No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
Many marketers have said “email is dead,” but that can’t be further from the truth, especially considering the growth email has seen in the past year. And with the growth in email use comes growing career possibilities within the email industry.
Thousands of companies look to hire professionals to drive this critical channel, giving those in the email industry more options than ever to expand their career horizons and take control of their destiny. But with more options and opportunities, how do we know which path to choose?
In this iteration of No-Bullshit Advice from Email Experts, we thought we’d switch things up and kick off the new year by bringing together expert advice from industry veterans from Women of Email, Email on Acid, dotdigital, eFocus Marketing, iContact, Email Uplers, Customers Who Click, Dennis Dayman and our resident email geek Lauren Meyer to help you kickstart or fast-track your career in the email industry.
Here’s what they had to say…
No One Can Make It Happen But You
You’re in luck, geeks! Email is a specialization that often pays better than other digital channels, and great talent is hard to come by. So if you’re serious about leveling up your career, it’s definitely within reach. But you have to make it happen for yourself. And if you’re in an environment where you aren’t advancing and don’t feel valued, waiting around for things to change is the worst possible strategy.
To get recognized, you have to go above and beyond the bare minimum. I know, I know—you’re already stretched thin. In that case, focus on how to boost productivity with better automation and templating. Then you can free up bandwidth and achieve the credibility you need to get buy-in to do the cool stuff!
You also need to know when it’s time to leave. If you’re dissatisfied, reached a plateau, or feel you’re in a toxic environment, it’s up to you to get yourself out. Don’t get bogged down with fear of the unknown or an unrequited sense of loyalty to your employer. Business is business, and no one is looking out for numero uno except for you. Risk aversion can hamper your potential.
Other ways to get a leg up on career advancement is to attend (and speak at!) conferences—even if the boss doesn’t give you budget. Reach into your own pocket if you have to. A single event can transform your career. It’s an investment.
Another smart career investment is a resume writer. I guarantee it will give you a huge job search advantage. The last contact of mine who did this had a job offer in hand within six weeks.
And if you’re a Women of Email member, we’ve got resources for you! Several job openings are posted to our Facebook group every week, and because we’ve normalized compensation transparency, you’ll often find salary details as well. Look for our announcements on scholarship passes to conferences too.
And contact me directly for the discount code for our resume writing partner or to discuss your interest in thought leadership. We’ve got lots of opps to bring visibility to your personal brand!
Email Boasts a World of Possibilities
To the average person, a career in email may not sound too glamorous. After all, emails are just those persistently annoying digital letters that land in your digital letterbox.
This perception of email as junk mail is one of the many things that’s inspired my career in email. Because when email marketing is done right, nothing should be labeled as junk. And when there’s no junk, there’s only engagement – so it’s been my mission for over 20 years to inspire brands to send emails that are wanted, not discarded.
Another thing we should dispel is that email is not as simple as it sounds. How often, I wonder, do people think about what goes on behind the scenes? It may just look like a standard email,but little do people know that working in the background, there are a plethora of elements, from strategy and creative to deliverability and data, that all constitute the makeup of that email.
So, a career in email boasts a whole world of possibilities.
With that said, my main piece of advice is that there is no overarching email career – you could pursue anything that takes your fancy within the industry. Here are just some of the areas you can explore:
- Best practice, thought-leadership
- Consultancy/agency services
- Creative (client or supplier side)
- Technology/product development
- Deliverability and inbox placement
- Sales or marketing
It’s also important to be interested in your inbox – what’s landing there and why. Understanding which messages resonate, and the contextual framework behind them, helps to sow the seed of intrigue into the world of email marketing.
Dip Your Toes In To Find Your Focus
Email marketing isn’t just about designing and writing, pulling lists, building the HTML and workflows, or analyzing the data. It’s about how all these things work together. So, my advice is to get experience doing all of these things.
- Write emails—test and retest—in order to get a good grasp of the nuances of how a word can influence an open or click.
- Pull lists so you know data, understand all the ways you can slice and dice your audience based on the information you collect.
- Build the HTML in order to understand the struggles developers have with different service providers.
