The Skilled Marketer Paradox: Do Good Marketers Need Jobs?
Look around the world of work and at job board postings and you will see a ton of positions open for digital marketers. Companies have come to realize how effective and efficient digital media and content marketing can be in generating sales and brand recognition. Now that they see the need for marketing that works for them, they are trying their best to hire marketers to do that work for them.
Often in the job postings there will be a requirement for previous experience. Few if any of the open positions will accept applicants with less than 2 years of previous experience doing marketing professionally. Lots of these positions even want 7-9 years experience. And they don't just want experience, they want proven results. They want marketers who can show them how they made an impact on the businesses they have worked for before. They want to see traffic and rankings growth. They want to see sales and conversions growth.
But I see this as fundamentally unreasonable and impossible. I consider this a paradox. The Skilled Marketer Paradox.
Affiliate marketing is a huge industry. I have seen reports that the affiliate marketing sector is worth anywhere from $6.4 billion to $12 billion, and that the industry is growing at a rate of around 10% each year. Around 80 percent of all companies have affiliate programs which pay out to marketers who can generate sales. This makes sense because it costs them little to nothing to set up if they work with an affiliate network and they only pay marketers when sales are made. There is no way for them to lose. The worst that happens is they pay a small fee to be part of an affiliate network, and the best that could happen is a massive increase in revenue and sales.
It is also easier than ever for people to create products of their own. A person can have products created "white label" or "private label", where they order a bulk quantity of something already being made by a manufacturer but with their own custom branding and packaging on it. A person can order physical products which are made in China through wholesale sites like Alibaba. Sites like Gumroad, Teachable, and Udemy make it really simple to create an informational course and sell it themselves. There is even the option to create a private forum in a membership site where paying customers can get a sense of community and premium content.
Between the huge possibilities in both affiliate marketing and in product creation, there is no shortage of things for an individual with marketing skills to sell. If you know how to generate traffic and sales (if you can get results), then you can basically write your own paycheck. You can make as much as you want. You have a way to be self employed and a way to form the underlying business model of your own business.
Given this opportunity, why would any marketer with any ability, skills, or talent ever choose to work for a boss in a company? Why would they choose a smaller salary and a position of subservience to a boss who will tell them when they have to work, what they have to work on, and how much they are allowed to make for their efforts?
Choosing a job might give you some measure of job security, the stability of a regular paycheck, but it is also very insecure. You are often judged by results and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). You can do great work, work that would get results normally, but if the industry is wrong or the economy is bad or there is something else which is outside of your control which prevents you from delivering the results they demand, then they can fire you. You can lose that paycheck. That is far from secure. You are always just a few weeks of bad luck away from losing your income.
So when things are really good, when the marketer generates huge results which make the company and its owners loads of money, the marketer will earn the same salary they agreed to at hire, but if things go bad and the company doesn't see results, you lose your job and your income. Either way the marketer's options are bad ones. There seems to be no winning.
A marketer who chooses a job at a company is choosing to devote all of their professional time to marketing for the products and services provided by that company. Sometimes you might find yourself at a company that has interesting products and services and that you genuinely enjoy creating content for. Very often, though, the product or service is something very boring that you will not find joy creating content about. If you choose to work for a company like that, you won't ever have the freedom to meander to what is currently meaningful to you. You will be forced to keep working on that thing that you will grow to dislike more and more each day.
If a marketer chooses to work for themselves, they can create content about whatever they are interested in at the moment and always find a way for it to be monetized, because there is no shortage of things to sell as an affiliate or as a product creator. Running your own blog or branded website would be far more fulfilling.
Some skilled marketers even choose to open their own marketing agencies or consulting firms. This can bring similar levels of freedom and enjoyment because you get to choose which clients to take on and which to turn down. And if you work with a client for a while and find that you don't actually like working on that project, you can simply choose to stop working with them and you won't lose your whole paycheck. By having multiple streams of income you have more stability and security than you ever would from a traditional job.
I can only see two reasons why a sufficiently skilled online marketer would ever choose to work for an employer.
The first reason is that they have never heard of affiliate marketing or digital product creation. They might simply be unaware of any alternative to a job. They might think the only way to make money with marketing is to sell that skill to an employer. You cannot work towards something you don't know exists.
The second reason is that they lack the confidence to start their own marketing business. They might be fully aware of the opportunity, but they have never run their own business before and have never met anyone that made money through affiliate marketing, selling digital products, or through blogging. They doubt their abilities and instead cling to the conventional employer-employee arrangement.
But I think that most people who have any experience in digital marketing are aware of affiliate marketing, and getting marketing jobs requires you to be confident in your abilities and be able to professionally brag about the results you've delivered in the past. These two things would only stop a small portion of skilled marketers from working for themselves.
So if all of the really good marketers are out of the workforce and talent pool, not looking for jobs, then who are these companies with open marketing positions and high expectations looking for? Who could reasonably apply for and accept these jobs? What can these companies realistically expect?
