation formula.

We share this with the whole team:

We’ll break it all down below.

Role Salary: How do Levels & Steps work?

We’ve created a Career Framework with a system of Levels and Steps for each role to make sure teammates have the opportunity to grow in flexible ways. 

Levels: Levels make up the vertical axis of the career framework. At Tuff, there are 5 levels for individual contributors: Entry, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert, and Principal. Levels are defined for each role at Tuff and mark distinct jumps in terms of area knowledge, role complexity, and scope. 

Steps: Steps make up the horizontal axis of the career framework. At Tuff, there are 5 steps housed within each Level and are meant to mark smaller milestones of growth. Steps are defined at a company level, not specific to your role. Rather, they are defined by increasing amounts of Ownership and Initiative. 

Using this Career Framework, we’ve entered early-stage company salary data at each level of experience for every role at Tuff. 

Here it is in action for our Growth Marketer role:

Cost of Living Multiplier: How do we adjust for remote?

We have been remote from the start and a big piece of that decision was wanting to access talent from anywhere in the world. We chose a high cost of living city as our benchmark so we can keep our salaries competitive. 

We start by understanding the difference in cost of living in the team member’s city compared to San Francisco. Using Numbeo, we calculate the Adjusted Cost of Living + Rent Index to compare two cities. Then, using this number the city falls into a defined Cost of Living Band. 

Adjusted Cost of Living + Rent Index

This compares the Cost of Living + Rent Index between two cities. By starting with a base of $1,000 in San Francisco, we look up how much money we would need to have the same standard of living as the city we’re comparing. 

Cost of Living Bands

By finding the Adjusted Cost of Living + Rent Index, each city falls into one of the following bands:

 

The Cost of Living Multipliers

These calculations help us get to the final number needed for the compensation formula. Once we know what Cost of Living Band a city falls in, we can use the Cost of Living Multiplier to reach our final base salary. 

Putting it all together

As a reminder, here is our compensation formula:

Let’s pretend we’re about to make an offer to a new Growth Marketer on the team who is based out of Portland. We were looking to hire someone who fell into our Level 4 definition of a Growth Marketer and we found someone great! 

We decided to make them an offer at Level 4, Step 2 and pull that Role Salary from our Career Framework.

To dive deeper into our compensation formula, you can view our spreadsheet here →.

Profit Sharing

The other piece to how we compensate Tuff employees is through Profit Sharing. 

Because we’re a small team, everyone works directly with clients and shares responsibility in driving their growth. The more our client’s grow, the more we grow and we wanted that to reflect in our compensation. We don’t offer the traditional stock options that some startups and public companies do but Tuff’s team members are critical to our success on every level.

We distribute profit sharing on a quarterly basis so once you’ve been at Tuff for a quarter, you are eligible. We look at Tuff’s profit balance, your time at Tuff, and your performance to calculate each team member’s share. 

At this point in Tuff’s growth, the amount we offer in profit sharing is quite low. It’s not going to give someone the ability to retire anytime soon! But, it’s important to us to offer profit sharing so early because each team member truly is an owner in our Tuff’s growth. 

Continue Reading

We’ve worked closely as a team to develop our compensation formula and to make the decision to offer profit sharing. 

While building our own version that works for Tuff, we’ve also leaned on some great existing resources. If you’re interested in learning more about compensation formulas and profit sharing, here are some of our favorite reads:

Behind the Scenes at Tuff’s First Company Retreat

Before starting Tuff, I was a freelancer.

The way I thought about remote work was pretty simple; it’s great and easy and we should all do this.

Then, when I started Tuff in 2016 and hired my first remote team member that suddenly changed. The more the team grew and the more I leaned into leadership, the more I realized how essential remote team management is.

When you’re separated by thousands of miles, communicating and collaborating with your team can be a challenge. Luckily, there’s a lot of awesome content out there on how to build a remote team and culture. I devoured (and still do!) content from companies like Buffer, Doist, Help Scout, TaxJar, and Remotive.

One of the things on our “someday” list was a company retreat. We love working in our own corners of the world (Portland, Nashville, Boulder, Eagle, Boston, and San Francisco) but we were itching to meet face-to-face.

In February, we had our first in-person get-together in Colorado.

Here are some of the highlights:

We Planned as a Team

We gathered together for 2 and a half days and worked together to design what that would look like. We wanted to take advantage of the time in person and decided to use one day to work together and one day to spend out in the mountains getting to know each other better.

