29 July 15 -

8 practical ways to advance your career in digital marketing.

If you’re just starting out in digital marketing, you’ve got a crazy ride ahead of you. The industry moves quickly, and it can seem daunting at first. But don’t fear, there are ways to get ahead.

I didn’t study marketing at university. Nobody taught me things like branding, market research, or the “4P’s”. I started out in digital marketing when I was 26, five years after finishing university. I knew that if I wanted to advance my career, I had some catching up to do.

So, what did I do? Let me share.

8 ways to advance your career.

1. Add ‘reading’ to your morning routine

In my seven years as a digital marketer, I’ve experienced a serious amount of change. But there’s one thing that has stayed almost entirely constant – my morning routine. I always get to work early, and spend the first 30-60 minutes of the day reading.

In a constantly changing industry, it is important to stay up to date. Luckily, our industry is full of people sharing their experience, data, research and opinions online, so there’s no shortage of content.

That said, it can be hard to know where to start, and even harder to stay organised. When you find blogs that you like, add them to a feed reader such as Feedly, so the content comes to you. If you come across any articles during the day and you don’t have time to read them, add them to your Pocket. And try subscribing regular content digests (like our own Super8) where someone else curates interesting content, saving you time.

Here are a few good sites to get you started:

One important note: There’s a lot of great advice out there, but a lot of questionable advice, too. Don’t believe everything you read online.

2. Listen to podcasts during your commute

Most people will spend a portion of their day travelling or commuting to and from work. If you use public transport, you could use that time to read. But for those who drive, reading and driving is probably not advisable!

As someone who drives to work, I quickly discovered that my travel time is ‘dead time’. I got sick of listening to the radio, bored of my music collection, and wanted to use this time more effectively.

So, I started listening to podcasts.

My daily commute takes about 40 minutes in each direction. Listening to podcasts gives me an additional 1 hour and 20 minutes of learning time per day. Time I did not have previously! And they’re free.

To get podcasts, simply head over to iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud. I’ve also used Marketing Podcasts before to research and discover new shows.

3. Develop a polished digital presence

In most industries (but specifically digital marketing), any recruiter worth their salt will spend time researching potential candidates online. First and foremost, they will check your LinkedIn profile, but many go further than that. They may check to see whether you are active on Twitter, whether you have a personal website or blog, or even whether your Facebook profile photo looks respectable (or if it is a photo of you downing Jäger-bombs).

You don’t make a first impression when you walk in the room for an interview. Your first impression happens long before that.

Work on developing a polished, executive digital presence. Ensure your photos and updates on social media represent how you want to be perceived in real life. At an absolute minimum, write a decent bio on LinkedIn, and explain why you are different.

4. Work on becoming ‘T-shaped’

Throughout your career, you’ll probably hear advice like, “the key to career success is to become a specialist” and, conversely, “the key to career success is to diversify”.

Neither of those statements are wrong, but neither are entirely right, either. To be successful, you need both – specialisation and diversification.

Some people refer to this as being ‘T-shaped‘. A T-shaped employee has deep specialisation in one (or a few) disciplines, but also has a breadth of knowledge across many other fields in the organisation / industry.

Take a front-end developer as an example:

the-T-shaped-frontend-developer_v3

For a front-end developer to be successful, they don’t just need deep specialisation in front-end development. They also need a basic understanding of topics surrounding front-end development, such as analytics, SEO, systems development, user experience design and more.

As digital marketing becomes more and more holistic and integrated, it has never been more important to add breadth to your skill set. But specialists are in demand and you don’t want to be seen as too much of a generalist. Work on becoming T-shaped and you’ll have a huge advantage over your peers.

To add breadth to your skill set, here are some practical tips to get your started:

  • Sit in on team meetings within other departments.
  • Better still, ask your manager if you can spend an hour or two per week actually working in another department.
  • Consume content (articles, podcasts, video etc.) on topics outside your current skill set.
  • Go to meetups and events on topics outside you current skill set.

5. Study for free using online courses

You don’t have to pay mega bucks for education. In fact, you can educate yourself on a wide range of topics for absolutely no cost at all.

Sites like Coursera, and Udacity provide free courses across various topics. Paid sites like Udemy offer many of their basic courses at no cost. And if you want to learn to code, you could try something like Code Academy.

In the previous point we talked about becoming ‘T-shaped’. Free online courses give you a simple and effective way of developing breadth in your knowledge.

If you want a really easy way to compare courses across different websites like Coursera and Udacity, there’s a tool called Slide Rule. Search by keyword, subject, provider, price, difficulty level and more.

6. Learn how to analyse data

While there’s plenty of courses to choose from, regardless of your chosen path in digital marketing, there’s one thing you should absolutely spend time learning (at least at a basic level). That’s analytics.

Regardless of whether you are a designer, developer, social media specialist, search marketer, PPC specialist… everything you do as a digital marketer is underpinned by analytics.

If you want to rapidly advance your career, it is important to understand how to collect and analyse data, and to draw insights and recommendations from that data. In other words, work out how you’re performing, and how to make it better.

You don’t have to be an expert in data science, statistical analysis and predictive modelling. But you should learn the fundamentals. Google’s Essential AdWords courses and Analytics Academy are a great place to start, and you can also earn certifications that can be added to your resume.

7. Seek regular feedback

There’s two obvious (but important) reasons to seek feedback.

Reason 1. As a junior digital marketer, not only is your knowledge limited, you may also struggle to see the gaps. When you seek feedback from someone experienced, not only will they help to expand your knowledge, they’ll also help to bring your attention to limitations that you may not have previously noticed.

Reason 2. If you’ve ever heard your voice on a recording, or watched yourself on a video, you’ll probably have felt it was a bit alien. The way you see yourself is often different to the way others see you. The best way of learning how others see you is to simply ask for feedback.

Try asking your manager if you can go for a ‘walk and talk’. For some reason, I find the informal nature of a walk and talk to lead to more open and honest communication. Also, remember that feedback doesn’t always have to come from your direct manager. Ask a manager in another department, someone who used to work in your role, or even one of your peers.

With any feedback, remember to be open and willing to accept whatever you hear. Feedback may come across as negative. If it does, don’t jump on the defensive. Remember why you are asking for feedback in the first place, thank that person for being honest, and use this new information as fuel to accelerate your personal growth.

8. Share your knowledge with others

I’ve left this one to last for a reason. Almost all the other tips in this article have been about gathering more knowledge. Reading, listening to podcasts, online courses, feedback… they’re all extremely important.

But if you want to really accelerate your career, start sharing your knowledge with others.

Sharing your knowledge has many benefits, including:

  • It helps fill gaps in your own knowledge.
  • It helps build connections with people.
  • It helps builds your profile as a leader.
  • It helps create your legacy; something for people to remember you by.

There are many different ways to share your knowledge, and the format you choose will depend largely on your personality. While it’s important to push outside your comfort zone, you also want to play to your strengths.

Are you a good writer? Start a blog. Are you good in front of a camera? Start a YouTube channel. When you speak, do people listen intently? Run some training workshops. You get the point.

If you think about it, all those articles, podcasts and online courses are going to help build up your knowledge pretty quickly. Many of your peers won’t have that knowledge. Pass it on.

***

If you’re just starting out in digital, I’d love to hear what you think about the above tips. And if you’re an experienced marketer, please share your thoughts and let other readers know what else they can try!