Countless times, I need to write the same advice. It’s because countless times I get asked the same question. “What’s your advice for a person just starting their marketing career? What do I do – and how do I get a job?”
So I decided to distill how to start in marketing with no experience in a couple of steps:
- Get certified – show your dedication and go through a couple of marketing courses;
- Get reading – learn and improve constantly with books, blogs, webinars, and podcasts;
- Get doing – work on a side project or volunteer to gain initial experience;
- Get networking – meet marketing professionals and add to the conversation;
- Get sharing – share your opinions, ideas, and learnings to get recognized.
I’ll go into more detail about each step below. But first…
Why marketing is worth your attention?
It feels like we’re in a golden age for marketing. With the proliferation of digital channels and social media, online comms is a must for brands young and old.
Every new startup needs a marketing person and their role expands well beyond the traditional “create an ad that will help us sell” task set.
With growth marketing becoming a thing, marketers get a say in how the product gets built, not just how it gets promoted.
Finally, you may have noticed the gig economy is a thing now. And being a freelance marketer is a way towards that “autonomy and freedom” utopia most people think freelancing is.
It comes as no surprise, then that there’s a projected 10% growth in the next 10 years. While this data reflects the situation in the US job market, I’d assume that in Europe the situation is similar and in emerging markets the trend is even more pronounced.
No marketing degree? No problem!
I’m assuming if you’re here I don’t need to convince you a marketing career is a good idea. But you might be glad to hear that you don’t necessarily need a university degree to get into marketing. Marketing Week’s 2019 Career and Salary Survey states that more than half of marketers (53.8%) say they have not studied a marketing-related academic or professional qualification of any kind. And of those who did, not everyone found their degree useful at all.
I have to confess, I fall into that latter category. I have three university diplomas under my belt: a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a master’s in International Communication from two different universities. Although I got some nice all-round psychology and media knowledge out of that, I don’t feel it plays a decisive role in my current success as a marketer.
That doesn’t mean that a university education is not a good thing. I’m just saying you might be better off learning economics or psychology and then transferring to a marketing job. You won’t get discarded from the applicant pile just because you don’t have a marketing degree listed on your resume.
Step 1: Get certified
Now, this may come as a bit of a surprise after the last paragraph. But I’ll still urge you to start by getting a couple of digital marketing certificates.
Why? Because it’s a strong signal – to a potential employer or your first freelance client – that you’re serious about marketing. It shows you’re really trying to learn about marketing.
There are a lot of fancy certifications out there – some of them cost a fortune and a lot of them are useless. I’d rather point you to a bunch of fundamental certifications by top companies that will only cost you an investment of your time:
- Google’s Digital Garage
- Google’s Academy for Ads
- Google’s Analytics Academy
- Facebook Blueprint
- HubSpot Academy
- CopyHackers’ Conversion Copywriting 101
If you want to build on top of these, get to Udemy’s Marketing courses. There’s huge variety and you can drive deeper into the topics that interest you the most.
When you get your certifications, show them off with pride! Put them on your resume, post them on your LinkedIn profile, share your success with your friends. It will not only help you seem more professional – it will make you feel like a winner which is an important motivation booster.
Step 2: Get reading
Once you learn the basics, you need to continue learning. Over the last 12 years in marketing I’ve spent at least 4 hours every week going through blogs, webinars, articles, and podcasts about the latest marketing trends. Digital marketing is an incredibly dynamic field and if you’re not learning, you fall behind quickly.
What I can recommend is a bunch of books to begin with. But since books get outdated before the ink they’re printed with gets to dry, your real secret weapon are blogs and podcasts. Here’s a shortlist of the blogs I can recommend in earnest:
- Content Marketing: Content Marketing Institute, CopyHackers, Orbit Media Studios;
- Social Media: BuzzSumo, Social Media Examiner, Jon Loomer, Buffer;
- Advertising: AdEspresso, KlientBoost, WordStream;
- SEO: Ahrefs, Backlinko;
- CRO: Unbounce, ConversionXL, GetUplift;
- Growth Marketing: Andrew Chen, Sujan Patel, Casey Winters, First Round Review.
