You’ve read the books. You’ve watched the videos.
You’re convinced that you belong in marketing.
Now, all you have to do is put that resume out there and wait, right?
Unfortunately, that won’t cut it anymore. Getting into marketing is easy. But how do you make it big?
That’s a different ballgame with its own set of rules.
And when you look at the projected growth rates for the marketing field – an increase of up to 10% by 2026 – you can’t afford to not get savvy with those rules.
That growth might be good news for the economy, but it can create challenges for the beginner marketer.
Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to get the edge on your competition.
Here’s a peek into my rulebook for crushing it in marketing. Use these strategies to boost your marketing career and leave the competition behind.
1. Improve your communication
Whether it’s social monitoring tools, voice search, or multi-channel marketing automation, technology regularly changes the way we reach our audiences.
But it’s a lot to keep up with.
71% of marketing executives use six or more types of marketing technology in their day-to-day lives.
Trying to master one, let alone six, can be daunting and downright impossible for new marketers.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution:
Go back to the basics and then dominate them.
No matter what new technology rolls out tomorrow, your basic communication skills are always in demand.
For proof, take a look at the top skills employers want when hiring fresh graduates for entry-level positions:
Over 80% of employers want to see written communication skills, and under 70% want verbal skills.
Comparatively, less than 60% of survey respondents highlighted technical skills as a top attribute. Less than 50% are looking for computer-specific skills.
That’s all great news for new marketers.
Whether you’re a fresh graduate or you’re making a career transition, you can develop communication skills on your own time.
And you can do it without spending any money or with only a small financial investment.
These skills will make you a better marketer. After all, what is marketing if not applied communication? And, it will make you a more employable in any industry.
It’s a win-win, right?
But how do you develop your fundamental communication skills?
It’s going to sound a little cheesy, but the answer that shows up in professional manuals is the same:
To become a better communicator, communicate more. And, specifically, write more.
As you practice your writing, let me give you a few resources to help you fine-tune your writing skills.
First of all, you should check out My Copyblogger.
Besides their regularly-updated blog, Copyblogger offers e-training courses, webinars, and resources through their My Copyblogger membership.
Signing up gives you access to exclusive e-books that help you develop your written communication and marketing skills.
Look at this top-level preview of their e-book releases for members:
With all of the e-books they offer, both long and short, Copyblogger is a killer resource for any marketer wanting to improve their writing.
Next, Grammarly is a must-have tool.
Grammarly is part proofreader and part personal writing assistant.
It offers more help than just catching typos. It uses contextual analysis to understand what you’re trying to say, and then it helps you say it better.
It also tracks your progress and shows how your skills stack up against other Grammarly users so you can see the trends.
In turn, that makes it easier to figure out what you need to focus on improving.
It also tracks your total word count, and it will show you advanced errors if you’re a premium user.
Being able to track your progress isn’t merely a marketing gimmick, either. Monitoring your own progress can help you stay motivated, set realistic goals, and improve your quality.
Grammarly is probably the best all-in-one tool that you can use. But there are a couple of others worth mentioning.
The web version of Hemingway Editor is a free resource for improving your writing. It tracks passive voice, adverbs, and readability – all of which impact how your audience perceives your writing.
Count Wordsworth is also a free analysis tool helps you polish your word flow. It tracks sentence length, syllables, and pauses.
Here’s the bottom line time:
If you want to get ahead of the technology rat race, then you need to get out of it. Focus on sharpening your foundational skills like writing to help your resume stand the test of time.
2. Specialize and socialize
Thanks to significant job growth, opportunities in marketing are expanding. But so is the competition.
And competing with other marketing hopefuls means that you’re going up against a field chock-full of communication experts.
It’s a lot to stack up against on paper. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, you have to specialize your toolkit.
In a 2017 study, the top-three skills that employers desired in new marketers were digital advertising, content creation, and content strategy.
Creating content and flaunting your curation skills can go a long way toward establishing yourself as a digital marketing guru. And here’s the best part:
You can get started free.
In fact, you can even convince other marketers to spread your reputation for you. How?
Create content for other people.
Specifically, create blog posts for major publications. It’s a great way to associate yourself with industry authorities and get your name out there.
But even more importantly, it also gives you the skill that 53% of marketers list as their company’s top priority.
This is probably why so many big-time marketers are such prolific bloggers. Take a look at this sample of the blogosphere.
The Ahrefs blog is full of data-rich (and often original) research, making it a great place to dive into the details of marketing’s technical side.