- Workflows don’t just happen; they take careful thought and consideration on how a subscriber can react and what should happen based on the action or inaction.
- Analyze the data because without learning, you can’t grow an email program. Your numbers are the only source of what actually happened with an email campaign.
When you dip your toe into each of the areas of email marketing, you get a better understanding of where you want to focus your career, and you also develop empathy for your entire email team — no matter which area you decide to focus on.
Essentials For Pursuing A Career In Email
Any successful career in email, from coding and design to strategy and deliverability, requires a curious mind, a persistent nature and an ability to adjust your mindset to new ideas and technologies as the industry advances.
My advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in email is to:
Stay curious. There is a long and steep learning curve within the email industry since it’s not a discipline commonly taught in traditional classrooms, and the technology is perpetually evolving. Everything I’ve learned about email was learned on the job, and 14+ years later, I’m still learning something new every single day. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of learning and read/listen/watch as much content about industry topics as you can.
Grow your network. From industry groups like M3AAWG, Only Influencers and the Email Experience Council to the #emailgeeks Slack group, the amount of collaboration within our industry is a rare and wonderful gift. Start building up your network of like minded practitioners to share ideas, find support, and maybe even one day find your dream job within email.
Be persistent. Particularly when it comes to deliverability, there are countless directions an investigation can take you. Some issues are purely technical and can be fixed relatively quickly. Others are tied to larger parts of a brand’s strategy, such as their list collection or targeting practices, and require planning and buy-in from upper management prior to execution. The ability to keep digging until you find and fix the problem is key.
Tap into your emotional intelligence. Explaining an issue to a client or internal stakeholder who may be unwilling or unable to implement your recommendations requires the ability to stay patient, stick to the facts and get your point across in a compelling way. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar!
Always Be Learning
Keep learning and improving your skills – it’s important to keep developing your knowledge in both email marketing and other surrounding topics to help you understand elements from a different point of view. For example, although not directly email marketing, learning about the psychology of a buyer is of enormous value to your strategy and how you implement it.
To keep learning, there are two main things I do:
- Courses, conferences, webinars, books…
There are a wealth of amazing free (like this blog!) and paid resources out there to help you learn more about specific topics.
You can also speak to your company about funding courses that you want to go on – build your case around how the learnings from the course will benefit the business. (and if you want a good email marketing book recommendation, check out my bestselling book, ‘E-telligence: email marketing isn’t dead, the way you’re using it is’ 😉 )
- Test, test and test again
Learn from what’s working in your business, but remember this may not translate to other businesses and audiences, so never assume something will automatically work! Keep testing different things and see what works and what doesn’t. Make sure you develop clear hypotheses for each test so that you can understand what you’re testing, why and what you expect the results to be.
eFocus Marketing has a handy split test kit available for free here to get you started.
Be a Sponge & Soak Up All The Knowledge
I decided to switch careers 10 years ago. I wanted to move from staffing to technology since I have a passion for computers and fixing things. When I interviewed for a position at iContact, I knew that it would be a good fit. During the interview, I was told that new hires were encouraged to read the book Email Marketing by the Numbers: How to Use the World’s Greatest Marketing Tool to Take Any Organization to the Next Level. As soon as I left the interview, I bought the book right and started reading.
In my thank you letter and email, I mentioned that I have already read the first three chapters and that I learned a lot about email marketing. I am not sure if that is what landed me the job or not, but I learned a lesson from that experience; to be successful, one needs to be willing to adapt, learn, and grow. I did get the job, by the way!
For email marketing, this means staying on top of changes, trends and how email marketing fits into and complements other marketing efforts. I went on to read This is Marketing: by Seth Godin and later read Jab Jab Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk. These books and others helped me learn how to write better emails and use marketing automation to nurture an audience.
Blog articles, thought leaders, and colleagues have also helped me learn best practices such as split testing, subject line optimization, design and more.
If you are looking for a career in email marketing, connect with thought leaders in the industry and absorb as much information you can from blogs, courses, videos, and from making mistakes along the way. Yes, mistakes are ok.
My advice is to become a sponge and then wring out all the information you learn for others to absorb when you become an email expert!
