How to Start a Career in Digital Marketing (Step-by-Step)

Digital marketing is one of the fastest-growing industries and even during times of uncertainty, jobs in advertising and marketing continued to grow. So today, I'm going to show you how to start a career in digital marketing and grow both your knowledge and salary. Stay tuned.

[music] I've been in digital marketing since 2009. And throughout my 11 years, I've built and sold my own sites, freelanced, ran an agency, consulted, and today, I have the privilege of being an employee at Ahrefs. Now, I actually have a degree in health science, some certifications in investments and insurance, but my knowledge in digital marketing comes from the school of hard knocks. Part of the reason is because I'm stubborn, but it's mainly because in 2009, there really wasn't any good material online or in schools that would give you practical guidance and advice.

So I want to walk you through the stages that you might go through in your path to become a professional digital marketer. Alright, so the first thing you'll want to do is to create your own website or blog. Creating your own website gives you your own testing grounds. It lets you get practical experience with marketing strategies without worrying about hurting someone else's site.

Just choose a niche that you're interested in and create a site using WordPress. And there are literally thousands of tutorials out there to help you get started. Now, don't bother overthinking things like what your logo should be or how you'll make money from it. These things can come later.

And if you're completely stuck, then create a site that's built around your name. The important part is that you invest a bit of money into your own website because you're less likely to give up without giving it a fair shot. Now, once you've gotten your site setup, I highly recommend focusing on just one area of digital marketing. Let's go through the pros and cons of a couple popular online marketing strategies.

First up are online ads. And these are great to get immediate traffic to your site. But I wouldn't recommend trying these until you've gotten some experience under your belt. Reason being, you're more likely to burn through money before you make it.

Second is social media marketing. And this is great if you already have a large following, but if you're just starting out that probably won't be the case. In my opinion, this is something to consider further down the road once you've built a steady stream of traffic and an audience who cares about your work. And third is SEO, which stands for search engine optimization.

The great thing about SEO traffic is that once you're ranking, you'll be getting free, passive, and consistent traffic from search engines like Google. Meaning, you'll be consistently reaching new audiences and experience compounded traffic. Now, the downside is that it works a lot slower than advertising and social media. But if long term growth is what you're after, then in my completely biased opinion, SEO is the strategy that I'd recommend starting with because the skills you'll learn are transferable to many other facets of online marketing.

Alright, so the next thing you need to do is spend some time learning about the area of internet marketing you want to pursue. The best place to start is by reading or watching a beginner's guide on the topic from a reputable person or company. And we have a lot of tutorials for beginners on both our YouTube channel and blog. Beginner's guides will help you get a general overview of the marketing method and also act as a "hub" for subtopics to research after.

For example, in our SEO for beginners video, I talk about how SEO works, then go on to talk about things like keyword research, on- page SEO, link building, and technical SEO. And while much of the content is basic, you can use those as pivot points to go and research those subtopics in further detail. Alright, the next and most important part is to actually execute on the things you learn. Consuming too much content can and will lead to analysis paralysis; where you end up over-analyzing things and end up getting nothing done.

So don't bother reading about super-technical things like crawl budget or wasting your time on split-testing, when you don't even have a meaningful amount of traffic. Instead, focus on mastering the fundamentals. So for SEO, that would be things like keyword research, content creation, and link building. These three things alone will move the needle more than spending hours worrying if you should use category pages for your blog.

Lastly, get acquainted with some free digital marketing tools. If you're just starting out, I'm sure it'll be tough to pay for premium marketing tools. But there are some free ones that I highly recommend getting acquainted with because a) they're awesome, and b) you'll need to get familiar with them as you progress in your career. The first is Google Analytics, which is a web analytics platform that shows you things like the number of people visiting your site, which pages they go to, how long they stay, and hundreds of other actionable metrics.

The second is Google Search Console, which allows you to see how your website is performing in Google search. You can see which pages are indexed in Google, the keywords your site ranks for, and the websites that link to you. The third is Ahrefs' Webmaster Tools. This is similar to Google Search Console since we show your site's backlinks and keyword rankings, but you also get access to a website audit tool which will scan your website for common and often easily fixable issues that can be hurting your site's performance.

The fourth is ConvertKit, which is an email marketing tool. Their free plan lets you manage up to 1, 000 subscribers and is super easy to use. I strongly recommend building an email list right from the start. Think about it like this: if you're not giving visitors an option to subscribe, then you could be missing out on opportunities to grow an audience who wants to get updates from you.