This also helps establish the Ahrefs team as subject domain experts. Tim Soulo, for example, is a prolific writer for their blog.
Tim doesn’t post to Ahrefs every day. But when he does, I know that he writes reliable blogs with research-heavy information about SEO.
He regularly introduces new ways of looking at data and marketing with rich technical details and an easy-to-read style.
And that alone is reason enough for you to follow him.
But his blog posts do more than get Ahrefs out there. They cement him as a quality writer and marketer.
Something he corroborates even further with his work at BloggerJet.
He even posts on Medium when he’s not posting to Ahrefs or BloggerJet.
Do you want another real-life example of a professional making blogs (even other people’s blogs) work for them?
Look no further than Ann Handley.
Part marketing legend and part writing genius, Hadley uses her expert skills to keep her name at the top of the marketing influencer list.
Ann’s work is both witty and relatable. Her blog reframes complicated marketing concepts into easy and digestible posts. I never come away from her work without laughing and learning.
I guess you could say I’m an “annarchist.” If you want to hone your content skills, you should become one, too.
But it’s not just her razor-sharp sense of humor that keeps readers coming back for more. She’s consistent, she’s authoritative, and she doesn’t hoard her talent.
In addition to her work with MarketingProfs, she also guests posts for Entrepreneur and for Huffington Post.
If someone influential enough to author two Wall Street Journal best-sellers still guests posts for other organizations, shouldn’t you consider doing the same?
So, how do you get started with guest blogging?
Although there are a lot of avenues for publishing content as a guest, one of the easiest – and one of my favorite – ways to get started is through Medium.
Ultimately, no matter how you choose to hone your communication skills, adding authoritative pieces to your name won’t just help you sound like a better marketer.
It’ll make you look like one, too. And that brings me to the next topic:
3. Grow your portfolio
Your skills can’t grow without the opportunity to sharpen them.
But you won’t get many opportunities until you demonstrate that you already have some of the skills that you need to improve.
Because you aren’t able to secure opportunities, your skills deteriorate and don’t develop. You miss out on even more future opportunities because no one will give you one to start with.
This starts a self-defeating cycle.
In a 2017 survey, 64.5% of employers indicated they preferred hiring candidates with relevant work experience. This was even true in the case of college graduates.
So, whether you get into the marketing field through school or Internet hustle, you need experience in order to get more experience.
That’s frustrating, right?
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to break the cycle and make you look pretty impressive, too.
You can volunteer. Specifically, volunteer with a nonprofit.
This will help expand your network and gain professional portfolio pieces.
It also helps signal your values to future employers and commitment to social causes like education and animal welfare.
You might even meet other marketers in the process. Radish Labs, a creative agency specializing in nonprofits, regularly promotes creative volunteerism.
Are you looking for ways to volunteer and beef up your portfolio but can’t find any local opportunities? VolunteerMatch is a great directory with plenty of remote opportunities.
With ample opportunities to grow your portfolio and get some serious Good Samaritan street cred, what are you waiting for?
Get out there and start making a difference for others to see a difference in your career.
4. Jumpstart your network
In some industries, it’s more about who you know than what you do. But in digital marketing, it’s about both.
And if you’re an inexperienced marketer, that can create a significant obstacle to launching your career.
It’s almost a chicken before the egg problem. How do you meet the right people if you don’t already know the right people to set up introductions?
After all, according to SilkRoad’s 2017 Sources of Hire report, employee referrals still lead the way as the top avenue for new job hires.
It’s the same kind of defeating cycle as the “experience without experience” conundrum I described in the above section.
You can’t grow your network because you need a network first to look reputable and gain people’s trust.
Fortunately, the solution to ending this cycle is just as simple:
Log out and look to the offline world to bolster your online network.
Are you needing to meet people in the industry? Attend local meetings and conventions and then make your connection online.
Here’s the great news:
Two of the biggest marketing conventions – INBOUND and the Growth Marketing Conference – are still on the horizon for 2018.
Hubspot backs INBOUND.
It includes all things marketing and selling in three strategy-packed days.
If you don’t want to commit to the sessions or their price tag, INBOUND also offers “community passes” for networking events. It’s a great option for new marketers with tight budgets.
The Growth Marketing Conference is also well worth your time.
Some of the biggest names in marketing attend the conference. It’s a two-day event full of networking events, tactical sessions, and innovative workshops.
Like INBOUND, this conference offers several tiers of participation, including access to networking and training sessions at a fraction of the full price.