Beginner through intermediate marketers is all they should expect. If by some random fluke they bag a highly skilled marketer, then cool, but they should realize that as being unlikely. Or if they pay a HUGE amount for the salary. If the marketing job paid six figures, maybe upwards of $150,000 per year, then maybe they could attract some serious marketing talent. But it seems like most companies are not looking to pay that much.
They are looking to pay between $30,000 and $60,000 per year. With that level of pay, they can expect for people with no professional experience doing marketing but who have an interest and personal experience or for people with moderate/intermediate levels of professional experience to apply and accept the job. This is probably a perfect match, honestly.
These newbies or marketers still growing their skills are the ones who might not be able to start their own businesses yet and who would need to make money by selling their skills to an employer. And they would view the job as a way to get paid to grow their skills and get better at marketing. That could happen through practice, but ideally it would be through some type of coaching and mentorship. If the junior marketers could work with experienced marketing professionals who would show them exactly what works and what doesn't, that could be a major reason for them to see value in a job.
From the employer's perspective, it would be worth it because they will still be getting a great value for their money. These marketers are probably not very confident in their skills, but they are probably better than they realize they are. They will accept a low salary, but will still generate great results for the company. And if you give new marketers a chance when they have no experience and few employment options, they will stick with your company even after they could leave to start their own thing. In this way a company could actually get highly skilled marketers. They will just have to invest in their training and skills first. They will feel a sense of loyalty towards the company that took a chance on them. And being willing to invest in the skills development and training of the people in your company is good for your own company and for the whole economy.
Being unwilling to invest in training for more junior level employees is a free rider problem described in economics related to a resource commons. Skilled employees do not just naturally exist. They require training and practice within a real work environment. Even paying for college and getting a degree is not enough to get a job and be skilled. The most entry level jobs still require 2 years of experience. So somebody has to provide new workers with their first years of experience. When companies require that their applicants have 2 years of prior experience, it means that the company wants to benefit from the skills that worker has accumulated but they want somebody else to have paid for that training's cost. They want something for free. They want something for nothing. One selfish and unreasonable employer could get away with abusing this system (as is described in the Tragedy of the Commons), but when it becomes standard practice that companies expect someone else to train their employees, the whole system becomes unsustainable and breaks down. It seems to have gotten to that point, and may have already been there for a long time. Even if it is somewhat workable, it would be far more productive if every company took it upon themselves to take a chance on new workers and to provide them skills training. The economy would be booming with workers with the right talent, and employers wouldn't be regularly complaining about being unable to find workers with the right skills.
So employers need to adjust their expectations to align with reality. Either they need to get ready to offer and pay a huge amount of money to attract the really skilled marketers that could easily be doing something on their own, or they need to lower their requirements for previous experience all the way down to 0. Being willing to work with brand new marketers will bring overall better results for companies that are unable to do any marketing because they are holding out for an employee that they are never going to find, because at least they will get some work done and within a short period of time the brand new marketer will be a marketer with a bit of experience.
I have read the advice that you should start a blog as a way to practice your marketing skills and to have a project and a body of work that you can point to during interviews with employers to show what you can do and what you have accomplished. It can act as job experience, except it's for yourself and without any pay. That is at least partially what I am doing with this blog. I am hoping that I will either attract a recruiter or a decision maker within a company that is looking for a digital marketer or I will at least have some work and results to bring up in a job interview.
But the paradox shows up here. If the blog is not having much in the way of results, then employers may not want to hire me just yet. They might want me to come back when I've accomplished something. But as soon as my blog becomes a success, right when employers would be fighting to hire me, I would just be entering the place where I could make enough money through my blog to provide enough income to support myself.
Some people who get to that point of income from their blog figure that they could continue to earn that money passively and get a job so that they can add their salary to that figure, and they would end up with pretty big total income. But I don't understand that thinking. The money you make from online owned media assets (blog posts that are ranked and have stable traffic) will continue indefinitely unless something strange happens. You can continue to build digital assets like those and they are all cumulative. You do the work building them only once, but they earn you income potentially forever. Why would you not just keep putting time in on the blog and building your income far higher than you could ever make from an employer (who, remember, needs to take some of the value you create for the business and keep it for themselves so that they can take a salary and make a profit)?
So I'm working on building the blog to get a job, but as soon as the blog is successful enough to get me a job I will not need a job. A paradox. The Skilled Marketer Paradox.
Unless companies are willing to hire brand new marketers or pay much higher salaries to skilled marketers, I see no way for the paradox to be resolved.
What do you think about this paradox? Is there any way for it to be avoided? Is there a reason I have missed why skilled marketers would choose a job over their own profitable projects? Do you think employers provide enough training to new markets or new entrants to the job market? Do you think that at some point there will only be marketing agencies and freelancers providing marketing services because nobody worth anything would take a job for an employer who would call of the shots for them? Let me know in the comments!