The answer to this question really does depend on who you ask. If you were to ask the majority of digital marketing agencies they’d probably say yes, you do. If you were to ask the university professors, they’d also probably say yes and I’m sure quite a few people involved in the digital industries would also agree.
However, the truth is that you don’t. No! You do not need a degree to do digital marketing.
And if you care to read on, I’m going to tell you why I have come to this conclusion.
What I learnt by doing degrees
First of all I think it would be important for me to share my experiences of what I learnt from my time pursuing those little pieces of paper. And please, do not take this the wrong way, my previous comment was by no means an intention to belittle degrees, I simply want to make sure that we are being realistic within the context of the subject we’re discussing. It is an important point which we should note. A degree is just a piece of paper.
The purpose of trying to think about it this way is in an attempt to remove the pedestal of which we put the degree upon.
Because it is so often that this piece of paper becomes the arbiter of so many people’s aspirations, hopes and dreams.
Embarrassing 😳 photo time:
I remember countless numbers of times, running scenarios in my head where the conclusion was “if I could just get that degree then everything will fit into place”. As I mentioned, this comes from the experience of completing 2 degrees and dropping out of another. To me, I knew no better, I thought that the answer always lay within accumulating more certificates.
My degrees were in the arts and education and before I go any further, I did learn a hell of a lot about my subjects, myself as well as lots of other employability skills. I do not want to be misunderstood, I do believe that degrees have value, but this is not the question we’re trying to answer here. We’re trying to answer if you need one for digital marketing.
When looking back, one of the main things that strikes me about my time spent in education is that so much time is put into studying at the expense of gaining real world experience. Or simply put, just getting stuck in!
If you’re trying to become an artist, you should be doing your art non-stop. If you’re trying to be a football player, you should be training constantly and playing competitively. If you want to become a digital marketer, then you should be doing digital marketing. You do not need and you shouldn’t need to be doing a degree to gain the motivation for doing what it is you want to do.
Just Do It!
You might be thinking, oh here we go… another “just get on with it” article, another “go get experience” post, but the truth is, it is what you need… you need experience, and to get experience, you simply need to go out and get it.
Easy for me to say right? But, it is exactly what I did. I haven’t got a degree in digital marketing, most of the people in my digital network haven’t either. Most people, like me, just sort of, fell into it. I fell into it by helping my wife (then girlfriend) on some of her projects. I was able to learn the ropes and help out on some simple tasks. Before I knew it, I was actively researching and learning about more skills that would help me with my PPC campaigns. I had a very good teacher (my wife), but I did have to do a lot on my own, using online blogs, tutorials and forums to develop my PPC & SEO skills as well just becoming a bit more digitally literate.
Ways to learn digital marketing
As previously mentioned, I am mostly self-taught. I was fortunate enough to have a good mentor, but even with that, there was a lot of time where I had to fend for myself and learn on my own.
How did I learn? 3 main ways:
Learn on YouTube
There is so much knowledge out there that is being shared for free. I owe a lot of what I know to YouTube and the amazing content that people share. I found YouTube so helpful that we’ve even tried to pay this back a little with our own tutorials.
To give you an example, I learnt everything I currently know about Google Tag Manager from YouTube!
Blogs Vs Degrees
The next source of information is the vast amount of blog content out there. There are so many great blogs and article sites that share such in-depth and specialist content. For example, a site that I love for all SEO related topics is backlinko. The effort, research and information that goes into their guides is simply incredible.
And one big point from this is that you can find such, in depth, and specialist information and content on the web that any digital marketing degree simply wouldn’t be able to compete with it.
If you invested a serious amount of time into studying backlinko or even Neil Patel’s site, it would be very much like doing a degree in itself! And the one major difference is that they are giving this information away for FREE! Tuition fees do not apply!
Find a free digital marketing course
Another option is that you can find yourself a free course in your local area. For example, here in Brighton (and here comes the shoutout!) we have a company called Creative Process Digital who specialise in delivering digital apprenticeship programmes. They help to get you started out in the digital industries with one of the courses and they even help find you a job.
Consider a paid course
You could also consider hopping over to Udemy, Skillshare or a similar platform to see if there are any paid courses you can take to get you started. Sometimes it’s really good to get started on the fundamentals by learning from an expert.
How do I get experience?
The first thing you need to do is to become proactive. Stop waiting around for opportunities to land in your lap. If you want to get experience you need to go out and get it.
Here are some ideas:
1. Contact a local digital marketing freelancer or consultant
Do some research about who is operating in your local area as a freelancer or as a consultant. You may want to search for “freelance PPC Brighton” or “Freelance SEO consultant”. Search for location specific terms to your area and see who comes up. Make a list of 5 – 10 names and start reaching out to them via emails or phone calls.