For the work day, we had a few topics we knew we wanted to cover so gathered them together in an agenda to keep us on track. Each team member had a session they would lead:

We Worked 30% of the Time

On Friday, we coworked from The Riveter in Denver. The agenda was loose and flexible. We collaborated on small things but mostly just enjoyed coworking in the same physical location. This was a good time for us all to be heads down on client work so we felt good about our work heading into the weekend.

We also used our time together to get some photos of us as a team. If you click around our website a bit, you might spot them! In the work we do with our clients, we try to serve as close partners. We lean into the human side of being an agency and so we wanted to have actual photos of us on our website. As a remote team, getting these together is obviously a little challenging. So, we went to Soona for our team photos!

After Friday, we spent the rest of the time hanging out and having fun. Here’s a look:

Getting together in Colorado was an awesome experience and a big deal for our small team. But retreats aren’t what make us great. It’s the consistent, every day focus we put on trying to build an awesome place to work.

Our team and the way we work together every day is what matters.

We Build Team Culture Every Day

At Tuff, we have three core goals:

  • Stay in business
  • Be an awesome place to work
  • Deliver meaningful results to our clients

We focus on incredibly small things we can do to work better together and we’re always trying to improve.

Things like:

Weekly Meetings: The Tuff Weekly Standup is a 30-minute all team video chat every Wednesday to check in, share what we’re working on this week, brainstorm with the team, support each other, etc. Loose agenda:

  • What’s everyone working on this week?
  • What do you need help with this week? Any blockers?
  • Any personal goals this week (read X pages, yoga X times, cook at home X times, etc.)?

Bi-Weekly Happy Hour: Every other Thursday we get together (attendance optional) to hang out after work for 30 minutes. Dogs, kids, partners are all invited.

1:1s: We have an internal slide deck of ‘advice on getting the most out of 1:1s’ you can check out, here. 1:1s are helpful to set an intentional time for us to come together and talk about projects, clients, as well as share feedback for each other, talk about higher level growth at Tuff, employee experience, Tuff culture, etc.

Spotify Playlist (aka Tuff Tunes): We love music at Tuff and all have different music tastes and styles. We created a Tuff Tunes playlist on Spotify that has songs from everyone on the team. We listened to this as a team during our team retreat and it was fun to guess who put on what song. I like to queue up this playlist on Fridays at work.

Feel free to crank up the volume on our Tuff Tunes.

Slack
We use Slack as ‘our office’. Slack is great for real time collaborating in channels. We often create channels named after our clients to discuss work specific to their projects. Also, good to grab a team member in a Direct Message to collaborate, ask questions, etc. Because Slack has such a perceived feeling of real time, we try to check in with a quick ‘hey, you have a few minutes?’ or, ‘Is now a good time to chat on X?’ before fully diving in.

We try to have new team members start on Wednesday’s so they get to see a full team call on their first day. We also make sure to send a warm welcome to them in Slack:

#learning
Another way we use Slack is to share what we’re listening to, reading, learning about, etc. While we don’t have explicit company values, learning and self-improvement is definitely an implicit shared value across the team.

In our #learning channel, it’s common for someone to open up a conversation on something they’ve found interesting:

Walk and Talks
One of my favorite things we’ve added this year are “walk and talks”. This is a time for us to take things outside and talk about anything but work. Instead of jumping on zoom, we go on a walk and catch up.

Our dogs are big fans of this one, too.

Over to you!

We were lucky to get this time together before Covid and the need to shelter in place. I’m so grateful for that.

And, as more teams have made the shift to work remotely, I’d love to hear what your team has been doing to stay connected while apart? What has worked well for you?

We’d love to work with you.

Schedule a call with our team and we’ll analyze your marketing, product, metrics, and business. Then, present a Growth Plan with actionable strategies to find and keep more engaged customers.

interview

From 1,018 Applications to 2 New Tuff Team Members

Editor’s Note: We decided to work with a Talent & People Ops consultant, Mary, to help us make these hires. As a relevant consideration when deciding to hire, we felt we could make these hires without external support. But we wanted to move fast without sacrificing time on sales or Tuff’s client growth and decided to lean on someone who has led this process time and time again.

This post is also written by Mary so you’ll notice she speaks about ‘Tuff’ in a different way than we typically do on our blog.

