How To Build A Great Career In Marketing When You Have No Connections

Ross Simmonds

“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

In the marketing world, there are no real barriers to entry. You don’t need to go to marketing school. You don’t need to spend thousands on night classes. You don’t even need to get a license to become a practicing marketer.

It’s not rocket science.
It’s not dental surgery.
But it is a profession that can offer many great rewards.

Yet what it takes to be a successful marketer has caused many heated debates in the profession—people who have spent their lives in the classroom on one side, and those who learned from taking it to the streets on the other. Though I have a degree in marketing, I lean toward the idea that there are no real rules when it comes to getting in.

I walked into this profession without knowing a single person and with no response to many of my job applications and meeting requests. I knew that after walking off that stage with my diploma, I would be entering a new world with little experience, no connections and no mentor. So I had to do things differently.

A commitment to a few foundational ideas gave me the start I needed to grow my marketing career and business to where they are today. Whether you’re just starting your career with zero connections or you’re an experienced marketer looking for greater success, acting on these same ideas is sure to help you grow.

Here’s how you can start and build a career in marketing when you have no connections:

Prioritize Your Education Over Entertainment

You have to be twice as good.

That’s just reality. You won’t have the same doors opened to you as someone who has more connections than there are stars in the universe. You don’t have a family friend to give you that first job. So it’s on you to put in the work and become undeniably better than your peers.

This starts with education. And I’m not talking about the education you get from a school. I’m talking about the education that happens when you hit the real world and what you do with your time after hours.

Here are three ways to maximize your real-world learning opportunities:

  • Seek out educational content: Rather than watching hours of funny videos on Facebook, spend time consuming content that will elevate your career. From marketing podcasts to industry blog posts, there are plenty of resources you can take advantage of to grow your skills and talents.
  • Find a manager who pushes you: You want to be challenged. You don’t want your first job to be an easy gig where you coast from paycheck to paycheck. One of my first managers pushed me to gain skills and talents that would shape my career. I was tasked with giving presentations with little preparation, working on insane timelines…while it was painful at the time, looking back it’s clear that these situations gave me resilience and the ability to stay calm in the middle of chaos.
  • Join a company committed to your growth: At Foundation, we give every new employee three books that I believe are important to being successful in the company. We also give our team members an unlimited budget for buying books on Amazon that could help their career. It’s important to look for a company that wants to invest in your growth, as that will be a huge help down the road.

While everyone’s situation is different, I strongly recommend that in the first few years, you prioritize learning over comfort. If at a fast-paced, low-paying startup you can learn in two years what someone at a larger company learns in eight years, that could become your competitive advantage.

Don’t Be Idle—Build While You Wait

It’s never been a better time to be a maker.

You can create a blog in the matter of hours. You can launch a podcast in less than a week. You can start a Shopify store in the matter of days. And you can start selling services on a website like Upwork or Fiverr by the time you’re done reading this post.

It’s easier than ever to create something new. And while sustaining growth and driving profits is a challenge, it’s a challenge that will give you an advantage.

Most people don’t ship anything. They get excited about ideas but never take the steps to turn those ideas into reality. If you want to stand out from most people, actually build something, whether it’s a travel blog or a Etsy shop.

Beyond a marketing advantage, building something will help you learn more about your own strengths and about the skills needed for this other job—things that you won’t learn if you spend your evenings watching Netflix and eating Doritos.

Find 10 People And Build Real Relationships

When Drake sang, “No new friends, no new friends, no new friends, no, no new,” he had already made it. And he certainly had an impressive rolodex of industry friends.

If you think you can build a career in marketing without making new relationships, you’re wrong. You need to meet new people, and these relationships will offer you support, advice, opportunities and friendship that can change your life.

Take the time to identify 10 people in the marketing world whom you respect or simply want to get to know. Then go above and beyond to deliver them value by retweeting their content, commenting on their articles, emailing them with quick fixes (typos/broken links) on their site, etc. Put in the effort to build a relationship, and you’ll reap the benefits for potentially years to come.

SIDE NOTE: Drake does offer you a content marketing playbook for getting started. Get my Drake inspired guide to content marketing here.

Read The Boring Stuff & Do The Boring Work

Marketing is filled with exciting tech, flashy conferences and mini celebrities.

And while it’s easy to get caught up in the buzz surrounding the latest trends and events, the boring stuff is what really makes up the majority of your career. Boring books on writing will help you write more effective emails. Tedious industry reports will help you unlock valuable insights. Painstaking proofreading will ensure that your decks are always immaculate.

