The Parallels Between Sanding and Marketing

With the summer heat broken and school back in session, I thought now was a good time to start a home project: sanding the fence in my backyard.

It’s nothing crazy, but it’s taken some time over the last week or so.

As I’ve wiped off sawdust off my hands and face after each session, I’ve come to notice the similarities between sanding and marketing.

Do Your Research

Before I started this project, I had to be honest with myself — I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Wanting to do it right, I had a bunch of questions.

Do I need to do anything to the wood beforehand?

Which grit should I use?

How smooth should the wood be?

As I quickly discovered, the answers were quite simple: don’t overcomplicate this, just start somewhere.

That’s a good lesson to remember in marketing, too.

Doing some digging on what you’re doing is always smart, but ultimately, it’s best just to get started.

As my Instagram pal Ann Handley so eloquently says it in her book, Everybody Writes, the best things aren’t perfect out of the gate.

“The Ugly First Draft isn’t a pass you give yourself to produce substandard work,” Ann says, “but it is a necessary part of the process of creating above-standard work.”

I did my research because I wanted to make sure that my fence didn’t look…well, ugly.

Fortunately, when I did start, the fence began to look better almost instantly.

And that’s all thanks to what I used to start.

Use the Right Tools

Our next-door neighbors are awesome people. Frankly, all of my neighbors are pretty great, but Joe and Cathy take the cake.

They’re kind and considerate and are always happy to help my wife and I whenever and however they can.

Having lived in their home for more than 20 years, Joe’s collected quite a number of tools for home projects, an orbital sander being one of them.

Without letting me borrow that tool, I would’ve had three options:

  • Buying my own
  • Renting one
  • Sanding by hand until I said, “this is stupid”, out loud, and gave up

Joe’s sander has made this project much easier. Entire sections that would’ve taken half a day to complete are finished in about 30 minutes.

There are plenty of tools that have bailed marketers out of spending entire days, weeks, and even months on tedious, repetitive tasks.

For example, marketing automation tools have enabled businesses to communicate with customers at scale without adding additional staff.

Tools don’t eliminate the work — they simply do work for you, making your job much easier.

Fight the Grain

Even with the sander, there are parts of the fence that are quite stubborn.

The more weathered a post is, the more of a fight it puts up.

Getting it to the proper consistency often takes using the sander from different angles, with more pressure, or simply redoing a section multiple times to get the wood to become uniform.

Marketers face stubbornness, too.

Their friction could be as simple as trying to figure out their next great campaign, navigate compliance issues, or identify what it is their client needs but can’t articulate.

When we’re met with obstacles, we have to push through. They’re no fun in the moment but the end result is well worth the struggle.

There’s a certain satisfaction to getting through the hardest parts. Without it, the rewards wouldn’t be as great.

Smooth it Out

Once I get through the most stubborn parts of the wood, it’s time to check my work.

This is a part of the work that I enjoy quite a bit, as I get to see just how well I did over the last few minutes.

While the eye test may suffice for certain posts, the majority need to be checked more carefully.

I use my fingers to check for consistency, feeling for any raised, grainy surfaces that avoided the sander’s rotations like Indiana Jones.

90% of the wood is often completely smooth, while the remaining 10% I have to redo or use a different tool, like a hand scraper, to sand it most efficiently.

Checking your work is a common part of any business. With so many variables, you want to make sure that everything is as it should be.

During this check, you’re looking to smooth out anything you may have missed during your first test run.

In marketing, it means reviewing your copy, verifying imagery is sourced and credited properly, and double-checking your targeting.

The last thing you want is to have somebody get the proverbial (or literal) splinter in their finger other than yourself from work you didn’t double-check.

Whether it’s a fence or a missing tag in your link tracking software, give it one last look before claiming it to be smooth.

Remember to Be Patient

Sanding a fence — even one as small as mine — takes time.

It’s probably taken, and will take, more time than I expected it to.

Yes, it’s simple, it’s straightforward, but it’s repetitive.

More than anything, it requires patience.

While I have helped my dad with other sanding projects I’ve never done one entirely on my own.

Just I as my fence to be sanded and ready for staining, marketing initiatives aren’t completed in a snap.

Marketers need to remember this, too. Perhaps, more importantly, they need to make sure that everyone you’re working with knows to be patient and to level their expectations.

Embrace the work, get into the groove, and learn a few lessons along the way.

This way, the next time I have a project — either sanding or marketing — I’ll be better prepared since I’ve already done it before.

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