Because of the nature of Tuff’s work, they spend a lot of time thinking about numbers. What is the conversion rate? What are our strongest sources? What can we do better next time?

When it comes to hiring, you can apply a similar lense. For example, you can also think about candidates being at the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel.

In February, we opened up two roles on the Tuff team:

  • SEO Strategist
  • Growth Marketer

For the SEO Strategist role, we were looking for a channel specialist who could help Tuff’s clients increase their organic reach. They work with a diverse set of clients and corresponding business models so they needed someone who has broad SEO experience (rather than specializing in local SEO) and who is comfortable adapting quickly.

For the Growth Marketer role, we were looking for more of a marketing generalist. At Tuff, a Growth Marketer partners closely with their clients to understand the core of their business, their goals outside of marketing, and then get really specific on how Tuff can help drive growth. They needed someone comfortable working closely with clients but in a more generalist role there is flexibility in how they achieve the goals depending on their background.

Here’s what we learned

  • Specialist vs. Generalist: There is a difference between hiring for a Specialist (SEO Strategist) vs. a Generalist (Growth Marketer). The SEO Strategist role took 47 days to fill from job posted to offer letter signed. We had a more tailored skill set we were looking for. The Growth Marketer role took 29 days to fill from job posted to offer letter signed. We had clear outcomes we wanted this person to achieve and competencies we were evaluating for but there was room for more diversity in their background (i.e. content, paid search, paid social, etc.).
  • Process: Before these hires, Tuff had 3 full time team members. Now, they are at 5. We learned a few lessons about the process, specifically how much to involve team members who also had a lot on their plate in terms of client work. It was important for us to create a Scorecard (more below) at the start of the process to have clear and explicit alignment on the outcomes they needed these team members to be responsible for.
  • Sources: We spent $553.34 on LinkedIn. In the end, the two hires came from alternate sources. We break it down more below. We would still spend the money on LinkedIn as it accounted for 80% of the applications and 50% of the interviews. Just not eventual hires.
  • Employer Branding: In Tuff’s client work, they are very transparent and open. It’s a value I came to recognize in their work and it opened up doors when it came to employer branding and helping qualify candidates. We ramped up these efforts on LinkedIn when we opened up the two roles, posting about their company retreat that happened while we were interviewing and tagging the Tuff team in hiring posts so people could check out their profiles before applying. The person we hired for the Growth Marketer role was a connection of the Founder of Tuff on LinkedIn.

Specialist vs. Generalist

We posted the role for SEO Strategist using Workable, on February 6.


Tuff’s new SEO Strategist, Derek, signed his offer letter on March 24. This hire took us 48 days from posting to offer letter signed.

We break down the interview process in more detail below (i.e. what is a topgrade interview?) but here’s a breakdown of our funnel metrics:

Here are a few of our conversion rates we found interesting:

  • Applications to phone screen: 5.45%
  • Phone Screen to Topgrade Interview: 18.75%
  • Applications to Hire: 0.17%

Growth Marketer

We posted the Growth Marketer role on February 19th.

Tuff’s newest Growth Marketer, John, signed his offer letter March 18. This hire took us 29 days from posting to offer letter signed.

Here’s a breakdown of our funnel metrics:

And, here are a few of our conversion rates we found interesting:

  • Applications to phone screen: 3.01%
  • Phone Screen to Topgrade Interview: 30.76%
  • Applications to Hire: 0.23%

Let’s compare some of these metrics for the two roles:

As you can see, the biggest difference is in the ‘Phone Screen to Topgrade Interview’ conversion rate.

People interviewing for the SEO Strategist role had a lower chance of moving on from the Phone Screen to the next step of the interview process. We did considerably more phone screens for SEO Strategist (32 phone screens) than for the Growth Marketer role (13 phone screens).

In hindsight, this makes sense based on our experience hiring for a Specialist. There are so many areas of expertise when it comes to SEO. We had a fairly specific skill set we were looking for so as we learned more about the candidate’s background and the type of work they were looking to do, disqualifying a candidate or moving them forward felt clear.

Tuff’s interview process:

Step 1: Create a Scorecard

The Scorecard is the foundation of the interview process we held. It is what we used to evaluate candidates at every step of the funnel. By spending an extra 15-20 minutes upfront at the beginning of the interview process, the Scorecard helps lead to a speedier process, better alignment on the team which leads to better hires, and helps mitigate bias by keeping us evaluating on the objective outcomes and skills we needed these hires to achieve and come in with.