Of course, one of the big downfalls of this approach is that the larger conventions tend to happen in larger cities.
But don’t worry.
Even if you can’t fit a major convention into your schedule, there are still a few other options for expanding your network.
You can host or join a local event through a service like Meetup.
This not only cuts out your travel costs but it also helps you build a local network and find – or organize – events on your own schedule.
Lastly, even if you can’t find any offline networking opportunities, there are some online options for building your credibility and network.
One solution is LinkedIn groups. Take a look at the four most popular groups below:
That’s pretty promising, right?
With three million connections possible, you should be able to find like-minded connections in no time and start growing your network.
5. Go big with data
If you want to beat the rat race, get ahead of it. And there’s no better way to get ahead than to develop some of the most in-demand skills on the job market.
And in 2018, that means you need to go big with data.
Statistics and analytics help marketers understand their audiences in a quantifiable way.
But that’s not all they can do.
Data-driven marketing techniques also help professionals make better decisions and acquire new customers.
They have the receipts to show for it, too.
Between 2016 and 2017, data-driven marketing expenditures and revenues rose to their highest ever, according to a DMA study.
But despite this significant growth, the marketing world is still experiencing a major talent shortage.
The datasets keep expanding, but the talent pool and preparedness of organization are on the decline.
Check out this later 2018 survey about marketers’ confidence in the ability of their organizations to handle data for marketing:
So what does this mean for your career? I can tell you in one word:
With data becoming critical for marketers and business leaders across the board, there’s never been a better time to learn how to analyze data.
And thanks to the advent of several e-learning platforms, it’s never been easier, either. Here are a few of the places where you can dig into data and earn your analytic credentials from home.
Coursera offers university-grade education at an elementary school price point. Usually, courses run between four to six weeks.
Many of their courses provide free videos, and the selection for marketing analytics is huge.
And best of all, all of their classes are fully online, and they reward certificates upon completion.
In addition to career credentials, the forum can jumpstart your network and help develop your portfolio with peers.
Are you looking for a less academic option, or do you need to set your own schedule? If so, try Lynda.com.
LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com in 2015. Now, it’s a powerful resource for learning the ins and outs of marketing, SEO, content, design, and much more.
Unlike Coursera, the lecture series on Lynda.com consists of videos and guided exercises, so you can learn entirely at your own pace.
And, while you won’t have a forum to interact with other course learners, many of the videos include guided exercise files to help you practice your skills.
Plus, thanks to the integration with LinkedIn, you can automatically display your learning paths on your profile.
Check out a preview of some of the courses they offer for data analytics in marketing.
Lynda.com has classes that range from beginner to advanced levels. It has everything you need to hone your data skills from start to finish.
Another option is DistilledU.
Some of the largest names in business like Adobe, eBay, and Capital One use DistilledU. It’s an at-your-own-pace, interactive training option for SEO marketers who want to learn more about the field.
They also offer classes for marketers of all levels. They have classes that can teach you the fundamentals of SEO.
And they have highly advanced classes, too.
This makes it a fantastic resource for marketers of any experience level.
DistilledU offers annual and monthly memberships. So, whether you want to master marketing or just get a crash course in analytics, there’s a module to fit your schedule and budget.
Similar to Lynda.com, Skillshare provides e-learning for everything from design to data science to advanced marketing.
Here are some of their course offerings that are currently popular.
Instructors provide class projects to supplement video lectures with hands-on learning, making this ideal for those of you who prefer interactive education.
In summary, no matter what platform you choose, adding data analytics to your skill set is a great way to make yourself more attractive to future employers and outshine the competition.
6. Build your branding
Finally, if you want to step outside of your competition’s shadow, you have to build your branding and build it well.
That means that, besides developing your writing skills, you need to establish a distinct visual identity.
Without one, your brand can easily get lost in the fray, especially if you’re using stock images.
Getting lost means that your audience is ignoring you. And if your audience is ignoring you, you’ll never see your marketing career reach the next level.
But getting a grip on core marketing concepts and strategies is hard enough. How are you supposed to develop branding and make yourself stand out?
And what makes a brand’s visual style distinct?
No matter what channels you’re using, consistency is key.
Take a look at Content Marketing Institute’s homepage:
Now, take a peek at their YouTube channel:
By keeping the typeface and colors consistent, they establish an easy mental link for their followers. Users know that if they see that shade of orange, they’re looking at something from Content Marketing Institute.
Here’s another example. Look at MarketingProfs’ homepage.
Now, here’s their YouTube channel.
Again, you can see consistent colors and styles of images.
