How To Get Into Digital Marketing | Start From Scratch In 2019

In this post I am going to talk about how to become a digital marketer in 2019. At the end of the post I am going to give a quick framework for becoming a digital marketer. Before I get into that, I want to talk about my motivation for getting into digital marketing and why someone would want to get into this field.


I got my start in digital marketing while I was still in the military. Basically I started listening to a ton of different marketing and tech podcasts. I noticed that most companies had issues figuring out their customer acquisition and distribution. I also saw that many individual digital marketers were making a ton of money selling things like information products.

This was around the time the book The Four Hour Work Week came out. I remember reading that book on an airplane flight I was taking when I was about 20. Basically, that book changed my life. From that point on, I knew my future would involve selling information products of some type. My initial motivation to get into digital marketing was the fact that I knew there was a lot of money in it.

My first foray into the world of digital marketing was a bumpy ride. I tried flipping sites, building niche blogs to make money off the ads I was running on the blog, I even tried to design a physical product. This was all based off of information I had read in the Four Hour Work Week along with some of my own independent research.

Like many other first time entrepreneurs, I failed, repeatedly. A few of my worst failures were a drop-shipping store I ran while I was still in college. I ended up flipping that site and selling it off for slightly more than I bought it for. Interestingly enough you can still see that site here.

The next experience I had with internet marketing was slightly more successful. While serving on active duty in the ARMY, I built a series of niche websites that generated Google Adsense revenue from their traffic. At the time, I didn't know that this was one of the worst ways to monitize a site. Regardless, I proceeded to string together one of the worst business models ever conceived. Basically, I would pay freelancers to do keyword research for me so that I could build sites based on those keywords that would rank in Google. I would then hire freelancers to write articles based on those keywords as content for the site. I don't think I was keeping very good track of my expenses at that point as the time and effort I was putting into these sites was barely worth it.

Most of the work I put into those sites was barely

Framework For Learning Digital Marketing

The framework I used to become a digital marketer is based on a concept popularized by Brian Balfour. This concept is called the T shaped marketer. S similar concept is used in a number of fields to describe someone who has deep expertise in one field with more broad based expertise in a number of other fields. In this case, we are focused on the various skills you can have as a customer acquisition expert.

These skills focus on one of three layers, the base knowledge layer, the marketing foundation layer and the channel expertise layer. In each of thee layers there are various skills and disciplines you should master. In general, you want to be familiar with each of the areas in the base knowledge layer. These areas provide the foundational skills you will build on as a marketer. you don't want to have any serious deficiencies in these skills.

The next layer of skills contains that marketing foundation skills. These are skills that all marketers should have. You don't necessarily have to be an expert in any of these, you just need to know a decent amount.

Finally, there are the channel specific skills. These are the actual channels you will be using to get your marketing messages out to customers. You should pick one of thee channels at a time to go deep on. These are the skills that you want to master, at least for a time. It is ok to have more then one channel you are good at, just make sure you always have one that you have a deep knowledge of.

Image Credit: BrianBalfour

Using this framework I started to study and apply the various disciplines of digital marketing. My focus at first was on shoring up my weaknesses in the base knowledge and marketing foundational layers. I then choose to start my customer acquisition journey focused on content. I worked as a content marketer as an early stage employee.

In my first few roles as a content marketer, I worked on content strategy and production. I also helped the companies I worked for with business strategy. Thee roles allowed me to work with product designers, media buyer and product managers. Basically I got an overview of the digital marketing landscape. At this point I ad a pretty good idea of what I should focus on.

How You Can Use This Framework

You should look at the above chart and figure out 2 things. 1) Which basic knowledge and marketing foundational knowledge skills do you lack? 2) Which channel are you going to master. Once you figure those two things out, you can go ahead and create a plan to learn those skills through a combination of self-study, on the job training, mentoring or freelance work.

In my case, I was working as a contractor or freelance digital marketer after I left my first startup job. I realized that I needed to specialize on one channel and I wanted it to be one of the more technical channels. For this reason I choose to focus on paid acquisition and focused on facebook. At the time (mid 2017) Facebook was one of the most popular advertising channels and one that nearly all businesses were using.

While there were a few areas in the base knowledge and foundational marketing knowledge layers I needed to ork on, I wanted to get really good at one skill in each layer of the above chart. To start off with, I really focused on analytics and funnel marketing. Like Facebook, both of these skills wee in high demand, especially in early stage digital products and ecommerce companies.

These three skills, along with a working knowledge of all the other foundational marketing and base knowledge skills served me well as a contractor and consultant. The most important thing about these skills is that they allowed me to meaningfully contribute to many different types of companies. Once I had these skill, they opened the door for me to improve my abilities in all the other skills listed above while working.

Once I had a base of skills I was able to complete personal projects and courses that allowed me to improve my skills in programming (python and JS), DB Querying (SQL and Query Functions), Copywriting, CRO and statistics. In fact, one of the best parts about working in digital marketing as a customer acquisition expert is the wide range of skills and problems you are exposed to.

As a customer acquisition expert, you can choose from a wide range of skills that you want to specialize in. After you develop a foundation of skills and expertise in one channel you can go as wide or as deep as you would like. An even more exciting part of this field is the increasing ability for marketers to "cross-train" in data science, engineering or design.

In fact, many of the worlds largest tech companies are increasingly demanding employees that work at the intersection of these 4 fields. Many companies have roles that allow for a combination of the above skills for jobs positions like "growth engineer", "data engineer", as well as designers, data scientists and data analysts for growth marketing teams.

Where You Can Get Experience While Getting Paid

The best part about developing skills in digital marketing is the wide range of careers, contract and consulting positions that will be available to you. Like any career field, it pays to start at a low level and work your way up. One of the great things about digital marketing is that you can move up in experience and pay quickly, especially if you focus on developing a few skills (and temporarily ignoring others).

One of the best ways to hone your digital marketing skills while improving your entrepreneurial abilities is working as a contractor via platforms like UpWork. Attempting to get your own clients allows you to learn how to pitch yourself. It also gives you valuable insights into which skills are in the highest demand. Both of these lessons will serve you well when you try to land higher level clientele or decide to interview for a highly competitive digital marketing job.

Whether you are trying to land an elite company as a client or you are trying to work as a marketer at a competitive tech company, the experiences you gain working on contract jobs will serve you well.

Why You Should Learn Digital Marketing Even if You Have Another Job

Digital marketing skills are complementary skills regardless of what your job is. Digital marketing skills can be used in nearly any type of position at almost any type of company. Even if you cannot use digital marketing skills at your job, they will allow you to do many others things that nearly every person should be able to do in the 21st century.

One of the most common uses for digital marketing skills is to maintain your own personal or professional brand online. Everyone should know how to setup their own personal or professional website and get users to visit their page, consume any relevant content and take any actions that are important to you. If you are a content creator, this might mean having people consume your content. If you are in the market for a new job, this could mean getting the right recruiter to look at your page. Regardless, you are going to need some basic digital marketing skills to make it happen.

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