Why You Should Work for a Startup at Some Point in Your Career

28th Sept 2017

Simon Swan is Head of Digital Marketing at the Met Office. Recently he has introduced a digital academy to help support the Met Office’s digital transformation agenda. Leading organisations have been invited to speak and Simon has run digital marketing training sessions within the organisation through workshops and seminars. Previously Simon has worked at sports retail start-ups, including Kitbag.com.

Working for a start-up was one of the best career decisions I’ve made and I wanted to share with you why I think everybody should at some point in their career go and work for a start-up.

Working for a start-up provides you with a “nuts and bolts” view of how a business is run, from warehousing to accounts to customer service through to marketing on a shoestring budget delivering a positive ROI – it offers you a complete 360 degree understanding of an organisation and more importantly the value of teamwork, resource and how to survive in a fast changing environment.

I was recently in a discussion with a group who wanted to enhance and develop their content marketing skills and knowledge and wanted to know if there was a relevant MBA course that offered such advice? I don’t know about you but my response to them was that the best way to learn was to get out there and do it yourself. In other words:

  • Create a blog
  • Identify a subject
  • Craft your unique selling point
  • Develop and perfect your blogging
  • Read relevant online journals and forums on content marketing best practice
  • Apply inbound marketing techniques to grow your content marketing

The cost to do this? FREE

The cost to complete an MBA? $111,418 (source: The Real Cost of an MBA),

The majority of the skills I’ve acquired in my digital marketing career can be attributed to learning on the job and applying my reading to real life scenarios, working in start-ups.

I thought I’d provide a run down of the types of skills you could expect to acquire. Importantly, they don’t cost you anything.

  • Think creatively – In a start-up, you don’t necessarily have a large marketing budget or a team to fall back on, let alone a marketing agency at your beck and call.  You need to think creatively, to understand your audience and to think differently and fast. What sets you apart? What can you offer your customers and prospects? Is it something your competitors can’t?
  • Learn to fail – You can’t stand still in a start-up. You have to keep on pushing yourself and the company not to be afraid to try something different, like putting something out there in the market that maybe, this time, is going to connect. If you fail, you fail, dust yourself off and get back on it again.
  • Hustle – Whether negotiating, building connections or generating a business pipeline – learn to pick up the phone, chat and build connections. More importantly, create a personality of trust, reputation and eagerness to learn.
  • Adapt your skills – In a start-up you’re opening yourself up to working and operating in a number of different areas. One day you may find yourself operating the affiliate program, when the next day you could be getting into the warehouse and ensuring products are being shipped out for delivery. Learn to muck in and think outside a “job description.”
  • Teach – You may not have the time (or budget) to take a week off for a distance-learning digital marketing course. You have to teach yourself on the job, read industry blogs and forums and apply your knowledge. At the same time, it is important that you take the time to train staff in the company.
  • The art of shipping – Don’t be afraid to push the button on your campaign, promotion or connection. Whatever it is, make sure you are continuing to deliver and continuing to raise the bar.
  • Business development – Learn to add value to the business. Think laterally and creatively about what you can offer the business that has not been thought of before. Is there a connection to be made? Is there a new channel to drive new revenue streams? 
  • There is no manual – The world of digital and the connection economy has no manual to follow. If you’re waiting to be told what to do next you need to step up your game and your career and begin to realise you need to be making those decisions for yourself.
  • Don’t wait for permission – I’m not saying “to hell with it, just do it anyway!” If you’re smart, you would have assessed the situation, understood the opportunity, and learnt to take the positive step for the benefit of the business.
  • Mentor  – Learn to share your knowledge with your team or wider business so they can understand your viewpoint and skill up the rest of the business. 
  • Reinvent – Learn to adapt your skill-set, re-train and evaluate your strengths in what you can offer the business. Always be looking for the next opportunity to re-invent your digital marketing skill-set and continue your personal development.
  • In the trenches – Never lose sight of working at the coal face. A big career mistake is to assume that taking a management job moves you away from doing the front-end work. You should always find the time to develop and retain these skills. Working in digital marketing, it makes no sense to move up the corporate ladder and away from the hands-on world of running a PPC campaign, keyword research audit or affiliate recruitment campaign.
  • ROI – Whatever you’re doing, focus on the return on investment. Working for a start-up you really value the budget you’re given and you need to ensure that whatever you do spend on marketing is making a healthy return for the business. The ability to focus consistently on this one performance metric is a skill I’ve always been thankful for.
  • Idea generator – Are you practising the art of idea generation? When I worked for my first start-up we had a weekly catch-up with the whole organisation. We all got into a room and generated ideas on the wall about what the business could be doing. Is there something that’s different to the competition, or something that would delight our customers?
  • Collaborator – With budgets tight, you learn to befriend and develop good social relationships with other like minded start-ups, to share ideas and thoughts about how we could help one another out.
  • Fast track learning skills – Invest in your own time to learn and develop your skill-set with online learning (ideally actionable training) and constantly be reading. The digital marketing sector continues to develop at such a fast pace that you need to ensure you’re keeping your knowledge up to date and more importantly, identifying ideas that your start-up could use in the context of your market.
  • The world’s moving that way – Quite simply, more of us are going to be working for start-ups or by ourselves over the next decade.

Are the majority of skills I listed going to be part of an MBA course?

Getting yourself involved in a real business, where you need to make real decisions and are constantly put in a challenging environment, is second to none.

(Note: This content previously appeared in a different form on LinkedIn.)

Amigo is a startup, so you could check out our vacancies. If you’re a marketer who wants to inject some of the ideas in Simon’s list into your job, then find out how Amigo bridges the marketing execution gap and enables agile marketing.

Further reading

020 3940 4650