The key thing to bear in mind here though is to be very careful in how you approach these consultants.
A lot of the time, freelancers and consultants will be very busy. Their inbox can be like a duck at a shooting range, with lots of new emails coming in each day. When you approach them it’s really important to choose the language you use carefully. Make sure you do not come across as asking for something from them. Remember, they are being asked for things all day and the last thing they need is you pestering them for something too!
Instead, position yourself as being able to do something valuable for them. For example, try offering them some assistance, help with admin tasks or even just to help make the teas & coffees. Whatever can get you a foot in the door.
To help get you started you could try something like this:
Subject: Can I help out? Available to assist
I saw that you provide [SEO/PPC/digital marketing] freelance/consultant services in [local area]. I live in the local area and wanted to ask if you needed any help with anything?
I’m looking to get a bit of experience in the [SEO/PPC/digital marketing] space and would love to see what an average working day is like for someone like yourself.
I would happily help with any admin tasks and I am an excellent tea maker.
If you think it wouldn’t be too much trouble to let me shadow you for a day or two then it would be great to talk a bit more and set something up.
Have a great day,
2. Contact a local digital marketing agency
This is pretty much the same advice as above but this time you are approaching larger agencies in your local area. The difference with agencies is that they often offer internships. Sometimes they even have the incentive to take on interns because of local funding schemes or government grants. They sometimes also partner up with local course providers too who provide specialist courses in digital marketing.
3. Get out there and start practicing
The internet has become an incredible place and it continues to provide amazing opportunities. Lots of freelancing sites like Upwork, People Per Hour and Fiverr have sprung up to help people offer their freelancing services to clients looking for service solutions. These sites are a great place to start when you’re needing to get a bit more experience. You can create yourself a profile and display the services that you’re able to provide. Whether that be some local SEO services, blog writing or even PPC management, these platforms are a great way to get real projects to work on but also to help you develop your network of contacts and clients.
But if experience is so valuable….
Why do digital marketing agencies only hire people with degrees?
Chances are that if you’re reading this you’ve also been looking at job openings at some agencies. It’s quite likely that you’re seeing that a lot of these agencies are requiring the candidate to have a degree. Well I can tell you that the one main reason for that is simply workload efficiency.
Consider this, the job market is competitive, digital marketing agencies often receive hundreds of applications for any position that they advertise. If 50% of those applicants have no degree, then there is a sure fire way of cutting that list down to a more manageable size of potential candidates.
Some digital marketing agencies are kind enough to put this in the job description or specification, so be sure to make sure you read this closely before spending time on your application. However, it’s simply just one of those bits of bad luck if you were unaware that this was a requirement before you applied or the agency themselves hid it as an internal specification.
The next reason why this may be the case is because having a degree can demonstrate to a potential employer that you can be committed to a project for a period of time. A degree can and does show the employer that “hey, you seen this?… I stuck out a 3 year degree and got a 2:1”. It shows commitment, resilience and achievement. But you know what else can do that?……..EXPERIENCE! If you’re going for a job and you can show the Head of digital marketing that you increased the number of leads for a local plumber by 100% – this is going to show off a whole lot more of potential than the guy who spent 3 years doing a music tech degree and playing Xbox.
But, yes, you’re right…
How can I show off my experience if I can't even get through the door?
Contact the team members of agencies directly
(Not in a creepy way, just be polite, honest and ask them for a slice of their time to discuss life at their agency and to showcase your skills).
Like we suggested above, you can use an email like that to reach out to people or you can simply pick up the phone.
You could also try to do a bit of research and find the right person to contact at an agency. Most agency websites will have a team page and they will most likely have their email address or direct phone number listed.
But, if they don’t, you can try finding their email address using a site like hunter.io.
This site will allow you to search for a company domain name and will bring up email addresses associated with that domain.
Forget about it!
Unless you really want to work for a certain agency, just move on! If any agency doesn’t give you a chance then it is THEIR LOSS.
The sooner you put it out of your mind and continue doing your own digital marketing work the better. Why? Because if you keep at it, developing your skills, freelancing for clients, building relationships and developing great brands…. Well soon enough you’ll have a business of your own or another opportunity will come along.
Some final thoughts
To bring this article to a close, the main message here is that my experiences have taught me that a degree does only get you so far. It has also taught me that sometimes, a degree is not even a necessity. If we take a moment to think about some successful people, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Matt Mullenweg & Mark Zuckerberg to name a few – none of them achieved a degree (and there are plenty more!). This goes to show that no, you do not need a degree to become successful or to pursue what it is that you want to do. The main ingredients you need are hard work and determination.