How To Succeed In An Online Marketing Career

Five things I learned on my way to a successful online marketing career

To me, career success is enjoying what I do and getting paid well to do it. Prior to my current occupation in online marketing, I had several jobs that I didn’t want to return to on Monday morning.

Some were worse than others. When I was selling at Dell, there were days when I wanted to walk to my car and not come back. Some jobs were better than others like teaching middle school kids at a Christian School. That was fun, but it didn’t pay a single-income family’s bills.

Since moving into online marketing, I finally have a job I love. I own two successful websites, I work less than I’ve ever worked, and I can work wherever there’s an internet connection and phone. Plus, I’m getting paid better than ever. To me, that’s a successful career.

Before I broke into the business, I contacted some people who worked online to ask them how they did it. A couple of generous souls replied. Trace Shelton, a writer and high-school friend, and Lisa Packer, an online copywriter both helped direct my new online career. In my attempt to pay it forward, this post is my response to anyone who would ask me how to succeed in an online marketing career.

1) Assess Your Skills

Before launching into a new career, it helps to know if you’re cut out for it. I took career assessment test before I got my first full-time job in online marketing. The test results showed potential careers that aligned with my skill-set. Marketing consulting was one of those careers. It’s probably good to invest in a professional career assessment before jumping into online marketing. The test I used was less than a $100.

In addition, there were two skills that I have found helpful in online marketing. First, copywriting helps to frame what an offer is, what a market is, and how to connect an offer to a market. This was revolutionary stuff to a non-business major in college. Second, a head for math was helpful. There’s not a lot of complicated math in online marketing, but Excel acumen and basic business math have both contributed to my success. If you don’t like math – at least a little – online marketing may not be the best place for you.

2) Get a Job in Online Marketing

One of the best things you can do when you’re trying to learn online marketing is to get a job doing it, preferably in a marketing agency. The reason: you need to log a lot of hours to get good at something.

Michael Masterson, a direct response marketing genius, says you need 1,000 hours to be competent at anything. I think he’s right. How better to get a lot of hours doing something than to get a job doing it? Just think, if you work 40 hours a week in online marketing, you can hit 1,000 hours in 25 weeks, or about 6 months. Do something for two or three years and you get that much better.

Others may tell you to get a mentor. That’s great if you can afford it or if you know a successful person willing to help you for free. But getting a job doing it is still a better way to go. You’ll get the mentoring from more experienced people like managers and you’ll get the hands-on experience that isn’t learned any other way. Not to mention all the connections you make by working with people. I’m not great on networking, but I’ve picked up some extra work just from my connections at work.

3) Build A Website or Two

In 2006, I built my first website on a proprietary CMS. Before starting that project, I didn’t know a lick of HTML. It was hard. I had dropped my only computer programming class in college so that’s gives you an idea on how much I knew about web development. Undeterred by my lack of success, I pressed on. Not to mention, my then-boss tasked me out for the job and I wanted to keep my job. Using online tutorials, asking colleagues at work when I got stuck, and googling countless questions, I built a website. It didn’t look pretty, but it worked.

That was a huge turning point for me. That proved I could do this online marketing thing. When I saved some capital, I hired a WordPress developer, Randa Clay, to build my first affiliate website. I mocked it up using Microsoft Publisher and she made it look better than I ever could. But my first experience building a website made all the difference in project managing that site and every site since then.

4) Show Up and Add Value

Woody Allen once said, ‘80% of life is showing up’. If you’re working a job in online marketing, just keep doing the same thing, every day, and things start happening. How many people call in sick when they’re not sick? How many people quit? A lot. If you keep showing up, you beat out all those non-persistent employees and you’ll win. Maybe not all of the time, but most of the time.

If Woody Allen was right about the 80%, what about that other 20%? I think that part is adding value. Doing your job will keep you employed. That’s a good thing. But adding value will get you noticed.

That’s what happened to me. I worked in three separate jobs in online marketing before I broke out on my own. Most days at work weren’t earth-shattering. I wrote articles, crafted ads, dissected web analytics data, and talked to clients – nothing special. But doing it every day, for months on end built me a reputation for consistency. People started trusting me. The adding value part is doing a good job. I didn’t just show up, I helped people. I told people what I was going to do, I did it, and then told them I did it. It’s pretty simple.

5) Learn Sales and Serving

I had 3 different sales jobs prior to online marketing. Selling is hard for me. I’m not a type-A, typical sales person. But my sales education was invaluable. I learned about rejection. I learned the law of large numbers as in the more prospects you ask, the greater your chance at a sale. My sales experience helped me land two online marketing jobs in a competitive market. Sales helped me land clients when the clients were shopping around. Sales helped me break in and grow in online marketing.

But serving employers and clients kept me employed in online marketing. Adopting the attitude of a servant has been extremely helpful in this business. Bad-mouthing clients when they ask for something unreasonable is the wrong approach. Instead I found ways to help those same people succeed. Sure, some employers and clients are unreasonable. But they pay the bills. Maybe they have a valid perspective that I haven’t considered before. My servant’s attitude, even though it’s an imperfect attitude, has been instrumental to my online marketing success.