There are well over 1 billion websites on the internet.

Most of them generate a couple hundred visits per month at most. But some – a large enough portion to worry about – bring in tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands or millions) of visitors each month. These websites have built:

  • Archives of compelling and useful content
  • A tribe of engaged audience members
  • Products and services to help them generate an income and turn their websites into businesses.

And it can be hard to compete. I'm not saying this to discourage you from starting or growing your site. I'm telling you this because it's 100% possible to rise above the crowd, stand out in saturated market, and build a website to support your business and bring in an income doing what you love. How can you do this? Learn marketing.

Why You'll Fail if You Focus on “Doing What You Love”

Let me guess. You started your blog, shop, or business because you wanted to live the dream. You wanted to make some money doing what you love, immerse yourself in projects that are truly your own, and pursue what you're passionate about. Sound familiar? Well, I have some bad news for you:

If you focus on doing what you love, you'll fail. Those who are truly successful in building a lifestyle business – whether that be around a passion or just a need they saw in the market – are marketers first.

  • You can be the most amazing personal trainer in the world but you'll fail if you can't market yourself.
  • You can be the best freelance writer but it will fall flat if you don't know how to get your target market's attention.
  • And you can open the most amazing shop with all of the most popular products at the best possible prices, but guess what? You'll be closed in no time (and stuck with all that inventory) if you can't drive traffic to it.

Sure, some people get “noticed”. Those are the lucky ones, and those are the cases we tend to pay attention to in the media. But you're not the type to wait around and get noticed. You're in control of your own future.

So here's some good news and some bad news:

The bad news: If you detest marketing – if you have no interest in finding ways to generate traffic to your website, if you abhor social media (or fancy yourself “not very good at it”), or if you think marketing is “salesy” and “skeezy”, you're out of luck. Have fun in your cubicle.

The better news: You're far more likely to love marketing if it's for yourself and your own site.

The best news: People don't really like anything until they're good at it, and marketing is something you can become good at. Promise. So set aside any illusions of age or lack of technical aptitude holding you back from mastering online marketing. If you're willing to learn, you can become good at it. Here's how.

Strategy #1: Stop Making Silly Excuses For Why You “Can't” Learn Marketing

I'm a relatively good digital marketer so I get the same question over and over: You must have gone to school for this, right? This isn't the case.

I started my career in Business, yes, but my major was Human Resources. I spent the first 6 years of my career recruiting employees, in staff disciplinary meetings, and knee-deep in union management. Not exactly online marketing.

I learned marketing completely organically. And sure, it's easy to write me off. After all, I've been blogging and building online businesses for almost a decade. And, plus, I'm a millennial. I grew up in the digital age. 

But the raw truth is that while I did generate a decent income on my online businesses and blogs before I got good at marketing, those were different times and I was mostly selling ads.

The internet doesn't work like that anymore.

I've learned every single thing I know about how to generate traffic to a brand new website, how to explode growth on social media and rapidly build your email list, and generate a steady stream of sales, clients, and customers… relatively recently.

The cool thing is, no matter your industry or niche, you can do the same. You just have to have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is an assumption that your abilities and qualities are flexible and could grow over time – rather than a fixed mindset, which is the assumption that your qualities and abilities are set in stone and can't be changed.

In this context, you have to believe that you can learn about marketing and that you can become good at it. You might not be now, but that's not a business death sentence.

Mostly though, a growth mindset is rare. I see this over and over with coaching clients, friends, and even family members. Unfortunately more often with my female clients, and with Boomer clients and older (though this is not exclusive to them):

They believe they either have it, or they don't. And this is just not true. So if you want to master marketing, let's set some ground rules:

  • Don't use “not growing up with the internet” as a reason to suck at online marketing or (or as a pass to avoid it completely) unless you want to… well, actually suck at marketing.
  • Don't half-ass your attempt to learn marketing, and then throw up your hands in frustration when 3 months after your half-ass attempts nothing is working.
  • Don't write marketing off as “not for you” if the channel you've chosen isn't giving you the garden of Eden you were hoping for. Try another channel. Look at what you were doing that was off. Model yourself after somebody who has been successful.

