Before I go into the story about how I got my first online marketing job, I’d like to give a shout out to Skillshare.
Lately, this is one of my most visited website for improving my digital skills. Also, they have a free trial.
I recently received a very flattering LinkedIn-message from a fellow new-coming marketer named Edith. In short, her question to me was this:
“How were you able to get started on practicing online marketing before having any real credentials to show?”
Edith was okay with me answering this question in public, so here are my own personal experiences, along with some practical takeaways that I hope will be useful to any aspiring marketer. Feel free to skip the intro and go straight to the takeaways.
Edith’s message in full:
It’s a very crucial question for anyone starting out in a field like marketing, and I asked myself the exact same thing on multiple occasions as I was starting out. The issue is that experience and trust go hand in hand like some devilish Catch-22: It’s almost impossible to find that first job when you don’t have any experience, and you can’t get that experience without finding that first job.
My name is Frederik Trovatten, and the year I turned 24, I made 900.000 DKK which really pissed me off because it was 100k shy of a million a year.
At that point, I was working for a global multibillion-dollar investment-bank who hired me to run their digital marketing operations in Scandinavia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
But this kind of scenario wasn’t always in the cards for me.
To provide some context please study this document that I was handed on my high-school graduation 4 years earlier:
For those unfamiliar with the Danish grading system the conclusion is this: I came as near as you can to failing high-school — which begs the question: Why would anyone, let alone a reputable bank, hire an uneducated self-proclaimed 23-year-old marketing specialist, who failed C-level high-school-math horribly?
After graduating from High School in 2008 I moved from my hometown to Copenhagen, where my brothers had started to make lives for themselves.
I moved to there without any specific plan about what to do on arrival and I didn’t know if I was going to look for a job or try to get accepted in some sub-standard university.
Anyways… I wasn’t really on the lookout for any immediate career opportunities as my resume was nonexistent. I was just open to anything that could help me pay the rent. Online marketing just happened to be the first thing to pop into my life, and that happened quite at random when my older brother suggested that I could help add products and other small tasks to the family E-commerce store and blog.
My first encounter with Google Adwords
One day, after adding lots of products to the webshop, my brother asked me to pick up a book on this Google Adwords-thing, which he was spending a substantial amount of money on each month.
Back then, I had never heard of SEO, Google Adwords or affiliate marketing. I had no idea about the underlying metrics of Google, the sophistication of the Internet and the beauty (and horrors) of online marketing.
Two months of studying and testing new tricks passed and that’s when I started to see the first patterns of my own — it simultaneously became clear how long a road I had ahead of me and this really got me hooked!
Luckily for me, our Adwords-account had not been performing very well before I started out.
We were not bleeding money, but there was a lot of room for improvement, which was a crucial element to my growth. It meant that I hit a personal flow where I was able to measure the impact of small tweaks into instant improvements in the overall performance — giving my brother a way of justifying my salary.
From family business to an unpaid trial-position
I landed my first unpaid-job through attending a small marketing conference in Copenhagen.
And when I say “attended” that’s actually kind of a stretch. It’s part of the story that I went out the night before and woke disoriented and hungover 3 hours later than I planned to be there and that when I arrived, the speaker on Google Adwords was just leaving the scene.
Good job Frederik…
This was the guy I was there to see.
Fortunately for me, he took 1-on-1 questions after his talk.
I powered up my laptop and stood in line with a few other guys waiting to ask questions.
I asked him if he would take a quick look at the performance on my Adwords-campaign for my mother’s health-care store.
He had a look and to my surprise, he actually thought I had done a pretty decent piece of work.
I then took the liberty to ask him a few more questions:
– What should I do to excel my skills in online marketing? Should I read more books? Attend more conferences? Or just keep doing what I already did?
You can work for me for 30 days — unpaid. I could use your help and you’ll learn how do Adwords like a PRO
I, of course, accepted his offer, and my mother was very supportive and helped me finance the month. Thanks mom!
I was so psyched, and couldn’t believe I would get the chance to peek behind the scenes of a real AdWords expert!
Unfortunately, I got none of that. Nada.
I had to do my work out-of-office. On my own laptop. Without any guidance or mentoring. Or in his words: “You can work anywhere you want! However, you want! How about a nice café or something like that?”
Yup — Awesome…
Needless to say, that collaboration only lasted 30 days. I declined his offer to do more work with him. This meant I had to get back to look for other opportunities. But this time I could add a trainee position as an Adwords-specialist to my other than that non-existing CV.
My search for a real job
I applied for junior positions at three different digital marketing agencies in Copenhagen — one of them, IIH Nordic, said yes to an interview.
After two job interviews at IIH Nordic, I was hired.
It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I was very lucky. I stayed at IIH Nordic for about two years sitting next to an SEO expert who taught me a lot about marketing and more importantly showed me how and where to look for new knowledge.
There’s actually a lot of actionable things you can do, in order to get online marketing experience without a track-record and without any large expenses. Our industry is one of the most connected and outspoken industries there is. Here’s what I would recommend:
#1 Apply for a trainee-position or offer your work for free
You might not have the skills that your dream job require. And even if you have, your employee might not see it that way. So instead of hunting your dream job (and salary) you could offer 14-30 days of free work or apply for a trainee/entry-level position.
