On pursuing a career in (Online) Marketing vs. Other Fields of Study

Trevor Klatko - Nugget Point Catlins - https://flic.kr/p/r34hj5
Trevor Klatko – Nugget Point Catlins – https://flic.kr/p/r34hj5

One young person asked me today if it’s OK to pursue a career in (Online) Marketing, or try some other fields of study. I will try, in this blog post, to answer that question, as best as I can.

I will tell you random dots, and, only then, I’ll try to connect them.

First dot – a few things about me:

  • I didn’t follow a career as an entrepreneur. I didn’t go far from it, but I consider “launching a business” = “having some people working for you on the long run”. I haven’t done this.
  • I didn’t become a famous theoretician, either. You know that great book / blog on SEO, which I wrote? Neither do I. I did my best, and had some partial success, but it wasn’t by all means huge.
  • What I did do is focusing on freelancing, and trying / experimenting / seeing / improving based on this. The thing is, I didn’t have a huge success as either theoretician / launching a business.
  • I also worked in agencies / client-side for some years, as SEO.

You should remember out of this that I give my advice not by being #1 on a niche, but lower than that, you can decide based on my online activity how much lower, but I’m not a guru. Still, I want to give my advice, nevertheless.

If you will ask 10 people “Should I pursue this or that career”, you’ll get 10 answers. I actually advise you to ask those 10 people. But, still, I want to present my opinion.

The second dot – on choosing a field – Lots of years ago I went to a Leaders Romania conference, and I heard one person saying something like (very approximate quote): “I used to work for a company. I went in the States to do an MBA; I was suggested to launch a business; I came back to Romania, launched an advertising agency; the margins of profit were low; I changed the industry, went into another industry, had a big success”.

I remember this as something very important in my later formation – why focus on where there are lots of big sharks fighting for a small fish? Go on the Blue Ocean (read more) »

Lots of small dots, 3-8:

Why Marketing Has Become The Hardest Position to Hire For: I’ll just come out and say it… marketers are good bullshitters. When hiring, as a marketer, I even have trouble deciphering whether someone knows what they’re talking about, or whether they’re just good at rattling off buzzwords and things they’ve read in articles.

What Makes SEO & SEM So Damn Hard – Moz: It requires a massive amount of knowledge, an incredible dedication to keeping up with one of the fastest moving industries on the planet and a ruthless addiction to testing and analytics.

Why is SEO So Hard? – Here’s Why with Mark & Eric: So just learn a few skills and then you’re good to go?

Eric: I wish it was that simple. Unfortunately, it really isn’t. In fact, it’s actually quite easy to learn individual pieces and facts of SEO, the problem is there are 100s or 1000s of things you need to learn to have a comprehensive SEO background. And each individual piece is pretty easy, but learning how to integrate that into a bigger, broader SEO plan is a big deal.

So, not only do you have to learn all this information, then you have to review someone’s website and decide how to prioritize what needs to happen first, what will have the biggest impact, what’s worth doing because some things won’t be worth doing. Then when you’re done with all of that, over time the landscape keeps changing so you have to keep learning new things and integrating that into your overall knowledge base. So, the big deal here is learning how to integrate it all.

Why We Can’t Just Be SEOs Anymore – Whiteboard Friday – Moz: I think the stage for us is deciding: Do we want to keep committing to a brand that frankly has been put through the wringer? One that I still use and will always use. As long as I am doing SEO work, I will use that brand. But do we want to also take hold of and recognize that, as marketers, we want to do good branding and good marketing? That means potentially calling ourselves something different, taking on these other titles, expressing ourselves in other ways in order to get more influence, and by the way, bigger paychecks too.

An SEO consultant, there are people who charge between $50 and a few hundred dollars an hour. Then you look at business strategy consultants from Accenture, or something like that, and you’re talking about a thousand plus dollars an hour. The more influence you have, the greater your billing is and, by the way, the more you can effect change and have a positive influence.

Why Effective, Modern SEO Requires Technical, Creative, and Strategic Thinking – Whiteboard Friday – Moz: But I think if you’re reading that article, or you’re seeing it in your feed, or your clients are, or your boss is, or other folks are in your world, maybe you can point them to this Whiteboard Friday and let them know, no, that’s not quite right. There’s a ton of technical SEO that is required in 2015 and will be for years to come, I think, that SEOs have to have in order to be effective at their jobs.