Alright. Now that we've set some ground rules, let's get to more learning.

Strategy #2: Be Extremely Picky with Who You Learn From

When you Google “how to learn digital marketing,” most of the sponsored results promote online digital marketing courses, certificates, and training.

how to learn digital marketing

Most of these programs are taught by instructors who have never actually grown a company. Read that again.

If the instructor has grown a company through digital marketing, their knowledge is typically sorely out-of-touch and out of date.

Ensure your instructors are qualified to teach you. Qualified means they:

  • Built the knowledge base needed to create the course through experience and not a textbook
  • Have a proven track record applying that knowledge within a company (or group of companies if consulting) that's not a “teach people how to do marketing” company

This is surprisingly tough to find, but there are some gems out there. Growclass is one of them; taught by Sarah Stockdale, the former Head of Growth at Tilt which was acquired by Airbnb, and with instructors from Clearbanc, Pinterest, Wave, LinkedIn, and Shopify, you'll learn from people who are actually doing the thing.

Growclass has plenty of free webinars and lessons so you can get your feet wet (but honestly, nothing can be the full program — whether you're a freelancer, employee, founder or CMO, there's a ton to be learned!)

Strategy #3: Look At Your Own Behaviour

One question I always ask myself when I'm trying to figure out how to do something is this:

Why did I do X? So for example, if I want to get more eyes on my articles, the question would be:

“Why did I read the last article I read?” The answer might be:

  • I saw the headline on Twitter and thought it sounded interesting
  • I clicked on a sponsored Facebook post in my newsfeed
  • One of my friends sent it to me through email
  • I found it on Google because I was searching for information about the topic.

Or if I'm trying to sell something, the question might be:

“What made me buy the last information product you bought?” And the answer is usually something like:

  • I attended a webinar and it convinced me
  • The product had a really great bonus
  • The product was something I was already interested in but it was on sale.

We've been raised with the idea that we're all unique butterflies, but here's the cold, hard truth: You are just like everybody else.

It's not just you. I'm just like everybody else. So's the next person reading this article.

Here's the good news: that means you are just like your target audience.

Even if you don't have the same psychographics or demographics as they do, you still act on things in similar ways.

If a webinar or awesome bonus worked for you, chances are it will also influence your audience to buy your product or service. If an amazing headline made you another pageview on the last website you visited, or a sponsored Facebook post compelled you to click, it'll work for your people, too.

So next time you're stuck on a marketing problem, ask yourself… WWID (what would I do). Or, more accurately – what have I done in the past?

Strategy #4: Study Successful Companies Within (And Outside of) Your Niche

I learned what I know about marketing a lot like I learned how to write bomb-diggity content: By copying other people.

OK, don't get your hackles up. I've never plagiarized and won't start now.

When I wanted to improve my writing — trust me, it wasn't always pretty — I chose to study a couple of writers I admired. I chose which writers to study by thinking about what I wanted from my own content. I wanted readers to:

  • Find the content engaging and interesting enough to read the entire article and get to the bottom of the page
  • Take action on the content, rather than just reading it passively and doing nothing with the information when they finished reading
  • Be inspired, motivated, and learn something new from each piece I published.

So I thought of the bloggers and writers I myself read that inspire the same behaviors in me. I loved their writing and always found it engaging, and I almost always read the entirety of the articles they wrote.

I found myself inspired after reading each piece, and often implemented what I learned from the article after having read them from these writers.

Then, I reverse engineered how they made me behave that way. And this is what I did when I decided to learn about marketing, too.

One of my coaching clients has an eCommerce store. She was struggling with not knowing what to order to increase her sales and so she wouldn't get stuck with a bunch of unsold inventory at the end of the season. In one of our sessions, I encouraged her to look at how other companies get customer feedback without being knee-deep in unpopular inventory.

I sent her some resources and sent her in the direction of Modcloth, which lets customers vote on the product before they order it. It works for Modcloth. You can likely make it work for you.