You will gradually find ones you like and start getting back to them on a regular basis. I actually am subscribed to 100 professional blogs that I’ve grown to know and love over the years.
A content reading tool will be instrumental to keep you updated – and sane! Going to 100 sites each week to find the new posts isn’t a job I’d recommend to anyone. You check out Inoreader – my fave content reader.
While you’re getting acquainted with the digital marketing blogosphere, you can use the wisdom of the marketing crowd with Zest. It’s a curated list of articles approved by real humans and upvoted by the marketing community.
Step 3: Get doing
Reading is all good, but in order to really learn, you have to start implementing things in practice.
I know what you’re thinking. “But I still don’t have a marketing job, remember? How can I possibly test things?” Well, find or build something on your own!
Start a side project
The quickest thing you can do is start something on your own. Grow an Instagram account, start a blog, create a podcast on WWII tank models. Just use your passion and create a marketing project out of it.
Even though you might not recognize it, these things qualify as marketing experience in the eyes of a recruiter just as much as a formal job would.
You see, the one thing marketing is all about is getting a project from zero to traction and then expanding on top of it. If you can demonstrate you’re able to do that on a side project with no budgets, that’s already a strong proof that you’ll be a good fit for an actual paid project.
Maybe a friend of yours is just starting a home made pastry shop. Maybe the dog rescue shelter needs to do a better job at their social media presence. Or maybe your university needs to promote their post-grad positions for the new term.
There are tons of projects in dire need of a marketer’s helping hand. For them your dedication will mean a ton and you will have a “test subject” to work with. This is what I call a win-win situation.
Step 4: Get networking
You already know the marketing speak and you have a marketing project worth talking about. Now you need to find someone to talk to. Here comes the power of networking.
First things first: getting good at networking is a skill you can learn. This comes from a person with lifelong aversion from large groups of people I don’t know. Don’t take my word for it – New York Times and HBR agree.
Now that we have the main concern out of the way, let’s dive deeper. The aim of networking at this point is not to find a job. It’s to get to know the marketing professionals.
- Curious to meet the local community? Meetup will be a good place to start and looking for events on Facebook will also work.
- More interested in going virtual? Then there’s lots of options. Facebook groups – BAMF is a great one. Reddit subreddits. A dedicated board like GrowthHackers. Or a Slack community like Online Geniuses.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough: this is not about going all pleady and giving your resume to every person in sight. Engage in the conversation, try to learn something new and don’t be shy about sharing your unique point of view. But of course, keep an eye out for open marketing positions.
Step 5: Get sharing
To be frank, I added this step largely to reiterate the last point in the previous paragraph. In my experience, most marketers new to the field are extra shy to share their ideas. This is usually due to one of three reasons:
- The “I know nothing” mindset. A quick look on typical topics in marketing discussion boards will show you that there are a lot of divergent opinions. Adding yours might show what an unburdened mind can do when presented with a novel problem.
- The “they will steal my idea” mindset. Honey, no one’s out there hunting for your idea. It’s because ideas are dirt cheap – execution is what really matters. So sharing your idea and getting the marketing community to build on top of it might actually help you speed up execution.
- The “best kept secret” mindset. You found a new growth hack that works? Now, it’s best to share it. Growth hacks have a really short half-life. If it works, someone else will also find it, exploit the hell out of it and kill it. Andrew Chen said it better. So it’s best to share what you found and build some reputation. Not to mention good Karma.
All this is to say – don’t hog knowledge, ideas, opinions for yourself. Share them and reap the benefits of participating in the conversation.
Spoiler alert: There’s nothing easy about getting in marketing
I lied. I’m sorry. But you wouldn’t have read the piece otherwise, right?
Doing everything I mentioned here isn’t easy – it requires dedication and effort. But if you want to be good at marketing, you need to do the work. I can’t promise you it will be easy. But I can promise you it’s a lot of fun!
The most difficult thing is not getting a first job in marketing, though. It’s moving forward and being deliberate about your marketing career. So my advice is to first try doing a bit of everything and then spending some time to do proper marketing career planning. Let me know how it goes for you!