As we conclude the official financial year, your average Australian worker is often starting to plan how they can put their upcoming tax return to use.
This time of year can help ease some financial stresses with a much-deserved rebate.
For myself, however, it’s a time to reflect on a modest mistake I’ve made. One that carries a financial burden at this particular time of year.
What am I referring to?
My decision to attend University.
I’m a 23-year-old digital marketer who until recently, has always worked a full-time role.
With a genuine passion for the industry, I also choose to work as a digital marketing contractor in my spare time.
As all Australians, I pay my fair share of taxes, as well as a HELP debt throughout my week-to-week pay cheque.
It’s only when I review my group certificates – summarising how much I pay in tax and HELP – that I have a feeling of remorse.
Having studied a basic bachelor of business & marketing at university, my HELP debt originally sat over $30k.
What’s disappointing, is that my degree has presented me with little to no value throughout my career.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping me from making voluntary payments to my HELP.
I instead, however, wanted the opportunity to reflect on my decision to attend university.
I’d like to share my personal experiences with anyone interested in entering the digital marketing landscape – a journey that can be streamlined through online learning.
When I graduated high-school in 2012, I was told that I had two options – undertake an apprenticeship, or enrol in University.
Growing up, I was always assured that University was the only path to enter the professional working industry.
As I started uni in 2013, I studied internally throughout my intro year.
Living in a regional town at the time, I was later forced to study externally throughout my final 2 years.
Each week, I was given powerpoint slides to revise.
The content touched base on the 4 P’s, what a target audience was, and how important TV and radio was a marketing channel.
To be frank, this information was obsolete, or it was content that could easily be sourced through a basic Google search.
Graduating was a proud moment, but after spending 3 years studying, I’d acquired no practical skills across any digital topic.
As I now reflect on my decision to attend university, I often wonder how my career would differ if I’d instead allocated funds to online learning, creating content, and sourcing job opportunities that allowed me to develop real skills.
Now, I strongly believe that across most industries like nursing, accounting and law, university is a critical component to acquire relevant training.
But if I’m to be transparent, I genuinely believe that digital marketing doesn’t require a university degree.
The work itself isn’t rocket science, and I believe that most people can obtain relevant skills given the right resources and guidance.
On top of this, the digital industry is one that evolves at such a rapid pace. Universities struggle to adapt, often being years behind relevant trends and practices.
It’s in recent years that online courses have become more ubiquitous through platforms like Coursera, Udacity and Udamey.
These platforms are a cost-effective way to learn up-to-date, relevant, and practical skills at your own pace.
So if you’re a current student interested in studying digital marketing, what is the best strategy to approach the beginning of your career?
I wanted to take the time to develop a summary of the career path I wished I’d pursued throughout my 3-year duration at university.
I’m not suggesting that this is the best or only path, but is instead the alternative approach I would personally take if I had my time again.
Secure A Part-Time Job
To make ends meet and support your online learning, you’ll need a stream of income that’s flexible around your schedule.
This doesn’t particularly need to be a digital marketing role. If possible, try and find a role that relates to the digital industry e.g. a sales or customer service role at an Apple store.
If you have the opportunity to work in a digital marketing role, even better.
Start Learning Some Skills
Begin taking advantage of the plethora of free digital marketing content available online. Some free courses I’d recommend prioritising include;
The Fundamentals of Digital Marketing series by Google covers some great insights across key areas like;
- The importance of a website and tools to build one
- Basic UX advice for building a website
- An insight into the functions of a search engine
- The difference between organic and paid search
- The fundamentals of SEO and basic practices – including keyword research and optimising your website
- An introduction to paid search – familiarising yourself with Google ad tools and best practices.
- Introduction into social media – including both organic and paid strategies
- Content marketing – including written, audio and video content
- Email marketing
- The importance of data-driven digital marketing and how to use tools like Google Analytics
- An introduction into e-commerce and how to optimise a store for conversions
The fundamentals course is not only an up-to-date resource of industry best practices, but will also provide you with a certified accreditation.
Google online resources are a great way to become familiar with the suite of Google tools you’ll be using as a digital marketer.
This allows you to develop real-world experience, streamlining the transition into the industry. I’d also recommend completing all of the additional Google Garage digital marketing courses, and even some of the data and tech courses that are of your interests.
Similar to Google, Facebook also offers a myriad of valuable online courses to train your practical skills across its suite of products.
These courses will provide you with a deeper understanding for using social media as a strategic platform – both organically and paid.
Facebook’s Blueprint courses cover practical guidance on how to navigate it’s business manager tools for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.
Once you’ve completed the free first-party courses, it could also be effective to continue learning from third-party providers.
These courses offer tremendous value as they’re hosted by industry professionals, giving you access to real-world insights and experiences.
Some of these courses could include:
Udacity’s digital marketing nano degree.
Coursera’s digital marketing capstone.
Understand Industry Lexicons
It won’t be long before you find yourself bombarded with terms and phrases used within the digital landscape.
These can include anything from acronyms like SEO, PPC, SEM, or even terms like organic, native, pixel, retargeting, and programmatic.
Understanding these industry lexicons will allow you to clearly interpret the training you undertake, or even the conversations you may have with others.
I’d recommend documenting a list of these terms and adding your own annotations to clarify explanations.
There’s existing lists available here and here to familiarise yourself.
Start Building Your Audience
It’s not only important to learn new skills, but also to create content sharing your journey.
Throughout the process, you’ll develop real digital marketing skills and build your own audience.
As a digital marketer, it’s essential to know how to market yourself.
I’d recommend starting by creating a presence for yourself on LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other digital communities.
