How Did I Learn Digital Marketing in 12 Months?

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Welcome back to another rapid fire article bringing you value on eCommerce and starting a business…this one focused on:

How did I learn digital marketing in 12 months?

It was an absolute whirlwind of information, testing different strategies, and holding onto the ones that stuck.

Going into learning digital marketing, I had very limited prior experience of digital marketing. However, I did already have 4 years of being a full time entrepreneur under my belt. So, learning on the fly and fast was nothing new to me.

I had done exactly that building my first eCommerce business drop shipping on the Amazon Marketplace.

Going into that business, I knew zilch about eCommerce, Amazon, or drop shipping, but I led with my passion for learning. I had to go through many ups and downs in building that business, but it taught me lessons that continue to shape who I am today as an entrepreneur and learner.

Setting the Scene

I started my 12 month journey to learn digital marketing in the beginning of 2016 as I was in the process of starting three new business ventures: my own blog (ConnorGillivan.com), a new eCommerce company, and a freelance marketplace (which would eventually become FreeeUp.com).

I was at a crossroads as an entrepreneur looking for the next best option to attach myself to full time and so I decided to derisk my time and put it into three different ventures.

With each new company however, I was in a position where I had to learn digital marketing. Otherwise, I’d have no method of growing the company’s customers and ongoing readers/users.

For my blog, ConnorGillivan.com, I needed to learn digital marketing so that I could drive traffic to my content that I was publishing. After getting the traffic, I had to convert them into email subscribers and set up different channels to stay in touch with my readers.

For FreeeUp, I was tasked with the role of building our website, driving traffic to our services, setting up communication methods, getting social media off the ground, and forming key partnerships with other leaders in our industry.

Very quickly, I was tossed into the madness of digital marketing and I was forced to learn and test on the fly as everything whizzed by me.

So, How Did I Learn Digital Marketing in Those 12 Months?

As any resourceful entrepreneur would, I looked for every possible method that I could learn digital marketing without paying for ANYTHING.

I’m not a big believer in the online courses touted by digital marketers that claim they will teach you everything you need to know to grow your online business with digital marketing. Why am I going to pay $10,000 just to go through an online course that they put together in 1 month? It just never checked out for me.

So, I took the research skills that I had learned while running my first eCommerce business and I applied them to learning everything about digital marketing.

Here are some of the resources and sites that I found to be the most useful in learning the many different channels of digital marketing.

Digital Marketing Resources

Social media: The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki, Neil Patel Blog

SEO: Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Marketing School podcast by Neil Patel and Eric Siu

WordPress development: WPBeginner.com

Google Adwords: Neil Patel Step by Step Adwords Guide

Email communication: DotCom Secrets by Russell Brunson

Podcast interviews: InterviewValet

Growth hacking: The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Growth Hacker Marketing

Taking a Trial and Error Approach

I’ve always been a big believer in studying the habits and strategies of the most successful and impactful leaders within the space that you are looking to grow.

As can be seen above through the resources that I outlined, I went to the top knowledge gurus of the industry to study their content and how they’ve built their companies into the masterpieces that they are today.

I also spent my personal time continuing to read business books and biographies depicting how some of the largest tech companies (Apple, AirBnB, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Upwork, Netflix, etc.) got their start.

I paid attention to the parts of their stories where they went from zero to thousands of users.

What strategies did they implement?

Who did they have on their team to make it happen?

What did they stay focused on all the time?

What did their users like the most about their experience and product?

I paid keen attention to all of these factors and I took notes on what made them stand out.

I then turned those notes into strategies that I could test and measure within my businesses.

Over the course of 12 months, I launched hundreds of small tests to see what would move the needle forward paying attention to the number of sign ups, the amount of traffic, and the impact on the customer.

My Process for Testing New Ideas and Strategies

If you decide to learn digital marketing, you’ll run into a statement over and over that says “digital marketing is all about testing, measuring, and optimizing.”

Testing = finding new ideas and strategies to test with your business and customer base.

Measuring = recording and analyzing data that comes from the tests that you run.

Optimizing = making small changes to your initial test to increase the desired results. Or throwing away the test completely and starting a new one that could have a higher impact.

As I spent 12 months learning the ins and out of digital marketing, I utilized this as my framework for all of the decisions that I made.

Example #1: Website

When I was building the FreeeUp.com website, I started with a first version that was simple and conveyed the value prop that we offered to our customer base.