Here’s a list of just some of the boring things that most marketers aren’t interested in doing:

  1. Reading industry reports
  2. Sending emails to learn from customers
  3. Writing on weekends
  4. Learning about code
  5. Following up with people you meet
  6. Studying analytics
  7. Watching tutorials online
  8. Proofreading everything
  9. Editing videos, images and audio

The boring work will be the foundation of your career. Don’t think that these little tasks and efforts don’t matter—they may not give you instant gratification, but they will compound into meaningful talents, skills, insights and results.

Wrapping Things Up

If you’ve got a combination of ambition and curiosity, I’m a believer that you can succeed in the world of marketing. You need to be willing to adapt when things change (trust me, they will) and stay focused on your personal growth.

If you feel underqualified jumping into this world, remember that even some of the world’s most successful people suffer from imposter syndrome. So shake it off, stay focused on getting your skills where they need to be, and let the results do the talking.

Want another easy way to up your marketability and increase your chances of success? Join my free email newsletter to receive marketing insights on the regular. Sign up here so you never miss it.

About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.

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19 Comments on "How To Build A Great Career In Marketing When You Have No Connections"

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Gigi Rodgers
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So, so, so, so TRUE. I’ve been in content marketing for a little over 1.5 years now and I’ve pushed myself to learn SO MUCH and it has really raised my game. I have purchased multiple 3 courses over this year to sharpen my skills and get a deeper and better understanding of how to approach a certain strategy/task. But me learning how to code? Hell, no. LOL! Unless it’s copy and paste, it will NEVER happen. I now TRULY REALIZE the power of your network. You hear people say that your network is important, but it’s a whole other… Read more »
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[…] in the post, Ross Simmonds shares some truth and a lot of tips on how to start & build a career in marketing with zero […]

Sandy Cao
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Sandy Cao

Great write up, Ross! I agree with you that it’s all about the work that you put it. Thanks for providing super clear examples of what that looks like. Definitely gives me inspo for the nights and weekends 🙂

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Glad you enjoyed it Sandy!
Thanks for the kind words.

Lisa Sicard
Guest

Hi Ross, I am always learning. The more I learn the more I realize I need to learn even more. It’s never ending. But you have to stay up on it all to stay current in marketing today.

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Never stop learning. It’s definitely one of the most important factors to succeeding in the marketing industry.

Ollie Law
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Ollie Law
Another great write up Ross. I can always sense your passion and commitment to marketing through your blogs. One big lesson I keep reminding myself of is that when I worked for a pretty poor employer, I was effected both personally and through my career. I wanted to leave at the time because I wasn’t happy and felt like they weren’t helping my career progress. Once I did get that dream job at a publication, I quickly realized the lessons learnt from working at somewhere so bad, helped me avoid the same traits in my new role. I was far… Read more »
Ross Simmonds
Guest

Great to hear that Ollie! Turn lemons into lemonade.

George
Guest
George

Ross, You live in the real world. As a marketing professional myself, I identify with this article. Great post. I’ve learnt something from you. I just shared your discussion on FB.

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Thanks George!

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[…] How you can build a great marketing career without connections. […]

Karol
Guest

Really cool hints! Love that about doing boring stuff too as a part of game.

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Thanks!

Karola Karlson
Guest

Reading industry reports
Sending emails to learn from customers
Writing on weekends
Learning about code
Following up with people you meet
Studying analytics
Watching tutorials online
Proofreading everything
Editing videos, images and audio

… So true. 🙂
All the best marketers I know are well-rounded in their skills and don’t shy away from some design work or trying to go – whatever it takes to get the work done.

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Spot on. There’s a reason people want to hire a T-Shape marketer. It comes down to a commitment to building your skills and doubling down on professional & personal growth long term.

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[…] if you’re really interested in learning more about how I was able to build my marketing career with no connections this might be of […]

Rob Levin
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Rob Levin

Hi Ross – this is great stuff! I definitely connected w/ the “build something” comment and took a similar approach at the start of my marketing career. That has made all the difference.

Can you share the 3 books you mentioned that you give to new employees at Foundation?

Ross Simmonds
Guest

Thanks Rob – Glad you enjoyed this piece. Here’s the books:

> How To Win Friends And Influence People – Dale Carnegie
> The Obstacle Is the Way – Ryan Holiday
> Remote – DHH and Jason Fried

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[…] you? Nowadays, if you’re looking for a good job in marketing or tech, a personal brand is almost a must. Business is as much about relationship and reputation […]

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