Also, on the matter: How to make money online? – Olivian.ro – by Olivian Breda

Connecting the dots:

  • Marketing is very broad. I think, that in order to do online marketing, you generally start with a specialization (Copywriting, or Social Media, or Link building, or internal SEO, or PPC, or Analytics, or E-Commerce, or other things like this), and then you build a few others, then you get a “unifying” specialization (expert in online marketing, expert in e-commerce, expert in inbound marketing), then you get some project management / management skills, do unite them all. The problem I personally have with this career, the level you need to get to “director” / “senior manager” level is very diverse. You need to know a lot of things, from time to time in very different specializations. You need to know both technical and social things. You need to be able to manage yourself, and others. You need project management. In a lot of other careers, in order to get to big salaries, you need a combination of sales / management / project management. The issue I have with marketing is the combination of specialized things, which tend to ask for completely different things – copywriting and technical SEO; social media and online strategy. I agree you need to know lots things. What’s troubling you need to do at a good level things from very different areas: both technical and communication. You need to be able to communicate well, and be a web developer.
    • The good part of this: you become Jack of all trades, you’re hard to replace, you never get bored, you do self-development, you have an exciting job, you deliver results. I read a short story by Gala Galaction once, and one character says “Look, I can’t become Patriarch of the whole Orthodoxy, because, although I’m good with religion, I’m not good with politics”. The implication in here is that Gala Galaction likely considered this to be absurd, how come you ask from a Patriarch to be good with politics? But not only it is natural, it’s actually mandatory. Marketing is the same, you can be good with some specialist fields, but if you want to become Director (or Senior Manager), you need to have things which are more related to Politics than your initial specialization.
    • As an alternative to the above scenario – specialize in something:
      • If you’re technical, become a programmer. If you like analytics, go into data analysis. If you like building sites, become a web developer. If you like e-commerce, specialize in online commerce building. And so on.
      • If you like “communication” / “PR” / “sales” / “copywriting” / “social media” / “content marketing” / “account management” / “customer service”, you can specialize in just one thing and become very good. You can have a very good career with just one thing, followed to the extreme.
  • If you go for a career in marketing, in general:
    • As a good thing, you are where the “flow” is going to, there’s lots of demand for jobs like this.
    • It is also the place where there’s a lot of fight. It’s certainly not a blue ocean, it’s much rather a red ocean. Consider this when choosing a career in this field.
  • If you play some sports which require advancing a ball, and you want to pass the ball to a player in your team, what you do is you don’t focus on where your teammate currently is, but you try to anticipate its position by the time the ball reaches him/her. So, if you pass someone, you pass it a few meters in front, just in time for the person to catch the ball. I think technology will disrupt lots of industries, and if you’re just starting out, lots of things will be different 5/10/20/50 years from now. I can’t tell much, but I can tell you some personal observations:
    • For communication / PR types of jobs, computers will take more and more the place of humans. But I think that, at least for a while, it will be at the basic level. So, if you’re good in either of the fields described above – communication / PR / etc, you should be difficult to replace.
    • For the technical things, I think it’s a bit more difficult to be replaced, at least after you reach medium / advanced level.
  • My personal observation is that the more technical / difficult a job is, the better chances you have of not being replaceable, thus, you can sell yourself harder. There is always the risk, though, that you become an expert in a field which is not demanded by the market anymore. You can’t anticipate everything.
  • If I were to choose a career, I would try my best to know my key strong points and use this. Some basic questions you might want to find answer to:
    • Do I work better in a team / alone?
    • Do I prefer to work in front of a computer / with people?
    • Do I prefer to travel a lot?
    • How willing am I to keep on learning / improving?
    • Do I prefer to work with numbers / words?
    • Do I prefer to have procedures / to have no procedures?
  • You might find answers to these by:
    • Volunteering in an NGO with at least 20-30 people, which has some structure built into it, and learning from that organization what to people in different roles do – marketing / sales / IT / management / etc. An alternative to this is having an unpaid internship (in which you should be allowed to switch positions quickly).
    • Career counseling.
    • Mentors (like asking me, but I might not be a top mentor).
  • … but, on another hand, I wouldn’t try so hard with finding the perfect “initial” job, but try to just jump into some jobs, and getting feedback. The issue I have with picking a career when you’re very young is that you’ll tend to base your decision on what you have at that stage – yes, perhaps an inclination to some aspects like maths, or words, or communication, things like that. But it might be very simple, and I wouldn’t base my decision on that. I’d also consider just jumping into the pool and see how you like the water for a while. You might like the thrill, as long as you take it as a learning experience.
  • … totally opposite to the previous point is that you will learn about some decision just by taking them yourself. I tried to give you a shortcut, yet you can only learn some things by trying them and see how they fit. And the initial impression might not be the best feedback you can receive.