Why work for peanuts?
- You’ll learn a lot from your colleagues and make connections with like-minded people
- You’ll get a chance to work with larger and more diverse clients than you would ever be able to land on your own.
- You’ll build a CV in record speed and get a great recommendation if you do well and you’re lucky.
When you apply for the trainee-position, be transparent, pro-active, passionate and determined. Study the company and get an idea of the exact work you can provide them with.
When Jonah Hill auditioned for the role in The Wolf of Wall Street, his agent told him he was at the bottom of a very long list of way more experienced and proven actors than him.
After Jonah read the script for Wolf of Wallstreet and audition he immediately told Leonardo DiCaprio:
No one in the world can play this part but me. If you find another actor to play this part, I’m going to kill them.
I would sell my house and give (Scorsese) all my money to work for him. This isn’t what you do if you want to make money — to do that you do ’22 Jump Street,’ you do other things, to pay your rent. But I would do anything in the world — and I would do it again in a second.
#2 Start a blog
If you don’t have a blog or a website, that would be a great place to start.
Today anyone can create a cool WordPress-site without any technical skills.
Upon creating your blog or website, you’ll naturally face a lot of different challenges like:
- Picking a design
- Selecting which WordPress Plugins you’ll want
- Get familiar with Google Analytics
- Promoting and analyzing your content
If you’re uncertain or nervous about putting your work out there or your writings — great! That feeling is something you should hunt because whenever you feel scared, that’s when you will learn and become that person you want to be. Make or break something all the time — including your reputation, your self-image and others image of you. Ignore fear — especially in the beginning — what are you going to lose?
“What should I write about? I am still learning the basic?”
In the beginning, you might doubt your own capabilities because there are literally thousands of people who know more about the topic you’re covering.
Don’t let that hold you back.
To counter this challenge you can do all sorts of stuff, like inviting experts you admire to answer questions or do an interview with them. You don’t have to know everything about a topic, to cover it.
So even if you’re not an expert yet — find people who are and ask them. A great example and execution of this strategy is Andrew Warner from mixergy.com. Andrew launched Mixergy because he was curious about how successful people actually made it. He invites entrepreneurs and they bring the value which he sells or gives to his audience.
Strategies like these will help you learn, grow connections and build a social CV that in time will be the real value. To you. And maybe to others as well.
Why start a blog?
- It’s basically free.
- You’ll have a place to show off your work/portfolio / CV.
- You’ll scratch the surface of Google Analytics, SEO and Social Media (etc..) upon promoting and analyzing the performance your articles.
- Your new boss might Google your name and find it.
#3 Learn everything and stay hungry
Digital marketing is very much a game of knowledge.
The more you know and the more you can prove, the easier it will be to persuade your boss or clients.
If I had to recommend one website you should visit while drinking your morning coffee it’ll be Inbound.org. It’s the Digg of inbound marketing where everyone can submit posts and the community will up/down-vote.
Guides worth printing and reading again and again …and again:
The beginners guide to SEO by Moz.
The Ultimate Guide to Landing Page Optimization by Oli Gardner.
Podcast worth listening to
Pat Flynn is an affiliate marketeer and his podcast is filled with crazy amount of valuable advice and industry knowledge. His podcasts are about 30-40 minutes and the topics range from affiliate marketing to blogging and doing interviews.
#4 Be social
Engage on forums related to your skills and interest. If you’re into SEO and Inbound Marketing, Moz and Inbound.org might be a great place to engage in conversations.
Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google+ are other platforms worth mentioning. They are great for small-talk, networking and promoting your own stuff. But they will only be a good as the people you are following. Follow smart people. Retweet and comment on interesting posts.
#5 Get experience with advertising
Getting experience in SEO and blogging is fairly cheap because your time is the commodity. Getting experience in Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising is a different ballgame. Here you will have to pay for your experience through views and clicks. I was fortunate to have a family business that I could practice Adwords on, but if you don’t have an opportunity like that, I recommend going into that field a bit later.
You could try to sell other people’s products on your own by studying affiliate-programs and doing your own offers through Facebook and Google, but I wouldn’t recommend this strategy wither — it can easily get very expensive and it’s a difficult field to master to the point that you will actually make any real money.
To sum up I would recommend: Build your own blog/portfolio. Study SEO. Then start out on the whole paid advertising thing.
Last but not least
if you have 40 minutes to spare, please take a listen to Seth Godins talk on about what we as marketers should be aware of now and in the future.
Seth Godin is one of my heroes and biggest influences and having heroes to look up to and identify with has been and still is to me, one of my primary drivers. But watch out when you pick who to follow and who to give your attention to.
This industry is filled with bozos masked as entrepreneurs and they’ll clutter your view and suck out your dreams and believes. You should really try to avoid the self-centered and self-quoting, all-knowing, my-time-is-so-valuable kinda guy. They might have a gazillion followers and fanboys, but keep your eyes on actual proof of their ideas. Have they ever built something of value or is it just great story-telling?
That’ll be it for me for now. Hope this was useful. Thanks to Edith for the question.
Today I still work in digital marketing, but I also starting doing street photography. I bought my camera which is the small but excellent Ricoh GR and the Fujifilm x100f about a month ago and started shooting.