Teaching – done right – is really just learning in disguise. And what you learn when you teach is often what you already knew, though perhaps not as deeply as you should have.

I recently finished teaching the last local session of my Online Marketing Boot Camp. Aimed directly at small businesses, it was a reminder there’s life outside the twitter/facebook/blog echo chamber occupied by most freelance marketers.

My students were little interested in spending an hour a day generating “content,” and the challenge was to chart a path through the online marketing thicket that was appropriate (and realistic) for my micro-entrepreneurs.

Because my students needed more than an overview of all the possibilities, we found ourselves constructing an Online Marketing Map – a document outlining each businesses’ online marketing activities and the channels they’d use.

It’s hardly revolutionary. But it is grounding, especially in an era where a marketer has literally hundreds of options.

More importantly, I’ve discovered small businesspeople market best when marketing becomes a process – same as accounting or ordering supplies.

Too often – especially when overworked entrepreneurs are involved – marketing is the last job to get done, and yes, that realization also comes from grim personal experience.

Outlines? Or Graphics?

People learn differently, and in fact, that’s the source of my biggest struggle as a teacher. I’m an experiential learner, which is to say I dive into things and learn them by doing.

It’s not always the most effective technique (sometimes reading the directions actually works), and worse, my first response to students who want simple, basic, step-by-step directions is to just tell them to dive in and do it. What could be easier?

Turns out, a lot of things.

Online marketing Map

A sample graphic marketing map.

These differences played out even across the Online Marketing Map. I’m all about outlines, largely because I’m a writer (so I’m used to the format), and perhaps indecisive (I can change them easily). You can also easily add detail to an outline (just indent), and I like detail.

Some students did a lot better with graphic representations, so I pondered that for a while before constructing one in OpenOffice’s Drawing module (which was damned easy).

It lacked a certain level of detail, but the students were happier (especially the artists), and who am I to argue with success?

I liked the Online Marketing Map idea because I’m involved in one of my periodic reviews of my own marketing, both professionally and on my fly fishing blog, which I’ve decided needs to pay its own way.

And it’s never a bad idea to break out of your rut, asking yourself questions like:

  • Am I working smart?
  • Am I wasting time in unproductive channels just because they’re hot?
  • Am I capturing the full value of prospects I do draw to my site(s)?
  • Am I converting all this effort into sales and revenue?
  • What am I missing?
  • Can I back up any of the above with data, or am I rationalizing?

These are all good questions for freelance writers, especially when the economy is tough, and the number of media choices multiplies daily.

In the case of my trying-to-become-a-sustainable-media-property fly fishing blog, the Online Marketing Map exercise proved particularly useful, especially since advertisers are bound to ask them too.

I’m not done yet, but I’m already making decisions. Is it time you built an Online Marketing Map?