These platforms will allow you to engage with the industry and develop a greater understanding of how it functions.
Don’t be afraid to dive deep into these platforms from the beginning. The easiest way to get started is by putting yourself out there.
You need to consciously make an effort to start engaging with anyone you find of value in the industry. This could be as simple as leaving a comment on their post, or even shooting them a message.
It’s also important to develop your own website/blog to host your content.
By using a platform like WordPress, it’ll give you the opportunity to practice new skills.
You can experiment with installing pixels, writing and optimising content, as well as installing plugins.
Once you’ve created a platform to distribute content, it’s important to start publishing.
To get started, I’d recommend publishing a summary of what you’ve learnt throughout each week of your journey.
This is a great way to get yourself familiar with writing, publishing, and distributing content.
If the idea of publishing content is enough to make you nervous, it’s important to remember that you just need to start.
Your initial content certainly won’t be perfect, but the only way to develop your content marketing skills is to continually practice.
Read Relevant Content
As the digital industry evolves at such a rapid pace, it’s important to submerge yourself within the landscape.
On top of your online courses, I’d also suggest reading relevant industry news each day.
This will allow you to remain on the cusp of the latest digital trends.
I’ve recently published an article here covering some valuable resources to read.
At the end of your first year, you should have a general understanding of digital marketing and how to navigate the various tools required.
By documenting your learnings, you should also have a valuable repository of the skills you now possess. You may have even amassed a modest audience.
Revising Your Skills
Once you’re familiar with the fundamentals of digital marketing, you can start to take a deeper dive into some more complex practices and strategies.
These can include anything from creating different styles of custom audiences in paid ad platforms, to understanding how to implement and measure conversion tracking.
As you become familiar with particular tools, you’ll find it more intuitive to understand these advanced practices.
Throughout this year, I’d aim to become familiar with:
- UTM tracking
- Conducting A/B tests
- Conversion-rate optimisation
- Creating & optimising custom audiences
- How to best utilise different ad formats across different platforms
- Making data driven-driven decisions
- Creating different forms of engaging content
- Marking up content using Search Console
- Monitoring the performance of SEO optimisations
- Retargeting best practices
To understand these key areas, you can continue utilising additional online resources as learning content.
Create Your Own Experience
As your digital marketing knowledge broadens, I’d recommend allocating some resources to create your own real-world experience.
By creating a brand of your own – whether it be fictional or real – you can start experimenting with your own strategies.
As an example, you could create a drop shipping store, a fictional SaaS product, or even a local business.
You could even develop a fictional digital marketing strategy for a brand of interest.
Using free tools, you can create product landing pages, then allocate a small amount to paid ads.
This will allow you to experiment with different forms of content marketing, paid strategies, and will even give you some real performance insights to analyse.
Find An Industry Role
With a handful of practical skills, you should now be confident to make the transition into an industry role.
I’d recommend starting in a part-time position, giving you the freedom to still learn and create outside of hours.
By this point, you should have a repository of content you’ve created over the past year. This content should showcase the competencies you have, your willingness to learn, and your passion for the industry.
This content can be used as a practical version of your resume.
When it comes to sourcing a role, forget searching on traditional sites like SEEK or Indeed. You should instead take a more authentic approach.
Take the time to research a list of companies working in an industry of your interest.
Write down what you entices you about the companies, and what value you can add to their organisation.
Take the time to connect with the founders or employees on LinkedIn, then let them follow your journey.
When the time’s right, send a personal email to each company. Explain your story and the opportunity you’re seeking.
This will allow you to uncover opportunities that may not be publicly advertised. I’ve written about this in more detail here.
Attend Networking Events
Events are not only a great way to learn new content, but are also a valuable opportunity to build real-world relationships that can lead to opportunities.
Most networking events are free or have a small cost.
After an event, I’d also recommend creating a piece of content, summarising your takeaways from each experience.
By publishing this content, it will allow your network to see how engaged you are in the industry.
By the end of this year, your main priority should be to embed yourself within the industry – both working for an organisation, and personally within your network.
At this point in your career, you should have an understanding of the most effective ways to continue learning relevant skills.
You’ll be well and truly qualified to move into a full-time role – provided that’s something you personally want.
Refine Your Skills
As you move into the industry, you should consider focusing on a particular facet of digital marketing to specialise in.
From your past 2 years of experience, you’ll often gravitate to a particular area of interest – whether it be SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with remaining as a generalist, but choosing a particular field will allow you to refine the skills you enjoy the most.
Sharing Your Experience
As you become more confident as a digital marketer, it’s important to continue adding value within the industry through your experiences.
By offering advice to others in the early stages of their journey, it will allow you to share your experience and refine your knowledge.
Being able to teach others is also a great way to build thought leadership.
Explore Other Avenues
As a digital marketer, your role will continually evolve as technology scales.
Digital marketing is constantly influenced by data and user experiences. You should explore new opportunities to learn relevant skills across these areas.
Looking back, this is the career path I wish I’d followed after school.
After completing 3 years of university, it’s taken me an additional 3 years to reach this point.
University certainly has its place in showing persistence, as well as giving students the opportunity to network with professors.
I’m confident, however, that this alternative approach would have put me in a far better position.
Did you attend university?
What was your experience. Given the chance, would you have changed the path you’d taken into the industry?
I’d love to know your thoughts. Tweet me @lachlankirkwood or shoot me a DM on LinkedIn.
I’m a twenty-three-year-old Digital Marketing & Conversions Specialist based in Brisbane, Australia. With a passion for all things digital and tech, I aim to connect and learn from as many like-minded digital enthusiasts as possible. If you have a passion for emerging technologies and digital practices, I’d love to connect and hear your story.