Do you want a career in a high-growth industry in which both skilled professionals and dedicated individuals with a drive to learn are in high demand?
A career in an industry that values diverse skill sets, from creatives to analysts, mathematicians, and techies?
A career in an industry that could land you your choice of in-house or agency roles, but also lends itself to remote working and freelancing?
Then digital marketing could be the path for you.
Well, here’s the best part. Unlike many industries, you don’t need any formal qualifications in order to get started. Knowledge, talent, and a drive to learn are valued by most employers far more than academic credentials.
In fact, until recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find any professional qualifications that focused solely on digital. Even now, they are few and far between.
While a degree won’t do you any harm, it’s in no way necessary. I, like many people in this industry, have gotten where I am through sheer hard work and determination.
Want to follow in these footsteps? Here’s how.
One of my favorite things about this industry is how open we all are about sharing knowledge and experience.
Before I entered digital marketing, I worked for companies that treated the competition as actual rivals. It always felt very small-minded and petty. It really didn’t work for me or fit who I am as a person.
Thankfully, that’s rarely the vibe I get in the digital industry.
It’s a very open and trusting environment. The feeling is very much one of “all being in this together.”
I love that.
I also love that it results in a seemingly-endless stream of information for us to consume and learn from.
Information that means the first step to landing a career in digital marketing is pretty simple: read as much as you can possibly manage.
Aim to get a broad understanding of the industry as a whole. This should include (but isn’t limited to):
- Content marketing
- Social media
- Writing for the web
- Email marketing
- Growth hacking
- The marketing funnel
- CRO (conversion rate optimization)
- Web analytics
- Affiliate marketing
- Mobile marketing
- App marketing
So where can you find content worth reading?
My two main go-to sites are inbound.org and growthhackers.com. They’re both communities designed to help share and promote digital content, and they both utilize voting systems to help the best content get more visibility (though admittedly this doesn’t mean great content can’t be found further down the ranks).
As you become familiar with the sites, you may notice some publications or writers repeatedly catch your eye. Follow them on social media and subscribe to their blog feeds (I recommend using Feedly for this).
That being said, here are a few excellent blogs and resources that are well worth getting sucked into:
And a few specific resources I strongly advise adding to your reading list:
The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing
Digital Marketing Made Simple
The Beginner’s Guide to SEO
The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media
Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing
The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing
The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking
The PPC Guide for Beginners
SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics
Understanding the Marketing Funnel
No Words Wasted: A Guide to Creating Focused Content
There’s Only a Few Ways to Scale User Growth, and Here’s the List
The T-Shaped Web Marketer
Start a blog of your own
This might feel like a big step – especially this early on – but it’s a crazy important one.
Writing your own blog forms part of a steep learning curve – teaching others is widely regarded as one of the best ways to learn, after all.
A blog also acts as evidence of your knowledge, and can be invaluable in helping you build connections, and eventually, secure a job.
WordPress.com has everything you need starting out, but I’d advise paying the $2.99 a month to remove ads and get a custom domain name.
Remember that at this point, your goal isn’t to build a big audience, and it certainly isn’t monetization. It’s to develop your knowledge and begin creating a portfolio that acts as proof that you know this stuff, and care about learning more.
Get some wins
At some point, possibly quite quickly, you’re going to get a feeling for an area or areas you’re particularly interested in, and that you feel best match your skill set.
Hone in on these – you’re going to need to roll with them in order to start getting gigs (albeit at this point, they’re probably going to be unpaid).
Find what you’re good at.
In fact, you don’t even have to be good at it – you just have to not suck.
This might be:
- Writing articles
- Crafting sales copy
- Creating social media posts
- Designing imagery and/or infographics
- Writing text for PPC ads
- Writing title tags and/or meta descriptions
- Performing keyword research
- Designing emails
Or one of the many, many other tasks digital marketers perform.
Once you’ve identified where you can shine (or at least, not suck), find and approach startups and offer these services for free. Think of it like an informal internship. You’re not being expected to turn up Monday through Friday for a full-time role; you’re just completing ad-hoc tasks in order to gain experience and potentially, form some valuable connections.
Use your blog as evidence of what you know so far and as proof you want to learn more. Emphasize that for the startup, this is a risk-free transaction. Not only are they not making a financial commitment by working with you, but if they don’t like what you do, they don’t have to do anything with it.
Get a real internship
Once you’ve got one or two happy “customers” under your belt, it’s time to get some real-world, in-house experience.
This is a chance to seriously learn – not just about the industry itself and the work involved in contributing to it – but what it’s like to be part of a digital team. It’s your opportunity to find out for certain whether this is a path you want to follow.
To secure an internship, you should approach:
- Startups, or
- Marketing agencies
Startups are a good bet because they’re often in need of an extra pair of hands. They should be relatively easy to get a “yes” from, and very grateful for the help.