Some very-very-personal observations of a person who didn’t run its own business, and is not famous:

  • I would prefer to specialize in just one thing. I’m closest to specialization in just Technical SEO, but I’m not there yet, and I wish I would have done this sooner. The choice of not being Jack of all trades is a personal one, but it took me long to realize it.
  • Right now, I find that Technical roles suit me better than all-around Marketing roles. Again, it took me a while to get this.
  • I think it’s a good investment to know yourself better before making a life-changing decision.
  • On another hand, the map is not the territory, and if you want to see how a certain job fits you, do your best to try & practice it for a while. But, when deciding “this is right for me or not”, just remember that there is likely an initial phase “Oh, I soooo love this job”, and then comes the dip (read more »), when you would like to quit, and only after quite a while you get (or not) some success, and this feeds you. So, even if you do a long internship, you are still in very early stages. I think happiness for choosing a certain job only comes after you’ve had success. How do you get there? Certainly a 3 months internship will not get you there. You can find out in 3 months if you like some things from the job, but not the most important thing – how do I feel if I have success in the job? This is what might drive you, not if you like the job after 3 months or not.

You can easily find two books:

Give them a try.

Lots of PSs, give them a try:

2016.05.05:
Update & some clarifications:

  • You should always do a combination of what you like / what is demanded by others. On another hand, you might like the thrill you get while painting, but you might also get a thrill from doing a long & exhausting project, after lots of work; the thing is, the first one is easy to reach, you just paint for a while, while for the second one you will need to do quite some work until you evaluate whether you like it or not (it’s not easy at all to know if you would like working on big projects or not);
  • What should you choose between marketing / economics / computing? I think there’s a demand for IT / computing, and less for marketing, and even less for economics, and I expect that trend to continue for a while. But the decision should also focus on what you want and what your skills are.
  • About blue ocean = low competition, high winnings. It’s hard to get the right spot, because, for example, there is little competition in a lot of places for which there is no demand. You certainly don’t want to go there. You need to find your blue ocean, no or little competition, but, still, there has to be a demand. If no one wants your art, it’s no good for you.
  • One type of blue ocean for careers is the difficulty of being replaced. If you write well, the skill is hard to judge, but people assume “well, almost anyone can write”, and it’s hard to evaluate and compare A to B. It’s hard to sell yourself (you can show results, but how to compare two different results from different persons, activating in different markets? Are you better / worse?). On another hand, in technical things, it’s generally simpler to determine if A is better at technical things than B. Thus, once you set yourself as expert, you are harder to be replaced.
  • When people compare careers, they tend to compare the first persons they come in contact. Perhaps you don’t like what you see an accountant doing, but on the long run, you have a good chance of getting into management position in accounting, and that is different than the job itself. Also, a successful accountant is different than a mediocre one. You might encounter an accountant just starting his career, or not very good at it. When you compare this with an artist, the artist wins. When you compare, on another hand, a successful accountant with a mediocre artist, perhaps the accountant wins. I’m just saying it’s sometimes difficult to see beneath the surface, and first contact should’t be the major factor when choosing “I like this or that”.
  • Have a look at:
    jobs which will disappear in the next 10 years – Google Search
    jobs which will be in demand in the next 10 yearsâ – Google Search
  • On a personal level, I’m happy that I graduated a generalist faculty (International Business & Economics), and then a broader, still, Master of Arts (Communication & PR). They have both broadened my horizons. Sure, now, when I want to focus more on technical issues, I see the need for a BSc in engineering. But I’ve seen people with two different BA / BSc doing better in career / life than those with a single formation. So, I don’t regret the decision. (Yet :P). I think starting your educational profile with a broad horizon, and only then narrowing it down, might prove some value.

Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues: IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Digital Marketing Manager for The KPI Institute. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading, watching movies, listening to music.

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