Maintain An Inquisitive & Learning Spirit
Ask the right questions. Keep learning and honing your skills to do well in the email industry.
If you are a budding email geek, I am sure you must be somewhat apprehensive about having a rewarding professional journey. Let me lighten the burden for you…
Whether you are starting off as an email marketer, designer, or developer, you ought to have sufficient domain knowledge to succeed in the respective field.
Other than that, I believe you must follow the trends of the respective realms.
Also, it is equally important to abide by the best practices if you want to land in the subscriber’s inbox without triggering the spam filters. There was a time when “personalization” was a trend in the email industry. However, today it is a best practice. You must make sure that you keep honing your skills with time so that your knowledge does not get obsolete.
Subscribe to relevant newsletters to get regular updates about the email industry. You can sign up on Litmus, Marketo, Salesforce, Kickbox, Taxi for Email, or Email Uplers to keep yourself updated about the market trends.
It is a great idea to attend webinars and conferences that would help you be a better professional. You can even follow email influencers like Kath Pay, Dennis Dayman, and Matthew Smith to name a few.
Lastly, do not shy away from asking questions. Keep your inquisitiveness alive and the learning spirit going…
There’s Always Room To Improve
While there may be those who say email is dead, it certainly isn’t. If you’re doing things well it’s an incredibly powerful channel for a business, and to do well you have to keep up to date with consumer behaviour (much more important than the ‘latest marketing trends’) and keep improving.
Sign up to LOADS of emails, just always hit the yes button, get everything in a special folder and run through them once a week to see if anything stands out.
An interesting subject line, good creative or exciting copy. It’s a great way of just seeing whats out there in different industries and getting new ideas.
But the most important thing is to always be thinking about how you can personalise the content better.
Always think how you can make this feel more and more like a 1:1 email, as if it was written specifically for the recipient. You’ll need to use data, and you might need to fight for that data, but it absolutely will improve your results if it helps you personalise.
Don’t sit back and accept ‘its best practise’, or ‘we’ve always done it this way’. I’ve heard that more times than I can count and the only thing it achieves is holding back performance.
Just keep asking ‘what’s next?’ and ‘how can we make this better for the customer?’ and you’ll be miles ahead of the competition.
Finally, don’t just jump on every new piece of tech that pops up. There are some great tools out there, but if you’re not getting the basics right, and if you’re not focused on the customer, these tools won’t get you anywhere.
Advice From A 25 Year Email Veteran
Email Thought Leader
The fun and interesting thing here is that a long and fulfilling career path in digital communications, like email, can be a long-lasting one if you are willing to change, adapt, and learn new things.
I’ve been in this industry for 25 years, since the early days of email and other digital channel growths like web, social media, mobile, and so much more.
Many people stay focused on one thing like email, but as we know today, so many channels and issues are now crossing what was once a huge digital chasm with ease.
Many parts of the marketer’s work and lives are now very intertwined.
For me, I started the anti-abuse idea working for blacklists and ISP’s stopping spam from reaching users inboxes, but over the years adapted that into bringing that knowledge to the senders or markets side earlier on and helping them do better.
That included teaching more than “how not to look spammy” but teaching myself email, and now, the privacy regulations that have become the centerpiece for building current, best and common practices developed by the email coalitions and associations we belong to now.
Which brings me to a good point, volunteer!!!
Don’t just be happy doing the work that only impacts you and your company. Get yourself, your company and others out there to participate and solve industry issues as a whole.
Don’t just listen, but insist on being noisy, in a good way, of course, and make change happen.
Get involved on mailing lists, slack channels, and more. Give an opinion or ask questions.
When you become one of the more verbal and forward-moving folks, you get noticed more and are asked for your opinion more often as a leader.
When it comes to your career path, giving back and helping solve the issues together is how many doors opened to me (and many in my circle) over the last 25 years. So get involved.
Our industry’s problems can only be solved together as an industry by sharing experiences, thoughts, and opinions and not causing another Tragedy of the DIGITAL Commons situation when it comes to email.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
Stay tuned, we’ll be posting more No Bullshit Advice soon. Read our last expert round up about Standing Out In A Crowded Inbox or catch up on the entire series here: No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts.
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
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