Unfortunately, unless the startup in question already has a digital team, you’ll be on your own. This means no one to learn from – no one to identify when you get things wrong and put you back on the right path.
On the plus side, startups are fast-paced and things are always changing. This will keep you on your toes and increase the variety of tasks you’re able to get involved in.
Your other option is marketing agencies.
Agencies rock too, in part because you get to experience lots of different industries and business models, but also because they do what you do. All being well, you’ll be working among people who can help teach you, and you can bounce ideas off of.
That said, regardless of who you approach and where you end up, you need to be prepared to put in a lot of grunt work.
Just because you’re working for “free” doesn’t automatically make you valuable. Time is money. If you’re making mistakes that someone else has to fix, or taking up significant training time, this is all in effect money to the business.
Be prepared to complete menial tasks that might not directly help your cause, in exchange for the larger lessons the company can teach you and the goals it can help you reach.
Find a mentor
A mentor is akin to a personal guide and career coach. They’re there to answer your questions, share their experiences, and just generally help you reach the next step in your career.
Unfortunately, getting someone on board with this agreement takes time. It’s rarely as simple as approaching someone and saying “Will you be my mentor?” That’s a huge ask and a lot of pressure. Even if they say “yes,” they might be left wondering “What’s next?”
Instead, reach out to your favorite bloggers and ask them specific questions.
Take control of the dialogue by asking them exactly what you want to know. If they answer you, thank them, wait a few days, and ask them another question.
If you keep doing this, eventually they might actually become your mentor – even if it’s unofficially.
Bonus tip: Email on Saturday or Sunday mornings. If they pick up emails on the weekend, they’ll probably have more time to respond. Even if they don’t open your email until Monday morning, the fact that you’re at work on the weekends is a positive sign that demonstrates dedication and commitment to your cause.
Attend a marketing event or conference
Events and conferences are great places to learn, but more importantly, they’re great places to meet and connect with people.
To find a suitable event, look on meetup.com or try Googling “Marketing conferences in [your location].”
Once you’ve decided on an event, find out who’s attending and shortlist anyone you’d like to speak to. Prioritize people who have the potential to further your career by helping to fulfill the last step in this process – getting a job.
Alternatively, you might prefer to build a list of people you want to meet, and choose which conferences to attend based on where they’re speaking.
In both cases, there’s something you should do to maximize your odds of getting a chance to speak with the right people.
Reach out to everyone you’d like to talk to before the day.
Ask them if they’re able to grab a coffee with you during the event. Chances are, they’ll say no. That’s okay. If you do manage to catch up with them on the day, you’ve already crossed that bridge. This isn’t a cold conversation. They’ve spoken to you before (however briefly), which means you’re not a complete stranger, and they’re more likely to be receptive to your approach.
What’s more, they’ve already let you down once. It’s human nature to want to avoid disappointing people, so it’s unlikely they will want to let you down again.
Get yourself a job
By this point, you’ll have likely been involved in the industry for a year or two, give or take.
However, if you reach this stage in more or less time, that’s okay. This isn’t a college degree course. There are no rules about how long the process should take.
In fact, if you’re not having to work to support yourself through all of this, you might even feel ready to start job hunting in less than a year. If you’re trying to fit all this around a full-time role, it could take longer.
Do what works for you, and start job hunting when you feel ready.
One of the best places to find digital jobs is on LinkedIn. It’s the social media platform for professionals, and any agency worth their salt will be using it.
Of course, since digital is such a booming industry, it should come as no surprise that recruitment companies have jumped on the bandwagon. There are now many recruitment agencies that specialize solely in filling digital roles. If you search Google for “[job title you want] + [your location],” you should uncover anything relevant that’s nearby.
Just remember something once you land that job.
This is a seriously fast-paced industry with best practices that can change at a moment’s notice. To keep up, you need to be making time for digital every day. If you don’t, you can quickly fall behind.
In other words:
Never stop learning.
This is how you will progress, get promoted, and start earning more money. The wider your skill set, and the more knowledgeable you are about each area, the greater your earning potential.
It’s the manager roles that come with bigger salaries, but if you’re after a six-figure salary, you need to be aiming for consultancy and “head of” roles.
That takes time – as it does to get to the top of your game in any field. But in my experience, you can progress much faster in digital than in most disciplines – so long as you’re willing to put in some seriously hard work for a few years.
Accept that you’re probably not going to be able to learn everything you need to in order to progress while you’re on the job.
If your role is in SEO and you want to get to grips with PPC, you can’t expect your employer to have the time to teach you. In the end, you’re responsible for your own training, and in turn, your own future.
Never stop learning. Never stop trying to better yourself.
And that’s it. That’s what you need to do to start a career in digital marketing. Good luck – not that you need it. With enough dedication and hard work, you’ll make it. Just be sure to come back here when you’re a big name in digital to tell me about it!