This is what it boils down to:
If your social media accounts don’t share branding, you’re making it harder for people to identify you as a marketer.
If you think branding is difficult, then think again. You can start your branding by creating a logo in about five minutes.
But if you want to take it a step further and you don’t have an army of in-house designers behind you, then you can turn to freelance boards for help.
Fiverr, Upwork, and 99designs are three of the most popular platforms for finding great visuals that fit any budget.
On Fiverr, freelancers (which they call “sellers”) provide service packages with their unique skills.
One of the upsides to using Fiverr is that they offer scalable bundles. These bundles will let you get as little or much design work as you need for a predictable price.
And because buyers reach out to sellers first, you won’t receive pitches that you aren’t interested in.
But that’s also the downside.
If you’re short on time, you can’t wait for offers and let the designers come to you. That means that this may not be the best option for marketers with a tight schedule.
Upwork (formerly oDesk) is another major freelancer board with a significant design community.
After setting up a business account, you have the option of posting a job and letting the pitches come to you. You can also invite some of Upwork’s top talent to apply.
Unlike Fiverr, you typically pay by the hour or project. Freelancers submit their proposals along with their price estimations.
Upwork is ideal for both big and small budgets. It’s a great option to test the visual branding waters without making major commitments.
Lastly, 99designs is a freelancing platform that specializes in branding and product design.
They provide matching services where they fit you with a graphic designer who meets your design needs. There’s also a contest option where the community competes to win your project.
The higher price of 99designs may not be ideal for your first project. But for those ready to commit, all design contests come with a 100% money-back guarantee.
No matter where you get your designs from, consistent branding colors are key for integrating older and newer designs seamlessly.
One easy way to do that is by using Adobe’s color system.
Head to Adobe Color CC.
Click on “sign in” in the top-right corner. You want to be able to save your palette to share, so it’s important to get this step out of the way first.
Follow the link for “Get an Adobe ID.”
Fill out the sign-up form and click the blue “sign up” button to go back to the Adobe Color CC homepage.
Once there, begin picking colors by manipulating the color wheel. Here’s the default suggestion for my orange.
To play with the auto-generated palettes, use the left-hand menu to navigate. If you want to build a custom palette, you’ll need to select the last option.
Once you have a color palette you like, click the blue save button.
It will then prompt you to name your theme.
Click “save” and head over to “My Themes” using the top navigation menu.
You should now find your palette waiting in your library.
Hover over your palette to see your saving and sharing options.
Hit the download button to share your palette with future designers.
Since Adobe is the king of design suites – 90% of creative professionals use Photoshop – anyone you work with can open the palette directly in their choice program.
You can even use the same palette to customize resume templates and give your credentials the same eye candy from start to finish.
By the way, don’t forget to check out Adobe Color CC’s “Explore” option for inspiration before you go.
Ultimately, whether you use multiple freelancers or none at all, using the same color palette throughout will give your brand consistency no matter who is at the design wheel.
The field of marketing is expanding rapidly, and experts expect it to keep growing.
That means that you have plenty of opportunities. However, that also means that you have plenty of competition.
So, how can you stand out?
For starters, don’t get too caught up in new technology. Keeping on top of marketing technology trends as a newcomer to the industry is expensive and time-consuming.
Instead, focus on dominating your fundamental communication skills.
Next, you can separate yourself from the competition by specializing and socializing.
Create content for other industry blogs or use publications on Medium to give your name authority.
Portfolio pieces are a killer way to make your resume shine, even if they’re unpaid gigs.
Volunteer your marketing skills with a nonprofit to polish your sample pieces. Plus you’ll make a difference in the world and your career.
Networking is still a vital part of landing a job. More new hires come through employee referrals than through job boards.
Building an online network can be tricky. One way to expand your network rapidly is to look to the offline world and attend industry conventions.
Candidates with data skills are some of the most in-demand hires in any industry, marketing including. Build your analytics skills on your own time to elevate your career potential.
Branding doesn’t stop at written content. Having a distinct and consistent visual identity is key.
Even if you don’t have designers on tap, you can find great (and cheap) freelancers through platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and 99 Designs.
Establishing a color palette keeps your branding consistent no matter who is behind the design wheel.
Adobe Color CC is a fast, easy, and free way to set up a color palette that the vast majority of creative professionals can use later.
A marketing career can be challenging to start, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow these six strategies to give your career a boost and stay at the top of the trendline.
What strategies have you used to separate your skills from the marketing pack?
About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.