The Scorecards we used for both roles had the same four parts:

  • Mission – Why does this role exist?
  • Outcomes – What will this person be responsible for?
  • Hierarchy of needs – What is need to have vs. nice to have?
  • Competencies – What characteristics are most important?

Step 2: Post the job!

While this might seem like the first step, it is so important to have clear alignment from the team that it comes after creating the Scorecard. We used Workable as our Applicant Tracking System for a few reasons. As a small (but mighty!) team, Workable was at a good price point for Tuff and offers a 14-day trial that we used to make sure Workable was the right system for us. Workable also posts your job for free on a number of other job boards like remote.co, where our SEO Strategist hire initially spotted the role.

Step 3: Create Interview Plan

Once we had the Scorecards filled in and the job posted, we moved ahead to clarify the interview process and each team member’s role in evaluating candidates.

Step 4: Phone Screens

Goal: Understand motivations and ability to contribute to Tuff client’s + culture. I held the resume and phone screens to help save the Tuff team time by qualifying candidates at the early stage.

Here are the questions we asked for the SEO Strategist phone screens:

  1. What are your career goals? What would your ideal role look like in the next 2-3 years?
  2. What are you really good at when it comes to SEO?
  3. What are 1-2 areas you think you could improve?
  4. Tell me about the most structured and then least structured workplace you’ve been a part of. How did you feel about them?
  5. Think of someone you have worked really well with in the past. What characteristics, values, or skills did you learn from them and try to replicate?

Step 5: Topgrade Interviews

Goal: Uncover the patterns of somebody’s career history to match with the scorecard.

For candidates who made it through the Phone Screen, we had them speak with the Founder of Tuff, Ellen, next. We asked the following five questions for each job on the candidates resume, beginning with the earliest and working your way forward to the present day. Follow up questions and curiosity are key to keeping this interview conversational.

  1. What were you hired to do?
  2. What 2-3 accomplishments are you most proud of?
  3. What were some low points during that job?
  4. Who were the people you worked with? Specifically:
    1. Your manager. What was it like working with them? What would they tell me were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
    2. Your team. What did it look like? What worked well? What was challenging?
  5. Why did you leave?

Step 6: Focus Interviews

Goal: Assess the competencies we’ve agreed are important for success in the role.

As you may have noticed on our funnel metric breakdowns above, we skipped the Focus Interview at times to prioritize speed. These interviews were assigned to Chris and Nate, the other two existing team members at Tuff. These interviews were focused on competencies and attributes the team had identified were important for the roles and culture they’re building at Tuff.

Step 7: Project

Goal: Get a more in-depth understanding of the candidate’s skills.

Here’s the project we shared with our Growth Marketer candidates:


We didn’t want the project to be too time consuming so set the expectation to spend no more than 3 hours on the project. P.S. Snacks is also not a client of Tuff. We wanted to make sure we weren’t asking someone to do work that a Tuff team member would be paid for. So, this is an example of work they’d be doing if they joined the team but it isn’t work Tuff would gain monetary value from.

Step 8: Hire 🎉

We did it! Through this process, we were able to find and get to know two great candidates who have now joined the Tuff team.

Sources

Tuff’s new team members came from these two sources:

The person we hired for the Growth Marketer role was a LinkedIn connection of the Founder of Tuff. He reached out to Ellen after spotting the role and we entered him into the interview process, uploading his resume into our Applicant Tracking System.

The person we hired for the SEO Strategist role applied through remote.co.

For more context on what sources were stronger for us, here are two charts below. The first shows Applications by source – you can see LinkedIn brought in the majority of our applications.

This chart shows Interviews by source. These are the people who after we screened their resume, we decided to talk to. Again, LinkedIn is at the top of the list.

Conclusion

I learned so much from the Tuff team while helping them hire for these roles. As a growth marketing agency, the team has a natural inclination for numbers and conversion rates that made our collaboration stronger and more successful.

If you have any questions or would like context on how to apply this process to your team and hiring, you can find me at Intention Consulting. Thank you team Tuff for welcoming me aboard for these hires, and John and Derek, best of luck!

We’d love to work with you.

Schedule a call with our team and we’ll analyze your marketing, product, metrics, and business. Then, present a Growth Plan with actionable strategies to find and keep more engaged customers.