I'm going to upset a lot of digital marketers with this post. And that's my intention. Because most of us are polishing our halos a little too much.
The truth is, carving out a successful digital marketing career isn't hard, although many want you to believe so.
There's actually just one thing you always need to know and care about:
Make. More. Money.
If everything you learn and everything you do is guided by the North Star of "make more money", either for yourself or your client, then you'll always be moving in the right direction.
Too many people obsess about impressions, followers and other metrics that don't really matter. They can be guiding lights showing progress, but they're not KPIs.
So now that I've built two separate $1 million + digital marketing agencies (here and here) in less than 3 years and trained over 50 marketers, I feel like I have enough experience to give you the no BS guide to really getting the most out of your digital marketing career.
Let's get to it
It's not about staying up to date
Staying up to date on the "constantly changing" landscape of digital marketing is important, but it's also a bit "over hyped".
Links are still the backbone of SEO, keywords are still the backbone of paid search, and engagement is still the backbone of social. Nothing has changed here, just new opportunities that continue to rise.
The most successful digital marketers I've met, like Sujan Patel or Oli Gardner aren't necessarily number crunchers or data nerds. They're just extremely creative problem solvers.
They have talent.
And the best thing? These guys don't have time to read and learn stuff. They learn by doing and experimenting. That's how they cultivate their talent to become stronger and stronger in their careers.
So don't worry about staying up to date. Worry about doing things to increase your own experience and strengthen your own talent.
As I wrote in our recent agency growth post: stop learning. Start doing. Then learn.
It's not about being a number cruncher
I have a confession to make.
I suck at Excel.
In fact, I never use it. Because I don't need to. And no one on my team needs to.
Digital marketers will tell you that pivot tables and formulas are vital for your success. But vital means "absolutely necessary", so obviously that's not true.
You do have to be good at numbers, but only to the point at which you can answer the question: "does this makes money?"
If what you need to do in Excel is the fastest route to making more money for yourself or your client, then learn it and do it. Otherwise, focus your energy on the things that move the needle the most.
It's not always about data
As a Pay-Per-Click expert, I get spoiled by having a lot of data.
But data isn't everything, and PPC marketing isn't always about direct response.
You can drive both direct conversions and help build your brand at the same time with your PPC ads, and other types of marketing too!
You'll eventually need to have traffic landing on a site or landing page where design, aesthetics and user experience are part of your success equation.
If you're a data nerd with no creativity, then you sell yourself short in a huge way.
Depending on the industry or vertical that you operate in, I guarantee you that many of your competitors are not strong when it comes to design or the visual execution of their ads or landing pages.
There are small micro-improvements you can always make to have your SEO tied to user experience improvements, SEO tied to higher engagements rates, and PPC tied to brand building.
Brand equity is real and you can use all digital marketing channels to make more money, and build your brand at the same time.
It's not about knowing how to code or develop
Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent, recently wrote a post that I couldn't disagree more with. It was titled 11 Must-Have Tech Skills For Every Digital Marketer
One of his points was being able to write a blog post in code view.
Is there more value in becoming a jack of all trades, or doubling down on the strengths you already have?
Doubling down has continued to pay off more for me, again and again. That's why we have designers building out landing pages, where I can spend more time focused on our marketing and sales, not learning how to design in Sketch, Photoshop or Illustrator.
Beyond that point from Ian, there were more points that I disagreed with, and other commenters on his original post that were in line with my thoughts.
You should always feel like you're leveling up your own skills, and not fray from what you want to be good at.
It's not about learning everything, but specializing
Piggybacking off my last point, it's attractive to know a lot of things, but when you do that, you lose the ability to become a thought leader in your field.
You may have simple goals of earning a steady paycheck and maybe you don't care about advancement or have higher goals than that.
But if you do want to become the best at what you're doing, understand that it's the market that decides who's the best.
If your agency does everything underneath the digital marketing umbrella (video, PPC, social, display, SEO, etc.), then look at other agencies who do that and tell me which are currently thought leaders?
There are none.
Anyone who is really good at something has decided to specialize in one field and dominate that.
That's why Michael Jordan is known for basketball, not baseball or golf.
Keep betting on your strengths to make them stronger. Don't be a marketing octopus. Don't dilute.
It's curiosity, problem solving and proactivity...
If you really want to keep a pulse on how you rank within the digital industry, then bear in mind the three soft skills that I always look for in new team members:
2. Problem solving
Curiosity shows that you're always questioning whether one way is the best way of doing something. It opens new opportunities to different ways of executing a certain task that you can do faster or better.
Problem solving ties into curiosity, but with one bigger difference: that you're really good at finding solutions that take you one step closer to where you want to go. Problem solving for me is always tied into progress. If I'm making progress, then I'm succeeding, no matter how slow I'm going.
Proactivity is about always pushing forward. Are you coming with new ideas for your client, the company you work for, or your own company? If you're not showing initiative but become merely reactive, then you're slowly losing.
... that turn into money being made
Now that we’ve spoken about some common misconceptions about what it takes to have a successful digital marketing career, keep in mind that it’s always tied to making money.
If you keep everything that you’re learning about or doing in the lens of increasing revenue, profits, or both, then you’ll always be a successful digital marketer.
Because that’s the ultimate proof that you’re doing something that brings value.
About Jonathan Dane
Jonathan is the proud founder of KlientBoost, a creative digital agency specializing in Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising and super sexy, high converting landing page design and testing. He is also the co-founder and president of Disruptive Advertising, a unique PPC marketing agency that uses talented designers, thorough marketing strategies and enterprise analytics to drive real profitable growth for businesses across the globe.
His passion revolves around analytics and creativity, and his goal is to help businesses of all industries become better at advertising. You can contact Jonathan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.