Strategy #5: Have a Singular Focus

If you're one of my clients, you'll know this phrase (because I say it all the time):

If you chase two rabbits at once, you'll catch neither.

This is a native American saying that applies to more than just Elmer Fudd. It applies to anyone trying to learn marketing, too. If you're trying to learn anything – whether that be a skill, a sport, or (especially) a language, the best way to do so is through immersion. Why would marketing be any different? Mastering one channel is how:

This is so effective because we all have the same amount of time available to us each day. That's one thing you have in common with Beyonce. So if you have 4 hours each day to market your blog or business, what do you think is going to be more effective?:

Spending the entire 4 hours mastering one marketing channel, getting to know it intimately and testing to see what works? Or…

Spending 1 hour on Twitter, 1 hour on Instagram, and 1 hour on paid Facebook ads? Wondering where the fourth hour went? You'd waste it to the cost of task switching. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the former option will be far more effective.

The good news is, this is simple. Choose a marketing platform — whatever your target audience responds to the most — and tackle it with fervor.

The bad news is, while it's totally simple, it's not easy.

Even I get distracted between the many marketing opportunities out there. Before I let you move to the next point, I have to say this… When I say tackle one channel, I mean one extra channel.

Email marketing is absolutely non-negotiable. For the first little while, email marketing is the one channel you need to tackle.

Then, probably content marketing. But once you have the hang of those, pick a social media marketing platform, or a paid platform and make that your singular focus.

Strategy #6: Make Learning Your Job

Want to hear something crazy? Before I even launched Unsettle, I spent probably 65 hours a week learning about marketing.

The time that I invested into my marketing education gave me a huge edge when I did launch Unsettle. From that, I was able to launch and on my very first day see 3,276 pageviews:

learn marketing

I was able to land guest posting spots on Fast Company, Huffington Post, and later, Elite Daily, Smart Blogger and Buffer.

My self-taught marketing education pre-Unsettle landed me freelancing gigs for awesome sites like Foundr, and eventually an amazing career with Sumo.

It's landed me client after client, helped me earn $10,000/month in affiliate income, consulting, and products, and helped me make an even bigger impact.

But a self-taught marketing education is not for the faint of heart. I poured over books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and articles trying to understand the psychology of why people click, buy, and take action.

This meant hours each day consuming information, cataloging studies, and going down rabbit holes. I made learning my full-time job.

After all, when you're in college, you learn about a quarter of what you learn on your own, and you spend the equivalent of a full work week each week at school. Take marketing – and your business – just as seriously.

Strategy #7: Take Massive Action

So you've committed to learning. But you might have been wondering after the last strategy — if you take in all this information, how will you have time to action it? Won't you be battling information overload?

This problem arises when somebody (me, you, every blogger on the face of this planet) takes in so much information that they're paralyzed by analysis (aka analysis paralysis).

They don't know where to start, and sometimes they try to do everything and therefore achieve nothing. Refer to strategy 4 for why this is bad. So after you learn about the basics of marketing, you can go onto taking action.

Yes, there's a body of knowledge you should have before you start taking massive action (and you can click here to get the resource sheet that taught me almost everything I came to know about marketing initially). But after that, you can move onto tackling the strategies you're learning about.

Stop taking in information, and start actioning what you already know.

You might not be here yet, but when you are, make it a policy to never read a guide, article, or listen to another podcast episode unless you have capacity to try the strategy out and see it to the end.

You learn the most when you're actually doing the thing, so don't just consume. Create, too.

Want to Be an Entrepreneur? Marketing Is Non-Negotiable

Sure, you could try to start your blog with no marketing knowledge.

But it's going to be a long, hard uphill battle. You'll struggle to drive traffic to your website, struggle to get anybody other than your mom to join your email list, and struggle to make a single dollar from your site.

On the other hand, if you become a student of marketing? You'll begin to understand why people behave the way they do. What motivates us to buy, why we click, and why we share. And this knowledge is indispensable for growing your business, website, or blog.

Click here to get the TOP resources I used when I first began to learn about marketing (for free)

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