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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.