Every few months, I got feedback from our users, looked at our traffic and interactions stats on Google Analytics, and I came up with small changes to our design to better meet the expectations of users on the Internet.

Example #2: Lead Generation

When I was first building out a lead generation team that would reach out to specific niches of business owners with the goal of setting up a phone call to talk to them about my business, I first created a process and tested it myself.

I sent hundreds of emails and I looked at the number of people that were responding. I then looked at the niches I was targeting and the email templates that I was sending…how could I make it better? 

I made small changes to the emails that I was sending by making them more customized and shorter…and I saw better response rates…that led to more potential customers for FreeeUp.

Do you see how small changes can make a big difference? But you can’t reach those outcomes without the framework that I described above.

Example #3: Email Marketing

When it came time to set up email marketing campaigns for all of the users that were flocking to FreeeUp.com, I was in a position where I had to learn all about this aspect of communicating with your customer.

How often should you be sending emails?

When does it become annoying?

What type of content should you include in the emails so that the user will actually open it?

At its core, I wanted to figure out how to optimize the open and click rates on the email campaigns.

To do that, I started with a very simple series of emails that went out to new customers over a month’s period keeping the number of emails sent out very slim at first. I didn’t want to overwhelm the new users with emails that could sour their experience with the company.

After some time of testing and seeing the results reach an equilibrium, I decided to increase the amount of content and increase the frequency that the users were receiving the emails.

Based off of the positive results for open and click rates, I decided to keep the emails more frequent.

As with everything in digital marketing, you need to be in touch with the data so that you can best understand your users. It’s hard to be a soothsayer and predict exactly what your customer wants. We aren’t all Steve Jobs 🙂

Example #4: Sign Up Process

Similar to the examples above, the sign up process became a big part of the testing, measuring, and optimizing framework as we were seeing more and more people signing up each day.

We were getting feedback that users were getting caught up in different areas of the sign up process and that data/feedback moved us to look for changes that we could make that would improve the overall process.

Over a course of a few months, we made very small UI changes to the sign up process that made it simpler, more explanatory, and smoother as an overall experience on desktop and mobile.

We continue to get feedback on the sign up process from different types of customers every single week and we are always making small changes to find that perfect process that will work for all age ranges, tech levels, etc.

Can you see how this framework can make a significant difference in how you approach each new digital marketing process within your business? 

Bringing It All Together: Research, Learning On The Fly, Trial and Error Framework

In order to learn digital marketing in 12 months, you need a lot of grit and determination to really wrap your head around the many channels that go into digital marketing.

At its core, digital marketing is the process of attracting new customers to your product/service, providing the best possible user experience, and then keeping them in the loop with multiple forms of communication.

In order to do ALL of that, you need to have a good understanding of ALL aspects of digital marketing.

In the Resources section above, I outlined a number of the different areas of digital marketing, but there are so many others that fill into those categories and that stand completely on their own.

The secret to learning digital marketing and becoming someone that can drive new customers to your product/service is to test all of the channels, measure results, and find the ones that make the biggest impact on your business.

When starting out, you can’t do everything. You need to pick and choose, test, measure, and optimize the ones that are working the best.

As one person, you also can’t even do all of the channels that you do find to be a success.

Once you’ve found digital marketing strategies that work well, you need to set up a process for it, and hand it off to someone else that has experience within that specific task or skill set.

For example, do you think that I personally manage and complete the daily tasks for all of the aspects above for FreeeUp? 

That just wouldn’t be possible. We’re talking hundreds of hours of work each week.

At a certain point, you’ll need to tap into digital marketing freelancers that have experience and specialize within the area of your business that you need handled so you can stay focused on continuing to test new strategies and set up new processes.

Once you get to that point, let me know. I’ve been hiring and managing freelancers for 5+ years and I have a team of over 30 freelancers set up to help me run FreeeUp. If you don’t want to talk to me 🙂 you can also just visit FreeeUp.com, create an account, and request the freelancer that you need for your business. We’ll introduce you to someone within 1 business day.


Connor Gillivan

If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or to email me directly at Connor@FreeeUp.com.

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About Connor Gillivan

In the past 10 years, I’ve started 7 businesses & built two to $10M+ in annual revenue, teams of 30+ & an exit in 2019. Today, I run SEO & growth for my 4 B2B companies while teaching millions how to make SEO simple.

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