Now, whether you're a student or you're in another job, starting your own site is something you can do on the side. It's going to give you exposure to digital marketing and it's going to prepare you for the next stage, which is to get a job or internship at a digital marketing agency. Getting a job today is different than it was 10 years ago. Before you had to have a degree in marketing, business, or whatever in order to even qualify.

But from my experience, tons of digital marketing agencies are more interested in hiring creative people who have produced results. Working at an agency is a great way to learn digital marketing fast because you'll have the opportunity to work with people who are ahead of you in your career. It's also a place you can find mentors and you'll also get a ton of hands-on experience working on various types of client sites. Work your way up to a more senior position, learn from people in your company, and if your goal is to become independent, then learn how agencies and businesses are run.

And this will happen naturally as you speak with clients as well as senior-level management. Now, it's important to note that you shouldn't necessarily give up on your other sites. A lot of good companies will actually encourage you to spend time on your side projects to improve your craft. These are usually the types of people you want to work for because they'll challenge you to become masters of your work.

Alright, next up is to consider freelancing. Freelancing is a great way to get more hands -on experience while increasing your income. And if by now, you're 3+ years into your digital marketing career, then there's a good chance you already have some freelance work lined up for you. Now, the two great things about freelancing after you've gotten a job are a) You'll have more experience to do good work for clients, and b) you'll still have a steady salary to pay the bills.

Now, if you aren't getting referrals or inbound requests for work, then you can sign up for general sites like Upwork or People Per Hour, and apply for jobs where you think you can do a great job. And these jobs will help you build up your personal portfolio. Now, if you've chosen something more specialized like copywriting or blogging, then I'd spend time picking up side gigs at Problogger Jobs or other places that attract a specific audience. After you've built up a portfolio and somewhat of a positive reputation in your industry, you can consider going full-time into consulting.

And the keyword here is "consider. " There's nothing wrong with staying in your job, working your way up and retiring. Not everyone is meant to be a consultant and to be frank, not everyone should be. But for those who have really mastered their craft and want to maximize their earnings potential, they'll generally go on to do one of two things.

#1. They'll start their own agency. And this requires hiring a team and usually involves doing both the strategy and execution. Now, one of the great things about agency work is that you can work with a lot of clients at the same time, since you'll have teams to manage client accounts.

You're also able to provide more services since your team will likely be diversified. And being a one-stop shop allows you to maximize your earnings potential on upsells. One downside is that it can be quite costly, since you're dealing with salaries and potentially office space. The second route is to do independent consulting.

From my experience, this has a far better net margin and hourly rates often range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The downside is that you'll usually be limited in the number of clients you can take. Businesses often hire consultants who specialize in an area to solve higher-level business problems. So they might just want strategy.

Or just training, or just execution. And although you may have a smaller team to handle the more systematized parts of your business, clients will be hiring you for your expertise. So naturally, you'll be limited to the number of clients you can take simultaneously. Now, regardless if you go the agency or consulting route, networks will be critical to your success.

And this is why all of the other steps are important to go through. When you create a website, you learn and get practical experience with digital marketing strategies. When you get a job, you learn from those who are ahead of you. When you freelance, you get a feel for what it's like to actually run projects on your own.

And as you're creating your personal brand, this helps in developing your networks as well as authority in your niche. Two other avenues to consider at this stage are to speak at events where your clients might be and to do a push with inbound marketing. Speaking engagements are usually unpaid. But if the room is full of your target audience and you have 30-60 minutes to show off your expertise, then it can be an extremely lucrative trip.

For example, I spoke at a conference with a primary audience of decision makers. And a lot of these people worked at startups with funding. And after my talk was done, I had three people approach me for consulting work. As for inbound marketing, that's what we do at Ahrefs.

We write and produce videos about problems that our target audience might face. And even though we don't have sales pitches in our content, there's no shortage of requests for consultations. So no matter where you are in your career, it's not too late to start in digital marketing. And just like any other career, it takes time to learn and grow.

So if you're new, then I highly recommend watching our beginner's tutorial on the 7 digital marketing strategies that work, choose one to focus on, and then niche down from there. And if you enjoyed this video, then make sure to like, share and subscribe for more actionable SEO and online marketing tutorials. I'll see you in the next one.